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EARLY START WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Sky-High Gasoline Prices; Tension In Middle East Driving Oil Gas Prices Higher; Road To Gold; Protest in Afghanistan Over Koran Burning; Santorum Picks Up Support from Women; Rutgers Cyber-Bullying Trial Begins; Montel Battles MS On His Terms

Aired February 24, 2012 - 06:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And a very good morning to you. Hello, everyone. This is EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We're very glad that you're joining us this morning. We are bringing you the news from A to Z. It's 6 a.m. in the east so let's get started here.

BANFIELD: There is one thing that you can expect this time of year, gas prices might go up, and, guess what, boy, are they going up. And they're making everything else expensive. Gas prices hitting home. We're going to explain what happened as you slept.

SAMBOLIN: Eruptions of rage in Afghanistan even after President Obama apologized for the mistaken burning of the Koran. Police are on high alert right now with more chaos happening there.

BANFIELD: He is one of America's favorite talk show hosts. And Montel Williams has made no secret that he's been battling MS and now he's talking about how marijuana and electric shock therapy have helped him in that fight.

SAMBOLIN: Can you feel the excitement? It is the countdown to Oscar night. Billy Crystal is back and a silent film may steal the show. We've got somebody here with their predictions. We're going add in our predictions to see who is right at the end of the day.

BANFIELD: No matter what happens, I love Oscar night.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, it's a lot of fun. The red carpet, the dresses --

First up this morning, no relief in sight if you are looking at a break at the gas pump. I was trying to find it yesterday, couldn't find it anywhere. The average price of gasoline, $3.64 a gallon. It's up 3.5 cents since yesterday morning.

Some areas are even much higher. Take a look at this. Poor folks, $4.93 a gallon at a station in Los Angeles. Do we have that? No, maybe, perhaps not? There it is, $4.93 for regular, but you see $5.09 at the bottom if you like the premium brand.

BANFIELD: The fancy stuff.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, the fancy stuff so it's pushed higher by the cost of crude oil.

BANFIELD: And crude prices reached nearly $108 per barrel. It's the highest price of crude since last May. So is there any relief or solution on the horizon? Boy, isn't that the question, the million dollar question?

Not sure that Mark Stansberry has the answer, but he is joining us live from Houston this morning and he's the chairman of the GTD Group, an expert in the energy industry.

Christine Romans is also live with us to try to sort through what is going on. Mark, thanks for being with us. Everybody has been talking about the issues with Iran, the threats over the Strait of Hormuz.

The fact that, you know, the demand for oil all over the world is up. Is there anything else at play that the average guy like me might be actually able to connect to understand why my life is getting lousier?

MARK STANSBERRY, CHAIRMAN, THE GTD GROUP: Well, we definitely have an opportunity to have leadership in this country and that's what we're needing more than anything else at this point.

And it's not Republican or Democrat issue. It's an American issue. All forms are needed. American needs America's energy. We right now need to develop our energy fields in the shell shale plays (inaudible), but embrace all forms of energy.

And in order to get to the next point of fixing our situation, it's not overnight, but we can develop energy. We need true leadership, whether it's Republican or Democrat that's in the White House in January.

BANFIELD: Let me jump on that because I've been reading up on this on how much leadership actually has to do with the price of oil at our pumps.

There are a lot of people, economists and analysts alike who disagree and say -- actually I'll quote the chief economist for Moody's Analytics who says there is little presidents can do to influence gasoline prices, at least in the near term.

With that in mind, how about the other side of the coin, how about a bailout from the big oil companies that just keep making money hand over fist and we're paying it?

STANSBERRY: Well, there's another of that too. We need to send a message, for example, Keystone pipeline, where 20,000 jobs could be added, that is a factor, for example. There are tax incentives that as far as the Vulcan play where we can develop our own oil.

We definitely don't need to be taxing and be inconsistent, which we have been, we've not been consistent with our energy plan. So we can develop our own energy and become more energy independent.

BANFIELD: I'm still asking that same question because I think a lot of people wonder when they hear about these unbelievable oil and gas profits. They keep wondering why they never get a break.

Why always the oil companies seem to make money no matter what happens in the oil industry and we never get that break. Can you just speak to that issue as well notwithstanding the other issues, which I think are legitimate, too?

STANSBERRY: Well, oil companies, when we talk about oil companies, it's pretty broad. We're talking about the mom and pop pops, we're talking about the independent companies developing the Vulcan play. A lot of independents develop them ourselves.

The Hanesville, the (inaudible) shell play so to say that it's just the big oil companies, it's not just big oil companies. We're talking about the mom and pop companies.

The independent companies that are going out and sacrificing a lot of their time and effort and we need a consistent plan so we can develop more of our energy.

BANFIELD: Yes, but you know what I'm talking about, you know, the Conico Phillips, the BPs of the world that just keep raking it in hand over fist in the billions. This is something that really resonates with a lot of Americans who go to the gas pump and they can barely afford to fill an SUV so they downsize.

