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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Interview with Jack and Suzy Welch; Interview With Tim Pawlenty; Linsanity, Linc?; Mitt Romney to Propose New Tax Plan; Protests Over Burning of Korans Continue in Afghanistan; Nine More Killed in Koran-Burning Protests; One Step Closer to Olympic Glory

Aired February 24, 2012 - 08:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome back, everybody.

Our STARTING POINT this morning is the backlash over the Koran burning. New protests erupting and under the way right now, and more people have been killed this morning.

Plus, Obama versus Romney. It is the battle of the tax plans. We'll take a look at what you might pay and also how the United States plans to pay for them.

Former G.E. chairman and Romney supporter Jack Welch, along with his wife Suzy are going to join us straight ahead.

Plus, Tim Pawlenty dropped out of the race and endorsed Mitt Romney and says Romney is a likeable guy who he expects is going to hold on to his home state of Michigan. We'll talk to the former governor, straight ahead.

STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: Oh, little Curtis Mayfield this morning. "Move On Up". That's Michelle Campo's (ph) choice. Thank you, Michelle. Appreciate that.

All right. Let's get right back to our panel this morning. Chrystia Freeland joins us. Will Cain is back. And Dorian Moore (ph).

Nice to have you back with us.

We want to start with the breaking news coming to us from Afghanistan this morning. New eruptions of rage there. A local official says four more people have been killed this morning in protests over what was a mistake, the burning of a Koran at the largest U.S. air base there. Two American soldiers were killed yesterday.

Newt Gingrich has been blasting President Obama for apologizing to the Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: President Obama surrendered twice today, and I think it deserves to be brought to the country's attention. I haven't seen the president demand that the government of Afghanistan apologize for the killing of two young Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: One of those protest days happening very close to the U.S. consulate. We are continuing to follow this story very closely.

James Yee, a former U.S. Army chaplain at Guantanamo Bay, is going to come and join us to talk about some of the implications of what is happening in Afghanistan today.

First, though, we're talking dueling tax plans -- Obama versus Romney.

And Obama's corporate tax plan looks like this. He wants to lower the tax rate from 35 percent to 28 percent. Set a minimum tax on overseas profits. Small businesses will be able to write off up to $1 million in investments and it would create new tax subsidies for manufacturers.

Romney's plan also out this week also would cut the corporate rate. It would cut it from 35 percent to 25 percent. So, a slight difference there. And there is a lot on the individual taxes. A 20 percent cut to all income tax rates, repeal the estate and alternative minimum tax, and he says he would pay for it through spending cuts of approximately $500 billion.

Let's talk this morning with two people who support Mitt Romney for president. Jack Welch is the former CEO of G.E., from 1981 to 2001, and the founder of the Jack Welch Management Institute. And Suzy Welch also joins us, columnist and bestselling author. And they both are contributors for "Reuters".

Nice to have you.

Let's walk slowly through tax plans because sometimes I think talking about tax plans on television is really, really hard and really, really confusing. But let's say you're a CEO and you hear the Obama plan and you hear the Mitt Romney plan where essentially it sounds fairly close dropping from 35 percent to 25 percent. In one case 35 percent to 28 percent perfection.

What's the real difference in those plans?

JACK WELCH, CONTRIBUTOR, REUTERS: Look, Soledad, they're both directionally correct. We've got to get the corporate tax rate more competitive on a global scale. And these are moves in the right direction.

I don't want to get in the weeds as to which particular one is better than the other. They're both directionally correct.

O'BRIEN: But when I look at the corporate tax rates around the world, we have a little graphic of this, and I'll throw it up.

We say United States is at 35 percent, and France is at 34 percent, and Belgium at 33 percent, and Spain at 30 percent, Japan at 30 percent, Mexico at 30 percent. So, it sounds like we're kind of competitive, right?

J. WELCH: Well, I think we would be a lot better off if we get ourselves to a territorial tax and we get ourselves down in the mid- 20s, like Canada and a number of other places.

O'BRIEN: There was lots of uproar about G.E.'s tax bill, as you well know. Back in 2010, "The New York Times" wrote this: "The company," G.E., they're talking about, "reported worldwide profits of $14.2 billion and said $5.1 billion of the total came from its operations in the U.S. Its American tax bill? None. In fact, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion."

So I think it's hard for people who are not, you know, tax attorneys to understand how a major company can make $5.1 billion here in the United States and then get a really large tax benefit at the end of the day. Can you explain that?

J. WELCH: Well, probably not well enough. But I can tell you this -- I retired ten years ago. But from what I know, General Electric's tax bill was impacted dramatically by the heavy losses it took in the financial sector in 2008 and 2009 and that carried over to 2010 tax bill.

