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Profiling White Men; Fiscal Cliff Talks Hit Low Point; Movie Unites Left, Right in Washington; Doomsday Tourism is Big Business

Aired December 20, 2012 - 09:30   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, more grief and new details in Newtown, Connecticut.

Friends of the killer's mother say she spent her final days at a luxury resort in New Hampshire. She returned on Thursday night. And just hours later, her son killed her and then launched that deadly rampage at the school.

Think about this, with the response over this tragic shooting, would the response be different if the gunman was not a white man? Should white men be profiled?

In many of the recent mass shootings, the gun man has been a white man or teenager, Columbine, Tucson, Aurora, and now in Newtown.

This weekend on MSNBC,'s David Sirota said, quote, "If this was any other kind of demographic, you would be hearing that in a much different way, a much uglier way."

No surprise this topic started quite a debate, sometimes a very nasty debate.

David Sirota joins us now from Denver.



COSTELLO: Thanks for being here. We appreciate it.

First off, explain to our audience what you mean when you say we'd be hearing about this in a much uglier way.

SIROTA: Well, right now, we're talking about all sorts of things -- gun control. We're asking questions about a culture that too often glorifies violence. We're having a fairly nuanced conversation after this mass shooting.

And I think we'd have a narrower conversation after this mass shooting and all of these mass shootings if most of the shooters had been let's say Arabs or if most of the shooters had been black men, the conversation would be a much different conversation, potentially a conversation about racial profiling, profiling single demographic groups of people.

We're not having that conversation, and I'm not saying I want to have that conversation, but the point is we're not having those narrower discussions because the one group in question here, the group, the demographic group that has been the perpetrators of 70 percent of these mass shootings has been white men, which is the one group in America that's effectively not allowed to be profiled in that kind of way. Now, I'm not arguing for that profiling.

COSTELLO: What would the conversation be if it were a Muslim?

SIROTA: Well, I think you'd have all sorts of questions about whether we should intensify the already existing racial and ethnic profiling programs that have been deployed against the Muslim American community or Arab American community.

I want to be clear I'm not saying I think white men should be racially or ethnically profiled any more than I think Muslims and Arabs should be racially and ethnically profiled. Those practices don't work and they're also, I would say, they're bigoted in their construction. But it's important to remember what the differences are in an aftermath of tragedies like this based on people's ethnicity and race.

COSTELLO: I'd like to say your comment was in response to a congressman who implied the Secret Service should conduct profiling to find the mass killers before they strike. You said it, that would be awfully difficult to do, because just take Adam Lanza. As far as we know he's never been violent. He was quiet, withdrawn and different.

But as far as we know he wasn't violent in any way. So how do you profile that type of person to prevent mass shootings?

SIROTA: I think it's a very good question and I think that that's going to be the conversation about mental health services in the coming weeks and months. My hope is that after this, when we realize how we responded to this in the conversation, a nuanced conversation, that the next time there's something bad happens, that we hesitate to ascribe to entire groups the actions of single individuals.

We --basically, when it comes to people of color, we tend to ascribe to the entire group of those people the actions of their individuals when we don't do same for white guys. And I would hope the next time something bad happens, we step back and say we're not going to make into a group analysis the actions of single individuals because that's bigoted and it's offensive.

COSTELLO: David Sirota, contributor for -- thank you so much for being with us this morning.

SIROTA: Thanks for having me.

COSTELLO: The holidays are supposed to be a time to come together. Peace, love and harmony for the holidays, right? Well, that's not the case when it comes to Washington. We'll tell you why the fiscal cliff talks aren't so jolly.


COSTELLO: Oh the holidays are generally a time for people to put aside their differences and come together. Yes, right.

When it comes to the fiscal cliff debate, things could not be more at odds. It was just five days ago, just five days, that Speaker of the House John Boehner issued this statement. Quote, "I join the president and all Americans in sending prayers and condolences to the victims and loved ones of Newtown, Connecticut." He said that would bring them together, maybe end some of the bitter partisanship.

