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Record Lows Across the Country; Arizona's "Religious Freedom" Bill; Afghan-US Relations Remain Contentious; Credit Suisse Grilled on the Hill Today; Childhood Obesity Drops

Aired February 26, 2014 - 05:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Millions waking up to a big chill this morning. Temperatures up to 30 degrees below normal. Record lows could be set. Indra Petersons is tracking just how cold it's going to get.


Meanwhile, a big battle brewing in Arizona. Does it politically charged bill effect (ph) freedom or endorse bigotry? Protests from both sides leaving the governor with a big, big decision and many people wonder why she hasn't made that decision already.

ROMANS: Surprising new numbers released in the fight against obesity. Why parents could have a lot to learn from their kids?

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. Thirty-one minutes past the hour. Great to see you this morning except for this. More bitter cold in store today for millions and millions of Americans. This is because of the latest arctic blast that's sending temperatures plunging 20 to 30 degrees below normal.

That's happening for two-thirds of the country. But, that's how this winter's been so far. Indra Petersons is here to explain it all, justify it all, and take all the blame.


INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, that's fine, because spring is 22 days away. It's going to feel really good and I'm going to get a lot of gifts, right, guys?


PETERSONS: Yes. Right now, it is painful. I mean, look at this temperatures right now. Indianapolis is seven degrees. Minneapolis is 10 below and this is without the wind chill. We have wind chill advisories out there. Very easy to see why temperatures 20, 30 below average in the afternoon, but this morning lows, look how dangerous we're talking about, 30, 35 below. Duluth right now feels like 35 below.

D.C., 27, even New York City, just in the teens out here. And as we go through the afternoon where it should be the highest or the warmest temperatures of the day, this is as good as it's getting. Chicago is going to feel like seven below. New York City 16, Minneapolis just at one. So, definitely not warming up enough for us. And Thursday morning, unfortunately tomorrow, going to feel even cooler, definitely seeing temperatures good 20, 30 below average if not below zero in those morning hours.

On top of it today, we are going to be talking about some light showers making their way through. A couple of system kind of cruising on in. Just keep in mind that also means the cold air is being reinforced. So, yes, light snow not looking a lot out here. But another major system kind of watching for the weekend. Just keep in mind totals for the next several days. You're going to see some flurries, unless, you're by the lakes -- lake-effect snow.

That's with the higher amounts. Everyone else really just looking for a dusting. Maybe several inches of rain down to the south, but this really is the big story. Out towards the west coast, two systems and a major one expected by Friday and Saturday where 15 percent of the state has exceptional drought conditions. Unbelievable. Good news as they're finally getting some rain, guys.

BERMAN: Yes. We're talking about a huge potential rainstorm on Friday. I've been talking to my friends out there and they're all watching that very, very carefully.

PETERSONS: -- concerns as well, right.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks, Indra.

In Arizona now, the pressure is mounting on Governor Jan Brewer who's expected to decide by Friday whether to sign or veto a so-called religious freedom bill. Now, critics say if passed, this law would give businesses a license to discriminate against gays and others. Governor Brewer is meeting today with supporters and opponents of the politically charged measure. And both sides are making their opinions known.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our state is about love and humanity. We don't need this SB-1062. We want the Super Bowl. We want Apple. And, we're really asking our governor, please do the right thing and veto this SB-1062.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This law says I have the right to say no or yes, based on my beliefs, without fear of prosecution or persecution.


ROMANS: And they're saying that's a religious freedom or a free speech issue even in some cases. Businesses outside the state have threatened to boycott Arizona if the bill is approved. Some have said, look, we're not going to plants there if this is what -- how the state's going to do business.

BERMAN: And Jan Brewer again has until Friday to decide. It becomes law if she does nothing, and people wondering why it's taking so long, in some cases, to make that decision.

Serious questions this morning about U.S./Afghan relations. President Obama making things perfectly clear in a rare phone conversation with the Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai. He said, unless, Karzai signs a long-term security agreement before leaving office, there will not 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 security deal. This was the first time the two leaders have spoken since last June. The U.S. is actually making clear to Afghanistan it's possible that it could make a deal with Karzai's successor. Until this point, it had wanted Karzai to sign the agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan. But clearly, relations between the two countries very, very contentious.

