Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Roland Burris Plans To Go To Capitol Hill; Senate Democrats Say Burris Will Not Be Allowed Inside The Senate Chambers; Holiday Shopping Season a Disaster

Aired January 02, 2009 - 14:00   ET



ROLAND BURRIS: There is no illegality in him appointing me. It is legal.

WHITFIELD (voice over): Legal, yes. Welcome, no. The man who says he is the junior senator from Illinois shutout by the Senate.

Seven straight days now of conflict between Israel and Hamas. More targets, destruction and how long before the conflict shifts from the air to the ground?

And some fishermen find themselves on thin and drifting ice. It is all that separated them from frigid water, and it was carrying them farther and farther from safety.


WHITFIELD: Hello, again everyone. I'm Fredricka Whitfield live at the CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. And you are in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Well, it should have been routine, but it is turning into a political saga. Roland Burris has been appointed by the embattled Illinois governor to succeed Barack Obama. And he is already calling himself the state's junior senator, but Democratic leaders are planning to keep Burris off of the Senate floor next week, when Congress convenes. So what happens if Burris actually tries to enter the Senate chamber? Let's ask our Congressional Correspondent Brianna Keilar, who is in Chicago -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, first I should start by saying that Roland Burris has told "The Chicago Tribune" that he is not planning on making a scene when he comes to Washington. However, according to an aide familiar with the thinking of Senate Democratic leaders they are really preparing for anything. And they're preparing for him to come on Tuesday. They are in fact expecting that he will show up on the Hill for the opening day of Congress.

And they say if Burris tries to go on to the Senate floor, this is according to this aide, the doorkeeper, the person who mans the door will stop him. If he were to persist, make a scene, refuse to leave, then Capitol Police would get involved, and they would actually bring in the sergeant at arms of the Senate. This is a guy who is so powerful that if he has the direction of the Senate to do so could actually arrest the president of the United States.

So, you can see that even though Burris is saying that he is not planning on making a scene, the Senate Democratic leaders, according to the aide, not really leaving much to chance, Fred.

WHITFIELD: I can't imagine seeing this. I can't imagine a confrontation of this sort possibly happening. And it seems unrealistic even more so because of the relationship that Burris actually has, historically, with the Senate sergeant of arms.

KEILAR: Well, I don't know if this relationship has any, I guess, impact on exactly what will happen, but let's just say that it certainly does add to the bizarreness of this case, if you will. Because Roland Burris, and the current sergeant at arms Terrance Gainer, they actually were serving in the Illinois state government at the same time. So these guys are familiar with each other. Back in the 1991 to '95, Gainer was actually the -- he was the head of the Illinois state police. And this was at the same time when Burris was the attorney general for state of Illinois. So they are familiar with each other.

Yeah, I mean, obviously, if this whole thing were to play out, Fredricka, it would be quite a spectacle. Burris is saying he is not going to make a scene, but you can tell that Senate Democratic leaders are putting it out there that they don't know what is going to happen and they're preparing for anything.

WHITFIELD: Yes, it seems like a spectacle nobody, I guess, would benefit from.

But all supposed to happened, at least, Congress convening on Tuesday. We will see - I don't know, over the next few days what kind of plan of action that Burris, or anyone else, may have.

All right. Thank you, Brianna Keilar there in Chicago.

KEILAR: You bet.

WHITFIELD: Well, more political headlines now. Congressman Rahm Emanuel is expected to officially give up his House seat today. Emanuel has already started working as Barack Obama's chief of staff. The Illinois Democrat was just re-elected to his fourth term, by the way. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has five days to announce his plan for a special election to fill that vacant seat.

Well, nothing but no comments from the two main players, but there is a report from New York today, that Governor David Paterson will likely choose Caroline Kennedy to fill New York's open Senate. The Associated Press says Paterson is leaning toward Kennedy to fill the seat formerly held by Hillary Clinton, if she is confirmed as secretary of State. We contacted spokespeople for both the governor and Caroline Kennedy. No comment from either side.

One Senate election still up in the air, is close to being resolved, that is if there is no court challenge there. Today is the day that Minnesota counties must finish sorting absentee ballots and report the results to the secretary of state. Democrat Al Franken is leading incumbent Republican Norm Coleman by 49 votes. Hundreds of them - the absentee ballots, that is, will be counted tomorrow.

After seven straight days of fighting, the violence in the Middle East is only escalating. Israel's week-long air assault on Hamas militants in Gaza has left more than 420 people dead. At least four Israelis have been killed by rocket fire from militants. The deadly offensive has sparked protests across the world. A few people threw rocks at police in Jerusalem after prayers at the Al Aqsa Mosque, but there were much bigger demonstrations in a host of other countries including Afghanistan, Australia, the Philippines, Britain and in the U.S.

