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Dangerous Deep Freeze; State of the Union; Danger in Sochi

Aired January 28, 2014 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The record-shattering cold. You will not believe the latest target: millions and millions frozen in cold, snow, treacherous conditions. Cities and towns imploring people, just stay home!

Indra Petersons is tracking this historic storm for us.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: What is the State of the Union? The president attempts to right his ship with a high-stakes speech to the nation. We're going to tell you what he will say hours before he even says it.

BERMAN: Major security concerns in Sochi. Could one of the most popular sports in the Olympics pull its athletes from the games? We're live with the latest.

Good morning, everyone. Great to see you this morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It's cold and it's Tuesday, January 28th, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

BERMAN: So, this morning, the polar blast that froze the nation's midsection is now attacking its toes and much, much more. This unbelievable cold is moving East and South, where it's causing real problems, dropping temperatures, creating major worries for millions of people in areas that do not typically see this kind of winter weather. Warnings are now up from Texas to the Carolinas for snow and ice.

And, of course, there's the cold, shutting schools from Minneapolis to Houston and canceling thousands of flights at some of the nation's busiest airports.

ROMANS: A warning this morning in Illinois -- stay off the roads. Conditions are still bad after snow, ice and wind left many highways in the northern part of the state slick and dangerous. In Chicago, and most of the Chicago suburbs, schools are closed again. And people, they're only going out if they have to.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It feels like winter has been forever and we're just -- I don't even know if we're in the middle of winter yet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is really cold and getting colder. I'm getting tired of this weather. I need to move to Florida or Vegas.


ROMANS: In Chicago, you could see 4 inches of skin between the forehead and the upper lip, that's it.

BERMAN: That's probably too much, too.

Many in Ohio have the same feeling and same sensibility. Look at this, the wind blowing in Cleveland this morning with snow and temperatures falling way, way below zero. Some communities are actually saying they are running out of salt to take care of the streets and sidewalks.

ROMANS: Many public schools in Minnesota are closed again today, even with temperatures set to climb to the very balmy zero. Zero. Windchills this morning in Minneapolis could hit minus 39.

BERMAN: In Iowa -- you know a little something about Iowa.

ROMANS: A couple things about Iowa.

BERMAN: Blizzard conditions there have given way to clear skies, but that means bitter, bitter cold. Windchills in Cedar Rapids could hit 35 below --

ROMANS: Stay home.

BERMAN: -- this morning.

ROMANS: Stay home.

Southeastern Louisiana waking up to a winter storm this morning. You heard me right, Southeastern Louisiana. This arctic blast set to dump snow, sleet, freezing rain on much of that area, even New Orleans.

Usually when we're talking about weather in this part, we're talking about summer, fall, hurricanes. No, this is a winter storm with windchills in the single digits.

BERMAN: It's happening in Texas, too. Crews there scrambling to spray down the roads ahead of the cold and ice. These pictures being taken from Houston, a city socked by ice just last week. Many schools there are closed, and at its very busy airports this morning, hundreds of flights grounded. Passengers saying last night they got word from their airline.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our flight was scheduled for 7:15 tomorrow morning and we got a notice about an hour and a half ago that it was canceled.


ROMANS: You're going to be seeing more canceling ahead of time, because you know, the airlines get fined for keeping you on the tarmac, so they're going to cut you loose earlier than usual.

Indra Petersons is watching this extreme weather for us.

What are we going to expect today, Indra?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I think we know, that's the theme here. A little bit cold across the country, all the way, even down in the Southeast.

Let's talk about some of the windchills. New York City right now feels like zero, and you want to say that's bad, but right now, it's almost one of the warmest spots on the map. Take a look.

You're lucky here, right? Take a look at Minneapolis, 26 below. Chicago, right now you feel like 28 below zero. So, let's talk about how good it's going to get today, right? What's it going to feel like, maybe at the warmest time today?

The best it's going to feel with windchills, Chicago, will be 12 below. A rough day for them. Minneapolis, the best they're going to get is 22 below, D.C. about 14, even New York City feeling like 13.

So, we know this cold air is here, but the very unusual story today is how far south this cold air is digging. Notice all the way into the Southeast, you can really see that line of where the warm air is right along the Gulf and the cold air just above it. The reason that's key, we're looking for 32, that freezing mark, right?

You have moisture right here. So, what are we watching, for the threat of wintry mix and icing. Even in the morning hours, we're talking about really from Mississippi, even through Louisiana, a chance for snow today, down as far south as New Orleans.