STANSBERRY: Definitely. Well, we need to see them invest in our country, as well. We hope to see that if we have the right incentives. That's the future, is to make sure that we have energy efficiency, preservation and, yes, I agree.

We don't want to see the prices go much higher, but I'm afraid we will with the geopolitical conditions we have and the future we have right now.

BANFIELD: Mark, hold that thought for a moment. I want to bring in Christine Romans. She's literally my resident expert. I just love it when you're here every morning to clear up my mind.

So here's what I don't get. I hear Mark saying that, yes, there are record profits all time for these oil companies and that they do reinvest. They do. They do a lot. They create jobs, et cetera.

But why is there this disconnect, why don't I understand why I'm the guy at the gas pump who continuously pays and it feels like pays an unfair share. Is that wrong?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Look, would you look at is that wrong. That's such a good question.

BANFIELD: Is that wrong? ROMANS: It's something that every time gas prices go up it's like Groundhog Day that we look to find out who to blame. But there's a big global oil market that's really complicated. You have these big emerging markets that are gobbling up energy.

They're drilling it out of the ground. They're finding new alternative energies. They're doing green energy. They're going gang busters to try to grow their economies so that their economies can grow as fast as ours did in the last century.

You got energy price, energy companies, they get huge tax breaks and subsidies so that they can keep investing in domestic production and infrastructure. We have to have a new refinery built in this country I think in 30 years.

We got two refineries right now that are off line. You got demand actually down in this country, but it doesn't matter because there's all this fear over the Iran factor.

So it's a big global market. It's very complicated. Prices are going up and I think the path of least resistance as the prices continue to go up.

BANFIELD: Mark mentioned the taxes. That graphic that you put up in our last hour, I don't know if they have it handy, but it showed that 12 percent of the price of a gallon of gas goes towards taxes and Mark brought that issue up. How about a little relief on the taxes how about that?

ROMANS: Well, if we -- if we pay less taxes out of our pocket that someone else has got to -- the government puts those federal taxes on gasoline and gasoline consumption, so you look at how that is broken out.

The biggest input into, you know, what the price is of a gallon of gas is crude oil. Crude oil is a big global market. Our government doesn't set the price of crude. It's set by supply and demand factors, lots of different factors in the global market.

Like I said last hour, I know two things. My mother loves me and gas prices are so political. You know, people look at the price of a gallon of gas and say how this president should do something or we should drill more.

SAMBOLIN: What can we do? I mean, at the end of the day, I'm listening to these arguments saying, OK, so now what do you do, right, at the end of the day? And here's my other question, as we head into the summer because we know they go up, we're going to see an incremental increase continuing to happen.

ROMANS: You're right and that's what's so aggravating about the gas price story because there's not a lot you can do. Companies try to find ways to useless energy. We know that cars we're driving are more fuel efficient. That's one thing that over time we've done as a country. There is still this global race for this resource that puts strain on the price and we are the end consumer so we're the ones who pays for it.

BANFIELD: I 1have 700 million reasons for President Obama to try to give us some relief and they're sitting in the salt taverns down in Louisiana and Texas.

ROMANS: He tapped it last year.

BANFIELD: He did. What about this year?

ROMANS: Last year, it was because of Libya. We said it's supply problems with Libya. Now this year it's Iran. I mean, there are those who say this president can't tap it every time there's a geopolitical problem. Also, Libya oil is m coming back on the market, but prices aren't coming down. That's curious.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you so much.

BANFIELD: Can't stump you. Cannot. Look at all of this paper. All of this to try to stump Christine.

ROMANS: I need you every day. You are -- you are positive.

SAMBOLIN: All right, 5 minutes past the hour here folks. We need to move on. Thank you so much.

Still ahead on EARLY START, Bill Maher's big money donation for President Obama and will silence be golden at the Oscars on Sunday night?

BANFIELD: First, though, a quick check of your travel forecast. Rob Marciano doing that for us. Good morning.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, guys. Still snowing in Chicago, the inches are piling up there and that storm system is extending off to the east, upstate New York, parts of Connecticut seeing the snow as well, as this thing is pretty big.

Wind energy with it and a threat for severe weather as well as across part of the southeast. There is your snow band across the parts of Lower Michigan getting into parts of Canada.

Below that not a whole lot of moisture. Several inches expected. More from Chicago, but New York, say, Philadelphia back through D.C. this is not going to be an issue. You are in the warm sector.

Although right now it's miserable with rain and temperatures in the 30s. Winds will be picking up later on today as well. It's 10 minutes after the hour. EARLY START is coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Hello. Nice to have you back with us. We look a little different.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, you know the excitement is building toward Hollywood's biggest night. It is just days away now. Who will go home with the coveted Oscar and what will the stars be wearing? I kind of want to know that. We can't wait for any of it.

BANFIELD: The most nominated film. I can't remember which one is that one, who's nominated.

