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Iran Announces Advances in Nuclear Program; Mitt Romney Faces Tough Race in Michigan Primary; Interview with Congressman Mike Rogers; Karzai: U.S., Afghan, Taliban Peace Talks; 300 Dead In Honduras Prison Fire; Huguely Defense: Love Died of Asphyxiation; 18 TCU Students Arrested In Drug Bust; New Study Links Alzheimer's And Sleep; Country Singer Randy Travis Arrest Video; Teacher In Trouble For Cards To Convict; Garden Party For Linsanity; Burr And Coburn: New Medicare Proposal; Investigation into Houston's Death; Confusing Traffic Signs; Republican Senators Offer New Plan to Secure Medicare; Syrian Government Continues Assault on Opposition

Aired February 16, 2012 - 06:59   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST: All right. Welcome, everybody. You're watching "Starting Point" this morning. We focus on Whitney Houston and also how she spent her final days by some reports on a dangerous path. Source is saying she was complaining that her drinks that she was having at the poolside were too watered down.

Also, Iran's nuclear lift (ph), oil prices rising as the nation showing off this new technology, also threatening Europe. We'll talk about what's happening there.

And then, proof that the world, indeed, could end in 2012. Congress has come to an agreement on something (INAUDIBLE). Yes, agreed on tax cuts for millions of working families.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have an agreement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have an agreement, and we're moving forward.


O'BRIEN: An agreement, moving forward, oh, my goodness.

Also this morning, we'll talk about what might be my favorite story of the day. This is a sign -- this is a sign, the most boggling road sign ever. Of course you'll have to slow down because it's broken down by the minute what the speed limit is. Crazy. That's our -- isn't that weird? Under the category you cannot make this stuff up. We begin with my playing list, Mary J.


WILL CAIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: You have to slow down to read the sign. You know what speed you would have to go? O'BRIEN: I don't think that is the original intention, but it is working. Welcome to our panel. Penny Lee is joining us this morning. She served as political consultant to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Nice to have you. Will Cain is with us again, and Matt Taibbi is a contributing editor to "Rolling Stone." It's nice to have you, as well. What are you doing? They're taking a shot of you reading your iPad. Is my show not compelling enough to you today one minute in. I'll work harder for you, Matt. I'll work harder to deliver a good show for you today.

Let's talk about Whitney Houston this morning. Reportedly spent her final days drinking heavily by some reports. That same source says she was seen drinking by the pool starting around 10:00 in the morning on the day that she died. There is a photo that shows Whitney poolside last Wednesday a drink by her side. We're unclear what exactly was in that drink.

Also, there is now a copy of the preliminary death certificate that has been obtained and the cause of death is listed as "deferred," and that's because when they do the drug screening, the toxicology reports won't be complete for several weeks, maybe eight weeks we're told. So they put "deferred" on the death certificate.

"Forbes" magazine this morning is reporting that Whitney Houston did leave a will. She was not broke. She was not going bankrupt. The funeral is now on Saturday. Anderson spoke to the Pastor Marvin Winans who will deliver the eulogy on Saturday, and he asked why the funeral was going to be private.


PASTOR MARVIN WINANS, GOSPEL SINGER: Knowing Cissy and the Houston family, I don't think it was a matter of public or private as it was this is my daughter, this is my sister, this is my mother, this is my friend, and we want to do this with dignity. I knew that mama Houston would do it the way she wanted it done, which we're going to church and we're not going to be worried about if the world can get in.


O'BRIEN: A question a lot of people have asked, why a private service when there are so many fans that wish they could also remember her? We'll talk to Bishop T.D. Jakes. He'll attend that funeral, as well. He produced Whitney Houston's movie "Sparkle." He was a producer of that movie.

Turning now to Iran. In a defiant move Iran is claiming that two key achievements have been met in its nuclear research program. It's another step to developing an atomic weapon, possibly. U.S. says those claims are embellished and today downplaying that significance. So what should be done about it? Is a military strike an option? Mike Rogers is a former FBI agent who is now the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Nice to see you, sir, thanks for talking with us this morning. Got a lot to get to.

REP. MIKE ROGERS, (R) MICHIGAN: Nice to see you, thanks for having me.

O'BRIEN: When you see pictures coming out of Iran with Ahmadinejad surrounded by the scientists and there are a couple of options. Number one, people have said, listen, Iran is overinflating its capabilities. Number two, a message being sent. A domestic message and an international message and number three, some of these threats that have been thrown about on state TV there are empty threats. Let's walk me through what exactly happened yesterday and what does it mean?

