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Stars To Sing At Whitney's Funeral; NYT Reporter Anthony Shadid Dies; Dow Near Four-Year High; Lin Looks To Make It Eight In A Row; Fashion Week 2012: It's A Wrap; Interview with Fawzia Koofi, Afghan Parliament Speaker; Houston's Funeral Plans; "I'll be the Frontrunner Again"; Barge Colliding In A Boat In The Mississippi River; Game Changer In Understanding Autism

Aired February 17, 2012 - 06:00   ET



ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Very good morning to you. It is Friday. This is "EARLY START." I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We bring you the news from A to Z. It's 6:00 a.m. in the east. Let's get started here for you.

There will be many stars that will sing at Whitney Houston's funeral. We have a list of the star-studded event what it's turning out to be. The final funeral plans have been set and we also have new information on her relationship with Bobby Brown.

We're going to talk to the entertainment director for "Essence" magazine. She spent time with Whitney in November and then again just recently. We're going to see if she saw that significant change that everyone was talking about.

BANFIELD: Also, a celebrated "New York Times" reporter who tirelessly covered the Middle East for two decades has died in Syria. Not from a bullet or blast, but from a severe asthma attack.

SAMBOLIN: And going green. The Dow near a four-year high. The Nasdaq with the highest close at millennium with a week end on an even higher note.

BANFIELD: I wish we could look into a crystal ball and tell you.


BANFIELD: And also scientists saying perhaps, perhaps a breakthrough when it comes to detecting autism earlier. Could this lead to opportunities to intervene before the disorder makes a full mark?

SAMBOLIN: That would be fantastic.

BANFIELD: It would be

SAMBOLIN: It's 2 minutes past the hour here. The stars will sing at Whitney Houston's funeral. The final plans are finally in place for her funeral, which will happen tomorrow at her childhood church in Newark, New Jersey.

BANFIELD: There are so many celebrities who've been invited. A number of them are set to perform at the service. We know that Kevin Costner, her co-star from "Bodyguard" is scheduled to speak at the service.

Alicia keys will perform along with Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin, who may you remember is Whitney Houston's godmother, and Whitney's ex-husband, Bobby Brown is set to be there as well, also scheduled to perform later on in the day.

Bobby Brown says he will join his band New Edition as it is therapeutic for him. Our Susan Candiotti is live in Newark. The police in that area have been planning this.

Trying to figure out for days how they're going to facility what they assume is thousands and thousands of people coming to that church to pay tribute. It's not going to be so easy if that's what people are planning, is it, Susan?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And it's a huge job and already overnight, Ashleigh, police have been setting up barricades, starting to block off streets in the vicinity.

They have said time and again that the closest any member of the public will be able to get to this church once the funeral begins is at least two blocks away from here.

And so this might turn out to be the last day, the last full day that fans were able to come by and leave behind flowers and balloons and mementos in memory of Whitney Houston.

Because of all of that planning, police they say also had a lot to worry about, not only for the family's privacy, but also worrying about all of these high-profile invited guests, some 1,500 of them that will be attending. Listen.


SAMUEL DEMAIO, NEWARK POLICE DIRECTOR: There really are no concerns being expressed by any of attendees or safety concerns. Just the fact that they were concern some of them do have security details and would they be allowed inside the church as well and our executive protection people are working together to facilitate that.


CANDIOTTI: Privacy, of course, is also concern over at the funeral home that's not far from here. In the front window, there's a large photograph now of Whitney Houston.

Police have also set up security tape around the building, as well as put up white drapes, the funeral home put up white drapes around some of the entrances, again, presumably for privacy reasons. Now we know that the burial will also be private. The funeral home and the family has not said where Whitney Houston will be buried, but the death certificate states that it will be the same cemetery where her father was laid to rest -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Well, Susan, sort of wondering if the police have plans to be there as well because that certainly is what happens out of the bag. Susan Candiotti live for us this morning. Thank you for that.

Also we want to remind our viewers that CNN is going to be airing special coverage of Whitney Houston's funeral. It will hosted by Soledad O'Brien, Piers Morgan, and Don Lemon. Our cover begins Saturday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time.

SAMBOLIN: And courageous Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Anthony Shadid has died in Syria. Apparently, he suffered a fatal asthma attack. One of his colleagues carried his body across the border to Turkey.

Shadid risked his life to report important stories around the globe. He was shot in the west bank back in 2002. He was kidnapped for six days in Libya. This was just last year.

