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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Today: Finnish President In Turkey To Discuss NATO Bid; France Braces For More Protests As Government Pushes Retirement Bill Through; Millions Of March Madness Brackets Busted On Day One. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired March 17, 2023 - 05:30   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, terrific analysis from Will. Thank you.

All right. Happening today, the Turkish and Finnish presidents are meeting in Istanbul. Both leaders have suggested that Turkey will ratify Finland's bid to join NATO during this visit.

CNN's Nada Bashir joins me live from Istanbul. And Nada, Finland applied for NATO membership last year after Russia invaded Ukraine. What's been the holdup here?

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: Well look, Christine, this has been months in the making.

Finland initially applying to join the alliance alongside Sweden and Turkey, for the most part focusing on Sweden has over the last few months expressed concern over both nations but focusing squarely on the situation inside Sweden where it accuses the government of taking a lax approach to groups that the Turkish government considers to be terrorist organizations -- namely, Kurdish groups in the country. That has been the key criticism from the Turkish government.

But now it appears that President Erdogan is prepared to take steps to ratify the accession of Finland, although it's unclear how this will impact the ratification process for Sweden. Now, we've heard hints earlier in the week from President Erdogan that this would be the case. We've seen negotiations over the last few weeks and months. We've seen even policy changes in both Helsinki and Stockholm.

And on Wednesday, President Erdogan told reporters in Ankara that Turkey would do its part to fulfill its promise. And we heard similar illusions from the Finnish president who said that in the instance that Turkey would make the decision to ratify Finland's accession to the NATO alliance, Turkey would request a face-to-face meeting between the two leaders and that Finland had, in turn, accepted that invitation.

Now, we are expecting the two leaders to meet in the next two hours or so and there is expected to be a joint press conference. We've already heard earlier in the week from the Swedish government saying that they also understand that Finland may be taking steps to gain accession without Sweden, but that Sweden would be safer with Finland in the alliance than outside of the alliance.

ROMANS: All right, Nada Bashir. Thank you so much for that.

All right, quick hits around the globe right now.

Firefighters trying to save workers trapped in a Colombian mine. At least 21 miners died. It's believed no more survivors will be found. It's unclear how those miners became trapped.

A monster mass of smelly seaweed hitting Barbados and hurting its tourism industry. The seaweed isn't a new problem but this year's mass could be the largest ever, stretching more than 5,000 miles. It could reach Florida this summer.

A longstanding St. Patrick's Day tradition resumes today. President Biden will host Ireland's prime minister for a celebration at the White House. The two leaders are expected to discuss their close partnership as well as their shared support for Ukraine.

All right, France just raised the retirement age without even voting on it. How's that going over? And if inflation is easing why are we still paying so much for groceries?



ROMANS: All right. Right now, protests on the streets of Paris. Demonstrators are angry that the government raised its retirement age without even voting on it. Some French fury on display.

Look, French retirees have probably the most generous benefits in the world and workers are outraged that the retirement age is going to go up two years from just 62 years old to 64.

CNN's Sam Kiley joins us live from Paris. Sam, protesters blocked Paris' inner ring road earlier this morning. I see the garbage stacked up behind you. Hell hath no fury like a French retiree scorned.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes. I think that there are two things going on here.

You've got, first of all, yet another attempt by Emmanuel Macron, the French president, to try to force through these pension reforms. The country says it's got a 12.5 billion euro or similar sort of figure in dollars deficit when it comes to the funding of pensions. These are pensions that those in work have to pay a supplement for, for those leaving work. So raising the age by two years is something that for the French really strikes, for many of them in two-thirds of the country are against these reforms very much at the heart of their way of life.

Now yesterday, we saw these spontaneous demonstrations across the country. Some six -- there were several thousand here in Paris. More than 300 -- more than 300 people have been arrested though in these demonstrations.