But, now, they're back to this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're thinking about voting for raising taxes, at least on folks over $1 million, which they say they don't want to do, but they're going to reject spending cuts that they say they do want to do. That defies logic.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Then the president will have a decision to make. He can call on Senate Democrats to pass that bill or he can be responsible for the largest tax increase in American history.


COSTELLO: Now that was John Boehner's response, it lasted 57 seconds. He was talking about a bill that would be plan B -- the Republicans, at least John Boehner as a Republican, wants to pass a bill raising taxes only on people making $1 million or more and then protecting the rest of us.

So, joining me this morning, CNN contributor Will Cain. Roland Martin was supposed to join us but having a problem at the dentist.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He got a toothache. Yes, he got a toothache.

COSTELLO: Poor Roland.

You know, Will, they got to get the fiscal cliff stuff done before the world ends tomorrow.

CAIN: Oh, well, that's going to be a tight time frame there, Carol, I forgot about that. I thought you were going to say the end of the year. I forgot about the world ending thing. Yes, that's going to be tight.

COSTELLO: Yes, exactly.

So who is at fault here? I mean, who's -- what's the sticking point here? It's just back to the same old thing, each side blaming the other.

CAIN: Yes, but I guess I don't feel quite as pessimistic as every headline does. Yes, they've hit a stall, right? We saw last week some progress when Republicans suggested they're willing to raise taxes on true millionaires, actually what that word means, right, those that make over $1 million and the president responded with, OK, I'll go up from $250,000 to $400,000 and throw in some calculation adjustments on Social Security.

That's moving together, right? And so, this week we slow down and Boehner says he's going to push through on his proposal to raise taxes on people with making $1 million, but I don't think that means that we're in dire straits here, Carol. I actually see both sides --

COSTELLO: Really? Because you're the only one, because when you talk to congressional reporters, they say, you know, this is a bad sign. The two sides are farther apart than ever, they're still posturing.

CAIN: How can they be farther apart than ever when they've given up on for months looked like the hardest line they could possibly hold, and that is Republicans will not raise tax rates in any way and Obama repeatedly said as he promised in his campaign that he will raise taxes on people making above $250,000. They've given up their hard line, right? This can't be the lowest point.

I think they're still moving towards something in the middle and it's basically poker until that moment. It's Boehner suggesting I really mean it and I'm going to push this bill through that can't possibly make its way through the Senate and you won't sign President Obama to show you how serious I am.

COSTELLO: But what if Boehner's bill can't make it through the House?

CAIN: Well, I hear people saying that. I think he's going to get that through the House. I've heard other Republicans suggest he has those votes.

COSTELLO: Yes. But why do that, because he's trying to pass this bill to put pressure on the president to bend more his way.

CAIN: Right.

COSTELLO: Why do that when you're in these sensitive negotiations?

CAIN: Because it's poker. Because it is a game of saying, look, I'm serious about my side of the proposal. I'm so serious I'm going to pursue it over here.

They're both trying to move each other off the markers. They currently sit out $400,000 and a million, which they aren't devoted to as they were a month ago of $250,000 and no taxes. So, it's posturing that I think will move toward something they can agree on. I could be wrong.

COSTELLO: OK. You're laying a bet a day before the world ends.

CAIN: No, no, I get to January 1, all right? And I'll tell you they do a deal before then.

COSTELLO: I hope you're right, Will Cain. Thanks so much for being with us.

CAIN: Thank you.

COSTELLO: A new film based on the mission to catch bin Laden has some in Washington crying foul. We'll tell you why several senators are calling the film grossly inaccurate.


COSTELLO: Forty-five minutes past the hour.

Time to check our "Top Stories". Two State Department officials, employees of Hillary Clinton testified on Capitol Hill this morning. Lawmakers are questioning them following the release of a scathing review of failures at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. The report has led to one resignation and three disciplinary administrative leaves at the State Department.