O'BRIEN: So let's talk a little bit about this article that you've written in "Reuters". It was surprising because when I saw the headline, they're writing about Jeremy Lin. Huh?

Suzy, you're not writing about sports really. You're sort of writing about the metaphor of sports in the boardroom possibly. Can you explain what the article is about?

SUZY WELCH, CONTRIBUTOR, REUTERS: "The Reuters" column every other week is about linking events in the news to management or business lessons. And a few days ago, Jack started muttering about Jeremy Lin being a fantastic business lesson. And I was like -- you know, I was excited about Jeremy Lin like everyone else. And I said, what are you talking about?

And he got very excited about saying, look, this is all about liberating your bench because every company has 20s and 30-something people who are real stars who are sitting there on the bench being told, you know, wait your turn. You haven't been seasoned enough.

And these people fester and then what happens is they lose -- corporations lose them. And this is why so many of the great companies in America right now, like the Apples, and the Googles, and the Facebooks are started by people who didn't want to be in corporations being told to wait their turn.

Jeremy Lin reminds all of us, and reminds people who are leaders and managers, liberate these people. Give them a chance. Give them a bigger chance than they're ready for and maybe some of them will surprise you.

O'BRIEN: Here's a little bit from the column. You say this, "When you manage to put aside all hooting and hollering aside about Jeremy Lin," and we should also say really bad puns as well, "his nation-gripping story just so happens to offer an important lesson for business leaders. Give your bench a chance."

You know, on one hand, the two of you know what you're talking about when it comes to business. On the other hand, I can see business leaders everywhere saying, I'm really not going to put somebody who's been cut and might about to be cut, you know, to play in the big game because, you know, we're talking about all this money that's riding on this individual.

Do you think realistically that's going to be advice that any business leaders are going to take?

J. WELCH: Absolutely. Soledad, the idea really is you've got a lot of high potential young people in your organization, late 20s, early 30s people who are being prepared to go through all the steps, not unlike your career at NBC, through all the steps.

O'BRIEN: Jack was my boss. And my boss's boss's boss's boss's boss.

(LAUGHTER)

J. WELCH: And when you go through all these steps, you get frustrated and you jump ship and you go to CNN, or you go wherever you go, and people do these things.

And the idea is give people who show that spark, who have got those smarts, give them a chance early. There's no downside. If they win, you win big. If they don't, they can move on somewhere else.

The idea of keeping them with a lid on them through all these bureaucratic steps with bosses saying, well, I didn't move that fast. I didn't get that break when I was 29.

Break that mold and you'll have a more exciting company, a more energized team, and you're liable to get three Jeremy Lins out of that to run different businesses in your company.

O'BRIEN: Jack Welch and Suzy Welch, nice to see you.

If you guys want to work me into your next column, you know, like call my people. We can work it out.

Always great to have you. Thanks for talking to us this morning. Appreciate it.

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, REUTERS: Soledad, if you want you can join them in the column lineup.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: That's right.

FREELAND: You can be a "Reuters" columnist.

O'BRIEN: Chrystia is like, I can make that happen. Reuters is my kingdom. All right. Thanks to them.

And let's get to some other headlines. Christine has got that.

Hey, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

Watching your money another day. Another spike in gas prices. AAA says the national average for a gallon of regular gas is now $3.65. That's up 3.5 cents from just yesterday. It's the highest gas has ever been for this time of year.

Prices are much higher in some parts of the country. Nearly $5 a gallon, for instance, in Los Angeles.

In the markets, U.S. stock futures for the Dow, NASDAQ and S&P 500 all pointing to a higher open today. Dow futures are up about 20 points right now. Markets getting a boost from positive economic data and the labor market here in the U.S. yesterday.

Comedian Bill Maher putting his money where his mouth is big time. During a concert last night in San Jose, California, Maher announced he was donating $1 million to President Obama's super PAC. The show was streamed live on Yahoo.

Maher later tweeted, "Thank you everybody who's hit me up after the show. And a great San Jose audience. Obama donation was a surprise to Yahoo, too, FYI."

The Utah House has passed a bill banning schools from teaching about contraception in the sex ed classes. This bill would also allow schools to drop sex ed programs altogether. Teachers would be allowed to answer questions that students though bring up to them about birth control.

Tim Tebow makes a young fan's dream come true. The NFL star invited 9-year-old Presli Collins as his date to the Cartoon Network's Hall of Game awards in Los Angeles. Presley suffers from a tumor disorder called neurofibromatosis 1. Tebow sent Presley home with several souvenirs, including an autographed football.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESLI COLLINS, NINE-YEAR-OLD NF1 SUFFERER: To Presley, number 15, Tim Tebow. God bless. Go Broncos.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: She says Tebow is a thousand times nicer than she thought he would be. Although he's nice.