ROGERS: Well, I think what you're seeing is the aftermath of what happens when the sanctions are starting to bite a little bit. and what's happening is average Iranians can't go down to the bank and get cash the way they used to. They're having a cash problem because of the sanctions. Europe joined in on some of those sanctions and it's having a real bite on the Iranian regime.

So what you see is a little bit of everything going on. They're trying to accelerate their ability, I believe, to enrich uranium or give the perception that they can do it. They have done these outside their country attacks outside Israeli embassies to show they're not going away any time soon. And this, this, I think new round of threats is really designed to throw the price of oil up and try to get people to back off the sanctions that we think are having an impact.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about options then, because when you look at polls -- I think we have a new poll, 17 percent, low numbers of Americans support military action to even get involved in Iran's nuclear program. You've said before that you think any kind of unilateral strike by the United States would be very problematic and cause security problems for the United States. Beyond sanctions, what are the options?

ROGERS: Well, let me, I said unilateral strike on behalf of Israel on Iran. So, if they did it by themselves, I think that's a problem.

I do think military options have to be laid on the table. They need to understand, we're serious about this. I'll tell you why. A nuclear Iran means nuclear proliferation across the Middle East. It's a Middle East nuclear arms race. Turkey says they'll get in. Saudi Arabia says they're going to get a bomb. Egypt says if they have one, we're getting one. And that really creates an unstability problem that the next five generations of Americas will have to try to deal with.

I think it is in the world's best interest that Iran not get a nuclear weapon. That said, I don't think military options ought to be our first course of action. They should really be the last course of action. And if Israel did it by themselves, it causes a unique set of problems for the United States because we lose our Middle East moderate allies. It creates a problem and we'll get dragged into something that we didn't make the affirmative action on.

But at the same time, Israel does need to take into factor that this is a country that said if they get a nuclear bomb they'll use it on Israel. They have those factors and they have Egypt on their south is giving them trouble now that they haven't experienced in some 30 years. You can see the cauldron is kind of simmering here, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Let's turn and talk politics, if we can. You're a Republican from the state of Michigan. You are the special adviser of the Romney 2012 presidential campaign. Look at the poll numbers for your candidate and they have to be troubling you. Michigan's Governor Snyder is set to endorse Mitt Romney, and these poll numbers show Santorum -- I'm trying to see which poll is this that we're looking at here. This is the ARG poll with Santorum with the lead of 32 percent and Mitt Romney 27 percent, but a six point lead for the other guy. How are you feeling about that poll?

ROGERS: Well, we're going to go into the campaign mode here in the week or so before the primary, and I think Mitt Romney is going to do well. At the end of the day, Michigan more than any other state has been hit as hard economically as you can possibly imagine, and really what's happening is who are we talking to at the kitchen table who has seen their friend lose their job and their neighbor lose their house in our great state and manufacturing shrink in a way that's breathtaking? Who can bring that back?

And I think what people will do, Soledad, when they walk in that booth and say who's the person that can rebound this economy, repeal that Obama health care law that is a drag on the economy. And I think when they come to that conclusion, they're formulating those ideas right now. I think they'll pick Mitt Romney.

O'BRIEN: November 19th, 2008, "New York Times" op-ed by Mitt Romney. Here's what the first line says - "If General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye." Do you worry -- by the way, the automotive industry has now had a pretty incredible resurgence and the bailout did happen -- do you worry that something like this in the state of Michigan would come back and be a huge, huge problem for your candidate?

ROGERS: I don't, and I'll tell you why. Because he at least offered a counter to the way the Obama administration did this. Remember Ford Motor Company came out with these bumper stickers -- not the motor company, but a lot of people in Michigan on their own came up with a bumper sticker that said, built without your tax dollars in Michigan. There was discussion in Michigan, was this the right way to do it? And many believe there is an alternative way where the federal government didn't own a part of a car company. And I think that's really the difference between how Mitt Romney would have helped the car companies.

O'BRIEN: But he was against the bailout and the bailout looking back now is successful.

ROGERS: Listen. No, I think, again, there is the nuance on how you can do it. I ended up supporting the auto bailout portion because we were reprogramming that money from Wall Street. But at the same time I disagreed with the fact that the government was going to take ownership and shares of a company. I think that's a dangerous way to do it.

