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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Anger Over Civilian Massacre; DNA For Every Crime; Special Treatment For Mississippi Killers; Culture of Goldman Sachs

Aired March 15, 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: And welcome to STARTING POINT, everybody.

Our STARTING POINT this morning is math versus the message.

Rick Santorum is mocking Mitt Romney. He says he believes the message is more important than the numbers. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's pretty sad when all you have is to do math.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Both candidates are now battling for I guess the real Deep South, which is Puerto Rico.

Also, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's meeting with Afghanistan's president trying to diffuse a crisis there. Anger in Afghanistan is burning deep this morning after a U.S. soldier goes on a killing spree of civilians.

And a proposal in New York City that would collect DNA for very crime. I guess it's the state of New York. But critics say, listen, this isn't CSI. This is real life.

It's Thursday, March 15. And STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: We begin with Jeff Toobin's play list. The J. Geils Band, "Freeze Frame". I'm reliving my childhood of the '80s, Jeff. No value judgment in that.

JEFF TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: Little old, I know.

O'BRIEN: No, I love it. An oldie and a goody. I like it. I like it. Jeff Toobin.

TOOBIN: Everybody is dancing at the gym, I figured why not bring that happy spirit here.

O'BRIEN: That's just odd.

Jeff, of course, is our CNN senior legal analyst.

Hank Sheinkopf joins us as well. He's an iconic political strategist.

It's nice to have you.

Will Cain joins us as well. He's a CNN contributor and also contributor at TheBlaze.com.

We've got to get to some breaking news which is coming to us out of Afghanistan. There are some media reports that Afghanistan wants the United States to pull all the troops out of villages and relocate them into bases. That's a request apparently coming from the president, Hamid Karzai's office.

The Afghan Taliban says the United States is not fulfilling the conditions for peace that was negotiated to keep anger from rising in Afghanistan after last weekend's massacre of 16 Afghanistan civilians allegedly at the hands of a U.S. army soldier.

As Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and President Hamid Karzai meet to talk about these tensions, there's no question that this will be discussed.

Let's get right to CNN's Sara Sidner. She's live for us in Kabul this morning.

Sara, good morning. What's the latest on this?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We were hearing media reports that possibly that Mr. Karzai's asking for NATO troops to move out of the villages. Wouldn't be a big surprise considering what's happened over the last few weeks and especially what happened on Sunday with a U.S. soldier standing accused of massacring 16 civilians in the dead of night.

There had been a lot of conversation and controversy over these night raids that have happened. Now, of course, the U.S. is saying that this was only a single soldier acting on his own but there have been arguments in the past over the U.S. and NATO forces conducting night raids with the Afghan government saying that they did not want that to take place, not only by U.S. troops but also by Afghan troops unless there was some very legal work done beforehand so that everyone knew what was going to happen in the Afghan government.

Moving on now to some violence that has exploded here. There has been a roadside bomb that has killed nine children, in total, 13 people -- nine children and two adults. That happened in the Urozgan province. This morning, no one has claimed responsibility for that. But local officials say it is terrorists as they are calling them.

Also, we should talk a little bit about Mr. Panetta's visit. This is coming at the same exact time when they have decided to send the soldier that is accused in this massacre out of the country. So, I'm certain that is going to be up for discussion.

We have also talked to a local official in Kandahar where this massacre happened Sunday. He told us that him and several other local Afghan officials have been shown the surveillance video that exists of this U.S. soldier who allegedly got off base and killed so many people, and he said that he is not convinced -- that he is still not convinced that this was the work of only one man.

That's the latest from Afghanistan at this point, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right. Sara Sidner updating us on what's happening in that country there -- thank you very much, Sara.

Let's get some other updates on other stories making news and Christine Romans has that for us.

Good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. A jury has awarded $4 million each to two families who sued Virginia Tech for a deadly campus shooting back in 2007. The suit charged the school failed to alert the campus quickly enough after two students were found dead, 33 people died that day.

CNN's Ashleigh Banfield spoke to the mother of a daughter who survived the massacre. Lori Haas was not part of the lawsuit but gave the final testimony yesterday on behalf of two families.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LORI HAAS, DAUGHTER SHOT AT VIRGINIA TECH: I think justice is clearly in the message. They have said from day one this is not about the money, as have most of the family members. It's not about the money. It's about the truth being told.

The university knew at 7:30 a.m. that there was one mortally wounded, one deceased, and a gunman on the loose on campus and they did nothing to inform students, staff, and faculty about that danger.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: This is likely not the last word. The state giving strong signals it will appeal.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says their battle with President Obama's mandate on contraceptive health coverage, it's now their top priority. The bishops putting out a statement insisting this is not about access to contraception but the government forcing the church to provide them.

