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Cold Weather Strikes U.S.; House Set For Budget Vote; Mandela Service Sign Language Interpreter Controversy; Teen Cites Wealth in Criminal Defense, Gets No Prison Time

Aired December 12, 2013 - 05:30   ET



ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Plus, the sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela's funeral is being called a fake. Some say actually signing gibberish! New this morning, he is defending himself. We are live with the latest on this signing scandal.


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): Welcome back to EARLY START. Glad you're with us this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. Thirty minutes past the hour right now.

SAMBOLIN: So, you can call this the deep freeze, maybe, right? Severe cold has now taken over much of the country with snow set to fall on some areas that have already been blasted with several feet of snow.

BERMAN: Like Buffalo in the New York suburbs around there where upwards of 30 inches of lake-effect snow has fallen. It was snow bad --


BERMAN: It was so bad --

SAMBOLIN: You poor guy. You need some coffee.

BERMAN: It shut down the New York state freeway at times. Cars were completely buried or snaried.


SAMBOLIN: All right. I'm going to keep on reading here. A sign in Fargo says it all. Eighteen below zero. That was Wednesday morning. Factor in the wind and it feels even colder than that. Your turn.

BERMAN: In Northern Wisconsin, they are feeling it, too. Temperatures were just under freezing up there. The wind was blowing and that made it feel even worse. It felt like 30 below which does not feel good. SAMBOLIN: OK. But, I know we've been joking here, but here's a really serious concern. It is for the homeless. Activities worry many will freeze in the cold weather. So, shelters are open and volunteer like this in St. Louis, can we take a look at them there, they're fanning out, trying to encourage all of the homeless to come out of the cold. A lot of them don't want to. They consider their homes the outdoors. And so, it's really difficult to convince them.

BERMAN: This is a -- it's a big weather system and a lot of people right now. Let's find out where it's headed. Indra Petersons is live outside in the cold, feet away from our building, but we will not let her in.


BERMAN: Indra, tell us what's going on.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I think that' why you are (ph) so happy this morning, right? You guys locked me out.



BERMAN: It's one of the reasons, yes.


PETERSONS: All right. Let's talk about these temperatures. We know it is chilly out here. We're talking about 20s in New York, but look at Pittsburgh. It feels this morning like five degrees once you factor in the wind chill. That is the story for huge chunk of the country today. Definitely dealing with this absolute chill out there. Look at these temperatures especially, though. If you're out towards Wisconsin, Minnesota, even in towards Illinois, this is where that danger zone really is.

We're talking about with the wind chill feeling like negative 20 to negative 25 degrees this morning. So, definitely a big concern out there. Same part of the country off of the lakes today. We're still looking for some lake-effect snow from some of those winds -- form lake. Anywhere from one to two feet, just under two feet especially off of Ontario. Just under a foot of snow possible today off of Erie.

But, we all know there is another system out there spreading the chill and the cold air but also expected to bring some snow, yes, coming down from Montana going all the way down through the central explains, anywhere from Kansas, even through portions of Missouri. By tomorrow, we're going to be talking about that wintry mix already, but there goes spread off to the northeast.

So, for the weekend, guys, here we go again. We're talking about that wintry mix affecting a huge chunk of the country from the northeast all the way back to the Midwest again.

BERMAN: All right. Indra Petersons is outside spreading the chill. I like that.


SAMBOLIN: Twinkly lights look great behind her. And you don't seem like you're cold, girl. So, thank you.

PETERSONS: I know how to bundle.


BERMAN: All right. Let's go now to Washington, the subject of cold -- let's talk about the cold reception some are giving a proposed budget deal that will keep the government operating through 2015.


BERMAN (voice-over): The House set to vote today and while both Republicans and Democrats seem to be lining up behind the plan, some conservative lobbying groups do not like it. They want those in the GOP vote no saying the trillion dollar deal doesn't do enough to cut spending or the deficit. That's where a sharp review from House speaker, John Boehner.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: They're using our members and they're using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous. Listen, if you're for more deficit reduction, you're for this agreement.