Now, it worked because they had capital. And I think what Mitt Romney is saying, listen, I would have found a way to get them capital like the private market does in a way that would help the companies get access to the capital that they need. It wasn't the money in and of itself that saved the companies. That was the designers and the folks that built those cars. If you look at the new generation of automobiles coming out of Detroit, they're fantastic. That happened because of those people. They just needed access to capital.

I think what Romney was saying was, listen, there was probably a better way to do this. At the end of the day, I agree with him on that. I think there was a better way to do it. The way it was presented to us at the time and it need to happen and they needed to get access to capital. But I think that discussion will probably happen and you'll be surprised how many people in Michigan were concerned that heavy hand of the government when they took over these automobile companies.

O'BRIEN: It will be interesting to see if that is reflected in the vote when that happens. Congressman Mike Rogers joining us this morning, appreciate your time, thank you.

ROGERS: Thanks, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Other headlines to get to. Christine has those. Hey, Christine, good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you, Soledad.

The extension of the payroll tax cut clearing a major hurdle in Congress. House and Senate negotiators reached a deal last night to renew that tax cut for 160 million Americans through the end of this year. It means you'll keep more money in your paycheck this year just like last year. The deal extends unemployment benefits and cutting fees for Medicare doctors.

A U.S. drone strike in Pakistan killed five suspected militants in the tribal region along the Afghanistan border. Pakistani intelligence officials say that the drone fired at a suspected militant compound in north Waziristan. The drone strike was the sixth this year.

The violence inside Syria escalating. CNN's Ivan Watson is in northern Syria right now where he says entire communities have been establishing militias and have seen little government presence. Meantime, the U.N. General Assembly is expected to take up a symbolic resolution today condemning President Bashar al Assad for his ongoing crackdown on that opposition. Officials are trying to convince Russia to support this measure. Earlier this month Russia and China vetoed a Security Council resolution calling for Assad to step down.

China's next leader meeting with congressional leaders. Vice President Xi Jinping telling business leaders that China and the U.S. must work towards building mutual trust. China has faced accusations of manipulating its currency which makes Chinese goods cheaper.

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum releasing his tax returns for the past four years. That's the most of any candidate so far. They show he earned $3.6 million in those four years. His highest tax rate was 28.3 percent. He paid that last year.

Minding your business, U.S. stock futures pointing to a lower open this morning. Dow futures down about 30 points right now. European markets are down, too all because of Greece. The leaders of the European union still negotiating with Greece over the terms of the bailout to save it from default. As long as the negotiations continue, we'll see volatility in those markets.

And that Jeremy guy, all he does is win. The New York Knicks phenom led his team to a seventh straight victory last night over the Sacramento Kings in front of a jam-packed and jacked up at Madison Square Garden. I guess, Soledad, the Lin-sanity continues, although, I don't know about you, I am starting to get tired of it.

O'BRIEN: Not at all. I love it.

ROMANS: You do?


O'BRIEN: I love the underdog story and I love the story of someone who comes from behind and no one expects they can do it.

ROMANS: I love it, too, but the Lin puns, I'm done with them.

O'BRIEN: That's killing me. I'm with you on that.

Also this morning, this is an interesting story and a little disturbing. Josh Powell, you remember, of course, that Washington state man who apparently blew up his home and himself and his two little boys when he was denied custody of them. He's been blocked from being buried near his two little boys. The nonprofit group which is called crime stoppers in Washington State has purchased cemetery plots on both sides of the little boys' grave site. They will be buried together. Powell was accused of murder-suicide, killing himself and the two boys. And the Pierce County sheriff says it's disgusting that a murder suspect would be buried next to his victims. So, you sort of can understand that. That story has just been a horrible story from the get go. I would agree with that.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, the investigation into Whitney Houston's death is underway. Subpoenas have been issued for Houston's medical records. What happens from here?

Also, a teacher who has an assignment for her fifth graders -- write to my boyfriend in prison. Do you get an A if you do that? No joke.

And our "Get Real" this morning, the road sign that has everyone's head turning and turning because it's completely impossible to understand. We'll tell you that story straight ahead. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Is this is from your playlist? This is from my playlist, too. Don't you love Kirk Franklin?

PENNY LEE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I love him. I actually love that one.

O'BRIEN: And this is the best thing to listen to when you wake up in the morning.

LEE: Absolutely.


O'BRIEN: Got you feeling bitter and angry about this is not -- welcome back, everybody.

Joe Tacopina is a criminal defense attorney and he joins us now to talk a lit bit more about the Whitney Houston investigation.

