CNN CNN


 

Return to Transcripts main page

STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Tape of Hostage in Afghanistan Surfaces; Vice President Biden's Statement Seems to Favor Gay Marriage; Facebook to Issue IPO; Columnist Suggests Banning College Football; Markets Down Worldwide; Nicolas Sarkozy Out; Austerity Backlash; Report: U.S. Freeing Afghan Prisoners; KSM And Co-Defendants Arraigned; USS Cole Suspect Killed In Yemen; Clinton Targeting Iran; Into The Wall!; Painful Mistake; "The Avengers" Breaks Record; Harvard-MIT Free Courses Online

Aired May 7, 2012 - 06:59   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST: And good morning. Welcome, everybody. Our "Starting Point" this morning, breaking news. We are seeing an American man for the first time since his kidnapping last August. Al Qaeda is now releasing video of Warren Weinstein, and he is making a direct plea for the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is very important that you act quickly, and I'm now waiting for your response.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Some very big political changes in Europe, and they're affecting the financial markets. Christine Romans and Ali Velshi will join us to debate just what the elections will mean to our 401(k)s.

Plus, a murder mystery happening at Churchill Downs. A man's body is discovered in the barns just hours after the big race.

And the Facebook IPO tour begins. We're going to talk to the founder of Reddit.com about how going public changes your Facebook experience.

It's Monday, May 7th, and "Starting Point" begins right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

O'BRIEN: And we begin with breaking news this morning on "Starting Point." Chilling videotape of an American hostage. His name is Warren Weinstein, and he is begging for his life. It has just been released by al Qaeda. You can see on this tape, the 70-year-old Maryland man pleading to President Obama to agree to his kidnappers' demand or he'll say he will be killed.

Weinstein was abducted last August in Pakistan. Here's part of the video that the militants just posted online.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) WARREN WEINSTEIN, HOSTAGE: I'd like to talk to President Obama and ask him, beg him that he please accept and respond to the demands of the Mujahidin. It is important that you accept the demands and act quickly and do not delay. No benefit in delay. It will make things more difficult. But it is very important that you act quickly, and I'm now waiting for your response.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: CNN's Elise Labott joins us from the White House. Elise, before we get to reaction, let's first talk specifically about the demands. What are they demanding?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Soledad, a range of demands starting from releasing all Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners and in particular those responsible for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the attempted attack on the World Trade Center, and also a halt to all air strikes in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan and the list goes on. More goods and people being able to go from Egypt to Gaza, so it is really running the gamut of specific things that deal with Al Qaeda to all Muslims and Arabs.

O'BRIEN: That is a big list of big asks, and what is the reaction from the White House and the State Department?

LABOTT: Well, if you remember, Soledad, Mr. Weinstein was kidnapped in August and in December Al Qaeda claimed responsibility and the leader of Al Qaeda now that bin Laden is dead, Ayman al Zawahiri laid out the demands at the time, and the U.S. has a no negotiation policy and not only with the kidnappers per se, but with the terrorists certainly. So there has not been official reaction to the video and what the U.S. has said since December is that it is working with the Pakistanis who are taking the lead on the investigation to find out where he might be and I suspect they are working with people in the tribal areas the try the track him down, but I don't anticipate a meeting of the demands, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: So then what happens next? What kind of timeline are we looking at?

LABOTT: Well, it does not seem in the video that Mr. Weinstein laid out a specific time line. Obviously, time is of the essence, but we don't know when that video was made. So, it could have been recently, and this so-called proof of life that is not a proof of life in the sense that there is no date on it.

So certainly the U.S. is going to be trying to find him, and we don't know what is going on behind the scenes with the Pakistani Pakistanis. But time is obviously of the essence. Mr. Weinstein is believed to be in poor health, but he says he is getting the medicine and well cared for, but a lot of concern not only about the well- being, but about what these Al Qaeda operatives will do to him.

O'BRIEN: How horrific for the family and everybody else watching this. Elise Labott, thank you for the update. I want to get to some of the other top stories happening this morning. Christine Romans has a look for us. Hey, Christine, good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad. Political upheaval in France and Greece could move U.S. markets this morning. France has a new president, socialist Francois Hollande defeating Nicolas Sarkozy in a runoff election. His victory is a rejection of tough austerity that could signal a change in the way France deals with the Eurozone debt crisis. Voters in Greece also weary of austerity and deep cuts.

Again, all that uncertainty in Europe will have ripple effects in markets. U.S. futures and stock markets are down this morning. Markets in Asia and Europe also down overnight, and in currencies the euro is down and the dollar is up, and oil also down $97 a barrel right now.

