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Needles Found in Sandwiches in Flights from Amsterdam to U.S.; Interview with Senator Rob Johnson; Romney Campaign Attempts to Take Offensive in Presidential Campaign; FDA to Approve New Weight Loss Drug; Lin Or Out?; Bringing American Jobs Back; Romney's "Territorial System"; Swimming With The Sharks

Aired July 17, 2012 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Our STARTING POINT this morning, the FBI is now launching a criminal investigation working with authorities overseas to try to find out how sewing needles ended up in four sandwiches on delta airlines flights. They needles were discovered on four different flights, all coming to the United States out of Amsterdam. Officials say one passenger was injured but declined medical treatment. That brings us to Sandra Endo joining us from D.C. What do authorities know so far? Sandra, good morning.

SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad, right now there's a full blown investigation into this matter, and the FBI and local authorities in the Netherlands are trying to find out how the needles got into those turkey sandwiches. A Delta spokesperson says the needles were found in sandwiches in flights from Amsterdam to Minneapolis and Seattle and two flights to Atlanta. Two of the needles were found by passengers and one was discovered by an air marshal.

When Delta found out about the needles in the food, the airline said it notified all 18 flights from Amsterdam to stop serving the sandwiches. Here's what one passenger who got one of contaminated sandwiches said when he spoke to KSTP.


DR. JACK DROGT, PASSENGER WHO FOUND NEEDLE IN SANDWICH: I bit down on it so I wasn't biting down on the sharp side but the flat side. It could have been, you know, a bad injury orally, but had I taken a big swallow and swallowed that down, I'd have a needle inside. That would be very concerning to me.


ENDO: Gate Gourmet provided the sandwiches to delta. A spokesperson says "This is a terribly upsetting situation. First and foremost is the safety of the traveling public. There's nothing more important than the safety of the passenger and crews." Gate Gourmet says it's fully cooperating with the FBI and local authorities in the Netherlands and conducting its own full scale investigation and the company says it does provide food to other airlines but have received no reports or complaints. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Sandra Endo, thanks so much. We appreciate it. Let's get right to the rest of the top stories. Zoraida has a look at that.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad. Rush hour traffic as usual at the ambassador bridge, a bomb threat shut down the busy span for five hours last night. It was reopened after security sweeps failed to turn up any explosives. A bomb threat last week forced the shutdown of a nearby tunnel that also connects Detroit and Windsor.

In a desperate search continues in Iowa for a pair of young cousins, eight-year-old Elizabeth Collins and lyric cook were last seen by their grandmother before they went on a bicycle ride. Crews have started draining a nearby lake for a sign of girls. Lyric's mother telling Anderson Cooper both were always a joy to be around.


MISTY COOK-MORRISSEY, MOTHER OF MISSING GIRL: They smile a lot. They are pretty persistent in the things they want. They are great. They are really great. You know what I mean?


COOK-MORRISSEY: We look forward to what they had to offer in their future and the life that god had for them.


SAMBOLIN: We will have a live report on the search from Iowa at the bottom of the hour. We're also going to hear more from the family there.

New reaction from both sides in a stunning twist in the Trayvon Martin trial. A female witness in this case only identified as witness number fine, is accusing Zimmerman of molesting her when they were both children. The accusations released in an audio tape from the state's attorney office.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It started when I was six. He's about almost two years older than I am. He would reach under the blankets and try to do things and I would try to push him off but he was bigger and stronger and older.


SAMBOLIN: She also said Zimmerman and his family flat out said they didn't like black people unless they acted like white people. Zimmerman's attorney Mark O'Mara has identified the woman as Zimmerman's cousin. He tells CNN the allegations would not be admissible in court but will complicate things for the defense.

Three more men are now coming forward telling police they were abused by Jerry Sandusky in the 1970s or 1980s. They are the first people to accuse him of abuse before the 1990s, and it could mean the 68-year-old coach began preying on children in his early 20s. There's no mention of victims before the 1990s in the report former FBI director Louis Freeh did.

It's one of first signs that Penn State may be moving past Joe Paterno after the Freeh report. According to state the university is changing the name of a student camp ground outside beaver stadium from Paterno-ville to Nittany-ville as in the team's nickname, the Nittany Lions.

