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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Losing His Cool; Men's Gymnastics Upset; How Paul Ryan Captured The GOP; Drew Peterson To Stand Trial for Death of Third Wife; Droughts Affecting Crops Throughout U.S.; "Latch on NYC"; "Angie's List" Online Service Tool

Aired July 31, 2012 - 08:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome, everybody.

Our STARTING POINT this morning: losing his cool. A spokesman for Mitt Romney explodes at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Poland, tells a group of reporters to "kiss my blank" and shove it. It's all on tape. We'll talk about that.

Drew Peterson's day in court, opening statements today in the murder trial of the former police sergeant. His third wife found dead in the bathtub. His fourth wife vanished without a trace and is presumed dead. So why are the attorneys -- his attorneys joking about the fourth wife's disappearance?

And Olympic doping. A 16-year-old Chinese swimmer smashes her personal best by five seconds. That's a new world record. But there are allegations now about doping. We're live in London.

It's Tuesday, July 31st. And STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: Congresswoman, did you so well starting us off. This one is a little slow for me, "Take Me to the River," the Talking Heads. I have to put you in the category with Ryan Lizza. Love his choices, may not for first thing in the morning.

REP. NAN HAYWORTH (R), NEW YORK: I gave you 14 songs.

O'BRIEN: I know, I know. I blame the selection process.

Congresswoman Nan Hayworth with us this morning. She's the only female physician member of Congress. I'm getting some tweets about the delegate who's a Christian.

HAYWORTH: Yes, a Dr. Christenson from the Virgin Islands.

O'BRIEN: She's a delegate. You're a member.

Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf is with us as well this morning.

And Ryan Lizza is a Washington correspondent for "The New York."

Welcome all.

The STARTING POINT this morning is about a hiccup or maybe the last string of hiccups for Mitt Romney's campaign. His traveling press secretary, Rick Gorka, lost his cool, cursed out some reporters at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw.

Here's how it went.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Gaffes that overshadowed your foreign trip?

RICK GORKA, ROMNEY PRESS SECRETARY: This is a holy site for the Polish people. Show some respect.

REPORTER: Governor Romney, just a few questions, sir. You haven't taken but three questions on this trip from the press.

REPORTER: We haven't had another chance to ask him some questions.

GORKA: (EXPLETIVE DELETED). This is a holy sight to the Polish people. Show some respect.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Jim Acosta is traveling with that press group. He's in Warsaw this morning as well.

All right. Walk us through how it went. I have to imagine things are very tense between the press and the Romney campaign. And we were sort of seeing some of that right there. Walk us through what happened.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, basically, Soledad, we were watching Mitt Romney go through one of the many photo opportunities that his campaign has put on during this overseas trip. He visited Poland's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

And I just want to make sure our viewers of aware of this. The press corps that travels with Mitt Romney, we all waited to ask these questions of him as he was walking away from this national memorial here in Warsaw. We were a good 100 yards from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier when we tried to ask these questions.

And it was at that point sort of unprovoked when this press aide, Rick Gorka, came over to us and started yelling at us, berating us and using some expletives there. In addition to what we just played, he also told a reporter from "Politico" to shove it. And I can tell you, Soledad, about 30 minutes later we did hear from Rick Gorka who called and apologized to a couple of reporters there.

And then after the speech that just wrapped up here in Warsaw, we had a chance to talk to Stewart Stevens, a senior adviser with the Romney campaign, and he tried to basically, you know, make it all sort of water under the bridge and went on to characterize this overseas trip as a great success.

So even though they have had the string of gaffs, they feel like everything has gone pretty well out here -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Let's walk through some of that. First, did they give you access to some Q&A time with Mitt Romney, which is really what all of those yells reporters were ultimately hoping for, for him to stop and take a couple of questions.

ACOSTA: Yes, that's right. No. And I think that's part of what happened this morning. During this overseas trip, and keep in mind it went on for a week, Soledad, we went to Britain, we went to Israel, and then here to Warsaw. You know, it was only in London, outside of 10 Downing Street, when his traveling press corps was given the opportunity to ask some questions, and it was only three questions at that, and they were all basically about when Romney was questioning whether London was ready for the Olympics.

And so, before those questions were shouted to him, earlier this morning, we asked one of his other press secretaries, you know, are we going to have some kind of media avail today. And they said, no, sorry, he's been doing interviews with the international news media and so forth that you guys won't be able to ask any questions.

So, we moved what I thought was a safe distance away from that site to try and get those questions to him. And obviously ask him about the story of the week, which has been some of these gaffes that he's had during this overseas trip. He did not respond to those questions, but obviously his press aide did, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes. And probably now regrets how he responded. Jim Acosta for us this morning. Thank you for updating that story. We appreciate it.