Russia's Vladimir Putin is sworn in as president, but not everybody is happy about it. A massive demonstration in Moscow against perceived fraud in the election, it turned violent Sunday. Police clash with protesters who veered from the approved march route. Hundreds of people arrested and dozens injured there.

An army captain drops dead while chatting with his wife while chatting on Skype. But how it happened is still a mystery. Captain Bruce Clark was stationed in Afghanistan. He was chatting with his wife last Monday via Skype. She says during that he was, quote, "suddenly knocked forward." She says she saw what looked like a bullet hole in the closet behind him. Soldiers who found Clark also say they found a bullet hole. But officials said they found no wounds on Clark's body. They are waiting for toxicology results and other reports to determine the cause of death.

Vice President Joe Biden stirred things up this morning. Listen to these comments he made about same sex marriage on a Sunday morning talk show.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: The president sets the policy. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men and women marrying women and heterosexual men and women marrying are entitled to the same exact rights and civil liberties, and, quite frankly, I don't see much of a distinction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The White House is scrambling to point out that the president does not favor legalizing same-sex marriage even though his views on the subject are "evolving."

About two dozen friends, fans, and teammates found a way to pay respect to Junior Seau in a paddle out in his honor. He was an avid surfer and often found riding the waves off of the coast of California and former Saints' quarterback Drew Brees also paddled out and friends and family held hands and said a prayer. And his brain may not be examined after all. The family is weighing the options. And that paddle out is adding to a larger than life personality.

O'BRIEN: Absolutely. Still an incredible tragedy and the number of people who said they were stunned, stunned by the fact of his suicide has been heartbreaking. All right, Christine, thank you so much. Appreciate the update.

We have to get to a developing story happening in Kentucky. Investigators are awaiting autopsy results of a worker found dead in a barn at Churchill Downs the hours after the Kentucky derby. His death is ruled a homicide. We want to get to Deb Feyerick with the latest on the death?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the victim is being identified as a 58-year-old stable work originally from Guatemala, and he was working at Churchill Downs with his son who identified his father's body according to the chief coroner. He was found dead before dawn Sunday hours after the Kentucky derby. He is believed to be a groomer for trainer Cecil Burrell and found in a barn not far from where the winning horse "I'll have another" was being kept. It appear that the stable worker got into a fight, and the question is with whom and why.

Police describe this back area of the track as a mini city with 48 barns and multiple stables and dormitories and trainer apartments and the police are questioning the 400 people who work behind the track and have to be licensed to be there. They were around at the time of the murder. Last year's race was clouded by the accidental overdose of jockey Michael Baiz who was found behind a staple last year. And now another mystery and apparent murder at Churchill Downs, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: So, Deb, any connection to the murder and the famous race that everybody was watching hours before the body was found?

FEYERICK: Yes, it is an interesting question, and the death is being investigated as a homicide. Police say that everything is preliminary and we can't say how he died and we are looking into that, but it is not connected to the racetrack, but yet everybody is interviewed and things could develop as the investigation goes on. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Thank you, Deb Feyerick, watching that for us. Thanks for the update.

O'BRIEN: And still to come this morning on STARTING POINT, Mark Zuckerberg and his Facebook tour will kick off in New York today. We will talk to the creator and founder of Reddit.com about how going public has a big effect on especially how we use Facebook.

Also our get real this morning, banning college football, is it a sport causing harm to young boys and men or help them to create life- long habits of success? We will weigh in on that this morning. Back in a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: I truly believe in starting every day with a little Jay Z.

JOHN FUGELSANG, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: You do?

O'BRIEN: Yes, I do. I will see if I can institute that.

With us is the co-founder of reddit.com here to talk about Facebook's big news today and this morning the company is going to kick off the road show and meeting with potential big investors ahead of the initial public offering or the IPO. The price range for the social media company is between $28 and $35 a share, and that would give the company a value of $98 billion. But not everybody is buying in. Poppy Harlow spoke to legendary investor Warren Buffett and asked him if he would buy it?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARREN BUFFETT, CEO BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY: I can't remember buying a new offering. I can't recall ever in my life buying a new offering. The idea of something coming out let's say on a Monday that is being offered with significant publicity, the seller electing the time to sell is the best single investment I can make in the world among thousands of choices, and it is mathematically impossible. So we are not a buyer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: If Warren Buffett says it is mathematically impossible you might want to think about it here. And so Warren Buffett says he is not buy it? Would you buy it?