Meantime, Israeli troops and tanks remain poised on the Gaza border, waiting for orders to start a possible ground assault. Hamas is accusing Israel of down right aggression. But today, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice puts the blame squarely on Hamas.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Hamas has held the people of Gaza hostage ever since their illegal coupe against the forces of President Mahmoud Abbas, the legitimate president of the Palestinian people. The Hamas have used Gaza as a launching pad for rockets against Israeli cities, and have contributed deeply to a very bad daily life for the Palestinian people in Gaza, and to humanitarian situation that we have all been trying to address.


WHITFIELD: The fighting has caught many civilians in the crossfire, including children. Our Ben Wedeman has the latest from near the Israeli/Gaza border.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN INT'L. CORRESPONDENT (On camera): Israel's air offensive against Gaza continues unabated. Earlier in the day Israeli planes struck the home of a Hamas militant, in Hanan Unis (ph), in southern Gaza, but there, not only was the house struck, but three young boys who were playing in an adjacent empty lot were killed; once again, underscoring the dangers of attacking targets in the crowded Gaza strip. Also struck was a fuel depot in Bate Lehia (ph), the northern end of the Strip.

Now, I have spoken with people in Gaza. They say that people are now terrified of the possibility that they will be hurt and strikes against Hamas. Officials living in their neighborhoods, so people are trying to find shelter in other areas, leaving their houses.

As far as rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, somewhat down on Friday. More than 30 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel compared to an average of about 70 a day, since the beginning of this offensive. I'm Ben Wedeman, CNN, reporting from Stirrot (ph), in southern Israel.


WHITFIELD: And you can bet the incoming administration is keeping a close eye on this ever growing crisis. President-Elect Obama and Secretary of State nominee Hillary Clinton, well, what will they do? We will look ahead in the next half hour.

New and deadly violence in Iraq today as well. A suicide bomber struck a Sunni Muslim tribal gathering southwest of Baghdad. An Iraqi government source tells CNN at least 30 people were killed and more than 100 wounded. The gathering was aimed at reconciling area tribes.

The Pacific Northwest is having a pretty rough time. In Washington snow has created a threat of avalanches in the Cascade and Olympic mountains. And on the bright side, two of three mountain passes are now back open to the south, well Oregon is feeling the effects of too much rain and melting snow. Rivers have flooded out of their banks and forced some evacuations and even road closures. All of that moisture is will also making the ground give way. In fact, mudslides have been a huge problem. One mudslide actually hit a house and injured five people.

In Wisconsin, some people having fun out on the ice. Well, they weren't expecting this, the ice under their feet actually breaking away, and starting them to just drift simply out into the open water. Rescuers saved at least eight people.


GERRY HOLBACH, RESCUED FROM FLOATING ICE: Well, they brought a boat through. And with the wind being out of the south, we didn't realize she opened up. And the farther you go, either way, it was wide open, we can't get back across. I have seen it happen before, but it was never me out on the ice.


WHITFIELD: Coast Guard officials think the ice cracked after a ship or barge simply crossed the bay.

The Pacific Northwest is looking at more avalanche issues in the upper elevations and flooding dangers down below, very frightening scenario, Chad.


WHITFIELD: Horrible.

MYERS: We have pictures of five hurt in a mudslide in Clackamas County, in Oregon. Let's get to the video here. This is literally just coming in the past couple of minutes. The slide came down and hit the home and knocked the home off the foundation. Even probably a little bit of a steamer, a small fire was caused there. And Highway 26, right now, closed. That is really the highway that goes kind of east and west on the way down there across Clackamas County. Highway 36 is closed for a while. But they think that is only going to be closed for another 20 minutes or so.

All of these mudslides coming down the mountains and then across the highway. This wasn't across the highway, that was across a residence there, in Clackamas County, Oregon.

And it is still not done. Why is it not done? Even though the snow is done, the rain is done? Well, because the ground is still saturated. It is still mud out there. This mud is going to eventually release and we are going to get more mudslides tonight.

The threat of avalanches are going away right now, as the snow moves off to the east, but the threat of avalanches now increasing off to the east. A foot or two of snow here, Calasbell (ph), the mountains there around Missoula, also north of Coeur d'Alene, going to pick up the higher elevations there. Around Switzer Mountain, picked up eight inches yesterday. Probably another five or ten tonight. Through Sunday all the way from six to eight inches, snow here all the way from Grand Forks right on back into the Great Lake states.

Didn't here the cue, but I'm going to toss it back to you, Fred, in case it was something important. What was that?

WHITFIELD: No, I'm just listening intently.

MYERS: Well, the cue was keep talking for one more minute.

