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Interview with Rep. Mary Bono Mack; Slaughter in Syria; Taliban Confirms Talks with the U.S.; Interview With Rep. Gwen Moore; Rupert Murdoch's Problems Growing; Snow Boarder Recovers from Brain Injury; Interview with Gloria Estefan; The Race for Michigan

Aired February 14, 2012 - 08:00   ET



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning. Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT.

This morning, we're focused on Syria and on the brink of a total war there. There's videotape of the shelling.

And CNN has made it inside the country. Got a perspective you're not going to see anywhere else. We'll bring you an update on what's happening there.

Plus, long-time competitors on the music charts. Gloria Estefan is going to will join us to talk about Whitney Houston. The first time she heard that voice. She's going to talk about some of the work she's doing anyway. Then, of course, a tragedy struck and we'll ask her about Whitney Houston.

Mitt Romney on the ropes. Speaking politically, his home turf kind of up for grabs if you look at the latest polls. A former advisor talked about whether or not he's able to hold off a surging Rick Santorum.

All of that is what we're talking about this morning on STARTING POINT which begins right now.


O'BRIEN: I like that. That's off Will Cain's play list. Will, you are our most improved player today. Bryan Adams, "New York, New York."

I want to thank you, by the way, for the chocolates and the flowers.

And you, too, Cathy (ph).

Happy Valentine's Day, everybody.

Joe, I do appreciate the big gift you brought.

Nobody gave me anything today at all.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That was a total lie. I was like, are we playing off this? Pretend, we got nothing.

O'BRIEN: I was mocking all of you for absolutely nothing today.

We're talking this morning about the exact cause of Whitney Houston's death. It's not yet known. The coroner has held a number of press conferences but literally will not say anything specific. It seems that her life may have ended the way that many other Americans have died.

Death from a prescription drug overdose is a definite possibility. And it has more than tripled since 1990. According to the CDC, 12 million people are taking prescription drugs for no medical reason at all.

Republican Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack of California joins our panel this morning from Washington, D.C. She's been holding hearings on prescription drug abuse. When we were at CPAC, we had a chance to chat with her about this issue, which is near and dear to your heart, I know.

Nice to see you this morning. Thanks for being with us.

REP. MARY BONO MACK (R), CALIFORNIA: Thanks for having me.

O'BRIEN: Talk to me about your personal attachment to this because I didn't realize that you had a son who really struggled with addiction issues.

BONO MACK: Right. I actually have had multiple family members who have struggled with prescription drug issues. And I've witnessed it. I've been through it. I've seen how devastating it can be.

You know, it is the fastest growing epidemic in America right now is the prescription drug abuse epidemic.

O'BRIEN: How difficult was it to be the mother in terms of sort of how society and people around you? Were they helpful? Did you feel like you were getting a lot of support?

BONO MACK: Soledad, that's a great question. You know, I think as a mother, you think that it's your fault. It only enables it, makes it worse. But for me, I used to kind of feel sorry for myself that it was my son and it's so hard because as a mother you love your children so very much.

But any family member who has a loved one who struggles with addiction can tell you it's equally as painful, but, you know, I think no more so than ever when it's on children. I think that if parents are using, then children suffer the most.

O'BRIEN: You know, it's interesting to see the statistics -- 7.7 percent of teenagers report using prescription medicine for non- medical purposes. More teens abuse prescription drugs than any other drug besides marijuana. Apparently more than cocaine, more than heroin, more than meth, all three of those combined.

Are they just getting -- I mean, is it they're getting it from their parents, and that's easy access?

BONO MACK: You know, Soledad, that's an easy thing to think. A lot of people were saying they get it from granny's medicine cabinet or something.

But, look, this epidemic is well beyond getting it out of a family member's medicine cabinet. There's no doubt that there are holes in the supply chain. There's no doubt that people are pharmacy and doctor shopping. They're going from pharmacy to pharmacy to find a pharmacist who will fill a prescription. Doctors necessarily aren't on top of it.

You know, one of the things that I'm promoting is prescriber awareness, that doctors need to become a little bit more trained and aware of the abuse prevalence of some of these very, very powerful narcotics.

O'BRIEN: After Whitney Houston's death, Tony Bennett got on stage at the very party where she was supposed to appear and he basically called for the legalization of drugs. And to me, I don't want to take you off topic, it seemed that he was missing sort of -- actually many of the people he was discussing really had prescription drugs in their past. It was more of a struggle with prescription drugs than, you know, going to the corner and dealing with a dealer on the corner.

BONO MACK: Look, many of these prescription drugs are just almost heroin in a pill. They're legal. And people are dying.

You know, currently today, as we speak, you know, throughout the course of the day, over 20 Americans will die. Actually, over 50 Americans will probably die from some sort of overdose.