SAMBOLIN: Really?

BANFIELD: No. Martin Score's 3D venture, "Hugo," 11 nominations. Have a peek.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: What does he do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a wind-up figure, like a music box. This is the most complicated one I've ever seen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: I didn't see that one but, you know what, I did see this one, a major silent film, a major player at this year's Academy Awards. "The Artist," following right behind with 10 nominations, in all, nine films are vying for Best Picture, and Billy Crystal is back.

Lots to talk about with "Us Weekly," looked at all the odds, and the "Us Weekly" editor Bradley Jacobs is joining us now live. I think the silent movie is going to be the big juggernaut. Am I crazy?

BRADLEY JACOBS, SENIOR EDITOR, US WEEKLY: You're not crazy, no. "The Artist" will probably win. It's a movie about movie making. What could Hollywood love more? It also has a romantic feel to it. It takes place at a different time. It has a great gimmick, which is that it is silent and after a couple of minutes you are taken away into another world.

SAMBOLIN: Is that who you're predicting is going to take home the honors?

JACOBS: Yes, I think that will win Best Picture and probably Best Director also.

BANFIELD: What about Best Actor? That's tough (INAUDIBLE).

JACOBS: Best Actor, it's a tough race.

SAMBOLIN: I had a tough time picking one this --

(CROSSTALK)

JACOBS: Oh, you did.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, I did.

JACOBS: Forever it seemed like it would be George Clooney for "The Descendents." But in the last couple of weeks, the star of "The Artist," Jean Dujardin has won a SAG Award and the BAFTA and he's just gained a lot of momentum. So it's possible that he might actually take the award away from George Clooney on Sunday night. But who would do that to Mr. Popular himself?

BANFIELD: Well, I did wonder because, full admission here, I went into this movie, I didn't know it was a silent movie. A bit of a dough ball, shall I say?

But in all honesty I went in very early on before there was any buzz about the movie. I saw the movie back in the -- in the fall, I think it was just after September.

JACOBS: Right.

BANFIELD: So I was just so pleasantly surprised when I saw the movie and overwhelmed by it. But you know how it works when there's so much hype, that the delivery and the expectations --

JACOBS: Oh, sure. Yes. Many people have come to me and said, like, I finally saw "The Artist" to hear what everybody was talking about, and, really, is that it?

BANFIELD: Yes.

SAMBOLIN: Yes.

JACOBS: You know, I mean, it is charming and kind of delightful but, I said -- like I said, it is a little gimmicky, you know, in the end. But I do think it will win.

SAMBOLIN: But it's kind of about acting, right? So at the end of the day that's kind of what the Oscars are all about.

JACOBS: That's a nice way to put it.

SAMBOLIN: All right. What about Best Actress?

JACOBS: Yes. Best Actress is also kind of a tight race. All year it looked like it was going to be Meryl Streep's third Oscar. You know, they haven't given her an award in 29 years since "Sophie's Choice." She's playing Margaret Thatcher. The Academy loves actress playing real life people.

But when the movie came out it sort of laid an egg, you know? Just she was great.

SAMBOLIN: Really? You thought so?

BANFIELD: No. We went to it together.

SAMBOLIN: We watched it together. We really loved it.

JACOBS: No, "The Iron Lady" was not thought of that as that great a movie.

BANFIELD: What's wrong with us? SAMBOLIN: I don't know.

(CROSSTALK)

SAMBOLIN: I really enjoyed it. Maybe it's the theater.

JACOBS: Yes. I don't know. Well, she's not thought of as like that great, great bio pic. There was too much on her dementia at the end, too many flashbacks with the dead husband. So people just weren't that into it.

And I think the Academy doesn't want to make this Meryl's big third Oscar. They would rather give it to her for something else that they foresee her doing in the next couple of years.

BANFIELD: OK. Say what you will about the movie, although I think I know why we liked it so much, because Harvey Weinstein was in the audience with us. We probably felt secured (ph) --

JACOBS: Hello. Yes. And did he come up to you afterwards? I mean, that's what Harvey Weinstein does. Love you, Harvey, but that is what he does. He -- he (INAUDIBLE) all season.

BANFIELD: No, I loved it.

JACOBS: And that's why.

BANFIELD: But say what you will about the movie itself, and I know there were a lot of critics who said this -- both sides actually said, loved it, hated it, but she was incredible.

JACOBS: She was.

BANFIELD: I mean she lost herself in that character.

JACOBS: Yes, she was. You know, but the British don't like it. They think it's sort of -- it's just not the right look at her and there's just too much going on in there. I just -- I really think Viola Davis will win in "The Help."

BANFIELD: (INAUDIBLE).

JACOBS: Yes. I think that "The Help" was a big summer hit, super hit.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, it was incredible, yes.

BANFIELD: It's a good movie.