O'BRIEN: Yes.

ROMANS: A thousand times nicer.

O'BRIEN: That's really, really, really nice, isn't it? How sweet. Nice for her. That's great.

All right. Christine, thank you.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, despite some controversial comments recently, GOP women are warming up to Rick Santorum. We'll talk about some change in the numbers for him among women.

And Tim Pawlenty weighs in on the race that he left and why he thinks Mitt Romney's going to be there at the bitter end.

Plus, help wanted at NASA. It won't get you to Mars, but you're going to get to eat like you're there, which sounds and looks a little unappealing.

And our staff play list, it's Mercedes once again. She's playing Alicia Bridges, "I Love the Night Life." This is a walk through my young adulthood. I love it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. New poll numbers show a tightening race between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. Arizona and Michigan hold their primaries on Tuesday, and some analysts are calling the primary in Michigan a do or die state for Mitt Romney. Now, they seem to say that all the time.

The latest poll by the American Research Group shows Mitt Romney trailing Rick Santorum there just slightly, 38 percent to 34 percent. It's within the margin of error, so, statistically, it is a tie. Former Republican Minnesota governor, Tim Pawlenty, joins us live this morning right here, Romney supporter (ph).

Well, it's nice to have you. We've moved to a different set so we can grab an early interview with you. Back in your state of Minnesota, Mitt Romney came in third, and that was also looking very tight, and he ended up not doing particularly well in your state. As we look at Michigan, it's very, very tight. How do you predict he's going to be able to do?

TIM PAWLENTY, (R) FORMER MINNESOTA GOVERNOR: Well, Michigan, I think, Mitt has the momentum. He was trailing Rick Santorum probably about a week ago by a significant margin. Now, most polls have it tied, or perhaps, Mitt with even a little bit of a lead. So, in politics, momentum matters, and that momentum is a reflection of some things. Rick Santorum didn't get a lot of scrutiny as a second or third tier candidate. Now, that he's in the first tier, we get to see his record on labor issues, his record on spending, his record on tax issues, and what Republicans are responding to saying, you know, maybe he's not as conservative as he said he is. They're coming back to or staying with Mitt Romney.

O'BRIEN: I used the words do or die in our introduction, and I feel like I've said that a lot about almost every single state. But you could look at Michigan and say maybe it's more true in the state of Michigan, because, of course, Mitt Romney's father was a governor. It's considered to be a home state by him, and he was leading by something like 14 points just, you know, several months ago.

PAWLENTY: Well, if we've learned anything in this Republican nomination for president, Soledad, is that no state is do or die for anybody. It keeps changing and going on. But Mitt, obviously, has been the one constant in this race. He's been at or near the top of the heap for the whole thing.

So, is Michigan important for all the reasons you suggested? Of course. But is it do or die for a candidate like Mitt Romney? No. And I think he's going to do well there.

O'BRIEN: So, Stephanie Cutter, when we chatted with her, I think it was yesterday, she was talking about sort of the lack of a frontrunner and why she thought there was a lack of a frontrunner, and of course, she's helping trying to get President Obama re-elected. Here's what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANIE CUTTER, ASST. TO THE PRESIDENT/DEPUTY SENIOR ADVISER: A couple of things. One, there is no frontrunner in the Republican race. I think that's pretty clear. It's pretty clear on that stage last night.

There was a contest to see who could move further to the right on issues like immigration or taxes or earmarks, and they went at each other on a number of different things. You know, for instance, on earmarks. Every one of them on that stage has taken an earmark.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So, let's talk about some of these issues. She's talking about moving further to the right on immigration. We certainly heard more from Mitt Romney about immigration. Is that going to be a challenging stance? Let's say he does get the nomination.

Let's say now he's heading into the general election. Is he going to have to back away from some of the things he's been saying about immigration?

PAWLENTY: No, I don't think so. He's been consistently strong about enforcing our immigration laws, making sure that we have a way to verify whether somebody's here legally or not. He's been for immigration, but he wants it to be legal immigration. Most Americans agree with that.

You know, Soledad, the other thing is the Hispanic and Latino community is not a monolith. If you go down to states like Arizona, Florida, California, depending on how long they've been in the country, even the Hispanic and Latino community has different views about immigration.

So, this idea that if you're for enforcing our laws against illegal immigration, that somehow you annoy or lose all the Hispanic votes, that's not necessarily true.