If 50 dolphins washed upon the shore of America every day, there would be such outrage and such a clamor for somebody to attack this problem head on and I think that's what we need to do. Legalizing drugs is not the answer.

O'BRIEN: How did your son beat it? And what are you calling for in your legislation?

BONO MACK: Well, you know, I have a number of items in the legislative form and some that are more conceptual, some are putting pressure on the DEA and FDA.

But in my son's case, you know, he's not the only one in my family, but my son was very courageous. He got into rehab three times. He's working on his sobriety and his recovery.

But, you know, addiction is a lifelong disease, much as is cancer. He will be battling that addiction for the rest of his life. He's very courageous for doing it.

My hats off to anybody who's working on their sobriety. But prescription drug abuse is the fastest rising epidemic and we need to go straight on at it.

Again, I have a prescriber education bill. I also have a bill that would limit access to OxyContin, which is one of the most powerful narcotics on the market. Originally, it was approved by the FDA for late and very severe cancer pain. Over the course of time, doctors started prescribing it for anything at all.

O'BRIEN: What's this, OxyContin?

BONO MACK: OxyContin, yes.

O'BRIEN: You know what, when I had dental surgery I got -- that's what I was given for dental surgery.

BONO MACK: Soledad, there's another important point here. America right now is so overmedicated that in the past three drug take back days that the DEA has had, they have taken back 995,000 pounds of unwanted pills.

You have to ask -- why are 995,000 pounds of excess pills out in the market to begin with?

O'BRIEN: Mary Bono Mack joining us this morning. It's nice to see you. Thanks for being with us, by the way, last week. We appreciated that as well.

BONO MACK: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Other stories making headlines this morning. Christine Romans has that.

Hey. Good morning.


Let's go first to Syria on the verge of full-scale war. We're getting reports of relentless shelling and loud explosions in the Syrian city of Homs this morning. Witnesses say it's the heaviest bombardment that they've seen all week with now nine deaths reported so far just today.

CNN's Arwa Damon, she has crossed into Syria. We're not disclosing her location for her own safety and the safety of her crew. She's reporting that the situation is rapidly deteriorating.


ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In the areas where the government crackdown is at its worst, people say that there are snipers positioned on every single street corner. You can hardly cross a main thoroughfare without coming across government snipers. Then, of course, there are all of the tanks and the government checkpoints.

It's an incredibly tense situation here and it's also incredibly emotional. Anger is running at an all-time high, as is frustration and desperation.


ROMANS: Nick Paton Walsh is live in Beirut, Lebanon.

Nick, what's the latest at this deteriorating situation?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Let's start in Homs, particular the area of Baba Amr, which has been the focus of much of the shelling. Across the country, we've seen 14 deaths reported so far today, 10 of which in Homs. I was speaking to an activist in Baba Amr earlier today and, frankly, our conversation kept being interrupted by a loud thud of artillery rounds it seems landing closer and closer to his home.

Let's hear what he had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are shelling randomly, why I don't know. There is no place here in this Baba Amr that is a safe house or shelter or a basement. You have to be lucky to stay safe.


WALSH: Now, I'll just point out, this is apparently the worst shelling for five days inside Homs. He says they believe they're trying to terrify and punish the population rather than as thought yesterday, move in from that particular area from the north.

I should also point out there is now an operation ongoing in Daraa, a different part of the country where it appears troops are moving house to house making arrests. A very troubling live stream of pictures from there where gunfire continually rings out across that particular neighborhood. So, certainly, no let up at all in the violence so far today in Syria.

ROMANS: And, Nick, another story you're following, the Taliban and peace talks. They want to bypass the Afghan government entirely and talk directly to the United States government.

What can you tell us about that?

WALSH: Absolutely completely switch sides to a different part of the world now, Afghanistan where, yes, we've received an e-mail from the Taliban in which they answered a number of questions we put some weeks ago to them. Key to all of this is they're rejecting one of the major conditions the Americans have put forward for a discussion to happen between the Taliban and the Afghan government about peace.

The Americans want this to be between Afghans, Afghan owned, Afghan-led is their own phrase. But the Taliban are quite clear with us. They consider the Karzai government, that's the president of Afghanistan, to be, quote, "a puppet government." They lack authority.

They say that the ones with the power in opposition are the Americans and they want to talk directly to them.

Now, that really upsets the apple cart that Hillary Clinton and everybody in the State Department's been pushing now for weeks, months even to try to get this process underway. They wanted the Afghan government onboard. The Afghan government seemed upset at the start that they weren't involved from the very beginning. Then, they got on board.

Now, we have yet another problem in this nation's peace talks with the Taliban saying they don't actually want to talk to the Afghans. They want to talk to the Americans instead. They have the military, they have the cash.

