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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN
Chaos in Chicago; Interview With Rep. John Lewis; American Imprisoned in Bolivia without Formal Charges; Gender & Politics; Students Delay College for Gap Year
Aired May 21, 2012 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. Let me introduce you to our panel.
Will Cain is us. He's a CNN contributor and columnist for TheBlaze.com.
WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Me and my ladies this morning.
O'BRIEN: That's right. You and the ladies.
Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack is with us. She's a Republican congressman from the state of California.
And Irin Carmon is a staff writer at Salon.com, joining us as well for the first time.
Great to have you this morning. That's off my playlist, Mary J. Blige.
We usually start in my house, when I used not to come here this morning, and I was like getting people ready for school, with no more drama. Like everybody, take a deep breath, let's get it together.
CAIN: Started your own playlist at home with your children?
O'BRIEN: Yes, I did. They're small and impressionable. That's why I did.
Our STARTING POINT this morning is the closing day of the NATO summit that's happening in Chicago and many people expect that it's going to be more protests and probably violent protests like we saw yesterday where dozens of people were arrested.
Clashes with police happened on Sunday near the summit meeting site. Anti-NATO demonstrators say they're going to march to the Boeing headquarters today.
Let's get right to CNN's Ted Rowlands. He's within a middle of the chaos on Sunday. I'm sure he'll be back at it right in the middle again today.
What are they saying they are going to try to do at Boeing, Ted?
TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Soledad, the plan is to shut down Boeing. And what they're doing is they're going to surround the buildings, the very large building in downtown Chicago here. They are launching that in the next hour here in Chicago and they said they're going to be there all day long.
Now, Boeing is pretty much shut down anyway because of this threat. They put up fences around the building and have told their employees to work from home. They will be out there again today. They were at it last night until after midnight.
Forty-plus arrests and several injuries yesterday -- several injuries to protesters, and also to police officers. Four police officers were injured, according to the Chicago Police Department. One officer stabbed in the leg.
In fact, last night, the superintendent of the Chicago police came out and said if there is any finger pointing after looking at this video, those fingers should be pointed squarely at the protesters. My officers, he said, were protecting themselves.
O'BRIEN: In some of these pictures, Ted, we see the police, obviously, sometimes with their batons out, you know, kind of smacking it at the protesters. I think you see a couple of different groups of protesters. You see folks dressed in black with black bandanas and black block. And then you see other protesters who seem to be more peaceful, sort of carrying signs and sometimes marching silently through.
Tell me about those two different teams of protesters.
ROWLANDS: Yes. And the vast majority of the protesters who are in Chicago this week are the ones that are here for a specific issue. We had a number of nurses, thousands of nurses here on Friday. We had some Iraqi and Afghanistan war vets here yesterday carrying signs, trying to deliver a message to the NATO leaders and they have been following the rules. They have had permits for all of their protesters.
And then there is the small group, the very small group of agitators who have been defiant, and who have ignored police commands to move off of certain areas and that's where the trouble really is.
O'BRIEN: Ted Rowlands for us this morning -- thank you, Ted. Appreciate it.
Let's talk a little bit more about actually why everybody is in Chicago for the summit.
Damon Wilson is a former top aide to the NATO secretary-general. He's also the executive vice president at the Atlantic Council. They are hosting a conference for young leaders at the summit today.
It's nice to see you and thanks for talking with us. Obviously, the focus of the conversation --
DAMON WILSON, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, ATLANTIC COUNCIL: Good morning. Glad to be here.
O'BRIEN: Thank you. Appreciate that.
Afghanistan is the focus of the conversation. That's tough on a number of fronts. First, you have troops, then you have some of the financial commitment, then you have sort of long-term relationship commitment conversations to be had.
What's the main focus or is it sort of all of the above that has to be discussed today?
WILSON: You know, it is all of the above. This is a focus on Afghanistan. And, frankly, the summit has been a forcing event for President Obama, the NATO secretary-general, to help sort of bring back the coalition and focus it on a way forward in Afghanistan where there are have been lot of questions about a tough war.
And so, what you're seeing coming out of Chicago is an effort to keep the allies, keep members of the coalition on the same message, the same page with the strategy that keeps the NATO mission through the end of 2014. But recognizes builds in milestones in 2013 to transfer lead responsibility to the Afghans and Afghanistan.
So, this is part of a real effort to unify the partners in Afghanistan at a time when there are a lot of questions raised about the way forward.
O'BRIEN: A lot of questions being raised and we are in the midst of a big financial crisis. Certainly, European nations may not want to commit to anything financially until 2024. How big of a problem is that going to be?
