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Protests Over Burning of Korans Continue in Afghanistan; Catholic groups Suing Federal Government over New Contraception Mandate; Spike in Gas Prices; Riot Over Glowing Nikes; Edwards Sex Tape To Be Destroyed; Congressional Rage?; Winter Blast In Windy City; Study: Love Hurts More Than Work; "Wake Up Call For Post 9/11 Era"; Maryland Governor Discusses Economy, Obama on Jobs Creation; Actor Chazz Palminteri Discusses Academy Awards Nomination

Aired February 24, 2012 - 06:59   ET



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Our STARTING POINT this morning is a look at the backlash over the Koran burning. New protests are erupting right now. Hundreds of people have surrounded the U.S. embassy. We're going to take you live to Kabul in just a few moments.

Also, gas prices hitting home. One of the few things that can make absolutely everything more expensive. The president saying I feel your pain at the pump but also saying, and I'm not responsible for it. We're going to talk about that this morning.

Plus, the former senator, Russ Feingold, will join us. He is the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act. He said he's got a wake-up call for what a post-9/11 America needs. His new book is called "While America Sleeps," which (INAUDIBLE) about his book.

And lawmaker we spoke about yesterday, the one who called the girl scouts a bunch of communists and radicals, yes that one. He says he's now sorry. He shouldn't have said it -- he shouldn't have said it, but he says he still thinks it.


O'BRIEN: That's kind of a half-hearted apology, if you ask me. We'll talk about that as well this morning. STARTING POINT begins right now.



O'BRIEN: Oh, right. Simple Minds. Doesn't take you right back to "Sixteen Candles."

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think our music on this show are basically the greatest hits of the '80s.



O'BRIEN: Yes, this is Danny Figuro (ph) and it's his pick. It's all staff today, although we have been collecting from the audience as well. The staff gets to pick. Let me introduce you to our panelists. Joining us is Chrystia Freeland, editor of Thomson Reuters digital. She's back. Nice to have you. Dorian Warren is with us as well, political scientist, professor at Columbia University, nice to have you as well. Will Cain, columnist for

CAIN: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: Happy Friday. Here we go. Let's get to our STARTING POINT. We're talking about those protests that are happening right now in Afghanistan, protesting the decision of some NATO troops to burn Korans. Hundreds of people are surrounding the U.S. embassy. So far at least five people have been hurt. Nick Paton Walsh is live for us in Kabul. Hey, Nick, what's the latest?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we're hearing is that the west of the country, Hurat, one of the main cities there, the U.S. consulate in Kabul, the U.S. consulate out there has a very angry crowd outside, hundreds of people. I had actually from an eyewitness could hear the sirens, the panic from that particular area. We understand that to the hospital in Hurat, one dead body has been brought presumably from this protest. One injured and one lost their life. They are apparently close to the U.S. consulate, setting fire to police cars, clashes now breaking out between police and protesters.

In Kabul, we have heard of shots being fired in the air to try and move the crowd that we're heading toward the presidential palace here, reports of policeman and injured civilians. Other protests across the country, more peaceful and smaller in nature but really this is now the fourth day of violent protests against this mistaken burning of Korans on a U.S. military base here in Afghanistan. Frankly, there's not much more America can do to apologize since President Barack Obama had an ambassador here to hand deliver a letter of apology and was hoping that Afghan authorities and Afghan religious leaders could try and slow this protest down. Not happening so far.

O'BRIEN: Nick Paton Walsh, thank you, Nick. Appreciate that update.

So let's take a look back at how this started. It began on Tuesday when Afghan workers found the burn Korans in a trash pit that's used by coalition troops. Roughly 2,000 Afghans started protesting outside Bagram. By Wednesday, U.S. diplomats across the country were on lockdown. At least five people killed in the demonstrations then. Then yesterday a man wearing an Afghan army uniform believed to be connected to the protests killed two American troops. The Afghan president Hamid Karzai met with the parliament and started talking about investigation. And President Obama apologized to Hamid Karzai saying, quote, the error was inadvertent, quote, "I assure you that we will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, to include holding accountable those responsible." James Vee is a former U.S. chaplain at Guantanamo Bay. Back at Gitmo he advised the commanders on detainee religious practices. So we appreciate your insight on all of this. The president has now really all this has gone into an apology. But as you heard Nick Paton Walsh say, it doesn't seem to be slowing down the protests, you sense this is going to escalate with thousands of people in the streets.

JAMES VEE, AUTHOR, "FOR GOD AND COUNTRY": I would think that probably more and more people are going to protest because it's a very, very sensitive issue. No doubt it was a huge blunder culturally. But one of the things I point to is that this has been a pattern in this conflict, both in Afghanistan and in Iraq, with culture sensitive mistakes being made, whether it's the burning of the Koran just recently, whether it's the urinating on dead bodies last night by marines or the desecration of the Koran in Gitmo in 2003.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you about the presidential apology. Does that carry any weight at all? Not necessary among the populace but certainly to the government official, many who say they want an investigation and really don't sound like they're backing down or receive that apology.