O'BRIEN: (INAUDIBLE). My full name Is Maria de la Soledad Theresa O'Brien, right? So, --

PAWLENTY: Can you say that three times?

O'BRIEN: Probably not. So, I agree with you completely on the monolithic thing, but when it comes to a sense of hostility from the GOP, we even heard from Marco Rubio, the senator, saying, guys we've got to sort of think about the tone because we're going to lose Latino voters.

PAWLENTY: Of course. And do you know who did best in Florida of all the Republican candidates and did historically remarkably well amongst Hispanic voters? Mitt romney. And so, his views on immigration are, look, we want to be in favor of immigration. We want it to be legal and reasonable and orderly.

And if you have a chance to have a discussion with most Americans about that issue, they agree with Mitt Romney's position.

O'BRIEN: President Obama has a new ad that's running, and I want to play a little bit, and we'll talk on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Made in America. For generations of Michigan auto workers, it's more than a slogan, it's a way of life. But when a million jobs were on the line, every Republican candidate turned their back, even said, let Detroit go bankrupt. Not him.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Don't bet against the American auto industry.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: No surprise that's an ad that's running in the state of Michigan as we head into the primary there. How much do you think that an ad like that could hurt your candidate, Mitt Romney?

PAWLENTY: Well, the polls are showing Mitt Romney's position on the auto situation doesn't hurt him. In fact, it's a positive thing for him. And what he said is, look, there's a system in place for failing companies. It's bankruptcy. He wanted to be a managed bankruptcy. He would not have allowed the companies to fail, but he wanted them to go through the normal process rather than a special deal.

O'BRIEN: The normal process. Most analysts said the normal process would have been impossible at a time when credit was really tightening, that there was no way to really do that, that that's why the government did, in fact, step in.

PAWLENTY: Well, ironically, Barack Obama had the companies go through bankruptcy anyhow, Soledad. The only difference is he gave them money beforehand and gave some special parting gifts to his crony friends, namely the UAW and the unions, as part of the process that most other employees and most other companies don't get.

So, the objection here isn't whether they had to go through bankruptcy or not. Even under Obama's plan they did, but what Obama did, President Obama did is give them his supporters and special groups special favors. That's not what Mitt wanted to do.

He wanted them to go through the normal process, play by the rules. Everybody else had to play by, and that would have worked. In fact, I'm confident it would have worked.

O'BRIEN: It's going to hurt him, though, this --

PAWLENTY: No. The polls show it doesn't hurt. In the Republican primary, they had polling out that showed that Mitt Romney's position relative to some other positions and Republican primaries that hurting him in Michigan, the answer is no.

O'BRIEN: So, what if he loses in the state of Michigan? What happens? Are we still having, as you and I having this conversation like six months from now, who's going to be the frontrunner --

PAWLENTY: You don't get coronated. You have to go out and earn every vote. Mitt understands that. He's doing that. I believe he's going to win Michigan. But even if for some reason he didn't, his campaign doesn't end. It's going to go on. He is the person who's the frontrunner, the most constant performer and person who's got the best record in this race on taxes and spending.

He's actually done it. Not just vote for stuff or give speeches as an executive outside of Washington, he's actually done it. So, Michigan is really important. I believe he's going to win. I think you'll see that, but it's not dispositive.

O'BRIEN: All right. We'll talk about it after the state of Michigan.

PAWLENTY: All right. Thanks, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Governor Tim Pawlenty, nice to have you, thank you very much.

Going to take a break. We'll be back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Couple quick headlines this morning. New York Knicks star, Jeremy Lin, looking to cash in on his overnight fame. Lin has filed to trademark the term Lin-sanity. It would give him exclusive rights to put the signature term on a variety of products, including clothing, coffee mugs, action figures, you name it.

And if you're willing to spend the next four months eating nothing but space food, four months nothing but space food, NASA is looking for you. The space agency is looking for six people to spend four months in Hawaii wearing space suits and eating nothing but astronaut food.

It's a simulated trip to Mars to find out how to improve the bland food that astronauts get right now. You have until February 29th to apply. Round trip air ticket, Soledad. Five grand, I think, but you have to have, I think, a science or math degree, B.A.

O'BRIEN: Hawaii? $5,000?

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Right. Get a massage at the end. Could all work out. All right. Christine, thank you.

This is the story of a doctor who makes his house calls by boat bringing healthcare to the world's most remote areas and it's all free. Take a look at this week's CNN "Hero."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. BENJAMIN LABROT, MEDICAL CARE: My name is Dr. Benjamin LeBrot. I don't have a private medical practice, and I make no salary.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ben, do you want to take her? This is Ingrid.