Look at this as we go through noon today. This is spreading all along the Gulf. What we're going to be seeing is a lot of icing in the morning and then switching over to snow as we go through the afternoon, as the cold air starts to fill in. Even as we go through the overnight, look at the intensity spreading in through the Carolinas. We're talking heavy amounts of icing, especially out towards near Wilmington, they're nearing that threshold about half an inch, where power lines can come down.

And look at the amounts of snow into the Southeast.


PETERSONS: Talk about unusual for this time of year, or any time of year, put it that way.

BERMAN: You got some friends down in Atlanta working with us right now panicking over 2 inches of snow.

PETERSONS: Panicking, yes. They're having a rough one.

ROMANS: Thanks, Indra.


ROMANS: All right, it's a big day for the president. President Obama, he is set to deliver his State of the Union Address before Congress and the nation later today, a speech CNN has learned zeroing in on income inequality, the minimum wage and immigration reform. The president also expected to tout his plan to bypass Congress if Congress stands in his way. He's going to be talking about using his executive powers to get his priorities done.

Among those in the audience as guests of the president and first lady, General Motors' CEO Mary Barra, the first woman to head a U.S. car company, and Antoinette Tuff, the Georgia bookkeeper who talked down a school shooter.

There will be no shortage of reaction to the speech from the GOP. There are at least four -- four different Republican responses planned, but Washington state Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, she will deliver the official GOP rebuttal after the State of the union.

Of course, CNN will bring you the most complete coverage -- there's the music again, Berman -- analysis, the State of the Union, tonight beginning at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

BERMAN: It's like political mood music.

ROMANS: Music's important.

BERMAN: This morning, you may have to think twice before starting to play that game of angry birds. The NSA and its British counterpart are reportedly using the android version of that app and other apps to gather information about age, location, even sexual orientation. These revelations contained in documents from NSA leaker Edward Snowden, given to "The New York Times," "The Guardian" and "ProPublica." The NSA insists it does not profile Americans but is instead focused on foreign threats.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has reached a deal with some of the nation's biggest tech firms to let these firms disclose just how often the government asks them for information about users, but the government can block those disclosures from becoming public for two years.

ROMANS: All right, a vote could come maybe soon over this common ground on the new farm and food stamp bill. A vote could come this week. Under the plan, food stamps would be cut by roughly $90 per person, trimming the food stamp program by about 1 percent or $800 million, far less than many Republicans in the House wanted, but more than Democrats in the Senate had called for, changes for farmers, too. Cutting some direct payments to farmers, shifting instead some of the money to crop insurance programs.

BERMAN: The Obama administration is now promising a veto if the House moves ahead with its promised vote on a bill banning all federal funding of abortion. The bill would restrict Obamacare subsidies if they're used to purchase an insurance plan to provide abortion coverage. The White House calls this an intrusion on women's access to health care.

ROMANS: This morning, weapons supplied by the U.S. are now in the hands of moderate rebel forces in Syria. Reuters reporting Congress secretly approved funding for these arms and deliveries will continue through September. The shipments are reportedly being sent through Jordan to non-Islamist rebel groups. They include small arms and antitank rockets.

BERMAN: Some pretty shocking allegations today from Afghan President Hamid Karzai. According to "The Washington Post," he believes the United States is trying to undermine his government, at least, this is what he's saying, and is behind dozens of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan.

The Taliban has been blamed for many of these attacks. The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, James Cunningham, calls Karzai's suspicions deeply conspiratorial and divorced from reality. Karzai is making it very, very difficult for the U.S. to implement its plans there.

Also breaking overnight, ousted President Mohamed Morsy of Egypt is back in court this morning facing charges related to a 2011 jailbreak. It is one of four separate trials for the former leader who was removed from power in a coup last summer. Meanwhile, there has been more violence overnight in Cairo, where gunmen killed a senior interior ministry official. The government is calling this an assassination.

ROMANS: Stock markets around the globe recovering this morning after a rough few days. European stocks are rising after their largest three-day slump in seven months. Asian markets stabilized after two days of sharp losses, but you know what? Investors are really cautious. We've got a Federal Reserve meeting today. It will be the last led by outgoing Chairman Ben Bernanke before Janet Yellen takes over.

Analysts expect another $10 billion reduction of the bond-buying program. Stimulus measures have been giving economies around the world a boost, now reeling them in, something that is concerning stock investors in emerging markets.

Here in the U.S., futures mixed, choppy trading day Monday, really indecisive. Many investors think the market could be headed for correction, typically a drop of 10 percent or more. Dow is down about 4 percent so far this year.

