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Clinton Tries to Salvage a Truce; Wal-Mart Moves Up Dividend; Behind U.S.-Israel Ties; Black Thursday; Wal-Mart Walkout

Aired November 21, 2012 - 09:30   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Stories we're watching right now in THE NEWSROOM:

We are moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Stocks could open with small gains today despite investor concerns that Europe has not finalized a debt reduction deal for Greece. Investors are also reacting to encouraging economic news. Yes, encouraging economic news, initial jobless claims fell last week, down 31,000 from the previous week.

A spokesman for the director for the national intelligence says intelligence officials, not the White House or the State Department, made sweeping changes to talking points about the Benghazi attack that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador. The DNI spokesman says changing the wording about al Qaeda to extremists was a decision to protect sources and not a political move. GOP lawmakers have sharply criticized Ambassador Susan Rice for the talking points.

Twenty-two people were hurt in an explosion on a bus in Tel Aviv. Hamas praised the attacks but did not claim responsibility. And we have new pictures of an explosion, rather, in Gaza City. There it is there. Officials say at least 142 people have been killed in the eight-day conflict and more than 1,000 people have been wounded. Israeli authorities say five people have been killed in Israel, 70 more have been wounded.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned that bus attack in Tel Aviv as she scrambles to salvage any hope for a peace agreement. For the second straight day, she's meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Earlier, she sat down with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank. And right now, she is in Cairo, Egypt, meeting with the Egyptian president. Mohamed Morsi is trying to broker a peace deal.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer is in Jerusalem. He joins me live now.

I guess the first question for you, Wolf. The bus attack in Tel Aviv, I mean, how big of a shadow does it cast on this peace process?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: I think it puts enormous pressure on the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, right now. If he were inclined to go ahead toward a cease-fire -- and I think there were indications they were moving toward that, although it's not a deal until it's completely wrapped up.

The Israeli public, obviously, is outraged by this. It happened right in the heart of Tel Aviv. It's been first time a major terrorist bus bombing like this has occurred in the Israel in the past several years. It's been pretty quiet as far as terrorist attacks inside Israel are concerned over these past several years.

And now, this -- no one yet no an authoritative position has claimed responsibility. Although various groups, including Hamas, have expressed -- and praised the attack, if you will, even if they haven't claimed responsibility for it.

So, it just complicates what already was a very difficult situation, Carol, to begin with. I don't know how it's going to play out. I do know that the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would really like to wrap up this cease-fire agreement. President Mohamed Morsi has been working very hard behind the scenes.

I had an opportunity to meet with the Israeli President Shimon Peres earlier today. He was very strong in his praise for the Egyptian leader, saying he's been very responsible and the Israelis are appreciative of what the Egyptians are doing in order to try to broker this kind of cease-fire agreement.

So, it's still very much tenuous right now. I think the next few hours, we'll have a better sense of what's going on. And as you know, Carol, the fighting continues. Israeli airstrikes continue to hit targets in Gaza and rockets and missiles from Gaza still coming into southern Israel.

COSTELLO: It sort of defies logic because yesterday, Hamas was -- you know, we want a cease-fire. We think a cease-fire agreement has been put into place. And then, today, there's this bus attack in Tel Aviv and Hamas, although it didn't claim responsibility as you said, they blessed the attack.

So what exactly does Hamas want? It's not really been helpful in this process.

BLTIZER: Yes. Well, I think they want to come out of this is a stronger political position. And my sense is they probably will. If there's a cease-fire, they will have shown that they can stand up to the Israelis. They can launch missiles and rockets, and missiles that even reach the outskirts of Tel Aviv, even reach the outskirts of Jerusalem.

And, politically, that strengthens Hamas, I think at the expense of Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority. Yes, he did meet with Hillary Clinton today and he has a role, but I think Hamas would emerge, I think, in a stronger political stance, reputation enhanced in the Arab world, in the Muslim world and most certainly among Palestinians.

So, that's something that folks are considering here very seriously. How much do they want to elevate Hamas at a sensitive time like this? And, remember, the U.S. still regards Hamas as a terrorist organization. You're not going to see Hillary Clinton or any U.S. official meeting directly with Hamas officials because they boycott Hamas deliberately until Hamas accepts Israel, accepts previous Israeli/Palestinian agreements and renounces the use of terror in this struggle.