Minding your business this morning: gas prices rising for six days in a row. AAA reports the national average price of unleaded now $3.82 a gallon. Gas up almost 60 cents a gallon since January. Prices may well top their 2008 records this summer if oil prices remain strong here.

Representatives for actress Lindsey Lohan says the reports that say she was involved in a hit and run incident last night are, quote, "absurd".

TMZ has been reporting that she tried to pull out of a Hollywood parking lot in her porch but was blocked by photographers and onlookers. That's when she reportedly grazed the knee of a manager of a nearby business. Lohan has called the report a complete lie and Los Angeles police say they are not investigating.

Soledad, only something that's not being investigated Lindsey Lohan can still get in the headlines for.

O'BRIEN: On this one, I feel sorry for Lindsey.

He was fine. He's like, no, no, I'm fine, I'm fine -- until someone explained to him who that was who hit him. Then he's like, oh, my knee. Oh, my God, I think I've lost feeling in my knee. Yes. Yes.

Sorry, Lindsay. I feel sorry for her on that one.

All right. We turn to talk politics -- delegates, delegates, delegates may not be the most inspiring message, but for Mitt Romney, it's certainly an accurate message. He is leading, of course, in the delegate count. He has 498 delegates. Rick Santorum has 239. Newt Gingrich 139, and Ron Paul trails at 69 delegates.

But his focus on the delegate math has supporters suggesting that -- you said this first, Will Cain, yesterday -- that this as a strategy is not a winning strategy, and it was veteran Republican strategist Mike Murphy who we've talked to before who tweeted this.

"Note to Mitt R: Please, please, please stop talking delegate counts and process. Run for POTUS, president of the United States, not country Republican Party chairman."

Will Cain, I'll let you start because that was your message yesterday.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, it's funny, over the last week or so, we've seen Santorum win Kansas, right? That gets news.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney increases his delegate by winning the Marianas, Virgin Islands and Guam.

Now, Santorum goes and wins Alabama, Mississippi, but he loses the delegate lead again because Romney wins in Hawaii and American Samoa.

O'BRIEN: And also because he's so far behind that even if he had picked up American Samoa and he picked up Hawaii, he still would not be leading in the delegates.

CAIN: Just because I'm so pleased on this metaphor and it's the start of March Madness, it's like watching one team launch threes, this is Santorum, launch threes and have windmill dunks while the other team quietly make 2s and wins the game.

This is not the way you sell tickets for Mitt Romney but you win the game this way.

O'BRIEN: I love when someone goes with a sports metaphor on this show in the morning.

CAIN: The day the tournament starts. Give me leeway.

O'BRIEN: Yes, all the leeway is yours.

TOOBIN: This is a convention. It's not an election. And, you know, these delegates are going to make up their mind in Tampa. I just think, you know, if Santorum continues to win primaries, you've got Illinois next week. It's probably will go to Romney.

But let's just say that goes to Santorum -- Texas, California, New York, big states. If Santorum could somehow win these states, he's going to win this nomination. I don't care what the delegates say.

CAIN: That's incredibly odd because you have to have 1,144 to win the nomination and it's almost virtually impossible mathematical problem for Santorum to get there.

TOOBIN: But you tell me if Santorum wins all those big states coming up, he's not going to be the nominee? No way.

HANK SHEINKOPF, POLITICAL ANALYST: And if we have time warps, we can change the nature of the universe also. I mean, it's not likely, number one. Number two, this is a battle inside the Republican Party about elites versus non-elites. This is 1964 all over again. And they're not going to have that happen, OK?

O'BRIEN: So, it sounds like Jeff is saying if he has these big major wins, that it will go to a brokered convention.

CAIN: It's symbolic, what Jeff is saying.

O'BRIEN: Right. You get to the brokered condition. Santorum really could be the victor out of a brokered convention?

CAIN: Look, once we get to a brokered convention, all bets off. I don't see a scenario where we go to brokered convention and Mitt Romney doesn't come out the victor. I'm honestly not advocating for Mitt Romney, what I'm telling you, I don't see a path for Rick Santorum. It's a very, very -- not impossible, improbable path.

O'BRIEN: But his message has been I'm about hearts and minds. People are going on TV representing the Romney campaign, as did yesterday with us, and saying, let's look at the numbers. Let's look at the math.

And that hearts and minds is a better strategy when you want to reach people in the upcoming primaries then saying, listen, here's what we're going to try to you, x number of delegates of your state. That's why I need you to go to polls.

CAIN: A hundred percent true. Mike Murphy had it exactly right. If you want the next state's primary voters to vote for you, Mitt Romney, don't tell them about delegates and process and conventions. Leave that part out. Tell them why they should vote for you.