New pictures from Mobile, Alabama show some of the damage from that storm system moving now across the country. Cars flipped over at a car dealership, trees knocked down. Right now more than 7,000 are without power in the Mobile area. That storm reaches from Houston all the way to Minneapolis. Some states will see up to a foot of snow.

It is the best-selling car in America but it sure isn't the safest. The Toyota Camry rated poor in a new crash test from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The test measured impacts on only a small area like the front bumper. Another Toyota sedan was also rated poor, the Prius-V wagon. Only two cars got the top rating good, the Honda Accord and the Suzuki Kazashi.

Nothing brings the crowd together like a good movie. And one new release is doing just that uniting both sides of the political aisle in the fight for a single cause. No it's not "Lincoln." It's "Zero Dark Thirty." Democratic and Republican senators are speaking out against the film based on real events premise. Nischelle Turner is watching that story for us and Nischelle to be blunt, it all boils down to the torture scenes in the movie.

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Yes, yes it definitely does, Carol. Now let me tell you what this whole uproar is about. It's three senators that are taking on the film particularly the scenes where CIA operatives are torturing detainees, like you talked about. We're talking about Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin and Republican Senator John McCain whose experiences as a POW in Vietnam have made him an outspoken critic of any kind of torture. They're very upset with the filmmakers.

Now in a letter to the studio behind the film they say "Zero Dark Thirty" is quote, "Perpetuating the myth that torture is effective." Now according to them a still classified report proves what they call the coercive interrogations didn't result in any information that led to Osama's capture. They say in this letter "Zero Dark Thirty" is "Factually inaccurate and we believe that you have an obligation to state that the role of torture in the hunt for Osama bin Laden is not based on the facts but rather part of the film's fictional narrative." Now for their part Sony has responded to this and they said in a statement that "This was a ten-year intelligence operation brought to the screen in a two and a half hour film. We depicted a variety of controversial practices and intelligence methods that were used in the name of finding bin Laden."

Now the film shows that no single method was necessarily responsible for solving the manhunt nor can any single scene taken in isolation fairly capture the totality of efforts the film dramatises."

So Carol in that mouthful, basically what they're saying is this is not a documentary. We never said it was a documentary. It's a movie and there will be some room for debate, there may have been some creative license in the film making. That's what Hollywood is saying in response to the film.

COSTELLO: Yes, I'm not sure what the Senators want the moviemakers to do, I mean, put a disclaimer at the end of the movie? I mean what can they do at this point?

TURNER: Well, because exactly, that's a good question, because this is not a documentary, it's a movie, you know, the filmmakers are saying what do you want us to do but can I give you a little bit of an idea of the movie because a lot of people have not seen the film yet.


TURNER: Basically the torture scenes show CIA interrogators waterboarding, humiliating and abusing detainees and these scenes are the focus of the beginning of the movie. We're talking about Abu Ghraib style action here -- dog collars, nudity things like that.

Now in the movie these interrogations do result in crucial information in the search for Osama bin Laden. Now, I wouldn't particularly say the film glorifies tortures but the operatives in the movie including the film's hero who is played by Jessica Chastain, who you see right there, they're not squeamish at all about what they're doing. And there is a later point in the film where CIA officials complain about President Obama's decision to stop the detainee programs.

So that's just a little you know, back -- background information.


COSTELLO: No, that's really fascinating yes. Because you're lucky enough to see the movie. It's not out yet where I live. But I'm going to go see it. It's interesting.

Nischelle Turner thanks so much.

TURNER: There will be a lot of people just like you. All right, Carol.

COSTELLO: Thanks Nischelle.

All that doomsday hype over the Mayan calendar isn't just scaring people, it's also making people a whole lot of money. Wait until you hear how Mexico is cashing in on the apocalypse.


COSTELLO: "Talk Back" question this morning -- a tough one. "How should Nancy Lanza be remembered."

