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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

New Home Video of Missing Tucson Girl; Saturn V Rocket Hit By Gunfire; Study: Attack Ads On The Rise; Anita Baker's Sweet Music; Activist Chen Desperate To Leave China; Family of Junior Seau to Donate his Brain to Scientific Study; Chinese Activist May be Allowed by Chinese Government to Study Abroad

Aired May 4, 2012 - 07:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome. Good morning, everybody.

From Atlanta, our "Starting Point," some new details about the death of a beloved NFL player, Junior Seau. His family speaking out about possible concussions and also making a tough decision today that could help the next generation of players.

Plus, a "Starting Point" exclusive, his final interview on tape, were there warning signs?

Activist fiasco, talks of face-saving deal now. U.S. officials are speaking to but not seeing Chen Guangchang overnight. We're going to talk to a friend of his who says he's been in contact with him.

Plus, new video of a racially charged shooting.

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O'BRIEN: A White officer now has been cleared in the killing of an ailing Black veteran. He was killed in his own apartment. His son will join us in a CNN exclusive.

Plus, the big April jobs report. Are enough Americans working again to make a dent in the unemployment numbers?

It's Friday, May 4th and for "Star Wars" fans, yes, May the 4th be with you. Get it? "Starting Point" begins right now.

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SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: A white officer now has been cleared in the killing of an ailing black veteran killed in his own apartment. His son will joins us in a CNN exclusive.

Plus the big April jobs report, are enough Americans working again to make a dent in the unemployment numbers? It's Friday, May 4th and for "Star Wars" fans, may the fourth be with you. Get it? STARTING POINT begins right now.

Welcome back, everybody. New details in the shocking suicide of football star Junior Seau. The "L.A. Times" is reporting his family has decided to donate his brain in order to determine if he had chronic traumatic encephalopathy. That as the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office release its preliminary report last night. The report says the former linebacker's death was indeed a suicide.

Doctors are unsure whether Seau's hard hits on the field let to CTE, that dementia-like brain disease caused by tough brain injuries that many football players face. Someone who is an expert on that is Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He's been studying this topic for years. This morning we hear that Seau's ex-wife and friends, even though he was not well- known as someone who had a number of concussions they are saying we had concussions.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: And also saying something we heard a lot talking to NFL players, he probably wasn't vocal about him, even tried to hide them under this culture of look I'm going to play hurt and not only that but if I tell people about the fact I'm hurt they may keep me out of the game.

O'BRIEN: His ex-wife used the word he's a warrior. It's not ballet, go back in the game.

GUPTA: I got a ding to my brain, minimizes the injury. I hurt my ACL, people pray for you in the stands. Brain injury, you'll be back in the next play, no big deal.

O'BRIEN: The family will donate the brain. What does that mean will happen to his brain?

GUPTA: I've seen this in laboratory called the sports legacy institute. What we're talking about is still relatively new science, but they'll examine the brain and I've seen what they're looking for specifically the plaques and tangles. You've heard those words associated with Alzheimer's disease. That's the same sort of thing they're looking for, they stain the brain, they look specifically for the changes in certain areas of the brain, parts of the brain responsible for memory, depression, and anger, and those are the symptoms.

O'BRIEN: So you cannot tell if someone has CTE until they're dead, until you're able to examine the brain. GUPTA: You can't say for sure, but the symptoms which are classic triad, memory loss, depression, anger. Now they're vague and a lot of people can have those things and not have CTE but those are in conjunction with being a football player and conjunction with taking hits to the head, you put it together.

O'BRIEN: When we heard from the medical examiner's office that it was a suicide, many people assumed that, they thought that but everybody wanted to hear is it CTE. How long before we know now that the family cleared the way to examine the brain?

GUPTA: It's pretty fast. Dr. McKee, the pathologist at the institute, I spent time with her, she probably a few days before they'd be able to know, they may want to verify, so we may not hear for some time after that. But it doesn't take that long to make a diagnosis.

O'BRIEN: There was a soccer player, soccer analyst for ESPN, Taylor Twellman, he said he had been talking to Seau about headaches after his own concussion that he got playing soccer and he said Seau said to him he had headaches as well.