ALEXIS OHANIAN, CO-FOUNDER, REDDIT.COM: Well, I am not buying it, but for different reasons. I understand that warren does not use a computer to start the day, but I do. I understand the business value to what Facebook is doing. We've never seen a company like this before, ever. It knows things about our private lives that no one else does. And one of the big issues that a lot of us have had of late has been Facebook's support of bills that make it really easy for a business like Facebook to hand over very private data about us without any due process.

O'BRIEN: So you're making a moral stand. Zuckerberg owns 57 percent of the Facebook and the rest up for sale. He said it in the prospectus that got everybody nervous. "We don't build services to make money. We make money to build better services." Why would that make investors nervous?

OHANIAN: Well, you know, it certainly speaks to a very kind of builder culture that we see in the tech community. I do genuinely believe that Mark is so, so focused on building great stuff that that really is the key. Now, shareholders obviously want to believe --

O'BRIEN: If you are a shareholder -- OHANIAN: Yes, if you are in business looking out for your interest in shareholder return, but you can see that the tech culture exists within Zuckerberg's world.

O'BRIEN: He called it a hacker culture, because if you are telling the shareholders we don't build services to make money, it is like, wait, wait, wait, whoa, what? That could be problematic.

OHANIAN: Yes, I suspect that once Facebook goes public, we will see fewer public statements from Mr. Zuckerberg.

O'BRIEN: What do you think we can expect to see changes in Facebook and end users and assuming that most of us won't get in on the deal even at the low, low price of $28 to $35 per share. What do you think that we do end up seeing?

OHANIAN: Wow. Well --

O'BRIEN: What changes?

OHANIAN: Well, as Facebook now has all of the momentum that comes from the IPO, I would not be surprised if we saw more acquisitions like we saw of Instagram as of late.

O'BRIEN: And yes, fast.

OHANIAN: And this is a time when I can't tell enough people to learn how to program, because there is a demand for talent and product right now that acquisition is becoming common way for companies to bring on the talented programmers, because there are not enough in the market right now.

O'BRIEN: And when you sold Reddit.com, your company that you are a co-founder, how did that change the way you felt about the baby and how to groom and you sold it and what changed for you? I am asking this, because I am curious to know what Zuckerberg, granted he owns the 57 percent, but how is this going to change with how he looks at the baby?

OHANIAN: Well, this is something that I can't speak for his relationship, but I have had a close relationship to the Reddit community, and since we are held by a privately held company we haven't been accountable for the shareholders that mark will have to. And I think it is a huge dilemma, but we knew it was easy, because I knew who to satisfy, but for Mark, he has to satisfy the market.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And the 57 percent is the number you are quoting that he has, but he negotiated the Instagram by himself, and he didn't go to the board until that deal was signed Sunday of that week. And how will this change that? Can he make executive decisions and run it as his own private company and change that calculus?

O'BRIEN: And the answer is yes, if you continue to make money, but the answer no after you make a few bad decisions, the board wants to weigh in and slow those things down or maybe it is a fast moving board.

JAY THOMAS, ACTOR: Why is it that no matter how much money you make, you dress like crap? You could buy and sell whatever you want --

OHANIAN: That is not true. We saw Zuckerberg drop the hoodie this weekend.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMAS: And in a lot of ways the public fashion -- and buy a new H&M jeans and new t-shirt. And this guy is so loaded that why didn't you go to some all night and have them open up Barney's for you and buy a shirt.

OHANIAN: Why didn't you try harder to impress a stranger?

THOMAS: And there is no iron where you work?

FUGELSANG: And we saw Microsoft offer to Facebook and they were turned down politely and should this give the investors confident where they don't need it or just making Microsoft look bad?

OHANIAN: Well, Facebook is thinking about search. So many people start their day at Facebook, and if you can look at the power of Google or elsewhere, that would be a plus. And so they have already hired search experts.

FUGELSANG: It is just going to be ads, ads, ads, when it is done?

O'BRIEN: And that is the value. If you look at Groupon, down 60 percent, and a number of them have not really -- Pandora down.

THOMAS: And Facebook is now offering organ donations. Did you see that?

OHANIAN: I have not seen that.

THOMAS: You can donate the organs on Facebook.

OHANIAN: You can donate your privacy.

(LAUGHTER)

THOMAS: And it is, and why don't the occupiers ever occupy these guys? It is odd, isn't it?

FUGELSANG: I like this idea. Occupy Facebook.

THOMAS: They don't occupy it or angry at it, and it is because they are not occupying apple.

