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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Violence Escalates In Sudan As Paramilitaries Deny War Crimes; Special Envoy Kerry In Beijing For Three Days Of Talks; Signs The Housing Market Is Recovering From Downturn. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired July 18, 2023 - 05:30   ET





Violence escalating in Sudan as two military groups battle for control over that country, but both have denied accusations of war crimes after a mass grave with at least 87 bodies was discovered near Darfur.

CNN's David McKenzie joining us live from Johannesburg, South Africa. And David, are there fears of more atrocities like this?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine, I think there are very real fears that there could be more mass graves like this and there is emerging evidence that is just the case.

Now, this is in the western part of the country in Darfur -- the vast region that has had a history of atrocities, in many cases perpetrated by the groups that are fighting now, including the Rapid Support Forces -- the paramilitary group that is fighting the National Army.

Now, at least one case of mass graves in western Darfur. There's another case, according to the United Nations, of more people found in a mass grave. I've seen video and evidence of bodies strewn on the streets in some of these towns where there has been fighting and often people have been cut off for many weeks now. This is now entering more than 90 days of fighting in Sudan, emerging as a civil war in that strategically important country.

The International Criminal Court prosecutor says that the world needs to pay attention and people need to be brought to book. But many activists we've been speaking to say this is just history repeating itself -- these targeting of civilians.

And it does appear that the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary groups with ties to those that have committed atrocities in the past as gaining the upper hand at this stage in parts of the capital and parts of Darfur where the fighting is, unfortunately, expanding.

Now, there are efforts by the U.S., the Saudis, the Egyptians, the Ethiopians, and others to try and get some kind of peace efforts or, at the very least, a ceasefire in play. But at this point, there doesn't appear to be a meaningful process to stop the fighting. At least one analyst I've spoken to today said there should be criticism of international actors for not coordinating the efforts to stop the fighting and, rather, trying to be the ones that get the peace.

For now, though, the blame squarely has to be put on those generals who started that fighting more than 90 days ago -- Christine.

ROMANS: Just terrible.

All right, thank you so much, David McKenzie.

Quick hits around the globe right now.

Eighty-one wildfires in southern Greece, near Athens, burning homes and forcing thousands to evacuate as Europe remains in the grip of a blistering heat wave. Officials say wind is also slowing efforts to put those fires out.

A pod of more than 50 pilot whales has died after a mass stranding on a Scottish island. Officials say this species is social. If one member is in trouble the others follow and they get stranded, too.

Sir Elton John testifying via video that Kevin Spacey attended an event at his home. Spacey is accused of groping a man who drove him to that party. He faces a total of 12 sex assault charges by four men.


All right. Just ahead, another court appearance for the armorer on the ill-fated "Rust" movie. And the Jets and Aaron Rodgers debut on the HBO series "HARD KNOCKS."


ROMANS: Here is today's fast-forward look-ahead.

Later today, a court hearing in the Donald Trump-Walt Nauta classified documents case to determine how evidence is handled. It's the first time both sides will appear before Trump-appointed Judge Aileen Cannon in Florida.

The armorer for the movie "Rust", Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, will appear virtually in front of a judge today for a felony hearing. She is charged in the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.

President Biden welcomes Israeli President Isaac Herzog to the White House today. The White House says Biden and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will probably meet this year but no date is set.


Special climate envoy John Kerry meeting with China's top diplomat Wang Yi in Beijing today after months of rising tensions. The U.S. now calling for urgent action over three days of talks to tackle threats over the climate crisis. CNN's Anna Coren joins us live from Hong Kong this morning. And Anna,

the timing of these talks coming at a crucial juncture here -- both nations suffering extreme weather. How likely is it that China will take action with the U.S.?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, I think there are certainly promising signs coming out of Beijing. And we've heard from John Kerry and he is certainly hoping to accomplish a great deal not just on the issue of climate change.

As you say, he met with China's top diplomat Wang Yi this morning and Kerry said that climate talks could provide a fresh start for the world's two largest greenhouse gas emitters on other issues that have caused serious tension, such as Taiwan and trade. Let's take a listen.


JOHN KERRY, U.S. CLIMATE ENVOY: Our hope is now that this could be the beginning of a new definition of cooperation and a capacity to resolve the differences between us. We both know there are real differences. But we also know that from experience, if we work at it we can find a path ahead and ways that resolve these challenges.


COREN: Look, Kerry also had a message to convey from the U.S. president. He said Joe Biden values his relationship with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and is very committed to stability in the U.S.-China relationship and hopes to achieve efforts together and make a significant difference to the world.