O'BRIEN: All right. Ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, New York coming close to becoming the first state that would take DNA samples for every crime from anybody who's convicted of any crime. Right now, it's just felonies and some misdemeanors. But critics say this could actually increase chances for a big mistake. We're going to talk to New York's chief judge about why he thinks it's a good thing.

And Mississippi's former governor freed killers and then helped them buy cars. There are some strange new revelations about those pardons in Mississippi. It's a CNN exclusive.

You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: That's Katy Perry right off of Will Cain's playlist.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: No, that's off of my playlist. It's good for the gym. Welcome back, everybody.

New York State is about to go where no other state has gone yet. The state just reached a deal to expand the DNA tracking program, and that program will now track anyone who's convicted of crime, including misdemeanors. Currently, it tracks felons and then a selected number of misdemeanors. The goal is to catch more criminals.

New York's chief judge is Jonathan Lippman. He's been an advocate of this. It's nice to have you joining us. Why do you support this?

JUDGE JONATHAN LIPPMAN, NEW YORK CHIEF JUDGE: Well, I support it, because I think this particular program in New York will cover both sides of this issue. DNA has a tremendous potential for capturing criminals, the bad guys, and also has a tremendous potential for exonerating the innocent. The deal that's been reached up in Albany really has a bill that covers both ends of this.

And a lot of the language in the bill comes from our judiciary justice task force, which is a group of prosecutors, defense people, scientists, academics that are looking and, again, the unleashed potential of DNA.

O'BRIEN: There's now a long list of the misdemeanors that if you are convicted of this misdemeanor, that you would now have to give a DNA sample.

LIPPMAN: Yes. O'BRIEN: And I'll read you a short list from the really, really, really, really long list of forgery, false advertising. If you're convicted of disrupting a religious service, if you're convicted of unlawful gratuities. I don't know what that is? Is that bribery in some way or something like that? Resisting arrest, if you're convicted of fortune telling, if you're convicted of writing a bad check, if you're convicted of rent gouging, and much, much more.

The list really goes on. You would have to submit a DNA sample. No surprise that there are some critics to this who say that there are so many errors or there can be errors in the DNA, you know, sampling that it opens up even more chance for more errors.

LIPPMAN: Well, there are different views as to how many misdemeanors should be in this. What's interesting, that there's a car of out in the new bill for low level marijuana possession that has to do with stop and frisk policies and making sure that those people who are stopped and frisked on the street do not have the DNA taken.

So, it's a very interesting little called out in a larger approach to all felonies and misdemeanors. Again, there have been different views to how far to go on the misdemeanor.

O'BRIEN: So, when the critics say, Jeff Toobin, that DNA sampling can be flawed and that if you sort of increase the pool of people who are getting their DNA sampled, you sort of increase largely the number of people who have flawed DNA going through the courts, is that true?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I just don't buy that objection at all. I mean, one of the things I don't understand about the civil liberties objection to this is we, in New York and elsewhere, we take fingerprints routinely, misdemeanors, whatever. Fingerprints are much less reliable than DNA. Isn't that right, judge?

LIPPMAN: There's no question.

TOOBIN: So, why is it more of a civil liberties problem to use a more accurate technology rather than a less accurate technology?

LIPPMAN: Yes. I think we'd be remiss if we didn't take advantage of this new science at the same time. I think we have to recognize that DNA opens all kinds of opportunities to remedy wrongful convictions of people who are innocent, which is the worst stain on the justice system.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: Hank's going to give the terrible argument.

SHEINKOPF: Here's a terrible argument against it.

O'BRIEN: We go to Hank with a terrible argument.

SHEINKOPF: Terrible arguments right here come to me all the time.

(LAUGHTER)

SHEINKOPF: Judge, fingerprints when you lock somebody up -- you're a policeman having been in that role, you fingerprint somebody, you wait for the prints to come back to make sure that's the person that it is and to give the judge enough information with which to set bail and to make sure there are no warrants outstanding.

That's not what DNA is for. And the list of crimes that this could be used for, misdemeanors, particularly, is awfully broad. Don't you think that's an infringement on people's civil liberties? It's one thing if you're looking for felony people. It's another thing if you're looking for a fortuneteller. Seems to me that goes over the line in good deal.

LIPPMAN: I think I understand your perspective. My view is we should do everything we can to find the people who are guilty of crimes, because on the other side of it, if you exonerate one innocent person and you take off the street the person who's preying on the public, you're performing a great public service. So, I agree with you. We have to be careful as to where this goes.

SHEINKOPF: Big reach by government, judge. Big rich by government.

O'BRIEN: So, let's take a look at the numbers of people exonerated. They've been able to identify with this database as it exists already, 12,000 suspects identified. There've been 2,800 convictions that are affiliated with this database, and 27 people exonerated because of this database is what is claimed.

Do you expect a huge difference? I mean, if you open up the pool now to misdemeanors, do you see a giant change?

