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Dangerous, Deadly Weather; Crisis in Ukraine; Pilot Shortage?; Obama Launches "My Brother's Keeper"

Aired February 28, 2014 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Dangerous, severe weather from coast to coast this morning. Thousands in California evacuated for what could be the worst flooding that state has seen in years. And elsewhere, bitter cold temperatures turning deadly. Some cities closing their schools, telling people to stay inside.

Indra Petersons is tracking what is headed your way.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news overnight in Ukraine. Officials accusing Russia of an armed invasion. Russian gunmen now occupying two airports this morning. We are live with developments overnight.

BERMAN: And are airlines cheating you at the ticket counter, slashing services, raising prices, claiming there just aren't enough pilots? Question is, is this really true? What a new report is saying this morning.

Good morning, everyone! Welcome to EARLY START. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It is Friday, February 28th. It is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

All right, millions facing dangerous weather from coast to coast this morning. It is Friday. That's the only good thing I can tell you.

BERMAN: Exactly, still, it's Friday.

ROMANS: Communities in the California foothills near Los Angeles bracing for mud slides. Look at these pictures!

A major Pacific storm moving in there, 1,000 homes now under a mandatory evacuation order. The drought-starved region expected to get more rain in the next 48 hours, more rain in two days, Berman, than they've had in the past two years.

Meantime, bitter cold gripping much of the country, windchill temperatures dipping to 25 below. That's forced public schools to close today in Minnesota, where there's been, count this, 46 days of subzero temperatures this winter. The cold turned tragic.

A 6-year-old girl died from exposure. So sad there.

Indra Petersons tracking the extreme weather from coast to coast. Hi, Indra.


Definitely a lot to talk about this morning. One is these record lows, the potential record lows that we could be seeing this morning. You can actually see the morning lows and what the records are, and we're very close, especially when you look at Detroit, the current temperature about 1 degree, the record only being about 1 below. So, we're going to continue to monitor that as these temperatures are still dropping, each at these early hours.

Let's talk about what the current windchills are. Again, very dangerous, not as cold as yesterday, but still 26 below zero out toward the Midwest. Notice a lot of that cold weather has spread into the Northeast today, so we're talking about temperatures a good 6, almost 7 degrees below zero.

Now, even as we go into the afternoon, these departures for where they should be, even for this time of year, definitely low. Again, seeing a little bit of recovery, not 20 or 30 below. Out towards the Midwest, look when you go towards the Northeast, where the cold air has pushed, now a good 20 below, about 25 below where they should be this time of year. New York City only looking for 21.

Other big story, we've been talking about this -- the latest update now, 26 percent of the state of California in the highest category for drought conditions. So, keep in mind, that makes the soil like concrete. It can't absorb the water. Then you have this big massive low that's currently bringing rain into the area.

This is a second part of two-system series here, making its way through, expected to cause heavy rain there, even a slight risk for severe weather. And this is key no matter where you live, because notice, it could mean heavy snow through the weekend. Sunday into Monday, there are two models in there. Depending where this goes, who gets the snow and how much -- something we'll be watching very carefully, guys.

BERMAN: Indra, just to confirm here -- people in my town are saying six inches to a foot on Monday if it goes the right way?

PETERSONS: I mean, that's exactly the thing. We notice one of the models brings a big chunk to D.C., the other headed farther north. We have to watch it.

Currently, it's affecting California. It's got a long way to go. We'll watch it.

BERMAN: All right. In the news in California, watch out for this rain, because it could be dangerous.

Thank you so much, Indra Petersons.

ROMANS: Two days of rain equal to what they've had in the last two years. BERMAN: Two years worth of rain.

ROMANS: They haven't had much rain in two years, but all at once is tough.

BERMAN: Other big news overseas -- breaking overnight in Ukraine, airports seized by gunmen. The Ukrainian official is accusing the Russians of what he calls an armed invasion.

This sounds like a big deal. You can bet the U.S. is keeping close watch on this combustible situation. The details this morning, they are murky, but an official in the new Ukrainian government says that gunmen have taken over two airports in Ukraine's Crimea region. And this comes just about 24 hours after gunmen seized government buildings and raised the Russian flag.

There are about 150,000 Russian troops on alert as large-scale military exercises commence along the border with Ukraine. And all this as Ukraine's fugitive ex-president has emerged, apparently in Russia, declaring that he's still Ukraine's rightful leader.

Our Phil Black is in Kiev live this morning.

Phil, a lot going on. Tell us about these airports first, the idea that gunmen have taken them over, the accusation by the Ukrainians that it's an armed Russian invasion.