So it's a mess. It's a real mess right now. I don't know the outcome. If you asked me at this time yesterday, 24 hours ago, will there be a cease-fire, I would have thought yes. If you ask me right now, I'm saying I'm not so sure.

COSTELLO: Yes. Wolf Blitzer, reporting live from Jerusalem -- thanks so much.

Back here in the United States, Wal-Mart rolls back the calendar for savings when it comes to shareholders' tax bills. We'll tell you how and why.


COSTELLO: Wal-Mart pushing up its quarterly dividend payment by six days and that could save its biggest shareholder, the Walton family, $180 million in federal taxes, all by making that payment in 2012 instead of 2013.

Alison Kosik is in New York.

So, Alison, this move is in case Washington doesn't reach a deal in the so-called fiscal cliff?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. So, let me back up a bit and let me start with explaining what exactly a dividend is. So, if you own shares in the company, the dividend is this chunk of cash paid back to you. Typically, you get it every quarter.

Now, Wal-Mart, it was going to pay its next dividend January 2nd. Because we don't know what's going to happen with the fiscal cliff, the expectation is that taxes are going to shoot out, Wal-Mart is paying out this dividend early so shareholders are going to be able to record that payout this year when dividends top out at 15 percent compared to next year when the rate is expected to jump to almost 40 percent if there's no deal reached on the fiscal cliff.

So, depending on how many shares you own, that can make a huge difference. The company says the move is in the best interest of its shareholders. And true, it's also in the best interest of the Walton family, which founded the company and owned almost half of the company stock -- Carol.

COSTELLO: So, Wal-Mart isn't the only company moving up the date, right?

KOSIK: Right. There's a lot financial data on this from Firm Market (ph), that's estimating that more than 100 companies will be issuing these special dividends in the fourth quarter. In fact, it's more than triple that have done this in recent years. Some retailers, one called Hot Topic, the other, the Buckle, they've already said they're moving up their dividend payouts to this year.

Manufacturing Leggett & Platt and Myers Industries, they're also doing it.

Companies, you have to understand, are very nervous about what the tax picture is going to be looking like next year, you know, if taxes suddenly shoot up because of no deal, and just moving up the dividend payout makes a big difference.

So, let me go through quick numbers for you. If Wal-Mart, Carol, had issued its dividend on January 2nd and tax rates went up, the company would have had to pay $276 million to the government. Compare that to this year's rates. Its tax bill comes out to about $95 million for those dividends. So, it's a huge, huge difference.

COSTELLO: Wow, you're not -- wow, thank you. Alison Kosik, reporting live from the New York Stock Exchange.

Actually, you're in New York today, aren't you?

KOSIK: Yes, I am.

COSTELLO: It doesn't look like the New York Stock Exchange.

KOSIK: Fine. Hello.

COSTELLO: Thanks, Alison.

KOSIK: Sure.

COSTELLO: We've got your back. That was the message from President Obama to Benjamin Netanyahu last March as he reinforced the bond between the United States and Israel. We're going to take a look at what's driving this longstanding, strong relationship.


COSTELLO: "You opened the gates of hell on yourselves," a chilling message sent from the military wing of Hamas to the Israelis as violence escalates near the Israeli-Gaza border again today.

Twenty-two people were injured when a bomb that exploded on a bus in Tel Aviv. It comes as Israeli officials confirmed at least 100 strikes pounded several targets in Gaza, including a police compound and media building. The official Hamas TV channel says 142 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict so far.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is working to ease tensions. She's meeting with Palestinian and Israeli leaders in a bid to broker some sort of truce. And Clinton condemned that bus bombing, issuing a statement that reads in part, quote, "Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and the people of Israel. The United States stands ready to provide any assistance that Israel requires." And this meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in March, President Obama described the bond between the United States and Israel as unbreakable.

But what exactly is the basis for that relationship?

Joining me now is Eric Marrapodi. He's co-editor of the CNN "Belief Blog".

Good morning, Eric.


COSTELLO: So let's start with the name of the Israel operation. The Israeli campaign against Hamas is called Operation Pillar of Cloud. What significance does that have?