LIPPMAN: I think there's going to be more matches, and that's what this is about. What we've put into this bill. And a lot of it, again, comes from the recommendations of our task force, which is not Republican, not Democrat, but just wants to make the justice system, you know, better in terms of what happens, what we put into this when you -- after you plea, you need to be able to get access to DNA.

You need to be able to compare your DNA to the DNA at the crime scene, and then, the crime scene to the database. And when you hit these matches, you're going to have people who are innocent, exonerated of crimes, and you're going to take people off the streets who are free to, again, prey on the public when in reality, the bottom line is the wrong person has been found to be guilty of a crime and this is what -- my main concern is eliminating this scourge of wrongful conviction, which is the one thing that undermines the justice system.

O'BRIEN: Judge Jonathan Lippman, nice to have you joining us here in the studio. We appreciate it.

LIPPMAN: My pleasure. O'BRIEN: Thank you.

Ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, more information about those Mississippi pardons and pretty shocking new documents show that the former governor and his wife gave special treatment to a couple of killers, eventually, helped them get new car and eventually helped them get their driver's license as well.

Also caught on tape, a guy tried to rob a deli and gets clubbed, instead. Get it? Watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.

(LAUGHTER)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(CROSSTALK)

CAIN: -- blue grass song, Mr. Snob.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Elitist. Elitist. George Strait, "Blue Clear Sky." I was wondering when George Strait would pop up in our playlist.

CAIN: It's going to happen.

O'BRIEN: Yes. And we love it. And we love it. Everybody can check out our playlist at CNN.com/STARTINGPOINT.

There's some new fallout to tell you about in this exclusive story from CNN. Some documents that reveal special treatment for pardoned killers that they received from the former governor, Haley Barbour, of Mississippi and his wife and staff, too.

There are reports that reveal that the former first lady, Marsha Barbour, called a car dealership about buying two cars on behalf of two convicted killers, David Gatlin and Charles Hooker, before they were actually pardoned.

And the former governor's security chief then took both men out of custody so they could go get their driver's licenses, because you'd hate to have a new car and not have a driver's license. I spoke last week with one of David Gatlin's victims, guy named Randy Walker, and he says, he still thinks Gatlin is a threat to his life. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RANDY WALKER, SHOOTER'S PARDON UPHELD: If somebody tries to kill you, and they don't succeed, he's always a threat. He or she's always a threat. You know, I've been advised that if I see David in any of my immediate area, whatever, that it would -- I should probably take that as a threat, because he stalked us in the beginning when he did the shooting and tried to kill me. And that's the way I'll take it if I see him again. I'll take it as an immediate threat on my life, and I'll act accordingly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: I was trying to get him to say what exactly does act accordingly mean, you know?

TOOBIN: This is such a bizarre story. You know, we've been doing this a lot on "AC 360." And one of the questions that was raised by this is, is it illegal to take a prisoner and go get them a driver's license?

And, it was such a bizarre question that, like, how would you even think to make such a thing illegal because who would you think would ever do such a thing as to take a prisoner to get a driver's license?

The answer apparently is, no, it's not illegal, but it just shows how these prisoners who had Haley Barbour's (INAUDIBLE) his support were just given all these things that were -- it's crazy.

O'BRIEN: The former security chief is a guy named Wayland Adams, and he said, yes, I did take some of them. I knew that they were going to be paroled. I was assured of that, so I just took them to get their driver's license. I figured if I went to get them a driver's license, it would speed things up on them getting a job, and that was the only reason. I was just trying to help.

SHEINKOPF: How nice. Do you think his wife, Haley Barbour's wife, has implicated, this, too? Do you think she had inside information about what was going to happen, like when they were going to be released and she ought to just pick up the phone and call a car dealer and get it all set up for them? Why is this going on? Who are these people? What was the relationship? What was the governor's wife doing?

O'BRIEN: Well, you know, the sad thing is when you talk to the family members of the victims, they actually got no notification that they were going to be released, that many of them were absolutely stunned that the pardoned men, you know, were out. And so, the idea that there was a whole process that many people not only knew but knew in advance enough to go and help them, you know?

Marsha Barbour, apparently, called about getting, you know, the cars from a car dealership. And then, those cars were later delivered right to the governor's mansion for the men.

CAIN: So, this analysis starts from a very black and white perspective and gets grayer as you go. Legally, black and white, it's not illegal for him to do this. Politically, it gets grayer. Very bad decision. Morally, it gets even grayer. Jeff calls it crazy. The Barbours would say they're Christians. They believe in redemption. This is part of the process.

TOOBIN: Yes. But, you know, the sad thing about this whole story is that it's going to lead to fewer pardons. Governors are going to just say, forget it. There are two million people in custody in this country. A lot of them shouldn't be there. A lot of people should be pardoned. We should be pardoning non-violent drug offenders, not convicted murders, and that's what's such an outrage.

