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Pure Gold; Interview with Newt Gingrich; Nursing Nanny State?; Michael Phelps Wins Most Olympic Gold Medals; Interview with Aaron Peirsol; Droughts Affecting Midwest Crops

Aired August 1, 2012 - 08:00   ET



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

Our STARTING POINT this morning: pure gold. It was a magical night at the Olympics for the U.S. women's gymnastics team, and an historic one for Michael Phelps. And it was an embarrassing one for a few badminton players who are now accused of throwing games.

Mitt Romney is standing by his comments that culture matters. Comments that Palestinians called racist. We'll tell you why Newt Gingrich is backing up his former foe Mitt Romney.

And Bloomberg knows best. The New York mayor's plan to lock up baby formula to encourage new mothers to breastfeed. We're going to talk to one of the women who's in charge of the mayor's Latch On program.

It's Wednesday, August 1st. And STARTING POINT begins right now.


O'BRIEN: I like it.


O'BRIEN: You can't go wrong with Nirvana. Ryan's playlist.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: All week I have been getting hammered for my music. So I figured I'd get something safe.

O'BRIEN: Hammered? All I say is that's not my favorite. That's hammered? You have not seen me hammer somebody.

No, I'm just teasing you. I love your choices, Ryan. Love you, love your choices.

LIZZA: Thanks.

O'BRIEN: Our team this morning: Ryan Lizza joining us, of course. "The New Yorker" -- (INAUDIBLE) I'm speaking this morning -- columnist. And we had a chat about his column, which is in "New Yorker" magazine this month.

Richard Socarides is with us, former special adviser in the Clinton White House.

Margaret Hoover, former White House Bush appointee in the Bush administration. I am having a hard time speaking this morning. >

All right. Our STARTING POINT this morning, the Fab Five. Everybody is talking about what was an amazing night for the U.S. women's gymnastics team, routing the Russians -- really routed everybody on their way to the gold medal in team competition.

Michael Phelps as well. Big night for him, where he was able to cement his legacy. He is now the most decorated Olympian of all time, winning his record-breaking 19th medal, adding another gold to his count.

Sebastian Coe, the London Olympics organizing chairman, says he is not the greatest Olympian of all time. What?

Zain Verjee is in London for us this morning. All right, Zain. What?

Yes, he is. I just said it.


O'BRIEN: Why does Sebastian Coe think he's not?

VERJEE: Well, that's the debate that is actually raging here, OK? Look, on numbers, no one can take it away from Michael Phelps. He's got 19, and he's even got three more races. So he could even get more in numbers. So he's got that hands down.

But what Sebastian Coe is actually saying here is that he is the most successful but not the greatest. Why? Because he says swimming is a sport that offers so many different opportunities to get medals. And there's so many different relays that one individual can just continue to rack them up.

So, for example, take like the decathlon or track and field, sprinting, any kind of these sports. You know, a champion marathon runner, for example. You just don't get that many opportunities to get a medal.

So, I mean, is he the greatest ever? Is Michael Phelps greater than Jesse Owen or Carl Lewis or Muhammad Ali? You know, that debate will keep going on. But I think we can say fairly is that he is an Olympic history for good.

O'BRIEN: All right. So they are going to argue the semantics of what the greatest is. I know, I'm willing to be part of that argument.

Let's talk about the women's gymnastics team. Unbelievable. That was so much fun to watch last night -- starting with the vaulting, which was like hard core nailing it every time. And only got better from there.

VERJEE: Exactly. I mean, that really was the one thing that gave such a big boost to the U.S. women's team. I mean, Jordyn Wieber started it off, and, boom, she nailed it straight away, and then everyone else, boom, boom, boom. It was really fantastic.

They did well in all of their events except for the uneven bars, but that didn't matter, because the performance was so good, so solid and they won by such a big margin that it was theirs, and the U.S. team left the Russians and the Chinese on the sidelines there in tears. So well done team USA.

O'BRIEN: It was good to watch. All right. Zain Verjee for us this morning, thanks, Zain. Appreciate it.

We've got Zoraida Sambolin who's got the rest of the stories making news today.

Hey, Z. Good morning, again.


The Texas GOP chooses a new man as its contender for the U.S. Senate. Several Texas newspapers are reporting Ted Cruz is the winner of the Republican primary runoff against Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst. It's being billed as a win for a conservative grassroots underdog. Cruz had support from high profile Republicans like Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum. And Cruz served Chick-fil-A at his victory party last night.