Shadid spoke to CNN's Anderson Cooper right after he was released. He said he was sure that his captors would kill him.


ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, CNN'S "360": I want to read something that you wrote about that moment. You said, at that moment though none of us thought we were going to live.

Steve tried to keep eye contact until they pulled the trigger. The rest of us felt powerlessness of resignation. You feel empty when you know that it's almost over. Explain that. What do you mean?

ANTHONY SHADID, PULITZER PRIZE WINNING JOURNALIST: You know, I don't know how my colleagues felt, but I remember it wasn't panic necessarily. It wasn't that desperation of flailing about, you were about to be killed.

It was almost that, you know, it's hard to describe other than calling it a resignation or emptiness that, you know, the moment is drawing near and you're kind of waiting for it.


SAMBOLIN: My goodness. Yet he still traveled into dangerous areas into to tell the story. Shadid was in Syria reporting on the military resistance. He won two Pulitzer prizes for his coverage in Iraq.

BANFIELD: We are minding your business this morning and what a good way to do it with a closing bell that signalled all good things. The Dow hit its highest level in nearly four years. Yes, that's a reason to applaud. It's nearing the 13,000 mark, too, folks.

SAMBOLIN: So Christine Romans is here, an economic comeback? I know you were saying earlier, if you're just hearing this now --


SAMBOLIN: -- too late.

ROMANS: What the stock market is telling us, ladies, the stock market is telling us that the jobless rate has been falling. And it's been telling us that little piece of signs of economic news than stabilizing it's getting better, except for housing.

Overall, it's telling you that things aren't as dire and thing are getting better, and that's what you're seeing in the stock market. My advice to people who are like, wow, the Dow is 13,000, what do I need to do today?

You need to always make sure you that have your risks, you know, your stocks and bonds and cash should be based on your risk. I'll tweet you again, ladies, the risk quiz that you could take to find out how many stocks you have in your portfolio, OK?

You should also always make sure that you're rebalancing every year. So that you're not just getting what at top and then selling what's low because you're not making any money.

BANFIELD: Do you change that risk quiz?

ROMANS: No, your risk is always the same. Your stocks go up and down, but your risks are always the same.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you very much.

BANFIELD: You know that phenomenon, Jeremy Lin and the New York Knicks? They're going for eight in a row at Madison Square Garden and this one could get interesting. They're playing the Hornets.

But here's what's really critical. That superstar on the Knicks, Carmelo Anthony is expected to rejoin the team. So a lot of fans are wondering in the big apple if these superstars are going to gel on the court.

SAMBOLIN: They will. They will.

BANFIELD: That's what Zoraida says.

SAMBOLIN: That's my prediction, watch.

All right, it's eight minutes past the hour. Still ahead, a plane packed with pot in the wrong airspace. Is there ever a right airspace for that?

BANFIELD: Probably not. Exactly, but you probably wouldn't make it on the news if you didn't cross.

SAMBOLIN: It depends on how much you're carrying.

BANFIELD: Also, some interesting medical news out. It has to do with the detection of autism. Are we getting better at figuring this stuff out earlier and will it make a difference for the kids who are affected?

SAMBOLIN: It is a wrap on Fashion Week 2012. Alina Cho takes us beyond the catwalk. You're talking to an icon and a supermodel.

BANFIELD: And our own in-house supermodel is Rob Marciano who joins us. I couldn't help it. I couldn't help it.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I can step out on the catwalk in heels like nobody's business.

BANFIELD: On camera.

MARCIANO: Good morning, guys. Listen, the storm exiting the northeast and another one brewing down south. We've got a mild temperature so that will keep the snow to a minimum and mostly up north. Temps in the 50s and 40s. Well above average across the northeast.

This storm though rolling across Texas. Radar will fill in today. Flood watch for southeast Texas, including Houston and also New Orleans. And this will get into areas actually could use the rain pretty badly.

So we'll take that with it, the threat of severe weather across parts of the panhandle of Florida as we go through time as this taps moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. Will it lead to snow across parts of the northeast?

Maybe a little sliver across parts of Virginia maybe into the beltway as well on Sunday, but that should be it as it heads off towards the east. Quick check on weather. It's 10 minutes after the hour. EARLY START is coming right back.


BANFIELD: Timberlake, we gotcha.

SAMBOLIN: The one song I know.

BANFIELD: Justin Timberlake. There's a reason for playing Justin Timberlake this morning. Alina Cho has covered all sexy backs.