WILSON: Well, certainly I think this whole summit is characterized by how is NATO operate in an age of austerity when defense budgets are tight. You have to accept that reality. When you think about where we have come from, we have our partners in Afghanistan fighting this war for over a decade. That is a pretty remarkable accomplishment.
So, what the summit is doing is trying to lock everyone in the next two years in clarity, try to fulfill the mission in Afghanistan in a way that doesn't let al Qaeda and the Taliban return, to create problems in Afghanistan again.
So the financial aspect is huge. It's a serious issue, but what you're seeing is the ally signing up to a plan that does commit to end the war, leads them through a path of gradual draw-downs and transfers the responsibility to Afghans. And the allies will remain rather than in a combat role more in a training and advising and assist role, most cheaper role as well.
CAIN: Damon, this is Will Cain. You know, the Europeans may not be President Obama's biggest problem at these NATO meetings. I know that President Asif Ali Zardari from Pakistan was invited, to discuss among other things how the supply routes from Pakistan and Afghanistan has been shut down.
What's the relationship between the relationship between President Obama and president of Pakistan all these next couple of days?
WILSON: You're right. That's the key issue here.
In fact, President Zardari receives a very late invitation. NATO has taken the point of view as long as Pakistan was blocking the supplies to forces in Afghanistan -- well, it was actually not helping the operation. It was really working to undermine the NATO mission.
So, the alliance held out until there was a prospect for a breakthrough on these negotiations. It's been a difficult relationship. It's been -- it will continue to be a complicated relationship. I think the alliance --
CAIN: Is the tenor -- is the tenor of the meeting between President Obama and president of Pakistan to make this more intense? I've heard they won't meet individually. They won't meet in person, in order to put the pressure on the president of Pakistan.
WILSON: Well, Secretary Clinton has had a long session with President Zardari. But that is the focus. If you're going to come to a NATO summit and be a part of the community that's trying to help the mission in Afghanistan succeed, Pakistan needs to come to the table to conclude a deal to allow the resupply of forces in Afghanistan. It's a critical issue for the success of this mission. As long as Pakistan prevents that, it really does have a real drawback effort to undermine the mission.
So, I think they are close to an agreement and I think that's why you see Zardari here. So, there won't be a bilateral (ph) with the president, but he is sitting here around the table with all the other nations that are trying to help Afghanistan succeed and that's a good thing.
IRIN CARMON, SALON.COM: Hi, it's Irin Carmon from "Salon". Question for you while we are talking about the president's relationship with various leaders -- I understand that in contrast to the relationship with Zardari, there has been an improvement of relations with Hamid Karzai. Do you see, what's responsible for the change in that dynamic and do you see that holding up?
WILSON: You know, I think folks -- what I've heard from many of the delegates, many of the allies, is that folks have been very pleased with the attitude that President Karzai has come to this summit with. It's one of the big concerns. NATO knows the real success in Afghanistan has to come from responsibility to Karzai, from the Afghans, in terms of good governance, anti-corruption and the president has been on message, President Karzai has been saying the right things here in Chicago.
I think the test is whether he can continue to deliver good governance and serious anti corruption efforts, and help lead Afghanistan though real democratic transition to his term comes to an end.
But you saw Karzai out yesterday thanking the American people, for the American taxpayers for their commitment in Afghanistan. And that sets the right tone, I think, here in Chicago from the Afghanistan's part.
REP. MARY BONO MACK (R), CALIFORNIA: Thank you.
I just wanted to ask the question that the president really needs to take the opportunity right now, especially with these protests, to reinforce our commitment to NATO and really talk about the importance of really retaining the leadership role.
Do you think he is coming at all through the American people? Because I don't. I think he really needs to make the case that it is important that we maintain a strong alliance, that it's much cheaper actually to be strong than it's going to be if we lose our strength in the world, and I think the president has projected a lot of weakness there.
Is he pushing at all to the American people an agenda of a strong NATO leadership role for America?
WILSON: I think he is. When you heard the president yesterday, he was talking about this alliance as a force multiplier for the United States and its efforts around the world. So, first of all, the fact that the United States is hosting this summit, this is only the third NATO summit ever to be hosted on U.S. soil. That by itself is a real testament and demonstration of U.S. commitment to the alliance.
But you're right. For the American people who have been watching the war play out in Afghanistan for a decade and questioning whether Europeans are ponying up their fair share of the burden in alliance, the public diplomacy side of this is important, to show that the United States is committed to the alliance. But more than, the United State is really the leader of the alliance and that is playing out here in Chicago, and I think you'll continue to see more of that today.
President Obama's statements about how the alliance helps the United States succeed in the world is the right message for the American people, particularly at a time when defense dollars are tight and having 40,000 European troops with us in Afghanistan is 40,000 fewer American troops. And that's a good thing for the American taxpayer.