Really, this process, flakey as it was in the beginning, is looking even shakier with this particular statement.

ROMANS: All right. Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much for the latest on two very, very important stories. Thanks, Nick.

Meantime, Moody's has downgraded the credit rating of six European nations, including Spain, Italy and Portugal. It's threatening to cut the AAA ratings of Britain, France, and Austria this morning. Moody's expressing serious concern about Europe's ability to pass the necessary reforms to address its debt crisis.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you look at the biggest issue in this race is about liberty.



ROMANS: That's presidential hopeful Rick Santorum getting interrupted by Occupy protesters during a speech in Tacoma, Washington, yesterday. Three demonstrators were arrested.

Afterward, the former Pennsylvania senator says the Occupy movement represents, quote, "true intolerance."

A network of charter schools in Chicago coming under fire for charging students $5 for minor disciplinary infraction. That includes things like untied shoelaces, napping in classes, not meeting a teacher's gaze.

Some parents are outraged. They say the fines are a tax on low income families. But the school system says it helps promote a culture of safety inside that school -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: OK. So, that makes no sense at all. What it does do is it fines people who probably can't afford the fine. I actually think making sure the kids have their shoelaces tied is a very good idea and they do meet the teacher's gaze. Like I want my kids to learn that.

But, you know, there's no way to fine the kids. They don't have a job.

ROMANS: I know.

O'BRIEN: And if their parents are economically challenged -- I mean, doesn't that seem like going out and doing the --



O'BRIEN: -- erasers, your punishment was.

LEVY: Yes, I think that ran out of gas 30 years ago.

O'BRIEN: They went to tablets. I got it. I got it.

Al right. We're back to talking about the budget. In the last hour, we heard from the Republican Senator Pat Toomey. He was talking about the president's new budget plan. He says the amount of money in spending in that plan is alarming.

Here's what he told me.


SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Let's look at what the president himself has said. He has said that the long-term driver of our deficits and our debt are completely unsustainable budget picture is mandatory health care spending. It's the big health care programs. The president knows that and yet he gives us a budget in which spending grows, taxes are higher, he spends even more than the tax increases and gives us a bigger deficit than we had last year, and no reforms at all on the fundamental driver of these programs.


O'BRIEN: Democratic Congresswoman Gwen Moore is joining us. She's from the state of Wisconsin. She serves on the budget and financial services committee.

Nice to see you. Thanks for being with us.

You heard what the senator just said -- mandatory health care spending. The president knows that and still delivers a budget that actually doesn't tackle any of the problems that exist right now. What do you make of that criticism?

REP. GWEN MOORE (D), WISCONSIN: Well, just let me say -- good morning, Soledad. Happy Valentine's Day.

O'BRIEN: Thank you. You'd be the only person who has said that so far to me today, ma'am. But go ahead.

MOORE: You know, I think that the Republicans have made it really clear that they want to end the so-called social safety net from cradle to grave. That would be anything from Wic, Medicaid to Social Security and Medicare for the so-called opportunity society where you're sort of on your own, where you give all the money to the so-called job creators and hope that it trickles down.

I think that the president's budget really tries to shift us from the speculation and Wall Street to a budget that focuses on innovation, creating new energy products, invests in manufacturing.

O'BRIEN: But all of those things at the end of the day --

MOORE: -- that I live in.

O'BRIEN: All of those things at the end of the day, what Senator Toomey was saying, we cannot afford it. We cannot afford healthcare proposals that are on the table as they stand right now. We just cannot, as a country, afford that.

MOORE: Well, Soledad, let me say this. Healthcare costs are rising, and not just Medicare and Medicaid, but healthcare in general. And that is part of what the affordable care act tried to rein in those costs. In fact, in this budget, the president does provide savings within Medicaid, Medicare at the tune of $360 billion.

So, it's not true that there aren't some changes and some cost efficiencies realized in Medicare and Medicaid. The point is --

O'BRIEN: I'm sorry. Go ahead.

MOORE: It's impossible to -- I have a bill, for example, for changes in Social Security, but it's impossible to negotiate with a side who is bent on sort of changing these programs and destroying them as we know it.

O'BRIEN: But Senator Toomey would say -- he would say the same. He said, basically, the same thing. The other side's not going to meet us halfway, and you, you know, Democrats being the other side. So, as a voter, just a regular old voter at home, when I hear both sides telling me that the other side is not meeting them halfway, I look at a future that looks pretty ugly and messy.

MOORE: Well, let me say this again. This -- we have a social contract that really says that, you know, you can attain the American dream. If you work hard, you can own a home, you can put your kids through college, and that you can have a retirement and you can age in place with some security and with some dignity. And I think that that is really where the battle grounds are being drawn. The president's budget focuses on retaining that American dream.