BANFIELD: Fashion week.

SAMBOLIN: I don't know what to make of that.

BANFIELD: I kind of botched that, I think.

SAMBOLIN: You're wrapping up fashion week for us. ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It's been a very grueling -- I know you don't believe me, it's been a very grueling long week. Lots of long hours, but, yes, I am wrapping up Fashion Week. It all culminates into a special coming up next Saturday.

But you know, one of the highlights was speaking to Donna Karan. I have known her for years, but this is actually the first time we've actually sat down and talked in-depth about her business.

We also spent a lot of time talking about her work in Haiti. It's really her passion. In fact, she goes back about once a month. She's heading there again today. Just a couple of days after showing her latest collection.

She also shared with me, listen to this, guys, some of her secrets of the trade. How about this? A dress she designed that shows off the one part of the body that she says never gains weight. That would be the shoulder.

So she made something called the cold shoulder dress. We want to look at it. Hillary Clinton actually, there you see her. She wore it to her first state dinner as first lady.


DONNA KARAN, DESIGNER: Women never gain weight on their shoulders. I guarantee you, no matter what you do. Your shoulder will always remain.


CHO: It is true if you think about it. You know, this also surprised me. It's one of the most memorable moments of the interview. She told me what her favorite item of clothing is. And guess what it is. A scarf.

She says it keeps you warm, she never leaves home without it, keeps you warm, doubles as a blanket, hides a multitude of sins.


CHO: In fact, she calls this scarf her very best friend.

BANFIELD: That is actually very, very clever. I always take them on the airplane for sure.

CHO: That's right. Me, too.

BANFIELD: They're pretty, too.

SAMBOLIN: What's a fashion week without a supermodel, right?

CHO: That's right. We followed one of the biggest. In fashion, she's known as just Joan. She's reached that one name status.

Joan Smalls is arguably the hottest on the catwalk right now. As you can see, it's pretty easy to say why.

She was born in Puerto Rico. She's the first Latin face of Estee Lauder. She's also a new face of Chanel.

She was photograph by Karl Lagerfeld himself. She's had -- there's the ad there, the Chanel. Just absolutely gorgeous. But really bubbly. Great personality.

She's had a meteoric rise. And this week, we caught up with her in between runway shows and fittings.

Joan also addressed something everyone wonders about why don't models ever smile on the runway.


JOAN SMALLS, MODEL: It's a different character. You pick up a different persona once you hit the runway. You know, you can't be that friendly bubbly because I have to keep people interested.

CHO: You've got to sell it.

SMALLS: Yes, you've got to sell it and you have to show them a different side.


CHO: She really does get into character. And Derek Lam, the designer, said she's like a seasoned actress on the catwalk.

Now, keep in mind she did 18 shows in New York, countless fittings. But New York is just the start. She's going to skip London this year but next is Milan. And then after that she goes to Paris, does it all over again. She'll continue this crazy schedule for another month. It's pretty wild.

You know, we also talked to red carpet staple Marchesa. I got a peek at those fabulous celebrity gowns that were worn on the red carpet. I spoke with Georgina Chapman.

They're just gorgeous. Got a peek at those gowns, sat front row at Tory Burch, with the editors of "People Style Watch."

We got a look at the runway. And they told me how to make eight little more real way for their reader. And that includes using celebrities in their magazines. And the celebrities really are their models because people relate to them.

SAMBOLIN: They identify.

CHO: They get them -- they don't do that red carpet look, they get them while they're getting a cup of coffee because they're wearing clothes that their reader can actually buy.

BANFIELD: You really are my celebrity fashion icon. And Alina walked up and I said, "Wow, you should have worn that for on Valentine's Day." How much did you spend on that?

CHO: Well, you know, I hate to disclose. But I am wearing J. Crew. You were surprised.

BANFIELD: I was, because you always wear something high fashion. J. Crew.

CHO: Anyway, thank you very much. You know, I just want to remind all of you and thank you so much for playing all of my pieces this week. You know, my special is this weekend. It is at 2:30 next Saturday, the 25th right here on CNN. So I look forward to having you guys TiVo.

BANFIELD: That will be fine. That's so much, Alina.

And we got a whole more coming up in a moment. Back after this.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. Twenty-one minutes past the hour.

Here are the Afghan government says it's engaging in three-way peace talks with the Taliban and the United States. The Taliban denies that.