BERMAN: He hasn't spoken like that before, folks. Those are big words right there and a big moment in the Republican Party. The Senate expected to vote on the budget compromise next week. And President Obama indicating that he will likely sign it.

SAMBOLIN: The Senate, meanwhile, has been at work all night long. Let's take a live look at the Senate floor as lawmakers hold a rare all night session. This is being driven by Republicans. So, they're upset at the Democrats for blowing up the filibuster rules. That meant they could no longer easily block the president's nominees. So instead, what they're doing is they're using all of their debate time to keep talking in order to slow down the approval process.

BERMAN: The Obama administration is reporting more Americans are successfully signing up for health coverage under Obamacare. New government figures show that nearly 365,000 people have picked a policy through or the 14 state-run exchanges. Another nearly 1.9 million have registered but have yet to pick a policy. The numbers are better than during the website's first month of operation.

Honestly, it would be hard to be anything but better than that first month. Just over a hundred thousand people signed up, but still a far cry from the seven million projected -- well, that they hope will enroll by next year. SAMBOLIN: So, we're getting a new look at the deadly crash of an Aseana Airline in San Francisco that happened earlier this year. This is a video just released by the NTSB. And it shows the Boeing 777 careening down the runway after that crash.

The NTSB has revealed during a hearing in Washington that the pilot told them he found it very difficult to land the Boeing 777 without help from an out of order airport navigation system. The agency says hearing was productive. It got a lot of information, but the investigation into what actually happened will still take some time.


DEBORAH HERMAN, CHAIRMAN, NTSB: This is a very high profile accident. It is a priority investigation for the NTSB and our target would be to complete the investigation prior to the one-year anniversary of the event. However, we will take as long as we need to take to complete the investigation. It's more important for us to do a complete and thorough investigation than it is to produce it by a date certain.


SAMBOLIN: Three people died in that crash at San Francisco International Airport. That was last July.

BERMAN: The head of the NSA defending the agency's surveillance of phone and internet records. Gen. Keith Alexander told the Senate Judiciary Committee there's no better way to help protect this country from foreign threats. And he insisted the agency is careful to do it the right way.

SAMBOLIN: Another push by the Obama administration to hold off additional sanctions against Iran in light of the temporary nuclear deal with Tehran. Representatives from the state department and the treasury will testify before the Senate Banking Committee today. That committee's chairman has already said he'll pause any efforts to levy sanctions, but action could come in the House maybe as soon as today.


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): And coming up, he killed four people, seriously injured two others while driving drunk. His punishment? Probation. The shocking defense that helped this wealthy teenager stay out of jail.

BERMAN (on-camera): Plus, a signing scandal playing out in South Africa. The interpreter at Nelson Mandela's funeral accused of fraud, signing nonsense. This morning, he's explaining what happened. We are live right after the break.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. Forty minutes past the hour.

We are hearing this morning from a South African man who's getting got a lot of attention for what he did during Nelson Mandela's memorial service. Acting as a sign language interpreter, he insists he's qualified that he has done this before, but activists say what he was signing was complete gibberish. Errol Barnett is live in Pretoria this morning. So, Errol, he calls himself a champion of sign language, but a lot of people are calling him a fraud. Is he?

ERROL BARNETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Zoraida, good morning to you. Well, according to the deaf federation of South Africa which coordinates interpreters for many high profile events, he is a fraud. But as people line up behind me here in Pretoria, thousands waiting to see the late President Nelson Mandela lying in state, what they're talking about is this so-called fake interpreter.

As you mentioned, he was standing beside Barack Obama and a number of other world leaders on Tuesday as the world was paying homage to Nelson Mandela during that memorial. The man took to the air waves of our affiliate radio station this morning to defend himself in the backlash of people saying he was signing nonsense to say basically that he is experienced. He's done a number of high profile events before.