LABROT: I started an organization called floating doctors to use a ship to bring healthcare to communities that have fallen through the cracks, been denied access to healthcare. Floating doctors has a 76 foot, 100 ton ship that we refurbished from completely derelict haul (ph) and we use that to transport all of our supplies.

Since we set sail about two and a half years ago, our mission has been continuous. We were two months in Haiti. We traveled to Hondouras. We've been working in Panama for about the last eight months. In the last two years, we've treated nearly 13,000 people in three countries. I'll find patients who have never seen a doctor before in their lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was about as good a result in that ultrasound as we could possibly hope. LABROT: Typical community is usually living with no electricity, with no running water, with no sewage, essentially living with none of the basic requirements as we understand it. We've built schools. We've done community projects. We've provided health education for thousands of patients.

Floating doctors is an all volunteer organization. Nobody gets paid. All of our medical supplies are donated. I had to postpone many aspects of my own personal life. I don't have a home somewhere. I had to give up a lot, but I gained everything.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: And still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, Mitt Romney laying out his economic plan today. He's hoping to seal the deal in his home state next week. Ron Brownstein is going to join us live from Detroit where Mitt Romney is going to be unveiling that plan.

Also, she wrote seven "Harry Potter" books. I have read them all. Now, there's going to be a new book from J.K. Rowling. This one is not for kids, though. This is for adults.

And that playlist, we're back to Danny Figueroa, our director, Harper Blynn, "Models/Dancers."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: I kind of like that. That's Reese. I like that. We're having a very poppy sort of morning. Wow. All right, I like it. Christine, headlines.

ROMANS: The music. All right, let's turn to Syria. The Syrian army shelling the city of Homs still. World powers meeting in Tunisia in what's being called, Soledad, the "Friends of Syria conference." Secretary of State Clinton is there. Just a couple of hours ago former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan said he will serve as joint U.N. Arab League envoy to Syria. The U.S., Europe, and Arab nations are all drafting a warning to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to agree to an immediate ceasefire so that food and medical supplies can get in and the wounded and dead can come out.

Federal authorities may be launching their own investigation into Jerry Sandusky. Penn State officials say U.S. authorities 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.

And 35,000 jobs on the chopping block at the U.S. Postal Service. The postal service announcing it will either consolidate or close down more than 200 of its mail processing plants. The agency says the move will save $2.1 billion and affected employees will begin to be notified this week. Job cuts and transfers all starting this summer. Author J.K. Rowling of "Harry Potter" fame is writing a book for adults. Details about the new book expected later this year. But a fellow British author who happens to be Rowling's neighbor tweeted his suspicion. He wrote, "Wouldn't it be funny if her first novel for adults turned out to be a crime story set in Edinburgh. My word -- yes."

New poll showing Rick Santorum gaining more support from Republican women. Critics said some of his views on abortion, birth control, and women in combat would hurt him at the polls, but the new "Washington Post"-ABC News survey shows that 50 percent of GOP women now have a favorable opinion of Santorum. That's a 13 point pickup since last month. He's now within striking distance of Mitt Romney, who was at 61 percent. Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Christine, thank you very much.

Mitt Romney, of course is hoping to build some momentum ahead of Tuesday's crucial primary in Michigan. Today he will deliver what is being billed as a major economic speech that will include a tax plan with changes like this -- lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent, retaining the 15 percent top rate on capital gains, and repealing the estate and alternative minimum tax. They're paid all through spending cuts, approximately $500 billion. That's a quote.

Let's get to Ron Brownstein. He's the editorial director of the "National Journal." He's in Detroit because he'll cover that speech later today. Good morning to you. Walk me through some of these numbers. It could be a tough crowd for him in Detroit, don't you think?

RON BROWNSTEIN, EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, "NATIONAL JOURNAL": Yes. Well, he's going to the Detroit Economic Club, which is where candidates go to make big economic statements. He has the back drop about his opposition to the auto intervention bailout, rescue, whatever you want to call it. There was a poll out last week, 63 percent of Michigan voters said they supported the deal and the auto companies have clearly turned around. That's the back drop. The specific proposal, what you're going to hear, is probably less spending, less regulation, and above all less taxes the key to revving the economy. There will be questions of course about how he pays for it.

O'BRIEN: He said something very interesting on Wednesday. Let's play a little chunk of it talking about sort of the wealthy and what they could face. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: For a high income folks, we're going to cut back on that so that we make sure that the top 1 percent keeps paying the current share they're paying or more.