OHANIAN: I would say that there is uproar for Facebook for instance for taking that stand of support, but the platform of this social media happens to be Facebook and that irony is not lost on us. FUGELSANG: Well, my space is for sale on Groupon.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Alexis, thank you, and appreciate it.

OHANIAN: Thanks for having me.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, Danica Patrick, did you see guys see this crash? She intentionally crashes another NASCAR driver at Talladega. We will tell you why she was seeking revenge and what's going to happen to her because of that.

Also, our "Get Real" this morning, should we ban college football?

(LAUGHTER)

THOMAS: I saw that article.

O'BRIEN: Indeed, Malcolm Gladwell says yes, the author of "Friday Night Lights" also says yes. We will tell you who is lining up behind that idea and you can watch CNN live on your computer. Go to CNN.com/live and you can go to our blog as well. See you on the other side.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Our get real this morning looks at a "Wall Street Journal" op-ed from the author of "Friday Night Lights," and he is calling for a ban on college football. He writes this "College football has no academic purpose, which is why it needs to be banned, a radical solution yes, but necessary in today's times." He goes on the say that there is tons of money that the schools are spending on the football programs while the tuition rates are going up. He says nearly half of the colleges are losing money on the sports programs and some athletes are suffering life-altering injuries and most don't go on to become professionals.

And he recommends that the NFL takes over and puts up and coming players in minor leagues in a system like baseball. If you want to establish a minor league system that the National Football League pays for and they want to pay for it, fine.

Then there's the economist Malcolm Gladwell who also wrote in "Tipping Point," and he says they should not ban college football because it might just collapse on its own. He says this, "The deciding factor is the head injury issue. Colleges are going to get sued and will have to decide if they can afford their legal exposure." Yes? No?

THOMAS: These are two guys who got cut from the junior high team. They hate football players. I'm from the south. I think if the SEC were to close down and we could not go to see LSU play Alabama, there would be suicides and wife-beatings. I'm not joking. If there was not that ridiculous outlet, I don't know what would happen to the family dynamic, especially where I'm from. You must throw a chair.

O'BRIEN: Isn't that Buzz' point, college should be about academics, and people will cut other academics that are serving more students if you want to argue --

(CROSSTALK)

THOMAS: What about the students who won't go to a certain college because they like the team.

CAIN: I'm from a quasi-southern state, Texas, and I love college football. This is interesting discussion, because you have to ask yourself, who does college football benefit? And the biggest sans answer is the NFL and a few colleges that make a little money. And you have players who pretend to advance their career and then go on the play for three years.

O'BRIEN: The NFL is the big winner here.

CAIN: Like jay, we have an emotional connection to football, but sometimes just ain't good enough.

O'BRIEN: There is a guy named Tim Green who went on to play with the Atlanta Falcons, and he says this on the other side of the debate. "The primary mission is academics. That said, the lessons you learn on the playing field can be extremely valuable. The problem is where people fail to translate those lessons."

So where I thought that he was missing the boat is why football should stay is, well, for women for example who don't get to play college football, we get the very things out of sports also, but just not football.

FUGELSANG: And the tuition dollars as females get to pay for it, too. And he makes a lot of great points in the article and I went to New York University, which is not a big athletic school, but we dodge drug dealers on the way to school, and that is a sport.

O'BRIEN: And I grew up there, it is cleaned up.

(CROSSTALK)

FUGELSANG: I think in the context of the athletic-industrial complex that is in our universities, I think you will have an easier time banning beer than college football.

O'BRIEN: I don't think it will happen. I thought that Malcolm Gladwell made an interesting point about the head injury issue, all you need to do is to lose one major lawsuit and then the financial model benefiting college sports will -- I think that you are right, the alumni relations and the people who view their entrance into the college is through the football program, and even if they are not a player, but a fan.

THOMAS: The Kentucky starting five is going to go to the NBA. I think that is wrong. I think that the NCAA has to demand that the athletes, and by the way, a good school is $40,000 a year, and that is a lot of salary. Sorry. That is what they make to play ball. Then they get room and board, and so let's say it is $75,000 apiece, and that is what they really get. They should make and I don't know how they do it, but the NFL would have to say, we won't take you until at least your junior year or there needs to be a rule about academics, but --

O'BRIEN: Just to pretend that some of them are there for academics.

THOMAS: The Kentucky guys, what do you think they took for classes there 18 months? I bet they didn't take anything but are using the model of college to act like they are going to college. So the NCAA has to rule.

O'BRIEN: That is a different debate.