ACOSTA: He does.

O'BRIEN: I bet he does.

Interesting. A lot of pressure clearly, but at the same time it is a difficult sell to spin this as a successful trip. Even the biggest cheerleader is going to have a hard time saying that London was a success, that some of the comments about the Palestinians was a success, happening in Israel, and that this thing happening right here in Poland, and that's going to overshadow this trip.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Not to be too flip about it, but he's angered the American press, the Palestinians, and all of the British people. That's what the take away from this trip is. That's what people are going to remember. That's what we've all been talking about. It wasn't a success.

HAYWORTH: He did get some very positive comments, though, from Lech Walesa which were powerful.

LIZZA: Basically endorsed him.

HAYWORTH: Yes. And he is an extraordinary figure in the history of the freedom movement in Poland. I thought that was a very good moment for him.

LIZZA: Although other Polish leaders criticized him for his criticism of President Obama for his relationship with Poland.

HANK SHEINKOPF, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: There are issues in Poland which are well known and not unique and (INAUDIBLE).

But, look, there are two sides to this. Did he make friends with the press corps? The answer is no. Was it a good way to do thing? The answer is no. Will Cameron like him and have him over for dinner? Yes, not likely, OK?

But Polish voters in critical states will look at this and say, hey, wait a second. That's my guy. More conservative Catholics are going to say, wonderful, Poland, Catholics, very important. Presidential elections are won generally by combinations of Southern Protestants and Northern Catholics. That's what this guy is banking on.

That's what he -- evangelicals will look at his performance in Israel -- way to go, Mitt. Am that's very important. He locks up the South.

O'BRIEN: We'll see. I'm interested to see how the polling goes after this to see how this -- if things move at all.

LIZZA: Nothing can move for months. So I doubt it.

HAYWORTH: POLLS.

SHEINKOPF: Poles are pretty much in his favor. The polls, though. In Ohio, Pennsylvania, other states, you bet.

O'BRIEN: Let's get right to Zoraida. She's got an update on the other stories that are making news today.

Hey, Z.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there.

So, we're following breaking news at this hour.

A scare at the U.S. embassy in Oslo, Norway. There's word of a suspicious item being investigated that was found under a parked car. A large area around the embassy has been evacuated, and of course we will bring you more information as it becomes available.

Bloody violence in Syria this morning. Government forces are shelling parts of Damascus and its suburbs as rebels hold their grip on the city of Aleppo.

CNN's Barbara Starr spoke to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta about the fighting on this five-day trip to North Africa and the Middle East.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEON PANETTA, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I'm sure that deep down, Assad knows he's in trouble and it's just a matter of time before he has to go.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: What would you say to him?

PANETTA: I would say -- if, if you want to be able to protect yourself and your family, you better get the hell out now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: And today, Panetta meets with Egypt's new president, Mohamed Morsi.

And a lot of suspicion surrounding Chinese swimming sensation Ye Shiwen. The 16-year-old Olympic swimmer is denying she took performance enhancing drugs to help her shatter's world record at the London Games. One U.S. coach described her performance in the 400- meter individual medley as, quote, "disturbing". Yesterday, Ye shaved five seconds off her personal best to break the world record by more than a second and win the gold medal.

In the last 50 meters of the race, she swam faster than U.S. star Ryan Lochte did in the men's event.

Soledad, back to you. A lot of controversy surrounding that young lady.

O'BRIEN: All those numbers and statistics you're naming are just very improbable.

SOLEDAD: Yes.

O'BRIEN: We were talking to Atika Shubert earlier, and she said the likelihood of -- they'll test her and see obviously.

LIZZA: Is that resonant?

O'BRIEN: Yes, they will test.

LIZZA: People aren't jumping to conclusions here?

O'BRIEN: You know what? I think the five-second gap is a very big gap. It's that issue. You know, at this level, people do not break records by five seconds to beat their own record.

SAMBOLIN: Tested ahead of time as well. So they are waiting for those results. The combination of the two should give them some answers.

O'BRIEN: Right. Yes. We will see.

All right, Zoraida, thank you. But I (AUDIO GAP).

LIZZA: Yes.

SHEINKOPF: It could another one of those great miracles that happen all of a sudden.

O'BRIEN: I'm all for miracles, every day.

Today, in fact, the U.S. Olympic team, women's gymnastics team, will try for gold. We hope that happens, making up hopefully for the men's team's devastating collapse. They blew what was a promising start on qualification day. Mistake after mistake, gymnasts fell off the pommel horse, landed poorly on the vault, faltered on the floor.