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, that's right. It is yet another escalation in the Crimea, as more people appear to be taking up arms because of the political transformations that have been happening here in the capital. Two airports, as you say, now have pro-Russian gunmen patrolling their perimeters.

More than that, it is the new interior minister of this country that is saying some of those guys are not just pro-Russian civilian militia, they are, he says, professional Russian soldiers, military personnel that have been deployed from a nearby naval base, and that's why he's talking about it in terms of an invasion and an occupation.

Just this morning, the Ukrainian parliament has passed resolutions calling on Russia to stop aggressive behavior that breaches the country's sovereignty and to stop fanning the flames of separatism here, because that's the only key point, this pro-Russian government stormed the parliament yesterday, kept everyone out, apart from pro- Russian members of that parliament who were able to get enough of them together to hold the vote to call for a referendum on whether or not the Crimea should become a separate, independent state, to split away from the rest of the Ukraine.

And as you mentioned, we are now expected to hear today from the former Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, who's been on the run for several days. Now, confirmation that he is in Russia. His intention to hold a press conference in the Russian city of Rostov later today in which he is expected to declare that he believes he is the rightful, legitimate leader of Ukraine.

But the key question, what now is he prepared to do about it, John?

BERMAN: What now is he prepared to do, how far will Vladimir Putin go, what does the U.S. do? And again, these two airports being occupied by armed gunmen, pro-Russian at a minimum. Are they Russian troops? That remains an open question.

Phil Black, good to see you this morning. We'll be watching this all morning as it develops.

ROMANS: All right. Airlines have blamed service cuts on a shortage of pilots, but according to a report by the Government Accountability Office, there are more than enough pilots, but many aren't willing to work for lower wages being offered by regional carriers.

The report on the nation's pilot workforce is being released today. It says pilot salaries fell nearly 10 percent between 2000 and 2010. On most regional airlines, the average starting pay for a pilot on a regional airline, between $21,000 and $24,000 a year. And the GAO report says would-be pilots are noticing.

BERMAN: So, after accusations that Border Patrol agents have a history of using unnecessary deadly force, Customs and Border Protection, it is now under pressure to make its use of force policies public.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told the House committee that it could happen any day now. A leaked report shows that agents unnecessarily shot at rock-throwers and intentionally stepped in front of vehicles as an apparent excuse to shoot fleeing drivers.

ROMANS: A bill that would have expanded health care and education for veterans getting rejected in the Senate. A lack of support from Republicans doomed this bill. They said the $24 billion price tag would bust the budget. Veterans groups said the bill simply fell victim to Washington's partisan politics.

BERMAN: So, a lot of free rides for members of Congress, according to "USA Today". Lawmakers taking more than $1.37 million worth of privately funded, free trips last year, the most in a decade. And on over 40 percent of those trips, family members came along.

Now, this travel was mostly funded by non-profit, charitable and educational groups that have public policy agendas.

ROMANS: New revelations from NSA leaker Edward Snowden published in "The Guardian." The newspaper reports Britain's GCHQ spy agency intercepted 1.8 million video chats during a six-month stretch in 2008, yielding an enormous collection of, shall we say intimate images from unsuspecting users.

BERMAN: What's that mean?

ROMANS: It means intimate images, Berman.

Services like Yahoo Messenger were reportedly among those hacks. "The Guardian" says the operation "Optic Nerve" was still in operation in 2012.

And let me just to be clear, you may not have known this was happening, but if you were on a web cam intimately with anyone, the British intelligence saw it.

BERMAN: Disturbing on many levels.

All right. Here at home, the NSA surveillance operations are costing big technology companies billions. Many tech firms have cooperated with the spy agency and now businesses like Cisco, IBM and Microsoft say they're losing revenues because overseas companies are very suspicious and reluctant to work with them.

Christine Romans nodding her head here.

One research firm estimates potential losses for U.S. companies at $180 billion.

ROMANS: These CEOs have been complaining about this for some time now.

All right, score one for the bulls. Stocks set to close out a pretty sweet February. Wow. We were all so gloomy back in January.

Heading into the last trading day of the month, major averages up 3 percent to 5 percent. It's enough to make up for the particularly weak start to the year. Look at that chart. Remember January, everyone is talking about correction, and now, the S&P 500 is sitting back at a record high after days of trying to hit the market ceiling.

Stocks boosted by Janet Yellen. She has been preoccupied by the weather, just like the rest of us, and she says the cold snap is what's been hitting the economy so far this year.

But this February rally pushes stocks further away from their last correction. It's been more than two years since the S&P 500 has had this pullback of 10 percent or more, this technical correction. Usually, that happens every year and a half.