And they were spontaneous partly in response to the effects of these strikes but also -- or rather of the pension plans, but also because Emmanuel Macron's government forced this through without a majority in the National Assembly here, using a rather arcane part of the Constitution to drive through legislation that was not being ratified by -- effectively by the Parliament here. Now that is something that is usually associated with actions in extremists when you're dealing with a national emergency, not when you're trying to come up with a series of fiscal reforms.

And, of course -- so you can see these -- this rubbish here building up on the streets of Paris. I've just come in from the Channel Tunnel, coming in by train from London. There are several streets here that were literally wall-to-wall garbage piled up. There's 7,000 tons at least of garbage that has reportedly been piled up here in the country.

But it's not just the garbage collectors who have gone on strike. The unions really very strongly opposed to this and planning a series of much less spontaneous and much less violent demonstrations over the next week.


ROMANS: Fascinating. All right, Sam Kiley, nice to see you. Thank you so much, Sam.

All right, consumer inflation cooled a bit more last month, the eighth month in a row. It's now at the lowest level since September 2021. That is good news -- inflation cooling. But you don't see prices easing very much at the grocery store, right?

Let's bring in CNN Business reporter Nathaniel Meyersohn. This has been something that has been just sort of troubling in these inflation numbers -- that the grocery store prices have been so sticky. Grocery store prices up 10.2 percent annually according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Why are shoppers still paying more for these important items?

NATHANIEL MEYERSOHN, CNN BUSINESS REPORTER: Right. So grocery prices have remained stubbornly high. We see higher costs for producers on labor and transportation, especially. They are passing down those higher costs on to shoppers. And we're still going to the grocery store, we still have to buy food, so there are fewer tradeoffs that we can make.

So companies -- they're raising prices without customers pulling back unlike in other areas -- electronics, furniture.


MEYERSOHN: These are sticky price hikes and once food prices go up it's much harder for them to come back down.

ROMANS: Let's talk about egg prices because we had talked a lot about how they skyrocketed. I mean, it was really incredible what was happening in eggs. And that's not necessarily the inflation story overall. That's also a bird flu story, right?

But then they started to come down on the wholesale level. Still, Dollar Tree is saying you know what? They're too expensive. We're not even going to carry them.

MEYERSOHN: Right. So eggs for consumers have increased 55 percent --


MEYERSOHN: -- annually, although we do start to see them come down a little bit.

So, Dollar Tree -- for the Dollar Tree, that says they're saying it's still too expensive. Dollar Tree sells just about everything for $1.25 at its 8,000 stores. It used to sell everything for a dollar but it recently raised prices. So it has less flexibility to increase prices when its costs go up, so they're saying instead of taking a loss on eggs they're just going to stop selling it until prices come down.

And some people may not know that Dollar Tree sells eggs and groceries but dollar stores -- they're the fastest-growing food retailers in America. So this is different for millions of families.

ROMANS: Yes, interesting. In my little hometown though the grocery store went away and the Dollar Tree is where people get their groceries -- their day-to-day groceries so they don't have to drive too far.

Food companies are entering this new era of sleep snacks. What are sleep snacks?

MEYERSOHN: So instead of chips and cookies, food makers want us to reach for cereals and foods with melatonin in them and other vitamins that are supposed to help us fall asleep.

So, Post, for example -- Post cereal is known for Raisin Bran and Fruity Pebbles. The company has a new cereal called Sweet Dreams with lavender, and chamomile, and vitamins. It's supposed to help you fall asleep naturally.

And it's part of a growing trend of food makers. They're trying to boost sales through this new kind of fourth type of meal category -- nighttime snacks.

We see Pepsi. They have a new -- a new drink called Driftwell, made to help people unwind. And then Nestle has a chocolate bar called Good Night with -- yes, to help you fall asleep.

ROMANS: A market I didn't even know existed. Counting sheep is free if you're trying to pinch pennies.

All right, Nathaniel Meyersohn. Nice to see you.