GUPTA: It's one of the earlier signs of not just concussions but what people refer to as the sub concussive hits. Gets up, doesn't seem to have anything of it but they accumulate over time. It's not just one and another one. They build up and the same thing in soccer players as well, heading the ball, as part of our documentary, 20 g's of force every time you head the ball and they do this over and over again especially in practice.

O'BRIEN: If you're a parent who has an eight-year-old who is think being playing soccer off' got to start rethinking this. Seau is probably one of the more famous well-known players to potentially have CTE.

GUPTA: It's interesting, and you and I are solutions oriented people. I thought about the same issue. I think when it comes to football and soccer, if you dissect a season and say where are the vast majority of the hits to the head coming, you find they come during practice, drills, over and over again, ramming your head into some immobile object, for example. So you are starting to see coaches and parents as well how many times does my kid have to do that? Maybe we can do helmetless practices, learn how to tackle with shoulders and body pads, use the two-point stance as opposed to three-point, where you use your head as a battering ram to body tackle instead. You see changes in football leading to fewer blows to the head.

O'BRIEN: We talk a lot of it with football players and soccer players, but if you were to examine your average person's brain because people get hit all the time or fall off of things.

GUPTA: It's a great question. I don't think we know the answer. Dr. Mckee, this doctor who is at the forefront of all of this, says it appears to be from multiple blows to the head, not necessarily concussive blows but multiple blows to the head, boxers, soccer players, football players, volleyball players, no sport is probably immune.

O'BRIEN: What a tragedy for his family and friends. It seemed as such a surprise to everybody.

GUPTA: I think they met get some answer when we get these results back.

O'BRIEN: Sanjay, thank you.

GUPTA: You got it.

O'BRIEN: Starting at the top of our next hour, a STARTING POINT exclusive, Junior Seau's last television interview. It was conducted at a charity golf tournament 36 hours before he took his life, we'll talk to the man who conducted the interview as well as one of Seau's friends, Dave Biber, right here on STARTING POINT.

Christine has a look at some of the other stories making news today. Hey, Christine, good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you, Soledad. Thank you.

A brown bear, two spotted leopards and pair of monkeys will be returned to their Ohio farm today. They were released into the public by their owner, Terry Thompson, last fall right before he committed suicide. Authorities do not have access to tranquillizer guns. Most of the animals were shot and killed by law enforcement to protect the public. The animals are being returned to Thompson's wife. So far no word on what she plans to do with them.

A hang gliding instructor accused of eating evidence after a student plunged to her death. Police say she was on a hang gliding flight over western Canada with that instructor when she slipped out and fell hundreds of feet into the woods. Investigators say the instructor swallowed a memory card from a video camera on board and the x-rays confirm that.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There have been a series of x-rays taken. We have confirmed so we are in the wait process here. We have confirmed that the memory card is still inside.

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ROMANS: Investigators aren't sure whether the card will have video they can retrieve at this point.

Minding your Business, now, a lot of investors waiting out the all- important April jobs report. Economists surveyed by "CNN MONEY" expect to see 160,000 jobs added last month, an improvement from march but the pace slow compared to jobs gains we witnessed in December, January and February, and the unemployment rate is expected to remain unchanged at 8.2 percent. Stock futures trading slightly higher ahead of the opening bell this morning, a holding pattern waiting for the jobs report.

Mark Zuckerberg is trying to sell Facebook to big investors in its online road show, gearing up for the Facebook IPO. Last night the company set a target range for its stock price, $28 to $35 a share, but when it begins trading publicly later this month that could value the company up to $98 billion. Keep in mind Facebook has the option to tweak its stock price as it gets closer to going public.

There's time to get a straw bonnet and prepare the mint juleps, the Kentucky derby coming up tomorrow. They kicked things off with the 56th annual Pegasus Parade. Singer Cyndi Lauper served as grand marshal.