VEE: Yes. I don't know what effect that apology is going to have. I do think it was a good step for the president to admit, hey, there was a mistake made. I think that's a sign of good leadership. But I did hear the general, General Allen, said that all the coalition troops will get some culturally sensitive training.

O'BRIEN: Isn't that kind of like closing the barn door after the horse has run out, to some degree? As you pointed out, there have been past incidents. What kind of sensitivity training do people get, especially in the heart of a place where it's really, really critical.

VEE: For one, I think it's appalling that ten years into this conflict the soldiers didn't already have had this type of training. But the type of training they should have really, they should have an overall basis of Islamic culture, the Muslim people. But, more importantly, instill those moral and ethical values not to do these types of things. because ultimately not only undermines the mission but it jeopardizes American lives like we saw those two American soldiers' lives taken.

CAIN: James, you mentioned that you see this now as part of a larger pattern. What is that pattern evidencing to you?

VEE: Good question. What is that? Maybe a leadership failure, leadership failure within the ranks of the U.S. military to ensure that our troops overall really are instilled with these moral and ethical values.

CAIN: But you feel certain that we're not looking at a series of mistakes?

VEE: Yes. I mean, no doubt these are mistakes and these things are things that shouldn't happen. On the other hand, the violent protests, no justification for that as well. However, the demonstrations, the protests, the verbal and staunch condemnation of what happened, I mean, that's no different -- that should be no different than what Americans do every day in our country, protesting and expressing our right to free speech.

O'BRIEN: What is the rule? How is somebody taught about how to handle the Koran?

VEE: I don't think that is taught in general.

O'BRIEN: At all?

VEE: As far as I know, I don't know. When I was in at Guantanamo I helped policy within the prison cell blocks which took into account culture sensitive handling of the Koran and actually working with Muslims who were assigned to the joint task force in Guantanamo to help, you know, crush some of the demonstrations and riot protests within the prison when the desecration was going on.

O'BRIEN: Let me play a little bit of what Newt Gingrich said and then we'll get to your question. Here it is.


NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: President Obama surrendered twice today. And I think it deserves to be brought to the country's attention. There seems to be nothing that radical Islamists can do to get Barack Obama's attention in a negative way, and he is consistently apologizing to people who do not deserve the apology of the president of the United States, period.


CHYSSTIA FREELAND, EDITOR, THOMSON REUTERS DIGITAL: So I was going to ask for some cultural sensitivity training for us. I imagine Americans would be pretty horrified, say, if we discovered that in the Saudi embassy bibles were being burnt. Does --

O'BRIEN: Do you believe that 2,000 people would rush to the streets in the United States and kill people?

FREELAND: Saudi Arabia is not occupying the United States. So it's a slightly -- it's a very different situation. But I just offered that as an example of, you know, maybe how people might be starting to think about it in Afghanistan.

What I wanted to ask was, how do you think this feels? What message does this send if you're a person in Afghanistan? What, you know, what are they taking away from this? I'm sure it's a mistake, right? I totally accept that's what happened.

O'BRIEN: I don't see any evidence that it was not.

FREELAND: I don't think it was meant to be a hostile act but how does it read to a person in Afghanistan?

VEE: I think the growing numbers that we're seeing in the protests that keep getting larger and larger over the last couple of days and even until today is an indication that the people really there now are really fed up with having the troops there in their country. I think it's a sign that the people are saying we've had enough of American troops here. You know, there are some views here in the United States where people want all the troops to come home immediately. So I think that's playing into it, as well. But it's an excuse to say, hey, here's another mistake made. When are you going home?

O'BRIEN: You're the author of "For God and Country." I forgot to mention that in your introduction. Thanks for being with us. We appreciate your insight on that.

We've got to get to other headlines this morning. Christine has got that for us. Good morning, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you Soledad. While you were sleeping, gas prices weren't. According to AAA, the national average is now $3.65. That's up three-and-a-half cents from yesterday. Gas prices have never been this high this time of year. The forecasts keep rising.

With the Syrian army continuing to shell the city of Homs, world powers are meeting in Tunisia at what is being called a "Friends of Syria conference." Secretary of state Clinton is there. Just a couple of hours ago former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan announced he will serve as a joint U.N. Arab League envoy to Syria. The U.S., Europe, and Arab nations are drafting a warning to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to agree to an immediate cease-fire so food and medical supplies can get in and wounded and dead can come out.

A judge in Alabama tossing out the case against the so-called hone honeymoon killer. Gabe Watson was charged with killing his wife on their Honeymoon while they were diving off of Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Watson pleaded guilty to manslaughter in Australia and he spent 18 months in jail there. The case came back to the U.S. since he was accused of plotting this on U.S. soil, but a judge ruled yesterday prosecutors did not have enough evidence of a crime to send this case to a jury.