It invests in our students. You can't say that that's spending. We cannot allow our kids not to have an educational opportunity. We cannot allow the infrastructure to deteriorate. We cannot allow -- we cannot not invest in innovation and provide businesses with those tax credits and write-offs that they need for innovation.

O'BRIEN: Clearly, it's going to become a --

MOORE: Bringing new technologies on in the name of austerity. And I do think --

O'BRIEN: Go ahead. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to cut you off. Can you hear me?

MOORE: Yes, I can.

O'BRIEN: OK. I'm sorry to cut you off, but we're running out of time. What I was going to say was, clearly, this is a debate we're going to have a lot over the next weeks as the president is unveiling his budget, and everybody on all sides is taking shots at it, and he's defending it. Thanks for being with us this morning. Congressman Gwen Moore is joining us from the state of Wisconsin.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT, heat on Rupert Murdoch today over the scandal at his newspaper, "The Sun." New hacking charges could be filed. We're going to talk to the man who literally wrote the book on the media mogul, straight ahead.

Plus, the Senate is forced to bailout its own barbershop. Yes, even the barber shop can't make cuts. I know. I know. STARTING POINT continues after this break.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT.

Embattled media mogul, Rupert Murdoch, is under increasing pressure this week. He's returning to England after more arrests at his flagship British tabloid, "The Sun," related to bribery and the phone hacking scandal that's been unfolding since last summer. You remember, in fact, last summer Murdoch shut down "The News of the World" in the wake of the scandal.

And at "The Sun" the staff is described as being despondent and under siege and there is a sense that this is an escalating crisis. Plus, could be some charges filed here in the United States.

Michael Wolff, literally, wrote the book on Murdoch. He wrote the book called, "The Man Who Owns The News." He joins us now. Nice to see you. Thanks for being with us.


O'BRIEN: So, Murdoch is heading -- returning to London this week. How bad is this crisis right now?

WOLFF: I don't think you can -- I can't imagine a corporate crisis that is larger than this.

O'BRIEN: Because they talked about being despondent and the employees unhappy. It's worse than that?

WOLFF: They -- from -- remember, there are essentially two companies that you're looking at here, two parts of the company. There's the American company which comprises most of the assets and the earnings, and then, there is the British company which is largely newspapers. Kind of a legacy company. It's where -- one of the places where Murdoch got his start and one of the places where his heart is.

But I would say that most of the people, most of his executives in America have been saying for a long time, why do we have newspapers? Shrinking business. We have growing businesses here.

And then, over the last -- since last summer, when scandal wave -- one wave of scandal after another wave of scandal has hit these papers, it comes now to the point, I think we're pretty much at the point where people are literally saying to Murdoch, we've got to do something here. We've got to get rid of these.

O'BRIEN: I mean, you have the circulation of 2.7 million. That's a lot. That's wildly successful for a newspaper.

WOLFF: "The Sun" is the most powerful newspaper in the United Kingdom. You might couch that with "The Daily" net mail (ph) would say they are, but this is a , major, major force.

O'BRIEN: So, what options are on the table, because shutting that down when it's so successful seems like it would be obvious a bad option.

WOLFF: "The News of the World" was very, very successful. And one of the things that happened since they shut "The News of the World," and they found out there was corruption throughout the paper, and they shut it. We are now looking at the sun -- looking at the possibility that we will find even more corruption and more serious, essentially. bribing the police.

So, people are saying, OK, if you shut that paper, then what would be the logic for not shutting this paper?

O'BRIEN: When you look at -- in fact, you mentioned sort of the empire, you have Fox News, 20th Century Fox, FX Network, HarperCollins, those are United States-based, then "The Sun," which is UK based, then "The New York Post", the "Wall Street Journal," "Dow Jones" back to United States base. So, what kind of legacy issue does he have --

WOLFF: Hundreds of pages. Australia, BSkyB in the UK.

O'BRIEN: Legacy issue. I mean, that has to be part of the reason for reluctance to just say, kill it.

WOLFF: Well, I think that that's true, but I think the legacy issue is going to be more difficult, actually, in keeping it. I mean, what Rupert Murdoch is looking at now, and he'll be 81 next month, is a business which will produce nothing but bad news, nothing but scandal. Threatens the -- I mean, his -- the legal jeopardy of his son, son and heir, James Murdoch, gets more and more dire every day.

O'BRIEN: And the legal bills.

WOLFF: So, what they're looking at this is, we have to deal with this in some dramatic final fashion, and I think it will be we have to get rid of the business in the UK.

O'BRIEN: He's heading back to London. We'll see what decision he makes. Thanks. Nice to see you, Michael. Appreciate you joining us.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, things got even more tense between Israel and Iran. The latest round in a new round of finger pointing over Iran -- Israel, rather, says our bombs that have been planted by Iran.