Stock futures are pulling back a bit this morning. Overseas markets are mixed. I'm -- personally, I'm really watching Ukraine, events in China, international events to see if maybe the stock market steps back today.

BERMAN: The market does not like instability.

ROMANS: It does not.

BERMAN: What's happening in Ukraine wreaks of instability.

ROMANS: No. And Ukraine, a $2 billion-a-year economy, right? Except when you're talking about Russian involvement and big concerns of what's happening in the Crimea, then it becomes an international story again.

BERMAN: Indeed. All right. You know, this morning, a whole lot of people talking about what happened at the White House yesterday. It was really remarkable.

President Obama launching a public-private partnership designed for more economic opportunity -- to get more economic opportunity for minority men. Nine foundations have pledged some $200 million to the program called My Brother's Keeper.

And in surprisingly personal terms, the president was saying that the challenges facing at-risk youth, he experienced that when he grew up.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn't have a dad in the house, and I was angry about it, even though I didn't necessarily realize it at the time. I made bad choices. I got high without always thinking about the harm that it could do. I didn't always take school as seriously as I should have. I made excuses. Sometimes I sold myself short.



BERMAN: You don't hear presidents speak like that very often. He said we all have a responsibility to help young, black men get over these obstacles, but he also said that young, minority men have a responsibility to do it themselves.

It was really a call to arms for everyone, especially the men standing behind him and all over the country. Again, it was a really, really remarkable, remarkable afternoon.

I encourage you all to take a look at the entire event, if you can.

ROMANS: No other president has had the moral authority to be able to make those kind of comments.

BERMAN: You know, he grew up in a world very different than a lot of Americans, and I think he just identified with them. Just to hear a president say "I got high" is language you almost never, ever hear.

All right. Twelve minutes after the hour.

Coming up, bombs flying, fireballs in the street, protesters tear- gassed, demonstrations in a major South American country. We are live with the very latest this morning. That's next.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone.

United Nations officials reporting two attempted attacks on Syrian convoys transporting chemical weapons last month. This revelation coming in a monthly report by the group overseeing the removal and destruction of Syria's chemical arsenal. The government in Syria missed a deadline earlier this month for moving all of its nuclear toxic material out of the country. Syria has now proposed a new April deadline.

ROMANS: Now to Venezuela with a new round of violent protests in the streets of Caracas, security forces using tear gas to disperse student demonstrators in the capital. Look, hundreds of protesters demanding the release of fellow students detained during the recent political unrest.

Our Karl Penhaul following developments. He's live for us in Caracas.

What's the latest?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine, those skirmishes overnight between riot police and students were relatively minor.

Witnesses say that security forces were firing tear gas. Students returned fire with rocks. And that after protesters at the tail end of an antigovernment demonstration had tried to block some streets around the square in eastern Caracas.

As far as the political developments go, opposition leaders so far are rejecting the government's calls for what it calls peace talks. They say that those are nothing more than a publicity stunt. The opposition wants the socialist president to quit.

The government, for its part, believes that it's confident that it can win this battle of street politics. And, of course, next week's anniversary of the death of leftist leader Hugo Chavez will be an important litmus test. That will be a key opportunity for the government to try and rally the loyalists.

Now, for the opposition, there is support coming from a somewhat unexpected quarter. Dozens of former Miss Worlds and Miss Universes, Venezuelans and other nationalities, have come together in an online social media initiative called Misses for Peace. They're sounding what they call is an SOS for Venezuela, calling for an end to the political turmoil and calling on the socialist government to enter negotiations with the opposition to try and crackdown on crime and boost the economy, which is suffering from spiraling inflation, and at times, chronic shortages of basic food items -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Karl Penhaul in Caracas. That, of course, is the core of all this, safety in the streets, lack of security and 56 percent inflation in Venezuela, something the people are feeling acutely.

Thanks, Karl.

BERMAN: All right. Eighteen minutes after the hour right now.

This morning, we're getting a first look at some previously secret sections of documents in the bridge-gate investigation. These now unredacted exchanges between Bridget Kelly, a former agent of Governor Chris Christie, and David Wildstein, whom Christie appointed to the Port Authority. Wildstein expresses frustration with a prominent New Jersey rabbi. Kelly replies, "We cannot cause traffic problems in front of his house, can we?"

This comes just six days after Kelly's infamous e-mail to Wildstein, "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

The documents also show that Wildstein was on the George Washington Bridge on the first day of those what seem to be politically motivated lane closures.