O'BRIEN: You know, Christine, for many people the actual horse race at the Kentucky derby is an afterthought. What they want to focus on is all the parties. So we thought it would be nice to learn how to make the three famous drinks from the triple crown. We woke up our bar tender mixologist at the W hotel in Atlanta, known for putting a modern twist on classic drinks and James Conley will show us how to make the mint jewel en, the Preakness's black-eyed Susan, and the Belmont breeze of the Belmont. We're looking forward to your tips.

Later on, we will do that, and we'll continue telling you what's happening for the rest of the morning on STARTING POINT. Also dramatic surveillance video in a racially charged shooting an ailing elderly black gunned down in his own apartment. The man behind the trigger a white police officer. We're going to show you how it went down from a taser cam. His son will join us in this CNN exclusive.

Plus new video of little Isabel Celis, the six-year-old girl who vanished from her bedroom in Arizona. Police are now following leads all the way to Mexico.

And our "Get Real" this morning, an effort to annoy. Listen. You might be asking yourself why all the blaring and the bleeping and the screeching? We'll tell you. Check out our live log at CNN.com/startingpoint, or chat with us on twitter twitter @startingptCNN. This is Christine's playlist, the Dave Matthews Band "Stay." We're back in a moment.

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O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. This morning, a possible break in the high stakes diplomatic standoff in China. China saying today that blind activist Chen Guangchang could apply to study abroad. Listen to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's remarks in the last hour as she prepares to leave China after two days of high level talks.

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HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We and you do not always see the same situation in the same way. But we are working to make sure that none of that misperception or difference of opinion is allowed to interfere with the complex and comprehensive relationship.

(END VIDEO CLIP) O'BRIEN: We're also learning that U.S. officials just spoke by phone with Mr. Chen. They also met with his wife in person. Now these developments could help get Secretary of State Hillary Clinton out of a tough spot. Mr. Chen made a direct appeal to Secretary Clinton to take him back to the United States with her. Mr. Chen is still being held in a Beijing hospital after his daring escape from house arrest under the cover of night. You'll remember he slipped past Chinese guards back on April 22nd. He was then driven to the U.S. embassy in Beijing where he sought refuge until this past Wednesday. And that's when he left for medical treatment at a Beijing hospital. It's also where he was reunited with his wife and his two children.

But yesterday Chen made it clear he regretted leaving the embassy, saying he was concerned for both his and his family's safety. And he said he wanted to leave China with Secretary Clinton. At a State Department press briefing yesterday, spokesman Mark Toner was asked by CNN's State Department producer about America's plan of action.

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MARK TONER, STATE DEPARTMENT DEPUTY SPOKESMAN: We're not sure, in fact, what his intentions are, what his goals are now that he's had a change of heart.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think there's no doubt what he wants, he wants to be on a plane back with Secretary Clinton.

TONER: He's had a change of heart. We're having conversations with him, but I'm not going to pre-judge conversations and I'm certainly not going to speculate from this podium in Washington on any possible outcome.

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O'BRIEN: Chen is also making a direct appeal to members of Congress. He spoke by speakerphone to lawmakers during a Congressional hearing.

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CHEN GUANGCHENG (via translator): I want to meet with the secretary Clinton. I hope I can get more help from her. I also want to thank her face to face. The thing I'm most concerned right now is the safety of my mother, my brothers, and I really want to know what's going on with them.

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O'BRIEN: Jerome Cohen is a friend of Mr. Chen's. He advised him during the negotiations with China earlier in the week. He is also the co-director of NYU's school of law's U.S.-Asia law institute. It's nice to see you, sir. Thanks for your time. What do you make of this new turn of events and offer to apply for a study abroad for Mr. Chen?

JEROME COHEN, FRIEND OF CHEN GUANGCHENG: I think the way is now open to resolving this crisis. I think the Chinese government has found a solution, and they say Chen is entitled to the rights of all Chinese citizens to apply to go abroad to study. His case will be processed in the usual way. This is a very quiet, low-key Chinese solution to the problem, and I think now we can go ahead and resolve the problem in this whole unhappy 48-hour period of incrimination and criticism and self-criticism can be put behind us. Now is the time for progress to be made, and I hope we'll see Mr. Chen and his family in the United States in the near future for study and rest. That's what he wants.