CAIN: And you make that ruling and you will effectively end college football.

THOMAS: And guys like us can make the team again.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead on STARTING POINT, NASCAR's Danica Patrick losing her cool. We will show you what she did in the race. Yes, that was not nice. We will tell you why.

Also this morning, markets overseas are going into financial turmoil. Will the U.S. markets follow suit? You are watching STARTING POINT. We are back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Jay Thomas, little red light on, that means that we are on TV. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And if it comes on, I will keep talking.

O'BRIEN: Apparently so, apparently so, we are talking economics this morning and the markets are down worldwide on the news of two big elections in Europe.

France has elected a new president. Greece's election results are still uncertain and there are fears that it is going to have a big effect on the U.S. market and futures pointing to a lower open.

CNN's business chief correspondent and host of "YOUR MONEY," Ali Velshi and Christine Romans, business correspondent and host of your "BOTTOM LINE."

My goodness, you guys have the longest titles ever -- Ali and Christine are with us.

Second reference, Christine and Ali, good morning. Let's talk a little bit about what the big problems are here, and I know you guys don't necessarily agree on this. Austerity though I would say is a big underlying problem.

ROMANS: Well, the voters rejected austerity. They looked at the belt-tightening happening around Europe and they say this doesn't feel good and we are throwing you out.

In France, in particular, it's interesting because Nicolas Sarkozy is known as "Sarko, the American," right, very close to the -- mostly American friendly president there in the very long time.

Also remember this is the guy who left his wife's bedside to go be with Angela Merkel doing Europe debt crisis talks and then rush back -- they have been at the center of trying to figure out how to fix the eurozone debt crisis problem and voters said, you know what, no more.

O'BRIEN: All right, so the markets are going to open in a couple of hours and what's the --

VELSHI: Overseas markets have been rough shape, but I don't think U.S. markets are going -- they are going to largely take this in stride.

O'BRIEN: You don't think that open down?

VELSHI: A little bit. Hollande is a socialist and that was very alarming. The Wall Street --

CAIN: Well, a pro business socialist in fairness.

VELSHI: Yes, there's a sense that now that he is elected and won the election, he doesn't have to say the stuff that he said to get the left wing, just like Sarkozy said to get to the right wing.

That he probably wouldn't have been entirely far apart except on this issue of austerity, which some people say including Paul Krugman in the "New York Times," just didn't work.

O'BRIEN: Well, before we get to Mr. Krugman, let's talk about the "Wall Street Journal" editorial. They said this, Mr. Hollande won in part because he stressed growth agenda over austerity.

The problem is that he equates growth with greater government spending. The real growth drivers would be labor, tax pension and regulatory reform and a smaller French state. That is an editorial that is from the "Wall Street Journal."

VELSHI: You can put any words in there in the "Wall Street Journal" editorial for any country. That is the "Wall Street Journal's" standard position on everything. They just, if not, they just filled in France.

ROMANS: Ali, but you know, look, people, what I think is interesting is that the Krugmans of the world and the people of the left are saying, look at austerity, and you look at what happened in Europe and it is a rejection of austerity.

But people on the right, you know, the Paul Ryans of the world, they say, no, this is what happens when you spend beyond your means forever.

You have total chaos like you seeing right now in the economy and the elections in those countries. So both sides I think are going to use this to prove their point about what austerity means.

O'BRIEN: In the United States, we will look at our election sort through this prism of what's happening, and it is interesting because when we talked to Krugman when he was here the other day, and I think this is the continuation.

His whole thing is you cannot -- austerity does not promote growth obviously. That is the big take away. He said, this in an answer that makes more sense than almost anyone in Europe is willing to admit would be to break up the euro.

Europe's common currency, Europe would not be in this fix if Greece has still had the drachma and so on, because Greece and Spain would have done what they now lack quickly to restore cost competitiveness and boost exports mainly devaluation. This is on Sunday's "New York Times" from Paul Krugman.

VELSHI: And that's a fact. I mean, it's weird to think that you join with other people in a currency. Every country has its own currency and it can make that country behave a certain way.

ROMANS: Well, they didn't go the whole way. They don't share the budget policies of the different countries.

VELSHI: They need a stronger euro. A whole bunch of countries need a weaker euro and none of them can do anything about it.

CAIN: Tell me if I'm wrong. These are the people celebrating Hollande's election in France. They are very happy. They're celebrating. They're silly people.

Because they will not get what they want, the markets will impose austerity on France regardless if they want that so people like Krugman will say, if you don't like austerity, break up the E.U.