O'BRIEN: Damon Wilson is joining us this morning. Thanks for your time and good luck with you your panel today. I know you'll be talking with a lot of young leaders. It will be interesting to hear what they think is sort of the way forward as well. Appreciate your time.
WILSON: Thank you so much.
O'BRIEN: You bet.
Let's get right to Christine. She's got an update on the other stories making news today.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Soledad.
Well, it is decision day in the web cam spying case. Dharun Ravi could get 10 years in prison for hate crime against Tyler Clementi. A jury convicted him of spying and intimidating his gay roommate. Clementi jumped off a New York's George Washington Bridge, killing himself after Ravi used a web came to spy on him with another man. Again, he'll be sentenced today.
After shocks rattling northern Italy. Thousands of victims waking up in cars and tents and schools after one of the worst quakes to hit northeast Italy in centuries. The 6.0 magnitude quake killed seven and injured at least 50 people yesterday.
The quake knocked down a clock tower and reduced buildings that have stood for hundreds of years to rubble. It also destroyed $65 million worth of cheese in a region known for its parmesan production.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn could soon face charges in the alleged gang rape of a Belgian prostitute during a party at her hotel in Washington, D.C., almost two years ago. French prosecutors are launching an investigation. A French newspaper says the allegations came from statements two escorts made to Belgian police.
You may remember he was also arrested after a New York hotel maid accused him of sexual assault last year. He was cleared on that charge after her story fell apart.
He's not a Republican ticket -- not yet at least. But Florida Senator Marco Rubio sounded very vice presidential this weekend, going after President Obama attack dog-style.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: A man who today occupies the White House and is running for president is a very different person. We have not seen such a divisive figure in modern American history as we have over the last three and a half years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROMANS: A DNC spokesman fired back, saying Republicans attacking the president for being divisive is the ultimate case of the pot calling the kettle black.
Let's check in on the markets. U.S. stock futures poised for a rebound after closing lower on Friday. You know, stocks had their worst week of the year last week. Mostly because of concerns about Greece and its future. Commodities are cooling, by the way, oil prices down to about $91 a barrel right now.
Bee Gees singer Robin Gibb is being remembered by his peers as a musical icon, with an unmistakable voice. Gibb died Sunday after a long battle with cancer. Along with brothers Barry and Maurice, the Bee Gees helped define the disco era, in large part due to songs from Saturday night fever. Robin Gibb's death comes just days after another '70s legend, Donna Summer.
Really a soundtrack for a certain generation.
O'BRIEN: Yes, the disco era taking a big giant hit. Donna Summer too, right. I was on vacation when that happened. That's so sad.
All right. Christine, thank you.
Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT: he was arrested dozens of times and beaten into a daze while trying to end segregation in the South. This morning, civil rights hero, the congressman from Georgia, John Lewis is telling his story in a new book.
It's all Congress people all morning on STARTING POINT. We have Congresswoman Bono Mack with us this morning and John Lewis will join us as well in just a moment.
And then a school shutting off vending machines after getting a big, giant junk food fine. We'll tell you what they have to pay, you're watching starting point. We're back in a moment.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: This might be the first time we've had made the staples on STARTING POINT, I believe. "This Little Light Of Mine" that's from Congressman John Lewis' playlist. I have to make a correction. I said Mick Jagger was 64. He is 68. You were right, Congressman. I flipped the ages.
REP. MARY BONO MACK, (R) CALIFORNIA: I still thought he was over 70. So --
MACK: You're in a better place with him right now than I am.
O'BRIEN: I'm closer by an inch.
Congressman John Lewis endured attacks from angry mobs, bloody beatings by police, and more than 40 arrests. It was all in the name of civil rights. He was 25 years old when he led the march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge, a non-violent act, which ended in violence. Some the part of authorities against Lewis' fellow marchers.
He shares the lessons that we're learned from that era and the ways to apply them today in a new book which is called "Across That Bridge: Life Lessons And A Vision For Change." It's so nice to have you. Thanks for talking with us this morning. REP. JOHN LEWIS, (D) GEORGIA: Well, thank you very much. I'm delighted and very pleased to be here and to see my colleague. It's wonderful to see you.
MACK: Thank you. It's great to see you, too.
O'BRIEN: We're so glad STARTING POINT could bring everybody together --
MACK: You need to know, this is this is man all the time on the floor of the United States House of Representatives, he is always a gentleman and really epitomizes what is right about the Congress. So, it's an honor to be here with him today.
LEWIS: Well, it's good to be with you too. You know, I believe deeply in the philosophy in disciple and nonviolence and I truly believe that we must respect the dignity and the worth of every human being.