(END VIDEO CLIP) O'BRIEN: So when conservatives hear, maybe Will, we'll bring you into that conversation, pay what they're paying or more, is this going to be problematic for him, that little chunk that he delivered on Wednesday?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know, first of all, the key proposal here, I don't know if it got into your chart, is he is proposing a 20 percent reduction across the board in marginal tax rates. So people at the very top who now pay 35 percent on the last dollar they earn, that would go down to 28 percent. Of course, the contrast is even sharper because president Obama would allow the Bush tax cuts to expire, which mean under his plan the top earners would pay 39.6 percent. So there is a big difference there.

Now what Romney says is that he would offset at least part of that cost for the top earners by rolling back their ability to take deductions for things like state and local taxes, charitable deductions, charitable contribution, mortgage interest, and so forth. The problem is the math that has been done, the quick back of the envelope math is you cannot completely offset the loss of revenue from reducing rates that much by rolling back those deductions unless -- so he is in essence going to be proposing a -- probably a significant tax cut in the end on people at the top, especially compared to Obama, who wants them to contribute more going forward.

WILL CAIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: So the truth is this, and I'd be curious to see Ron's feedback, apparently after seeing economic plans from Santorum, Gingrich, Romney, Paul, Obama, I think we can safely say that no one, maybe outside of Ron Paul, is truly concerned about deficits. No one is truly concerned about balancing this budget.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. Look, there's something to that. Certainly President Obama's budget envisions large deficits as far as the eye can see. And one thing, Soledad, to keep in mind when Romney talks about paying for this with spending reductions, well, he already needs those spending reductions to meet his goals of reducing the deficit. So if this is a net revenue cost and it's hard to see how it wouldn't be with a 20 percent reduction in marginal tax rates, he's going to have to find additional spending cuts beyond those that he's already identified. The proposals, for example, converting things like Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers into a block grant, converting Medicare into a premium support program. He will have to go further.

So Will is right. It's very hard to see how the deficit rises to the top of priorities when you are looking at a major tax cut at a time of trillion-dollar in red ink per year.

O'BRIEN: How does this differ from the 59 point plan that Mitt Romney had released early on.

CAIN: Simpler.

O'BRIEN: Except that it's not as -- doesn't have 59 points. Truly, in all seriousness, Ron, "The Wall Street Journal" said about that it's a job plan that shrinks from some of the biggest issues. So when it came out it was not really embraced. He's kind of going at it again. What's the big difference, would you say?

BROWNSTEIN: The big difference here is an across the board tax cut. In his original plan he identified no specific tax cut beyond extending the Bush reductions except for reducing taxes from middle income -- middle income, up to $200,000 families on dividends and capital gains.

Now he's proposing an across the board Reagan style George W. Bush style tax cut. But the debate will be, you know, 10 years after that Bush tax cut, which was, again, an across the board cut in marginal rates, there were more people in poverty, median income was lower, and there were fewer people working than there were on the day the tax cut was passed.

So I think he will face a challenge to show that in fact tax cuts are the key to starting this economy. While it did work under Reagan, it didn't work under Bush. We grew pretty well after Bill Clinton raised taxes in the 1990s. So it's kind of hard to look at that record and say this is the single variable most likely to get us going again.

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, EDITOR, THOMSON REUTERS DIGITAL: Ron, the Romney plan includes the proposal that the estate tax be completely abolished and at a time when a lot of people are talking about social mobility being an issue, that the rich are able to pass on their privilege. Do you think the Democrats are going to make an issue out of this?

BROWNSTEIN: Oh, absolutely. I mean, look, the contrasts here are sharp, as you say. The complete elimination of the estate tax, maintaining capital gains at a highest rate of 15 percent where president Obama would have those rise for top earners. Above all, the top marginal tax rate for the wealthiest earners, as we said, would go back to 28 percent, the level it was after 1986 tax reform, whereas Obama would raise it to 39.6.

On all of those you have both sides stepping into what is a pretty clear and sharp debate. It strikes me, I was thinking this morning, very different than 1996 when Bill Clinton ran for reelection on the era of big government is over and Bob Dole was relatively centrist. You have the Republican candidates, the whole field, running on the sharpest reductions in the federal roll arguably since Reagan in '76 if not Goldwater in '64. Unlike Clinton, Obama is not moving his direction to the center. He insists the wealthy pays more. You have a stark difference in this race regardless of who wins the nomination, and especially after today that difference will be much more clear.

O'BRIEN: Ron Brownstein for us. He's watching, of course, that announcement that will be officially made. We know a lot of the details already. Thanks, Ron. Appreciate it.

Still ahead this morning on senator, some backlash over the burning of the Koran. It's now growing. We're hearing about more deaths this morning. Are we expecting it to get even worse? We'll discuss that straight ahead. Plus a young Latina trying to become one of the very first female boxers ever to compete in the Olympics. Hanging tough, moving on. She'll join us to talk about her recent huge victory.