BANFIELD: Taliban is actually wreaking havoc on Afghanistan's fragile democracy. Our next guest warns, it is much too soon to bring the Taliban back into the fold?

Joining us now live is Fawzia Koofi, who is Afghanistan's first female parliamentary speaker. She is also running for president in 2014.

Ms. Koofi, thanks so much for being with us.

I am thrilled to be able to speak with you because I spent a whole lot of time in your country. And when I learned your story, my first inclination was, A, how on earth is she a parliament speaker and, B, how on earth does she think she has a chance to become president of a country who is still in the dark ages when it comes to women?

FAWZIA KOOFI, SPEAKER, AFGHAN PARLIAMENT: Well, thank you for having me.

You're right. It's very challenging for women to live in Afghanistan, as a woman. But yet to be a politician, it's even more challenging. And a politician to speak her mind, to be able to face challenges every day, it's not easy.

The thing here is that Afghanistan has come a long way since 2001. There was fear we would lose the gains that we have had when it comes to women's rights, when it comes to democracy, freedom of speech. Those values that we have, our international friends have invested blood and treasure. There were fears we would lose those values.

People who believe in democracy and who believe in a better Afghanistan and who believe in an Afghanistan that could be reliable partner for its citizens and for our partners need to come forward. I know it's challenging.

BANFIELD: Challenging.

KOOFI: I know to the world, it's almost --

BANFIELD: Challenging is an understatement, Ms. Koofi.

I want to read for our viewers one of the things you actually talked about the fact that you are critical of the Karzai government. You are critical of the Taliban. And to that end, you have said this: "One day, the Taliban will probably succeed in killing me. I am resigned to this fate."

You're a single mother of two daughters. It sort of resonates with me, with the number of female leaders that we have seen assassinated. One of the more recent ones, Benazir Bhutto.

This is something truly you feel that is worth it to you in your personal life?

KOOFI: I think we all agree that we will die one day. Now, the worst -- the best thing is to die when you have something behind, when you pave the way for others.

Afghanistan needs leaders who can represent Afghanistan properly, not only for the citizens but for our own family. I need to have a better future for my daughters and for other women and girls in Afghanistan.

So, for that I need to move forward. I have decided there's two options one can make. One is to step back and to relax and enjoy the life. And the second one is to move forward, to face the challenges -- that challenge include your physical life at risk.


KOOFI: And it happened to me in times. I was under many threats and attack by Taliban. But I have accepted to make a small contribution not only for myself but for my daughters and other women and girls in Afghanistan because the country needs people like us.

BANFIELD: To that end, when I was in Afghanistan I bought a burqa in one of the back street markets, just because I was so fascinated with the notion that almost every woman, at least at the time I was there, was wearing these in the streets. I've got it draped over our camera so that our viewers can see what the view is for women in Afghanistan who wear burqa.

So, this is you looking at me. And this is the view through the actual burqa. That is how I know -- Ms. Koofi, you can't see that image but the viewers can see -- the life for an Afghan woman is virtually a shadow. It just seems so difficult to come to grips with the idea that women are still draped in your country and can't even cross the street without fear of being hit by cars because the pedestrian fatalities are so high due to the burqa.

How do you think that you can attack problems like trying to reconcile the Taliban, the Karzai administration, the corruption, with just the simplicity of half of your population can barely see?

KOOFI: OK. There is two things we need to differentiate. One is the talks of President Karzai and some of the American officials with Taliban, and trying to reconcile them.

I think the question here is from Afghan population, many times this question is raised, especially among the women activists and human rights activists. Who are we talking to? What is the group of Taliban that we are talking to? Because they seem to be so divided in the leadership. And what are those issues we would like to compromise.

Now, women issue might be one of those that the government of Afghanistan may compromise when it comes to talks with Taliban because Taliban have their own definition of Islamic rights of woman, and somebody who lived under Taliban I know what that means.

But the other thing is the government. I think bad governance or lack of good governance is one of the problems that also fuel insurgency. We need to -- the government of Afghanistan, President Karzai, needs to focus on the basic commitment in terms of delivering rule of law, good governance to the people, instead of focusing on bigger issues like talks with Taliban --

BANFIELD: Well, I will be --

KOOFI: -- which we don't achieve anything at the end.

BANFIELD: I will be fascinated to see how you navigate through what will be a very difficult landscape, I'm sure. It's a joy to be able to speak with you.

I just want to show viewers this is the burqa we were showing. This came from, like I said, my journey in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Ms. Koofi, thanks for being with us. We appreciate your perspective and look forward to following your progress as well. And I wish you safe travels as well.