O'BRIEN: Is it getting harder to pitch that message? We were talking earlier about sort of the angry messages, whether it's through sometimes social media which can be so inherently hostile. We've been watching pictures all morning of the protests in Chicago. It's about 150 protesters in that block group.
So, you know, small number compared to the bigger number of the protesters but very violent protests. Is it hard to get the message of non-violence out today?
LEWIS: I still think we have an obligation, a really mission to teach people the way of peace, the way of love, the way of non- violent. You may disagree with someone, but respect that person. And my book is all about moving away from violence and conflict and living a life of peace and creating a community of peace with themselves.
O'BRIEN: You have. Oh, sorry, go ahead.
WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I was just going to say, congressman, 42 years ago, you did exactly that, right? You put a protest, march together that was specifically about or had an intimate part of its message of nonviolence.
As you see what's going on in the Occupy Chicago NATO movement, what do you do to keep those who would co-oped your movement or introduced violence into your movement out? Was it simply the message that kept them out or did have you to do something pro-active?
LEWIS: Before anyone could participate in a march or sit-in or going to freedom right or stand-in at a theater, you have to attend a non-violent workshop. You have to study, prepare yourself, study -- to do in South Africa, study for the (INAUDIBLE) in India, study for what Martin Luther King Jr. was all about, study thorough in civil disobedient. And it would just didn't happen one day and one night (INAUDIBLE). O'BRIEN: You grew up in poverty. No running water in your home. You had three people you knew who were assassinated as you went through your life's work (ph). You were nearly killed in various marches and arrests that were subjected to.
You rose out of all that to become a congress person. Your book is very optimistic. Do you feel optimistically about the state of the nation today?
LEWIS: One must be optimistic and one must be hopeful. If you get lost in a sea of despair, you would give up. The book is about never ever giving up or giving in. You have to keep the faith.
And you have to take the long hard look that a struggle not a struggle that lasts one day or one week or one Congressional term or one semester. It is a struggle of a lifetime, many lifetime, but we all must play a role and do our part.
O'BRIEN: What's been the best moment of your life? If you had to pick one moment looking back, what's been the best?
LEWIS: Meeting Martin Luther King Jr. when I was only 18 years old changed my life forever. Set me on a different path.
Made me a better human being, and from that point on, I committed my life to a way of peace, a way of love, a way of just finding a way to get in the way, because my parents had told me, my grandparents and great grandparents, don't get in trouble, don't get in the way but I was inspired to get in the way and get in trouble. It was a good trouble. Necessary trouble.
O'BRIEN: You want to jump in here?
IRIN CARMON, SALON.COM STAFF WRITER: Yes. I wanted to ask you about the civil rights cause of our time, specifically marriage equality which I know you've come out and support of and the president just recently of the NAACP.
I'm wondering if you think that, you know, people constantly say, oh, the African-American community, the religious community within the African-American community is opposed to gay marriage? I'm wondering if you think that the NAACP, your support, the president's support, is that going to move the needle in terms of support in that community?
O'BRIEN: And is it true? I mean, is that even true? I'm curious about that.
CARMON: Should we be debunking that?
LEWIS: Well, I don't think the great majority of African- American, whether they be religious leaders or political leaders or opposed to marriage equality. I think that it's something that very much think is misleading. Many of us take a simple lesson from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. King used to say over and over again, when people asked about interracial marriage, he was a racist on falling in love and get marriage. Individuals fall in love and get married. So, if two men or two women want to fall in love and get married, it's their business.
It's not the business of the federal government or the state government. You cannot have equality for one group of people and not for another group. You cannot build a wall.
CARMON: I know one thing that -- one of the things you were fighting about in the civil rights movement were voting rights. And there's been a lot of concern about states passing laws that many were able to restrict voting rights. What can we do about that? What's happening on that front?
LEWIS: Well, I happen to believe that is there a systemic deliberate effort to take us back to another period, make it harder and more difficult for young people, for seniors, for the disabled community, for minority to participate in a Democratic process.
O'BRIEN: The book is called "Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and A Vision for Change." It's so nice to have you, sir.
LEWIS: Oh, thank you. Always good to see you. Thank you.
O'BRIEN: Thank you so much.
We got to take a short break. We're back in just a moment.
Going to tell you about a junk food fine. Did it go too far? A big chunk of change that now high schools are looking at ways to cut -- to pay it. We're going to tell you about that straight ahead on STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.
O'BRIEN: Our "Get Real" this morning. Here's a way to make your vending machine much, much, much, much, much more expensive. Davis High School found out, it's in Kaysville, Utah, they have gotten a $15,000 fine for violating a federal law that bans the sale of soda during lunch.