JACOBS: And Viola is a relative newcomer. I mean, she's been working for a long time, but she really hasn't popped until the last couple of years. I mean "Doubt" that was her first Oscar nomination.

SAMBOLIN: I hope the Best Supporting Actress wins in this also, because she was amazing.

JACOBS: That is the biggest lock (ph) of the night.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, my gosh.

JACOBS: Octavia Spencer has been the presumed winner for months and months.

SAMBOLIN: That icing, if you haven't seen the movie, you have to go see it.

JACOBS: Milk and milk (ph) and chocolate pie in my story.

(CROSSTALK)

JACOBS: -- look at chocolate pie the same way again.

SAMBOLIN: OK. We have one other thing we want to talk about. Sacha Baron Cohen in his character in "The Dictator." What can you tell us? Will we expect to see him there? What will he do? We know that, you know --

JACOBS: I really want him to go just so people know Sacha has a movie called "The Dictator" out May 11th.

BANFIELD: That's not why you go to the Oscars, though. He's (INAUDIBLE) in "Hugo."

JACOBS: He's going for "Hugo." Yes. He's in "Hugo," but he wanted to use the Oscars as a platform to promote "The Dictator," but he would have done it in his own Sacha way. It wouldn't have been cheesy. It wouldn't have been interesting, but the Academy did not want him. The Academy put the kabash on that and said, you know, we do not want you using the red carpet to promote your movie. So he'll probably still go as -- because he does have "Hugo."

SAMBOLIN: Do we have a big reveal? I thought we did. Are we going to have our picks up here so that we could bring you back and see who was right and who was wrong?

JACOBS: Absolutely.

BANFIELD: We have a bit of a contest.

JACOBS: OK. I'm up for it.

BANFIELD: Are you up for the contest?

SAMBOLIN: So we can put that up for you.

BANFIELD: Your Best Picture?

JACOBS: My Best Picture is "The Artist."

BANFIELD: Best Actor.

JACOBS: George Clooney, I'm going to go with Clooney, yes.

BANFIELD: And Best Actress?

JACOBS: Viola Davis.

BANFIELD: All right. OK. Look at that. How fancy.

SAMBOLIN: My picks are for Best Picture, I have "Hugo." For Best Actress, absolutely, Viola Davis, and for Best Actor, I've got the guy from "The Artist."

JACOBS: Jean Dujardin.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, I do.

BANFIELD: He's dreamy, isn't he?

SAMBOLIN: Yes, well --

JACOBS: You might be right.

BANFIELD: I said "The Artist" like you and I'm going with the "The Iron Lady." And I decided on Brad Pitt for "Moneyball," and here's why.

JACOBS: I love that you've just decided on Brad Pitt.

BANFIELD: I've decided.

JACOBS: OK.

BANFIELD: It's hard, though. A big -- big decision because I think he's been passed over for some remarkable, remarkable work. "California," I don't know if everyone has seen that --

JACOBS: Yes.

BANFIELD: -- but he is unbelievable and I thought he was great in this because it was the kind of a script that's hard to do. It's hard to be exciting about some of the stuff he had to do and he really pulled it off.

JACOBS: You know what, Brad Pitt just over his career has been too pretty.

BANFIELD: That's why.

JACOBS: He's just too good looking. And he also is sort of seen afraid to do a real leading man role in the last five years or --

SAMBOLIN: You can argue that George Clooney is too pretty, too. But, we'll see. We're going to invite you back and see what happens.

JACOBS: OK, OK.

BANFIELD: But quickly, a real nod, though, to Gary Oldman. Because he's also seditious to me always. He's just remarkable. So, so great. JACOBS: OK.

SAMBOLIN: Thanks for joining us. Appreciate it.

(CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: -- on Monday.

SAMBOLIN: So for a complete coverage of Hollywood's biggest night, "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT" will be live at the Oscars for its "Road To Gold Special." A.J. Hammer reports live from the red carpet Sunday night starting at 6:30 Eastern right here on CNN.

BANFIELD: And still ahead on this program, mistaken burning of some religious papers including Korans, and now it's costing lives, including American lives. The rage is overflowing in Afghanistan. You'll find out what is being done.

Also, Montel Williams, you know him as talk show host and a fabulous veteran, too. He's battling M.S. and he's doing it his own way. Find out what he thinks is the road to success in battling that disease.

You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. It's 25 minutes past the hour here.

Afghan riot police and soldiers are on guard across Kabul for more furious protests.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD (voice-over): All of this in Afghanistan. Take a look at your screen. It is not a good scene.

Despite President Obama's apology, straight to the president of Afghanistan, the protesters are still angry, still erupting in the streets in Afghanistan over that whole mistaken burning of religious papers and Korans at our main NATO air base there in Bagram.