SHEINKOPF: Do you think (INAUDIBLE) have an opinion about this?

TOOBIN: I wouldn't hold my breath.

O'BRIEN: I'm sure, and if he did, he's going to hold a press conference about it. I don't know. I think for the victims, family members, that's just yet another pile on of some insult to injury.

All right. Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we're going to talk about poverty in America. The conversation about why women and children are suffering more. We're going to talk to Tavis Smiley straight ahead.

Also, talk about burning bridges. A fallout over this Wall Street executive's parting shot to his former bosses at Goldman Sachs. If you didn't read his piece in "The New York Times", I'll tell you this, he wrote it and then didn't go back to work. We're going to talk to the man who literally wrote the book on Goldman Sachs, and we'll talk about the company's culture straight ahead. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: We're just going to play all of Stevie Wonder's --

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: (INAUDIBLE) that's off of Tavis Smiley's playlist exactly. Everybody loves that. We're going to talk to Tavis in just a few moments. We're talking to him, of course, about the new face of poverty and some of the statistics about women and children in poverty. That is straight ahead.

First, though, we got a look at some of the headlines making news. Christine Romans is back. Good morning again.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. This just in to CNN. 351,000 jobless claims were filed for the first time last week. That's a good number. Slightly lower than we were expecting. The number of claims the previous week, though, is revised up to 365,000.

Both still well below that key 400,000 mark. And levels we haven't seen since 2007 in general. It's a sign the labor market is heading in the right direction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS (voice-over): Breaking news from Afghanistan. According to media reports, President Hamid Karzai wants Afghan troops to take over the lead security role in 2013, a year ahead of schedule. Karzai also reportedly told defense secretary, Leon Panetta, in their meeting today, he wants U.S. and NATO forces to move out of Afghan villages and remote areas and back on to bases.

It follows the massacre of 16 civilians allegedly by a U.S. army soldier in Kandahar province.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS (on-camera): More than 23 people found dead this morning in Syria. Rebels say bodies were shot, blindfolded, and tied up with clear marks of torture. CNN's Arwa Damon has recovered footage of a separate, very disturbing attack in Syria, reportedly also by government sources, a large family killed. One child manages to escape. I'm warning you here, this report contains scenes you might find disturbing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Suddenly, on another floor, a tiny wimper. The child cries out clearly terrified. He comes into view having to crawl over a body lying in the doorway. He must have been hiding for days. "Don't be afraid." "You're safe now."

"Don't make a sound," one of the men tells the boy. It's not known who killed his family or why, but the men who found the bodies are sure this was a sectarian massacre carried out by thugs allied to the regime.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Today is one year since the bloody uprising began that starts the violent crackdowns by the Assad regime.

Reporters and camera crews are swarming former Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich, as he left his home in Chicago last hour. Blagojevich on his way to federal prison in Colorado to serve a 14- year sentence for trying to sell President Obama's Senate seat. A press conference yesterday seemed frankly more like a political rally for a rock star than a disgraced politician.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROD BLAGOJEVICH, FORMER ILLINOIS GOVERNOR: I have to go do what I have to go do, and this is the hardest thing I've ever had to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Blagojevich is the second consecutive Illinois governor imprisoned for corruption. It'll be a while before he'll be in front of the cameras again.

South by Southwest was very, very good for both emerging and established tech companies who got a big boost from this year's interactive. Hundreds used the event to find customers, investors, business allies. And a highlight of South by Southwest, by the way, today, the boss, Bruce Springsteen will speak at the festival today delivering a keynote on the next big thing -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Sounds pretty awesome. Thank you very much. Appreciated that. We're going to talk about poverty this morning. Some startling numbers to get to. Twenty-three million women affected by poverty. In fact, if you look at the numbers in the breakdown, 46.2 millions Americans living in poverty in 2010, an increase of 27 percent since just 2006 and more than half of those total numbers are women.

Well, this Sunday, at New York University, author and broadcaster, Tavis Smiley, is going to moderate an all-woman panel. It's called "Made Visible," a national conversation on women and children in poverty. It's going to be televised on "Tavis Smiley" on PBS starting in March, March 28th, I think, and also, on CSPAN in April.

Tavis Smiley joins us. It's nice to have you.

TAVIS SMILEY, MODERATOR, "MADE VISIBLE WOMEN, CHILDREN & POVERTY IN AMERICA": Good to see you.

O'BRIEN: I think, poverty is one of those conversations that people really don't like to have. I think it makes a lot of people uncomfortable, and sometimes, they're just left out of the political discourse. Everyone focuses on the middle class and sort of like the other people don't really matter in this. When you look at the statistics, what are the most shocking statistics to you?