It was a heart stopping save by an off-duty New York City bus driver. Cell phone video -- take a look at this, shows a seven-year- old girl jumping up and down on an air conditioning on the third floor apartment wind dough when Steve Saint Bernard sprang into action.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I got there she was still standing there and I just like positioned myself hopefully I would catch her.


SAMBOLIN: Oh, he did. Bernard suffered a muscle tear in his arm but says he will be OK. The NYPD says the parents will not be charged with the crime. As far as being called a hero, Steve says, that's a sandwich, back to you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Oh, my goodness, what a catch, the moment you need to do it.

SAMBOLIN: Can you imagine her mother?

O'BRIEN: No. No, I cannot. Who was watching the child on the air conditioning unit on first place? All right, Z, appreciate it.

Mitt Romney is on the offense trying to paint president Obama as a pay-for-play president. Take a listen.


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's no question but when billions of upon billions of dollars are given by the Obama administration to the businesses of campaign contributors, that's a real problem, particularly at a time when the middle class is really suffering in this country.


O'BRIEN: And all day yesterday including here on our show, the message from the Romney camp they don't want to talk taxes or Bain capital. Take a listen.


JOHN SUNUNU, FORMER NEW HAMPSHIRE GOVERNOR: Let's move on and talk about the cronyism of the White House.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN, (R) OHIO: He's giving favors to his friends. Look at Solyndra, what happened there. It's a shame, because our tax dollars were used to go to companies often donors of the president's.


O'BRIEN: Senator Ron Johnson is a Republican from Wisconsin, a member of the budget appropriations committee and also a supporter of mitt Romney. Thanks for talking with us.

REP. RON JOHNSON, (R) WISCONSIN: Good morning, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Good morning, there's clearly an effort to move away from conversations about Bain and taxes and start talking about crony capitalism. What exactly is that?

JOHNSON: Well, crony capitalism is taking taxpayer money and funneling that to the people that have supported you in the campaign. And that's exactly what president Obama and his administration has done. Look at Solyndra, over a half-billion dollars invested in a company that's now bankrupt, 1,100 people lost their jobs, and that company was supported by people who supported President Obama. That's a classic example of crony capitalism.

JOHNSON: So it's inserting Solyndra back into the conversation. Back in May of 2012, here's what Mitt Romney said about Solyndra. Listen.


ROMNEY: An independent inspector general looked at this investment and concluded that the administration had steered money to friends and family, to campaign contributors.


O'BRIEN: So that statement we now know is not accurate. said this about that, so far there's nothing except a year old statement that the inspector general was looking into it. The ad suggests cases have already been discovered, that's not true. The "Washington Post," which did a similar analysis, said this -- "Records do not establish that anyone pressured the energy department to approve the Solyndra loan to benefit political contractors." Seems that is not correct about Solyndra.

JOHNSON: Solyndra, it doesn't make the investment a good investment, still a half billion dollars of taxpayer money squandered. There's $35 billion of these energy loans that have been guaranteed to different companies, $16 billion of it went into one program where you've only created 2,300 jobs, which if those loans go bad like Solyndra's went bad, that would be a cost over $16 million per job.

That's really the main problem here is that President Obama simply doesn't understand that it's the free enterprise systems, the private sector, productive sector, not the government sector that creates long sustainable jobs. All of his efforts are towards growing government. Take a look at the Soviet Union, Venezuela is economic basket case, is anyone moving to the island paradise of Cuba? O'BRIEN: You're sure now not suggesting that the idea and concept between Solyndra and other green energies like Solyndra is comparable to the Soviet Union in Cuba, right?

JOHNSON: No, I am suggesting that. When you take taxpayer money and you invest that into businesses, that's the taxpayer money put at risk. Let's face it, the lesson on the Soviet Union, governments are poor allocators of capital. It's an economic model that doesn't work.

O'BRIEN: Didn't it work in Massachusetts? Isn't that exactly what governor Romney did in Massachusetts in green energy when he was the governor of Massachusetts?

JOHNSON: Listen, the path we need to take this country on is with free enterprise system, the private sector that creates long term self-sustaining jobs. And that's exactly what Governor Romney would do as President Romney.