All right, major upsets bust millions of brackets on the very first day of March Madness.

Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report -- Andy.


You know, if you say you still have a perfect bracket odds are you're not telling the truth because according to only 787 brackets remain perfect out of the tens of millions that were filled out.

And nearly 90 percent of brackets got a big old X on them in the second game of the day when 13-seed Furman stunned number-four Virginia.


NCAA ANNOUNCER: Clark gets it in and gets it back -- we're 10. Clark double-teamed along the baseline and throws it up the floor. Intercepted by Hein. Pegues for three and the win. He does it with 2.2 to go.


SCHOLES: Furman with an all-time NCAA moment there with that steal and shot. Virginia fans are just shocked. Check out this Furman fan, though. She was praying hard that they would hold on and her prayers were answered.

Furman, the smallest school in the tournament with less than 2,700 students, knocks off Virginia 68-67. The Cavaliers have been eliminated in the first round three out of the last four tournaments.

Now, the Paladins from Greenville, South Carolina making the most of their first trip to March Madness in 43 years.


J.P. PEGUES, GUARD, FURMAN: I was throwing it to Garrett Hien and I seen it going in Garrett Hien's hand. I'm like I want the ball. I feel those are moments that I've craved my whole life and I feel like I'm built for. So as soon as I got the ball and I seen a shot -- a shot attempt I had, I knew that all I could do at that point was just rise up and shoot it. And I had full belief that it was going in and it did.

JALEN SLAWSON, FORWARD, FURMAN: Saturday is going to be another chance to make history and this team has performed the best under the brightest lights all year.


SCHOLES: Now, Furman wasn't even the biggest upset of the day. Fifteen-seed Princeton taking the lead on two-seed Arizona with two minutes to go. Now, the Wildcats didn't score in the final 4:45 of the game. The Tigers pulling off the massive upset 59-55.


This is the third-straight year and 11th time overall that a number-15 seed has won a first-round game. Princeton, though, wasn't calling this an upset. They say they expected to win.


MATT ALLOCCO, GUARD, PRINCETON: On paper, it's going to look like a big upset, but we believe in each other and we think we're a really good team, so -- when we're at our best and I think we can beat anybody in the country.


SCHOLES: Yes. One-seed Houston, meanwhile, surviving a scare last night by 16-seed Northern Kentucky. This game was tied at 36 with 15 minutes left, but the Cougars would end up holding on to win 63-52.

But really bad news for the Cougs. Star guard Marcus Sasser reaggravated his groin injury and didn't play in the second half. Point guard Jamal Shead also hurt his knee.

Houston is going to play Auburn tomorrow. But you've got 16 more games coming your way today, starting with USC and Michigan State at 12:15 eastern. You can watch all of the action today across our sister networks TNT, TBS, and TruTV.

And Christine, the game that really hurt for a lot of people yesterday was Arizona.


SCHOLES: Many people had them in their Final Four. Some people, like President Biden, even had them winning --


SCHOLES: -- the entire tournament. So a big sad face for those people waking up today.

ROMANS: I know. You know what? I didn't even get a chance to do a bracket. I've been so busy following the banks I haven't even been thinking about basketball. And I guess it doesn't matter because I would have been busted on the first day anyway.

SCHOLES: Yes. That happened to a lot of people.

ROMANS: All right, Andy Scholes. Thanks so much.

SCHOLES: All right.

ROMANS: Coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING" Russia may now have pieces of that U.S. drone it downed in the Black Sea.

And next, right here, bank fears in the U.S. and beyond. Is the worst finally over?



ROMANS: All right, your Romans' Numeral this morning, $12 billion. That's how much the Federal Reserve loaned banks this month in this new emergency lending program that gives banks the original value of the Treasury bonds -- bonds that have crumbled in value during historic rate hikes. This keeps them from selling assets at a loss like Silicon Valley Bank did causing all of that drama.