Also this morning, Gloria Estefan is going to join us. She's got a new album out. She's talking, though, about some of her memories of Whitney Houston. That's straight ahead. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You remember that last month free skiing pioneer, Sarah Burke, died of a brain injury that happened while she was training on the super pipe in Park City, Utah, and it hit close to home for snow border, Kevin Pearce, because he suffered a very similar injury on that very same course two years earlier.

CNN chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, joins us. We're looking at the "Human Factor." Hey, Sanjay, good morning.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. You know, you watch the snow borders on the super pipes. I don't know if you've watched this closely and ever saw that, but it's pretty incredible. That's a half pipe with really vertical walls. Obviously, it's dangerous, but we hardly ever get to hear about, you know, what happens to these people if they have some sort of significant injury.

You mentioned Sarah Burke. Kevin Pearce had that sort of injury some time ago. And at the time they thought, look, he's never going to snowboard again. He's probably not going to make a neurological recovery. It was a pretty devastating injury.

If I can show you for a second on this brain model, it was the right side of the brain. On the inside of the brain he had significant bleeding in this area here. It was responsible for his balance, coordination, his memory, eye function, his vision to some extent. It was pretty significant. Doctors didn't think he may walk again, let alone snow bored. Here's how Kevin himself put it when reflecting back on that time. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN PEARCE, PROFESSIONAL SNOWBOARDER: I remember being there in that rehab hospital and being like, oh, I'll be out snowboarding in a couple more weeks. That was two months after the injury. Just like -- then it was two years later. I had no idea at the beginning what was involved.


GUPTA: People who follow the sport at all know that Kevin Pearce was the frontrunner for the U.S. Olympics in Vancouver. He was the guy that a lot of hopes and dreams were pinned on. Rehab for him meant significant time, Soledad. He spent eight hours a day trying to rehab his function obviously in his body, also underwent some operations to restore some of the vision in his eye. But then you see him starting to come back to some extent, at least going down a much easier hill there, Soledad. But that's sort of an example of a recovery.

O'BRIEN: Was that him in the blue?

GUPTA: Yes. You saw him.

O'BRIEN: Wow. So what do the doctors say? Do they say, OK, you can go back to competition? He looks good. Wow.

GUPTA: So the doctors are being very cautious. Cautious is a relative term compared to a snowboarder, who is obviously not as cautious. They're saying he had a significant brain injury. If you were to have another one, it could be exponentially worse. You and I, Soledad, talked about this with respect to football injuries. It's the same sort of concept there. They just think he is more susceptible.

But they also think the idea that he could snowboard like you saw him there, that was at Breckenridge, they basically say you can try small things like this. The competition, if you're pushing yourself hard, may be too much of a challenge. We asked Kevin to reflect on that as well. Take a listen.


PEARCE: My goals have definitely changed, from going -- planning on going to the Olympics to getting back on a snowboard. That's a bit different. The amount of hard work I've put in. Kind of what it's taken to get back to snowboarding though is un-describable. I feel like this is so much bigger than winning a medal.


GUPTA: A big reset button for this young man and his life. Small amounts for now, Soledad. Kevin Pearce, keep an eye on that name. When you do, think about what he has overcome, significant brain injury. Back on the slopes.

O'BRIEN: If I were his mother, I'd be terrified to watch him snowboarding. Great to see him back at a sport. Thank you, Sanjay.

GUPTA: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead on STARTING POINT, a crucial cancer drug for children is suddenly in short supply. We'll tell you about a plea that's coming from both parents and doctors.

If you're not getting any roses today, that would be me. I resemble that remark. No hearts with messages on them. Well, we'll tell you that there's an app for your disappointing Valentine's Day, or maybe not.


O'BRIEN: Stay with us.



O'BRIEN: That song, guess who that is? For five points.


O'BRIEN: We have a winner. Who's in our studio right now? Kathy.


O'BRIEN: That would bring three Cubans to the table. That might be an all-time network high. Someone check on that. Run those numbers for us.

Welcome back, everybody. Lots to get to us this morning. Headlines first. Christine has that for us. Christine, good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: That's quite a tease. I cannot wait for that. I'm such a big fan. I have goose bumps. Thanks, Soledad.

Let's get to some finger pointing between Iran and Israel. Israel is blaming Iran for the bombing of two of its embassy vehicles. Four people were hurt when a detonation device went off on a van in India. Another bomb went off on a car in Georgia. No one was hurt there. Iran is blaming Israel for both incidents, accusing Israel of bombing its own vehicles in order to tarnish Iran's ties with India and Georgia.

A Florida bus company has been slapped with a lawsuit by the parents of Robert Champion, suspected hazing victim at Florida A&M University. Champion died after he was allegedly beaten on a bus. His family is also suing the bus driver. They say he stood guard while that alleged assault took place.