WHITFIELD: It is bad out there and getting worse.

MYERS: I hear voices in my head all of the time, but I don't understand what they are all of the time.

WHITFIELD: It is scary.

MYERS: There is going to be a pretty good event here across parts of the Deep South, 20, 15, 10, and these are degrees above normal for all of the way across the Great Lake states. and down to Nebraska and into Texas.

That was a quick minute, but.

WHITFIELD: Fair enough. We are all well informed. We get it. Across the map. That's good.


WHITFIELD: Thank you so much, Chad.

MYERS: Sure.

WHITFIELD: All right. Well, it is a parent's worst nightmare come to life. A special needs student left alone on a bus overnight no less. We will tell you how it happened and what is happening to the people who are supposed to be helping this child.


WHITFIELD: So as we bring you other news, we want to let you know that we are also keeping a close eye on the growing crisis in the Middle East. This is a quickly developing story and CNN is covering it from all angles. You'll see our international desk, soon, working diligently to bring us the very latest from Gaza and Israel. They are on the story around the clock.

All right. To New York now where a 22-year-old man with cerebral palsy spent a frigid New Year's Eve night stuck on a school bus. The driver left the bus in its lot, and the man wasn't found until the morning. So how could something like this happen? Let's bring in CNN's Randi Kaye in New York - Randi.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hard to believe this happened, Fredricka.

While thousands of people celebrated the beginning of the new year in Times Square, one New York family spent a long sleepless night wondering if their missing son was even alive. Twenty-two year old Edwin Rivera has cerebral palsy and the mental capacity of a two-year- old. In fact, he doesn't speak. He should have been home with his family New Year's Eve, but instead he was left strapped to his seat on a bus for more than 19 hours in freezing temperatures. His family feared the worst until he was finally found in a bus depot miles from his home.


LINDA RIVERA, SISTER: He was very cold. His fingertips were blue, his feet were blue. His nose was - just, it was very, very pale. He was shivering.


KAYE: Rivera attends a special needs school in Downtown Manhattan and normally his bus drops him off at his home in East Harlem. He did board the bus on Wednesday, but when he didn't come home, his family called the police, actually went to the police station, reported him missing, at 9:30 p.m., that was five hours after he should have been home.

Police missed Rivera in their initial search of the bus depot, because there are actually two areas where the buses are parked there. It is only when they went back the second time, the following day that they found him.

The bus attendant, 51-year-old Linda Hockaday (ph), who you see there, was arrested last night, charged with reckless endangerment. The complaint, filed by the DA, says that Hockaday (ph) knew Rivera was on the bus, but did not want to go back and drop him off at his home, or alert the bus driver, because it would make her an appointment.

His family is furious and wants answers.


CRISTINA RIVERA, SISTER: It's pure negligence and stupidity. And just because he is the way he is, doesn't mean that he's less of a person. He just needs extra help.


KAYE: We reached out to Edwin Rivera's school and the privately owned bus company and neither has returned our call for comments, Fred.

WHITFIELD: OK. That excuse that we are hearing from the driver is really hard to believe. Now -- well, that is a tough one to comment on. All right. So, in the end, how is Edwin doing? Because it is really most important how he has handled all of this.

KAYE: Absolutely. We have confirmed he is in stable condition after being treated for hypothermia and dehydration at a local hospital. But there are still so many questions left unanswered in such a disturbing story. Like, why would this bus attendant leave this young man on the bus because she was apparently late for a appointment, according to the DA. Why wasn't the bus driver charged? This kid is 6'2", Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Oh, my gosh.

KAYE: He was sitting right behind the bus driver. It is not like they missed him. So, you have to wonder, what was going on here?

WHITFIELD: This is so sad. All right. . Thanks so much. We are glad he is OK, at least, soon to be returned to family. All fine.

KAYE: Yes.

WHITFIELD: All right. Thanks so much, Randi. We appreciate it.

All right. Well, two kidnapped children found safe about 90 miles from their North Carolina home. An Amber Alert was issued after their mother's body, however, was discovered yesterday in the town of Candler. Police suspected that her ex-husband, the children's father, well, they found him and the children at a relative's home early this morning. The 10-year-old girl the six-year-old boy were rescued after a standoff. Police say that the father actually shot himself. They believe he killed not only his ex-wife, but two other people.

Well, now to a story that has shocked the San Francisco Bay Area. Two men and two teens are in police custody today in what is being called a hate crime. Authorities say they gang raped a woman last month and allegedly taunted her for being a lesbian. Reporter of Heather Ishimaru of CNN affiliate KGO reports from Richmond, California.


LT. MARK GAGAN, RICHMOND, CALIF. POLICE: All four the individuals are in custody and we are confident that we have the people we were looking for in connection with this crime.