And off of our staff play list, this is "News Uprising."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Some breaking news to get to out of Afghanistan this morning. Violence is becoming more deadly after the mistaken burning of Korans. A local official in Afghanistan says nine more people have now died in protests that have just been happening this morning. Two American soldiers were killed yesterday.

James Yee is back with us, former U.S. Army Chaplain at Guantanamo Bay where he advised the commanders on the camp on detainee -- detainee religious practices --

(CROSSTALK)

JAMES YEE, FORMER U.S. ARMY CHAPLAIN AT GUANTANAMO BAY: Right.

O'BRIEN: -- which sometimes was fraught with challenges for you as well.

YEE: Yes.

O'BRIEN: So practically speaking one would think any time you're touching any kind of religious material in a -- at Bagram like everyone would be extra, extra, extra careful. Is there not some kind of conversation that happens about that?

We know now that, of course, that there was a concern that there was writing in the Koran. And that maybe this was being passed back and forth among the detainees which is why they gathered them up and then to dispose of them they burned them.

But there's sort of a -- a question about practicality and preparation that surprises me there.

YEE: Yes. I think the picture that we were -- we we're getting is that the soldiers who took the materials and tossed them into the garbage burn pit didn't actually know that they were religious materials. So that's the mistake or the error that they didn't know about.

But in general the troops should have some type of training in which they are informed about religious practices, Islamic practices, observances and I think it's really important now to -- to really ensure that troops understand how Muslims all over the world view the Koran as being essentially the little words of God.

O'BRIEN: So when Newt Gingrich basically says the President has surrendered on this issue and in fact, let's play that and we'll talk about it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Do they not deserve the apology of the President of the United States?

YEE: Well, let's say certainly President Obama did not surrender. You can read into a lot of the rhetoric that we see coming from Newt Gingrich here, but there is one thing that I might agree with Newt and it was also reported. He said that if, you know, maybe we shouldn't be there. Maybe we shouldn't be wasting our time in Afghanistan. Maybe we should go home and say good-bye.

So he was reported recently saying that as well in that -- in that same speech. But I don't see it as a surrender. I actually see admitting your mistakes and then committing to moving forward and correcting those mistakes as a sign of good leadership.

O'BRIEN: Go ahead.

DORIAN WARREN, POLITICAL SCIENCE ASST. PROFESSOR, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: So I agree there should be probably some kind of cultural sensitivity training for troops. But I'm sure, I think our audience wants to know, isn't there an element of common sense here. If you see a Koran, wouldn't you just know not to throw it into a pit to be burned?

YEE: Right. There's a lot of common sense that definitely should go into this whole situation. I am one of -- of -- of saying that perhaps leadership should really take a firmer stand on ensuring that morals and ethical values are really instilled. Because we've seen over the course of this conflict a series of scandals, whether it's Marines posing with an S.S. Nazi flag, or whether it's the burning of dead bodies, whether it's the urinating, the video that came up earlier.

O'BRIEN: But is that morals and ethical standing and forgive me for interrupting? Or is that sort of saying, listen, you need to understand other culture's values. You need to understand the impact of what you're doing beyond just, you know, putting something in the garbage.

YEE: The understanding, sure. But some -- you know the urinating on dead bodies, the burning of dead bodies, again the Nazi flag, so these are things that seem to -- that have been done to instigate. Of course, again, the picture that we see here with the Koran burning this most recent incident was a mistake. Very different from what happened in Guantanamo where that was being done intentionally in interrogation and intelligence operations. CHRYSTIA FREELAND, EDITOR, THOMSON REUTERS, DIGITAL: Is that an easy mistake to make? I mean, If we had them right here, I am not an Islamic scholar, would I recognize them to be Korans?

YEE: If -- if you -- if you've actually haven't really just looked at what the material -- what the material is. Maybe some supervisor gay said, toss this stuff in the trash and the troops took it and threw it in the burn pit. So I think there's leeway to -- to say, hey, the troops who did that didn't know.

O'BRIEN: James Yee, nice to have you. Thanks for being with us this morning. We really appreciate your insights.

YEE: Thanks for having me tonight.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead on STARTING POINT, she has her sights set on the London Olympics. I love this story of a young woman who wants to box in the Olympics. We've been following her for literally a year. That story straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: That's Beth Woodrick's choice, "Phoenix List of Mania". I like that. I haven't heard that. That's great.