Two American troops have now been killed. It happened yesterday, a man posing in an Afghan army uniform, killing those troops, and all of this after the Taliban had called out for the killing of Americans as revenge for the burnings of the documents. Officials say more people died, several more injured, also including Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Our Nick Paton Walsh is live at his post in Kabul, Afghanistan. So Nick, Friday prayer is usually a bad time for protests. It ramps everything up. But where you are, you're heading into the afternoon. What does it look like? NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Some breaking news to bring you, Ashleigh. We're hearing from eye witness in Herat, one of the main cities in the west of the country, that a crowd of hundreds of angry protesters are near or around the U.S. consulate there. We understand from this eyewitness they've been smashing windows of cars around that particular building, of course, outside of it, and there are concerns, of course, that police may have to intervene at some point.

Two civilians injured in that city, in the province. In fact, earlier on today in Kabul, we've had large numbers of demonstrators moving towards the presidential palace, shots fired in the air, we understand, at two civilians and one policeman injured in the capital. Other protests across the country.

I have to say, until we heard about this incident in Heart, it had appeared that most of the demonstrations so far were passing relatively peacefully bar these minor injuries. It certainly hadn't replicated the violence of yesterday or the last three days, but the situation in Herat is still unfolding. I must say initial reporting suggesting this surrounding of the U.S. consulate or protests near it, but these concerns, of course, will be more able to clarify in the next hours or so.

But still, it seems President Barack Obama's apology has done very little to quieten the mood on the streets so far, it seems, this afternoon -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Oh, that is not good news. Nick Paton Walsh, keeping an eye on it for us. Thank you for that, from Afghanistan this morning.

SAMBOLIN: Twenty-seven minutes past the hour here. Still ahead, the battle for half the electorate. GOP women, we are talking about here. Apparently they're warming up to Rick Santorum right before the peak of primary season.

We're going to talk to our panelists about this and a couple of other things.

You're watching EARLY START.

Oh, and we also have Montel Williams, his battle with MS. Kind of an unorthodox way of dealing with it. He's going to tell us the results of that.

You are watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START.

Thirty-one minutes past the hour here. It's time to make the stories that are making news this morning.

It will cost you more today than it did yesterday to fill your car's gas tank. AAA says gas prices nationwide now average $3.64 an gallon. That's an increase of 3 cents in just one day.

And with the Syrian army continuing to shell the city of Homs, world powers are meeting in Tunisia and what is called a Friends of Syria Conference. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is there. The U.S., Europe, and Arab nations all drafting a warning to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to agree an immediate ceasefire so that food and medical supplies can get in and the wounded and the dead can come.

Penn State is answering new questions from federal officials investigating Jerry Sandusky. The university presented with a subpoena from U.S. attorneys requesting information on the school, Jerry Sandusky, and his Second Mile children's charity. The source says investigators are looking into a claim that Sandusky took one of his victims across state lines.

BANFIELD: Comedian Bill Maher delivering $1 million surprise during a stand up show in San Jose, California, last night. And it streamed live on Yahoo. Maher is donating $1 million to President Obama's super PAC.

And Maher had this to say on Twitter, "Thank you, everybody, who has hit me up after the show and a great San Jose audience. Obama donation was a surprise to Yahoo! FYI."

Thirty-five thousand jobs on the chopping block at the U.S. Postal Service. The service announcing that it will either consolidate or just plain close down over 200 of its mail processing plants across the country. The agency says this is a move that is going to save $2.1 billion.

And riot police had to break up a huge brawl at a mall in Orlando. Take a look at your screen. This is all about sneakers, folks. Hundreds of people trying to get their hands on a pair of Nike basketball shoes.

Now, nobody was hurt. Two people were arrested. It was all about limited edition kicks that were made special for the NBA all star game which is going on this weekend in Orlando.

SAMBOLIN: Good looking.

BANFIELD: They are very funky and they are very expensive, folks, $220. They glow in the dark. Apparently, there was a guy on Craigslist who was apparently willing to trade his car --

SAMBOLIN: No way.

BANFIELD: Yes. His car for a pair of these kicks.

SAMBOLIN: If my son had a car, he would do that.

(LAUGHTER)

SAMBOLIN: Absolutely.

All right. Let's switch gears here and talk politics.

A new poll is showing Rick Santorum is gaining more support from Republican women. Critics said some of his conservative views on abortion, birth control, and women in combat would actually hurt him at the polls.

BANFIELD: Not so.

SAMBOLIN: And you know in 2008, women cast nearly 8 million more votes than men did. So, this is a real hot button issue here. And we've got lots of folks to talk at it this morning.

Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak, Democratic strategist Marjorie Clifton, and political reporter for "Roll Call" David Drucker.

Thanks for being with us.

Matt, I'm going to begin with you.

We're going to put up a poll here. It's a "Washington Post"/ABC News poll. It shows that 57 percent of women view Santorum favorably. That's actually up 13 points since January. Very close to Romney. But recent polling shows Romney an edge with women in Arizona. We previously talked about Santorum perhaps having a woman problem.

What should we read into this?