HEATHER ISHIMARU, REPORTER, KGO (voice over): On December 13, the 28-year-old woman parked her car on the street near her Richmond apartment. She was attacked by four men who ordered her to take off her clothes. They sexually assaulted her and then drive in her car to an abandoned apartment building where she was raped again inside and outside of her car and then left naked and bleeding outside the building.

The attack spurred a candlelight vigil for the victim and volunteers walked the neighborhood with flyers hoping for help finding the suspects. Police say it was a tip from the public that lead to the first arrest. They will be arraigned Monday. Heather Ishimaru, ABC 7 News.


WHITFIELD: Oh, boy. Well, the disastrous holiday shopping season is now behind us and a rash of store closures and bankruptcies may be straight ahead. We will tell you who might go under.


WHITFIELD: All right. Well, as the recession wears on, many consumers have abandoned the shop-till-you-drop mentality. And that does not bode well for many shopping malls. Stephanie Elam is at the New York Stock Exchange with more on this grim prediction experts are giving after a pretty disastrous holiday shopping season.

But the disastrous part, we kind of expected that, didn't we all?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN FINANCIAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, I think everybody did, Fred, yeah.

But take a moment to picture this, you are walking through your local mall, and dozens of stores have their metal gates down and all of them out of business. Experts say that may not be far off. The terrible 2008 holiday shopping season is expected to haunt retailers for much of the new year, with an anticipated domino effect of store closures and bankruptcies. Many strip malls have vacancies in some of the bigger spaces, after several large stores including Linens 'n Things and KB Toys and Shoe Pavilion filed for bankruptcy.

Macy's is already getting the new year started negative note. Listen to this one, the store is warning that some shoppers who made purchases on the Saturday before Christmas, particularly in the Southeast and Midwest should take a look at their bank statements. A technical error caused some people paying with debt cards to be double charged between the hours of 1:00 and 2:45 p.m., Eastern Time. Very specific possibly leading to overdrafts, affecting customers - affected customers, I should say, should fax their bank statements to Macy's with attention third party credit written on the bill. But do not panic, a Macy's rep says that less than half of 1 percent of sales that day were affected.

Still, if you are one of those people, that still hurts.

WHITFIELD: Oh, yeah, some people are freaking out when they look at their statements. I bought how many of those? Well, let's talk about stores in general. The forecast this year, not good. A lot of pretty recognizable names might be going under.

ELAM: Oh, that is so true. It is a scary situation we're in right now. The National Council of Shopping Centers estimates that chain closures could top 3,000 just in the first six months of the year alone.

WHITFIELD: Oh, my gosh.

ELAM: That is a lot.


ELAM: That means, not just the obviously, a smaller number of stores to choose from, but less brand variety as every part of the chain is effected.

I was speaking to one woman working in a department store yesterday. And she was concerned about how many cars are parked in the lots. And she was like, are there people out there, because we need people in the stores right now.

It is a rough period.

But anyway, retail shares right now are mostly higher today. Same thing with the broader markets. We have a nice little rally here on the first trading day of '09. Look at that. The Dow up 210 points, 8996 - or 8986, my vision seems to be going in the new year. Nasdaq up 44 points at 1621. So all of the major markets are up well more than 2 percent at this time, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Stephanie, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

ELAM: Sure.

WHITFIELD: In the meantime, we are also keeping an eye on the growing Middle East crisis. And so is the incoming administration. Gaza is ringing all sorts of alarm bells for President-Elect Obama and the woman tapped to be his top diplomat. How will they respond?


WHITFIELD: It's 29 minutes after the hour, and here are some of the stories that we are working on in the NEWSROOM. Aides to Senate Democrats tell CNN that Roland Burris will not be allowed to take his seat next week as the junior Senator from Illinois. Burris is expected to go to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, but he has said he will not cause a scene.

Roads across northwest Oregon are under water following days of heavy rain. Dozens of families have been evacuated from their homes and a state of emergency in effect.

And Israel's air assault in Gaza remains intense. Targets struck today include a fuel facility and the home of a Hamas military leader. Israeli troops remain poised for a possible ground attack.

Our International Desk is following the growing Middle East crisis around the clock. Errol Burnett is our point man.

Errol, what are you watching, what are you learning?

ERROL BARNETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, quite a bit happening right now. As we speak, the former leader of Hamas is speaking on Al-Jazeera television.

If you look over here at thesemonitors, it's being carried by every Arab language network. This is Khaled Mushar (ph) right now you're watching his message being translated by one of our International Desk folks here and what he has been saying for the past about perhaps 20 minutes is that hamas is defiant. He is saying that God willing, God is on their side.