MARRAPODI: Carol, that name itself is a biblical reference to the story in "Exodus" where the Jews are fleeing a pursuing Egyptian and it's essentially a defensive posture. The Israeli Defense Forces have said they specifically targeted that biblical reference as a reminder to folks.

And in the story, the Jews are fleeing a pursuing Egyptian army. And so, they're using it as instead of an offensive posture, a defensive posture biblically.

Carol, you've been talking all morning about the geopolitical ties between the U.S. and Israel and of course there's a lot of deep religious ties here in the United States and Israel. There's about two million Jews who live here in the United States and a large population of them in Florida, New York, New Jersey, Maryland. And they play an important role in the religious life here in the United States as well as in the political life.

And another group that plays a big part? Evangelical Christians, strong supporters of Israel and groups like Christians United for Zion have as many as 750,000 members. And that gets a little tricky with the theological questions where they think Jesus may be returning to Israel and that support they think may bring that on.

So there's this deep and complex relation between Israel and the United States that's deeply religious.

COSTELLO: Yes. Yes, I spoke with the Mayor of Jerusalem yesterday who seemed to underscore the importance of his city's religious sites. Let's listen.


NIR BARKAT, MAYOR OF JERUSALEM: They're focusing on destruction, on killing, on hitting innocent people. And today they even tried to take a shot at Jerusalem. God forbid, can you imagine what would have happened if they hit a holy site in the city of Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall, the mosque? They would, of course, blame us for that. (END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: And it's interesting you say that Evangelical Christians believe that the second -- the second coming of Christ will happen in Jerusalem?

MARRAPODI: Yes, there are some who believe that. Now there are lots of groups that downplay that as their main motivation, saying it has much more to do with the religious historical ties between Jews and Christians, but there are certainly some who believe that Jerusalem will play an important role in the second coming of Jesus.

And we saw in the primaries here for President of the United States, you saw folks like Rick Perry sort of alluding to that and talking to that and garnering the support of some of those groups. But as you heard from the Mayor, I mean, virtually every important religious site for Jews and Christians is in Israel and the West Bank. Bethlehem of course is in the West Bank, Jerusalem the old city, the Western Wall. I mean all of this places have enormous significance for Christians and Jews.


MARRAPODI: And so the threat of those under attack causes a lot of worry.

COSTELLO: So -- so just on a political level, like how does that affect the decisions that the President or the Secretary of State might make when it comes to Israel?

MARRAPODI: Yes I mean, I think a lot of it has to do with the strategic location of Israel in the Middle East. And they've long been a strong ally. Religiously, it's tough to say. I mean as we talked about where the Jewish population is in the United States, some very important swing states, like Florida in particular, we see politicians all the time are courting the Jewish vote there. So that could play into it.

And we don't know exactly the motivations in the heart let's say of President Obama and Secretary Clinton when it comes to these negotiations and these deliberations. But clearly, there is a religious line there historically, that we can look back to and trace back that deep connection between Israel and the United States.

COSTELLO: Fascinating. Eric Marrapodi, co-editor of the CNN Belief Blog. Thanks for being with us this morning.

MARRAPODI: You got it, Carol.

COSTELLO: At the top of the hour I'll talk with a reporter who was on the scene at the Tel Aviv bus explosion that injured 22 people.


COSTELLO: This year Black Friday is looking more like Black Thursday. Thanksgiving, a major opportunity for several big chain stores to cash in on great deals early. Some employees may be happy to get overtime or holiday pay on Thanksgiving, but not all of them.

CNN's Tory Dunnan has more.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The toy shopping conditions are perfect, for the first time ever doors open Thursday 8:00 p.m. More and more Black Friday is turning into Black Thursday.

Large retail chains like Toys "r" Us, Target, K-Mart, Wal-Mart and Sears are opening their doors to deals on Thanksgiving night.

MATTHEW SHAY, CEO, NATIONAL RETAIL FEDERATION: Retailers are trying to anticipate and meet the expectations of their customers. And so three years ago we saw a number of retailers sort of test drive Thursday openings.

TORY DUNNAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: According to the National Retail Federation in 2009, three percent of Thanksgiving weekend shoppers hit the stores on Thursday. In 2010, nine percent and in 2011, 24 percent.

PAUL KELSEY, SHOPPER: It's great for us, but not great for the workers.