So let's begin with the toxicology tests because they keep saying it's going to take eight, 10 weeks. Why?

JOE TACOPINA, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, because that's if John Smith dies, that's what happens. There are 50 other people who they have to go through a week. So, normally, that's how long it takes.

O'BRIEN: But we know that they moved Whitney Houston to the top of the list and she's getting this toxicology test done. So why doesn't it take two and a half days?

TACOPINA: Well, it's going to take shorter than six to eight weeks. It won't take two and a half days because what they don't want to do is miss something. They don't want to be wrong and also they're not going to release the results until they have the complete investigation concluded and that includes finding out what prescription medication she had, she was on, was she using an alias, did she get others to secure others, you know, under an alias ala Michael Jackson.

So they are doing a complete investigation to make sure they don't miss anything. I will point out that the coroner today has said he's ruled out foul play in her death and does not appear that there was any criminal activity. Unlike the Michael Jackson investigation where it appeared there was.

O'BRIEN: From the get-go.

TACOPINA: From the get-go.

O'BRIEN: OK. And part of that is because of the drug that was found with Michael Jackson. The Michael Jackson's death, of course, it was a drug you weren't supposed to have in your house at all. TACOPINA: Right.

O'BRIEN: And in this case we've seen the names of some of the drugs that appeared, at least by reports, to have been in that room and they're kind of -- I know one was an antibiotic, there's Xanax, sort of drugs that are not so hard to come by with a prescription, certainly. So they've subpoenaed the medical records.

TACOPINA: They've subpoenaed the medical records. They've also subpoenaed local pharmacies to determine if there were any prescriptions that Whitney had, you know, filled recently and also they are trying to determine -- because this is a big one with these Hollywood celebrities -- if there are any aliases that were being used by Whitney Houston to secure prescriptions. Michael Jackson had, as we know, dozens of aliases to get prescriptions.

Now there's no indication that she did and according to the coroner, the prescription medications found in the room were not the sort that could kill somebody. So I think right now, and hopefully this is the way it winds up, it's leaning toward an accidental drowning death in her bathtub which would still be tragic but at least, you know, you rule out that another celebrity dying by an overdose of prescription medication.

O'BRIEN: Is everybody - is everybody, you know, cooperating with police at this point that you know?

TACOPINA: Yes, by all accounts. I mean police have actually come out and said the doctors that she, you know, observed and went to and, you know, were given scripts by are cooperating. Pharmacists are cooperating. Her family is cooperating. So this -- and they've said by all accounts, there's no foul play apparently, and to date it doesn't look like there's anything awry with her medications. So hopefully that's how it's going to be.

O'BRIEN: Did you guys read this report in -- I think it was about the bathtub? Did you see this? It was kind of strange. They said, "On the night before she died, the bathtub was overflowing into the room below. The guest in the room went upstairs and found the bathtub faucet was running and the TV in the bathroom was cracked."

Bobbi Kristina was awake and she was -- but not taking a bath. Just an odd sort of a side in all of this.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: There's so many odd things from these reports from people close to Whitney saying she'd a rough couple of days leading up to this. But I'm curious, this -- as you just suggested, if we're reading between the lines, everything coming from somebody official suggested no criminal -- no criminal play, whatever, no foul play. Nothing out of the ordinary regarding a prescription. It seems like reading between the lines, there doesn't seem to be anything controversial involved in this beyond, you know, a young -- relatively young lady dying.

TACOPINA: That's right. But that's why they're reluctant to file (INAUDIBLE) this yet because they can't do this once or twice. There's no do-overs here. They can't come out and say there was no criminal, you know, activity here. This was an accidental drowning death and four days later find out that she had a prescription in the name of Joan Smith, you know, for valium or something like that.

MATT TAIBBI, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, ROLLING STONES: They can't rule out foul play until they get the toxicology report back because who knows what she was actually on. Maybe there was something that wasn't at the scene that wasn't in her body.

TACOPINA: Yes. In fact, in fact, and that's why they need -- and these toxicology reports are very detailed. It's not like, go take your blood, and two days later you have the results back. I have been involved in this as a prosecutor's defense lawyer, the labs are very thorough, and they also be sent out and they're going to be looked at by every supervisor that's ever worked in one of those crime labs.

O'BRIEN: That'll be such a horrible thing for family members, right, because really as they're trying to mourn the death of a family member, everyone was like, well, when do the tox, you know, results come out and how do we find out exactly what's in her blood stream.