The school turned off all of the soda machines that were located in the lunch room during the lunch period which lasts about 47 minutes. They forgot one that's in the school book store, and they got fined.
To pay the fine, the school says they're probably going to have to make some cuts or they could make cuts in the theater program, the music program and debate program because, I guess, the selling of the soda, which is a whole other issue, right, funds those programs which is horrible when you think about it that has to be funded.
Those programs of kids should get anyway funded on the backs of paying effort soda. Any school that receives funding for the federal school lunch program has, obviously, certain nutritional guidelines that they have to agree to. One of those guidelines is no soda sold during lunch. No carbonated beverages.
Here's what the school's principal said. He says the law is filled with baffling loopholes, and it doesn't work, anyway, because the kids can go around the corner to the convenience store and buy soda, so -- and he also said, listen, we can't sell a Sneakers bar, but we can't sell liquirish.
We can't sell sweetish fish and we can't sell starburst. We can't sell Skittles. We can't sell ice cream. We can't sell the Sneakers bar, the Milky Way, and all that other stuff. This poor principal whose name is Burton, D. Burton from Davis High School sounds utterly perplexed and mad. And if you think they're paying something like $5,700 bucks per student. So, $15,000 fine.
CARMON: It's a silly law.
O'BRIEN: That's a lot.
CAIN: I don't want my kids eating sweets at school. I don't want my kids drinking Coke at school.
CAIN: But this shows the absurdity of federal government, Washington, D.C., dictating what's going on in a vending machine at some school. Where did you say it was? Somewhere in the United States?
CARMON: It's a very contorted regulation. Clearly, if they can sell Sneakers bar, there's something wrong with the way this was written. Either because there's some sort of intervention like who's funding what? But I mean, it just sounds like they could simplify it, right? You don't want --
O'BRIEN: And how about the bigger picture is why do you have a theater program based on selling soda, right? Because, really, ultimately, at the end of the day, you're pushing kids to buy soda so you can have a theater department, a debate team and a music department.
MACK: That's wrong with having the federal government involved at all. They just don't --
O'BRIEN: But they're funding it. I see why they'd (ph) say, if you're going to fund it, you got to have healthy foods.
MACK: Let the school board decide. Let the school --
O'BRIEN: If they had the chance to decide, what --
MACK: I'm all for healthy eating for our kids, but, you know, silly laws out of Washington, D.C. aren't going to make it any better.
O'BRIEN: I don't know.
CAIN: It's impossible. Thousands of miles away, here's your money, but here are the strings. Figure them out if you can.
O'BRIEN: Or we shouldn't sell soda to fund the debate team is wrong! It's wrong. It's wrong. I got to get to the tease. Everyone is yelling at me.
Still ahead this morning, this is a crazy story. Have you heard about this guy from New Jersey, businessman, jailed in Bolivia, has not been charged. In Bolivia they don't have to charge you for 18 months. We will tell you why he has been locked up for 11 months in a prison that is more like a village. And look at the pictures. It's like a village prison. His wife is fighting for his release. We're going to talk to her straight ahead about what is happening there.
Newark's mayor, Cory Booker, on the attack against President Obama's negative campaign ads. He is backtracking a bit this morning and we will tell you why coming up. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.
O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Let's get right to Christine Romans who has a look at our top stories this morning. Hey, Christine.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, Soledad.
Chinese activist Chen Guancheng is not in the United States. After escaping house arrest in his country, Chen, a vocal critic of China's government will study law at New York University. But his struggles may not be over. New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith told us earlier the Chinese government tracks down dissidents who run to the U.S.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. CHRIS SMITH, (R) NEW JERSEY: They are tracked. They are followed. They are harassed. There will have been to be an extra layer of New York. They do things like car crashes, or if something happens made to look like an accident. So we have to keep a very, very sharp focus on him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROMANS: Chen says he plans to eventually return to China.
Newark, New Jersey, mayor Cory Booker is now backing off surprising comments he made criticizing President Obama for attacks on Mitt Romney. Booker told NBC "Meet the Press" yesterday he was uncomfortable with president Obama attacking Romney's record at Bain Capital.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CORY BOOKER, (D) NEWARK, NEW JERSEY MAYOR: You look at the totality of Bain Capital's record, they have done a lot to support businesses to grow businesses. And this to me, I'm very uncomfortable with.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROMANS: Now Booker says Romney's record at Bain is fair game. In a new YouTube video, booker says the president is, quote, "reasonable to scrutinize Romney's record."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOOKER: I believe Mitt Romney in many ways is not being completely honest with his role and record even while a businessperson and is shaping to shore his political interests.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Booker says his earlier remarks were meant to express his frustration with negative campaigning overall. Booker is a Democrat and is supporting President Obama for reelection.