At one point trailed dead last. They finally rallied a bit to end up fifth. China took the gold, Japan silver, and Britain got the bronze.

Paul Hamm knows all about the pressures of Olympic competition. He competed in two Olympics, won three medals in. 2004, he was the first American man to win the gold medal for the individual all-around competition.

Nice to have you with us this morning.

So what do you think happened? Assess for me what fell apart after such a great qualifying round.

PAUL HAMM, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST: Things just didn't go well from the beginning. There was a fall on floor exercise, and then two falls on pommel horse. From that point on, it was very difficult to make any kind of rally to come back to the medal podium.

O'BRIEN: Does the psychology affect people so that if one team member is faltering, it sort of ripples through others?

HAMM: Yes. There's no question that that's part of it. If you notice a mistake from a team member, you start to feel that pressure yourself because you have got to get the team back on track and make sure to stop that bleeding. And that is a tough thing to do at times.

O'BRIEN: Danell Leyva said this, "I'm someone who's very visible in his training and it was very hard because I've never been to an Olympic Games before. But now I know the people, now I know what the crowd is going to be like, now I know what the air is going to taste like when I'm my training, so it's going to help me in my training in the next four years leading up to Rio, which I thought was a good insight into how he was thinking.

But I'm like, you're still in this game. You still have the individuals to get through.

HAMM: Yes.

O'BRIEN: It sounds like you're looking four years out.

What -- you've been there, and you're one of the rare, I think, you know, people we can talk to who can say your mind has been there. What's going through his head right now? Can they bring it back around?

HAMM: I think that we can see some good solid individual performances. Both Danell Leyva and John Orozco had mistakes during the team competition, and they will be our two all-around athletes competing, and are both capable of being on the podium in the all- around. So, I'm hoping they can take what happened and use it in the positive way and hopefully not dwell on the mistakes too much, because there is a lot more gymnastics to do in this Olympic Games. It's not over right now.

O'BRIEN: How hard is that? I mean, realistically, you know, you're the second person that's told me you've got to put it behind you. But how hard is that?

HAMM: It's difficult. I'm seen Danell have a mistake in the last world championships, and he got around and he turned it around and came back and won a gold medal in the parallel bars.

And I've experienced it personally in the 2004 Olympics. I was leading the all-around competition and fell on my vault. I had to pick myself back up two do of the best performances of my life in order to secure that gold medal.

So it is possible. I mean, you've just got to be in the right mindset and not let the emotional side get the best of you.

O'BRIEN: Good. Well, we certainly hope they're able to do it.

Paul Hamm is an Olympic gold medalist. Nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us. Appreciate it.

HAMM: Yes, thanks for having me.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

I love getting into the psychology behind these high level elite athletes. It's so amazing.

We've got to take a break. Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we're going to take a behind the scenes look at the man who could be Mitt Romney's running mate, Ryan sat down with Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan for a big profile on the rising GOP star. He's going to talk about his article which appears in "The New Yorker."

And banning baby formula. Have you heard the story? Mayor Mike Bloomberg, they are making it more difficult for new moms to get formula after they deliver because they would love for the moms to try to nurse first. We're going to talk about that straight ahead. You know how I feel about that.

Hank's playlist, Jefferson Airplane, "Somebody to Love."

You're watching STARTING POINT. Back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: All right. I like that. This is Ryan's playlist, Animal Collective, "My Girls." We were talking this morning about Ryan's new article. It's all Ryan this morning. It's all about Ryan.

"The New Yorker" article is called "Fuss Budget." It's about Paul Ryan's rise in the GOP. Fascinating to learn about his childhood, which I think really was the core development of his ideology.

LIZZA: I think so. You always have to be careful when you're writing about a public figure being too much of a psychiatrist, putting someone on the couch. I mean, you can't, you know, you can't truly know everything about someone. But, his father died when he was relatively young, when he was in high school.

And Paul Ryan was the person who actually found his body at his home in Janesville, Wisconsin. And as he explained it to me, he sort of went through -- he didn't use this word, but not quite existential crisis but a real search for, you know, what his life was all about.

O'BRIEN: Started reading Ayn Rand, started looking to his teachers to get literature that would talk about sort of the framing of the government and individualism versus collectivism.

LIZZA: And it's very rare when you write about politician where you can really see that kind of early intellectual development, the authors they're getting into, the political philosophy they're getting into, and see a sort of straight line from that to their public policies. And with this guy, the straight line is right there.

O'BRIEN: Social Security for him, which was back in 2005, 2006, was a disaster.

