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Train Crash; Dylan Sued for Racism; Vote Fails to Topple Ukraine Government; Pope Discusses Clergy Sex Abuse; Biden Travels to Japan; White House Says Obamacare Website Running Smoothly; Minneapolis Rabbi Sues Northwest Airlines Over Frequent Flier Membership

Aired December 3, 2013 - 12:00   ET


RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are learning more information about what happened in the moments before that speeding train jumped the tracks in the Bronx. Two senior law enforcement sources tell CNN producer Shimon Prokupecz that the train's engineer, William Rockefeller, told investigators on the scene he was dazed in the moments leading up to the crash and he didn't know what happened. When asked by investigators, was he -- what he essentially was thinking about, the engineer said he couldn't say.

Now, we should note, other media outlets have reported that Rockefeller admitted to falling asleep. However, the official stressed that the engineer never said he actually fell asleep. Rockefeller also told investigators on site that the brakes had failed him. But again, we know that the NTSB, they will be looking into whether fatigue played a role and, of course, that is routine.

One other point. We know that the union has not yet made any comments or they're not commenting on this new revelation that apparently he told investigators that he was dazed in the moments leading up to the crash.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And so, Rene, when you talk about also looking into whether fatigue played a role here, if that's what's meant by in a daze, do we know anything about how long he had been working, what would constitute - what would help justify perhaps being sleepy, being overly fatigued, if that's what's meant by in a daze?

MARSH: Right. So at this point, Fred, we don't know what his work schedule was in the days leading up to this. We do know, however, that that is something that the NTSB is working to get to the bottom of. There are going to be looking at what his work schedule was and what his activities were for the last 72 hours so they can try and figure out possibly was this person tired while he was at work.

We do know this. As far as the work hours go and what the rules are, they can only work 12 hours. They can work 16 hours, but only if they have four hours of rest. So we know those are the rules. Now, what was he doing in those days -- what was his schedule like in the days leading up to the crash? We still don't know that. But you can bet, investigators are zeroing in on that, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Rene Marsh, thanks so much. Keep us posted, there from Washington.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. And also some of his colleagues saying that he is crushed by this. He's not been sleeping.

WHITFIELD: I'm sure. Four people died and many others injured.

HOLMES: He's obviously - yes, yes, exactly. Exactly. All right, we'll keep an eye on developments there.

Meanwhile, let's go to allegations of racism against Bob Dylan, the legendary singer/songwriter. He's actually now under investigation in France on suspicion of inciting hatred.

WHITFIELD: And the irony is, that Dylan is known around the world for using his music as a force for social change and inclusiveness. But it's an interview that he did with "Rolling Stone" magazine that has sparked the outrage.

HOLMES: Indeed. Now, what it is, is the group representing Croatians in France is pressing charges against Dylan, saying he compared Croatians to Nazis in that interview. Let's go to Paris now, our Jim Bitterman, to put it all in context for us.

Jim, we should point out that Bob Dylan was actually discussing the stigma of slavery in America and then he went on to tell "Rolling Stone" magazine, and we'll read the quote here, "if you got a slave master or Klan in your blood, blacks can sense that. That stuff lingers to this day. Just like Jews can sense Nazi blood and the Serbs can sense Croatian blood." And it's that comparison that's got him in hot water. Explain why in France that could be inciting hatred and why it is in France.

JIM BITTERMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, in fact, this comes under a 1972 amendment to the press law here basically that suggests that anybody who incites or provokes someone to hate someone else because -- or a group because of their racial or ethnic background is in violation of the law. And, in fact, it's a law that carries with it a penalty of one year in jail and a 45,000 euro fine, about $60,000. So that's the law.

The fact is that this process was begun about a year ago after this interview came out, October of 2012 in "Rolling Stone" magazine. And Valdko Macek (ph), who is the secretary general of that Croat group you mentioned, said that Dylan's remarks would (ph) (INAUDIBLE) violence and, as such, he was going to push the prosecutor to bring suit. In fact, there have been no charges filed as yet. Dylan's just been notified that, in fact, he is under judicial investigation.


HOLMES: Yes, yes, yes. Jim, what happens now? And also this group says it doesn't want money or anything like. What does it want? What's the process here?

BITTERMAN: Well, in fact, a lawyer for their group told CNN that they would be happy if Dylan just apologized. They'd drop their action if he just apologized. And if it -- if he doesn't, and if the group insists and the prosecutor continues, in fact, the next step is to bring charges against Dylan. That hasn't happened yet. Then there would be a trial after that.