O'BRIEN: And --

JOHNSON: We have got to take a look at the fact that we are bankrupting this country. President Obama in his four years has added $5.3 trillion to our nation's debt and backs of our children and grandchildren. We've been spending a week talking about Bain and tax returns. What the American people, when I travel around Wisconsin, nobody is asking questions about Bain or Governor Romney's tax returns. People aren't questioning his integrity. They're questioning this president's policies that are crushing businesses, all the regulations and threatened new taxes. That's what people are concerned about. That's what this campaign has to be about.

And that's really -- I didn't come to Washington to play games here, and that's all we're doing in the Senate is playing games. We need to start solving and saving Social Security and Medicare. We need to start figuring how do we put our country on a path towards financial solvency rather than do small ball little political tactics and games that president Obama's campaign is engaging in.

O'BRIEN: I think there are plenty of people that would agree with you it seems like on both sides of the aisle people are playing games sometimes in Congress. But you don't think the American people care about Bain and don't care about taxes? Part of the reason I believe personally that we have seen so much of Mitt Romney who has come out and been on virtually every show and talking about Bain and taxes and his tax returns is because he feels he has to address the issue. Am I wrong about that?

JOHNSON: Soledad, I never hear it. When I travel around America, nobody talks about those issues. They are talking about, what can we do to get unemployment below the eight percent that this administration when it spent $800 billion in stimulus said unemployment would never go above eight percent. It's been above eight percent for 41 weeks. According to their estimates it should be 5.6 percent. People are concerned about their job and how are they going -- when their children graduate from college, how do they get a job? Half of recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed. That's a real problem that's directly related to this president's policies that have incurred more debt that have burdened our businesses with regulation.

And this president doesn't understand that. Take a look at the most recent comments about how if you build a business, you didn't build the business, somebody else did. How dismissive of the hard work of small to medium size business owners in this country. He doesn't have a clue how to get an economy growing and how to create jobs. And that's really what the campaign should be about. How do we get our economy going? How do we create jobs?

O'BRIEN: Isn't some of that about Bain? Every time people start talking about jobs and not just -- I think you're right on the educational, all those things are part of a conversation. But the minute you talk about jobs, as David Axelrod said yesterday to Anderson, listen, this then Bain becomes part of the conversation. Here's what he told Anderson last night.


DAVID AXELROD, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR POLITICAL ADVISER: It isn't something new. It's part of the discussion. He entered it into the discussion and we're engaging in that discussion. He says, wait, don't talk about my business experience, he can talk about it but he doesn't want us to talk about his business experience.


O'BRIEN: Isn't that part of the challenge when we were talking about the green energy investments, suddenly the record in Massachusetts becomes relevant and it's hard to kind of navigate that. You can't talk about it without talking about a record in Massachusetts and can't talk about business without talking about Bain. Isn't that a challenge?

JOHNSON: Well, if you talk about Bain, I would first take a look at some company that Bain invested in like Staples, highly successful. If you're going to have a free enterprise system, you have to have individuals willing to risk private capital. That's a big difference between what President Obama has done. He risks taxpayer capital, and he doesn't do it in a prudent way. Romney did with Bain, risked private capital to be able to invest in successful companies like Staples. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose in that, but, quite honestly risk is an absolutely necessary part of a free enterprise system, so is failure. That's how you ferret out what are successful and unsuccessful organizations.

So if it's part of the conversation, it should be about what made America great and what drives an economy, and that's the private or productive sector that creates long term self-sustaining jobs. Governor Romney understands that. President Obama doesn't have a clue.

O'BRIEN: Would you advise governor Romney to release for of his tax records? He said he's done what he has to do under the law. Would you tell him, maybe five years or more? JOHNSON: Soledad, he's already released 500 pages. He can release 10,000, they would ask 20,000. At some point in time you draw the line and say American people have enough information --

O'BRIEN: You really believe that, that two years is more than plenty or do you think by not doing that, it will drag out the conversation? As you know many people -- Republicans are saying, what's if them if he's not releasing three years or five years?

JOHNSON: I don't hear from people talking to me. I don't really believe most Americans question governor Romney's integrity or the fact he fully paid his taxes.

O'BRIEN: I don't think that's the question at all.

JOHNSON: -- of successful -- success in the private sector of government service, of leading a very successful business to go save the Olympics. I think people view governor Romney as a real man of integrity. Like I say, he can release 10,000 pages and they would ask for 20,000. It'd be a never-ended process. We need to get back to talking what do we need to do to get the economy going and put the country back on a path of success rather than a path of failure it's on right now.