Drug makers hit with desperate pleas to make more of a scarce cancer drug for children. Hospitals fear they could run out of the drug in days or weeks. If they do, doctors worry their patients could die. Four doctor groups sent pleas to the four pharmaceutical companies that make the drug. Doctors say the drug could help them cure 90 percent of child cancer cases diagnosed this year.

Just when you thought you were out of outrage, a new report in "The Daily" says that Senate bailed out its own barber shop last year after it ran a deficit of $300,000. This despite charging $27 for a shampoo, cut and blow dry, and $105 for highlights. Apparently the barbers there are federal employees, not private. They make as much as four times the amount of the same barber down the block.

Did you see this performance from Nicki Minaj at the Grammys? Her song "Roman Holiday" started with a mock confession and was followed by a mock exorcism. The Catholic League not too happy about. The president blames the Recording Academy saying they would never allow an artist to insult Judaism or Islam.

Feeling alone this Valentine's Day? Well, there's an app for that. Leave your heart with these apps for the love. The ex app, it prevents you from calling or texting that bad newsboy friend or girlfriend when you're feeling especially lonesome today. Dear old lets you submit raps, poems, or songs. Do you still have some old jewelry from an ex-flame, you can sell it with the "never liked it anyway" app.


O'BRIEN: I love that. An app that keeps you from calling your old boyfriend is such a good idea. Yes. That is true. Moving on.

ROMANS: Happy Valentine's Day.

O'BRIEN: Thank you. Back at you.

Grammy award winning singer Gloria Estefan joins us. She met Whitney Houston back in 1991 when they were both rehearsing for tours. And then after news broke of Houston's death Estefan tweeted a sentiment that was shared by many people, which was this "Somebody please tell me it's not true." Gloria Estefan joins us. I saw that because I follow you on Twitter. You were scheduled to come in and talk with us anyway about your album. And we are going to talk Florida politics.


O'BRIEN: I know. I know. Because this tragedy, I want to talk a little bit about this first. You know what's been really interesting to me to see is how hard it is to be in the spotlight as a singer. We were talking yesterday to Whitney Houston's god mother and she said that she knew her voice was going. As a singer, how difficult would that be?

ESTEFAN: It's very difficult because it's your life, and especially someone like Whitney that was really above and beyond, you know, your token singer. This woman is probably one of the best voices of our time. And it becomes -- especially since she was doing it since she was very, very young, this was the central part of her personality.

But it has to be tough. I sing since I'm talking, two years old. So to lose that I think would be tough, especially someone that makes a living out of it. Doing anything in the public eye is much more difficult because it's pressure. It's that kind of pressure.

O'BRIEN: She had a well-known struggle with drugs, in and out of rehab over many, many years. A lot of her friends now have been talking about just how hard it is. Chaka Kahn, who had a well-known addiction and she talks about her addiction issues. How hard is that as a performer?

ESTEFAN: It depends on who you are. They were nowhere around me because traveling with me is my family. I was never exposed to that kind of thing. Is it accessible if you want it? I'm sure. Is it easier sometimes to get on stage if you feel better or if you feel a little out of it? I imagine it would be. I don't like being out of control. That's just my personality, so it would be tough for me.

But, yes, if you have the money, then most definitely, you know, you party. A lot of people party. The problem with addiction is you don't know until it's too late if you have an addictive personality. By that time, then you're in trouble. And then you're in trouble in the public eye. It's even worse.

O'BRIEN: When did you first hear her sing? I guess it was the late '80s, early '90s, it's Gloria, it's Whitney, wait, it's Gloria, no Whitney. Did you have a friendly rivalry?

ESTEFAN: Listen, there's room for everybody. You don't eat only one kind of food. You don't wear only one kind of clothes. When you make music, everyone has a certain taste.

I was in Japan and her album came out. When I heard "Saving All My Love For You" I was in awe. I played that record over and over. She had seven number ones back-to-back I think it was. What an amazing voice. That was in the '80s. She was amazing. I was a huge fan.

Then I met her, like you said, when we were getting our tours together in Greenwich studios in Miami where they filmed the old Flipper shows. We used to see each other every day. I went to her wedding. We became closer after that.

O'BRIEN: It's so funny to hear singing sensations talk about being a fan of another singing sensation. I know.

ESTEFAN: You cannot not be. She was phenomenal. I feel so sad for Bobbi Kristina, for her mother, because I'm a mother. I know they've got to be going through. I send a lot of prayers to them.

O'BRIEN: We have to take a commercial break. On the other side I want to talk about what you're working on next. We'll have that straight ahead as we talk with Gloria Estefan.