HOLMES: All right.

WHITFIELD: Jim Bitterman, thanks so much, in Paris. Appreciate that.

All right, Ukraine's government is still intact despite the pressure from thousands of protesters.

HOLMES: Yes, opposition lawmakers - I think we've got live pictures here from Kiev. Now what happened was, opposition lawmakers couldn't muster enough votes in the parliament to bring the government down. Perhaps no real surprise there given the makeup of the parliament. But the protesters, they plan to press on. And you can see them doing that right there. That's Independence Square in the capital, Kiev.

WHITFIELD: Let's go now to Phil Black, who is there in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. And you see, Phil, some activity behind you there. So the demonstrators don't seem too discouraged at all by that vote, are they?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No. As you mentioned, Fred, it wasn't really a surprise outcome in that vote. The opposition parties just don't have the numbers to beat the government and the ruling party. But it was more about making a statement. They believe they've made that statement and they say they're going to continue fighting for what is their goal now, and that is to overturn the government of this country, to see President Viktor Yanukovych removed from power.

Today here at Independence Square, the numbers were bigger yet again, growing certainly. They are now occupying this very convincingly 24 hours a day. And on top of that, bit numbers. Thousands of them are marching to government buildings, parliament, other buildings and so for rallying outside. They're really falling into something of a rhythm here. They say they are determined. They're going to keep doing this. They are not going to stop until they achieve their goal. So the question now is really, what happens, because the government isn't going to give up power easily. These people say they will accept nothing less.

Fred. Michael.

WHITFIELD: All right. Phil Black, thanks so much, in Kiev. Keep us posted on that.

HOLMES: Yes, it started off as wanting to get closer to the European Union. Now it's become, in some ways (ph), a revolution of sorts.

WHITFIELD: (INAUDIBLE) has blossomed.

HOLMES: So - yes, keeping an eye on that. Let's turn to Thailand now. The government there and protesters have reached a truce, but it's important to say for now. Both sides agreeing to back down, cool off a little while the country marks the revered Thai king's birthday.

WHITFIELD: Police have taken down barricades around government buildings in Bangkok. But a protest leader says the fight against the prime minister will go on. At least three people have died and hundreds more have been hurt in street battles over the last few days.

HOLMES: Protesters demanding that the prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, resign, step down from power. They saying she's being controlled by her brother, the former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, who's currently in exile.

WHITFIELD: All right, coming up, from ballet stage to a high security prison. That's where one Russian dancer is heading after being found guilty of ordering an acid attack on his former ballet director.

HOLMES: And Pope Francis goes off book, breaking away from prepared remarks to address the sex abuse scandal that has threatened to take down for years now the Catholic Church.

WHITFIELD: Plus, a call from (ph) help from Uruguay. The president asked the world to help him legalize weed. All for an experiment to see if it would help stop illegal drug trafficking.

All that coming up "AROUND THE WORLD".


WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back to "AROUND THE WORLD".

Pope Francis again leading this segment and making his first public statement about sex abuse by members of the clergy. One (ph) -- he's really been taking a lot of chances, hasn't he.

HOLMES: The -- absolutely. And it's been a big issue, of course, for the Catholic Church. Now, Pope Francis was speaking to the catholic bishops from the Netherlands. What happened was he expressed sympathy for the victims in their country.

WHITFIELD: The same sex abuse scandal continues to rock the Catholic Church. Pope Francis saying this, quote, "I promise compassion and prayer for every victim of sexual abuse and their families. I ask you to continue supporting them on their painful path to healing, undertaken with courage," end quote.

HOLMES: Daniel Burke, he's co-editor of CNN Belief Blog on Joins us now from Washington.

Daniel, good to see you.

Well, nine months into this papacy, probably -- is it surprising or is it not surprising that Pope Francis hasn't spoken out more publicly and more often about the sex abuse scandal? It is, after all, the biggest crisis the church has faced in centuries, really, when you look at it.

DANIEL BURKE, CNN BELIEF BLOG: Well, you're absolutely right. And I agree with you, it is a little bit surprising that Pope Francis hasn't spoken more about it, given how much it was a part of the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI, who was, of course, his predecessor. It seemed like almost every day there was another story about another scandal under Pope Benedict's papacy. And, of course, part of that was because for 20 years or more he headed the office that kind of dealt with all of these cases. So he was involved in some way or another with a lot of the way the church handled these cases.