MATT MACKOWIAK, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I think Santorum gives you something before. And I think that's something that people are starting to see. You know, he's not as well-known as Romney is. He's been towards the lesser known candidates throughout this race until very recently.

You know, a lot of times when you talk about these reproductive health issues, the views are brought up from the pro-choice perspective. Not always brought up from the pro-life perspective. There are many pro-life women across the country and see someone like Senator Santorum, who's a real champion for pro-life causes and they want to be before him.

So, he's someone that has a very attractive large family, he's a strong Christian, strong Catholic. And he's someone who has real conviction and real courage. And he's demonstrated that on the campaign trail that people are starting to see over the last few months.

SAMBOLIN: Marjorie, I want you to weigh in on this. Being a woman and the only woman on this panel, but you're also a Democrat.

So, let's talk about some of these things. You know, he's been called closed minded, some comments have been controversial, women in the military, women in the workforce, we just talk about birth control. Does it surprise you that his numbers in women and the support of the GOP, women in particular, Republican women -- does that surprise you?

MARJORIE CLIFTON, NATIONAL EDITOR, GOVOTE.COM: Well, I think the bump has everything to do with what Matt just mentioned, the sort of new notoriety that Santorum has had recently. But I think it has more to do with the economy and that Romney is still seen at that outsider elitist type and that Santorum is getting more traction it seems by the middle class, and more down to earth, more in touch with what women are dealing with, which is the same economic hurt that the rest of the country is dealing with.

But if you look historically -- now, women were actually 51 percent of the population and the big surge in women voting in the last cycle actually had the lot to do with Hillary Clinton being part of the race and then that enthusiasm transferred over to Obama. And McCain actually only pulled about 43 percent of women in 2004. Bush had about 47 percent in women.

So, in general, women skew more Democratic candidate for reasons, social reasons, such as contraception, abortion. And I think these recent debates about birth control in particular and a lot of Santorum's comments haven't caught up with him yet. So, I think when the social issues catch up, which they're going to and it started as we saw in the Arizona debate --

SAMBOLIN: That's kind of his platform, right? So --

CLIFTON: It is, yes.

SAMBOLIN: You've got to think that it's weighing?

CLIFTON: I don't believe that this is going to hold for women. I just -- I can't believe that. I think it has more to do with the economy right now.

And, again, as the economy is improving I think that will change as social issues come to the forefront.

SAMBOLIN: All right. David, I'm going to switch gears here and I'm going to look way, way ahead. I'm going to talk about Marco Rubio, the Republican senator from Florida.

He is of Cuban descent, we know. But there are new details out about his faith journey. He was baptized into the Catholic faith as a baby. Then baptized into the Mormon Church at the age of 8. Then back to Catholic four years later. He attends Catholic and Baptist churches.

He's name is often floated around as vice presidential candidate. Good, bad, does it matter?

DAVID DRUCKER, ROLL CALL: You know, I've been thinking about this overnight and I really don't think it matters at the end of the day. I think maybe if we would have found out that he was secretly practicing member of a religion and he was lying about it, that could have been a problem.

If he would have changed religions last week as an adult, maybe that would have been a problem. But a lot of people, especially when they're young, in America, generally go through a sort of faith journey. And I think it's something a lot of Americans can identify with.

And I'll say this, it was a great article in BuzzFeed that talked about this, but my take-away from the article was a relative of Marco Rubio saying, he's into religion. Religion and football, those are his things.

Guess what? Most American voters are in into religion and football, particularly in the South and the Midwest. I really don't think this is a problem.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Matt, Marjorie, David, thank you for joining us this morning.

DRUCKER: Thanks a lot.

CLIFTON: Thank you.

BANFIELD: Although you do wonder if most people have just one team in football that they like s opposed to a few.

SAMBOLIN: I think, you know, a lot of people do a sot of soul searching and they can identify with that.

BANFIELD: I hear you. I'm always a fan of somebody who at least believes in something.

Coming up, this is a case that is making some strides here, perhaps even setting some precedent. That young man jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate allegedly turned a webcam on him, and he's in court because of it.

Is this a hate crime? Wow. What a decision for a jury to make. Find out more in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Opening arguments are set to begin today for the Tyler Clementi cyber bullying trial. And you may remember he was the young man who committed suicide after his college roommate Dharun Ravi allegedly used a webcam to stream his sexual encounter with another man in the room.

Ravi is facing 15 charges connected to this, including evasion of privacy and biased intimidation. That is language that also means hate crime. If convicted he could get up to 10 years in prison.

And with us now to sort of dissect this whole case and why it's so critical is Midwin Charles. She's a criminal defense attorney.

Let's get right to it. When I first saw that this was deemed a hate crime and charged as such, I have to admit I was a little surprised, only because we usually associate hate crimes with violence or killing or assault or something else. But this is all sort of emotional and personal.