Also we'll talk about Mitt Romney losing his lead and a little bit on the ropes in his home state. Polls show it could be because he can't shake that rich guy thing. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

Despite Mitt Romney's win in the Maine caucuses and then that CPAC straw poll over the weekend, the former Massachusetts governor has a pretty big reason to worry. There's a new national poll out that shows that Mitt Romney is losing support among Independents. And if a general election were held today -- which, of course, it's not, we have a long time away from that -- he'd only get 42 percent of the Independent vote. And President Obama according to this poll would get 41 percent.

Compare that to just a month ago which showed that Mitt Romney would have gotten 50 percent to the President's 40 percent. So could declining support be the result of the rich guy narrative that's been woven by his competitors that he's out of touch? His interview on this program here earlier in the month didn't help him very much on that front. Here's what he said.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm in this race because I care about Americans. I'm not concerned about the very poor, we have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it. I'm not concerned about the very rich, they're doing just fine. I'm concerned about the very heart of America, the 90 percent, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling and I'll continue to take that message across the nation.


O'BRIEN: Ron Brownstein is the editorial director at the "National Journal" and the "National Journal" decided to go ahead and sort of figure out what the impact was of those very words that he said on this show. So what did you find?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: So in Our United Technologies National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, we did a poll on the aftermath of his comments and how it looked at what Americans feel about the safety net.

Two -- two big findings: first, we did find the country kind of divided on whether the middle class or the poor had suffered most in the downturn; a slight majority saying the middle class, about 45 percent saying the poor.

The bigger point was that we found that as political scientists have talked about, talked about for decades Americans are philosophically conservative and operationally liberal on these questions.

On the one hand they agree that too many people appear dependent on government programs. On the other hand they don't use programs for the poor is a big cause of the deficit and they are very reluctant to cut especially entitlements that benefit the middle class like Social Security and Medicaid.

O'BRIEN: All right, so let's break down some of those poll numbers. Let's throw this one up, guys. The one that says three percent say it's because when they're talking about the main issue in spending.


O'BRIEN: Three percent say too much government spending on programs for the elderly; 14 percent say spending on programs for the poor; 24 percent say defense spending. Do we have this poll, anybody?


O'BRIEN: I'm not sure, oh there it is.

BROWNSTEIN: There it is, there we are.

O'BRIEN: Thank you. And then 46 percent, that top number there, is that the issue is that the wealthy are not taxed enough. So what's the take away from these numbers? Who benefits from that? Is that President Obama?

BROWNSTEIN: Well though, I think yes, President Obama is winning the -- you know, President Obama is winning the argument about the causes and solutions, I think, to the deficit. He loses the argument when it is a whether question, not a how question? If the question is whether to reduce the deficit, Republicans I think have the advantage.

If Democrats accept the premise of reducing the deficit at least somewhat and are arguing more about how, it moves to more favorable terrain. Because the big problem Republicans face I think in this debate is that there is consistently poll after poll support for raising taxes on the top earners. And they don't want to do that. And as a result they have to go deeper into cuts into entitlement programs and reach the same level of deficit reduction.

And the public is resistant to that. So that is a favorable set of arguments for the Democrats. On the other hand there is that other layer, that philosophical layer and there is still the belief that Obama may be spending and taxing too much in the broad sense --

O'BRIEN: I love when you do that -- on this hand and then on the other hand I'm going to completely contradict what I've just said.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, it's -- it's the framing. It's the framing that is so much.


O'BRIEN: Ok let me ask you about these poll numbers. I know, I completely understand you.

So let's talk about these -- these poll numbers out of the state of Michigan which show a six point lead



O'BRIEN: -- for Rick Santorum who I think has really improved as a candidate certainly in terms of his performance and then have that big win last week; 33 percent to Mitt Romney's 27 percent. Michigan, of course, is relevant because that's where Mitt Romney's father was the governor. How big of a deal is this?

BROWNSTEIN: That would be an absolute earthquake I think in the race. If Mitt Romney loses Michigan, I think you would have much more of the discussion that we heard last week around the table at CPAC about trying to maybe introducing another candidate into the race or a brokered convention.

Michigan is a state where he has, as you say, all of those home court advantages. On the other hand in a state where almost three- fifths of the Republican voters in 2008 were non-college, they were working, more working class voters, that's where he struggled. That kind of exemplifies the changing nature of this party. It should be an audience in that sense receptive to Rick Santorum.

But given Romney's home court advantage there, if he loses, I think that would upend the race more than anything that has happened so far.

O'BRIEN: I know but he's tripled the spending. What day is that -- what day is that primary?

BROWNSTEIN: The 28th, February 28th. So it's two weeks from now.

O'BRIEN: Ok, all right, we're watching that very closely. Thank you, nice to see you, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: We prefer in person.


O'BRIEN: But we still like to see you in the double box.