SMILEY: That we are a nation that is allowing its women and children to fall into poverty faster than any other group. That's just unacceptable to me. And to your point, the worst thing you can do to poor people is to make them feel or to render them invisible, and that's the problem right now by not talking about this issue.

It seems to me that there's a bipartisan consensus in Washington right now. That's impossible to do on anything, but a bipartisan consensus, Soledad, that poverty just doesn't matter, that the poor don't count. And something has got to be done about that, but when women and children are falling faster than any other groups in the country, something is wrong.

2009 to 2010, a million children fell into poverty, half a million into extreme poverty.

O'BRIEN: Well, when you look at the statistics, it's just under $23,000 a year for a family of four counts as poverty. So, when you think of, you know, the number of people who actually probably aren't counted officially in those poverty ranks, the stats are one in four kids are in poverty.

It's probably really higher by what we would consider to be poor and struggling families. Your panel is all women at NYU. What's the whole point of having this conversation?

SMILEY: First of all, when you talk about women's issues, I quite frankly am tired of men talking about women's issues.

O'BRIEN: Said as a man. Interesting.

SMILEY: Yes.

CAIN: A table full of men.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Right.

SMILEY: I mean, when this contraception debate --

O'BRIEN: Where's the sisterhood today?

SMILEY: You turn on C-SPAN, you turn on anything, you turn on all the networks from this country that actually talk things up, and there are men in Washington talking about this issue. So, one, I'm just the person asking the questions, teeing it up for these women on PBS and CSPAN to have their own say.

TOOBIN: What's the most important thing the government could do to make progress on poverty?

SMILEY: First of all, make poverty a priority, number one. There ought to be a national plan not just to reduce poverty, but to eradicate poverty. Other countries have done it, and we are a better nation than to have one out of two Americans living in poverty. There ought to be tax incentives, tax credits for women, specifically.

We got to get serious by the education reform. I have a book coming out in just a matter of weeks that lays out, Dr. Cornel West and I, have tried to take this issue on a book called "The Rich and the Rest of Us." A real poverty manifesto to answer that exact question, what can we, as a nation, do about this?

CAIN: Let me ask you this real quick. Can we set aside the statistics, which are compelling, and even set aside the term poverty because it has limited descriptive value? What are we talking about here? Describe poverty for me.

SMILEY: That's a very good question. And what I try to point out is that we have in this country not just a poverty of opportunity, but a poverty of affirmation, a poverty of truth, a poverty of hope in this country. So, it's not just poverty as we think of in terms of not having enough access to cash.

CAIN: It's not finding your next meal?

SMILEY: Oh, absolutely. The numbers are clear. You talk to anybody from feeding America, there are more Americans now who are fighting just to have --

CAIN: But you're talking about something more than that you're saying?

SMILEY: -- we talk about -- food and security is a very real issue, but it's not just money. It's affirmation, it's hope, it's opportunity. It's all of those things. It's not just typical poverty that we think. And the other problem with poverty is too often in this country, poverty has been color coded. Soledad made a proper point a moment ago. The new poor in this country are the former middle class. So, this election season you can't get away just talking about the angst of the middle class. You got the perennially poor. You got the new poor and you've got the near poor. You put all that together, half of Americans are either in or near poverty.

So, this color coded notion of poverty and the fact that we think poor people are black and brown, that doesn't work anymore.

O'BRIEN: I did an interview with a couple of kids not long ago. They were college freshmen. And they -- and I said to them, so, you know, tell me what's the greatest thing about being in college as a college freshman halfway through this first year? And they both said, you know, I get fed three meals a day. It's the first time I haven't been hungry.

And I thought they were going to say, like, you know, meet girls or I can go -- and I was just like, oh, my God. And the other one said, you know, there's heat. I now have heat in my house all the time. We don't have to come home sometimes and put on coats and go to bed in our full winter gear. To me, I think that was your question, like, what does poverty mean?

CAIN: What's it look like?

O'BRIEN: I've covered a lot of poor people as a reporter. That absolutely floored me.

SMILEY: They're going to be met after college realizing that student loan debt now, as you know, has exceeded credit card debt. That's what they're up against when they graduate.

TOOBIN: How much -- we appear to be in some kind of economic recovery. No one knows how fast here, but how much will that help and how much will that not help?

SMILEY: Zero.

O'BRIEN: Do you think it's really zero?

TOOBIN: Why zero?

O'BRIEN: Why not be raised by that?

SMILEY: The uptick in the economy is not going to do anything to deal with the kind of poverty that I saw on this poverty tour that we took last summer. Indiana University, the SPEA school, School of Public and Environmental Affairs has a white paper out that says, even when the economy starts to uptick, because of the masses of the poor in this country, because of the long-term nature of that poverty, even as the economy starts to uptick, it's going to do nothing about poverty.