ROMANS: All right. Today, new documents expected from the Clinton presidential library, 5,000 pages of previously unreleased papers, including confidential communications between former President Bill Clinton and his advisers and possible communications involving former First Lady Hillary Clinton that could play a role if she decides to run in 2016. It's just the beginning, really -- 25,000 more pages are expected in the coming weeks.

BERMAN: People will be poring through these.

All right. Some breaking news overnight out of Los Angeles. Former NFL star Darren Sharper has turned himself in to the LAPD after police in New Orleans obtained arrest warrants for him. Sharper is facing rape charges in Louisiana. He faces similar charges in California.

Last week in Los Angeles, he pleaded not guilty to drugging and raping two women. He is also under investigation in Arizona and Nevada, and Miami Beach police are investigating a sexual battery complaint against him.

ROMANS: All right, Kerry Kennedy's fate is now in the hands of a New York jury. The daughter of Robert Kennedy on trial for driving under the influence of a sleeping aid. She was charged after a highway crash back in 2012. This week, Kennedy took the stand in her own defense, saying she took the sleeping pill accidentally. The six- member jury continues deliberations today.

BERMAN: All right, coming up for us next, a brawl on the basketball court. I've got a lot of people tweeting me about this overnight. A big game ends with a massive fight in the stands, on the court. What happened?

Joe Carter explains what you missed, what I missed overnight. That's coming up next.


BERMAN: All right, I saw so many tweets about this the minute I woke up. A college basketball game between New Mexico State and Utah Valley ending in a brawl. The fight broke out just as fans were rushing the court, celebrating the big win.

Joe Carter has all the details for us in the "Bleacher Report."

Hey, Joe.

JOE CARTER, BLEACHER REPORT: Hey, good morning, guys. Yes, this was a pretty ugly scene at the end of the game that no doubt will reignite the debate on whether or not college sports fans should be able to rush the court after big wins. So, to set it up here, Utah Valley had just pulled off a thrilling overtime win over New Mexico State, and as the buzzer sounded, a frustrated New Mexico state player hurls the ball at a Utah Valley player. That's what starts the brawl.

And as you see on the screen, fans start storming the court about the same exact time, and a shoving match then heats up and then turns into some fists flying. Now, this wasn't just between players. Some of the fans also got involved -- an ugly, ugly scene.

Information is still being sorted detailing exactly who did what. But clearly, this is an unfortunate timing here, marring one of the better games ever played between these two schools.

Hey, trending this morning on -- Raymond Felton was back in court last night with the Knicks two days after being charged with felony possession.

And, well, that masked man is not Bruce Wayne. It's LeBron James. He's wearing the carbon fiber black mask to protect his nose that he broke, of course, last week during a game.

And clearly, LeBron was not bothered by the mask. He scored a game- high 31 points. And the Miami Heat cruised to an easy win, beating the Knicks by 26.

You know, for years, Jason Collins has worn the number 98. It's a tribute to Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in 1998 for being gay. And last night was the first time Collins wore the jersey in front of Matthew Shepard's parents, who were in attendance.

Now, before the game, Rachel Nichols sat down with Collins, the NBA's first openly gay player.


JASON COLLINS, NBA PLAYER: I've grown so much as an individual. I've come across so many great people, great organizations, I've heard so many great stories, inspiring stories, and it's nice to have a positive impact in someone else's life. I feel like with my actions, I've had a positive impact on someone else's life.


CARTER: Now, you can see the rest of that interview. It airs tonight on "UNGUARDED WITH RACHEL NICHOLS." That's 10:30 p.m. Eastern on CNN.

Well, NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon is at it again. He's made another Pepsi Max video where he drives like a mad man. This time, the prank victim is an automotive journalist who thought his first prank video was a fake.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can't go back, man, I'm sorry.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have to lose him. I can't go back!


CARTER: Ends the video by driving into a terminal, where they then surprise the guy with Pepsi Max. Oh, that's just what you want after the video.

You can see the entire police chase prank at I don't know, guys --

BERMAN: Is that real?

CARTER: I'm calling fake on that. I think it's fake. I think the guy's in on the joke, just like last time. He's in on the joke.

There's no way it can be real. There's no way!

BERMAN: If it's real, it's the most amazing thing I've ever seen. Even if it's fake, it's funny.

CARTER: I bet my insurance on that not being real. The guy has to be on it. What happens if they crash?

I don't know. Good video anyway.

BERMAN: It's great. All right. Joe, thank you so much. Appreciate it.


BERMAN: Twenty-seven minutes after the hour now.

And breaking overnight: armed gunmen storming airports in Ukraine. Russia's military being blamed. We'll have that and the other major headlines coming up right after the break.