This from Erin, "As one of the 27, not 26 victims of this senseless tragedy."

This from Scott, "She should have sought professional help for her son long ago. If she could afford guns and a big house, why couldn't she afford the best doctors money could buy?"

This from Jennifer, "She should be remembered as a bad parent knowing very well her son was troubled. She kept guns around, out of the safe and with easy access."

Well, we don't know that yet. She should be remembered as partially responsible for the massacre.

And this from Michelle, "Regardless of what anyone says about her, she was a victim. She may not have died in the school, but she is still on the list of victims that died this morning."

Keep the conversation going. More of your responses in the next hour of the NEWSROOM.


COSTELLO: Are you ready? Tomorrow is allegedly the end of the Mayan calendar and some say, some really believe this, that it will be the end of the world. So here's your weather forecast making the rounds on Facebook. A high of 1250 degrees and hell fire tomorrow. On Saturday, nothing.

But not everyone is taking tomorrow lightly, that's because the apocalyptic hype is helping rake in a ton of dough. CNN's Nick Parker joins us from one of the most iconic sites in the Mayan culture, Chichen Itza, Mexico. Good morning on your last day on earth.

NICK PARKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Carol.

Yes, certainly a lot of speculation around what the Mayan calendar actually meant with a wide variety of interpretations being presented, Some people think it's the end of an era. Some people think it could well be doomsday. But one way or another, it's certainly making a lot of money for the Mexican government.


PARKER: Surging crowds of tourists, calendar memorabilia, and countdown clocks in airports around the country. All part of an international marketing campaign geared around one date.

This is one of the most iconic sites in Mayan culture -- Chichen Itza. It was built more than a thousand years ago, but today has helped attract more than 50 million tourists to southeast Mexico in the last year alone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're here near to a date that's kind of a huge deal for a lot of people. So I think it's very interesting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before we came, we thought that according to the Mayans that it is the end of the world.

PARKER: Films like "2012" that have helped spread the idea of an apocalypse. Mexico launched a teaser campaign to capitalize on global speculation. It was the brain child of Gloria Guevara who has just left office as tourism minister.

GLORIA GUEVARA, FORMER TOURISM MINISTER OF MEXICO: Some people believe it is the end of the world 21/12/12, we believe and the Mayans believe it is the beginning of a new era. You have to come to Mexico to discover what is it.

Mel Gonzalez also saw the calendar as an opportunity. He opened a boutique hotel in Merida, the closest city to Chichen Itza.

MEL GONZALEZ, HOTEL OWNER: Judging by a number of hotels being built in town and tour operators being created, we can tell there's a lot of expectation, a few hotels in town are giving discounts because it's the end of the world.

PARKER: Some Mayans have complained about the exploitation of their culture. But Guevara says they are in the minority.

GUEVARA: What I have seen is that they're very happy. They see the benefit because the nice thing about the tourism is that it shares the benefit with everyone.

PARKER: Others disagree. Alphonso Escobedo (SIC) runs tours to Mayan communities and says the tourist dollars are going elsewhere.

ALFREDO ESCOBEDO, ECOTOURISM YUCATAN: Most of the money is spent in transportation, and they don't own taxis, hotels, restaurants, and here they don't have those services yet.

PARKER: Yet may be the word. Hotels across the five Mayan states are nearly sold out ahead of the big date. The hope is that interest in the culture is long-term. Assuming everybody survives December 21st.


COSTELLO: Nick, you still there? I was just -- I was just waiting --

PARKER: So basically we're looking at a situation tomorrow where the Mexican archaeology officials are expecting about 8,000 people to pour in for the all-important day of the 21st. They're also expecting about five or six different ceremonies taking place around here.

But as I said in the piece just then, I think the main issue is the longevity of this enthusiasm for Mayan culture and we'll have to see in 2013 just how much that is.

COSTELLO: You scared for a second -- I thought you were frozen with fear of the apocalypse. Nick Parker thank you so much.