O'BRIEN: It seemed like the dramatic turnaround happened at this hospital in Beijing where he went from wanting to leave the embassy of his own free will, it seems, to suddenly sounding very regretful about departing. What exactly happened?

COHEN: Well, what happened is the environment changed. You're dealing with a person who's enormously able, very sensitive. He's been isolated from society for seven years. He's a blind man to begin with. He needs all the comfort he can get in reentering society. And here he's thrust into this maelstrom.

And I talked to him Monday for about an hour, talked to him Tuesday for about an hour and saw even within that time span, understandably, faced with very stark alternatives, he was showing some uncertainty. And his wife, who encouraged him to take this remarkable arrangement that has been worked out, she told him of course there are uncertainties, but we should go ahead, we should continue the struggle one step at a time. She's a remarkable person, too. I've known these people for almost a decade, and we'll be proud to host them here in America, I'm sure.

And they behaved in a totally understandable way. When he got to the hospital, all of a sudden all of the wonderful support he got from his American friends left him. They went home. They were exhausted. They'd been being around the clock for days in these negotiations trying to take advantage of the Chinese desire to end the matter before the strategic economic dialogue began. They went home, the doctors went home, and he was left with his doubts and lots of Chinese police all around, some of them apparently the people who tortured him and his wife from their hometown.

And then the Chinese allowed him to communicate with his human rights friends in the community, and based on their terrible, harsh experiences of recent years while he was locked up, they told him, don't take this deal. It's too unsafe. And that fanned Chen's original fears. He said to me last Monday he said "I feel very unsafe. If I go out there, it will be very unsafe." I said "Then don't take the deal. You're not up to it." But then by the next day he was feeling better.

O'BRIEN: And you're sounding much more hopeful the offer to allow him to study abroad. Jerome Cohen joining us this morning. Thank you, Mr. Cohen, we certainly appreciate it.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, it could be the end, Yankee fans with their heads in their hands after their legendary closer was carted off the field and the word is he may not come back. And our "Get Real" this morning, could it be any more annoying? Listen. That's a concert hall but that's not music you're listening to.

Also our panel heading in to talk about that and much more. Erick Erickson is joining us, the editor-in-chief of redstate.com, Desean Snow, former cast mate of "The Real housewives of Atlanta," and former mayor Shirley Franklin. Welcome, everybody. Nice to see you. This is off of Ms. Franklin's playlist, Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger."

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O'BRIEN: You're listening and looking at the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who is speaking right now. She's talking about Chen Guangchang, the Chinese activist able to escape from house arrest. Listen to what she's able to say.

HILLARY CLINTON: -- in world affairs, and our countries and our peoples gain far more from cooperation than from competition, so we are committed to pursuing a positive, cooperative, comprehensive relationship.

And I want to underscore the importance of events like this annual strategic and economic dialogue. We use it to maximize mutual understanding and areas of cooperation while also speaking frankly to one another about those areas about which we have disagreements.

Given all that we are doing together bilaterally, regionally and globally, we need this kind of open, regular mechanism for strengthening our partnership, and managing those areas where there are tensions and differences.

I said something earlier today that I would repeat for you, because, together, the United States with China, are trying to do something that is historically unprecedented, to write a new answer to the age- old question of what happens when an established power and a rising power meet.

And for the United States, we see this as an opportunity, not a threat. We look at the future with great optimism, and we believe that neither of us can afford to keep looking at the world through old lenses, whether it's the legacy of imperialism, the cold war, or balance of power politics. Zero sum thinking will lead to negative sum results.

