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Polar Plunge; Arizona's Religious Freedom Bill; Obama to Karzai: U.S. Pulling Out; Childhood Obesity Drops

Aired February 26, 2014 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Polar plunge. Millions waking up to a bitter blast of arctic air. Some areas could hit record low temperatures. We're talking 30 degrees below normal.

Indra Petersons is tracking what you will be facing today.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: In Arizona, protests and controversy. A bill sitting on a governor's desk. Some say it protects religious freedom. Others calling it bigotry.

This morning, pressure mounting on both sides. Will Governor Jan Brewer sign or veto that bill?

BERMAN: Surprising new numbers showing a big, big drop in childhood obesity this morning. What could be a big turning point towards a healthier? But we should tell you it's not all good news, especially for older women.

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

ROMANS: I'm Christian Romans. It's Wednesday, we're halfway through the week. It's 5:00 a.m. So, get up and get going. Welcome to EARLY START this morning.

Let's begin with our top story. It is -- drum roll, please -- the weather, an arctic chill.

Cold air, millions of Americans waking up to face another bitterly cold morning. The arctic blast dropping temperatures on the Midwest and East, 20 to 30 degrees below normal. Record lows in some cases. And of course, you know, it wouldn't be cold without some snow to go along with it. The latest freeze is not as deep as the one in January. But that's cold comfort for those of us who want spring to get here.

What is it, 22 days -- 22 days, Indra, until spring comes? She's got the details for us. Hi there.


It's actually worse than yesterday. We're talking temperatures again. Currently, it looks like, Green Bay, five below. Minneapolis, 10 below. Duluth, 12 below right now. New York City, 27, and that is, of course, without the windchill.

We are talking about with the winds in Minneapolis, feeling like almost 30 below. Duluth, 35 below this morning. It is miserable out there.

Let's talk about what it feels like towards the afternoon, guys. This is the best it gets -- notice 26 in D.C. Detroit feeling like zero. Indianapolis, single digits at five.

And then tomorrow morning, unbelievable, gets even worse, temperatures again 14 below, out towards Minneapolis.

So, it's going to be rough. There's some snow in the forecast. Not a biggie. We're talking just a little bit of dusting, as two systems make their way through. This is a reinforcing burst of cold air behind the cold front that's already here.

So, yes, this cold is expected to linger. As far as what we're expecting, snow not produced from the first system, less than an inch. Now, of course, lake-effect snow that's where we get higher amounts of water, yes, six inches possible there.

I do want to point out, in the South, they're getting rain. And also, finally, on the West Coast, guys, two systems a really big one especially for the weekend, which they need for the dry conditions.

BERMAN: I think it's really hard to be in Duluth right now.

So, here's a challenge for you, if you're in Duluth watching our show, tweet us a picture watching a thermometer. We'll send you sympathy. That is all we had for you is sympathy this morning.


BERMAN: All right. Thanks, Indra. Appreciate it.

Let's go to Arizona now where this morning, the fate of a politically charged "Religious Freedom Bill" lies in hands of Governor Jan Brewer. A lot of people asking why has she not acted already? Still, she has till Friday that would allow businesses to deny services on gays, lesbians and others based on religious objections. And it appears she may be leaning towards a veto.

Let's get more now from CNN's Miguel Marquez.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, Christine, another night, another protest. They say they will be here every single night until the governor decides. We know the governor is back in Arizona. We expect today she will meet with business leaders, with supporters of 1062 and opponents of it, as well as legislators.

And we expect, as soon as Thursday, she could issue a veto. And we do expect at this point that she will issue a veto. But she will use that opportunity, we understand, as an opportunity to make a speech and talk about some of the things that have been said about Arizona during this debate -- John, Christine.


ROMANS: Some of the big companies that do business, John, in Arizona, they have been coming out and saying we hope you veto this. We do not support.

BERMAN: American Airlines, Delta, Apple, the NFL has issued thinly veiled threats. The Super Bowl commission. There are a lot coming down hard.

ROMANS: All right. So, we continue to follow that.

Also this morning, serious questions about the fragile relationship between the U.S. and Afghanistan. President Obama issuing what amounts to a threat in a phone call with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Unless Karzai signs a long term security agreement before leaving office, there won't be any U.S. troops left in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

The president has ordered the Pentagon to begin planning for a complete withdrawal. Karzai has refused for months to sign the secured deal. It's the first time the two leaders have spoken since last June.