In today's "Smart is the New Rich," oil prices are pulling back. Gas prices have dropped 18 cents a gallon since April. But President Obama may soon tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve anyway. Over the weekend the summit said they would release oil from their strategic reserves if tough new sanctions on Iran put a strain on supplies. That way prices can be kept in control if the conflict with Iran of its nuclear program escalates. The national average for a gallon of regular is about $3.69, falling over the weekend. But other commodities, their bubbles appear to be deflating as well. Sugar and coffee futures were both down last week, and Kraft food announced lowering prices on many U.S. coves including Maxwell House. Jam Smucker says it's slashing prices on Folgers and Dunkin Donut brands.
O'BRIEN: Sounds like there is a decent drop. Christine, thank you.
ROMANS: You're welcome.
O'BRIEN: This is incredibly strange story to tell you about. An American man is sitting in prison in Bolivia and like no prison you have ever heard places like a village. It has 3,500 inmates and they run the place and charge rent for a cell. That American man is 53-year-old Jacob Ostreicher who has been languishing in that prison for 11 months. In Bolivia you can be held without charges for 18 months. Jacob Ostreicher is a businessman from Brooklyn. He worked in construction. When that business went bust, he invested in Bolivian rice farming. He is now being accused and being involved in money laundering, and he recently did an interview with ABC News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACOB OSTREICHER, U.S. CITIZEN: It's an absolute nightmare. I feel all alone. I am begging the American people to try to help me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Ostreicher is now on a hunger strike. He's trying to draw attention to his plight. His wife Miriam Ungar is with us. I know part of your message is get the message out. Tell us a little bit about this prison that is a village. What is it like? It looks horrific.
MIRIAM UNGAR, HUSBAND IS IMPRISONED IN BOLIVIA WITHOUT FORMAL CHARGES: It is. It is run by prisoners. And the prisoners that are the bosses in this prison are the ones that have the longest prison terms. This is seniority. There is an average of one month classified as suicide, people falling under the knives. It is true that you can get anything that you need there with a right amount of money. But part of that is what is dangerous, that you can also -- you have to buy your security and the shakedowns are normal there.
And Jacob doesn't speak Spanish. This is another thing he is there alone even though he is with 3,500 people. He spends 22 hours a day in a cell. He tries to stay away from everyone. The worst part he is an innocent man. He didn't do anything wrong and he proved that in a court of law.
O'BRIEN: In the court when went before a judge, the judge said that he was free to go.
O'BRIEN: And then within days, they had actually put him back in prison?
O'BRIEN: What happened?
UNGAR: We don't know. Basically, the judge was ordered to explain his actions and what he said was that he overstepped his boundaries by commenting on the evidence submitted by the defense. A few weeks later, the judge was promoted to the appellate court. So, I mean --
CARMON: Do you have a sense of what it is they want? Is this a bribery situation or have they asked for money?
UNGAR: I can tell you the fact of what happened. I cannot speak ill of the Bolivian government or their country. Understand my husband is still in prison over there are repercussions for that.
The facts of the case my husband went to Bolivia to run a rice business. There was 15 million pounds of rice produced in the first harvest. When he had to go purchase the bags to store the rice, he needed thousands of bags, and this opened eyes to people who have never heard of a company in Bolivia needing that many bags.
An investigation started, and during the investigation, they used -- they confiscated 15 million pounds of rice with the excuse that one of the parcels of the land was purchased by a man that was wanted in brazil 20 years ago. That was the excuse for putting Jacob in prison. The suspicion was illicit gains and criminal organization with absolutely no proof.
O'BRIEN: When you went to court and we talked about going before the judge, you showed all of the paper work that was tracking the money for every single thing that was purchased, and this is the reason your husband was freed the first time.
O'BRIEN: We know that the U.S. ambassador to Bolivia was kicked out of the country, Evo Morales. The president removed the ambassador. What happens now? What do you want? Do you want Congress people and secretary of state to step in?
UNGAR: We want Jacob to come home. Besides what is being done to him is unjust. He is not doing well. He's on a hunger strike since April 15th and he is not the same person that he was before and the state department has their limitation as to what they can do when you go by diplomatic channels. I believe that this has to be taken in a much higher level. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton needs to get involved here and I know that she can help my husband. He needs to come home. He is ill and he's -- there will be irreversible damage if this is not escalated on a higher level.
WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You and your husband have five children?
UNGAR: We have five children and 11 grandchildren.
O'BRIEN: You've been down to the prison and visited him, is that right?