Maryland is on its way to approving same-sex marriage. The state Senate passed a bill to legalize gay marriage last night. Maryland's governor has pledged to sign the bill into law. If that happens Maryland will become the eighths U.S. state, plus the District of Columbia, to approve same-sex marriage.

Seven states and several Catholic groups are suing the federal government over its new contraception mandate. The lawsuit says that policy violates constitutional rights to religious freedom. New regulations say insurance providers for religious institutions must provide contraception coverage to women employed by those institutions. White House officials have given no comment on the pending litigation.

Minding your business this morning, stock futures for the DOW, NASDAQ, S&P 500 all trading up this morning. Dow future is up 30 points. Positive economic data in the labor market here in the U.S. is getting the credit.

Maybe he just needed a cookie. The Indiana lawmaker who called the Girl Scouts a radical organization, the Girl Scouts a radical organization that promotes abortion and homosexuality, he is now apologizing for the tone of what he said. State Representative Bob Morris said he was sorry for his "emotional, reactionary, and inflammatory words." Soledad?

O'BRIEN: But he meant them. But then he went on to say, but I meant them.

ROMANS: You know, I have a lot of girl scout badges and none of them are for any of the things he's so concerned about.

O'BRIEN: Communism.

ROMANS: There are no badges on my sash for those.


O'BRIEN: I'm glad. I feel better about that. Christine, thank you.

Still ahead this morning, we're going to tell you about a GOP congressman who is apologizing after making a comment about killing a couple of Democrats to get them to pass a budget.

Also this morning, we told you about gas prices going up again while you were sleeping. President Obama says don't expect a quick fix. And Republicans are on the attack on that.

Plus, our "Get Real" this morning. A brawl at the mall, and it's all about the sneaks.

Plus, we continue our staff play list. Have you seen that picture? This is Zoraida's (ph) play list. She loves herself a little Shakira.


O'BRIEN: You know, I just love it when Timbaland hooks up with Justin Timberlake and they put together -- what song is this?

WARREN: "Carry Out."

O'BRIEN: Thank you, Dorian. But this is Mercedes (INAUDIBLE) and this is her choice this morning. I like that. I like that. Thank you. Thank you, Morel (ph). She says, "Carry Out." Dorian already told me.

All right. Let's talk gas, as we told you just a few minutes ago, gas prices are going up, up, up, and the national average is now $3.65 per gallon, the highest ever for this time of year, much higher than that in some areas. I think it was -- was it Orlando that had $6?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, near the airport.

O'BRIEN: $6 a gallon. $4.93 - $4.93 a gallon in Los Angeles. And the surge in gas prices is triggered by rising tension obviously over Iran. President Obama stressing the all of the above approach on this. Listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Right now, we are experiencing just another painful reminder of why developing new energy is so critical to our future. Just like last year, gas prices are climbing across the country. This time it's happening even earlier.

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I represent $2.50. He represents -- he represents $9 or $10 a gallon gas. And I ask, which of those are going to be happier?


O'BRIEN: That's a rhetorical question. How -- what would I be happier with $2.50 a gallon?

CAIN: It's pretty logical to me.

O'BRIEN: Or $9 or $10 a gallon, I don't know, Christine.

ROMANS: If the president wakes up in the morning and decides what the price of gas is going to be apparently.

O'BRIEN: That is how it works, right?

ROMANS: You either blame the president or you blame the speculators or whatever the storyline happens to be when gas prices are rising.

O'BRIEN: So who does get the blame? I mean, obviously Iran is part of it.

ROMANS: But the world oil market. I mean we have a complicated world oil market where you have emerging markets that are gobbling up energy, right? And they're using much more of it than, you know -- in fact, our demand is down for oil.

Our demand for gasoline in the United States is actually down. But you have all of these other factors. And we're not the only game in town anymore.

You also have probably $10 per barrel of gas -- per barrel of oil is speculators and people putting in bets about the direction of oil and they're looking at the way the world is going. And they say, hmm, we think oil is going to be higher. So we're going to put in more bets that oil will be higher and that drives oil higher.

O'BRIEN: The president was harsh on Republicans saying that they were sort of cheering for the bad news because, of course, all of these stories turn into political stories in a political year. Do you think that's true?

ROMANS: I think that in a political year there are two things that are for sure in my life that is my mother loves me and everything about the price of gas is political, you know? And people try to play every economic member for their own advantage. And that's just the way it works, you know?

I think the longer term discussion about where we're going to get our energy, how we're going to use our energy, these are all valid discussions. But in the very near term, to say -- to say that there's one reason why gas is so high or one person to blame or one thing to blame is just too simplistic.

O'BRIEN: But at the end of the day it's one of those -- it's one of those indices, right, that you're like, people feel that.

ROMANS: Oh, more than anything else.

O'BRIEN: You feel it when you fill up your car. You feel bad about it and that's going to translate directly into how you're going to feel when you vote.

CAIN: I don't think Republicans are cheering high gas prices, but they certainly realize the political value of high gas prices.