Also adding that he had a schizophrenic episode because of the enormity of the moment which caused him, according to his words, to panic. Now, there are some key questions the government will have to answer now why wasn't there a backup ready if this man isn't up to standard?

Why was he chosen to be next to world leaders on such a momentous day and it's taking away from really the message and legacy of Nelson Mandela, because the criticism of the current government and the ANC, the ruling party, is that corruption and nepotism is rampant and it's inhibiting progress.

So, the government will have to answer how and why this man was able to stand beside so many world leaders at a time when the Deaf Federation of South Africa says people who can't hear weren't able to enjoy and bask in the glory of Tuesday because they simply couldn't understand what this man was signing.

We spoke with him earlier this morning as well, Zoraida, and he told us he's now in fear for his family because of this massive backlash. He says he's skipping town with his kids because of it. So, certainly, an interesting side story to these ten days of memorial for Nelson Mandela and one the government will be addressing here at the top of the hour

SAMBOLIN: Well, it's really unfortunate that he's getting all of that backlash and that he, you know, feels fear for his family, but this was a world stage, right? So, I guess, another question.

BARNETT: Absolutely.

SAMBOLIN: You mentioned how and why. And the question is, who hired him? Do we know anything about that?

BARNETT: Well, the ruling party here is the African National Congress, the ANC, they came out yesterday and said while they have hired him before, they did not hire him for the memorial service. So then, we look at the larger picture. Tuesday's event, all of these 10 days is organized by the South African government. It should also be noted that the ANC is the dominant party in the government.

The government says they have now launched an investigation into this man, his qualifications, and, indeed, why he was next to so many world leaders. The FSA says that they complained about this man in 2012. They've got the video to prove it and they pointed out it to me all sorts of things which were fascinating in the sign language community, facial expressions a very key.

Body expressions are key. Beyond the hand movements, the the color of your shirt so people can see your hands clearly is also key. They say this man broke all of the rules. So, it will be interesting to see what the government response is here in this next hour.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. Normally, things we don't talk about. Errol Barnett live in Pretoria for us this morning, thank you.

BERMAN: The important thing is that people missed, you know, seeing that ceremony which, you know, was an important thing to be get the chance to see.

All right. Forty-four minutes after the hour. Outrage in Texas where a teenager who admitted to driving drunk and killing four people has been sentenced with only probation. A judge sentenced 16-year-old Ethan Couch (ph) to treatment, not jail, saying he needs help to overcome what a psychologist for the defense called a case of, get this, affluenza, testifying that the teenager's parents were partly to blame for not setting limits and raising him to believe that wealth meant privilege.

Couch, apparently, had been allowed to drive since he was 13. On the night of the accident, he was speeding in a pickup truck with his blood alcohol level three times the legal limit and valium in his system. Prosecutors had asked for 20 years in prison. For the families of the victims, they say this is just a major injustice.


ERIC BOYLES, LOST WIFE & DAUGHTER: For 25 weeks, I've been going through a healing process. And the trial itself was just another milestone in that process. And so, when the verdict came out, I mean, my immediate reaction is I'm back to week one, OK? We have accomplished nothing here. My healing process is out the window.

We understand he's a juvenile. We understand rehabilitation has to take occur. But let's face it here. I mean, there needs to be some justice here for the families.


BERMAN: Couch is being held in a juvenile detention center until treatment can be found. He will not be allowed to return to his parents and only if he doesn't complete probation would Couch then possibly face jail time. Again, the issue here is people are saying that because he's wealthy and privileged, he's receiving different treatment in the judicial system that he would have, otherwise.

SAMBOLIN: Well, I mean, if the judge says that it was his family that caused this, right, because they gave him everything that he wanted, well, it seems now that he's still suffering from this affluenza from the judge, right?

BERMAN: It's part of the debate.

SAMBOLIN: Unbelievable.