The chain now a rally point for conservatives after Chick-fil- A's president came out against same-sex marriage.

Gore Vidal is being remembered this morning. The author, playwright and politician have died of complications from pneumonia. His works include the best selling novels "Lincoln" and "Myra Breckinridge" and the Tony nominated play, "The Best Man."

Vidal twice ran for Congress, once in the '60s and again in the '80s. He lost both times. And his nephew says he died at his Hollywood Hills home. He was 86 years old.

And another needle found in an airline meal. Air Canada says a passenger found a sewing needle in a sandwich during a domestic flight yesterday. The airline says it is working closely with the caterer to make sure it is following security measures. The FBI and Dutch authorities are also investigating reports of needles found in six sandwiches on Delta flights from Amsterdam to the United States. That was two weeks ago, if you recall.

And Olympic fever is so high it might cause a computer meltdown in L.A. According to "The L.A. Times," city workers have been asked to stop watching the Olympics online. This is in fear of a network crash. An email was sent to thousands of city employees yesterday morning, the day of the women's gymnastics finals.

It was worth it, though, wasn't it, Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Wait a minute. I'm on my computer downloading the women's results.

You know what? Come on.

SAMBOLIN: I know. That's a tough one. It's the American way.

O'BRIEN: Yes, to use the Internet during work hours. Absolutely. God bless America. Absolutely.

All right. Thanks, Z. Appreciate it.


O'BRIEN: Mitt Romney is back in Boston this morning after his overseas tour. He is standing by the comment that he made in Israel where he stated that that country has been more prosperous than Palestine because of cultural differences. But his supporters are defending his visit and his abilities as a statesman.

One of them is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. He campaigned against Romney for the 2012 presidential nomination.

And I had a chance to speak with Mr. Gingrich about the upcoming election, as well as his speech at a conference of conservative young people in Washington, D.C. and I asked him if the underlying duel of 2012 is really seniors versus millennials.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I think the underlying crisis in America is a lack of leadership that innovates and creates enough new wealth and new opportunity and new breakthroughs that nobody has to fight anybody.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk a little bit about President Obama's main challenger, Mitt Romney. His tour, his foreign policy tour, started in London, and then moved on to Israel, and it is headed into Poland. How would you assess how he's done so far?

GINGRICH: The visit to Israel and the visit to Poland were very effective, and drew a very real contrast between Obama's policies, which have been largely anti-Israeli and anti-Polish, and where Romney would be, which would be returning to a classical America friendship with both Israel and Poland.

O'BRIEN: There are people obviously who would disagree with you on the anti-Israeli and anti-Polish thing. But I'm going to move on and tell you about some of the gaffs that some say he has made in Israel.

He talked about the difference between Israel and the Palestinian territories saying this: "Culture makes all the difference. And as I come here and look out over the city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least a culture and a few other things."

That's what he said at a fundraiser. Palestinians were very angry at that, saying that he did not mention all the other issues that might lead to a difference in wages and opportunity between Israel and the Palestinian territories.

GINGRICH: Well, first of all, I don't think he made a mistake in Israel. I think the comments about culture were right, and I wish that the elites had the courage to look at the United Nations refugee camps and realize what anti-human disaster those are refugee camps are, how much they have been breeders of terrorism, how fundamentally wrong their design is, and how much we have done a disservice to the people of Palestine, the Palestinians, by allowing them to be subjected to that kind of government-run, totally inappropriate structure.

So there I hope that governor Romney will stick to his guns. Let's have the argument.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a little bit about the Bush era tax cuts. Obviously, we are headed for the fiscal cliff, which we keep talking about. How do you think that's going to go? Should they be extended for all Americans?

GINGRICH: Well, I hope that after Governor Romney wins, we will have an agreement on how to fundamentally reform the federal government. I don't believe we are undertaxed. I believe we are overspent.

And I helped balance the budget for four straight years. I worked in a bipartisan way with President Bill Clinton to achieve that. We actually cut taxes while getting to a balanced budget as well as reforming welfare.

O'BRIEN: Bill Clinton it turns out will be the person who will introduce the president at the Democratic convention in September. It makes him a key player obviously in primetime. In the past, you've certainly had some choice words for the former president and some for the current president too. What do you make of that?

GINGRICH: Well, I think it's a very high risk thing for President Obama to have president Clinton at the convention nominate him. It's going to drive home how big the differences are.

President Clinton could work in a bipartisan way. President Obama can't.