UNGAR: I was there for five and a half months. I refused to leave him. I gave an interview to CNN in early September and after that interview, they started a process of obstruction of justice against me and I had flee the country.
O'BRIEN: We wish you the best of luck. Please let us know and we will continue to follow this story.
UNGAR: Yes. I would like to tell the American people that my husband never, ever asked anyone for any help, ever. We are the kind of people that are hardworking people and we come from hard working parents. This is the first time that we are reaching out to the American people and to the American officials to please help us. We have no other channels. There is a website that people can visit, freejacobnow.com, where they can sign a White House petition that we started and to contact official and put pressure on anyone in America that can help my husband.
O'BRIEN: Thank you for telling us and sharing your story.
UNGAR: Thank you.
O'BRIEN: It's so odd and horrific. We appreciate that.
We have to take a break. Still ahead this morning, we are going to talk about the future of education and what they call the gap year. Dr. Steve Perry is going to join us with that straight ahead. We're back in a moment.
O'BRIEN: This -- why don't you chat, look at our new member of our panel chitchatting as we're coming out of commercial.
Actually I wanted to chat this morning with Congresswoman Bono Mack because you have a new -- a new I guess, leadership role in the sort of a unity conference that's happening in the Republican side of congress. Tell me a little bit of what happened.
REP. MARY BONO MACK (R), CALIFORNIA: All right. It's actually the Republican Women's Policy Committee that we've created for the first time ever which is really great. We're trying to make sure that the voices of Republican women in the Congress are actually heard on the national level.
There are a lot of women who serve and do the job of being a member of Congress they work very hard, they are very capable and they need to be seen a little bit more. I think that our party doesn't do a good job of pushing them out in the forefront.
So my goal is to have a lot of my female colleagues on the Republican side out there talking about their vision for America. I'm so glad that there is a big debate in the country about women and the women's votes. It's about time.
But I --
O'BRIEN: Do you think there is a war on women or do you think this is like a media thing where we -- someone comes up with a headline and it becomes a story when it's not a story or do you think it's a political story that got headline?
MACK: It's pure -- it's pure politics. It's politics, it's pure politics. But I'll tell you what there is not a separate set of women's issues that I -- that I'm aware of. Really we care about the same thing.
IRIN CARMON, STAFF WRITER, SALON.COM: So what they said that I mean, ever since kind of this new Congress came in, there have been so many restrictions and regulations that relate to reproductive rights and there's a committee here specifically about -- I mean those are women's issues, right.
MACK: Name one law -- name one law that has been passed.
CARMON: Well, some of them have been -- passed the House but they just can't pass the Senate. I guess to me -- to me I sort I wonder why this big focus on women's reproductive rights when there's so much --
MACK: Well there's not. I'll tell you what women care about when I'm home in my district or throughout the country. They care right now that it cost them $60 to fill up their gas tank, they care more about that. They care about it costing a lot more, you know, to -- to drive their kids to school, to get to work. Women care about the economy, they care about jobs.
O'BRIEN: Is there a bipartisan women's caucus?
CARMON: There is.
O'BRIEN: There is.
MACK: There is but unfortunately it doesn't do enough, it's not really given enough -- and the women by and large, on both sides of the aisle, get along very well. We talk about our families, our commutes. We get along so well. I wish America could see a little bit more of that because we really don't bicker and fight as much as I think the rest of the Congress does.
O'BRIEN: Well maybe it looks on television and cable news as you might think if you watch national TV.
Great. We got to take a short break.
Ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, we're going to talk about the gap year. Should students take a year off after they graduate from high school? It's sounds relaxing doesn't it. Dr. Steve Perry is going to join us to talk about that.
Some people say if they take a year off, they will never go back, we'll see about that, you're watching. We got a short break, we're back in a moment.
O'BRIEN: All right, all right. I love starting my morning with Kanye. We got to get Kanye on this show. Do you think he would want to get up early and hang out with us? I think he would come on, Kanye.
WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Can we see that?
O'BRIEN: Yes this is, of course, of Steve Perry's playlist. Hey Steve Perry, good morning to you. We're talking about the gap year, thousands of high school seniors are going to graduate. I know, because I'm doing a bunch of commencement addresses. This is what I get really busy and I love it.
Many parents of course are happy to see their kids go off to college. Maybe not happy to pay for it but happy to see them go. Other kids are taking what's known as the gap year. Time off between high school and college to volunteer or intern or travel or gain a skill. There are some pitfalls to that.
Of course Steve Perry is CNN's education contributor. So do you like this idea or not? I kind of like it, actually the gap year?
DR. STEVE PERRY, CNN EDUCATION CONTRIBUTOR: I absolutely do not like it.