BERMAN: New this morning, the White House says he considers four options for restructuring the National Security Agency's phone surveillance program. This morning, "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting the options range running it through telephone companies to ditching the controversial data collection altogether. Under the current program, the NSA gets millions of phone records from three companies. Last month, President Obama asked the intelligence agency and the Justice Departments to come up with alternatives that would take the surveillance out of the NSA's hands.

ROMANS: New this morning, questions about controversial cuts in the number of federal air marshals. The Department of Homeland Security trimming the number of air marshals assigned to protect airplanes from terrorists. That's according to an internal DHS e-mail obtained by CNN. The exactly number of marshals is secret. The department declined to say how many positions have been eliminated.

Critics say the secrecy allows DHS to cut the workforce without having to tell anybody about it. Something what happened in the years before 9/11.

BERMAN: Those cuts could come up today as new Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson testifies before House members. He's expected to address security concerns at airports, including the shoe bomb and toothpaste terror alert. This is Johnson's first Capitol Hill appearance as secretary.

ROMANS: Once on the critical list, Obamacare seems to be in relatively good health. The White House has been making a major push to get people signed up by the March 31 deadline. They've set an unofficial goal to have 7 million enrollees. BERMAN: It doesn't seem like they will get to 7 million. More people do keep signing up. But again, there are questions --

ROMANS: And the help is relative considering where we've come from.

BERMAN: Exactly.

Happening today, leaders of the Swiss bank Credit Suisse expected to be grilled by the Senate committee investigating the banks alleged role in helping Americans evade billions of dollars in taxes. Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, the committee leader, says the bank's actions were right out of a James Bond field as it helped wealthy U.S. clients hide billions from the IRS. Separately from the Senate panel, federal prosecutors are investigating Credit Suisse and more than a dozen other large Swiss banks for alleged offshore tax evasion.

ROMANS: It reads like a spy novel. Some of these messages the lawmakers say they used to secret money out of the United States into these bank vaults. Unbelievable.

BERMAN: I don't remember the Bond film that was specifically about accounting. I don't know, is that like between "Skyfall" and "Dr. No" somewhere?

ROMANS: Very funny.

BERMAN: All right.

ROMANS: IRS commissioner John Koskinen will testify today at an IRS oversight hearing. He'll likely be grilled with questions regarding how funds in the IRS are being allocated, including the recent decision to award bonuses to employees in the middle of sequester budget cuts. Koskinen has maintained that bonuses are needed to retain and attract good employees. The commissioner will also face questions about the agency's accused targeting of Tea Party groups.

BERMAN: President Obama is taking his year of action message on the road today. He'll be in St. Paul, Minnesota, pitching the economic plan spelled out in his State of the Union Address. The president today will focus on transportation issues at a speech at St. Paul's Union Depot. Announcing new competition, encouraging investments to create jobs and he says restore infrastructure.

ROMANS: Today, House Democrats are set to kick off their efforts to raise the minimum wage. The president and Democrats pushing to increase the wage from $7.10 an hour to $10.10 an hour. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will gather signatures on a, quote, "discharge petition" to require a House vote. It's a procedure used only when leaders think they have a good chance of succeeding.

BERMAN: I don't think they have a good chance of succeeding. They also use it to embarrass people who don't sign the petition. It's used often to apply pressure.

ROMANS: As the minimum wage push continues. All right. Stocks making another run at records. Futures up modestly. The S&P 500 likely to open in record territory. At the same time, job cuts to JPMorgan chase, 5,000 of them happening this year. The bank says it's because of a drop in mortgage lending and because technology is getting better. People can get a loan to their checks with a lot of banking online with a smartphone. You need fewer people for that.

So, JPMorgan doesn't need as many humans, so the same breathe, banks raised its profit goal.

You know, this isn't the only -- we've seen a lot of companies raising their profit goal but cutting jobs. Macy's cutting jobs as profits rise. HP is in the midst of layoffs as its stock price rise.

Bottom line, it's a bottom line economy. Leaner and meaner corporations are producing higher profits and boosting stock prices. It's another reason why what's good for Wall Street is not necessarily good for Main Street. Record-high stocks, some people say I don't feel it, that's why.

BERMAN: Yes, productivity can be a four-letter word if you're an employee of a company.

All right. Nine minutes after the hour. Here's this question: is bitcoin about to bite the dust? The collapse of a major bitcoin exchange could doom the world's biggest experiment in electronic cash. The Japanese-based Internet exchange site went dark Tuesday amidst report it lost track of more than 700,000 customers. Bitcoin and other digital currency exchanges have issued statements trying to reassure investors of bitcoin's viability and their own security procedure.