TACOPINA: Yes. Because she's 48. She's not supposed to die at 48 years old. An otherwise healthy individual who, you know, had fallen some hard times and had some problems in the past. So you have to start there.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Yes. OK. Thanks, appreciate the update.


O'BRIEN: We know you zipped in from home.

TACOPINA: No, no problem.


O'BRIEN: We appreciate it. He's, like, no problem, I'll kill you later about that.

TACOPINA: It's all right.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, there's a new Medicare rescue plan for seniors. We're going to talk to the authors of that plan straight ahead this morning.

And then letters to prison from grade-schoolers. A teacher gives her kids kind of a strange assignment. Their parents not so happy.

You're watching STARTING POINT. We'll update you on that straight ahead.


O'BRIEN: That's Will Cain's playlist. Willie Nelson, "Rescue River." I want that song.

CAIN: So do I.

O'BRIEN: I know you do. I know you do.

All right, time to get real this morning. Let's take you to suburban Detroit where you might have to really, really, really slow down just so you can read some of the traffic signs that they have there.

Take a look at this one. This is not Photoshop, by the way. We did not make this up. Above the times there is a 25-mile-per-hour speed limit. These are the times when the drivers need to slow down from 45 miles per hour to 25 miles an hour over a one-mile stretch. It's not just near one school in White Lake Township. Three are three different schools within that mile.

OK. So here's how it works out. Schooldays drivers need to slow down to 25 miles per hour between 6: 49 and 7:15, then again from 7:52 to 8:22. Again from 8:37 to 9:07. And that's just the morning. Then there's an afternoon shift. You have to slow down between 2:03 and 2:33. 3:04 -- I mean, it's completely, look at that, that's insane.

Here's the school explaining why they thought this was a good idea.


KIM ROOT, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS, HURON VALLEY SCHOOLS: The law states that you have to do it in a certain window for the starting times and the ending times. You can't just chunk it off and make it a big block of time.


O'BRIEN: But of course drivers are completely -- can you imagine? Like is it 2:17? It's very distressing.


TAIBBI: Can't they just make the whole thing 25?

O'BRIEN: That's right.

LEE: Right. Exactly.

O'BRIEN: Because that would be easier. Some people would want an electric flashing sign which actually would do that, too, right? You could sort of say now, you know, time to -- now it's 3:07. So that 40 drops down to 25 miles an hour. Yes, and I think that if it's overly complicated you need to revisit the issue.

LEE: Absolutely.



CAIN: Everybody's watch is synchronized, we're going to have a seven-minute window, we're going to slow down to 25 miles an hour.


O'BRIEN: It's so crazy. It's so crazy.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we're going to talk to the lawmakers behind this new GOP Medicare plan. Higher premiums for wealthier retirees is just part of it.

Also, this story. A teacher has her fifth graders send cards to her boyfriend in prison. And some of those letters because the whole thing is ridiculous, included the kids' home addresses.

TAIBBI: It's very sweet.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Yes.

TAIBBI: A sweet, sweet story.

O'BRIEN: It's a sweet valentine --

LEE: No, it's not.


O'BRIEN: I like that. That is a good song to start your morning. That is off of Senator Richard's playlist.

Let's get right to some headlines. Christine has those for us. Good morning.

ROMANS: Good morning, Soledad.

The United States is in the middle of secret talks with Afghanistan officials in Kabul. Afghan President Harmid Karzai said talks could lead to full pledge peace negotiations, but U.S. officials say discussions are only preliminary at this point and the Taliban has stated it would not negotiate directly with Karzai.

Teams are now working to identify the charred bodies of more than 300 people killed in a prison fire in Honduras. Investigators believe a short circuit or a mattress fire may have sparked the deadly blaze. Those people all trapped.

The defense makes its case in the University of Virginia lacrosse murder trial. Lawyers for defendant George Huguely say his ex-girlfriend, Yeardley Love, had at least seven drinks. Her blood alcohol was 0.18 she likely suffocated from burying her mouth and nose in her pillow.

The medical expert blamed CPR for her bleeding and the prosecution and the problems that neuropathologists found in her brain do not explain why Love would be in the position, you know, face down on a pillow. Huguely faces murder charges in her death.

Eighteen students at Texas Christian University including four football players have been arrested for selling drugs. Police say the students sold various drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy, weed, acid and prescriptions. The bust is the result of a six-month undercover investigation.