O'BRIEN: But you know the question isn't did he somehow not fully pay his taxes, right? The question becomes why not release more than the bare minimum, especially when his father was the person who called for complete transparency. And even in his conversation when he was running against Ted Kennedy, he insisted that Ted Kennedy release his -- he was calling for it. He felt it was necessary. They ended up both not releasing taxes, partly because the wealth of both men, right? Isn't that part of the conversation? I don't think anybody thinks he didn't pay his taxes in full.

JOHNSON: Soledad, the question is why does this administration, why does president Obama run from his record? Why is he unwilling.

O'BRIEN: That's a different question, a question on the GOP side.


JOHNSON: That is the question that Americans are asking, how do we get our economy moving? And again, I really don't think people -- I do not hear questions about Bain or Governor Romney's tax returns. I hear questions about, Senator Johnson, how -- please get govern regulators off our backs. How can we borrow money? What is with the Dodd-Frank bill keeping the smaller banks making loans to businesses they've been making loans to for 25 years? Those are the types of questions as I talk to real Americans, nothing about Bain and taxpayers. That's the true.

O'BRIEN: You're calling people on "Meet the Press" not real Americans, I'll let that go. We're out of time. I appreciate your time Senator Johnson and of course I'm happy to continue this conversation any time you'd like. We appreciate having you. Thank you, sir.

JOHNSON: Have a great day.

O'BRIEN: Thank you, likewise. In our next hour, we'll hear from the other side with Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin. He'll be joining us.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, a U.S. bank accused of handling blood money from drug cartels and terror groups. Capitol Hill is now demanding to know how that was allowed to happen.

And pop a pill and shed some pounds -- decision day for the FDA on a new diet drug. Elizabeth Cohen will join us to talk about Q- Nexa, how it works and whether or not it's too risky.

And our get real this morning, would the New York Knicks be Lin- sane to let Jeremy Lin walk? Deadline day of course is today, and we'll discuss that straight ahead. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. A couple of quick headlines. Google's Marisa Mayor is taking over as CEO of Yahoo!, the fifth CEO in five years. Mayor was one of the first two dozen employees at Google.

And HSBC regulators taking the hot seat on Capitol Hill. A new Senate report says the global banking giant failed to review billions of dollars worth of transactions with ties to drug cartels and terrorist groups. Soledad, back to you.

O'BRIEN: Zoraida, thanks.

At any moment now the FDA is expected to announce he is going to approve a brand-new weight loss pill called Q-Nexa. Some people are not that happy about the drugs expected released. Senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is with us this morning. Good morning to you.


O'BRIEN: How does this work?

COHEN: The drug is actually a combination of two different drugs, Soledad. I don't know if you remember the Phen-Phen craze of the 1990s. But one is an appetite suppressant and the other called Topiramate, which is an anti-seizure medication that people are taking for epilepsy and migraines. I spoke to one woman in the clinical trials for the new drug called Q-Nexa, and she said she just sometimes had to remind herself to eat. She said you know, before if someone offered her a chocolate chip cookie, she couldn't resist. While she was on the drug, she could say, eh, and pass it up.

O'BRIEN: Which sounds good if you're trying to diet and lose some weight. So I guess the big question is, how much does it work? For people obviously it's not about losing five pounds, it's supposed to be really effective to get this approval. How much weight do people lose?

COHEN: On the drug people lost about 10 percent of their body weight. So in this study, people weighed on average 227 pounds and got down to about 204 pounds. It didn't work that well for everyone. There was plenty of people that lost half of that amount of weight. As you said, this is for obese people or people who are overweight and have illnesses like high blood pressure or conditions like high blood pressure or high cholesterol. It is not supposed to be taken by people who want to lose five pounds to look better in a bikini. We all know, Soledad, once it's on the market doctors will prescribe to all sorts of people.

O'BRIEN: There are people who are against it. Why are they against it?

COHEN: They are against it because the drug has some side effects that are kind of worry some for some people. For example, people who took the drug in the trials, some had increased heart rate. Some of them had some confusion and language problems. And some women who take Topiramate, one of the ingredients in the drug, have had children with cleft lip and palate. Women will be told if you're going to take this pill, use birth control. But they told them that in the studies and still had 34 pregnancies, so obviously that please use birth control thing doesn't always work. There's a concern we'll see more birth defects.