ROMANS: The thing about bitcoin, it was invented by someone we don't know. And you have to mine it using computers. There's only a certain number of them.

It's so out there science fiction, but some people really believe in it. This has been a real knock on the bitcoin this week.

BERMAN: I still don't understand it, but I know it's exciting somehow.

ROMANS: It's somehow exciting.

All right. Breaking news overnight, tensions arising in Ukraine, riot police disbanded. U.S. and Russia taking opposing sides on who will run that country. We are live with the very latest.

BERMAN: And could children soon be born with three biological parents? This is interesting, folks. The new technology, why the government now says it needs to get involved. That's next.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. Ukraine's parliament still laying the foundation for an interim government, which is expected to be in place by tomorrow. That's their hope. The special riot police unit that battled protesters in Independence Square before President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted. That group of police has now been disbanded.

Meantime, both the United States and Britain are voicing support for Ukraine's new leadership, and urging Russia to be part of the solution in Ukraine.

CNN's Phil Black is live in Kiev this morning.

Phil, what's the situation today?


So many challenges ahead for this country after the revolution that has taken place here. First of all, establishing that interim government. It was supposed to happen yesterday. They missed that deadline.

The challenge proved too great. And is it a significant challenge because they're trying put together a government that represents all the main political opposition parties. These are parties that really don't agree on very much, apart from the fact they don't like the former President Viktor Yanukovych. It's going to have technical experts.

There's also a desire to see some of the people's heroes among the ministers and officials. These are people who rose to prominence through occupation and struggle on Independence Square behind me. The plan is to have the list of names today. They're going to put it to the crowd here in the square before voting on it in the parliament tomorrow.

The first job of this new government will be to tackle the country's economic crisis. The country is broke. It needs tens of billions of dollars in aid, in donations and loans from other countries. The United States said it's willing to be part of that conversation. It is ready to help.

But first, this country has to get this interim government together, John.

BERMAN: It's a crisis that's gone from political to economic. The European Union and the United States, we're showing Ukraine a tough love. The question is how much will it go on with tough love before they start shelling out the cash.

Phil Black in Kiev, thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right. Mexico says it's holding to drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman. Officials say he'll stand trial there on drug trafficking and organized crime charges in Mexico, before they even consider extraditing him to the U.S. Guzman was widely considered one of the most powerful drug lords in the world until his capture Saturday, after 13 years on the run. But experts fear Mexican prosecutors could squander the opportunity to mine him for vital information about the country's biggest and deadliest drug cartels.

BERMAN: Missouri's death row inmate Michael Taylor executed overnight after federal courts and the state's governor refused his last-minute appeals. The 47 year Taylor kidnapped and raped and killed a teenage girl back in 1989. His attorneys argue the lethal drug purchased from a compounding pharmacy could result in pain and suffering but the plea was rejected.

This is Missouri's fourth execution in as many months.

ROMANS: The family of an Oklahoma man who allegedly died in police custody released video of that tragic scene. Police say Luis Rodriguez was combative when questioned about a domestic disturbance outside of a movie theater in Moore, Oklahoma. Rodriguez's wife record the confrontation on her cell phone saying she feared for her husband's life.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll take care of him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He doesn't move. You kill him! You kill him!

MICHAEL BROOKS-JIMENEZ, ATTORNEY FOR RODRIGUEZ: Taking him face down on to the pavement, pepper spraying his mouth, nose and eyes and putting the weight of five grown men on top of him and then handcuffing him as he was unconscious or possibly already dead.


ROMANS: Autopsy results are pending. Police say the ever officers involved in the incident are now on administrative lead while the investigation is ongoing.

BERMAN: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will face the music later today, actually face voter's questions. He'll answer them from the public during his "Ask the Governor" monthly radio show. The governor also set to hold another town hall meeting today. One of the hot topics could be the whole bridge gate controversy. Although he did hold a town meeting last week in New Jersey where that honestly never came up at all.

ROMANS: All right. Officials in North Carolina are investigating a massive cold ash spill at the Duke Energy plant earlier this month. At least 30,000 tons of toxic coal ash released into the Dan River when a pipe broke. Dozens of protesters were outside the Duke Energy Center Tuesday, demanding that company remove the ash stored at its plants. BERMAN: An explosion at a natural gas well forcing dozens of people to evacuate their homes overnight. This happened in Louisiana. Look at this.

Hazmat crews were on the scene this morning. Officials say the crew was drilling a gas well when there was a sudden explosion. So far, there'd be no reports of injuries and there was no word of evacuation order will be lifted.