O'BRIEN: Why? Oh, gosh.
O'BRIEN: It's going like that? All right, hostile interview phase. Yes. Why?
PERRY: Right. How about that? We have over diagnosed and over pampered this generation enough. I mean, for God's sake. You want a gap? It's called summer. Get over it, spend your time doing an internship during the summer, doing an internship during the fall and do what you have to do.
We know that there is a persistence issue, especially among students from historically disadvantaged population and last thing that we need to do is engage them in a lifestyle that is not school. Once you're out of practice you're out of practice. Many people who are going back to school tell how hard it is for them to get back in the swing of things.
O'BRIEN: And many people who take a gap year and I agree, I think there are certain people who should not do a gap year right? Who are thinking about just not going back and they are waffling and that's really the issue.
But if you want to really go do something and it's mapped out -- when I took time off before I graduated from college you know what; you spend a little time in the real world and see what things actually cost and like pay for your meals as opposed to having your parents pay for things, I thought it was a great lesson.
CARMON: Yes, I feel like I need to stand up for my generation here.
PERRY: A little different.
CARMON: For the millennials because don't you actually feel like if we are so pampered as millennials isn't it kind good for people to get out in the real world before they go to be more pampered aside from college.
MACK: Yes. Yes.
PERRY: But you're not getting out in the real world. You still live with your parents. If you want to get out in the real world, if you want to get out in the real world Homey, get out in the real world and get a job and a degree --
CARMON: Well, I think we can agree that some gap years are better than others. Staying at home is one thing, maybe volunteering and doing merit corps that sort of thing, that's a real character building.
MACK: In this economy though that kids are graduating from college and there are no jobs to go do. I mean, if there is no job to go into you have your bachelor's degree and right now it's really hard for these kids to find a job. Is it still bad for them to take a year off? If -- I mean, really their options now are say travel abroad for a year or go to grad school but it's really hard for them to find a job right now.
PERRY: Well, one of the things that is important to understand is that nothing is for everyone and there is no single solution for any group. But I do know that overwhelmingly when I'm working with children, I'm telling them to go and do what you have had to do which is to go on to college.
All of the things that you've mentioned can be achieved in other ways. Like for instance you could do a semester abroad while still in college. You can take the time off between college and graduate school. There are other ways in which you can engage in something that's not collegiate during the process making sure that the persistence remains.
Because in America, our persistence rates, our college matriculation rates actually have decreased over the past couple of years. So doing something like this I believe only adds fuel to the fire for people to stay home. You get a job as a bank teller or get a job doing something else and then you begin to engage in that lifestyle as opposed to the lifestyle of a student which are very different, by the way.
O'BRIEN: I don't know if I agree with you on this one, Steve Perry. But you know, I still like you. One day one of your little boys is going to come to you --
PERRY: I like you even more. Taking time off from Harvard to spend some time is a little different that taking time off when you don't have any college degree.
O'BRIEN: I agree and I'll tell you this. I suddenly realized how much that tuition was when I was paying for it myself. No question about that. I figured that out really, really fast.
Steve Perry, we're out of time. Always great to see you and thanks for talking with us. Steve Perry is our CNN education contributor.
O'BRIEN: "End Point" with the panel is up next. We're back after this commercial break.
O'BRIEN: Last 40 seconds. Will Cain, what you got?
CAIN: Yes, ma'am. Congressman John Lewis earlier talking about nonviolence. The fact that those protests they had in '60s had workshops ahead of time preaching and teaching nonviolence I thought was fascinating.
O'BRIEN: Even the words to the songs that they would sing which were all church songs.
CAIN: Right. Right. Isn't that fascinating. And I think it does raise questions. The protests we're seeing today, you know. Have they gone through the same process, commitment?
O'BRIEN: Different agendas. Different agendas.
CAIN: But the process is not.
O'BRIEN: The process is completely different. No one's teaching anybody anything.
CAIN: That's my question. That's my point -- my "End Point" if you will.
O'BRIEN: And different agendas -- violent protesters have a very different agenda. Irin, what have you got.
CARMON: I was looking at that. I think that in the general assemblies they have lots of conversations that we've (inaudible) Wall Street about nonviolence.
I also was very inspired by Congressman Lewis and I was going to say that I was so inspired by the fact that he is taking what he learned in the civil rights movement to go into voting rights, his violence against women act.
O'BRIEN: He never stops. I know he's a friend of yours. He is an amazing man.
O'BRIEN: We are out of time this morning. We're going to get you to do it first next time, Congresswoman.
MACK: Thank you.
O'BRIEN: Thank you for joining us this morning. We appreciate it.
Got to get right to "CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello. That begins right now. Hey Carol, good morning.