VELSHI: On the Election Day the voters are more important.

ROMANS: On the next day, the bond market is more important.

CAIN: And that was yesterday, Ali.

ROMANS: He's going to learn that they are really powerful people who are not voters. They vote with money and it's called the bond market.

O'BRIEN: It really interesting to see where this goes. I think it is inappropriate to call the voters silly people.

(CROSSTALK) JAY THOMAS, SIRIUS RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: And I have former President Carter on a radio show on Sirius XM and he said the president and the Congress might have 10 percent to do with the economy.

He said he felt that you are looking for somebody to blame. There will be austerity when you have no more money. If I were in government I would look into the camera and say, I have a machine that prints money. I will continue printing it. I will give it to all of you.

O'BRIEN: That is bad -- the issues with the euro.

CAIN: And we do it in America.

THOMAS: And hopefully you business people will pull us out of it.

JOHN FUGELSANG, POLITICAL COMEDIAN: And Iran on cutting taxes for small business while hiking it for big business and that was always very appropriate. You will see it play.

THOMAS: Do you have any confederate money at home? We did it in Arkansas.

O'BRIEN: This is in the right ear. OK, right. Stop. Thank you. Appreciate it. Thank you, Ali and Christine.

THOMAS: What about college football?

O'BRIEN: This morning a new report that could have some wide ranging implications. The U.S. apparently has been secretly releasing dangerous detainees from military prisons in Afghanistan and using them as chips in peace talks with groups like the Taliban.

The "Washington Post" is reporting that the practice has been taking place for years. The free detainees frequently are high level militant fighters who have to promise to give up violence before they are released.

It is obviously, I think it's the headline this morning in the "Washington Post" and people are watching this very, very closely. And again, I'm curious to know how something like this is going to have play a role in what is going to happen in this election cycle six months --

THOMAS: Is this good?

O'BRIEN: Well, honestly, yes. That is essentially what it sounds like. There's, you know, do not be violent.

THOMAS: Have you seen "The Avengers" yet? That is a promise.

O'BRIEN: That is a promise people seem to lie about.

FUGELSANG: They are not technically prisoners of war and you know, they're not being held under the Geneva Convention. It's nothing new. This has been going on for a long time in every conflict.

And the Palestinian friends have done this as well as bargaining chips. So, you know, the recidivism rate for terrorists is not as high as you would think it would be. But we can only hope --

O'BRIEN: How will we know?

FUGELSANG: Well, because we have seen it in Guantanamo Bay. With Guantanamo Bay, a relatively small percentage of those who have been released have been recaptured going back to terrorism acts.

O'BRIEN: Well, I mean, who knows long term. I mean, so far -- I don't know and again, back to your "The Avengers," it is unclear because it is always a promise.

THOMAS: Yes, they always promise we'll be good. We're going to be good for you and it does not often workout.

O'BRIEN: Often it doesn't work out.

Other headlines, Christine has those for us. Hi, Christine.

ROMANS: Hello, again, Soledad.

It will be at least five weeks before self proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Muhammad and his four co-defendants return to court. It took 13 hours to arraign the men during a military hearing Saturday.

The defendants repeatedly interrupted the proceedings by kneeling in prayer. One of them even removed his shirt while his attorney described injuries as he claims he sustained injuries while in custody at Guantanamo. Lawyers for the defendants are promising a long, hard court fight.

A senior al Qaeda militant has been killed in a U.S. airstrike in Yemen. Fahd Mohammed Ahmed Al-Quso has been on the FBI's most wanted terrorist list in connection with the bombing of the "USS Cole" in 2000.

That attack killed 17 U.S. sailors. The airstrike that killed him yesterday is seen as the latest sign of an escalating U.S. campaign to counter the terrorist threat in Yemen.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton turning up the heat on Iran during her visit to India this morning. She is urging India to reduce the amount of oil it imports from Iran in order to pressure Tehran to come clean about its nuclear programs.

Mrs. Clinton also telling reporters she has no desire to run for the White House, but does hope to see a female American president in her lifetime.

Let's check in the weather now. Meteorologist Rob Marciano joins us. Hi, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi, Christine. I want to start you off with something that happened over the weekend in Japan, a fairly rare event with a tornado touching down. It did a lot of damage there.

Dozens injured and there was one fatality. They get about 20 or so a year. So rare but not unheard of, but this one was strong and then certainly tore up the city just north and east of Tokyo.

All right, we do have a threat of tornado here stateside today mostly in the form of -- or storms mostly in the form of some large hail and damaging winds all the way down from Northeast Texas into the lower Great Lakes.