All right, your "A.M. House Call." A new study shows a link between sleep and Alzheimer's disease. The research looked at the sleep patterns of 100 patients and found those who sleep soundly through the night develop fewer risk factors associated with Alzheimer's. Those who tossed and turned at night showed greater risk, but the study did not determine a clear cause/effect relationships.

A newly released police video of country singer, Randy Travis' arrest for public intoxication. He was nabbed at the parking lot of a church and hauled off to jail last month. Travis apologized that he partied too hard during the Super Bowl and got into an argument with his girlfriend.

A New York City teacher facing dismissal for allegedly sending holiday cards from her fifth grade class to a prison inmate once charged with child pornography, by the way.

Investigators say the inmate is actually the teacher's boyfriend. He was charged with child porn back in 2008 and ended up pleading to a higher charge of attempted weapons possession. I don't know why.

The teacher allegedly told students they were writing to people without families. Some of the kids had their names and addresses on those cards. Child porn. Nice.

O'BRIEN: Yes, you know, I was telling that story and I left that important detail out. That's just craziness, really.

ROMANS: Really bad judgment all around.

O'BRIEN: Understatement of the morning. Christine, thanks.

Let's talk a little bit Linsanity because I love talking about Jeremy Lin. Back on his home court last night really getting a hero's welcome. It's so nice to see the New York Knicks beat the Sacramento Kings 100-85.

Lin had only 10 points, but he did have a career high 13 assists and the man who seems to have come really out of nowhere is now just an old blown super star.

Bryan Chu knew him, knew Lin before all this. He followed him in high school and he followed him through college when he went to Harvard. And Brian is now a columnist for the and joins us this morning from Bloomington, Indiana.

It's nice to have you with you with us this morning. Thanks for being with us. Everybody says and we just said it, as well, he came out of nowhere. But I guess, you would disagree because you followed him for a long time. Give us a little sense of Jeremy Lin's background.

BRYAN CHU, COLUMNIST, BLEACHERREPORT.COM: Yes, he had a lot of success when he was playing with Palo Alto High School. He was named Division II state player of the year, Northern California Division II player of the year.

Won a lot of awards in that sense and when he played at Harvard, although he didn't get any Division I scholarships, he was able to helped his team to a 21-8 record in his senior year.

You know, he had this sense of tenacity and he was able to really go about following his dream and he would do anything to get to that point.

Even asked me if I wanted to play basketball with him and get a run in. Any type of experience he could get, he was going to go all out for it.

O'BRIEN: What do you feel about not getting any Division I offers? And did he believe it was correlated to the fact that he was Asian and that was a sense that, you know, Asians aren't going to be the greatest basketball players?

CHU: I was surprised about the whole thing about not getting Division I scholarship and I had asked him that point blank saying I listed all off his accolades and I said, Jeremy, what do you think about not getting a Division I scholarship.

He told me he kind of chuckled and said, what do you think? I said, does race have to do with it? He said, I can't think of anything else. It's been pretty mind boggling and, you know, I guess, he's proving everyone wrong now.

O'BRIEN: So, when you guys would swap stories and I read some of the articles that you have written about him over the years about race and racism and he told you some really unpleasant things that have happened to him over the years. What did he tell you?

CHU: Yes, he told me in 2008 that when he was on the road just playing for Harvard that he would hear a lot of things such as Chinese import, Yao Ming, open your eyes. The orchestra's on the other end of the building.

And when he was telling me these things they resonated a lot with me and I saw similar things as journalist and even in my personal life instances at the supermarket having people actually hit my cart when I'm pushing it along the aisle and people saying not great things about me being allowed to be in the same aisle as them.

So when I was telling him stories like that, he totally connected with me and to see him being able to have that inner strength, to still block all of it out and still go about his business and still pursue his dream.

And doing whatever it takes and not giving up, it's an inspiration not only to the basketball community, but also to the Asian community in general.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Brian, Will Cain. Jeremy has been released by two teams already this season already, the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets and he was supposedly days from a guaranteed portion of his contract with the Knicks.

Where though he was basically threatened to being released by the Knicks, did he think he was going to stick around with this team? The answer now, yes. Did he think he was going to at the time?

CHU: You never know when it comes to this league and a lot of it has to do with the money aspect of it so, it was just sort of the perfect storm for him. A lot of injuries hit in the point guard position.

They had a lot of point guards and all of them were injured and Stoudemire came out and were injured as well. And Stoudemire had personal issues and it was the perfect storm and it just so happened that under D'antoni's system he was able to flourish.