ROMANS: Oh, yes. Very contentious.

All right. The White House said to be considering four options for restructuring the National Security Agency's phone surveillance program. The "Wall Street Journal" reports the options range from running it through telephone companies to ditching the controversial data collection altogether. Under the current program, the NSA gets millions of telephone records from three companies.

Last month, President Obama asked intelligence agencies and the justice department to come up with some alternatives that would take the surveillance out of the NSA's hands.

BERMAN: New this morning, question 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 VHS e-mail obtained by CNN.

The exact number of marshals is a secret. And the department declined to say how positions have been eliminated -- or how many positions have been eliminated. Critics say the secrecy allows DHS to cut the workforce without acknowledging any cuts. Something that happened in the years before September 11.

You know, those cuts could come up today as new Homeland Security secretary, Jay Johnson, testifies before House members. He's expected to address recent airline security concerns, particularly, the shoe bomb and toothpaste container alerts. And also, the department's recently scrapped plan to track license plates. This is Johnson's first Capitol Hill appearance.

BERMAN: New numbers this morning for Obamacare enrollment. The president says four million people have now signed up for affordable health care under the act in the Obamacare exchanges. The White House is making a major push to get people signed up by the March 31st deadline. They set an unofficial goal to have seven million enrollees by then. It seems unlikely they'll hit seven million.

But four million which is what they say they have now in the case if they have made some progress after the disastrous rollout last fall.

ROMANS: All right. The details of this next story are just riveting. Happening today, leader of the Swiss bank Credit Suisse expected to be grilled by a Senate committee, investigating the bank's alleged role in helping Americans evade billions of dollars in taxes. Now, the cloak and dagger tactics are right out of a spy novel. One person telling investigators his bank statements were passed to him at a breakfast hidden inside a copy of "Sports Illustrated."

BERMAN: What?!

ROMANS: American clients who visited the bank in Switzerland were whisked to meetings in button list remote controlled elevators.

BERMAN: They exist?

ROMANS: Yes. Once there, they were advised on the best way to circumvent U.S. tax laws. 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. It's just -- it's like out of a novel, it's so interesting.

BERMAN: This makes accounting seem way more interesting than I ever thought it was.

ROMANS: Yes, money's sexy, Berman.

BERMAN: We'll leave that there. IRS commissioner, John Koskinen, set to testify today at an IRS oversight hearing. Koskinen will likely be grilled with questions regarding how funds in the agency are being allocated, including the recent decision to award bonuses to employees during sequester budget cuts.

Koskinen has maintained the bonuses are needed to retain and attracts employees. He sounds like Wall Street now. The commissioner will also face questions about the agency's targeting of Tea Party groups.

ROMANS: And the problem is so many other people go to Wall Street to get more money in a way, you think about it, retention bonuses at some places like the IRS, maybe that makes sense.

BERMAN: President Obama is taking his year of action message on the road again. He'll be in St. Paul, Minnesota today pitching the economic plans spelled out in the state of the union address. The president will focus on transportation this time at a speech at St. Paul's union depot. He'll announce a new competition encouraging investments to create jobs and restore infrastructure.

ROMANS: All right. We are on record high watch today, not just one record but two. The S&P 500 likely going to open above its all-time closing high. And Tesla shares are at a record. Tesla, look at that, 248 percent. Look at the return on that Tesla investment in the past year. Four years ago, you could have bought a share of Tesla for about 20 bucks. Today, above 200.

Now, the company has been on a shot streak this year. Morgan Stanley analyst thinks Tesla will double its share of the global car market by 2018. Consumer Reports just seem the model S its top car pick for the year. And Tesla's last earnings report blew Wall Street away. Not a bad pay year for founder and CEO, Elon Musk. His net worth has soared by nearly $4 billion, that's with a B, $4 billion in 2014.

Checking overseas markets, they're having a tougher day right now. You can see Tokyo down, London down, Frankfurt down a little bit, too.

BERMAN: Still, the S&P approaching a record high.


BERMAN: Just like Christine Romans.