As you know, Christine, Kerry is not your average U.S. diplomat. He was a presidential Democratic nominee, U.S. Secretary of State under Barack Obama. Wang describes Kerry as my old friend, saying that they'd worked together on a series of issues including the Iran nuclear talks. Wang said today that the world needs a stable China- U.S. relationship and that to cooperate on climate change, it has huge potential for the world.

Yesterday, Kerry met with his counterpart Xie Zhenhua for almost 13 hours and afterwards he tweeted -- and let me read some of that to you. "The climate crisis demands the world's two largest economies worth together to limit the Earth's warming and take urgent action on coal and methane pollution."

Climate experts have said that if China and the U.S. can agree on these reductions in methane, which as we know is a -- is a greenhouse gas producing 30 percent of global warming, that could really move things forward. And the focus being COP 28 in Dubai, which starts at the end of November, Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Anna Coren in Hong Kong. Thank you, Anna.

All right, to sports.

Golf's final Major of the year, the British Open, tees off on Thursday with 16 members of LIV Golf in the field, including the defending champion.

Coy Wire has this morning's Bleacher Report. Good morning, Coy.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Good morning, Christine.

What a difference a year can make, right? Last year at this time Cameron Smith shot -- lights out in the final round of 64 to win the Open championship. Then two days later he bolted to become arguably LIV Golf's biggest signing since its inception. And now there's a framework agreement between the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund setting the stage for Smith and the other LIV Golfers to possibly make a return to the PGA Tour.

Smith was asked about the deal yesterday and if he has any regrets about making that initial jump.


CAMERON SMITH, DEFENDING BRITISH OPEN CHAMPION: There's obviously a lot -- a lot of things that are up in the air that no one really knows at the moment. I don't even think the guys that are trying to sort it out really know what this outcome is going to be like. So, yes, a lot of uncertainty but I'm optimistic that LIV will be around in the future.

Like I said in the past, the PGA Tour is a great place to play golf and it will be for a very long time. So I don't think there's -- there was any part of me that made me think I made the wrong decision throughout any part of the last eight or nine months.


WIRE: All right. NFL training camps right around the corner and so is HBO's "HARD KNOCKS." And the team being featured this year, the New York Jets whose players have plenty of personality. There's a part- time "JEOPARDY!" game show host, an Ayahuasca psychedelic tea drinker, a darkness retreat enthusiast, and that's just one person -- new QB four-time league MVP Aaron Rodgers.

The Jets were on the show in 2010 and they ended up going 11-5 that year, advancing to the AFC Championship game later that season.

The first episode of "HARD KNOCKS" premieres August 8 on HBO and Max.

Last night, the Angels' Shohei Ohtani hit a single and a double and the Yankees intentionally walked him in the fifth. But in the seventh -- oh my goodness. Should have walked him again. The Japanese superstar crushing his Major League-leading 35th home run of the season tying the game at three. And check out the bat flip. Ohtani only hit 34 all last season.


The emotion, his teammates' reactions. Gwen Stefani going berserk. It's all a thing of beauty. The Angels win 4-3 on a walk-off single by Michael Stefanic in the

10th. The Yankees have lost seven of nine games and they are in last place in the AL East.

The Reds ground crew jumping into action during a weather delay against the Giants when all of a sudden, man down. The tarp monster catching another victim in Cincinnati. His crewmates leave him behind in their fight to keep the infield dry. Only one can imagine the thoughts going through this man's mind. This monster is a whale of whale, Geppetto. Crawl towards the light.

He eventually emerges out of the mouth of the beast but the wind whipped up and an epic battle ensued. Look at this man, Christine, wrestling the tarp monster. That's Sean Brown. Fortunately, all mere mortals make it out unharmed but not before a video of their plight went viral. The team will try to finish the game later today.

But fans -- you know, the game didn't go on -- still got a pretty good show.

ROMANS: That is so true. All right, nice to see you, Coy. Thank you.

WIRE: You, too.

ROMANS: All right. Coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING" Russia hits back 24 hours after Ukraine's strike on the Crimean bridge.

And next, right here, signs of a housing market bounce back.



ROMANS: All right. Your Romans' Numeral this morning, 10,000. Ford slashing the price of the electric F-150 Lightning pickup truck by $10,000. The new price of the base model now just under 50 grand. Kelly Blue Book says the electric vehicle prices have slowly decreased since 2022 thanks, in part, to federal tax incentives and declining lithium prices.