O'BRIEN: Thanks Elizabeth.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, is Lin-sanity over here in New York? The Knicks are just hours away from letting Jeremy Lin slip away.

Our STARTING POINT team is heading in. Comedian William durst is joining us this morning, also Margaret Hoover is back in her hot little orange dress, and Ron Brownstein.



O'BRIEN: Here's Black Eyed Peas, "I Have a Feeling."


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Zoraida Sambolin with a few quick headlines. A medical milestone in the battle against HIV. The drug Truvada approved yesterday by the FDA has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection and can be used as a preventative measure for people who are high risk.

And China, accusing the United States of hypocrisy and violating the Olympic spirit for making a fuss over uniforms that were made in China. A commentary from China's official state news agency ripped American lawmakers for playing politics with the controversy.

And take a look at this. It took a couple of takes, but President Obama finally planted one on the first lady when they were caught on the kiss cam at Team USA's basketball game in Washington. Apparently the Obama's didn't lock lips when cameras focused on them in the first quarter, but they got another chance in the fourth. Would you or wouldn't you, Soledad?

O'BRIEN: You have to, you get booed if you didn't. That's the problem. They didn't and they got a little booed and then they're like, all right, we need to redo. It's a kiss cam. You got to kiss. All right, Zoraida, thanks.

Our team this morning, William Durst is with us. He is a comedian. We worked together a while back in San Francisco. It's nice to see you.

WILLIAM DURST, COMEDIAN: Back in the 4015 where's it's 45 degrees.

O'BRIEN: People across the country could use that. Ron Brownstein is the editorial director of the "National Journal." It's always nice to have you, two days in a row.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Glad to be cooling off outside of Washington.

O'BRIEN: And Margaret Hoover is back with us. She is the author of "American Individualism." It's nice to have you back as well.

Let's get to our "Get Real" this morning for the span of about a month. Remember this man owned the big apple, he revived the Knicks. All we could talk about was Lin sanity, now we find we're just a few hours from finding out if the Knicks will let go of Jeremy Lin.

He signed a three-year, $25.1 million offer with I guess, the offer sheet with the Houston Rockets. The Knicks will have until midnight tonight to try to match that offer.

The rumor is though that they are not going to match the offer, but going to let him walk rather than pay $15 million in the third year because of that luxury tax issue they have in New York.

Carmelo Anthony said he would love to see Lin back. They've kind of had their ups and downs together. But here's what he said, it's not up to me, it's up to the organization to say they want to match that ridiculous contract that's out there. He's a dear friend --

DURST: But a bit overpaid.

O'BRIEN: My dear friend might be a bit overpaid in the third year. Anthony, a five-time all star, makes roughly $20 million. Also well paid I would say. What do you think? Goes away?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, sports is a business, right, in the end and very few players play their careers with a single team anymore. And he's for it and for any point guard not named Chris Paul, the idea of spending $15 million a year on them is probably not a good basketball decision. For all the excitement and inspiration that he have in the story.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: He did. To his credit, he brought, you know, a spirit back to the Knicks. He did revive the Knicks, but he didn't play a full season, right?

O'BRIEN: A month, a very good month.

HOOVER: It was a very good month, but then he got injured. Financially, it would be a bit of a gamble for the Knicks to go ahead and put down on this.

O'BRIEN: That's an understatement, a massive gambling.

HOOVER: Good luck to him in the Rockets. He will be retrained in the Rockets.

DURST: The karma, I mean, he was released by the Golden State Warriors. He was released by the Houston Rockets --

BROWNSTEIN: Released by Harvard, right?

O'BRIEN: He graduated from Harvard.

DURST: -- basketball. He was released from the team.

HOOVER: That's a remarkable story too.

BROWNSTEIN: It is a great story, but every indication a great young man, inspirational story.

O'BRIEN: I feel like we're saying we're OK with it and we wish you the best.

DURST: In Houston. Hope you enjoy barbecue.

BROWNSTEIN: And humidity.

O'BRIEN: And here in New York, STARTING POINT, two Americans freed by kidnappers after three days captive in Egypt are now speaking to CNN. The latest on their release. Remember, we spoke to their children yesterday. We'll find out when they are coming home.