ROMANS: No, I'm telling you, that big correction that so many people were worried about just disappeared.

Meanwhile, 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 adark (ph) Tuesday. There are reports it lost more than 700,000 customers Bitcoins. That's about $400 million worth of Bitcoins.

Other digital currency exchange have issued statements of trying to reassure investors that Bitcoin is buyable and that they have good security procedures to keep your Bitcoin safe.

BERMAN: All right. Here's this question, was it just Joe Biden being Joe Biden? The vice president who has become famous or infamous or both or is off-the-cuff remarks had this to say at an event honoring African-American history month. And he was talking about his own basketball skills.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But also, a couple good friends here, Kevin Johnson who is the National Black Caucus chair.


BIDEN: And I told the president, next game I have him.


BIDEN: Just remember, I may be a White boy, but I can jump.


BIDEN: And I think we can take him.



BERMAN: So, he's talking about Sacramento mayor, Kevin Johnson, who was a star in the NBA. He played for the Phoenix Suns. Very, very good. The question is, was the joke appropriate or inappropriate?

ROMANS: Everyone laughed. And he's talking about playing pickup basketball with the president. And talking about taking on the president. I mean, it sounds like -- it sounds pretty innocent to me.

BERMAN: Yes, I know. I mean, you want to be able to talk about race in a very comfortable, frank, you know, light-hearted way at times. I'm just trying to think about this. I was, you know, how would I explain that joke to my six-year-old son?

ROMANS: Wasn't there a movie?

BERMAN: There was a movie. I would let my boy see it, but that's a whole separate issue.

ROMANS: Right.

BERMAN: But no, can you explain that to a six-year-old and have a make sense? Just think about that --

ROMANS: Can you explain politics to a six-year-old --


ROMANS: I'd say keep him away from the politics first, Berman.

BERMAN: Good point.

ROMANS: All right. A family trip to the movies turns tragic. A father dying in police custody. Just a family trip to the movies. Did officers use excessive force? The video the victim's family wants you to see ahead.


BERMAN: All right. Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone.

The new deadline is tomorrow for Ukraine's parliament to have an interim government in place. While this is happening, the special riot police unit embattled protesters in Independence Square before President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted. That group has been eliminated by the country's acting interior minister.

The U.S. and Britain are offering their support for Ukraine's new leadership, and hopefully, what they say to be a Democratic future. Secretary of state, John Kerry, says they need Russia's help as well adding that it's not in Moscow's interest for Ukraine to face economic collapse.

ROMANS (voice-over): According to scientists, radiation from Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster has not reached the coast of California. Radioactive particles from the stricken power plant could arrive on our shores by spring, but the experts say they're not likely to pose any threat to human health. The scientists answering a flood of misinformation about the potential of the 2011 accident to poison people living on the west coast. Three years that anniversary. About three years.

BERMAN: The family of an Oklahoma man who allegedly died in a police custody releasing video now of the incident. Police say 44-year-old Louis Rodriguez (ph) was combative when questioned about a domestic disturbance outside of a movie theater in Moore, Oklahoma. Rodriguez's wife recorded the incident on her cell phone, in fear, she said, 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-JIMNEZ, ATTORNEY RODRIGUEZ FAMILY: 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.


BERMAN: Again, this man died. A lot of questions here. Autopsy results are pending. Police say the officers involved in the incident are now on administrative leave while an investigation takes place.

ROMANS: The Transportation Department coming down hard on Asiana Airlines for failing to promptly assist passengers and their families following last year's crash at San Francisco International Airport. Asiana was fined $500,000, the first penalty of its kind.

Federal officials say the South Korean Airline violated the foreign air carrier family support act, in some cases, taking five days to notify family members and failing to provide other basic assistance. Three people died, more than 180 others were injured in that crash landing. Wow.

BERMAN: You know what I want to know right now?


BERMAN: What's coming up on "NEW DAY." Chris Cuomo joins us now. Hey, Chris.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": How are you, my good people?

ROMANS: We're good.

CUOMO: Well, we're following a couple stories today. It should be very high interest. The first is this mystery illness that's happening out west? Did you hear about these kids who are being partially paralyzed? This little girl you're looking at, her left arm just went numb on her and became useless. They don't know why. It's being called a polio-like virus, but it's not polio.