SAMBOLIN: Twenty-six minutes past the hour. Up next: a story still developing at this hour, a shootout in a federal building. An ICE agent has been killed. Another one sitting injured in a hospital.

BANFIELD: And also, new information on Whitney Houston's final days. Was she trying to reconcile with her ex-husband for the sake of their daughter? We've got the entertainment director for "Essence" magazine joining us.

You're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: It is 30 minutes past the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START.

I'm Ashleigh Banfield, along with Zoraida Sambolin.

And it's time to check your top stories this morning.

Nonstop shelling in Syria. The government forces are besieging the city of Homs. Look at the images.

United Nations General Assembly probably having viewed many of these has decided to pass the resolution condemning President Bashar al-Assad for this violence.

"New York Times" reporter Anthony Shadid has died of 43 in Syria. And that happened in Syria. It was not combat-related. He suffered a fatal asthma attack while reporting on the military resistance in that country.

And a dispute between two U.S. immigration agents erupted into a deadly shootout in California. The FBI says one of the agents shot a co-worker during a confrontation. The co-worker is now in the hospital 1/3 agent pulled a gun, intervened and gunned down the original agent who was is the shooter. And that shooter is now dead.

SAMBOLIN: An Air Force fighter jets stopped a private plane after it flew into airspace reserved for the president's Marine One helicopter. It was flying high with 40 pounds of pot.

And financial trouble forcing Air Australia to ground its entire fleet of planes. So that stranding thousands of passengers at airports around the world. The airline says it was unable to cover operational expenses and forced to go into administration. Apparently, they couldn't pay for their fuel.

And a penthouse apartment on New York Central Park West is now the city's most expensive apartment ever. It sold this week for $88 million. It was bought by the family of a Russian billionaire for a 22-year-old.

BANFIELD: Yes, for his daughter. Isn't that nice? My, oh, my.

SAMBOLIN: Must be.

BANFIELD: Must be nice.

Other news for you this morning, Whitney Houston's funeral in Newark, New Jersey, set for tomorrow is really looking to be a star- studded affair. We've been learning about some of guests who are going to be included. Tyler Perry, Kevin Costner, Clive Davis, Whitney Houston's ex-husband Bobby Brown, as well we're hearing Oprah Winfrey. Some of the performances as well include Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and Alicia Keys.

SAMBOLIN: And also, nearly a week after Houston's passing, a source tells CNN investigators have put a rush now on the toxicology testing and also the medications found in hotel room are undergoing basic testing. That's happening right.

So, let's talk to Cori Murray. She's entertainment director for "Essence" magazine.

Thanks for being with us, Cori.

You interviewed Whitney Houston last year. But I want to start with tomorrow's funeral. A lot of close friends are there, certainly her family. Aretha Franklin, her godmother, Cissy Houston, who we know staged an intervention earlier on with Whitney Houston.

Do you know why none of her friends tried to help her? Or do you know if they did?

CORI MURRAY, ENTERTAINMENT DIRECTOR FOR ESSENCE MAGAZINE: You know, I think the -- so many people around her have tried to help her. We all know about Cissy Houston really having a big push to save her.

But I think what happened is to a lot of internal struggle and, you know, we can place the blame on a lot of different things or a lot of different people. But I think at the end of the day, it was something that Whitney had to fight and overcome herself. And -- but I think it was amazing that the amount of people around her wanted to see her uplifted again to the heights that she once was.

SAMBOLIN: Now, a lot of talk about Bobby Brown. Will he be at the funeral, will he not? We now know that he was invited and indeed he will be attending

What do you think about their relationship in the past couple of years?

MURRAY: Well, you know, they had their divorce in 2006. And we all, you know, saw the Oprah Winfrey interview where she really detailed in great detail, actually, the troubles that they had between their marriage, especially at the end years.

But just as recently as February 1st, they went out together as a family, with Bobbi Kristina to have dinner. So, I think there was an applicable relationship there that they know they had to still parent their one child together.

You know, Bobby has since moved on. You know, he has a fiance now. He even has, you know, a new child.

So, I think it was a matter of them to stay strong for each other for Bobbi Kristina because at the end of the day, she still - you know, she still needs to grow up.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. And do you know anything about that relationship with Bobby and Bobbi Kristina?

MURRAY: No, I do not know.