Typical of what you would expect them to say. We are also following the traffic on the web right now. And on this monitor, Current TV is a user-generated network. We found some packages of someone that followed Palestinian militants going from the gaza strip into Israel through those tunnels. They also -- he also followed them as they made the rockets that they launched from gaza into Israel and tried to launch them.

Behind me, you are seeing a Facebook page, and we're seeing both sides of the issue being expressed. This page, let's collect 500,000 signatures to support the Palestinians in gaza. Message boards here. They've posted images and people are sharing their perspective.

And on the flipside, there's this Facebook group, I support the Israel's defense forces in preventing terror attacks from gaza. Each of them with about 35,000 members.

So we are following developments as they come into us. We're going to bring you the latest as soon as it comes into us.

Fredricka --

WHITFIELD: All right. Errol Barnett, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

All right, well, the Middle East crisis will soon fall into is the laps of Barack Obama and his secretary of state designate Hillary Clinton.

Here is CNN's Brian Todd.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They are about to become instant partners in trying to cure what's been called the 100- year headache. The effort to find some kind of lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

This week, that headache may have turned migraine. Whether Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton can easily approach the two sides with one voice is still unclear.

JON ALTERMAN, CTR. FOR STRATEGIC AND INTL. STUDIES: I think that the Israelis look at President-elect Obama and they're a little uncertain. It s not that they don't have a strong supporter, but they're not as sure where this is going to go.

TODD: Mr. Obama has been seen alternately as sympathizing with the plight of the Palestinians earlier in 2008 saying quote "nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people."

And expressing airtight solidarity with Israel.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.

TODD: A remark he backed away from the following day.

OBAMA: Obviously, it's going to be up to the parties to negotiate a range of these issues, and Jerusalem will be part of those negotiations.

TODD: But we have also seen two Hillary Clintons. One who embraced Yasser Arafat's wife a decade ago and voiced early support for a Palestinian state, but who also since she first ran for senator in New York, has become one of the most unwavering hawks in defense of Israel.

During the campaign, they split on Iran, a key player in the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic.

Separate interviews on ABC highlighted that. First when Clinton talked about how the U.S. might respond to an Iranian attack on Israel.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: We would be able to totally obliterate them.

OBAMA: Using words like obliterate doesn't actually produce good results.

TODD: Mr. Obama has said he is willing to meet with Iran's president without conditions. Senator Clinton has favored engaging the regime, but not meeting directly with its leader.

TODD (on-camera): Still when Mr. Obama announced his security team month ago, he made it clear that he and Hillary Clinton will work together on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

And a transition team official says whatever debates may take place as they formulate policy, they will speak with one voice in the end. Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


WHITFIELD: All right. New year, new laws about to go into effect across the country. Here's one that might raise a few eyebrows.

In Massachusetts, if you are caught with less than an ounce of marijuana, you can expect a civil fine instead of a pair of handcuffs. So pot possession there is not exactly legal now, but it is less illegal than before. That Massachusetts law is just one of many new ones on the books covering everything from how you use your cell phone in the car to cyber bullying.

Joining me now to talk about them is civil rights attorney and law professor Avery Freedman.

Good to see you.


WHITFIELD: Happy New Year to you, too.

All right. Let's talk about Massachusetts decriminalizing marijuana to a certain extent. Is this more of an issue, you know what, our jails are a little too overcrowded because of such drug possession kind of charges?

FRIEDMAN: Well, I don't know because, and nobody really knows because there were no legislative hearings about it, Fredricka.

What happened is that it went on the ballot and 65 percent of the folks voting in Massachusetts said, you know what, it is time to decriminalize an already decriminalized law, meaning that if a cop catches you with less than an ounce of marijuana, you are not going to jail. You are going to get a little ticket.

WHITFIELD: So, do you mean, could this be the prelude, OK now, it's now less than an ounce. Later a little bit more, let's decriminalize it altogether?

FRIEDMAN: Well and you know what, that is what law enforcement was arguing. They were saying, look it, where does this end or where does it start?

At what point, in fact, most law enforcement agencies in Massachusetts were against this referendum saying, you know what, look at the burden, look what we are doing. We are letting people smoke marijuana. Look at the problems that marijuana causes.

The fact is the voters in Massachusetts said, you know what, that's how we are going to do it. Whether it is overcrowded jails or they just want to do it, the people spoke in that state. That is the way it is. WHITFIELD: OK. Well, let's talk about Georgia now, and a new law on the books. We are talking about sex offenders who will soon have to give up their passwords as they're -- to communicate online. Is this a privacy -- a violation of privacy issue and how do you enforce it anyway?