Looking at markets around the world right now, Asian markets finished higher. European markets up after the central bank -- the European central bank raised rates 50 basis points but did not signal more. On Wall Street, stock index futures at this hour also leaning higher, although barely.

A blockbuster bank bailout by the banks. Stocks closed higher after several big banks swooped in providing $30 billion in deposits to First Republic. The Nasdaq finishing up more than two percent -- 2 1/2 percent almost.

Mortgage rates fell slightly this week. The average 30-year fixed now at 6.6 percent. And on inflation watch, gas prices held steady overnight at $3.46 a gallon. Consumer sentiment data from the University of Michigan is due out later this morning to cap off a very busy week for your money.

Let's bring in John Leer now, chief economist at Morning Consult.

John -- all right, Credit Suisse accepted a loan from the Swiss central bank. You've got these big banks in the U.S. who swooped in to help First Republic. Crisis averted here in banking?

JOHN LEER, CHIEF ECONOMIST, MORNING CONSULT (via Webex by Cisco): The near-term crisis is averted but there are some longer-term risks that really, really scare me. And the biggest issue here is basically we've had a prolonged period of very low interest rates that drives financial institutions to go search and seek for higher yield. That drives them to make riskier decisions.

And I think unfortunately, what we've seen, particularly in the U.S., is that we just haven't had the sort of regulatory environment and the sort of regulatory priorities that have kept some of those risk-taking behaviors in check.

ROMANS: Remarkable that this bank rescue of First Republic is from other banks. This isn't the taxpayer. This isn't the Treasury or the Fed. This is other banks moving to shore up a competitor, quite frankly.

LEER: Yes.

ROMANS: What does that mean? LEER: Well, it's similar. There's some precedent. Of course, way back in 2008, they tried to have something similar to this for Lehman Bros. and that fell apart. In 1998, they were able to achieve it with long- term capital management.

I think what it says and what it signifies is that financial stability is a good that -- it's a public good that we all enjoy. And the big banks, of course, are some of the largest beneficiaries of public trust. We continue to see that by and large the American population trusts the banking sector. They think that their deposits are safe. But it's something, of course, that like I said, the big banks have a vested interest in maintaining that confidence.

ROMANS: We heard from the Treasury secretary yesterday that look, your money is safe, although she did say that above $250,000 at all institutions, you're not necessarily guaranteed -- only at systemically important institutions.

What should people be thinking about their money this morning?

LEER: It was a little bit of a nuanced point that she made and I think folks originally interpreted that statement made last Sunday evening that all deposits were insured. What it turns out is that the Treasury, and the Fed, and the FDIC are going to exercise some level of discretion in deciding which bank deposits are insured above that $250,000 mark.

I think -- you know, like I said, I think the near-term risks are fairly low right now but we do live in a world where we've got incredible digitalization. Deposits are able to move very, very rapidly. Some sort of triggering event could very well spark some additional run on the bank. And I think we're unfortunately in a position where bank regulation has not caught up with technology.

ROMANS: It is hard to measure fear, right, and sometimes fundamentals are one thing but fear is something else in the banking world altogether. So I think that's one of the reasons why you saw those big banks step in with all that money for First Republic.

John Leer, nice to see you. Thank you so much. Have a great weekend.

LEER: Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. Next on "CNN THIS MORNING" Putin and Xi -- the big meeting in Moscow just announced. And something new from Taylor Swift.



TAYLOR SWIFT, SINGER-SONGWRITER: Singing "All Of The Girls You Loved Before."


(COMMERCIAL) ROMANS: All right, our top of the morning this Friday, the top album downloads on iTunes. Here's number one.


MORGAN WALLEN, SINGER-SONGWRITER: Singing "Thought You Should Know."


ROMANS: That's Morgan Wallen's tribute to his mom -- "Thought You Should Know" from his album "One Thing At A Time."

Number two --




ROMANS: That's "Pioneer" by Upchurch.

And number three.