And so instead, what we are trying to do is to build a resilient relationship that allows both of our nations to thrive without unhealthy competition, rivalry, or conflict, while meeting our national regional and global responsibilities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Secretary, just to add two examples --

O'BRIEN: You're listening to the secretary of state Hillary Clinton as she talks about the old lenses and the new lens are need now to view the relationship between China and the United States. They've been wrapping up this two-day conference for the strategic and economic dialogue, all of this framed, though, over the last several days when the Chinese activist, Chen Guangchang decided to escape from house arrest, putting into a bit of a mini diplomatic crisis that was trying to be resolved at the same time these talks were under way. We're hearing from the Chinese he will be allowed to apply for study abroad, and that is being viewed by his supporters, Mr. Chen's supporters here in the United States, as good news, a possible face saving measure, a possible win-win in this diplomatic crisis, bringing to an end what had been potentially a conflict that looked like there was no points of solution as Mr. Chen getting medical care in Beijing repeatedly said he wanted to get on Hillary Clinton's plane and try to leave China for the United States after leaving the American embassy.

We are going to continue to obviously cover the story about what's happening with Mr. Chen today. U.S. officials have not been able to get in to see him physically in his hospital room. However, they have spoken to him by phone.

We have to take a short break. Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we'll talk to you about an officer who has been cleared in a controversial shooting. We've got the videotape, also shots taken at a space center, but who's behind the bullets?

And it's just one day 'til the derby, so we thought we'd drink in honor of that, so early and yet so not. We're going to show you how to prep your mint juleps this morning. There's our bartender. And you're listening to Anita Baker singing "Giving you the Best I Got." You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.

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O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. Coming up, we're going to take a look at a controversial and racially charged shooting that was caught on videotape.

First though, we want to check with Christine Romans for a look at the other big stories happening today. Hi, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Soledad. Take a look this just released home video of missing Tucson 6-year-old Isabel Celis.

Police are now reportedly expanding their search to Mexico. Officials are checking hotels, bus terminals and businesses. Isabel's father says he put her to bed on the night of April 20th.

When he went to wake her up the next morning, she was gone. The window was open and the screen has been removed. Isabel's father pleading desperately for her return.

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SERGIO CELIS, ISABEL'S FATHER: Just please, please, to the person or persons who have Isabel, tell us your demands. Tell us what you want. We will do anything for her.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: Tucson's police chief confirms both of Isabel's parents have taken a lie detector test. He has not revealed the results and says everyone is a suspect at this point.

New this morning, the Philadelphia archbishop is announcing the fate of 27 Catholic priests suspended for child sexual abuse allegations, later today.

The archbishop is expected to release the findings from the church's latest year-long investigation. Previous findings were called into question by a grand jury last year.

A former top aide at the archdiocese, William Lin is charged with child endangerment for his handling of abuse complaints.

The person who decided to fire off some rounds at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center could be facing federal charges. Police in Huntsville, Alabama say at least one bullet hit a Saturn V rocket that was on display, a shell casing was found.

But police aren't saying what type of weapon was used in Thursday's shooting. Several school groups were visiting the museum at the time. Luckily no injuries reported, only some paint damage.

The first day on the job for the new Sanford, Florida Police Chief Richard Myers. He'll hold a news conference at 11:00 Eastern this morning. The department under fire for its handling of George Zimmerman after he shot and killed Trayvon Martin.

Police Chief Bill Lee will remain on paid administrative leave. Lee tried to resign last month, but city commissioners voted against him going.

A devastating news for the New York Yankees, legendary closer Mariano Rivera may miss the rest of the season after injury his knee, shattering fly balls during batting practice in Kansas City.

That's been part of his pregame ritual for more than a decade. Rivera carted off the field reportedly tearing his ACL. He is 42 years old and the all-time Major League saves leader.

There was talk that this could be his final year in the big leagues and it may just have come to a screeching halt. We wish the best for him.

Finally, this morning, concert promoters in San Francisco using a different kind of loud noise to keep homeless residents away.

A large influx of homeless people gathering outside the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium prompted the venue's promoter, Another Planet, to try to using noise pollution to clear the area.

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OSCAR MCKINNEY, HOMELESS SAN FRANCISCO RESIDENT: Chainsaws, jackhammers, sirens, motorcycle revving. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: They hear noise all night long. Crank it up eight to nine hours at a time -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: That's just crazy, and how about for the people who live around there, too?

ROMANS: It's irritating.

O'BRIEN: I'm not sure that's the solution to the homeless problem in San Francisco is recordings of jackhammers but, you know, I guess -- it's about to get ugly.