FRIEDMAN: Well, and you know what, that is the very point. Only two states in the union, Fredricka, have a law like this. Utah and Georgia. Utah's law was already founded and based on the privacy by one federal court, so yes, it indeed, it is very, very encroaching, but again, put yourself in the perspective of law enforcement that want to control these sex offenders. They are saying unless we know what the passwords are, we don't know what they are doing.

WHITFIELD: Yes, and I guess they want to be able to monitor that kidn of dialogue, because sadly, a lot of prey is kind of found that way --

FRIEDMAN: Well, but the problem is --

WHITFIELD: -- that way.

FRIEDMAN: -- the problem is these guys are creating 40, 50, 60 different user names and passwords so when it gets right down to it, from the societal perspective, great idea, but from a practical reality, I think Georgia folks that are trying to monitor it are going nowhere with it.

WHITFIELD: All right. California trying to put the brakes on something that everyone everywhere seems to be guilty of, right? And that is texting while you are driving. California says no more. Zero tolerance and that applies to even if you are at a stoplight.

FRIEDMAN: Right. Or a stop sign or red light or anything. Boy, oh, boy, this is going to have a radical effect on a lot of people that don't, are not even the slightest bit concerned about what happens about driving, receiving texts and sending texts.

And you know what, the law does not apply, Fredricka, to GPS systems. So when a cop sees someone going on, how is a police officer going to tell if somebody is using a GPS or a text message?

WHITFIELD: OK. And really, there are no other -- I guess, leniences, right? I mean even if it is an emergency, you cannot text.

FRIEDMAN: Nope. No exceptions. You know what the legislators in Sacramento decided they had a chance to make exceptions for emergencies, and guess what, they didn't. So who knows what's going to happen in California.

WHITFIELD: All right. And cyber bullying. Something else that California is trying to tackle, but this, too, they are gray areas. In fact, school systems are saying that if we suspect you, a student of bullying another, then you will be expelled or maybe even suspended.

FRIEDMAN: Right. Right.

WHITFIELD: And what is the definition of this whole bullying?

FRIEDMAN: Well, you know where this comes from and it is something that we have talked about over the last year? That was that horrible story about Megan Meier (ph) who committed suicide because of cyber bullying.

And you know what it is a good idea in terms of society, but the reality is you are giving very broad discretion to public officials in deciding what constitutes bullying.

For example, remember the 6-year-old that went like this and got thrown out of school because they thought it was bullying?

This is going to be a legal free for all coming up in California.

WHITFIELD: Oh, boy. All right. Avery Friedman, thank so much, and I know I am going to see you tomorrow, too. Right?

FRIEDMAN: I'll see you tomorrow for sure. Looking forward to it.

WHITFIELD: You and Richard Herman in our usual legal roundup.

FRIEDMAN: There you go.

WHITFIELD: All right. Thanks so much. Good to see you and see you again tomorrow.

Appreciate it.

OK. Well, this Muslim family is now cleared to fly on AirTran Airways but you have to think that they will pass on that after what happened to them yesterday.


WHITFIELD: All right. Now we know a little bit more about the story behind the mug shot. New details on the arrest of former NBA star Charles Barkley.


WHITFIELD: The airline says it was just following the rules, but the Muslim family kicked off a domestic flight in the nation's capital yesterday says it was a sad ordeal.

Rebecca Cooper from affiliate WJLA explains.


REBECCA COOPER, WJLA REPORTER (voice-over): Alexandria lawyer Atif Irfan and his brother, a Virginia anesthesiologist, were seated on a AirTran flight to Orlando with their wives, children, family and a friend. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to go to Gatorland and I want to go swimming and I want to go on an airboat.

COOPER: But then all of the planes, 104 passengers were ordered off after passengers reported to air marshals hearing the Irfan's discuss flight safety.

ATIF IRFAN, ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA RESIDENT: We generally like to sit in the middle of the plane, because I have always been told it is the safest place to sit and my sister-in-law had mentioned may be it is actually the back of the plane, so we were discussing basically where the safest place to sit in an airplane is.

COOPER: But an AirTran official says they were discussing what would happen if the plane blew up. After two hours, once all the flight's luggage passed re-inspection the flight and its passengers took off. But the Irfan's were not allowed back on.

These Indian-American brothers born in Detriot and now raising their Muslim families here in Virginia say they feel this wouldn't of happened if it weren't for their Muslim appearance.

IRFAN: Absolutely not. I mean, we are not going to stand there in the airplane and say, oh you know, bomb this, terrorist that, threat this. I mean, you know, we are smarter than that. We don't do those kinds of things, we know better than that. So, I think to a certain extent, you know, people listened to whatever words we have and unfortunately hear what they want to hear.