But it seems like Pope Francis has turned the page a little bit. He's got the media and Catholics focused on a kind of forward vision. He's embracing disfigured men in Vatican Square. He's washing the feet of juvenile delinquents. He's talking about having an increased role for women in the church. So it seems like he has successfully kind of changing the narrative, as our political friends would say.

WHITFIELD: And so, Daniel, what's the feeling as to why now that he would address this, you know, very tender topic?

BURKE: Sure. Well, to be clear, a Vatican spokesman told me today that Pope Francis has been addressing this topic in private meetings. That is meetings with bishops in various countries, with Vatican department heads, and in private meetings with other people who work for the church.

And what they said was he is addressing this in particular with the Dutch bishop because that country went through a really, really terrible scandal. In 2011, an independent report came out that said that some 20,000 catholic children had been abused by priests between 1945 and 1981. So he felt like he had to say something about this particular situation to these bishops.

HOLMES: Yes, a massive issue right around the world and still an open wound really for the church.

Now, I want to ask you something before we let you go. Yesterday we were talking to Ben Wedeman, asking about these reports, and they were just reports, about the pope heading out at night, maybe in the Fiat that he drives around the place, and helping the poor firsthand.

What have you been hearing about that confirmation or otherwise?

BURKE: Sure. A Vatican spokesman told me today it's a great story, but unfortunately it's not true. There are just too many security concerns with the pope right now. Of course, he's a head of state, so, technically, when he leaves Vatican City, it's an international trip.

So even if he was going in disguise, they would have to alert the Italian authorities. And, so, it's just not happening. But it seems real. It seems like something this pope would do. So I think people are really excited about it.

HOLMES: Yeah. It's a shame in a way. But, as you say, nobody was surprised because you can see him doing that. WHITFIELD: Not a stretch based on his behavior recently.

HOLMES: Exactly.

WHITFIELD: -- as of recent.

All right, Daniel Burke, thanks so much. Appreciate that. Of course, if you want -

BURKE: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: -- more information on the pope, you want to check out our Belief Blog on

HOLMES: Yeah, good reads. Lots of stuff there.

Now, coming up, if it you ask for extra peanuts, how long you'll be stuck on the tarmac, is that enough to kick you out of the frequent flyers club.

WHITFIELD: What? Oh, my goodness. A rabbi says it actually happened to him. So, now he's taking his case to the supreme court. A live report, coming up.

HOLMES: Aren't they a bit busy for that?


WHITFIELD: Vice President Joe Biden is on a mission to ease tensions between China and Japan.

Biden met with Japan's deputy prime minister, Taro Aso, and other officials in Tokyo. New U.S. ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy was also there.

HOLMES: Yeah. High on the agenda, calming Japan's fears about China's new air defense zone in the East China Sea, Biden actually said he was deeply concerned that Beijing wants the U.S., Japan, South Korea and everyone else for that matter to notify it if planes fly through this extended 600-mile air space.

The vice president meets with China's President Xi Jinping on Wednesday.

WHITFIELD: After being on defense for two months on Obamacare, the White House is now playing offense. The president was battered for two months with bad publicity over the technical failures of the website.

HOLMES: But, as many people said, it's just a website. The White House says it's now time to promote the president's signature healthcare plan, now that the website's fixed and apparently running pretty well.

WHITFIELD: That's what they say -

HOLMES: That's what they say. WHITFIELD : -- that it's running smoothly.

But Republicans who opposed the healthcare program came out swinging against the administration's efforts to renew hope in Obamacare.


REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER (R), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: It's not just a broken website. This bill is fundamentally flawed, causing people to lose the doctor of their choice, causing them to lose their health plan.

And if that isn't enough, they're having to pay higher prices at the same time. So House Republicans are going to continue to listen to our constituents, listen to the American people and try to focus on protecting them from a fundamentally flawed law.


WHITFIELD: This as a new poll, a Gallup poll, shows young Americans between the ages of 18 to 29 don't know much about the Affordable Care Act. Unfortunately, that's the group the government needs to make the program work.

For more on this, check out

HOLMES: And a group of wounded warriors, trekking across Antarctica, and as you know if you've been watching us here on "AROUND THE WORLD", they've got a royal mascot, Prince Harry. He's more than a mascot. He's doing his share of work. We just got this new video in from his trip.

WHITFIELD: Very nice, they look like they're having a good time, and looks a little (inaudible), except for that little foggy picture there. Harry is trekking to the South Pole as part of a 208-mile race. His team is representing Britain.

