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Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien

2012: Hottest Year On Record; New Photos Of Bob Levinson; Lottery Death Mystery; Taco Cid T-Shirt Stirs Controversy; Massive Sharks Off Florida Coast; "Normalizing Pedophilia"; Gay Marriages At Washington National Cathedral; Fisher-Price Recall; Cowboys Fire Ryan; MLB Hall Of Fame Announcements Today

Aired January 09, 2013 - 07:30   ET



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. You're watching STARTING POINT. It's 30 minutes past the hour. In just a couple of moments, we're going to be talking with Chris Fischer. His group tracks great white sharks and they have alerted police in Florida to one, a massive one.

That's the picture right there as they were tagging that shark. That was in the Jacksonville area. We'll talk about what they found ahead. First though, John has got a look at some of the stories that are making news this morning. Good morning.

JOHN BERMAN, ANCHOR, CNN'S "EARLY START": Thanks, Soledad. So 2012, officially the hottest year on record for the continental U.S. by a full degree that's a lot. It's the second worse year for extreme weather like hurricanes or floods. The country faced 11 weather disasters that top $1 billion in loses each including a lingering drought and of course, Superstorm Sandy.

Meteorologist Alexandra Steele joins us live this morning. So the question a lot of people are asking is this the new normal?

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely. Extreme is the new normal. It certainly seems year after year, we've seen it and you know, so it is as you said, 2012 going down in the record books. And these records date back to 1895.

So a look at the country, the red showing you the record warmest we've seen, and everyone certainly warmer than average as well. So 55.32 was 2012's average annual temperature and it's besting by a degree, 1998.

And as John said, you know, one degree is substantially warm. Usually it's a tenth of a degree. That's how much you kind of break a record by. Why, really two-fold among a few other things, but widespread drought, worst since the '50s and certainly a mostly absent winter as of last year.

I mean, we have more snow on the ground in some portions of country already this year than we had for the entire balance of the winter last year. And a couple of interesting points, March 2012, the warmest March on record, July 2012, hottest month ever recorded in the lower 48.

Every state in the lower 48 had above average temperatures so certainly as an aggregate 2012, down in the record books, records dating, John, from 1895. So certainly substantial, but the summer and this winter, we'll have to see what happens as we move forward. Certainly been a cold snap thus far.

BERMAN: All right, Alexandra Steele, thank you so much.

Not the kind of records you want to be setting. We got now two photos of former FBI agent Bob Levinson who vanished in Iran nearly six years ago has been released by his family.

They received the photos 18 months ago, but released them to try to try to turn up pressure to help find him. Levinson disappeared on a business trip to Iran in 2007. The State Department has asked Iran's government to help find him.

Homicide detectives in Chicago are trying to solve the case of a lottery winner who died before he could collect his money. A lethal amount of cyanide killed 46-year-old Aruj Khan in July, less than a month after he scratched off a $1 million jackpot. Cyanide poisoning can be difficult to detect. Forensic expert, Lawrence Kobilinsky says a suspect could find some in a variety of industrial settings.


LAWRENCE KOBILINSKY, PROFESSOR, JOHN JAY COLLEGE: If you are going to try to commit the perfect murder this is a good way to do it, if you worked in a metal processing plant, electroplating, for example or if you worked in a plant where they work with insecticides.


BERMAN: Medical examiner first determined that Khan died of natural causes but took a second look after getting a call from one of Khan's relatives days after his death.

A Mexican restaurant in South Carolina cooking up a little controversy with a T-shirt that reads "how to catch an illegal immigrant" and shows a taco being used as bait. Taco Cid has drawn national attention after a local reporter tweeted a picture of the shirt. Critics say it sends a racist message, but the restaurant owner --

O'BRIEN: Using a taco to catch a human being?

BERMAN: Nevertheless, the restaurant owner not apologizing.