I'm talking not about what's happening in San Francisco, but I'm talking about the 2012 general election, hasn't even officially been kicked off and already President Obama and the former Governor Mitt Romney are slinging mud, no shocker there.

According to a new study, it's going to get worse. The Wesleyan Media Project reveals that 70 percent of campaign ads between 2011 and April 22nd of this year have been negative.

Here is the latest attack ad from President Obama, which slams Governor Romney for his Swiss bank accounts. Listen.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As governor he outsourced state jobs to a call center in India. He's still pushing tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas. It's just what you'd expect from a guy who had a Swiss bank account.

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O'BRIEN: But wait there's more, there's Governor Romney's ad, which hits President Obama for gas prices, listen.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Obama tax machine has started spending millions to sling mud for oil at Mitt Romney. Why? Because in the five states where Obama is attacking Romney, gas prices have roughly doubled.

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O'BRIEN: New study claims that there are more negative ads airing now than this time in 2008. Our presidential race is getting nasty fast or is it basically this what it takes to win? Erick, I'll let you start?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think the study included the primary season so, of course, a lot of those ads are going to skew the study because they were all going after each other in the Republican primary. O'BRIEN: That was a nasty primary.

ERICKSON: And apparently if you're a white southern male, you've got a great career in voiceover negative ads for both the Romney campaign and the Obama campaign.

O'BRIEN: You're going to rake in all the cash between now and November.

ERICKSON: If this is going to be a negative campaign season, I don't think either wants to lock themselves into policy positions. So we're going to have fluffed another campaign all the way to November with either side will try not to be pinned down by the other side.

And if that works we may be on the verge of seeing a complete change in American politics from where in the past you had to run on definable policy positions and now everybody's like I don't want to get pinned down.

O'BRIEN: To what degree is it "Super PAC" money?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's "Super PAC" money, but during the Republican primaries there were attacks on Obama and the president. So I think some of the balance is coming back now from the president's campaign.

"Super PAC" money is something that we're all concerned about. We don't know the sources. They don't have the sane regulations so there is some concern about that and state parties are losing their position in terms of influencing elections as a result of that.

O'BRIEN: Deshawn, let me ask you a question. As someone who -- like you're home, you're not an elected official. You're not a political commentator. You, like me, we stay home. We click through stuff.

When I see a negative ad, it turns me off and makes me not like the person who did the ad. It makes me not like the voice who is reading the ad, just the whole thing makes me not want to run out and vote. What's your reaction when you see the negative ads?

DESHAWN SNOW, FOUNDER, THE DESHAWN SNOW FOUNDATION: I feel the exact same way because a lot of times people are drawn to the negativity and we're bombarded with it all over the air waves. With this and even in the programming, I turn it off.

O'BRIEN: Isn't there a risk then that this adds to a year in which I think it's fair to say it's going to be a problem?

ERICKSON: That's the point though. I hate to be crass about it, but both sides are deciding is this a '92 election or 2004 election where you want to turn out your base?

Your base is going to turn out in the face of negative ads. It's the independents who aren't decided who may sit home and frankly, that probably benefits the Obama campaign looking at the way with negativity whether it's the Romney ads or the Obama ads. When you turn off independent voters right now even the Gallup poll that came out the other day shows the Democrats have a slight advantage in size of base right now. So we can expect a negative season as people are trying to drive out the base.

O'BRIEN: I said it was negative and he says it's going to get worse.

All right, still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, eight-time Grammy award winner Anita Baker is going to join us. She's back going on tour and her fans have say it's been way too long.

Also ahead, some new video of a racially charged shooting. A white officer has been cleared in the killing of an ailing black veteran in his own apartment. His son will join us in a CNN exclusive. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: I love this song. Anita Baker is a singer who is known for her distinctive style. Fans say they get caught up in the rapture of her voice and you listen to her performing like on this track, the Donahue Show back in the late 1980s, she sounds amazing.

She took off time to raise a family and now Anita Baker is an empty nester. She's kicking off a new tour at Radio City this weekend, in New York City.