All right. Looking at markets around the world, the Hang Seng tumbled just about two percent on China growth fears. The second quarter growth number missed forecasts in China. European markets look like they're leaning slightly higher this hour. And on Wall Street, stock index futures are barely mixed here but leaning lower.

U.S. stocks closed higher Monday. The Dow up for the sixth day in a row closing at the highest level all year. Recession fears fading. Recent data showing inflation cooling and the economy stable.

The next hurdle is earnings season. This week we hear from Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Netflix, Tesla, and United Airlines, and some banks start to report.

On inflation watch, gas prices fell a penny overnight to $3.56 a gallon. June retail sales and home builder sentiment numbers are due out later today.

Speaking of home builder sentiment, real estate is likely your biggest investment, and there are signs the housing market is resilient after that series of interest rate hikes this year and a 2022 downturn.

Rachel Seigel, an economics reporter at The Washington Post, writes the housing recession may be over. Rachel, good morning.

RACHEL SIEGEL, ECONOMICS REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST (via Webex by Cisco): Good morning, Christine. Thanks for having me.

ROMANS: So walk us through some of the signs that the -- that the market is stable here -- maybe even rebounding.

SIEGEL: It's really remarkable that you can have this situation even when interest rates stay so high. So there are a couple of things going into this new normal and even a shift in a more positive direction.

You've got supply chains that are easing up, which makes it easier for builders to finish their projects. To get garage doors, and tiles, and sinks in on any sort of realistic timeline. You've got demand that's cooling but not falling out altogether. And you've got prices that soared in earlier phases of the pandemic and then dropped in the second half of last year that are now slowing stabilizing.

All of these things are giving builders more confidence. They're giving buyers some more options. And it just means that there are more homes on the market at any given time.

ROMANS: We've been watching that 30-year fixed rate mortgage creeping now towards seven percent. I feel like people are getting used to this now. I mean, it was a shock when they went from three percent to six percent, but now it's been up here for a while. It's not really slowing the momentum at all?

SIEGEL: It's not really slowing the momentum at all and I think it's exactly as you said. It's a new normal that people are going to have to adjust to if they really are serious about buying a house. The Federal Reserve is not likely to cut rates drastically anytime soon that will bring rates back to that three percent-four percent that you saw earlier in the pandemic. And that might be a permanent shift in the market that people are slowly able to wrap their arms around. And if they're doing the math and whether they can buy that new house is just sort of the part of the calculation going forward.

ROMANS: Yes. One of the elements here that's so interesting is this housing shortage nationwide. We still have this housing shortage. But you're noting that homeowners with low mortgage rates also -- they're just not selling, right? And as you wrote in your piece "clogging up supply" is a phenomenon economists dub "hating your house but loving your mortgage."

Are we making any progress with these issues?

SIEGEL: Not a (INAUDIBLE). I mean, I'll talk to people who will say that maybe otherwise I would be looking to spread out a little bit. Maybe there are reasons that I want a bigger house or maybe there are reasons that I want to downsize but my mortgage is three percent and I can't imagine trading that in for something close to seven percent.

And that really puts an emphasis on making sure that there new homes coming online. That builders are able to complete projects that could make it so there's more supply if the homes that are currently out there are being clogged up in this phenomenon with people just staying put.

ROMANS: Yes. Hating your house, loving your mortgage.

Rachel Siegel, thank you. Great piece.

SIEGEL: Thanks so much.

ROMANS: All right. Later this morning, the first court hearing in Donald Trump's classified documents case. And the powerful Democrat openly flirting with a third party run for president coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING."



ROMANS: All right. A mysterious object washed up on a beach in Western Australia. Take a look. It's a giant metal cylinder taller than a person. Aviation experts say it's probably part of a space rocket. Police are investing with Australia's military and maritime experts.

All right. Taylor Swift officially clinching the top spot for most number-one albums by any woman in history.




ROMANS: Swift released "Speak Now (Taylor's Version)" this month as the third installment in her series of rerecorded albums. It's now become her 12th number-one album, beating Barbra Streisand for most chart-toppers by a woman. The only acts with more are now Jay-Z with 14 and The Beatles with 19.


In addition to the new "Speak Now" Swift has three other titles in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 Album Chart this week. They are "Midnights" at number five, "Lover" at number seven, and "Folklore" is number 10.

All right, thanks for joining us this Tuesday morning. I'm Christine Romans. "CNN THIS MORNING" starts right now.