And Michigan's Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow is going to joins us to talk about her plan to bring jobs home to America. Is it just a show for election year?

Here's Margaret's playlist, Hot Chip and "I Was a Boy from School." Don't think I've heard this. Margaret, always pushing boundaries, I love that.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. Democrats are ramping up efforts this week to paint Mitt Romney as an outsourcer of American jobs.

First attacking his days at Bain Capital then going after his proposed changes to the U.S. tax code. President Obama spoke to supporters in Cincinnati yesterday. Here's what he said.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We don't need a president who plans to ship more jobs overseas or wants to give more tax breaks to companies that are shipping jobs overseas. I want do give tax breaks to companies investing right here in Ohio.


O'BRIEN: That's the kind of line that is going to get you big applause in Ohio. Today, Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan is going to introduce "The Bring Jobs Home At."

She is with us this morning. It's nice to see you. Thanks for being with us. Tell me a little bit --

SENATOR DEBBIE STABENOW (D), MICHIGAN: Good to be back with you.

O'BRIEN: Thank you. Appreciate that. Tell me about the plan.

STABENOW: Well, first of all, this is something I introduced back in May and it builds on efforts I've been involved with for a long time to bring manufacturing jobs, in fact, any kind of jobs back to America.

It's very simple. Right now unbelievably, we actually pay for part of the cost of somebody closing up shop and shipping their jobs overseas because they can write that off as a business expense.

When people hear that, they usually say to me, are you kidding me? And I'm unfortunately not. So my bill would stop that and say, we're happy to have you write off the cost of bringing jobs home and will add another 20 percent tax credit for your costs on top of it.

So it's very simple and very straight forward. It will be talking about it today and tomorrow and having to vote on Thursday.

O'BRIEN: And very blocked, and in fact, there are many people would say there's no chance at all that this is going to pass.

STABENOW: Well, you know, Soledad, it should pass. Why in the world could anybody -- this is not a Democratic or Republican issue. This is American.

This is about whether or not in a global economy we're going to compete by successfully looking at every part of the tax code, everything that we do to be able to invest in America. We need to make things here. We need to grow things here. That's how you have an economy.

We need to bring jobs back. Right now, China says come on over, we'll build a plant for you. Of course, by the way, we'll steal your patent afterwards, but the fact is they are aggressively moving on every single front to take our jobs.

This is simple. We're just not going to pay for your moving, period. We'll pay for you to come back. We're not going to pay for your leaving. And I think that ought to be a great bipartisan place to start.

BROWNSTEIN: Senator Stabenow, good morning.

STABENOW: Good morning.

BROWNSTEIN: Good morning. Ron Brownstein from "National Journal." In his "State of the Union," the president made a proposal like yours, but he also said a key to incentivizing American companies to move jobs back to the U.S. was to impose a global minimum tax on operations abroad. Did you include that in your proposal and if not, why not?

STABENOW: Well, Ron, first of all, I want this to be very simple and straight forward. So we're looking at one piece that I think should have strong bipartisan support.

We need broader tax reform as a member of the Finance Committee. I'm very involved with that. Our chairman, Senator Bacchus is very focused on that.

And whether it's done this year or whether it's done next year, I'm confident we're going to have comprehensive tax reform. But you know, we get involved in these proposals with a lot of different things in them.

And then somebody finds something not to support. So my feeling when I introduced this was let's focus on one thing, if you want to pay for them moving or not.

BROWNSTEIN: Just to be clear though, in this debate that's going on now this week with Mitt Romney as a supporter, as are some Democratic experts of a territorial tax system, which would completely eliminate U.S. taxation on the earnings of U.S. companies abroad.

The president is saying instead that all U.S. companies should pay a minimum of U.S. taxes on their foreign earnings. Which side of that debate do you stand with today?

STABENOW: Well, what I'm going to support is every effort that incentivizes making things in America, jobs in America. We do have a big debate as you said, whether it's going to be a territorial system or a worldwide system, probably needs to be some kind of blend in the middle to balance it out.

We know we have a global marketplace, but right now we have too many incentives that are actually incentivizing jobs going overseas. So we have to start from, how do we support innovation and how do we support manufacturing in America?