LIZZA: Yes. And I wrote extensively about that first big bite at public policy he took on. Social Security privatization, Social Security reform in the Bush era, because it was not successful for the Republican Party. And even George W. Bush in his memoir writes that he regrets pursuing it in 2005, and Paul Ryan, the person we're talking about, was the leading member in the House pushing it.

He told some of your colleagues at the time, don't worry. This isn't the third realm of American politics anymore.

O'BRIEN: It was.

LIZZA: And it was. And so, the reason I went through that whole history is because, well, he's back now with much bolder, much more ambitious plans, and he's convinced congresswoman, you and all of your Republican colleagues to walk off the plank and vote for what Democrats think is a very controversial agenda.

HAYWORTH: Well, it's a very compassionate budget actually. LIZZA: I want to hear your response to this. But so, at the time when Ryan put his budget out first in 2008 and then he's modified it a little bit in recent years, a lot of Republican pollsters are saying don't vote from this, stay away from this. And Boehner, the Republican minority leader at the time, made sure that Republicans in the House of Representatives did not embrace it in 2010.

HAYWORTH: I did.

LIZZA: You did?

HAYWORTH: Yes.

LIZZA: And you ran on it?

HAYWORTH: I did.

LIZZA: Yes. And you won?

HAYWORTH: Yes.

LIZZA: And so, then Paul Ryan gets --

HAYWORTH: In a challenger race.

LIZZA: In a challenger race. And so, this is a success story.

O'BRIEN: So new crop comes in.

LIZZA: New crop comes in after 2002, including yourself.

HAYWORTH: Yes.

O'BRIEN: He just brought some through your interview differently. I mean, he talks about these are the kinds of politicians who are not --

LIZZA: And I think we have an example of one sitting right here.

O'BRIEN: Citizen legislator.

LIZZA: One of my favorite quotes in the piece is -- this is a paraphrase, you know, these aren't career politicians, these are D.A.s and doctors and they're not here for careers, they're here for causes. And they helped him pass in 2011 what, just a few years before, was a budget that no Republican wanted to touch.

O'BRIEN: In your article, you also, though, talked about some of the contradictions. You go to --

LIZZA: Janesville. Janesville.

O'BRIEN: -- Janesville --

LIZZA: Yes. O'BRIEN: -- which is in his district, and as much as he is -- again, I mean, his budget to some degree would remove a lot of things that have made Janesville come back, right?

LIZZA: Well, I was surprised by this.

O'BRIEN: And there's government that has resources that has gone into making Janesville great.

LIZZA: Yes. I was surprised. You go to Janesville. It's a former auto town. The big GM plant closed a few years ago. And, I get a tour by a very pro-Paul Ryan Republican. He shows me -- he tells me about three big success stories. One is medical company that is there only because they got a federal research grant.

Two is a medium-sized businesses whose only interest in Janesville is as a distribution hub. And so, their big issue is federal transportation dollars.

O'BRIEN: Good highways.

LIZZA: They want good highways. And then third, he shows me this new incubator where entrepreneurs can come and help start their businesses. And I said, how did you get the money for that? He goes, well, it was from a federal grant.

O'BRIEN: Stimulus.

LIZZA: -- stimulus. So, I couldn't help as a journalist see some irony in that. But, you know, I asked Ryan --

HAYWORTH: Maybe I can help you with that.

(LAUGHTER)

LIZZA: I asked Ryan about that, and he said, look, you know, -- I don't know if you have it there. We're not against all government. And, these are very reasonable federal policies.

O'BRIEN: This is an article in "The New Yorker." It's called how Paul Ryan captured the GOP. It's a fascinating article. It was a great insight into him, I thought.

LIZZA: Thanks. Thanks very much.

O'BRIEN: All right. We got to take a break. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. So, you'll remember, we've been talking about the U.S. Deaf Cup World Soccer championships women's team, the men's team both went to Turkey to play. And, last week, we told you about their game against Germany, their game against Poland. They had to play Russia for the championship, and take a look. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. It's the women's deaf world cup soccer team.

(CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Back to you, Soledad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: So, can you guess what happened? They won. You can probably hear it, 1-0. They were able to beat Russia. They are now the world champions, and they got gold medals. And they'll be heading back to the United States soon. That was Alison Galub (ph). She is the midfielder, and she's been doing, filing these reports for us.

You know, they have to take off all their hearing aids and anything that helps them hear on the field. They have to remove them in order to play the game. So, she said the game was a lot of trying to signal to your teammates. I mean, it's just amazing. So, we're really proud of them.

It's been really fun to cover their progress, while at the same time, the Olympics that's going on, they haven't gotten a lot of coverage. So, we're happy to support them.