Steve Nash has been able to do it and now you see Jeremy Lin doing this and now he's had back-to-back double, doubles. He's led this team to seven straight victories and 15-15. At one point they lost 11 of 13 games and it's been a crazy ride, that's for sure.

O'BRIEN: Go, Knicks, yes. Brian, it's too nice to have you joining us this morning. I think a better question would be, how much do those teams regret on cutting him?

CHU: A lot.

O'BRIEN: A lot, yes, I would agree. Brian, thanks for being with us. We appreciate it.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we're going to talk to the lawmakers who are behind this new GOP Medicare plan. It means higher premiums for wealthier retirees and much more than that. We'll dig into that straight ahead.

Plus, CNN is live inside of Syria as there is a new drive to try to crush the opposition. We'll bring you pictures from there straight ahead, as well.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everybody. Reforming Medicare is sometimes considered to be like a third rail in politics because 80 percent of Americans say they wouldn't cut Medicare at all in order to lower the federal budget.

There is a new plan to secure the system today and it's coming from Republican Senators Richard Burr and Tom Coburn. The Seniors Choice Act is what it's called, and it would do this: it would allow for a private plan that would compete with Medicare to be paid for by the government increase the age of eligibility from 65 to 67 and set a new cap on out of pocket expenses and include means testing, meaning that wealthier recipients would have to pay more.

Joining us this morning the authors of that plan, Republican Senator Richard Burr from North Carolina and Republican Senator Tom Coburn from the state of Oklahoma. Coburn is also a doctor, I might add.

It's nice to see you, gentlemen. Thanks for being with us. And you heard me say sometimes this is described as a third rail of politics because no voter, not one, really wants this messed with. Why did you think this had to be done?

SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Well, Soledad, everybody in Washington sits idly by as the actuary from CMS and the Congressional Budget Office tell us about the insolvency of part a Medicare sometime between 2016 and 2022.

Tom and I felt as a member of Congress we had a moral obligation to our parents and to our children to make sure that we saved Medicare and that we put it on the financial footing that we would expect to hand over to them.

And as we did that, to create choices where seniors could choose how they navigate health care, which is very difficult and very expensive. What we've done is we put together a tremendous blue print that will seek the input of seniors, stakeholders, insurance companies and government officials for the next several months.

O'BRIEN: Let's walk through that blue print because the focus is on how you get prices to come down, right? That really at the end of the day is what you got to do.

So there are two theories, if the government is sort of in charge of the medical care and they could be the 600-pound gorilla and they can drive prices down just because they short of the 800-pound gorilla.

The other side of that would say you shift to private coverage and that allows competition and competition in and of itself brings prices down. What do you focus in on this?

SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: Well, the one question that's not getting asked in our country today is what does it cost? And why does health care cost so much? Why is one out of every $3 spent on health care, not just in Medicare, but in your own private health care not helping anybody get well and not preventing anybody from getting sick? Why is that? The reason that we're there is because we all of us think somebody else is paying the bill.

One of the ways to have better scrutiny on and also better outcome and better values is to reconnect payment and purchase to a point where we can actually save Medicare and improve the outcome. That's what we're trying to do. We're trying to allow market force with both traditional fee-for-service -- you can be in either one of those you want. You can go out and buy what you want or stay right where you are, but have them competing against each other and have some connection to what something costs with something used. That's why we limit the availability of zero first dollar, zero dollar coverage as far as the supplemental policy.

O'BRIEN: But in private insurance, if I am very sick, I cost more. My premiums are higher than someone who is perfectly healthy. Don't you run the risk that people believe out of the government-paid portion of Medicare, meaning you leave behind the people who are sicker because the people who are healthier can opt into something that can cost less, or people who have high premiums, because they're sick, they'll stay with what they have and that and in itself will cost more?

BURR: Well, Soledad, it costs the same whether the American taxpayer pays for it or it's paid for out of the Medicare Trust or it's paid for out of the private insurance plan. What we tried to do is exactly what we did when we created Part D Medicare, the prescription drug plan. We instituted competitive bidding.

But unlike any proposal that happened in Washington on Medicare, we said we want to keep fee-for-service, but we want it to compete with private coverage. And through that competitive bidding process, what we're going to see is a more efficient and transparent fee-for- Service traditional Medicare. And we think we're going to see what we saw in Part D, which is new innovative types of coverage. At the end of this process, what we've got to do in policy is try to help the American people make smart health care decisions. We've have to keep people well longer and get them well faster and keep them out of the hospital and we've got to really focus on how we maintain chronic disease, not just with seniors, but all Americans. If we could accomplish that --


O'BRIEN: How does that differ? Explain something to me. How does that differ from Medicare Advantage? When they break down the numbers on that, it's actually something like 11 percent more expensive.