President Clinton reformed welfare. President Obama repealed by executive order -- in my judgment illegally -- the welfare reform that was the centerpiece of the Clinton years.

President Clinton got four consecutive balanced budgets. President Obama has had huge deficits.

So I think having Bill Clinton there is going to remind people of a Democrat they used to like, and may in fact shrink Obama by comparison.

O'BRIEN: Hmm. Or the theory goes, and certainly they would argue, that it is certainly different times that President Obama is dealing with, and President Clinton had to deal with.

But the theory would go, I would imagine, that President Clinton has some really, really high approval ratings, and really, really low negative ratings. So put them together, and hopefully one rubs off on another.

GINGRICH: I'm sure that's their theory. I just think it's a big risk.

O'BRIEN: You're not going to speak at the Republican convention which happens next month. Or maybe you will. But my understanding is you haven't yet been asked to speak. Will you end up --

GINGRICH: I'm very comfortable not speaking in the evening convention. We're working on a project right now to have two hours a day every day for training workshops on major issues, including energy, economic growth, and I think that I'll probably play the lead role in putting together four straight days of those kind of workshops.

So I'm going to have a fairly big role at the convention. But I'm fairly comfortable not speaking, and I'm fairly comfortable that maybe it's time for a new generation of Republicans. We have so many bright young new Republicans around the country that I think we really want to make sure we maximize their appearance in primetime. And show people what a diverse and what a broad party we are.

O'BRIEN: Newt Gingrich joining us. He is the former speaker of the House, of course, and formally a presidential candidate as well. Nice to see you, sir. Appreciate it.

GINGRICH: Thank you.


O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT: We talked about this a little bit yesterday -- Bloomberg versus baby bottles. This morning, we are talking to the woman in charge of New York City mayor's controversial Latch On breastfeeding program.

And our tough call today is some of badminton's very best are accused of blowing their games on purpose. Not exactly the Olympic spirit we've been celebrating over the last couple of days. Was it a smart move, though, to get a medal?

Here is Margaret's playlist. The Smiths. I love the Smiths.


O'BRIEN: I really do love the smiths. I was being sarcastic with Ryan, but I do like the Smiths.

HOOVER: I bet Ryan likes the smiths.

LIZZA: I love the Smiths. We should debate the music one day.

O'BRIEN: for our entire playlist every morning. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. New York City is rolling out a new initiative this week. It's called "Latch on NYC." It's designed to encourage new mothers to breastfeed and curb formula use in the hospital. Mayor Michael Bloomberg made the announcement yesterday. Here's what he said.


MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK: Most public health officials want to encourage women to breastfeed at least for the first couple of weeks, because the outcomes are better. And if they can do it, that's great. And if they can't, they can't. You know, our job is we're not making anybody do it. We're suggesting.


O'BRIEN: The program is voluntary. Twenty-seven New York City hospitals have already signed on. And under the plan, the hospitals would restrict access to infant formula, lock it in storage rooms, track and share the distribution date with the health department, and stop giving free infant formula when moms leave the hospital and also prohibit formula promotional materials.

Deborah Kaplan is assisting commissioner of the New York City Bureau of Maternal Infant and Reproductive Health, and her group is helping to implement the program. We talked about this yesterday. And I just thought -- you know, I support the trans-fat ban. I love that no one's lab (ph) is smoking bars anymore.

I even believe that people should not be allowed to buy big giant sodas. And then I hear this, and I think, no, I disagree. I think this is the wrong way to do. What was the thinking behind this plan?

DEBORAH KAPLAN, NYC BUREAU OF MATERNAL, INFANT & REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH: Well, you know, the majority of mothers, actually 90 percent in New York City, initiate breastfeeding. Most moms want to, at least, start breastfeeding. But we know that many times once mothers arrive at the hospital, they don't get the support that they need.

And this is a partnership with now two-thirds of New York City hospitals to support moms who want to breastfeed. This is about the majority of moms who want to breastfeed and to remove those practices that can interfere with her choice.

O'BRIEN: But the strategy is to make it harder, right? So, you just had a baby. If you want to get formula, because you know, you usually get a whole little baggy of freebies and a lot of coupons and stuff that's very expensive. If you want to get formula, you actually have to go see a nurse. You have to sign it out. They probably lock it up in some capacity. You make it much harder for someone who's just popped out a baby.