That being said, it doesn't make it intellectually honest. The most you can do in the short term is walk over to Saudi Arabia and hold hands with King Abdullah, which we've tried. And even that has limited value because the world is producing gas as fast as it can.

Christine said it. Global demand is skyrocketing. There is a legitimate long term critique of the Obama administration and its energy policies. That should be the argument conservatives are forwarding.

We shouldn't be investing in whatever we don't know is tomorrow the industry of the future. We shouldn't be shutting down the Keystone XL Pipeline, but what your gas price says on that sign that was out on the highway right now, you just can't put on President Obama.

ROMANS: If he passes the Keystone Pipeline, gas prices would still be at $3.65 today. But one thing that's sort of dangerous for him and this administration is that the payroll tax holiday, his signature legislative achievement of the near term, two tanks of gas has just taken away your payroll tax.

CAIN: Was it $40 a month was the -- was the selling pitch on that?

FREELAND: I do think the Keystone Pipeline is the political Achilles' heel, because I agree absolutely with Christine's analysis. I think that this is 90 percent Iran, is the cause of the price spike.

But if you are a Republican politician, I think you can legitimately say there is no good reason to block Keystone and in the medium term that is a way to increase America's energy security.

O'BRIEN: And turn that sort of the gas and long-term issues.

FREELAND: Yes. So I think that that's one that they can and predict it.

ROMANS: No hammering on.

O'BRIEN: (INAUDIBLE) on the limb. All right.

WARREN: Pending legislation, though, around stopping speculation on oil in Congress, just for the record.

ROMANS: But all you can do now is fill up today and not tomorrow. If you have to fill up today, the full tank is going to be more to us Americans.

FREELAND: If Americans don't speculate, everybody else still will.

WARREN: That's true.

O'BRIEN: All right. Well, still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, governors going to the White House today brainstorming on how to create jobs. Maryland's governor is going to be there. Martin O'Malley is going to join us just a little bit.

And "Get Real," going wild over glow in the dark Nikes, and actually it's an all-out brawl. You know what, maybe people will riot in the streets over things at times. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If they burn shoes.

O'BRIEN: Courtney Davis is our tech manager and this is the choice, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, "My Feet Can't Fail Me Now."


O'BRIEN: So Heather, is this Mika? Mika, Mika? Heather (INAUDIBLE) our researcher, and this is Mika, "Relax, Take It Easy."

CAIN: Disco?

O'BRIEN: Kind of. And Heather is way too young to have experienced the disco era at all.

WARREN: You said that like that was a foreign word, Will.

CAIN: I just had something in my throat.

FREELAND: A good message for a Friday morning. Relax, take it easy --

O'BRIEN: I love it. I am learning a lot about the staffers and a lot about music today, because I haven't heard any of these songs before. All right, let's talk about "Get Real." Wow, this is a little bit crazy. Have you heard this story? Brawls have been breaking out over this new sneaker being released. This particular one is a mall in Orlando, and they're this new Nike basketball sneaker. It's called the Nike Foamposite Galaxy, and it costs -- guess how much, Chrystia?


O'BRIEN: $220. Close. And they glow in the dark, as well. They kind of look like a jellyfish sort of thing. Yes, that costs $220.

There's someone apparently even on Craigslist where they -- you see them as high as $2,400 for a pair. Someone's offering to trading in their car, a '96 Chevy Cavalier for a pair. Well. I'm sure it's a fine car.

Anyway, it's not the first time that people like lose their minds over trying to get a pair of sneakers. The release of the new Retro Air Jordans last Christmas, you remember? We covered that story. Nationwide mayhem. People (INAUDIBLE) pepper spray at cops.

And then, of course, if you've ever been to the bridezilla event, which also known as Filene's Basement, "Running of the Brides". I've done this (ph). I've literally -- it's like, yes. This is not even a once in a lifetime occurrence when people smack each other trying to get a wedding gown.

CAIN: You've done this -- you've done this story or you were in line with these ladies right here --

O'BRIEN: Both. I had both --

CAIN: Really?

O'BRIEN: -- tried to get a wedding gown.


O'BRIEN: It's a horrible experience if you're not really prepared for it. And I've also covered it as a reporter.

So that's just craziness. $2,400?

CAIN: $2,400 for a shoe?

O'BRIEN: "Get Real," people.

WARREN: $220 you can fill up your car with a tank of gas.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning at STARTING POINT, we're going to talk to the former Senator Russ Feingold. You know, he's got a new book out that's called "While America Sleeps." He also is President Obama's campaign co-chair, but he's bashing the president over Super PACs. We'll talk to him about that. Plus, Maryland's governor, Martin O'Malley, will join us. He's going to -- you know, he actually is a state -- Maryland is a state that has lower unemployment than the national average. So we'll talk to him about his secret in creating jobs, how they're doing it and what he wants to hear from the president today.

And then we're going to talk to Chazz Palminteri, walking down the red carpet. He's done it, as he was nominated for an Oscar and it kind of changed his life. So he's going to join us to talk about the Oscars.