All right. Let's take a look at what's coming up on "NEW DAY." Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan join us now. Welcome back, Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you very much. It's good to be here, Z. We're going to have a lot more on the sign language interpreter, or whatever you want to call him, at Nelson Mandela's memorial. You were talking about it on this show. We're going to follow it up because experts are going to watch this video, and then, we got to get to the bottom of it.

Only one of two things can be true. This man, obviously, either knows how to interpret or doesn't. So, we'll have an expert come in and get to the bottom of it right away.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And we're also going to keep talking about that amazing story, the miracle in Nevada. The family who survived two days in the freezing Nevada wilderness. They're slowly recovering this morning. Two of them have already left the hospital if you can believe it. We're going to hear from some of their family members who are sharing more details about how they survived that ordeal.

BERMAN: All right. Guys, we'll see you in just a little bit.

Time now for our "Morning Rhyme." These are the tweets of the day, the best ones. Today is from D. Girl. It's on the weather. She says, "Waking up to a sore throat and snot makes me a happy camper -- not!"

SAMBOLIN: You chose this, didn't you?


BERMAN: I did. I did. I really like --

SAMBOLIN: You know why he chose it? Because the word snot is in there.

BERMAN: Oh, no. I think it's clever.


BERMAN: It rhymed with that word. I thought it was well done.

You can come up with your own. Tweet us with the hash tags, morning rhyme and EARLY START. (LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: All right. Coming up, Facebook is getting some new friends for its stock and this could mean you will soon own a piece of the internet giant. You know what's next, "Money Time."




SAMBOLIN: It takes me leaving to --


SAMBOLIN: Yes. I loved it.

BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. We are playing Christmas music.

SAMBOLIN: You know why? It is snowing.

BERMAN: And Zoraida will sing the entire "Money Time."


BERMAN: Christine Romans, how are you?

ROMANS: Good morning, you guys. Nice to see you this morning. Good news became bad news -- Wall Street Wednesday.


ROMANS: OK. The budget of court (ph). That's good news, right, triggering worries the Federal Reserve could begin pulling back its stimulus. That's bad news. So, that's the good news/bad news game dance you're seeing on Wall Street taking to buy out of stocks. The Dow down 130 points. NASDAQ and S&P 500 down two. I love to give you the perspective. This is my version of the "Let It Snow" song. The Dow is up 21 percent this year. The NASDAQ is up 33 percent --


ROMANS: I know. I just try to give some perspective. It's been really a wonderful year. Also, the S&P 500 friended Facebook last night. What do I mean? Less than two years after that IPO, Facebook will be added to the S&P 500 on the December 20th. That means any mutual funds that track the S&P have to now add Facebook. That means more buying of Facebook stock and Facebook stock was up four percent in after hour's trading.

Also new late yesterday about the biggest ever hotel IPO, Hilton worldwide. The stock will begin trading today after a price of $20 a share was set last night. That would put the company's value at about the $20 billion. So, we'll be watching Hilton this morning, too. Facebook and Hilton, the two big stocks we'll be watching.

The foreclosure crisis may file may be fading away. The number of new filings dropped 15 percent last month. That's a real to track number. That's the biggest decline in three years. Overall foreclosure filings now at their lowest levels in seven years. We keep seeing this healing in economy and jobs and then housing you're seeing these numbers kind of coalesce the best in five years. The best in seven years. That's some progress.

And hard-core fans often shell out big bucks for their favorites, but would you pay $40 for a movie?


ROMANS: It's 40 bucks. When "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" -- that's how you say it (ph)?

BERMAN: Yes. "The Desolation of Smaug."

ROMANS: Yes. Hits theaters at midnight. Fans can get a so-called $40 super ticket along with their popcorn. OK. So, what do you get for 40 bucks? Plush seats in big screen cinemas and advanced online copy of the current movie as well as the first Hobbit movie. It's a joint branch held of the distributor, Warner Brothers, in two of the largest theater chain, Sprigle (ph) and Cineplex cinemas. Would you pay 40 bucks for a movie?