It's nice to have you. It's nice to see you. I'm sorry I'm not with you in New York this morning. Let me ask you a question, Ms. Baker, longevity in your business is a rare, rare thing.

And yet there are clips that I can show people over the years that show your many, many hits. What do you think has made you successful over all that time?

ANITA BAKER, SINGER, SONGWRITER: Well, you know, I wish I had an answer. First, I just want to say good morning to you, young lady. It's so great to be here and thanks for the invitation.

You know, music is not really work for me, and I'm just always trying to create something. And you know, you look up, and ten years has gone by.

You look up and today is my youngest son's 18th birthday. Happy birthday, Eddie! And you look up and your oldest son is, you know, coming into town from Boston University, you know, and --

O'BRIEN: Goes by that fast?

BAKER: It's gone, but you know, it's just for the love of the music. Any day that I'm singing is a day that I'm not working. You know, it's not a job for me.

O'BRIEN: You have had though some pretty incredible struggles, what I've read about your fights at times with record labels because you were trying to get ownership of the creative process, was it ultimately when you look back at your career all worth it?

BAKER: You know, it was all worth it. I was brought into the industry by guys like Bob Krasnow and the Erdogan Brothers and you know, Bruce Lundvall and those guys taught me things, taught me how to get in control of my catalogue and to own my master so that I can have something to hand over to my children when I'm gone.

You know, it doesn't mean you don't have to fight for it, but they were very, very instrumental in giving me the energy and the direction to know which way to go with it.

O'BRIEN: You've won eight Grammy awards, had four platinum albums, two gold albums. You got a new album that's going to come out in the fall.

And as I mentioned, you're going to be at Radio City, not very far from where you are right now. Tell me a little bit about the new album because I know you dipped in to trying different genres like jazz, for example. What is the new album like?

BAKER: You know, the new record is -- it basically is very organic and so many people are showing up. We started off with the genius of Harvey Mason Jr., who is a contemporary producer for people like Jennifer Hudson, and a very 21st Century peer group.

We went back to my old friend, Nathan East, who is legendary bassist for Eric Clapton and everyone else in the world. He maintained the integrity of my standard style of music.

And then Don Wuzz has come on board to kind of provide a cohesiveness for, the fact that Snoop Dogg has come to give us dialogue on a love song, you know.

You know, the fact that Tyrese has come to duet with us and it's a very big undertaking. It's a big mix, and it's taken a lot of coffee, basically. I need my coffee.

O'BRIEN: Yes, your Twitter kickoff, right, every morning is coffee cup's up. I'm surprised that you're such a prolific tweeter. Does it get you into a new and different audience then sort of maybe the audience that you had 20 years ago?

BAKER: Well, you know what? What happened is I took last year off because both my sons were heading off to college and it was a time of transition, so I took the entire year off.

I had a lot of time to spend with my fan base, to get to know them, you know, getting to know me in a different way, and to just come outside of my box, you know. It's the 21st Century, and I want to be here.

O'BRIEN: We like that. I'm one of the many who said come on now, let's get that album out, we're ready. It's nice to see you.

BAKER: Thank you. O'BRIEN: I wish I could be there in person. It was nice to spend a little bit of time with you, even if remote. Anita Baker, absolute superstar and I have permission to sing along with you out loud in the shower.

BAKER: All the time, all the time.

O'BRIEN: Thank you, thank you. I appreciate that.

BAKER: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: That's Anita Baker. So moving on to our drinking segment, which is what we've been talking about all morning. Tomorrow, of course, is the first day, first Saturday of May, which means tomorrow is the Kentucky derby.

Anybody who knows anything knows that you're not really enjoying the race unless you're holding a Mint Julep in your hand. A 120,000 of these drinks are going to be served at Churchill Down this weekend.

So we brought the W Hotel's mixologist, James Conley to show us how they're made. Now I know there is the classic and then there's the twist on the classic. So let's start with the Mint Julep 101, how do you make it?

JAMES CONLEY, MIXOLOGIST, DRINKSHOP, W HOTEL IN ATLANTA: All right, the Mint Julep 101, first of all, thank you for having me.

O'BRIEN: Pleasure.