BERMAN: All right, you know, the first story that caught my eye when I woke up this morning, this, the very sad news that we learned overnight, the death of music legend Pete Seeger. The singer- songwriter and activist took folk music from the fields to this world's biggest concert halls. Actually singing Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" right here, but from his pen came the standards "If I Had A Hammer" and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"

He wrote so many wonderful songs and was a frequent face, too, of rallies and protests and special events for more than seven decades, even performing on the steps of Lincoln Memorial for President Obama's first inauguration. Pete Seeger, a true, true legend, was 94.

ROMANS: I can remember singing his songs, especially his children's songs at summer camps and stuff, around the campfire. I mean, he's somebody who, wow, a real American treasure.

All right, coming up, Olympic fears, a shocking statement from U.S. hockey officials about whether players will head to the games. We are live with the very latest.

BERMAN: And horror inside a high school cafeteria. A student set on fire. New developments this morning right after the break.


BERMAN: All right, just 10 days left now before the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and despite the threats against the games, the head of the International Olympic Committee is insisting the athletes and spectators there will be safe. But get this -- now the NHL says it could re-evaluate letting professional hockey players travel to Sochi and is watching to see what happens.

Ivan Watson is live in Sochi this morning.

The athletes begin arriving there right now. What are they saying?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a little tough to see some of them. There are very strict security measures around the Olympic Park over my shoulder here, so we're not getting much access to those athletes.

Yes, the NHL deputy commissioner said if something unexpected happens, the NHL would reconsider, but he said he doesn't anticipate that, John. Meanwhile, the president of the International Olympic Committee said that he's sleeping very well these days, he trusts the Russian security measures. And I've got to say, we just drove along the length of the brand-new, 25-mile-long highway and high-speed rail line between the Olympic Park down here and the Caucasus mountains where the Alpine activities will be.

And I have to say, it looks like the Russians have brought an army down here, quite literally. There are pup tents and bunkers along the route of that new, that will be linking the two venues, with soldiers in them in camouflage, roughly every couple hundred yards. Tens of thousands of Russian troops and security forces brought in to protect these games, John.

BERMAN: Huge security presence, to say the least.

Vladimir Putin not only has to deal with what's going on in Sochi and the security situation there, but he's got an entire country to govern right now, and right now, he's facing allegations of corruption in the government. What are you learning?

WATSON: That's right. One of the main opposition leaders, his name is Alexei Navalny, has just published a report online. It's a pretty sleek Web site that's titled "Encyclopedia of Stealing," in which he alleges that the government here in Russia has been engaged in enormous graft and corruption.

And he's basically accused Vladimir Putin of enriching his friends with what some have described as perhaps the most expensive Olympics ever, to the tune of more than $50 billion, more than four times more what the Russians projected seven years ago when they won the bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Now, the Russian government, of course, has denied these charges, which have been coming from a number of opposition leaders here inside Russia. There's no question that vast amounts of money have been spent on this huge undertaking.

The surprising thing I'm hearing from some locals, John, is they're kind of angry. They're saying, you know, instead of being proud about hosting these Olympics, they're frustrated that they didn't get jobs on the huge construction projects, and some of them arguing, we didn't even get central plumbing in our villages as a result of these huge construction projects that have come in to the tune of more than $50 billion, if you can imagine -- John.

BERMAN: Ivan Watson in Sochi, where it's a bit contentious today, just 10 days left now until the opening ceremonies. Thanks, Ivan. Appreciate it.

This morning, planning is under way for a special election in Florida to replace Congressman Trey Radel. The Republican announcing he's stepping down just weeks after returning to work following the cocaine bust. In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, Radel wrote he can no longer effectively represent his district. This is after he said he would regain the trust of voters.

ROMANS: This morning, the investigation into New Jersey Governor Chris Christie moving forward with both houses in the state legislature working as one. The assembly and senate voting to join forces and create a single special committee to look into allegations Christie's aides shut down lanes of the George Washington Bridge as political payback.

A 16-year-old in Colorado is in critical condition this morning after setting himself on fire at his high school. This happened at Stanley Lake High. It's near Denver.

The teen reportedly doused himself with oil in the cafeteria and said nothing and then set himself ablaze.


LEIF SAMSON, STUDENT: I saw, like, this explosion happening in the lunch room, and, like, everyone started running out screaming "fire!", so I grabbed my backpack and ran upstairs and looked out the windows overlooking the cafeteria, and that's when I found out it was a guy on fire.


ROMANS: No other students were injured and a custodian quickly put the fire out. The teen apparently posted on social media that he planned it for years and no one will ever know why he did it, writing that friends tried to talk him out of it. Classes of the school canceled today, but counselors will be there if any students or teachers need to talk.