They're competing against teams from the U.S. and other countries and we'll continue to follow Prince Harry's journey right here on CNN. They're making it look easy, and we know it's not.

HOLMES: It's a great cause, too. It's for wounded veterans. So, yeah, good stuff.

WHITFIELD: All the best to them.

HOLMES: And his team is winning at the moment. The U.S. team coming in second, the Commonwealth team third place.

All right, a battle in Washington over frequent flyer rights. And it is quite -- I'd like my right to be -- to actually get a seat.

WHITFIELD: That's right.

HOLMES: On the flight you want.

WHITFIELD: Yeah. Avoid any kind of lines, huh?

Well, that's another day, another world. So, it's playing out apparently at the Supreme Court-level where the justices wrapped up a hearing a little while ago. The case was brought by a Minneapolis rabbi, and you see him right there at the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, (inaudible).

HOLMES: Yeah, he claims that his World Perks Platinum Elite membership, which is quite a mouthful, was revoked by Northwest Airlines. Why? He says he was told he had abused his privileges by repeatedly filing complaints for upgrades.


RABBI BINYOMIN GINSBERG, PLAINTIFF: And I wasn't complaining that there was too much salt on the peanuts, you know? That wasn't the nature of the complaints.

But if we sat on the tarmac for a few hours, waiting for some notification what's happening, why the delay is, I think you would agree that that's a lack of decency, courtesy, whatever.


WHITFIELD: All right.

HOLMES: Really? Yeah, OK.

WHITFIELD: This has become big, a big problem.

HOLMES: I could get a million upgrades if that was the case over the years.

CNN's crime and justice correspondent Joe Johns was in court for the hearing. I mean, I kind of don't get it. What happened in court today?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting. The court was very engaged on this question, Michael, no clear idea which way they're going on it. And you can really see this as sort of a David and Goliath story, the passenger against the big corporation.

But it's more than that. It's about whether a frequent flyer should be able to sue in state court over the breach of good faith and fair dealing, or if all of that is sort of preempted by an act that was passed in 1978, the Airline Deregulation Act. which pretty much said airlines were protected from such suits in state court.

A fascinating question, and anybody who flies frequently is certainly going to be very interested in the outcome, Michael.

WHITFIELD: Maybe an equally fascinating question, too, and you have a fascinating answer, I'm sure. How in the world did this get to the U.S. Supreme Court.

HOLMES: Yeah. Aren't they a bit busy? JOHNS: Very unusual, you think about it. This is rabbi, as you said, from Minneapolis, flew a lot, and he complained a lot. He got compensated for many of those complaints.

And the point came when Northwest Airlines, which is now folded into Delta, said, look, you've abused the program. We're throwing you out because there's a clause in the contract that essentially says, under our sole discretion, we can say you're no longer in the program.

And, of course, the question was whether he can actually sue in state court over good faith, fair dealing, or if airline deregulation simply said no. This will be a good thing for the court to talk about in their decision probably sometime next year.

HOLMES: OK, it's good to know. A lot of people sitting at home are saying, 'What about me? How could this impact me and my frequent flyer?'

JOHNS: Well, yeah. The question really is just when you can sue, when you can't, and whether you have the power to tell the airlines, hey, this is wrong, and I'm going to take you to court. There's that fine- line distinction in the law right now that says you might not be able to sue. And that's what the court is trying to decide.

It could also affect, though, and when you think about it, airlines have all kinds of partners. They have hotels. They have rental cars.

WHITFIELD: They have lots of perks.

JOHNS: Right. And a variety of other different programs that they sort of buy into with other corporations, and because those are frequent flyer miles, they could be affected, as well. It all depends on how the court decides the case.

WHITFIELD: All right, Joe Johns --

HOLMES: A broader legal question at play here.


HOLMES: Joe, good to see you.

WHITFIELD: That case still up in the air. Joe, you let us know when it comes in for a safe landing.

HOLMES: If you will could complain for being late or kept on the ground and get an upgrade, I wish I'd known that about, oh, 20 years ago. This guy sounds like he knows what he's doing.

WHITFIELD: You're going to have to catch up.

HOLMES: I'm going to have to catch up on that. There's going to be more, by the way, on this at 5:00 Eastern on "THE SITUATION ROOM," so don't miss that.

WHITFIELD: All right, so when it comes to math, science and reading, guess who tops the world? Shanghai. Well, what about those American kids?

HOLMES: Not so good. Not so good. Not even the top ten. In fact, they're not even the top 30.

We'll explain when we come back.

WHITFIELD: That hurts. Hurts.