We got to take a break. Still ahead, the Drew Peterson trial is what we're going to talk about. Former police sergeant charged with murdering his third wife. His defense attorneys mock the fourth wife who's been missing now for three years and is presumed dead. You've got to hear this yourself. (INAUDIBLE)

Also, crop busted. Christine Romans takes us back home to Iowa to take a look at how farmers there are struggling with the record drought. And what will it cost us here? We're going to talk to her live straight ahead on STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. Let's get ride to Zoraida Sambolin with a look at the day's top stories for us. Hey, Z. Good morning.

SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you. Opening statements today in the much anticipated trial of ex-cop Drew Peterson, charged with the murder of his third wife Kathleen Savio. She was found drowned in her bathtub back in 2004. Her death was first ruled an accident. But the case was reopened in 2007 after Peterson's fourth wife, Stacey, vanished. Peterson is not facing charges in that case. CNN's Ted Rowlands is in Joliet, Illinois. Ted, this is far from an open and shut case. Prosecutors face a lot of challenges. What can you tell us about that? TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Zoraida. There's a good chance that Peterson will walk out of this courthouse at the end of this trial a free man. And there are a few different reasons. First off, you mentioned that this case was reopened after the fourth wife, Stacey Peterson, went missing. That's when they changed the death from an accident to a homicide. But the original coroner's report is still on the record. And there was a coroner's jury after that, a jury panel that looked into the case, ruling it an accident. The defense is going to hammer that to this jury.

The other thing is there's no direct evidence tying Peterson to his -- to Kathleen Savio, his third wife's death. He was not placed at the scene. It's a very difficult case.

And then you bring up the fourth wife, Stacey Peterson, who has been missing, and is presumed dead. She's been gone for years. Over the years, Peterson has made some very callous remarks about his ex-wife that is missing, saying that she was off being a dancer or this or that. Take a listen to what his defense team said about Stacey Peterson, who has been missing for years, just outside of the courthouse. It gives you a sense of where this defense team is coming from and their overconfidence, some might say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you make of the Stacey factor in this trial?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Stacey factor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stacey who?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stacey who?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's on your witness list.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, that Stacey.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're hoping she shows up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, maybe she'll show up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If she got the subpoena.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does anybody think she's really alive?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely, she's alive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROWLANDS: Zoraida, they have actually put her on their witness list. The prosecution of this case is going to paint the picture of Drew Peterson in a few hours here in front of the jury as a guy that made threats and followed through with them. They are allowed some hearsay statements that will work to their advantage. But, as you mentioned, it is going to be a very, very tough but interesting case to watch.

SAMBOLIN: I have to tell you, it is outrageous to watch the team laugh like that about a missing woman who many presume dead at this stage of the game. The big question is will Drew Peterson take the stand. Do you know anything about that?

ROWLANDS: Well, that will be a last-minute decision. You know Drew Peterson, having lived in Chicago, I'm sure he'll want to take the stand. I'm sure his attorneys will implore him not to. We'll have to wait and see what happens.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Ted Rowlands in Joliet, Illinois.

A man recovering with bites on both legs this morning after what appears to be a shark attack. This is off Cape Cod. The video from the "Cape Cod Times" is of a swimmer being carried off on a stretcher. Witnesses say they saw a dorsal fin come out of the water right before the attack. The man is expected to survive and keep both limbs as well.

Michael Phelps looking for his first gold medal of the London games today in 200 butterfly. If he medals, he'll tie the all- time record of 18 career Olympic medals. Phelps tells CNN's Piers Morgan when this Olympics is over, his swimming career is over too.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL PHELPS, OLYMPIC SWIMMER: I'm retiring. And I won't be coming back.

PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST, "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT": That will be it?

PHELPS: Yes. If I can look back at my career and say I've done everything I've ever wanted, no matter how many medals, how many records, no matter how many this, that, whatever, if I can look back on my career and say that, it doesn't matter anything else. I consider my career a success.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Phelps already has the most gold medals of any Olympian, 14. And shatter Mark Spitz's record with eight wins in one Olympics. That was at Beijing four years ago.

Mama said knock you out. L.L. Cool J playing whack-a- mole at a summer camp in Compton, California. That game came from a cardboard arcade made by a nine-year-old boy made with cardboard, tape, and a huge imagination. You may remember it from a viral video called "Caine's Arcade."

O'BRIEN: Do you remember this story?

SAMBOLIN: Incredible.