SAMBOLIN: I bet it will be sold out --

BERMAN: You need to get your own hobbit. Your own like little --


BERMAN: -- creature to bring home with you for 40 bucks. That's what I would need for 40 bucks.

ROMANS: I bet you tons of gen Y. They have money to spend. They spend it on things that matter to them. I bet you see --

SAMBOLIN: Hugely popular.

BERMAN: Even -- go to New Zealand to see the hobbits in person for 40 bucks.


ROMANS: -- humbug Berman.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Christine.

BERMAN: All right. Coming up, the glory of silence in the air. Cell phones are banned but that could soon change.

SAMBOLIN: I hope not. BERMAN: The story when we come back.


SAMBOLIN: I don't know if you're going to like this. It could be a big step towards changing what you can do on an airplane. The FCC today holds the first of several meetings on possibly lifting a decade's old ban on using cell phones while you are on a flight. The agency's chairman says there' no reason to prohibit them anymore.

BERMAN: Well, how about it would be the most annoying thing ever. That's one reason.

SAMBOLIN: Well, here's the deal, Berman. Most Americans disagree with him. A new "Associated Press"/GFK poll finds nearly half that say don't let people make calls on a flight! Delta Airlines listen to this has already said if the restrictions are lifted, it won't allow calls on its jet.

Delta is going to become very popular on, I suspect. So, we're going to have more on that coming up on "NEW DAY." Brett Larson will join Chris and Kate to talk about using cell phones in the air that's going to happen in the 7:00 a.m. hour.

BERMAN: Meanwhile, "NEW DAY, actually starts right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you going to do with your car here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Leave it until spring.

CUOMO: Arctic blast. Literally, half the country waking up below freezing this morning. In some places, this is the coldest it's been this early in decades. Where are the temperatures plummeting sharpest? We're tracking it all.

BOLDUAN: Speaking out. The now infamous interpreter accused of signing gibberish at Nelson Mandela's memorial is defending himself. Why does he say his signs were off? And we have experts to tell us what he was really saying.

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Close call. Way too close. Look at this. Utility pole crashes into a Texas woman's car nearly killing her, but she credits for saving her life.

CUOMO: Your "NEW DAY" starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is "NEW DAY" with Chris Cuomo, Kate Bolduan, and Michaela Pereira.


CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome to "NEW DAY." It is Thursday, December 12th, six o'clock in the east. Now, the calendar may say it isn't winter yet, but the thermometer telling a different story. Half the country is in a deep freeze that mocks any efforts to stay warm. Just look at the map, showing more than half the country experiencing temperatures below freezing.

If that wasn't enough, the northeast could be in for another round of snow this weekend. And in the irony of weather coverage, Indra Petersons is standing out in a frosty New York City to warn you about avoiding the cold.


CUOMO: Good morning, my friend.

PETERSONS: Good morning, guys. Yes. Definitely, we are talking about temperatures. We're pretty much two-thirds of the country this morning below freezing, right here, right now in New York City, 24 degrees. We don't stop there. Add in the wind chill right now. It feels like 14 degrees right now. And here's the bad side. We know there's only more cold air, even more snow on the way.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody throughout the area is at the freezing mark.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you thought today was cold --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The next few days are going to be very cold.

PETERSONS (voice-over): Frigid temps gripping the nation as another blast of arctic air has millions from the Great Lakes to the northeast waking up in a deep freeze. City after city, experiencing temperatures 20 degrees or more below average, the coldest it's gotten in the taste of winter.

Forecasters say the windy city already feeling like its earliest subzero temperatures since 1995. Earlier this week, morning temps plunged to six below zero. It's the same story in frozen Fargo. They've had single digit temps or below for a full week. New Yorkers bundling up for their morning commute with brutal wind chills that feels like the teens and 20s.

Bitter cold temps made fighting this apartment fire in Wisconsin challenging for the firefighters.