ROMANS: All right. A big victory this morning in the battle against childhood obesity. According to federal data, obesity in children between the ages of 2 and 5 has decreased over 40 percent in the last decade. Much of that reduction coming in the past three or four years.

Now, experts report to increased attention to nutrition, breast- feeding rates, higher levels of physical activity. This comes as the first lady's Let's Move Program marks its fourth anniversary.

And now, the White House is pushing new rules to start advertising foods deemed unhealthy.

BERMAN: You know, this is huge, huge news. And it's a type of good news you don't hear often.

ROMANS: Yes, it really is.

BERMAN: Scientists say they don't know for sure what's causing the drop. They don't know if it's a greater focus on nutrition, but it's wonderful news it's happening.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

BERMAN: Although I should say, senior women -- there's an increase in obesity rates among senior women. So, it's not all good.

ROMANS: Something to watch.

BERMAN: An FDA advisory panel debating a reproductive procedure that would actually result in babies with three, yes, three genetic parents.

ROMANS: How? How could you even do that?

BERMAN: This involves combining DNA from three people, the goal of creating embryos free of inherent conditions such as blindness and epilepsy. It involves treating a woman's cell with evidence of a different woman's cell and then having it fertilize by a male egg. That's how you get the three parents. Debate over whether the technique known as three-parent IVF should be allowed is indicative of just how fast obviously medicine is evolving.

Right now, they're talking about whether it's scientifically advisable. Whether or not it could cause harm to the babies. The whole ethical debate is something completely separate.

Yes, blowing your mind.

ROMANS: All right. In today's "Road Warriors" is looking and paying for a flight getting in the way of your Facebook and Twitter time. Well, one airline is making things easier. Dutch airline KLM is now letting passengers book through Facebook and Twitter.

When you go on KLM's Facebook page, there's the option to book a trip. Once you submit your information, you get a message to a link to a KLM page, which allows to make a payment.

Now, for Twitter, just tweet KLM with the details of your flight and you will get a direct message to pay. And KLM customers have other options using this new method. They also have the ability to pay for extra baggage and make seat selections, all with social media.

KLM said it has 130 social media agents to answer some 35,000 Facebook and Twitter questions per week.

BERMAN: This is great news if you want to go to Amsterdam. If you want to go to Amsterdam, I hope you pay very close attention to everything we just told you there.

All right. Coming up for us next, history being made on the college basketball court. Really amazing stuff.

Andy Scholes explains next in the "Bleacher Report."


BERMAN: You know, perfection is not easy. Unless you're Christine Romans.

After another impressive win last night, the Wichita State Shockers are just one win away from a regular undefeated season.

Andy Scholes here with the "Bleacher Report."

Go Shockers!

ANDY SCHOLES, BLEACHER REPORT: Yes. Good morning, guys.

Wichita State, they've just been on a roll ever since making it to the final four last season. After beating Bradley last night, the Shockers became the first team ever to reach 30-0 in a regular season. And they can complete their perfect regular season on Saturday with a win over Missouri State.

This is a big change compared to last year, you know, a role reversal, per se. The shockers have gone from the Cinderella story to one of the favorites to win the NCAA tournament.

All right. One of the top stories in the live section of right now, Jason Collins' new Brooklyn Nets Jersey is flying off the shelves. The NBA said his jersey was the top seller on the first day it was available. Collins, who is the first openly athletes playing the NBA is going to start wearing the number 98 Thursday as a tribute to Matthew Shepard who was brutally murdered in a gay hate crime in 1998.

All right. The Yankees hit the field yesterday for the first exhibition game of the spring. Their first opponent, Heisman trophy winner Jameis Winston. He's quite the baseball player, but he wound out breaking his bat and struck out looking. Winston has said after college, he would like to be a true sports star just like Bo Jackson.

All right. Opening day for Major League Baseball just about a month away. Hall of fame shortstop Ozzie Smith is leading the charge to have the day made into a national holiday. Ozzie is teaming with Budweiser to try to get 100,000 signatures on to get the movement going.

I don't know about you guys, but I'm on board. I would love nothing better than to sit around on opening day and watch baseball and have a cold one.

BERMAN: Yes, I already thought it was a national holiday.


BERMAN: I mean, even if I show up to work, I'm not really working.

All right. Andy, appreciate it. Good to see you.

SCHOLES: Have a good one.

BERMAN: All right. Coming up next, the top headlines -- everything you need to know for your day, including a groundbreaking new study on childhood obesity. Stay with us.