O'BRIEN: This little boy, nine-years-old, his dad had an auto parts store and has the boxes. He hangs out with his dad. He would take the boxes and create a little fake arcade. One day a guy who comes in decides to invite people, you know, what do they use to -- I can't remember what it is, basically online brought everybody together. His arcade suddenly had lines out the door, hundreds of people showing up to play his fake arcade games. And this kid, not only was he stunned, but he was like, all right, come on in, and he starts playing the games to, and have L.L. Cool J join him, that's hilarious.

We have to talk about this drought. The nation is suffering, half the nation in the worst drought in 50 years. No one is struggling more than small farmers, vegetables failing in the soil. Prices hit a record on Monday. Christine Romans is live from her native Iowa with an in depth look at the drought. But first we want to get to meteorologist Rob Marciano for a full sense of the scope of this as well. Rob, good morning.

ROB MARCIANO, METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Soledad. We'll start you off with the map that we've been showing you for weeks now, the drought monitor. Over 60 percent of the country is under moderate to some cases severe drought. That does include Iowa, especially the eastern part of the state, under moderate drought there.

But if you note, even spots, you know, outside of the so-called corn belt, along the Mississippi, they are in extreme drought. So what happens there, we have the Mississippi that has some issues as well, which we really haven't talked about too much. This is the Mississippi. Last year, you remember last year, we were at near record floods, ok? Well, you compare what happened last year to what's going on this year, and you just wipe out all of that water. From Memphis down to Vicksburg, Mississippi, we're talking about a 50- foot drop in the Mississippi. And that has slowed down barge traffic. They've had to lighten the load. They've got barges stacked up up and down the Mississippi all the way down towards New Orleans.

Back to crops. We've got Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Arkansas, 98 percent rated very poor, and right in the heart of that is very poor. And although Iowa is rated 46 percent, they have planted 13 million acres. You want to talk about the bread basket, it is in Iowa. Obviously the lack of rain and heat, if you thought June was hot, we had 4,100 high temperature records. July, one day left, we've had 4,700.

O'BRIEN: That brings us right to Christine Romans in Iowa for us this morning. Exactly the centerpiece of what you were just discussing. Ominous news there from rob. How is it looking in the future, Christine?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: It looks dry. I mean, it's hot. There's no rain in the forecast, and these farmers need rain right now. They are hoping that the bean, which are a little bit behind, they have some hopes for the beans. But the corn crop is withering out here. This is where I grew up. I haven't seen it this bad since '88. It feels a lot like '88. I talked to a farmer yesterday. And listen to what he's saying about his crop. Take a walk through his field with me.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: What are the two things farmers talk about when they sit around with a cup of coffee?

JOE DIERICK, FARM OWNER, PRESIDENT OF CLINTON COUNTY FARM BUREAU: Will it rain? Did you get any rain? Who got rain?

ROMANS: Three versions of rain.

DIERICK: Every farmer in Iowa feels like they have a moral responsibility to do everything they can for this crop, to grow as much as we can, even though we know it's going to be short. This is one of the good-looking fields.

ROMANS: This is good-looking?

DIERICK: You know, from the road, this is a nice- looking field. And it's pathetic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: When you hear in Iowa a farmer say his corn is pathetic, this is heartbreaking because this is what they do, right? We're not going to know for sure, Soledad, until the fall, until they harvest this corn and see what their yields are going to be like. They quite frankly were ready for a really good crop this year, and the rain has not been there. It has been so hot. We're going to be 95 today. This corn, the leaves are going to start to shrivel up to protect themselves. You peel back an ear of corn, Soledad, and there are all of these kernels that have just stopped growing. I mean, it just looks -- it's just not the way it should be here.

It's going to mean higher food prices, no question about that. We won't know for sure what the crop does until they get in the tractors and pull it out of the field, but we know that food prices will be higher. So this is a story that will be felt by anybody going to the grocery store in the next year.

O'BRIEN: Terrible, terrible, on all fronts. Christine Romans reporting live for us from Iowa. Appreciate that.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT, a woman who turned a small idea into a huge success. The founder of Angie's List is Angie. She's going to tell us how to help other small businesses in what is a brutal economy. And New York City's mayor at it again, saying he knows what's best, this time for brand-new moms. We'll discuss what he is proposing. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. First there was that ban on big sodas. Now New York City's mayor, Mike Bloomberg, is taking on baby formula. Starting in September he is going to implement his latch on New York City initiative, pun intended. Under this plan, hospitals will be pushed to hide the baby formula, encouraging new moms to breast feed. They'll put it under lock and key. Moms who still want to bottle feed can, but nurses would have to sign out the baby formula. And critics say it's an intrusion. Where is Will Cain when we need him to talk about the nanny state?