KAPLAN: Look, it's very hard to start breastfeeding. I know that that's the case. And mothers need a lot of support. First of all, for the mothers who say I don't want to breastfeed, they will get formula and they will have formula the entire time they're in the hospital. That decision will be respected. This is about mothers' decision.

And if mothers say I want to breastfeed, they have the right to get the support they need. One of the things we do through the health department is train hospital staff so that they can be at the mom's bedside and show her how to breastfeed. A lot of moms haven't gotten that support.

And we know that these practices to give formula out at discharge can actually make mothers feel my milk isn't enough and make them not feel like they can do it.

O'BRIEN: But why not do both? Why not focus on teaching women how to breastfeed? Because it seems to me that's the challenge as opposed to taking away the formula.

KAPLAN: We are doing both. So, we've been doing the teaching and the training for years now.

O'BRIEN: But upping that and putting the focus on that. I mean, I tell you, I had my kids at NYU Medical Center. I love that hospital. But there was a nurse who basically berated me for giving my kid formula, my baby formula. And I breastfed all my kids, but it was hard. And I felt very unsupported. I started to cry.

My doctor had to intervene. Finally, a nurse's aide helped me. I mean, it was really awful for a first time mom.

KAPLAN: I totally understand. I was a first time mom, I breastfed both my kids. And if I hadn't had the support and someone showing me, you know, it's different than it was in the old days where women have -- their mother's breastfed. There's someone in the community can show you many women who want to breastfeed don't have anyone to help them.

They absolutely need the support, but what we found and has been proven is that some of the practices like giving out free formula or giving moms supplementing babies who are already breastfeeding without actually being at the bedside and helping moms breastfeed actually interfere with their choice and make moms not be successful.

O'BRIEN: So, then, you take away the formula as opposed to add more help on the other end?

KAPLAN: We do both. But we don't take it away if they want it. If a mom says I'm coming in and I want to formula feed, no lecture. She will get that formula the entire time. This is about removing barriers for moms who want to breastfeed and supporting that choice.

O'BRIEN: All right. Well, thank you for talking with us. We certainly appreciate it this morning.

KAPLAN: Thanks so much for having me.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

We got to take a short break. Still ahead, though, on STARTING POINT, were they throwing the game on purpose or were they just saving energy? There's word the Olympic badminton players are out of the games for poor performance. It's our "Tough Call" this morning.

Don't forget, you can watch us on your computer or even on your mobile phone while you're at work, Go to CNN/TV.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back. Our "Tough Call" today is not the Olympic spirit. Eight female Olympic badminton players are facing a hearing today for allegedly trying to throw their matches at the Olympics yesterday. And just moments ago, both Reuters and the BBC reporting that the players have now been disqualified.

Again, that's coming from two sources, Reuters and the BBC. The players are from China, from South Korea, and from Indonesia. Crowds were booing as the players appeared like they weren't even trying in one match. The referee came out to warn the players for deliberately serving into the net. All the players had already qualified for the quarterfinals.

And because of the way they organize the draw, they could have been losing on purpose because it gives them a better draw. Some of the players said that they weren't doing that, that they were just trying to save their energy.



O'BRIEN: Also bad. Saving the energy thing, also bad.

SOCARIDES: Not in the Olympic spirit. It's kind of surprising this sort of thing hasn't happened before, right? But I guess it hasn't because you wouldn't do it if it had happened before. But it's definitely not in the Olympic spirit. I guess, they would say that they were making a strategic decision to conserve their energy.


LIZZA: -- look, as a noted expert on badminton --


SOCARIDES: And the Olympics.


LIZZA: Any sport where there's any incentive to not play your best has a rules problem. Like in basketball years ago, they didn't have the 24-second shot clock.

O'BRIEN: But swimmers slow down, right? Swimmers if, you know, will take it a little easier, won't they?

LIZZA: And bicycle. And yes, yes. But you can -- that's different, though. That's different than throwing the match. If you're conserving energy to surge ahead later, that's totally different than wanting to lose.

HOOVER: And you can argue that's part of a strategy. I mean, if you want to come in the certain place and to be against certain people in the next round, that actually becomes part of your game strategy.

O'BRIEN: So, isn't throwing the game part of the strategy?


LIZZA: You can't do that. There's a problem with the rules.

O'BRIEN: That's why it's our "Tough call."

LIZZA: I say just kill badminton for the next Olympics.


SOCARIDES: This is not really a" tough call."

O'BRIEN: -- we're ousting badminton as an Olympic sport?

HOOVER: We're going to have a badminton session, Ryan and I.