COOPER: The families point out the basic tenet of the Muslim faith is to live in peace. But these Americans who rode in their high school homecoming parade, study at the Univesity of Maryland, work at the Library of Congress and help deliver new year's babies at Adventist Hospital say it's been harder since 9/11 with sometimes subtle and sometimes not so subtle signs of racism against Muslims. Instead of giving up their faith, they say they embrace it all of the more.


WHITFIELD: All right. Well, two members of the family talked more about what happened with the airline.

They were interviewed on CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING."


IRFAN: The marshalls and the federal agents that we dealt with were actually pretty kind and pretty generous in how they dealt with us. I think more so the blame falls on the airline simply because, I believe, from what we were told, that they initiated the action that the stewardesses were told by some people on the plane. I think it was two young girls that something was going on and that they initiated by talking to the captain.

And I believe from what the federal agent told us again was that it was the captain's final decision as to whether or not to let us on the plane or not.

KASHIF IRFAN, KICKED OFF AIRTRAN FLIGHT: The FBI agents actually spoke with AirTran personnel at Washington Reagan Airport and encouraged them to let us fly again on the subsequent flight that were leaving out towards Orlando that night or perhaps the next morning.

AirTran refused, despite the fact that we were cleared on any allegations of wrongdoing, so I believe that it was really up to them to let us reboard or rebook however they clearly stated at the airport as well as from the call center, which I have called subsequently that they would not allows us to board or book a reservation anytime in the near future.


WHITFIELD: Well, AirTran Airways had something to say about it. They released this statement saying quote "AirTran Airways complied with all TSA, law enforcement and Homeland Security directives and had no discretion in the matter. The nine passengers involved were all offered full refunds and may fly with AirTran Airways again."

All right. Imagine heating your house without turning on the heat? Well, it is already being done in Germany. The houses are warm and cozy and the heating bills are well, next to nothing.


WHITFIELD: All right. Eastern Tennessee is the case of bad news, and well, sort of good.

First, the Environmental Protection Agency said a huge coal ash spill in Kingston shows more than 100 times the safe levels of arsenic. More than a billion gallons of the sludge spilled from a retention pond in mid-December.

The so-called good news now. An EPA spokeswoman says Kingston's water is safe to drink. The mayor agrees. Just watch this.





WHITFIELD: Heavy pause. Well, the EPA says that water is safe to drink because of constant filtering.

All right. Well, it is that time of year when homeowners crank up the thermostat, right? But what if you could heat your entire home without even turning the furnace on? Well, not only possible, but it is being done.'s Alison Kosik has our Energy Fix. Hello to you.


You know, who wouldn't like to get rid of their home heating bill altogether? That is what is going on in Germany. Thousands of passive homes have been built, and they don't even use a furnace at all.

Instead, the home is heated mostly by the sun and heat given off by people and electrical appliances. Now here is how it works. That heat stays inside because a passive home is virtually airtight. To keep the air from becoming stale and unhealthy...

KOSIK: Instead, the home is heated mostly by the sun and heat given off by people and electrical appliances. Now, here's how it works. That heat stays inside, because a passive home is virtually airtight. To keep the air from being stale and unhealthy, a ventilation system constantly brings in the air and heats it up. And yes, on those nice days you can open the windows and shut off the ventilation system so you still have those options, Fred.

WHITFIELD: OK, so, happening in Germany, but how about here in the U.S.?

KOSIK: Well, you'll only find a handful in the U.S. here. And now here's a picture of a passive home in Minnesota. One obstacle, though, is location. Passive homes can be shaded, and they need big southern-facing windows to get solar heat.

Design is also an issue. Passive homes are fairly flat and can't have dormers. They're also small, around 1,000 square feet, because bigger homes are too hard to seal, insulate and heat. So you've got those issues, too, Fred.

WHITFIELD: OK, bottom line: How much does it cost?

KOSIK: The passive homes in Germany cost about 5 percent more to build than a traditional home, and in the U.S., it's likely to be higher. Demand isn't as strong here, and those high-tech windows and ventilation system aren't readily available here.

But proponents point out that in the long run, you'll save on energy costs. And for more energy fixes, go to

Fred, back to you.

WHITFIELD: All right, Alison. Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

KOSIK: Sure.

WHITFIELD: All right. Rick Sanchez is working the next hour of the NEWSROOM. His house, always hot.

RICH SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, you -- no, you're are the one. You know, we've had...

WHITFIELD: You do have a lot of body heat. SANCHEZ: ... we've had these conversations. I can't ever have it cold enough, and you always like to make things a little warmer.

WHITFIELD: I get warm.



SANCHEZ: I've noticed that about you. I will tell you what's warm, if not downright hot, the situation going on right now in Gaza.

WHITFIELD: Yes, it is.