LEANNE SNELGROVE, OWNER, TACO CID: We pay taxes. I think that if you are an illegal immigrant then you don't need to be here or get your job, paying your tax. We just not down for illegal immigrants.


BERMAN: The owner standing by those T-shirts, which by the way, sell for $35 a pop.

O'BRIEN: So, many illegal immigrants or undocumented persons pay taxes we should throw that out there, to the owner, who is clearly a little confused on that issue.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's also not about being against illegal immigration. It's about the shirt, which is offensive.

O'BRIEN: It's a little here and here, but good luck to her. Go with God. Moving on.

Good thing it's not beach season because there is a massive great white shark that seems to be vacationing pretty close to the Florida coast, amazing video of researchers from OCEARCH, yanking the 3,500 pound, 16-foot long shark out of water.

They did so they could tag her. Look at that thing. They tagged her, named her Mary Lee and she's been very busy. They track her on this web site. Take a look. Over the last 72 hours, you can see how she's moved and you could see how close she came to Jacksonville Beach yesterday. She was 200 yards.

LIZZA: Wow, that visual, poor Jacksonville Board of Tourism.

O'BRIEN: Holy cow, 3,500 pounds, 200 yards from the beach. Chris Fischer is the founder of OCEARCH. They are the ones tracking Mary Lee and he's with us this morning. How unusual is it to have a shark of that size or even any shark 200 yards away from the beach in Jacksonville?

CHRIS FISCHER, FOUNDER, OCEARCH: Well, good morning. What we're finding I think with Mary Lee is that she is very coastal. It shocked us all. You know, no one knew what was going to happen and where she was going to go when we tagged her last September in Cape Cod.

And now she's shown us that she's a very coastal animal. Why did she cruise straight to the southeast and then begin living on the beaches between Jacksonville and North Carolina? It's opening a whole new set of questions up for our chief scientist out of Massachusetts. It's really been thrilling. We're seeing from her she's very coastal.

O'BRIEN: So what else have you noticed in what you've been tracking from her? When you say coastal, I think shark on the beach. What are you noticing that has really been interesting for scientists to see?

FISCHER: Well, in other parts of the world we see a lot of these big white sharks are very pelagic that means they roam around the open ocean. But it appears these North Atlantic white sharks or at least Mary Lee, who is named after my mom, is very coastal. She is in and out of beach.

And it's asking and forcing to us ask a lot of questions. What is she eating on the beach? I mean, she is in there. Is she eating a lot of fish? Is she dealing with marine mammals? Are we starting to see the great predators of the ocean, the lions of the ocean, beginning to follow whales into calving areas so that they can feed on whales when they're birthing?

It's just opening so many questions for all of our scientists. It's thrilling. We are allowing the whole world to follow it free online at the same time on the shark tracker.

O'BRIEN: Yes. That is so interesting to watch. It's and everybody can track and see exactly where Mary Lee is swimming, just want to check that out a little bit. You named her after your mom, which we'll get to in a moment. First though, tell me about the tagging of Mary Lee nearly two tons on a boat. What was that like?

FISCHER: That's right. I mean, it's a very interesting thing. We've been successful in bringing world-class fishermen together with world class scientists. We came together in Cape Cod last September because Dr. Greg Skomol up there was beginning to see a lot of white sharks and it was impacting the beaches.

They were shutting down the beaches. We needed to put a little bit of facts behind the fear. We needed to solve the puzzle of their lives so we could help manage them and people using the beach safely.

And so, you know, we went up there. Were able to capture Mary Lee and use this special lift we have on the side of our research vessel to lift her up out of the water and put a hose in her mouth and then we go to work.

And we actually execute about a dozen research projects in 15 minutes while the shark is out of water so we can get the latest technology, get blood samples to study about reproductive activity and physiological stress and things, and then we lower her into the water and begin tracking her.