I want to know, really, is it -- is being nominated as good as winning? Because everybody's like, listen, just to be nominated is enough. It's an honor. Just to be nominated and -- you know, I don't believe that.

Michelle Murtaugh is one of our producers, our line producer. She's going -- who's this? OK Go, "White Knuckles."


O'BRIEN: I feel compelled to say this is an all-staff pick day. This is not off of my iPod, but I kind of like that. That's Bruce Williams, he's our line producer and John Sebastien with "Welcome Back Cotter." I haven't heard about that in 30 years.


O'BRIEN: OK, then you may love it because this is America and everyone is allowed to love what they love. Let's get right to our headlines. Christine has a look at that. Hi, Christine.

ROMANS: I haven't heard that since I only have three channels on my TV.

O'BRIEN: Exactly my point.

ROMANS: Federal authorities this morning may be launching their own investigation into Jerry Sandusky. Penn state officials say U.S. attorney subpoenaed the school for information on Sandusky and his Second Mile children's charity.

A source says authorities may be investigating accusations that Sandusky took one of his alleged victims across state lines.

A sex tape involving John Edwards and his former mistress, Real Hunter is headed to the shredder. Hunter won back the tape in a settlement of a lawsuit that she filed against former Edwards' aide, Andrew Young and his wife.

Hunter lived with them, that couple, when she's pregnant with John Edwards' child. She was ordered to destroy the tape within 30 days.

Oklahoma Congressman John Sullivan is apologizing for his poor choice of words at a recent town hall meeting. Sullivan who is a Republican was answering a question about fellow Congressman Paul Ryan's budget plan and what it would take to get it passed when these words came out.


REP. JOHN SULLIVAN (R), OKLAHOMA: I believe in that, I support it, the Paul Ryan budget. Send it over to the Senate. Now, I live with some senators. I yell at them all the time. I grabbed one the other day and shook them. I would love to get them to vote for it. Boy, I would love that. You know other than me going over there with a gun and holding it to their head and maybe killing a couple of them, I don't think they're going to listen unless they get beat.


ROMANS: Congressman Sullivan's office says despite the rhetoric he doesn't condone violence to fix what's broken in Washington.

All right, check your flights this morning. A winter blast hitting the windy city in the upper Midwest, the third big snowstorm of the season. They're expecting seven to nine inches when this is all said and done.

It's still snowing right now, folks. O'Hare International has canceled more than 350 flights so far. Of course, it's O'Hare, that means the effects of this will be felt across the U.S.

Meteorologists Rob Marciano following this extreme weather. He's got an update for us. Good morning, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Christine. This is a big storm. It's extending into the northeast as well. We have delays at the New York airports also. So on top of the canceled flights from yesterday, you've got them in Chicago.

We got a ground stop at midway right now, an hour and 30- minute delays at O'Hare and in Laguardia, we got an hour delays as well as in Philadelphia.

A big, big storm stretching into the northeast. We've getting heavy snow across parts of upstate New York and northern New England with this. That will change the rain. The heaviest snow is now cooking through Chicago and it's really starting to pile up.

The good news is it's been relatively warm there. So the bigger roadways, the interstates for the most part are on the west side, but anywhere from six as you mentioned in some spots nine inches before it's all said and done.

It extends up towards the northeast. You notice that the I-95 Corridor should remain snow free with this event. It will be on the mild side, but also bring with it a significant amount of winds, 40 to 50 mile an hour winds potentially across this area.

That does include parts of New York and Philadelphia later on today as the storm exits off towards the east and a threat for severe weather down across the south. Powerful storm system effecting millions of people. Christine, back to you.

ROMANS: All right, thanks, Rob. Time for your A.M. House call now. Breaking up is harder to do than telling your boss I quit. A new study out of the University of Illinois says people regret decisions they make about love far more than they regret decisions they make about work.

Researchers say decisions of love like ending a marriage or a relationship are much tougher to overcome than just quitting your job or even dropping out of college -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I believe that. That's not a surprise to me.


O'BRIEN: Would have, could have -- a job, you're like, I'm done. I'm out. Not here, of course, but just generally speaking. All right, Christine, thank you.

Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold served in the U.S. Senate for 18 years. He was the only one to vote against the Patriot Act after 9/11. Let's show you some pictures on the floor of the Senate one month after the attacks. Listen.


RUSS FEINGOLD, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: We must redouble our vigilance to ensure our security and to prevent further acts of terror, but we must also redouble our vigilance to preserve our values and the basic rights that make us who we are.


O'BRIEN: He's got a new book called "While America Sleeps, A Wake-Up Call for the Post-9/11 Era." He joins our panelists. It's nice to see you, sir. Thanks for being with us.

I want to talk about your departure from the Senate. You have said that after you cast your vote on health care you knew it was over. Tell me a little bit about that.

FEINGOLD: Well, you know, I wasn't certain, but, you know, I could tell that people in this state were thinking the economy is bad, the Democrats are in charge of everything at the federal level and the state level.