We have already seen a fair amount of rainfall overnight just south of Chicago. That batch of rain is heading towards Detroit and Toledo and also another batch through St. Louis. If you are traveling through this area, there are problems.

Behind this front, we get a little pulse of some drier and cooler air and get rid of some of that humidity that's built up across the south and it's been kind of soupy and very late summer like almost early spring like in Denver with temperatures there.

Well below the average, 51 for the high, you'll be mostly dry in New York City today, 63 degrees and the rains will arrive for you I think tomorrow or maybe tomorrow night -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, thanks for the warning, Rob.

NASCAR nationwide series driver Danica Patrick went for a a little bit of a payback during the cool down lap of Saturday's race to Talladega. After being squeezed out during the final lap of the race by Sam Hornish, Jr., Patrick in the 7 car got behind him in the 12 car, and put him into a wall.

Looks like, you know, she got away with it, too. NASCAR is not punishing either driver. Hornish says he had a flat front right tire and that's what started the whole thing.

All right, warning, this next video is pretty disturbing. A man in Russia steps out of his car after making an emergency stop. He forgets to turn the warning lights on and pays the price.

He gets hit by an oncoming car, flipped several feet into the air and makes a complete somersault before crashing back on to the street. Soledad, he suffered only a broken leg.

O'BRIEN: OK. We have to play that again because I have to see it again. Horrific.

ROMANS: Yes, play it again.

O'BRIEN: My god! How did he not get a head injury on that?

ROMANS: You stay in the car and move off of the roadway.

THOMAS: Well, wait, Alabama just signed him, OK. They see a new linebacker for them.

O'BRIEN: Well, Christine, amazing. All right, thanks for that. Thanks for the update.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, if you are a movie fan, you are probably not surprised at just how successful "The Avengers" was this weekend.

But you might be surprised who went to see it, we're talking about that and who was behind the record-breaking film's success. Now you can say that you went to Harvard or MIT and principal and en entrepreneurial educator Steve Perry will join us to talk about a new plan that he says is revolutionary. You are watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You ready for another bout?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What? Are you getting sleepy?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: They are ready for another bout because they made so much money this weekend. Huge numbers for "The Avengers." The comic book movie redefines the meaning of a blockbuster brought in $200.3 million. That's according to Disney and that would make it the biggest domestic opening weekend in Box Office history.

Shattering even the record that was set last summer by "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two," analysts estimate that "The Avengers" is on track to rake in over $1 billion globally.

Christopher John Farley is a senior editor and editorial director of digital features at the "Wall Street Journal" joins us this morning.

It's nice to see you. So obviously, huge, huge number, not only does it best "Harry Potter," but all the other movies that we think of is giant including "Titanic," including any other big movie really is on track to do super well.

CHRISTOPHER JOHN FARLEY, SENIOR EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, DIGITAL FEATURES, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Yes, in fact, did really well, had a huge opening and it broke that $200 million barrier for opening weekend. That's something that movies have been trying to do for a long time.

Like the four-minute mile used to be to athletes so they crash to that to show that you can expand the range of what movies can do in the opening weekend. O'BRIEN: Because the marketing is different this time. They did something just brilliant in terms of how they framed and shaped it.

FARLEY: What they did is -- and all the movies leading up to this, "Iron Man" and "Iron Man II" and "Thor," they said we're going to do "The Avengers." Come and see "The Avengers."

So finally when it came out, people were so hungry to see it. They went out in droves this weekend to see it. And also they released it around the world first so they got the rest of the world to say this movie is worth seeing before they gave it to the Americans, go see it.

O'BRIEN: And all the stars in the other movies have, of course, come into one movie. Are they going to be able to reverse the decline in attendance that we have seen and the decline in spending that we've seen movies across the globe?

FARLEY: You know, having a tick up in movie attendance this year so far, but of course, historically the summer is down over the last couple of seasons.

"The Avengers" might help to turn that around. You know, one thing I think really helps is that it is a quality movie. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 94 percent approval rating and while the Tribeca Film Festival closed down with this film.

And that really helped because usually this big event -- they're terrible, you hate them. They're embarrassed to be there, but here the word of mouth was good.

O'BRIEN: For men and women both?

FARLEY: Well, you know, 40 percent of the people went to the film were women. I think it helped to have people like Chris Evans who are sort of easy on the eyes.

O'BRIEN: Yes and yum. He should star in everything.

CAIN: That is the kind of movie that takes me back. It is a good movie.