SARAH WILEY, TARGET EMPLOYEE: Some of them honestly do not mind working. However there are many others who do mind, there are many who want to spend it with their families.

DUNNAN: Target employee Sarah Wiley is among the more than 360,000 people who signed an online petition on, asking Target to, quote, "Take the high road and save Thanksgiving." Wiley was able to switch schedules so she doesn't have to work, but is pushing back against a larger trend.

WILEY: Thanksgiving is one of the few retail days off where many employees can just stay at home and enjoy the day with their family where they don't have to work and that's one of the very few remaining holidays. And now that's being cut into even more and more. Last year it started at 12:00, now it's up to 9:00.

DUNNAN: A spokesman for Target said its 9:00 p.m. opening time nationwide was, quote, "carefully evaluated with our guests, team and the business in mind." But some stores are resisting change keeping the holiday shopping tradition to after turkey eating hours. In fact, J.C. Penney tweeted out -- Thanksgiving is for thanking, not shopping.

CAROL PERRINO, SHOPPER: It's just not worth my time to leave Thanksgiving dinner or your Thanksgiving company and buy a purchase.

DUNNAN: Do you ever come out on Thanksgiving and shop?

DAVE CENTINEO, SHOPPER: No, absolutely not. No reason for that, I can do it all in the Internet now.

DUNNAN: In fact Thanksgiving is becoming one of the biggest online shopping days of the year, so some retailers say instead of letting shoppers do commerce on the couch, it makes sense to get them in the stores. Tory Dunnan, CNN.


COSTELLO: And as you well know, workers at Wal-Mart planning a strike on Black Friday. That could affect the retail giant. We talked with Rashad Robinson, the executive director of He's working with Wal mart employees and volunteers to organize the strike.


RASHAD ROBINSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COLOROFCHANGE.ORG: We need to hold big companies like Wal-Mart accountable, to not just raking massive profits on the back of everyday people but to provide them the type of jobs where they can earn a living and be able to buy Christmas gifts for their family.

All of us could be gathering with our families over the holidays, many people around the country. And we're going be watching the stories like "The Christmas Carol" with the story of Scrooge and Bob Cratchit. And in the industrial age, workers had no power and that's when those stories and ran. We need to stand up for these employees.


COSTELLO: I also talked to David Tovar -- he's Wal-Mart's vice president of communications. Here's his side of the story.


DAVID TOVAR, VP OF COMMUNICATIONS, WAL-MART: The majority of our workers are full time, not part time. And that's very unusual in the retail industry, you know. In fact we have some of the best jobs in the retail industry. Our associates appreciate that.

250,000 associates have worked for us for more than ten years, our turnover rate is lower than the industry average. Three-quarters of our store management team started as hourly workers. Last year we promoted 165,000 people last year, and get this, 20 percent of the people we hired this year are re-hires meaning they worked for the company, they left and they came back, because they realized they weren't getting a better deal.


COSTELLO: We'll have to see what happens on Black Friday because right now it doesn't look like the two sides are seeing eye to eye. We'll be right back.


COSTELLO: It's taken nine days for the new head coach of the Lakers to make his bit debut, but Mike D'Antoni's first game from the bench was a huge success. The Lakers won a close game over the Brooklyn Nets in LA. D'Antoni had to wait more than a week to join the team, because he had to have knee surgery.

Following a 1 in 4 start, the Lakers fired their head coach and hired D'Antoni over former Laker coach, Phil Jackson. Lakers now 5 in 1 since that switch.

No one in college basketball history has ever scored more points in a game than this guy. His name would be Jack Taylor. The Grenell College guarded poured in 138 points last night in a 179-104 beating of the Faith Baptist Bible College in Iowa. Wow.

The Division III shooter shattered a long-standing college basketball record. By halftime Taylor had 58 points. The scores record was not enough. Taylor also set NCAA records for field goals, shots and three-pointers attempted and made. Amazing.

Nascar's most popular nationwide series driver will soon be the most eligible bachelorette in the land. Danica Patrick and her husband of seven years are calling it quits. The 30-year-old race car driver met her physical therapist husband Paul when he treated her for a non- racing injury. Next year Patrick will race full time in the Sprint Cup series and she will be a single woman.

And that's a look at sports this morning.

The next hour of CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.