BERMAN: A North Carolina police officer, Randall Kerrick, is now indicted for manslaughter after a grand jury agreed with prosecutors and reversed decision made by another grand jury last week. Kerrick shot and killed Jonathan Ferrell last fall as the 24-year-old was apparently looking for help after a car crash. Kerrick's lawyer says Ferrell did not follow the officer's command.

ROMANS: Florida voters will get to decide whether to legalize medical marijuana. The state Supreme Court approving an initiative to go on the November ballot. Republican Party leaders objected over the wording, saying it was too vague and would allow people to get marijuana for the slightest complaint. If the measure is backed by 60 percent of voters, Florida would become the first Southern state to approve marijuana for medical use, joining 20 other states.

BERMAN: So, Google glass not even really on the open market yet, but the search engine giant is already adding prescription frames and detachable sunglasses. Starting today, Google is offering frames and shades to people trying out Google glass.

Google says some insurance plans may cover the $225 cost of the frames. Add that to the $1,500 price of the device itself. This stuff is not cheap. And you know, I'm not sure it's high fashion, but people seem to love it.

ROMANS: But you can see into the future with it, right?

BERMAN: Exactly. That's why people like it, and that's a small price to pay to see into the future, $2,500.

ROMANS: Imagine the stock-picking ability.

BERMAN: I have you for that.

All right, coming up for us next, could the NFL be turning to a controversial recreational drug to treat player injuries? Andy Scholes with all the news about pot, weed, reefer -- it's all coming up, next.


BERMAN: All right. We are in the middle of Super Bowl week, which means ginned-up controversy, and this week there is plenty, and the latest is the topic of possible NFL players using marijuana for medical purposes. Andy Scholes here with that this morning.

ANDY SCHOLES, BLEACHER REPORT: Hey, good morning, guys.

This is kind of a hot topic, especially because the two teams in the Super Bowl come from the only two states that have legal use of marijuana. That's Colorado and Washington. Now, Seahawks head Coach Pete Carroll, he was asked yesterday if he thinks players should be able to use the drug for medicinal purposes, and he definitely did not shoot down the idea.


PETE CARROLL, SEAHAWKS, HEAD COACH: We have to continue to explore and compete to find ways that are going to make our game a better game and take care of our players the best way possible. The fact that it's in the world of medicine is something obviously that the commissioner realizes, and so, him making the expression that we need to follow the information and the research, absolutely I'm in support of.


SCHOLES: NLF commissioner Roger Goodell says the league will always consider what's best for the players, but their medical experts are not saying pot use is what's best to treat injuries, such as concussions, right now.

And speaking of concussions, ESPN recently conducted an anonymous poll of 320 NFL players, and 85 percent of them said they would play in the Super Bowl with a concussion. Sure says a lot about how important this game is.

ROMANS: I'm surprised it's only 85 percent.

SCHOLES: Yes. Some of the players --

BERMAN: Their dream.

SCHOLES: -- not 100 percent? OK.

So, this year, the players in the Super Bowl received a pretty nice gift from Dr. Dre. They all get these diamond-encrusted Beats by Dre headphones. Richard Sherman, he endorses the headphones. He surprised his Seahawks teammates with them.

Retail value for these bad boys estimated to be around $25,000.


SCHOLES: Pretty expensive gift, if you're giving about 120 of them. But some say it's well worth it, considering the exposure the headphones are going to get this week with every player wearing them to and from all these Super Bowl events.

BERMAN: Couldn't they give isotoner gloves? They're more expensive than the gloves. Dan Marino --

ROMANS: Perfect pr placement. He just bought that.

SCHOLES: So, every year, guys, you know, in the Super Bowl, there's all kinds of crazy things you can bet on. I looked up and these are my favorites from this year. Will any member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers go shirtless during the halftime show? You can bet on that. Will the power go out again during this year's game? This pays 20-1.

All right, another one of my favorites. What colored Gatorade will be poured on the winning coach, water, orange, yellow, red? Blue pays 7- 1. So that might be the one to pick.

There are of course more crazy bets at You can check them out. One bet I think a lot of people might be making is how many times will Peyton Manning say "Omaha" during the game. What would you say the over-under is?


SCHOLES: It's 27 1/2.

BERMAN: Really?

SCHOLES: I would take the under.

BERMAN: Take the under on that?

SCHOLES: You guys change it up at some point, right?

BERMAN: But the Gatorade thing is big too, that seems like you could fix that. If I were connected, that's the bet I would try to fix.

SCHOLES: There are all kinds of bets you could fix on this. There's one bet, will Michael Crabtree tweet about Richard Sherman during the game?

BERMAN: Yes. Andy, thank you so much.

ROMANS: All right. Andy Scholes, nice to see you.

A dangerous deep freeze moving into the Deep South. All your other headlines after the break.