She has really ignited enthusiasm out of the south east, which has been great because we are turning the corner on the whole fear that came from many of the movies of the past. People are embracing her in the southeast. They are starting to try to put together the pieces of the puzzle of her life.

And it's really thrilling for me to have created the tracker for science classrooms, for educational programs around the world to see just the general public and shark enthusiasts loving Mary Lee. That's a different kind of relationship that the public has had with great white sharks in the past.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it is so cool to be able to follow her. How did your mom feel about a 4,000-pound shark being named after her?

FISCHER: She was giddy. You know, she was laughing and crying at the same time. It's a big deal to name a shark after someone. It's something we all take very seriously. We allow different members of the crew to name a shark after loved ones depending upon what's going on in their lives.

And you know, this was probably the most legendary fish we have ever dealt with. It was the home of "Jaws." It was a massive animal and I had been waiting a long time to name a shark after my mom, and lo and behold, Mary Lee turns out be a finer.

You know, her first question is she pregnant? Am I going to have some grand sharks? So we got a kick out of that.

O'BRIEN: I love it. Chris Fischer, he is the founder of OCEARCH. You can track this shark. You can track Mary Lee, which is a really cool thing to do. My kids are starting to track this shark.

BERMAN: He was in Utah. He was able to warn the people in Jacksonville that the shark 200 yards off shore.

O'BRIEN: Chris, thank you for talking with us. We appreciate it.

FISCHER: Thanks for having me.

O'BRIEN: You bet. What's that?

LIZZA: Maybe the shark is trying to find the people who tracked him.

O'BRIEN: Coming up this morning on STARTING POINT, Rush Limbaugh kind of stirring the pot again. This time he says, the liberal media is trying to make pedophilia normal. Rush, what?

Also, we'll take a look at the new baseball hall of fame class. We'll learn that today. Several of the nominees though are from the steroid era. Do they deserve to be inducted? We'll talk to "Boston Globe's" sports writer Dan Shaughnessy. He says the ballot is poison. That's ahead. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You are watching STARTING POINT. Rush Limbaugh speaking out against what he is calling a liberal attempt to, quote, "normalize pedophilia." The conservative radio show host says it could be the next step for those who support gay marriage.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, TALK SHOW HOST: There is a movement on to normalize pedophilia, and I guarantee you your reaction to that is probably must the same as your reaction when you first heard about gay marriage. What has happened to gay marriage? It's become normal and in fact, with certain people in certain demographics, it's the most important issue.


O'BRIEN: Limbaugh citing a column in the "Guardian" newspaper that quotes researchers that claim pedophilia is a distinct sexual orientation. He said, Exhibit A, is that the media went easy on Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash who lost his job on Sesame Street after several men came forward saying they had a sexual relationship with Clash back when they were teenagers.

JEN PSAKI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: My first question here is why is he talking about pedophilia? I understand there is an article in the "Guardian," but it's not exactly like there is a massive movement talking about pedophilia.

O'BRIEN: Or normalizing.

PSAKI: Right, exactly.

LIZZA: It seems to me the movement here is to equate, from that cliff, to equate pedophilia in some way with gay marriage, and that's what he's up to here, which is absurd.

O'BRIEN: We are trying to understand the mind of Rush Limbaugh this morning, which is a hard thing to break into.

LIZZA: Nice easy topic. Senator, what do you got?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not going to happen.

O'BRIEN: No comment, Soledad. Next.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Talk about the budget.

O'BRIEN: These are my cups, Senator. You gave them to me. We should talk about the budget. Also ahead this morning, we'll talk about baseball. Have you notice how much sports I've been doing lately?

BERMAN: I love it.

O'BRIEN: Baseball hall of fame class has players from the steroid years. Sports writer Dan Shaughnessy will be our guest. He is going to explain why he is really against voting for anybody in that era. We'll ask him about that straight ahead. He is going to join us up next.