We got to get serious about not just, again, reducing but eradicating. And if we think a slight uptick in the economy is doing something about all those persons you mentioned a moment ago, those millions who are not even looking for work anymore, we're missing how bad this really is.

And very quickly, I believe, this is not hyperbolic at all, not hyperbole at all. I believe the very future of our democracy is link to how seriously we're going to take this growing up between they have got and they have not. Our democracy is at stake.

O'BRIEN: Tavis Smiley, I've been looking forward to that panel. Thanks for joining us.

SMILEY: Thank you very much. My pleasure.

O'BRIEN: Thanks for joining our little panel of all men.

SMILEY: Thank you for having me. I'm the middle half.

O'BRIEN: All men. Nice to have you.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we're going to talk about, you know, from poverty to Goldman Sachs. Wow! The fallout this morning.

CAIN: The have-gots.

O'BRIEN: Yes. The have-gots, I guess. The fallout from that op-ed from a former employee and he's former now because he wrote that op-ed and quit. He said the company is toxic greed, and he said that eventually could bring down the bank. We'll talk about what's happened after that. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: We have a very diverse play list. That's Neil Young "After the Gold Rush". It's from William Cohan's play list. It's nice to have you with us this morning.

WILLIAM COHAN, AUTHOR, MONEY AND POWER: HOW GOLDMAN SACHS CAME TO RULE THE WORLD": Good to be here.

O'BRIEN: Goldman Sachs, of course, is responding to that op-ed. The op-ed heard around the world I think it's fair to call it. Yesterday we told you about the Goldman Sachs employee, a guy named Greg Smith, who quit in the pages of "The New York Times". He called the environment at Goldman Sachs toxic and destructive.

And here's a little bit of what he wrote from his op-ed, which I encourage people to read, it's really fascinating. "When the history books are written about Goldman Sachs, they may reflect that the current chief executive officer, Lloyd C. Blankfein and the president, Gary Cohn, lost hold of the firm's culture on their watch. I truly believe that this decline in the firm's moral fiber represents the single most serious threat to its long-term -- long-run survival."

Another little snippet, "It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping their clients off. Over the last 12 months I've seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as 'muppets'. Sometimes over internal e-mail."

And how about this one. "I hope this can be a wake-up call to the board of directors. Make the client the focal point of your business again. Without clients, you will not make money. In fact, you will not exist. Weed out the morally bankrupt people no matter how much money they make for the firm and get the culture right again so people want to work here for the right reasons."

Goldman Sachs responded with an internal memo that read in part this, "In a company of our size, it is not shocking that some people could feel disgruntled, but that does not and should not represent our firm of more than 30,000 people." Goldman's stock was down 3.4 percent in trading yesterday wiping $2.2 billion off of its market value. Shares still up 33 percent for the year. Nice to have you to talk about all of this.

COHAN: Nice to be here, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: So what do we know about this guy, Greg Smith.

COHAN: Oh virtually nothing.

O'BRIEN: Does that surprise you?

COHAN: Well, no. I mean, it doesn't surprise me that you know people don't know who a relatively junior vice president is at Goldman Sachs. There's 30,000 people. I mean I did write a history of Goldman Sachs. He's talking about -- you know when the history of Goldman Sachs is written.

And of course he's not somebody that they're going to let me talk to or that I'm going to come across in the normal course of business. The fact of the matter is, you know, he's right about a lot of what he writes about. The culture has changed, but as I write in my book, I mean Goldman Sachs' culture has always been on the edge. They have always been looking out for Goldman Sachs.

I could tell you stories that would make your blood boil from 1929 and 1930 when they created something called the Goldman Sachs Trading Corporation which lost people, you know, hundreds of millions of dollars. And Eddie Cantor, the comedian, made Goldman Sachs the brunt of jokes for five years.

O'BRIEN: But isn't the issue he's saying now -- and I should mention that the book that you're talking about is called "Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World". Isn't the -- the shift in culture, is he's saying it used to be about the clients? That yes, making money, it's an investment bank.

COHAN: Yes, these are not charitable organizations.

O'BRIEN: And you know but -- but now it seems like he's saying it used to be charity that included your clients and now it's not about the clients.

COHAN: No, and I disagree with that strongly. I mean, it has always been about making money and they make money from their clients. It has always been that way. Now they used to be what they called "long-term greedy" because if you were an investment banking organization as opposed to a trading organization, which Goldman has become more of a trading organization than an investment banking organization, you need your clients long-term. You need IBM to be a client of yours for a long time to make money off of them.

TOOBIN: Isn't what's so damaging about that piece, I mean saying they're greedy, as you say?

COHAN: Exactly.

TOOBIN: That's not a big deal.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: What struck me as so -- so bad for the firm is that he's saying the people who give us their money, our clients, we are screwing them.