SAMBOLIN: All right. You interviewed Houston back in November for her movie "Sparkle." That was for your article in "Essence" magazine. You have a quote from Houston's co-star, Jordin Sparks, on what it was like working with Houston. So, I want to put that up for everyone.

"Whitney is very motherly, nurturing and sweet."

Did you set get a sense that at least that point, Whitney was turning her life around?

MURRAY: You know, I really thought that Whitney was on her way back. She looked great. I had seen her a couple of times before at different -- I went to her concert in Tobago. I have seen her numerous times at the Clive Davis party. And each time she looked healthier and just brighter.

And when I sat down with her last November I thought, this is it, this is the Whitney we knew. I mean, she looked like, you know, what I thought a 48-year-old woman should look like. You know, she was full. She was happy. She was content. She was laughing. She was the Whitney Houston that, you know, especially in these last days that I've heard, she was just a fun, loving person.

So, to have this news, I saw her actually last Thursday and there was a drastic difference in how she looked. But last November, I would have never -- I would have never thought that we would be here today talking about her funeral.

SAMBOLIN: And what was that drastic change that you saw?

MURRAY: Well, she was just noticeably thinner. I guess she had just came out of the pool so her hair was wet. She just looked a little disheveled.

And also, she was acting -- she wasn't as poised as she was before. She was a little erratic. I was there during the Monica and Brandy rehearsal.

So, I think we all -- you know, there was a number of journalists there. We all kind of looked at each other like, what was, you know, is that Whitney Houston, is that her? It just a little disheartening to see.

SAMBOLIN: It has been for everyone. Cori Murray, entertainment director for "Essence" magazine -- thank you for joining us.

MURRAY: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: And CNN is airing special coverage of Houston's funeral. It is hosted by our Soledad O'Brien, Piers Morgan and Don Lemon. It is this Saturday, beginning at 11:00 a.m. Eastern.

BANFIELD: And still to come on EARLY START, Rick Santorum surging in Michigan. What, Michigan? Isn't that Mitt Romney's state? You're going to hear about this one.

Also, the other GOP candidates decide not to debate Newt Gingrich in Georgia. What's behind that? Our political panel is going to weigh in.

SAMBOLIN: Game changer in the fight against autism? We're going to talk with the man behind some exciting new research.

You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Good morning, Washington. Forty-one degrees now. Partly cloudy, 54 degrees later.

You're listening to Barenaked Ladies, "Who Needs Sleep?"

BANFIELD: Who needs sleep when you have a campaign to run, right?

SAMBOLIN: Candidates can't afford sleep, right?

BANFIELD: These poor politicians.

SAMBOLIN: This past week, we've been hearing a lot about Rick Santorum and Romney's fight for Michigan. Where is Newt Gingrich?

BANFIELD: Yes. He hasn't been making many headlines, has he?

Well, it turns out he's in California. He's raising money. Not that bad, either, in the millions as we hear.

And yesterday, he was making some pretty bold predictions for his campaign. We've heard them before but you'll like what you're about to hear.

Joining us to talk about this is Joel Sawyer, Republican strategist, Goldie Taylor, independent political analyst and managing editor of the Goldie Taylor Project, and Linda Moore Forbes, who is a Democratic strategist.

The reason I kind of giggled through this, folks, was because it starts with Space Mountain and it goes to -- I will be the front- runner again.

But let me play the actual sound bite from the lips of Newt Gingrich himself. Have a listen.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This thing has a wild rhythm. It resembles riding Space Mountain at Disney. I've been front-runner twice. I suspect I'll be the front-runner again in a few weeks.


BANFIELD: So you do have to see it to believe it. But, yes, Space Mountain and front-runner made it into all of one big sound bite.

So, let's talk about this. Is it possible, guys? Is it absolutely possible that Newt Gingrich could once again be at the top of the leader board?

Joel, start with you.

JOEL SAWYER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, look, it's not probable but it's certainly possible. I mean, he's proved that time and time again. I want to send a memo to his campaign that the word space should not come out of his mouth. I mean, look what happened to him in Florida after that.


BANFIELD: I kind of tend of agree with you because it is just sort of fodder, not only for medians and journalists, but also for his fellow candidates.

Linda, what do you think?

LINDA FORBES, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I agree with Joel. It is possible for Gingrich to rise again.

And one thing I think is funny about this is that for a man who left Congress amid ethics violations and personal scandal, he does not lack for self-esteem. We can always count on Newt Gingrich to think highly of himself.