SANCHEZ: As you look -- do the math with me, ready?


SANCHEZ: Condoleezza Rice calls a news conference this morning. It's very abrupt. She's very terse. She hammers Hamas, and she's kind of giving Israel at "attaboy." She walks away. She doesn't take any questions, and her body language seemed almost nervous at the time.

Now, add this to the mix, the fact that there's power grids that are now going out in parts of Gaza. And also, you can add this to the mix, some three to 400 foreign nationals, non-Palestinians, are being told to get out, and essentially being given permission to leave that territory.

WHITFIELD: You're leading us on.

SANCHEZ: Put all of those things together, what have you got? What have you got?

WHITFIELD: I know what you've got. You want to say a ground war imminent.

SANCHEZ: You know, it looks like the kinds of things that we've seen in the past prior to a ground assault, something that a lot of military officials would call softening the target, so to speak. All the signs lead to it, and we know that these kind of military campaigns are always done in the cover of darkness.

Is this the moment? Because all signs point to it, we are going to be all over this. We've got General Honore. He's going to be joining us in just a little bit. He's going to take us through what an army does in a situation like this, for example.

WHITFIELD: And we love the general. He's so good at breaking it down for all of us.

SANCHEZ: And by the way, Jim Clancy's done a fabulous job for us this week. He's been there, he's done it and he covers this type of story all along. So, that and Twitterers, lots of them. We've got almost 1,000 people talking about this today. WHITFIELD: I believe it. Still talking about hot, you can take the Florida boy out of Florida, but not the Florida out of the boy. No socks. It's freezing cold outside.

SANCHEZ: You're not allowed to say that on TV. I am wearing socks. They're very fuzzy.

WHITFIELD: No socks. Too hot.


WHITFIELD: All right, Rick Sanchez, thanks so much. Looking forward to it at the top of the hour.

All right, well, he had never, I guess, had any trouble rebounding on the basketball court. You know who I'm talking about, but will Charles Barkley be able to rebound from what allegedly happened this week in Arizona? Turns out there's a little more to this possible foul than we first thought.


WHITFIELD: OK. So if Charles Barkley ever does run for governor of Alabama, let's just say his opponents will have plenty of dirt on him. Another big shovelful came this week. Here is CNN's Erica Hill.


ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Charles Barkley is known for his outspoken analysis on basketball...

CHARLES BARKLEY, BASKETBALL STAR AND ANALYST: And these guys give up a wide open three! Are you kidding me?

HILL: And almost anything else.

BARKLEY: Every time I heard the word conservative, it makes me sick to my stomach because they're really just fake Christians, as I call them.

HILL: When he was pulled over Wednesday morning for running a stop sign, Sir Charles didn't hold back. According to the police report, the officer smelled alcohol on his breath, and when asked, Barkley admitted he had been drinking.

When asked how much, he was blunt. "A couple. I could give you a b.s. answer, but I didn't." Barkley refused a breathalyzer test, but later took a blood test. TMZ captured these photos of the former NBA star being processed. Officers say he cooperated fully.

LT. ERIC SHUHANDLER, GILBERT, ARIZ., POLICE DEPARTMENT: It was a fairly routine, typical DUI arrest.

HILL: Barkley, who is a commentator for CNN's sister network, TNT, issued this statement through Turner Sports: "I am disappointed that I put myself in that situation. The Scottsdale Police were fantastic. I will not comment any further, as it is a legal matter."

There are plenty of others commenting, but not necessarily about the mugshots and the DUI charges. When he was pulled over, Barkley wasn't alone. According to the police report, there was a woman in the car with him who was not his wife. When asked where he was going, police say Barkley responded, "You want the truth? I was going to drive around the corner and get oral sex," though he used a different term.

Barkley went on to tell the officer the same woman had performed the sexual act a week earlier and it was "the best he'd ever had." While he was being processed, the 45-year-old also joked, quote, I'll tattoo your name on my blank" if it would get him out of the DUI.

The former NBA star lives in Arizona, but he has been talking about a move back to his home state of Alabama, where he recently told CNN's Campbell Brown he planned to run for governor.

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: So, are you going to run for governor?

BARKLEY: I am planning on it in 2014.

BROWN: You are?


HILL: Barkley says his top priority as governor would education. In Arizona, officers are hoping the aspiring politician's arrest will be a lesson of its own.

SHUHANDLER: This is another example, please don't drink and drive. This is New Year's Eve. You have the choice. Whether or not you drink and drive, it is your choice. Please this as an example to get a cab, get a designated driver or get another ride home.

HILL: Erica Hill, CNN, New York.


WHITFIELD: All right. On that note, I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Rick Sanchez up next with more in the NEWSROOM. Rick?