COHAN: That's right.

TOOBIN: That's a bad thing. And -- and -- and do you think that's true?

O'BRIEN: But -- but on the other side of that. If the clients keep coming back, clearly they feel like they are getting some kind of a deal, right?

COHAN: Right. Well, I think there's a couple of things going on. I think in the trading culture that Goldman Sachs has become it's more of a short-term relationship with a client. You are a counter- party as opposed to a client.

You are an attorney. You can understand the nature of a client as opposed to a counter-party is very different than a client.

TOOBIN: Right.

COHAN: In every trade somebody wins, somebody loses. So Goldman, you know, provides services to its counter parties. It makes markets. It provides capital for them. It takes risks for clients or counter parties that nobody else on Wall Street will do.

Why do clients keep coming back, Soledad? Because if you look after this financial crisis, we lost Bear Stearns four years ago today; Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch isn't what it once was. Morgan Stanley isn't what it once was. Leaving Goldman Sachs pretty much alone to do these of -- these kind of business with their clients.

Why do they come there? Because no one else will do for them what Goldman Sachs will do.

O'BRIEN: Okay, I want to ask about Greg Smith, like what does he do now? We were sort of joking yesterday that now he goes and becomes a kindergarten teacher in Japan. He's done -- first, where was he on the hierarchy?

COHAN: He was a vice president.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: So --

COHAN: A mid level -- mid level but making, you know as you pointed out, $500,000 a year which is not, you know, peanuts by any stretch of the imagination. But he had been there for 12 years. He probably, you know, wanted to become a managing director or a partner managing director and did not make that so we don't know --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Because they just did bonuses, right? So he -- this letter comes right after bonus season has just ended.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is like, this reminds me of "Casablanca". I mean there's gambling going on. Alert the police and you know do whatever round up the usual suspects. Abject nonsense, he didn't get what he wanted. He took an ad in "The New York Times". Hold on --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: We don't know. We don't know.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He took an ad -- he took an ad in "The New York Times" to say people, I'm leaving, good-bye.

(CROSSTALK)

COHAN: But people don't leave Wall Street voluntarily. It's very, very rarely. I mean, if this guy woke up one day and said, you know what, I've had enough. I'm taking off my ear phones, I'm taking off the plug, I'm out of here, that's it, I can't take it anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 12 years.

COHAN: Like network, you know, I -- he just got his bonus. You're absolutely right. You know whether it was a big bonus or a small bonus, whether if it wasn't what he wanted.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: What does he do now?

COHAN: What does he do now, he -- if he's not in the witness protection program, he better get a book deal before he becomes yesterday's news.

O'BRIEN: It's nice to have you.

COHAN: It's nice to be here.

O'BRIEN: All right, we're going to keep you around for the commercial break so we can continue the conversation. This is riveting.

Let's get to Carol she's got a look at what's in her show. "CNN NEWSROOM" straight ahead this morning, hey Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: It was pretty darn interesting.

O'BRIEN: Yes.

COSTELLO: Hi, Soledad. Coming up at 9:00 a.m. Eastern we'll have the latest on Rod Blagojevich and his one-way ticket from Illinois to Colorado. The former governor begins his 14-year prison term today. We will talk with a "Sun Times" reporter who followed the scandal from start to finish. Today she might write her last Blago story for quite some time.

Plus we'll talk with the parents of a soldier based in Afghanistan. They are worried he might pay for the deaths of 16 civilians even though he had nothing to do with it.

That's all coming up in the "CNN NEWSROOM" at 9:00 a.m. Eastern. STARTING POINT will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: All right. Take a look at this videotape. This is a deli owner, it's in Oregon. He's confronted by a would-be robber and kind of steps up to the plate. Surveillance video showing the suspect spraying the owner with mace. That just made the owner madder, right? So he grabs a baseball bat and clobbers the robber senseless, then chases him out of his store.

Apparently it was completely out of control and all caught on tape which is why we're sharing it with you this morning. This is all to tell you that our "End Point" is coming up next with our panel.

Stay with us. We're back right after this.

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O'BRIEN: Time for "End Point". what have you got?

My takeaway comes from the Afghanistan segment. We ought to say a little prayer today for all of those men and women who serve this great country and who are under tremendous risk. And we ought to pray that they come home soon and not be victims of shootings by who knows whom.

O'BRIEN: I agree with you on that. All right, Jeff Toobin.

TOOBIN: If you win $40 million in the lottery, share. You know, it's all about karma.

CAIN: As of this morning, the last two Illinois governors are behind bars.

O'BRIEN: Yes. That's very, very true. I thank our panel.

Let's get it right to Carol Costello who's got "CNN NEWSROOM". I'll see everybody else back here, 7:00 a.m. tomorrow morning.

Hey Carol, good morning.