BURR: Well, it is. But Medicare Advantage was designed that way from the beginning because many members of Congress in rural areas felt they wouldn't have Medicare Advantage unless they overpaid for the premium. So we have to change that. But more importantly, we can get private-sector competition and then let seniors choose. I think transparency and choice are absolutely essential in whatever the final product looks like.

O'BRIEN: How likely is this going to actually move forward? I started with the polls that say 80 percent of the people don't want you to touch it and we're in an election year.

COBURN: I think that's the real -- you know, that's the problem with Congress and leadership in Washington today. We're going to do what seems to be politically safe rather than fix the real problems. Is it important for us to ensure that there is solid health care for seniors in the future? And is it important that our kids have a future by not consuming their future through that program? And I think the fact that people are willing to stand up and talk about it is exactly what the American people want.

There's a big lie going on and the big lie is this, Soledad, is Medicare's just fine. It's not. And in less than four years, maybe five, the trust fund that pays all the hospital bills is going to be out of money. And the time to fix that is now, not when the house is on fire. You put a smoke alarm in before and now is the time to do it. And we can do it in a way that assures better care, lower costs and more choice. Why would we not want to do that?


COBURN: But why? Because it's difficult for the politicians to get re-elected?


I think that's the last thing people in this country care about.

O'BRIEN: Yes, you know, sometimes the elected officials care a lot about it.

Senator Tom Coburn joining us --

COBURN: But that's what's wrong with it. That's what's wrong with the system.

O'BRIEN: -- and also Senator Richard Burr.

Believe me, sir, that is a topic for another day. And I would agree with you on that.

I appreciate your time, gentlemen. Thanks for being with us.

BURR: Thanks, Soledad.

COBURN: See you.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead on STARTING POINT, CNN is live inside of Syria. Cities overwhelmed with the number of dead. Coverage you're not going to see anywhere else but here. Please stay with us for the story.

Also, one of the last people to work with Whitney Houston. Bishop T.D. Jakes is going to joins us to remember her

You're watching STARTING POINT. Got a short break. We're back in a moment.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: It's 53 minutes after the hour. A couple quick headlines for you. An Amnesty International report says some of the Libyan militias that helped topple former dictator, Moammar Gadhafi, are now, quote, "out of control," engaging in torture and abuse of prisoners. Libya's ambassador to the U.N. says he's working to stop it.

More than six years after Hurricane Katrina the last of the FEMA trailers has now left New Orleans. At one point, more than 23,000 FEMA-issued trailers and mobile homes were being used there -- Soledad?

O'BRIEN: All right, let's get to breaking news which is coming to us out of Syria. The Syrian government forces are continuing their assault on the opposition. Human rights groups say that at least 10 army defectors have been killed during bombing in Hamma (ph) Province.

Ivan Watson is in (INAUDIBLE) where he says entire communities are in open revolt.

Ivan, walk us through what exactly is happening there now.

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think what's astounding is that in the 11 months since this uprising began, the Syrian government has lost control of its own territory, Soledad. The opposition in the province of Idlib (ph), for example, are claiming that most of the countryside, most of the villages and towns are firmly in their hands, aside from the city centers of some of the largest population centers here.

So basically, it is the countryside in revolt. And we have not seen signs of the Syrian military in many of the villages and towns we've traveled through. In fact, no presence of Syrian military checkpoints whatsoever. Instead, what we've gotten is an informal tour led by the Syrian opposition of a number of different villages where you're ushered in to this town council -- village council rooms where the leaders of these communities are sitting, chain smoking, next to Kalashnikov assault rifles that they and their sons and brothers are now armed with.

These are light weapons that they appear to have gotten within the last couple of months. This is an armed revolt, what started out 11 months as a peaceful protest movement calling for more democratic rights in this country.

O'BRIEN: Ivan Watson for us this morning coming to us from the north part of Syria. Thanks, Ivan, for that update. Those pictures, pretty incredible.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT, a warning parents need to hear. Arsenic found in some baby formula and cereal bars. We'll update you on what's happening there.

Plus, the man who produced Whitney Houston's final performance. Bishop T.D. Jakes is going to join us.

And we leave you with Penny Lee's playlist.

Adele. I love Adele. "Rumour Has It."