But I think that yesterday's news that his top money man is ready to bankroll efforts to discredit Santorum and to bring Santorum down, to put Gingrich in a better position, along with Romney's need to get Santorum out of the race, those two things could help Gingrich a lot.

BANFIELD: Yes, I couldn't really figure out if Sheldon Adelson's move was to benefit Newt Gingrich or to benefit Mitt Romney. Maybe a little bit of both as you just suggested.

Goldie, weigh in on the idea that there was a debate scheduled for March 1st, a CNN debate that has now been canceled because two of the candidates, Rick Santorum and Romney, decided not to take part. Yikes, because isn't there something that Newt Gingrich really kind of needs, a debate in the Southern states to get him back into the mojo that he had before?

GOLDIE TAYLOR, GOLDIE TAYLOR PROJECT: Yes, come to refer to Newt Gingrich as the Buzz Lightyear of this GOP primary. He did need another debate, frankly. No matter how much money Sheldon Adelson pumps into the Gingrich's campaign directly or indirectly, he does need another question debate to show Southern voters even that he is still viable.

It looks like the lights are deeming on Newt Gingrich. His path to the nomination is getting more and more narrow by the day. It looks like the only real chance that he could have of being viable again is a brokered convention, unfortunately.

BANFIELD: All right. Well, we'll have to talk about that another time because I want to talk about the states up for grabs. Michigan is becoming quite a story. I mean, this is something that many of us leading into this whole process was just assuming was going to be in Mitt's column.

It turns out, look at the latest "Detroit News" poll. Santorum is leading in Michigan, 34 to 30 over Mitt Romney. And that's a poll, by the way, that isn't any different from many of the other polls that we've seen leading into Michigan.

So, Joel, jump in here. Is this a reality at this point? Do we think that Santorum can really pull off Michigan, even though that is within the margin of error?

SAWYER: Absolutely. And, you know, I think even if he comes close, even if Romney ultimately wins Michigan, if Santorum comes close, I think it's kind of a win for Santorum. I mean, you know, Romney is running as the native son. He won Michigan in 2008.

And I think at this point, you know, just even barely beating Santorum would almost be a loss for him there.

BANFIELD: Not only that, let's not forget, there's a momentum issue, but there's also the fact that these are proportional delegates in Michigan. So, you can actually get some steam even if you don't win in that state.

Jump in on that, Linda. What do you think?

LINDA FORBES, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Let's just point again to the fact that Republicans are just not excited about Mitt Romney. I mean, when we look at his campaign, the two things I think of are uncomfortable and uninspiring. I just think he needs to lift his campaign up to a whole different level.

Right now, he's running a completely negative campaign, just trying to dispense with his opponents and not really giving people anything to be excited about.

BANFIELD: Goldie Taylor, one prediction from you. Who is going to win in Michigan?

GOLDIE TAYLOR, MANAGING EDITOR, THE GOLDIE TAYLOR PROJECT: Actually, I think Romney is going to pull it out by a very slim, slim margin.

BANFIELD: I'm going to have you back and play that sound bite for you.

(LAUGHTER) BANFIELD: Goldie, Joel, and Linda, thank you very much.

TAYLOR: Thank you.

BANFIELD: I want to remind everybody, too, that the GOP candidates will return to the debate stage regardless of what happened in the March 1st debate. There's the Arizona Republican presidential debate on CNN, and it's Wednesday night at eight o'clock eastern time. It's been a long time since we've had a debate. So, we're looking forward to this one.

SAMBOLIN: Forty-five minutes past the hour. Soledad O'Brien joins us now with a look at what is ahead on "Starting Point." Good morning to you.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST, "STARTING POINT": Hey, good morning to you. In just about ten minutes on "Starting Point," we're going to talk about Whitney Houston and the plans for her final resting place. I'll be anchoring that coverage along with Piers Morgan and Don Lemon on Saturday.

But before then, this morning, we're going to talk to the reverend, DeForest Buster Soaries. He was one of the very first people to hear Whitney Houston sing. We're going to ask him about his memories of Whitney.

Also, have you seen the cover of "Vogue" magazine? Yes, that. Adele is on the cover, and she looks a little different, some people are saying. What is different? We'll dig into that this morning on "Starting Point" right at the top of the hour. We'll see you then.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

SAMBOLIN: We have breaking news into the CNN news room. There are reports of a barge colliding with a boat. This is on the Mississippi River, La Place, Louisiana. The Coast Guard received reports that oil was being released. We don't have a lot more details here. However, I can tell you there are no reported injuries. No count on how much oil has been spilled at this time, either.