BERMAN: It's 48 minutes after the hour. A quick look at some of the top stories we're following this morning. Same-sex couples can now marry in one of the country's most prominent churches. Washington's National Cathedral, Episcopal Bishop Marion Buddy OK'd this.

One member of the gay couple must be baptized into the church and both have to commit to Christian marriage of, quote, "lifelong faithfulness, love, forbearance and mutual comfort."

Recall alert for some new parents, Fisher-Price is voluntarily recalling it's newborn rock and play sleepers. The problem is that molds can grow between the removable seat cushion and the hard plastic frame, if it's not cleaned frequently enough. It builds up, which it will.

The Dallas Cowboys are cleaning house, they are firing defensive coordinator, Rob Ryan. He was two years into a three-year deal. The Cowboys defense ranked 19th in the NFL.

O'BRIEN: Do they pay them the third year? BERMAN: Coach's contracts are usually guaranteed.

O'BRIEN: All right, continuing our sports coverage this morning, one of the most star studded and controversial hall of fame ballots in baseball history. This morning one sports columnist is making clear how he feels about it, which is really, really bad.

The "Boston Globe's" Dan Shaughnessy writes this, "The poison ballot remained on my desk, unopened until December 31st. I knew what was in there, hardball anthrax . Nothing could be gained by tearing it open only bad things could come of it."

Do you like my dramatic read? Dan Shaughnessy. He is with us this morning. Hi, Dan. It's nice to have you with us. I should mention he is also the author of the new book "Francona: The Red Sox Years."

So obviously you're not a big fan of the ballot, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGuire, Rafael Pamiro, what do they all have in common, let me think for a moment, the whole steroid thing of course. It's problematic for you. What is at issue here, what is annoying you the most here?

DAN SHAUGHNESSY, SPORTS COLUMNIST, "BOSTON GLOBE": Well, it's not a comfortable position to be put in, we're asked to vote, about 600 baseball writers or ex-baseball writers who do vote, it's a great honor and privilege.

But it's become very kind of difficult almost impossible to be consistent on this thing, we're asked to consider character, integrity, sportsmanship, you have this class of guys with amazing numbers, many of whom are proven cheaters, proven PED users with various degrees of appearances in the Mitchell Report or court appearances.

Or just not passing the smell test, it just doesn't look right, those kinds of things. So voters are in a bind here. You can't, it's hard to be consistent. You find yourself cherry-picking the cheaters or ignoring the whole thing all together.

O'BRIEN: So what are you going to do? I mean, you wrote this "I've chosen to ignore the proven cheaters until further notice. If you failed a drug test or admit to PED usage, you don't get my vote. In addition even more unfair if you don't get my vote if you look dirty. This is how I manage to not vote for the likes of Piazza and Bagwell, two guys with no admissions or evidence against them. They just don't look right." What does that mean? What do you mean? Is that fair?

SHAUGHNESSY: This is not a court of law. We're allowed to make these decisions based on suspicions. It puts everybody in a bad position and the easy way out and a lot of voters are saying you know what? This was the era, these were the times, let them all in, the numbers are great, if the numbers are good enough for the hall of fame I'm going to vote for the guy.

O'BRIEN: Why not do that? Why won't do you that? SHAUGHNESSY: People like Clemens and Bonds, this will be announced at 2:00 today, probably not getting in, two of the greatest players in the history of baseball, but you appear on the ballot for 15 years and there's time to let this thing play out.

It's like I didn't vote until I had to on December 31st. Now at least I feel like I've got 15 years to make up my mind on some guys. Maybe I'll change and come around and say it was everybody, let them in.

Right now I'm holding the line because it looks to me it wasn't a level playing field and some guys took advantage of this, and some guys didn't, and I feel like you're punishing those who didn't, and it's not the best message to send to our youth, if you would. So I'm holding the line for now.

O'BRIEN: You know there's a guy at ESPN, Jim Kapel. He wrote this at, "I have a message for the BBWAA members," that's you, "who continue to withhold votes from players who used or suspected of using performance enhancers, get off your expletive high horse.