MIDWIN CHARLES, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, perhaps. I guess it depends on how you look at it. If you have a crime that where it was kind of created because the person hated the person, because they were race -- for race or sexual orientation or religious affiliation, then it becomes a hate crime. And I think that's what happened.

But, look, when you have a teenager, a college freshman jumping off of a bridge, someone is going to be charged with a lot of charges. I think that's what we have here.

And I think 15 charges is a bit excessive. You know, someone who does defense work I think it's a bit much. But I'm not surprised given the circumstances.

And let's face it, Ashleigh, this case started a national debate and a national discussion on cyber bullying and what it means and what its implications are.

BANFIELD: And here's what's weird. And you just nailed it. Wow. When someone jumps off a bridge there's going to be attention here.

CHARLES: Of course.

BANFIELD: And yet the jury is not supposed to hear anyone about that.

CHARLES: You're right. And I'm actually surprised at how quickly they convened this jury. My guess is that attorneys on both sides were happy with the people that kind of came before them.

But you're right. The jury is not supposed to hear this. They're not supposed to be biased. They're supposed to have an open mind as they start to listen to the evidence and go about the trial.

I would be interested to see what sort of decision they reach after they deliberate.

BANFIELD: So, to get to biased intimidation, you've got to get inside Dharun Ravi's head, really, because that's what it amounts to. And to that end, there is evidence that's going to be introduced at trial. My assumption, I can always be surprise bid suppression motions.

CHARLES: Yes.

BANFIED: But there is going to be some evidence likely to come into trial -- loads and loads of text messages and e-mails. This one was sent to Tyler Clemente on the eve of his death by Darren Ravi. It says this, "I've known you were gay and I have no problem with it. In fact, one of my closest friends is gay, and he and I have a very open relationship. I just suspected that you were shy about it, which is why I never broached the topic. I don't want your freshman year to be ruined because of a petty misunderstanding, it's adding to my guilt." SAMBOLIN: Wow.

BANFIELD: "You have a right to move if you wish, but I don't want you feel pressured to without fully understanding the situation." That to me and, look, I may be very myopic here, I haven't seen all the evidence, but that right there to me is pretty strong defense evidence.

MIDWIN CHARLES, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It is. It definitely is, because what it does is it says that this guy has no problem with his roommate being gay. And if you're going to prove a bias crime, at least in this case, they have to show that Darren Ravi did not like gay people, he hated gay people.

And, in fact, it was a pattern and practice for him to kind of taunt them and treat them badly. And that e-mail kind of cuts away from that.

BANFIELD: Midwin, five seconds left. Is he going to go down on that biggest charge on biased intimidation?

CHARLES: I think it's going to be hard. I mean, there's got to be other evidence, but I think it's going to be hard. We'll have to see.

BANFIELD: You'll have to come back. Midwin Charles, thanks.

CHARLES: You're welcome.

BANFIELD: It's nice to see you.

CHARLES: Good to see you, too.

SAMBOLIN: It's 46 minutes past the hour. Here's Soledad O'Brien joins us now with a look at what is ahead on "Starting Point." Good morning.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning to you. Coming up in roughly 15 minutes or so on "Starting Point," we're going to sit down and talk to Senator Russ Feingold. He has said there's a wake-up call now for the post 9/11 era. He's going to talk to us about his new book about what America needs to do to protect itself.

Also this morning, we're going to talk a little bit about the Oscars and Chazz Palminteri. You know, he was nominated for an Oscar. He's going to join us to talk, you know, they always say it's enough to be nominated. Is it really? I don't know that I believe that. We're going to talk about that and much more.

All the Oscar talk that's straight ahead on "Starting Point." We begin at the top of the hour. EARLY START, of course, is back right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: TV personality, Montel Williams, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999. The past two years have become -- or he has become an alternative healthcare advocate. He says that a strict exercise and diet regimen is doing wonders for him. Montel Williams joins us now to talk about his new found energy. Thanks for joining us this morning.

MONTEL WILLIAMS, EMMY AWARD WINNING TELEVISION PERSONALITY: Thanks for having me.

SAMBOLIN: Nice to see you.

WILLIAMS: Thanks for letting me share this with the country. Honestly. It's unbelievable how for ten years I've kind of suffered through this journey with my illness, which is MS, and I've worked at everything I could to see if I can abate my symptoms. And I've come up with a couple of things along the way that were kind of helpful.

But in the last two years, I've dialed this in. And then again, in the last six months, dialed in a way that I think, right now, if it works for me, I want to make sure I get this information out there for everybody else or for anybody.

SAMBOLIN: You look really good. I saw you walk in here and you look strong. How do you feel?

WILLIAMS: You know it is -- I have dealt with symptoms of MS that include neuropathic pain. And I will tell you that neuropathic pain is probably down now from two years ago about 45 to 50 percent.

And so, that then has effected everything else about the way I feel because my energy is back, my ability to walk is increasing, my ability and dexterity is coming back because I'm doing the things that we all could do if we just stopped to pay attention to our own individual healthcare footprint.