Even though I certainly think Democrats were the ones responsible for this it seemed to be the end of the Bush administration, there was sort of anti-incumbent fever.

The health care bill people said things about it that were completely false even before it was written. People had a bad impression about it. I thought it was time after 70 years to get Americans health care. So I think that was it.

O'BRIEN: Are you mad about it? FEINGOLD: Not at all. I got to be a United States Senator for 18 years and now I got to write a book "While America Sleeps." First time in my life to talk about something that's been worrying me for 10 years.

O'BRIEN: What has been worrying you for 10 years?

FEINGOLD: Well, you know, obviously after 9/11, we all know that we had sort of this resolved. We better pay attention to the rest of the world. There are all of these clues out there about al Qaeda that we didn't really tag into.

Well, you know, we started off pretty well with Afghanistan and sort of getting that right in the first place and the invasion of it was sort of done in a sensible way. Then we got into Iraq. We got diverted into this invasion of countries idea.

We stopped thinking about al Qaeda for what it really is, which is an organization in some 60 countries around the world. There are very serious threats of al Qaeda right now throughout parts of Africa and places like El Shabab in Somalia. In Northern Africa, there are chapters.

I think in Nigeria, there's a group called (inaudible) pulling off all kinds of attacks. We've seen this movie before, but we're not alert to it. All we can do is talk about other legitimate things, such as the economy, Iran obviously.

But we have to learn to walk and chew gum at the same time and we as people have to become better informed about the rest of the world. We need to learn languages and so on. I think together after 10 years kind of going back to sleep with the rest of the world. We need to fix that.

O'BRIEN: Why did you vote against the Patriot Act?

FEINGOLD: Well -- because I read it. When I read it -- when I read I found out there was all this stuff in there that have been shoved in there by people from the FBI and others who could never get those things through before.

The late Bob Novak said it was an old wish list of the FBI, took Bob's phrase. He and I didn't agree on a lot of things. Going after people's library records who had absolutely no connection to terrorism.

Being able to go into people's houses when they're on vacation and being able to go in there in situations that they never even used it for terrorism for a long time. It was kind of a manipulation of fear and it's never been fixed. That's why I voted against it.

O'BRIEN: It seems like the tenor has been changed and you write about that in chapter two "Growing Climate of Fear In The Capitol." But I think there are sort of repercussions of this even today and you're talking about meeting a columnist who comes into your office and you say, hi, I'm Russ Feingold. And looking as aloof as humanly possible, unsmiling George Will didn't say hello. He said dryly, well, it's devil himself. You said something like, well, then why don't you meet the devil's chief of staff.

But truly it seems to me that 9/11 is sort of this moment in time in which we start seeing a certain hostility and maybe greater partisanship in Washington, D.C. where people who used to at least essential socialize. You were there.

FEINGOLD: After 9/11 it was very good until we got into the Iraq situation. That's where things really polarized it and headed down a road with the Tea Party wanting us to not talk about social issues or for foreign policy.

We're all focused on what's going on. It's just the way we are including myself. We have this tendency to think, thank God, Osama Bin Laden is gone. We're done. We're not done. The dumbest thing in the world is we get surprised again. We need to pay attention.

O'BRIEN: "Super PAC" question, can we move to a "Super PAC" question? You know I hate to interrupt Will. I don't want to run out of time because you are the Obama campaign finance co-chair, right?

FEINGOLD: Yes, I'm the devil himself into "Super PACs."

O'BRIEN: You are, indeed. Well, kind of sort of, yes, actually. I think that's fair to say and yet you've also fought very hard against "Super PACs" obviously.

FEINGOLD: I'm completely against them.

O'BRIEN: How does that -- wow. That sounds completely hypocritical, sir, and kind of morally hard to walk that fine line.

FEINGOLD: I'll tell you. It's no fun when you spent a good part of your life trying to change a system. I absolutely think it's wrong for anyone, whether it's Romney or Gingrich or Santorum or the president to be involved with "Super PACs." I think it will be overturned, the decision that allows them.

And I think it's actually a mistake for the president, even though I support him and I co-chair of his campaign. I think it hurts him politically to go down that road. He's in good shape. He doesn't need to be involved in this kind of money. But I will say this --

O'BRIEN: Why stay on as the campaign coach?

FEINGOLD: Because I agree with him on almost everything else. I think he's done a wonderful job in international policy, he's gotten Bin Laden, Gadhafi is gone. We have health care legislation. The economy is getting better.

You know, grown-ups disagree on some things and you can still support each other. I really hope he changes his mind on this, but I think he's a good president. I think president Obama will end up become aggregate president and I think he's our only chance to get justices to overturn citizens -- I think it makes a lot of sense.

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, EDITOR, THOMSON REUTERS DIGITAL: Senator, why do you reject the justifications we've heard from the president and his team about "Super PACs?" I mean, their argument is, yes, we think that this is wrong, but we can't unilaterally disarm them.