We are holding them to a standard now that we didn't during the majority of their careers. We are vilifying them for their actions we condoned but unintentionally encouraged with our praise." He says your holier than thou attitude now kind of stinks.

SHAUGHNESSY: That's fair, too. I'm not disputing that. Everybody has their opinion. We have to apply our own standards. Since 1939, the ballot has had rule five t asked voters to consider character, sportsmanship, integrity, I'm still applying that.

I understand Jim's not. So we all make our own decisions on this, but I'm trying not to be judgmental of other voters. It's bad enough we have to judge the players and it's an uncomfortable position, no one can be consistent on this thing.

BERMAN: Let me ask you a controversial question and Curt Schilling nicknamed him curly haired boyfriend and you called him an insufferable blowhard. You're voting to for him.

SHAUGHNESSY: He did it on the level and borderline candidate in my view. He's not a slam dunk hall of famer based on his numbers. At the same time, I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt because he looks clean to me, a great post season performer.

And I'd like to think that we're not going to let our petty immature difference the high school stuff that goes back and forth, that shouldn't apply to your vote in this case, whether we like each other or not that shouldn't be a factor.

O'BRIEN: I could see that but the numbers --

SHAUGHNESSY: The steroid guys --

O'BRIEN: You're picking the character, integrity clause part five over the actual numbers because others have better numbers than he has. SHAUGHNESSY: Well, I mean Roger Clemens has 150 more wins than he has, but again that's not what we're talking about here. Clemens is in the steroid thing up to his eyeballs. Schilling is not, but as a hall of famer on the baseline of hall of famers Curt is very much on the fence, I chose to vote for him this year.

BERMAN: What do you say about the guys who used amphetamines, greenies were part of the game for years and years and can you differentiate here?

SHAUGHNESSY: I think that PEDs do follow in a different category and there are crimes against baseball, levelling the playing field, against society, humanity. Beer was illegal during prohibition and Babe Ruth I'm told had some of it, so you can go back to, you know, you can go back to this forever and do this.

I'm not, we're not in the business of kicking anybody out at this point but I understand when people are in there and rules are being applied to people that are up for it, that question is going to come up.

O'BRIEN: Dan Shaughnessy, you seem so sweet and kind and gentle on TV and your column sometimes is seriously hard core. It's nice to have you with us.

SHAUGHNESSY: Well, thank you for seeing the lighter side. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Great to see you, thank you.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, Vice President Joe Biden meets today with victims of gun violence. Collin Garde will be there, he was shot four times in the Virginia Tech massacre.

A very bumpy finish to this, a blissful wedding ceremony, just finished the vows and boom, they crashed. They lived to tell the tale.


O'BRIEN: Good morning. Our STARTING POINT this morning, preventing gun violence. Vice President Biden and his task force begin meetings today, trying to avoid another shooting massacre. They're also going to sit down with the NRA.

Plus it was supposed to be an exciting way to get married, all came crashing down so to speak when a hot air balloon ride went very, very, very wrong. Meet the couple whose wedding hit the ground hard, but they are all fine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Biting the hand that keeps it afloat? The U.S. government spent more than $100 billion to save AIG. So why would the insurance giant now consider a lawsuit against the government?

BERMAN: She's a model who achieved huge fame thanks to her good look. Cameron Russell is telling girls not to follow in her footsteps. She's here live to explain why in a bit.

O'BRIEN: It is Wednesday, January 9th and STARTING POINT begins right now. Welcome everybody. Our team this morning, Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson is with us, Jenn Psaki is the Democratic strategist. She served as a traveling press secretary for President Obama's re- election campaign, Ryan Lizza is a CNN contributor, Washington correspondent for the "New Yorker," "EARLY START" co-anchor, John Berman sticks around to help us out as well. Appreciate it. It's nice to have you all with us this morning.