The Environmental Safety and Health of New Orleans coast guard is on the scene, as well. But again, there are no reported injuries. Oil is leaking, but we don't know how much at this hour. We're going to continue to follow this for you and give you more details. This was reported about two o'clock this morning. So, it's fairly recent. A crane barge, they said, collided with the boat on the Mississippi River.

BANFIELD: And strangely enough, they're saying that there's not a let of restriction in the waterways at this point. So, maybe, the traffic is continuing, but we'll watch for it.

In the meantime, we've got quite a story for you on a medical front. Is it a game changer in understanding autism? SAMBOLIN: That would be fantastic. This is a brand new study from the American Journal of Psychiatry. It examined brain scans of 92 infants. The signs of autism are evidence in children as young as six months, but they take time to unfold. Development researchers say this could lead to opportunities to intervene before the disorder makes its full mark.

And joining us this morning is Dr. Joseph Piven. He was the main researcher here. Thank you so much for getting up early this morning. I just want to put out some stats here. We know that autism now affects 1 in 110 children, 1 in 70 boys, specifically, also.

There's no medical detection or cure for the brain disorder, but you have some brand new research that suggests that there are some changes that are going on very early. Can you share that with us?

JOSEPH PIVEN, MD, AUTISM RESEARCHER: Yes. Thank you. The period of infancy is a time when the brain is rapidly reorganizing. And we see as early as six months of age that the wiring in infants that go on to be classified as autism by two years of age is already different. And we see that those changes really evolve over time so that at six months of age, they are different from what we see at 12 months of age and what we see at 24 months of age.

And the important point here is that the findings at six months of age are before the typical onset or appearance of the major symptoms of autism. And we also see that these evolving brain changes are happening at a time when the symptoms of autism are beginning to unfold.

SAMBOLIN: Now, is this significant for parents in particular, because, these are really developing behavioral changes, I supposed, that typically we get diagnosed when children are two or three years of age, so you don't really see the behavioral changes in an infant, let's say, six months.

PIVEN: Yes. Well, these are experimental findings, research findings. So, they aren't directly applicable. They aren't ready to go into the clinic, but they sort of signal, I think, a change in the field to be focusing before the age of diagnosis.

This is very new, very novel information, so that we can begin to think about early detection, detection before we see behavioral symptoms leading to early intervention that could, perhaps, interrupt the unfolding of these symptoms.

SAMBOLIN: I was reading in this report that you're actually interested in looking at infants as young as three months of age, as well. Do you do this through an MRI?

PIVEN: Yes. The study that we've done, we invite families from all over the country to four sites around the country, and we study them with both behavioral measures and MRI at six, 12, and 24 months. And, because of the findings at six months were so interesting it seems important to go earlier and try and get a sense of how those abnormalities at six months develop. SAMBOLIN: There are so many parents at home that are probably watching right now that have a child with autism, and perhaps, thinking about having another one in the future. Is this something that you would recommend for parents to do with their children having early testing or an early MRI?

PIVEN: No, as I said, this is really still in the area of research. We certainly hope that in the future, we have tests like this, or perhaps, other tests that can give parents information. But I think really where we are is still in the realm, unfortunately, of research findings.

SAMBOLIN: We certainly hope that you can continue your research. Dr. Joseph Piven, autism researcher, professor of psychiatry, UNC School of Medicine, thank you very much for joining us.

PIVEN: Thank you.

BANFIELD: Still ahead on our next hour, "Starting Point," a big scene on Capitol Hill. I don't know if you saw this, but there were two very angry lawmakers walking out. They were leaving a hearing on birth control and religious liberty asking the question, hey, what where are the women's voices in this debate? We're going to talk to one lawmaker who stayed but wasn't too happy about staying there.

SAMBOLIN: And remembering Whitney Houston. What did people think when that voice came out of a 14-year-old girl? Soledad is going to talk to a close family friend.

BANFIELD: And we are back in a moment, but first, we're going to go to break with a beautiful picture from Atlanta, our skyline this morning where right now it's 45 degrees. It is sunny, heading up to 65 today. And you, along with everyone else in the country, are watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: And that is EARLY START, news from A to Z. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien is coming up next.

O'BRIEN: All right. Good morning, ladies. And thank you very much. Happy Friday. Yay! We still have a couple of hours to get through, though.