CONLEY: You start off with a mint, which is the most important part.

O'BRIEN: Fresh mint.

CONLEY: Definitely fresh leaves and here I pre-picked about 10 to 15 leaves and you coat the bottom of a tin. This is just the bottom of a bar tin, but I actually have an official cup. This is a better, I guess, value for the customer.

But you start off with about 10 to 15 and then you do about one ounce of simple syrup, which is just half sugar, half water. You can make it a little sweeter if you like.

But everybody talks about muddling between Mojitos and Mint Juleps and one of the biggest problems with that is if you over muddled the mint, you get a chlorophyll kind of a plenty taste.

So it's very important to just press it and get it mixed in with the sugar three or four times. Once you have that base at the bottom, one of the essential things about the Mint Julep is using crushed ice. A lot of people have crushed ice machines. I actually use this gigantic mallet.

O'BRIEN: We'll we crushed during the commercial break. I'll take a taste on the other side and tell folks what's expected ahead on STARTING POINT. Some new developments to talk about this morning as we update you with the blind activist who was in the middle of that diplomatic firestorm between the U.S. and China. We'll tell you what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had to say about Chen Guangcheng this morning.

Also we're all over that big jobs report for April. We're expecting it 8:30 a.m. Eastern. Which candidate will help politically? Is it going to put a dent in the unemployment rate? We'll take a look.

And the very last interview done with Junior Seau looking for warning signs in the days before he shot himself in the chest.

Also, a little bit of a nerd alert, did you know it's international star wars day? We'll tell you why it's today. You might want to think about it maybe you'll figure it out. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.

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O'BRIEN: We're following breaking news this morning. There appears to be a possible break in that high-stakes diplomatic standoff between the United States and China over the activist Chen Guangcheng.

China saying today that Mr. Chen will be able to apply to study abroad and that appears to be an opening for both sides to save face.

Listen to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's update on Mr. Chen. It happened just a few minutes ago as she is preparing to leave Beijing after two days of high-level talks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: From the beginning, all of our efforts with Mr. Chen have been guided by his choices and our values. And I am pleased that today our ambassador has spoken with him again.

Our embassy staff and our doctor had a chance to meet with him. And he confirms that he and his family now want to go to the United States so he can pursue his studies.

In that regard, we are also encouraged by the official statement issued today by the Chinese government confirming that he can apply to travel abroad for this purpose.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: As the secretary of state points out, U.S. officials have spoken now to Mr. Chen this morning by telephone. They've also met face to face with him and face to face with his wife.

It's interesting, I don't know if the right word is diplomatic crisis, diplomatic kerfuffle, for a moment it seemed like the timing was going to derail these talks, which clearly it did not do.

SHIRLEY FRANKLIN (D), FORMER ATLANTA MAYOR: I think it had a lot to do with the relationships that have been developed over the last two or three years with the Obama administration and also with Secretary Clinton. I mean, her ability to manage through this, and obviously the Chinese officials were willing to have those discussions with her.

O'BRIEN: It might be premature to say that, it hasn't actually been resolved yet.

ERICKSON: You know, it's striking. We're in the 21st Century and dealing with a growing country, a world power who is keeping a guy under house arrest because he opposes their one child policy. It's just striking. We're in the 21st Century and have these problems with a major power.

FRANKLIN: We do have different points of view and I think the secretary did a great job in her statement of explaining that we do have differences of opinion.

O'BRIEN: It will be interesting to see if the statement translates into Mr. Chen actually coming to the United States in the next semester.

ERICKSON: A guy under house arrest for political reasons, crazy.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, the last interview with the former NFL player, Junior Seau, just 36 hours before he shot himself in the chest.

And new questions too about whether those hard hits on the field is what led him down the path to suicide.

Plus the father who wired his young son to expose the bullying teachers has been threatening the school with more damning tapes. He's going to join us live and talk about that.

And a kid asks Governor Christie for a favor. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I kind of need a note for school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You need a note for school?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: That would make it an official absence, wouldn't it? Well, did the governor say yes or no? We'll let you know.

Here's Erick's play list. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.

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