HAYWORTH: Locking it up is a little bit much. I understand the encouragement. But why do you have to introduce the lock and key?

O'BRIEN: But here is the thing. You get now samples, right, if you're a mom. And 90 percent of New York City mothers start breast feeding. So the numbers are high.

SHEINKOPF: Mike -- Mike Bloomberg is the greatest public health mayor in the history of the City of New York and maybe the greatest public health Mayor in this country. Smoking reduction; increased exercise. New Yorkers are living longer. Trans-fats. Calorie counts. All of this means --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: I agree with most of it.

SHEINKOPF: All of this means better life for more people.

O'BRIEN: Here's the difference. Here is the difference.

LIZZA: Well is that true New Yorkers are already living longer?

SHEINKOPF: Yes, they are. The new statistics are pretty clear. New Yorkers are living longer.

O'BRIEN: So here is the thing. You want women to breast feed, you want the babies to have the healthier option and breast feed, then teach them how to breast feed. It's hard, it's a lot of work, it's very stressful and challenging.

I remember being yelled at by a nurse I think it was my first daughter because I wanted to have the sample bottle so I could feed the baby. And she yelled at me. And I was in tears. I mean, it was a really horrible experience.

HAYWORTH: Hard enough as it is being a new mom. O'BRIEN: Until some nurse's aide snuck me a bottle of formula.

LIZZA: Well it's still going to be available, I mean, I think the insight at the heart of this soda container ban and this is -- you just want to make it a little bit more difficult, and put an extra step for citizens to do something --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: For a woman who's just had a baby?

LIZZA: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Really? Not a kid who is trying to get a giant 60 million ounce soda, but a woman who has just given birth?

HAYWORTH: You've got two women here who have multiple children.

(CROSSTALK)

HAYWORTH: Life is hard enough when you have just had a baby.

O'BRIEN: I just had a c-section, you know what let's make it tougher on you. Come on.

LIZZA: No, you guys are totally right.

O'BRIEN: I think he's wrong on this. I do.

LIZZA: You want to have the mom think about the choice.

O'BRIEN: Educate her, and have someone in to teach her how to breast feed. It's really hard.

LIZZA: Because when the nurse says oh, well, I have to sign that out, and the mom says why, then you have the conversation.

HAYWORTH: That does become an access issue potentially. Because I can understand if they want to say in a given hospital, the hospital can certainly say, look, we're not going to distribute samples of formula. But to require that bureaucratic step now, lock and key --

LIZZA: That leads to a conversation about which one is better.

HAYWORTH: It does, but golly gosh, you know I mean. New moms are not going to be wandering around trying to open up the formula closet.

SHEINKOPF: We've got to look at the Bloomberg --

(CROSSTALK)

LIZZA: I'm against the soda ban for the lock and key on this formula.

O'BRIEN: Completely opposite and disagree on that. You're sitting in the disagreeing chair.

Still ahead this morning, thank you for doing that.

HAYWORTH: But not disagreeable.

We're going to talk to Angie herself, she created Angie's List as a small business 17 years ago. And turned it into a business that millions of people use. We'll learn about Angie's business secrets, when she joins us up next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: There are 27 million small businesses in the United States; between 60 percent and 80 percent of all new jobs created in the United States are attributed to small businesses. But it's not an easy economy for business owners. A recent Pepperdine University study found that more than 60 percent of small business loan applications were denied last year.

Angie Hicks has been on both sides. She started Angie's List. Yes, there's a real person behind Angie's List. She started it 17 years ago as a small business. Now it's a powerhouse, more than 1.5 million subscribers. Nice to have you with us.

ANGIE HICKS, FOUNDER, "ANGIE'S LIST": Thank you.

COSTELLO: How did you -- how would you say you best were able to weather the storm? You started your business in 1995.

HICKS: 1995 so we've been through many economic cycles in the economy. And for us, you know, the business has prospered through all of that. And I think it has to do with having a service that relates to your consumers and is an important need and also sticking to -- sticking to your strategy.

I think that can be one of the challenges as well. Is you know, listening to, you know, where you're going. Our goal was to provide the best possible -- help consumers find the best possible companies to help them do great service.

So that was our goal. And -- and I think part of it is just sticking -- sticking to it.

O'BRIEN: You have actually found that there are people who can leverage off a bad review, because to me it would seem like a bad review on Angie's List would be you know game over.

HICKS: Yes, yes.

SHEINKOPF: Yes, yes. HICKS: This is I mean it's a big -- it's a big question. I get this question all the time from small businesses. Like, oh, I have a bad review. Well, no one likes bad feedback. But the key here is learning from it. You know, today, because of the Internet, companies can listen in on those conversations that were just happening between people offline before. And they can get that feedback.