Now, we hear that one of the victims is actually getting better. So, the medical community is kind of rushing there to figure out why, see if there's some common factor they can use to help these other kids. So, we're going to take you through all of that and let you know the latest for your own family's concerns and just to follow this story, too, its conclusion.

Also, we have an exclusive for you today. When Philip Seymour Hoffman died, there was a lot of information about what happened, his addiction, the spiraling out of control. There was all this ugly innuendo about secret life and what was really happening with him. And so much of it was false. And the man joining us is a very good friend of Philip Seymour Hoffman. His name is David Bar Katz.

He is the man who found his friend after he had overdosed. He also just settled a landmark lawsuit against the "National Enquirer" about allegations stemming from his relationship with Hoffman. We will tell you about it. He will set the record straight about his friend, what his life was about, how his life ended. And wait until you hear about this story with the "Enquirer." And what the "Enquirer" is going to have to do to make good in the name of the truth. It is really amazing.

BERMAN: Amazing, amazing story. An incredible victory in a way over innuendo. I was shocked and elated when I read that story all at the same time. All right, Chris. We'll look forward to see that a little bit.

ROMANS: All right. Also this morning, promising news in the battle against obesity. A drastic drop in overweight children. But what's happening with adults? That story's next.


BERMAN: Very, very big news in the battle against childhood obesity. According to federal data, obesity in children between the ages in two and five, between the ages of two and five, has decreased over 40 percent in the last decade. That is a huge decrease. Wonderful news. And you know, we don't hear a lot of wonderful news in the battle against obesity. Much of the reduction coming in the past three to four years.

Experts point to increase attention to nutrition, breastfeeding rates, and higher levels with physical activity. You know, this is the fourth anniversary of the first lady's "Let's Move!" program. The White House is pushing for a new measure about childhood nutrition. Scientists say they don't know if any of these programs in and of themselves have made a difference.

Still, the drop is statistically significant. And it comes as the overall obesity rate for adults and children has remained flat. And for older people, especially older women, the obesity rate has actually increased.

ROMANS: But think about the difference in wellness. Wellness education and just awareness of wellness over the past decade.

BERMAN: And the studies, the recent studies have shown that if you are obese at a very young age between the ages of two and five, that's a problem that lasts forever. So, if you're making strives there, it's just huge, huge news.

ROMANS: All right. Another news, an explosion at a natural gas well forcing dozens of people to evacuate their homes overnight in Louisiana. Hazmat crews on the scene this hour. Officials say a crew was drilling at the gas well when there was a sudden explosion. So far, there have been no reports of injuries. There's no word when the evacuation will be lifted.

Coming up, GM expanding a recall because of a potentially deadly safety issue. The details in "Money Time."


ROMANS: Welcome back to EARLY START. It's "Money Time." Three minutes to the top of the hour. The bulls, they're still running on Wall Street. Stocks back in record territory. The S&P 500 above its all-time closing high. This rally started earlier this month. This month's rally has taken the S&P 500 up nearly four percent.

Investors are looking past the recent round of weak economic news. They're blaming the weather. And they're banking on a spring rebound. And for now, this old five-year-old bull market is still running.

Deadly safety problem is prompting GM to expand a recall, a recall we first told you about a few weeks ago. Thirteen people have died because of crashes that occurred when the vehicle unexpectedly shut off. Two weeks ago, GM said there were six fatalities. It said it was recalling about 800,000 vehicles. Now, the automaker is recalling nearly 1.4 million.

The Chevy Cobalt and HHR, Pontiac G-5, and Solstice and the Saturn Ion and Sky built between 2003 and 2007. The problem with ignition, it switches out of the run position when the keys are jarred by off- roading or by even a heavy key ring that bangs against the steering column. GM is apologizing. It could also end up paying hundreds of millions of dollars in potential civil penalties. So, a bigger recall than first thought and more fatalities than first reported.

BERMAN: -- paying for --


BERMAN: -- could be very interesting to see.

All right. Thanks for watching. "NEW DAY" starts right now.