Be how amazed this country would be doing, especially even financially because if more people just stopped for a second and pay attention, eat right, correctly. We know there's so much information out there right now that will tell you that fruits and vegetables, everybody should be eating more fruits and vegetables. If you're on medication, take it on time.

So, you know, we are the least compliant nation on the planet. A doctor prescribes you medication, I'll guarantee you, everybody at home will agree with this, go to your medicine cabinet right now. You have medicine in there that you didn't finish.

SAMBOLIN: We're all guilty of that.

WILLIAMS: That's right. Why did he write it for you? That's the only way you get better. But we don't do it, so we don't get better.

SAMBOLIN: But you're famously known for alternative.

WILLIAMS: Correct.

SAMBOLIN: Do you take any prescription medicine?

WILLIAMS: I do. But I also am loaded up and steeped in as much information as I can on other ways to improve my health. Alternative in a sense is really not alternatives. It's things like chlorophyll, things like B12, supplementation that we can't get right now because of the way we destroyed foods that will turn your life around just that quick.

SAMBOLIN: Now, there is no cure for MS.

WILLIAMS: Absolutely not.

SAMBOLIN: Have you seen any of your symptoms diminish when you have made this change in your life?

WILLIAMS: I am different in night and day from people who know me, people who have seen me, people who work with me from seven months ago because of this regimen that I'm on. And the more I stay on it, the better I am. Have I seen myself improve? I can't physically run since I was diagnosed with MS.

That was ten years ago. In the last two years, I started working diligently through a program and protocol with the University of Wisconsin that's helping to stimulate my brain's rechanneling --

SAMBOLIN: Is this what we're calling electroshock therapy?

WILLIAMS: We shouldn't call --

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAMS: This is based on Nobel Peace Prize Science. It's a study that's been going on for years at Wisconsin now for over 30 years. This is a project that I, right now, am going to get into our U.S. military soldiers who have traumatic brain injury. We've already working right now with the surgeon general of the army and working with the secretary of the army to get this in there.

SAMBOLIN: Is this what we're seeing right here? Is this the therapy?

WILLIAMS: This is part of the therapy that you're seeing, and this is based on Nobel Peace Prize Science. What I'm doing is, is a device that literally sends a very, very small current into the tongue, but the tongue is attached directly to the brain stem. And through the brain stem, I'm stimulating my brain to find new pathways around the damage that's in there.

Since I've been doing this and taking a supplementation, I'm taking like adaptogen vitamins. This is something you can go right to GNC today and find adaptogen vitamins. I'm not trying to sell you a brand. These are three herbs, Rhodiola, Ashwagandha, and something call Schisandra.

I think every single day to look at what these herbs do and you look at the fact that for thousands of years, they have been considered, you know, healing medications around the world. Americans never knew about it. I've been taking this every day. That seems to -- it's not the cure.

SAMBOLIN: What are the doctors saying? They're watching your progress. What do they say?

WILLIAMS: Amazed. I've got (ph) some of the top doctors in the world for my MS, and within the next six months, we're going to do a study of me so I can start to show people that this is not hype, this isn't garbage. This is truth. I give you one example. In the last couple of days, you have something you just heard (ph) about this. Right now, are you kidding me?

The Food and Drug Administration has just approved another drug for weight loss that we now already know causes birth defects and causes heart problems, but we're going to shove it down American's throats when all you have to do is go to GNC or you local health food store --

SAMBOLIN: I'm a big advocate of natural products.

WILLIAMS: Correct. Go there and there's a product right now. We told you guys about it. This product is something called sasilin. This product right now is the highest selling supplement in the world. Why? Because it works. This is based on clinical trials that proves that this targets the fat around your organs and increases something called a adiponectin which is a hormone that we lose as we get older.

That hormone starts to reduce your belly fat. You may not lose weight. I've taken an inch of my waist by using this for now eight months.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Montel, I wish I had more time. I could talk to you for hours.

WILLIAMS: I wish to come back.

SAMBOLIN: You look great. Yes, so, I'm going to invite you back. Thank you so much. Congratulations and good luck to you.

WILLIAMS: This is for the two of you.

SAMBOLIN: And for my belly fat.

(LAUGHTER)

WILLIAMS: You don't even need it, but --

SAMBOLIN: Belly fat for me. Belly fat for Ashleigh. Thank you very much. We appreciate it.

BANFIELD: You are my favorite naval lieutenant commander, Montel. I absolutely adore you.

WILLIAMS: Good to see you. Still ahead, folks, after Montel, it's hard to beat that one, but we've got gas prices for you. While you slept, up again. We'll tell you what and how and why. Is there anything we can do? You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: And officially, that is the end of our week and the end of EARLY START, the news from A to Z. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. "Starting Point" with Soledad O'Brien is next. Good morning.

O'BRIEN: Hey, ladies. Good morning to both of you. Friday for you. We're just getting under way.