We want to be fair to global companies certainly that are in America. We have many of them in Michigan, but the incentive has to be to make things in America. That's the lens through which I look.

HOOVER: Senator Stabenow, Margaret Hoover here.


HOOVER: One of the things many Republicans would say and Democrats is that the thing that we could do most easily in order to bring jobs back to America is to reform the corporate tax code.

That means not just lowering the corporate tax rate, one of the highest in the industrialized world, but also closing loopholes that make it difficult for an uneven playing field for some companies to get around the corporate tax code.

This you could have bipartisan support. This you could actually pass in a contentious election year because you got Republicans and Democrats supporting it.

Why not try to have a bipartisan bill right now rather than the one that only has Democratic support?

STABENOW: Well, first of all, there's no reason this shouldn't have bipartisan support. This is the number one loophole. Let's start with this one.

I support closing other loopholes. I don't support looking at RND investment as a loophole as the author of the only advanced manufacturing tax cut that's in the code.

A 30 percent cut for equipment and new building construction for new manufacturing in America, I want to make sure that's not viewed as a loophole. So again, it's all in how you look at it.

We can talk about large packages. We know that the probability of passing a large package right now is pretty slim before the election, but we can do this. We can start with loophole number one. Let's stop paying for them moving.

O'BRIEN: You've said that there sort of you believe going to be a nuance between the territorial tax and something that maybe includes other elements.

As you know, Governor Romney proposes and fully supports a territorial tax. There are plenty of the president's advisers, a number who would support that as well.

And Obama, of course, President Obama does not support the territorial tax. Isn't that problematic when his own advisers are saying they support the territorial tax?

STABENOW: Well, I think going forward we've got to have a very thoughtful bipartisan discussion on tax reform. There's no question, there's too many loopholes.

There's no question we're in a global economy and we have to make sure that we are understanding that in terms of the global companies in America.

I do think we're going to have to move in a more balanced way that recognizes that. But again, every other country is fighting to get what we have, which is a strong middle class, which starts with making things.

And so we -- our strength in America is making things and growing things. If we make things here and grow things here, the jobs will be here.

So from my perspective, whatever we do, whatever tax policy we change and we absolutely need tax reform, we have to start from the premise that we aren't going to incentivizing jobs going overseas.

So let's start with something like this that I don't know why in the world anybody would be against closing a loophole that pays for people that move the jobs overseas.

O'BRIEN: Senator Stabenow joining us, a Democrat from Michigan. Thanks for your time this morning. Appreciate it.

STABENOW: Good to be with you.

O'BRIEN: Thank you.

Got to take a break, but ahead this morning, billionaire businessman, Sir Richard Branson has a new venture, saving sharks. That's me swimming with that whale shark.

HOOVER: You can see her.

O'BRIEN: Look at that crazy hair. We're going to go on the underwater swim and I'll show you how I did it. That's still ahead on STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. When you hear the word shark, you think jaws and when you think jaws that's bad. But actually every year up to 73 million sharks are hunted just for their fins used to make shark fin soup, which is a delicacy in China towns everywhere and in China, of course.

And after the fins are removed even though there's some myth that they can grow back, they don't grow back and the sharks just die. Sir Richard Branson is the founder of the "Virgin Group, Virgin United" and has partnered with "Wild Aid" to try to stop this practice.

We had a chance to sit down and talk with him about his latest passion, which is swimming with sharks with whale sharks, right off the coast of Mexico. Take a look.



O'BRIEN: What was your reaction the first time that you were sort of eyeball to eyeball with a whale shark?

BRANSON: Just the sheer beauty of it. I mean, it is the biggest fish in the ocean, just enormous, gentle giant in the ocean and just couldn't bear the idea that people get them in the millions for soup.

There's a danger that the species could become extinct. So we just need people educate people and get people to realize how wonderful these creatures are and why they shouldn't be slaughtered.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): Shawn Heinrichs works with Richard Branson and is passionate about shark conservation. He's going to capture our video underwater.


O'BRIEN: My God.

HEINRICHS: Shark finning, up to 73 million sharks finned and killed for shark fin soup around the world every single year. In contrast, five people around the entire planet are killed by sharks.

There's a huge misconception, sharks have far more to fear from us than we do from them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the largest aggregation of whale sharks in the world. The whale shark is the biggest fish in the ocean.