O'BRIEN: It is. All right, Chris, appreciate it. It's nice to see you as always. Thank you.

THOMAS: And what about Scarlett Johansson? They cut her hair, correct?

O'BRIEN: No, that would be a wig. Still ahead on --

THOMAS: It looked like she had a mop on her head the last time, so it is better with the short hair, I thought.

O'BRIEN: Ahead, we are going to tell you how you can get an Ivy League education for free. Principal Steve Perry is going to join us to talk about that. You are watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. An Ivy League education for free, Harvard and MIT teaming up to offer free online courses, which would allow anyone, anywhere, to sign up. Could this no cost, no credit program change the future of education?

Dr. Steve Perry says yes. He is the founder and principal of Capital Prep. He's also a CNN education contributor. It's nice to see you, Steve. Thanks for being with us as always.

The president of this new online partnership, which is what they are calling it Harvard and MIT say this is the biggest change in education since the printing press, which is kind of a big statement. Is he overstating it?

STEVE PERRY, FOUNDER, PRINCIPAL OF CAPITAL PREP: Not in the least. The way in which we educate will forever change, it has forever change. Online education, especially now that it's gotten the stamp of Harvard and MIT, they have been in it for a while.

It's coming into its own. There was time when the only people who were online getting an education were the people wanted a short cut. I as someone who is only going to brick and mortar schools used to look down upon people who had the same degrees as I have from online experiences.

But now that we have more and more what we would consider reputable or established colleges online, the game has changed forever.

O'BRIEN: Past online attempts have failed. There was fathom, which was Columbia University and the University of Michigan together. There as All Learn, which was Yale and Princeton and Stanford together. Those have failed. Why do you think that these not only could work, but could change education when these others backed by very fine schools have failed?

PERRY: Well, because, one, the access itself. We can have access to online education through our smartphones now. We don't have to have the dialup modems and some of the other challenges that are there.

In addition to that, we have seen with some of the proprietary colleges how they purchased schools that were unknown and within three years gone from 200 students on campus to 65,000 students at one given time learning from their institutions.

This is where education is. There was a generation that it came between us and the one that's currently in school that wasn't too comfortable with online learning. Now the real big story it's no big deal.

We have at our school a partnership with Johns Hopkins University where our primary school that means all the way down to 6- year-olds are taking online courses with Johns Hopkins University. They take the courses as if it's no big thing because they do everything online. The game has changed forever.

O'BRIEN: You know, Steve and I did a documentary. He was in one of our "Black in America" and we talked a lot about his students who were taking college level courses as high schoolers.

And it was one of the ways that they really I think became very comfortable. All of his students go off to four-year colleges, all 100 percent of his students, one of the reasons we did the story.

Tell me about the implications that you think that this could have for students like yours. It's not just the 6-year-olds who were taking this John Hopkins courses, but even bigger than that, maybe broader than that.

PERRY: Well, one of the big, big sells here is that whether you're a small urban school or a school out in the rural area, this gives us all access to the playbook. We can use the information that Harvard is opening up and MIT is opening up to us to offer advances courses to those children in our school.

Like for instance, if I had four students who were advanced in English or who are advanced in another subject. I can't hire a teacher to come in and just teach those few children, but I can use this to augment what we don't have from a resource perspective.

It's amazing what we can do now with our schools. We can actually make the world smaller. One of the goals of what they call this disruptive experience, which is such a great word, is to educate a billion people. It's not even -- it's not even a stretch. That's what can happen. We have seen with people like Sal Con Academy.

O'BRIEN: Thank God for Con Academy. It's how I do fifth grade homework.

PERRY: You too? We have seen that you can take information and make it easily accessible. And most importantly, as an educator, I'm no longer limited by the teachers who are willing to drive to my school who live within about a 20-mile radius. I can have access to the best educators on earth and some of them are at Harvard and MIT.

O'BRIEN: That's right. Steve Perry, it's nice to see you as always. Thanks, Steve. I agree with you 100 percent and I think it's game changing.

THOMAS: Can you still buy a thesis online?

O'BRIEN: Yes, you can.

Still ahead, we got much more to talk about in our 8:00 hour as STARTING POINT continues. New polls revealing some very big changes in how voters are viewing the race for the presidency. We are going to talk to the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and also a spokesperson from presidential candidate, Mitt Romney's campaign about that.

Also did you see tanning mom on "SNL"? It was very, very funny. We're going to play you what I thought was the funniest joke in all of that. The tanning mom has a reaction to "SNL." We'll see what she said. It's straight ahead. The story that keeps giving.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)