So the key here is if you've done something wrong, go fix it. You know, fix the root problem, and you can make your business better. And that's what we see, and that is what we see these companies doing really well and growing because they are actually -- they are listening to their customers and improving their business.

SHEINKOPF: Interesting.

LIZZA: Do you see any -- you lived through the 2000 tech bubble.

HICKS: It's true.

LIZZA: And there are a lot of people now, a lot of commentary about tech stocks being inflated. A lot of talk about Facebook. Do you see any parallels between 2000 and what's going on right now?

HICKS: I think for -- you know, the way I see it is, you know, we've been through this storm before. I think it's about, you know, providing a viable business model and -- and being sure that you're -- you're living by it. You know in Angie's List, you know, we've prospered -- we've prospered through that stage.

We've gone through this financial crisis as well. And I think that's where it comes down to, is -- is having a good model with a good basis and being able to show how that model works.

O'BRIEN: You make the person's name on the review. And that was a critical part of that. Why is that?

HICKS: Yes. You know for us, we actually started pre- Internet days.

O'BRIEN: Right.

HICKS: So I am a big proponent of having more accountability on the Internet. So we started our -- our role models were the -- were journalists, you know. It was kind of like you have sources for your stories? We have sources for our reviews. Absolutely and I think it's really important because consumers spend way too much time focusing and making decisions based on information they gather online, and it needs to be responsible.

O'BRIEN: What are those small business owners telling you about what's happening now in the economy? What are you hearing from them? I mean you're obviously interfacing with them every day, all day.

HICKS: Yes. I mean, I think, you know, there's certainly -- there is certainly talk of you know the gas prices are hurting them. Because we're all about local services a lot of them come to you. So we hear that.

But they're -- they're being innovative, they are thinking about new ways, you know they are thinking about ways to not pass those costs on to consumers. And they're also focusing -- they are getting back to basics. You know, I'm encouraging companies to, you know, think about making sure they are dotting all the I's and crossing all the T's, because I think creating that kind of culture in their company is going to pay off long -- a long way down the road.

O'BRIEN: Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie's List. We need to talk about contractors. Probably during the commercial breaks.

LIZZA: Yes.

O'BRIEN: I'm having a little challenge. Just going to set that up for you.

HICKS: Sure.

O'BRIEN: We appreciate talking to you. Thank you very much.

HICKS: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: "End Point" is up next, we're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Our end point this morning, Ryan is going to kick us off. Take your time Ryan, what you got for me?

LIZZA: The more I watch and think about this final moment of the Romney trip, I can't help but think this may be a blessing in disguise for Mitt Romney. Because I think most people are going to watch that, and they're going to -- look, this is a statement against interest because I totally sympathize with the reporters on that trip. But this is one of those moments where the Romney campaign turns it on, and the press is accused of being rude.

I don't think it's will be like the Olympics or like the Palestinians.

O'BRIEN: This is the moment where there's a rope line and the journalists as Jim Acosta told us are about 100 yards away from the tomb.

LIZZA: The journalists shouting questions at Romney. O'BRIEN: Shouting questions at Mitt Romney. Those are the journals who have been the traveling press. And he, of course, Mitt Romney has been doing interviews with journalists back at home, but with the traveling press he's only taken three questions. So the frustration, the shot here.

LIZZA: And one of the aides tells the press to --

O'BRIEN: Kiss my --

LIZZA: Kiss my -- you know, whatever it is.

O'BRIEN: The word for that.

LIZZA: And my experience with these things is the public usually does not sympathize with the press.

O'BRIEN: Blame the media.

LIZZA: Maybe not so bad. Maybe a good --

O'BRIEN: Could be an upside for him. My other two panelists, who wants to go first. Hank, why don't you start?

SHEINKOPF: Romney. The wax museum has to come to an end, and it won't -- because that's the way it looks here -- until after the convention. After the convention, this campaign is going to be in on both sides. More negatives from the President. Romney, has toughened that storm, and now we go forward. That's what will happen.

O'BRIEN: Congresswoman, we give you the last 15 seconds.

HAYWORTH: Well, we are watching our Olympians. And of course, we know from our men on the gymnastics team, you have to overcome many challenges, obstacles, and sometimes failures before you get to the winner's podium. So I think Governor Romney can take some inspiration from that.

O'BRIEN: Great way to end, I think. Thank you very much to our panelists.

Tomorrow, Olympic gold medal winning gymnast Dominique Dawes is going to join us. Oh, I love her.

Comedian DL Hughley and the former House Speaker, Newt Gingrich will be our guests as well.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now.