O'BRIEN: Peter Knights is the founder of "Wild Aid," a group that focuses on addressing the human threat to wildlife.

(on camera): Are whale sharks threatened?

PETER KNIGHTS, FOUNDER, WILDAID: They are. Nobody knows how many of any species of shark there are in the world. But we do know from fisheries studies that many places have been in pretty drastic decline.

Up to 300 come here every year to feed on fish eggs and it's only been discovered really in the last four years or so, but it's rapidly developed into an amazing eco tourism opportunity as you can see, quite a major industry for the local people.

O'BRIEN: Is it possible to save the sharks? Create a sustainable business for fishermen, and make sure that they are both viable, not sort of save one, but kill off the other?

RICHARDSON: Yes. I think that, you know, here is the perfect example of it, off Cancun. These fishermen used to, you know, fish these sharks. Sell their fins. Now people are flying from all over the world to come here to see the sharks and swim with the sharks. And look right behind us here.

O'BRIEN: My gosh, yes.

(voice-over): Now it's my turn to take the plunge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Soledad, there's one swimming right towards you.

O'BRIEN: That's me, inches away from a massive whale shark.

(on camera): And I've got to tell you, the first 10 minutes that I was swimming near the mouth of one of these whale sharks, all I could think of was, wow, one wrong move, I'm just going to go right in.

BRANSON: Well, actually, I have been halfway in the mouth of a whale shark, and it doesn't want you in there. It just spat me out.

O'BRIEN: Why do you think sharks get such a bad rap?

BRANSON: Because of the film "Jaws." People have such a bad image of sharks. It's sad that film ever got made. Sharks, you know, will only by the people by mistake.

And that only happens maybe a handful of times a year throughout the whole world and I have swum with great whites. I have swum with tiger sharks, you know, some with whale sharks, all kinds of sharks.

O'BRIEN: So why does it matter? What happens if the species disappears?

BRANSON: Ultimately, I think humans will disappear, if we let all our species disappear. You know, there's a fragile balance in this world. And, you know, sharks have a reason.

And if you take one element of that away, you know, the whole balance breaks down. You know, I just think it would be very, very sad reflection on mankind if we allowed that to happen.


O'BRIEN: So if you want to see more of the video of me swimming with the sharks --

HOOVER: That is so cool.

O'BRIEN: Isn't that great and we have that underwater gallery as well. You can go to our blog, which is It was so much fun. Very rocky waters, so at one point, we were all upchucking off the boat, of course, because you're like this the whole time.

HOOVER: Ginger is good for that apparently.


BROWNSTEIN: It sounds like a title of one of those self-help books, "Swimming with Sharks." O'BRIEN: How I survived in TV news.

BROWNSTEIN: The title for your memoir.

O'BRIEN: Yes, yes, version 2.0 of my memoir. That was so much fun. There's a strategy, which they tell you to swim up to the shark's eye so that they see you.

Which I was like, so what happens if they don't see me? And then you tuck behind the gills because they'll just bring you along.

BROWNSTEIN: Shark drafting.

O'BRIEN: Yes, absolutely.

DURST: Or the Tour de France.

HOOVER: Exactly.

O'BRIEN: And it kind of worked like that.

DURST: They tell you that when you're caught with a shark, you're supposed to punch it in the nose.

HOOVER: That's a great white.

DURST: Yes. I never understood that.

O'BRIEN: You get in there, and you're like, I'm not touching this thing. If it's good with me, I'm good with it, and we're going to be happy.

Anyway, we're going to have part two of our conversation. We're going to talk a little bit about his business philosophy with Sir Richard Branson, and why he is such a risk taker.

You know, swimming with sharks is kind of the least dangerous and crazy thing he's done. STARTING POINT is back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, a desperate search is going on in Iowa for two young girls who went for a bike ride last Friday. They never returned. We're going to take you live to their hometown this morning.

And the approaching fiscal cliff with the Bush tax cuts set to expire and drastic spending cuts about to kick in, we're going to chat with Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin. Talk about any hope for a compromise or any solutions.

And global human trafficking. It's a crisis, 27 million people around the world are victims. Actress Jada Pinkett Smith is back with us.

She's going to be testifying on Capitol Hill bringing her daughter, Willow, chatting with us this morning about how to get involved. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.