BROWNSTEIN: There we go.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT we're back with Gloria Estefan. She's got lots of projects on her plate, including "Glee." We love that show we're running little snippets of Sue Sylvester earlier today. We'll talk about her on the other side of this commercial break.


O'BRIEN: I love this video. "Hotel Nacional" this is Gloria Estefan's latest video. Is it fun to shoot these? Or is that -- because it looks like it's just out and out fabulous.

GLORIA ESTAFAN, SINGER: You know what, I had a blast doing this. I co-wrote it with my son.

O'BRIEN: Really?

ESTEFAN: We came up with the concept, we do the shot list, Kenny Ortega (ph) the inimitable directed with me.

O'BRIEN: Right.

ESTAFAN: And it was -- it was going to be a fun video about dancing. It's also we love cult films, my son and I. So it's a little cult film about how these cult films reflect pop culture. And at the end a little bite on their neck is kind of reflecting our pop culture now which is everything vampires. So it was really a lot of fun to do this.

There's a lot of sub layers as people discover little things. And I -- I had a blast. Its hard work but I loved it.

O'BRIEN: I know you love, you -- you have been a worker. You have always been -- ever since -- we've interviewed you a number of times over the years. And you always have like 18 projects happening. You're going to be on "Glee."


O'BRIEN: When is that going to happen?

ESTEFAN: I'm a big "Glee" fan and my daughter I -- soon, I maybe going right from New York to L.A.

O'BRIEN: Oh good.

ESTEFAN: It's going to happen. And I'm thrilled what a blast.

O'BRIEN: Do you get to pick your character? Like do you get to say I want to be crazy, I want to be fun, I want to be good?

ESTEFAN: Well, I think the writers would have something to say about that.

O'BRIEN: Well --

ESTEFAN: But we did discuss it. I've talked to Ryan Murphy and we're both on the same pages. What we'd like to see Santana's mom be like and I'd like to have it out with her grandma who --

O'BRIEN: You want drama.

ESTEFAN: Oh, yes. We need some drama.

O'BRIEN: Ok. In the final seconds that we have, let's talk Florida politics. That was a nasty, nasty campaign. Did it feel that way living there? ESTEFAN: Aren't they all? I mean is there any other kind of campaign now? That's all there is. It's kind of disgusting. I mean it really is a turn-off. I just wish that we could find somebody good for the job, but you have to get elected before you can actually do anything. And to get elected, it's the polls.

O'BRIEN: It is. Yes. That's what we've been talking all day.

All right. We have "End Point" up next.

ESTEFAN: It's not fun.

O'BRIEN: We're going to ask Gloria Estefan to give us her "End Point", if she'll stay.

Commercial break. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: All right. Time for "End Point" in our remaining seconds. Gloria Estefan has agreed to stick around. Your "End Point" this morning?

ESTEFAN: My "End Point", my thoughts and prayers to Whitney Houston's family that's going through this tough time. And Happy Valentine's day to everyone because we have to take advantage and love everyone every second we can.

O'BRIEN: No one gave me a single Valentine today. Not anybody at this table.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Day's not over, Soledad. The day is not over.

O'BRIEN: That's right. Will Cain, what do you have?

CAIN: I'm going to stick on the same thing and wish my wonderful Happy Valentine's Day. She's not feeling well because my 4-year-old brought the plague into our house. But I wish her well.

O'BRIEN: Oh yes. Many more years of that.

CAIN: Yes, right.

O'BRIEN: That's what they do. They're little petri dishes of disgustingness. Cathy knows that. She's got a couple of kids too.


Three Latinas at the table. I think we're going to hear more about Latino immigration reform in the country from the candidates coming up. We haven't heard much about it. I think we're going to hear more about it in the weeks to come.

O'BRIEN: I would agree with you on that. What have you got? Joe, you get to be --

JOE LEVY, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "ROLLING STONE": Yes, now I'm in the wrap-up position. I'm forced now to wish my wife a Happy Valentine's day, which I was going to do anyway. I've been saving something special which is wishing you a Happy Valentine's Day.

O'BRIEN: Oh, finally. 8:59:38 on the clock.

LEVY: Yes. Saved the best for last which is my Valentine's Day wish to you.

O'BRIEN: Oh. And that's a Whitney Houston song. It's how we kind of end our morning this morning.

Thank you, guys. Appreciate it.

Let's send it right to "CNN NEWSROOM." Kyra Phillips has that.

We'll see everybody back here at 7:00 a.m. tomorrow morning for STARTING POINT.

Hey Kyra. Happy -- let me be the first to wish you on air Happy Valentine's day. Unlike my panel who had to wait until the end for me.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: I was just sitting here thinking, you guys are so sappy but I love it. Happy Valentine's Day to you too.