FEINGOLD: The only way to win the election is money, which is a trap and it's not, almost every one of my elections I was out spent and still won. That's not the only way to win.

In fact, when you show people you're more like them, you're not just about big huge checks from hidden sources that is a powerful political weapon.

Our president has the chance to renew people's understanding. He's far more like that than the republican candidates who are attending their own "Super PAC" events.

O'BRIEN: The book is called "While America Sleeps." Russ Feingold is the author. Thanks for coming in. We appreciate it.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, governors going to the White House today, they're talking jobs, jobs, jobs. Maryland's governor is going to there as well. We're going to talk to him about what he's going to talk about coming up next.

Also from our staff play list. This is Todd Pults, he's our senior producer. God, he's listening to Miley Cyrus. This is "Party in the USA." It changes everything I think about Todd.


O'BRIEN: There are signs of improvement in the economy. Jobless claims held steady last week. Lowest level since the early days of the recession. And today, President Obama is going to meet with Democratic governors to talk about job creation.

The Maryland governor, Martin O'Malley, is going to be at this meeting. He's the chair of the Democratic Governors Association. He joins us live.

Nice to see you, sir. Thanks for being with us.


O'BRIEN: You look at your state's unemployment rate, 6.7 percent in December. That's just almost two points lower than the national average back in October. it was significantly lower than the national average at the time. So what do you want to hear from the president and what are you doing right?

O'MALLEY: Well, I think the president is doing a lot of things right and Democratic governors are working with him in order to create jobs and expand opportunity. How are we doing that? By investing in the education of our people and our workforce, by accelerating, you know, things like newer, more fuel-efficient cars. In our state, Soledad, only thanks to the president, we were able to join forces with G.M. and now they're going to increase hiring from 200 people to 400 people, making the next generation of the electric drive cars. This is innovation. This is new ideas. And this is what a new economy needs in order to create jobs, and that is new investments, and the talents of our people and new products.

O'BRIEN: Your state has a $1.1 billion budget gap. You have proposed capping income tax deductions. There are some who are calling your proposal, this is a quote, "socialistic," and have said, listen, the way you reduce -- the way you grow your economy is you reduce the tax burden. You don't add to the tax burden.


Do they have a point there?

O'MALLEY: Well, you know, the -- the way you create jobs is by making the modern investments in a modern economy requires. But, yes, in this current year's budget, in a state that has an AAA bond rating, our state is cutting $800 million. Once again, we've cut $7.5 billion. But there comes a point when you also have to make investments, just like our parents and our grandparents made investments in their days. You know, bridges don't repair themselves. They don't get stronger and broader with age. They're not like trees. So, yes, you get what you pay for. And if we want jobs to expand, if we want more opportunity for ourselves and for our kids, then we have to be willing to believe enough in our country's future and our state's future to make these investments.

And most people find that a slight capping of deductions is not such an outrageous proposal in a state that has been able to build up for four years in a row the best public schools in America, a state that's gone four years in a row without a penny's increase in college tuition, a state that actually has a rate of job creation that's better than most of the other states in our country. So, hey, you get what you pay for.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a question about really, I think, the tone in the country, specifically maybe the GOP primary contest has really been about social issues. And, of course, last night, the Maryland Senate voted to legalize same-sex marriage, and you said you're going sign that bill into law. Do you think social issues are hurting the GOP or will hurt the GOP in the national election or do you think that this is something that's going to help the GOP? If you look at how Santorum's surge, if you call it, that start talking about social issues heavily, he started doing very well.

O'MALLEY: Well, talking about divisive cultural issues within their primary process may help them within their primary. But it doesn't help the vast majority of the people of our country, Soledad. What they want to hear about is jobs. How many times did Rick Santorum mention jobs in the debate the other night? Zippo, zero, nada. Not once did he mention the word jobs, and yet that's what the vast majority of people, who are making a decision about the country's future in the fall, want to hear.

In Maryland, in states that are governed by Democratic governors, we're focused on jobs. The president's focused on jobs. Yes, from time to time, we have to confront issues that are potentially divisive or culturally divisive. But, look, we don't spend a whole lot of time figuring out ways to outlaw contraception, outlaw gay relationships, outlaw women's rights. We're about jobs and opportunity and protecting equal rights for all.

O'BRIEN: Last week, there was lots of conversation about, I think, contraception and a lot of that came actually right out of the president's office.

All right, Governor Martin O'Malley --


O'MALLEY: Yes, but it wasn't about outlawing it.

O'BRIEN: I appreciate your time this morning. Thank you very much for being with us.

O'MALLEY: Thank you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, taking sex ed out of schools unless it's abstinence only. There's a state trying to do that. Creating an uproar. We'll talk about that.

And the countdown to the Oscars. Oscar winner, Chazz Palminteri, is going to join us. That's straight ahead.



O'BRIEN: Thank you, Ashleigh Banfield.

That's Bamboleo, "The Gypsy King." This is like a walk down my junior high school, high school, college life.