All right, this is a story I love. This is a woman literally fighting to be on the team that will represent the United States in the boxing ring at the Olympics this summer. First time ever in the history of forever that women are allowed to box in the Olympics.

Her name is Marlen Esparza. And she made history when she advanced to the world championships in China. I profiled her back -- when we did "Latino in America" back in November in our documentary which is called "In Her Corner". Here's a little clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: The Olympics is a big goal.

MARLEN ESPARZA, FEMALE BOXER: Yes and it's huge. It probably, I honestly truly feel like if I go to the Olympics and medal, that I could probably be totally happy for the rest of my life. Yes, like completely happy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Well, you're almost all the way to totally happy for the rest of your life. Marlen Esparza joins us this morning. Marlen it's great to see you and congratulations on your victory. You got into boxing because of your brothers. Will you tell everybody about that story? It's such a great story.

ESPARZA: Yes. I started boxing because my dad was totally in love with it. And my older brother, my younger brother were going in and out of the gym for about two years and my dad kept telling me no, but it came to a point where only my little brother wanted to go.

So I told my dad, if I can take him, then, you know, he can go. And I can go too. So my dad actually had to let me go just for my little brother and I ended up being the only one staying in it.

O'BRIEN: And your coach at first turned you down when you asked Rudy that you know -- that you wanted him to train you. He was someone who was training the serious fighters. And he kept saying, no, no, no. What happened?

ESPARZA: Yes. He -- at the time, you know, this was 11 years ago or so, so at that time, you know, almost girls in the gym was like nonexistent. So he was reluctant to -- to let me train with him. So I had to ask him at least four or five times to let him -- to ask him to train me and eventually because I guess I was being so annoying he finally said yes. And he still trains me today.

O'BRIEN: When did the Olympics become your dream? Because now you're -- you are -- you are officially part of the Olympic team. There's still more fighting that has to be done in China. When -- like at what age did you say, I really want to be an Olympian?

ESPARZA: I would say probably like around 15 or 16 years old. I won my first nationals at 16 and when getting ready for that and after I won it, it was kind of like, what's next? And for females, that was kind of the highest -- highest place you could go. And I wanted something more, something bigger. And it was definitely Olympic Games that I felt that would complete, you know, every -- everything I've done and everything I wanted to do.

And it wasn't in yet, but I had heard a rumor -- I heard rumors of it being in '08. And it was turned down. And then after that I was updated on a regular basis about what was going on. So the Olympics had always been in my mind somewhere around like '06 and '05.

O'BRIEN: You now have six national titles under your belt, and you're, what, 5-foot-2, 5-foot-3, 112 pounds. You're going to fight in the feather weight category. Do you feel like women's boxing in the United States gets the same kind of support that women's boxing in other countries gets?

ESPARZA: No, not at all. I'm sure, 100 percent sure that women's boxing in the United States does not get the same publicity that it does in other countries. But we're definitely catching up. I think right now is definitely the transition of when it becomes something bigger in the United States and it's simply because of the Olympic Games.

I feel like once you're in the Olympics in the U.S. then you're officially a real sport and something that people actually want to pay attention to. So I think right now we definitely have our foot in the door. I think it's going to get really big.

But we are behind as far as it goes compared to other countries. But we do have a lot of talent so it makes up for it. O'BRIEN: And you're a big part of that. And Marlen Esparza, good luck to you. We'll be watching you. Of course, my boys, who have seen Marlen fight and love, love, love Marlen are pushing that we go to London as well to see her fight in the Olympics. Nice to see you Marlen. Good luck to you. Hi to your family. Appreciate that.

ESPARZA: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: "End Point" is up next with our panel. We leave you with our staff play list. This is a researcher, Ted Callow way, Minnie the Moocher. Covered a lot of genres this morning.

(MUSIC)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: All right. Reflex, "The Politics of Dancing". "End Point", Chrystia why don't you start?

FREELAND: Ron Brownstein is right. There are going to be very sharp economic contrasts between President Obama's position and what we're seeing from the Republican candidates. It's going to be a real choice for people.

O'BRIEN: And we will parse it, I'm sure. Dorian.

WARREN: This is day 7 of a hunger strike being carried out by 18 courageous students at the University of Virginia in favor of a living wage for all employees at that campus.

O'BRIEN: Thank you for that.

And Will Cain.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: OK. So off Chrystia, the choice will be stark. It will be clear. It will be high taxes, high spending or it's low tax, it's low spending. It won't be about deficit spending.

O'BRIEN: We'll see about that. Thanks, guys.

Have a great weekend. Let's get right to "CNN NEWSROOM" with Kyra Phillips. That begins right now. I'll see everybody back here on Monday morning. Have a good weekend.