All right. Everybody knows it is the 84th Academy Awards. It's going to air on Sunday night. Many nominated, of course, but only a handful win. Often people will say it's an honor to be nominated really.

We have actor, Chazz Palminteri, who knows the feeling of being nominated. A best supporting actor nomination for "Bullets Over Broadway."

Here's a little clip.


CHAZZ PALMINTERI, ACTOR: So Sylvia phoned to say she's pregnant. It'll be a great finish.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Oh, god. That's so great.

PALMINTERI: Don't speak. Don't speak.


O'BRIEN: That's Chazz Palminteri on his big night now back in 1995. There you go. Looking nice at the Oscars.

It's nice to have you with us. We appreciate it.


O'BRIEN: Here's what I want to clarify. Every time someone's nominated and someone says, do you really want to when, they're like, oh, it's just an honor to be nominated. If I win, if I don't win, is really doesn't -- is that true? Did you just really, really, really want to win?

PALMINTERI: To be honest with you, no, Soledad. If you win, it will be great. But to be there -- maybe the second time, yes. I think the second time you feel that way, you really want to win. The first time, you're so happy to be there. You know, it's a dream as a young actor. You're holding a hair brush when you're a kid talking --


-- about how you're going to accept --


O'BRIEN: I want to thank the academy.


PALMINTERI: I want to thank the academy.

O'BRIEN: I want to thank the academy.

PALMINTERI: But all of a sudden --

O'BRIEN: I want to thank the academy.

PALMINTERI: -- you're really there. I agree, the first time. The second time, I agree with you, but you want to win the second time.

O'BRIEN: Tell me a little bit about when you got your nomination. What was going -- do you write out a speech? Is it, I'm going to wing it? How did you plan for the whole thing?

PALMINTERI: I wing it. I'm good on winging it. If I write it out, it comes out a little stilted. So I knew what I really wanted to say. I had parents that really believed in me and my wife. My wife -- my wife, Jonna (ph) really --


O'BRIEN: You're delivering it right now.


PALMINTERI: I'm delivering it right now. Exactly, yes, yes.

O'BRIEN: Nowadays, though, it seems like the actors are like, and I want to thank my stylist. I want to thank Giorgio Armani for the suit.


PALMINTERI: And I've always said, you've got to be -- you've got to be cool when you get up there. You just can't start crying and be hysterical and -- you've got to be cool. That's important.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: How surprised are you -- we have odds makers these days who publish who will win in the newspaper. When you're sitting in that seat, waiting for that announcement to come up, do you have an expectation of whether or not you're going to win?

PALMINTERI: Yes. I was pretty sure that Mario Landeau was going to win because he won everything else and he was brilliant. But it could have been anybody -- Sandra Jackson (ph) who was up for "Pulp Fiction."


O'BRIEN: But you were up in a tough category.

PALMINTERI: It's always a tough -- Gary Sinise for Forrest Gump; Paul Schofield for "Quiz Show," and myself.

O'BRIEN: Right.

PALIMINTERI: So it was -- anybody could have won, and it would have been OK.

O'BRIEN: Do you watch the show? Do you have Oscar parties at your house?

PALMINTERI: Yes. I watch the show. Yes, or I go or I watch the show. I've been there three times.




PALMINTERI: Yes, a while ago.


O'BRIEN: He's like, "or I just go, Soledad."


PALMINTERI: Or I go, yes. Yes, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Handicap the race for me, before we run out of time. Who do you think will be the big winner on Sunday night?

PALMINTERI: I think "The Descendents" is -- I really love George Clooney. I thought he was brilliant and I thought he was really terrific in that. Marty Scorsese did an incredible job for "Hugo" for best picture. Those are the two that I really see. Jessica Chastain for "The Help." Was great. Those are the people I really see will win.

O'BRIEN: We'll be watching on Sunday and we'll see.

I love the guy who calls him Marty Scorsese. You really know him.


We call him Martin.



O'BRIEN: Yes, that's correct.

PALMINTERI: But I do want to mention that I am going to be in Caesar's -- excuse me, at the Mirage Hotel doing my Broadway show.

O'BRIEN: They're bringing it to the stage.

PALMINTERI: No, it was actually first on the stage, then it just came --


O'BRIEN: Movie and then back to the stage.

PALMINTERI: -- a movie, now I'm bringing it back to the stage at the Mirage, March 12th through the 20th.

O'BRIEN: That's fantastic. Well, great.

We love having you. Thank you for joining us this morning. I appreciate it.

PALMINTERI: Well, thank you. Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, mayhem in Afghanistan over the burning of the Koran. Four people killed this morning alone.

And Newt Gingrich is now slamming President Obama for apologizing for that. We'll talk about that ahead this morning.

And Mitt Romney's corporate tax plan versus President Obama's plan -- which helps keep business in this country? Jack and Susie Welch will join us to talk about that.

Plus, Tim Tebow had a date with this little girl. So cute. And he made her dream come true.

You're watching STARTING POINT. We'll tell you all about that as well.