LIZZA: -- the game, they need to fix the rules.

O'BRIEN: Well, they have, we believe, have disqualified the eight players coming from South Korea, and China, and from Indonesia according to the BBC and Reuters. So, they will not -- maybe they'll learn their lesson. They won't do that again.

HOOVER: Maybe we'll get another gold.


O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, you remember that police lieutenant who pepper sprayed those peaceful protesters last fall on the campus of U.C. Davis? We're going to tell you exactly what's happened with his employment status.

And Michael Phelps trying to break an Olympic record that he just set. We're going to talk to his 2008 teammate, Aaron Peirsol, about the champion swimmer's legacy. You're watching STARTING POINT. We got to take a break. We'll see you on the other side.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. And 19 gold medals for Michael Phelps, 19. But does it make him the greatest Olympian ever? The man who organized London's games says no, that doesn't make him history's best. Where does fellow Olympic swimmer Aaron Peirsol stand on this debate? We'll ask him that in just a few moments.

But first, a look at the day's top stories with Zoraida Sambolin. Good morning.

SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you.

A shifting terror threat from Al Qaeda to Iran. The first state department report on terrorism since Usama bin Laden was killed. It says a number of worldwide terror attacks last year fell to the lowest level since 2005 and that Iran remains the leading state sponsor of terrorism. The State Department also saying that the death of bin Laden and other top lieutenants put the Al Qaeda network, quote, "on a path of decline that will be difficult to reverse."

The University of California Davis police lieutenant who pepper- sprayed peaceful campus protesters last fall is no longer employed by the school. Lieutenant John Pike was vilified last year after being caught on tape dousing demonstrators with pepper spray. Students at the school were protesting rising tuition. U.C. Davis won't say if pike left or he was fired.

A nasty collision between a bird and a united airlines flight as it landed in Denver. You can see yesterday's crash left a gaping hole in the nose of the 737. The Smithsonian Institution will now try to identify the bird. It has DNA databases of all bird species in the world. Luckily no one on the plane was hurt.

And check this out. Flash mob patriotism.




SAMBOLIN: And 400 Kenyans dancing in the streets in a show of support for team Kenya at the 2012 Olympic games. That's cool. And catchy. What do you think, Soledad?

O'BRIEN: I love it. I think it's going to go viral if it hasn't already. I want to be part of a flash mob one day. I want to be part of a friendly dancing flash mob. Come on. Wouldn't that be great?

HOOVER: There's flash mob proposals happening all over the place, for a proposal, like a man will organize a flash mob to propose to his girlfriend. You could be part of that, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: I want to be in a dancing one.

HOOVER: No, they are dancing, choreographed and everything. And the guy starting proposing. O'BRIEN: Just so you know, if anybody had proposed to me in that fashion, the answer would be an unqualified, absolutely not.

HOOVER Really? You're so romantic.

O'BRIEN: You brought people here to dance?

HOOVER: It's kind of romantic.

O'BRIEN: This would not work out.

SOCARIDES: When you least expect it, a panel flash mob.


O'BRIEN: Yes. I would love that. Zoraida, thank you for the update.

SAMBOLIN: You are welcome.

SOCARIDES: Margaret would have to lead us.

HOOVER: We'll be back in a second.

O'BRIEN: You guys work it out while I do this next interview.

The question this morning, is it Michael Phelps the greatest Olympian of all time? Sebastian Coe, who organized London's games, says, no, not really. Just one day after Phelps won his record- breaking 19th Olympic medal, Coe says that Phelps may be the most successful, have the most medals, but he's not the greatest. It's coming down to semantics.

SOCARIDES: It sounds like something that Ron would say.

O'BRIEN: Last night he won his 18th and 19th medals. A silver in the 200 meter butterfly, and a gold in the four by 200 relay. And he has other races coming up as well.

Aaron Peirsol is a seven-time Olympic medalist, three-time Olympian. He was on the same team as Michael Phelps back in 2008. Nice to see you. I have to ask you to weigh in. Sebastian Coe says no. Is Michael Phelps the greatest ever with 19? What do you think?

AARON PEIRSOL, OLYMPIC SWIMMER: I think that's one measurement. I think there's probably many. You know, I think that's a lot of medals. No matter how you stack it up. There aren't many -- I mean, there aren't many sports that you can actually tally up that many medals. And I think that's something to keep in consideration. You take in like Muhammad Ali or Jesse Owens or athletes like that. They all have their own kind of contribution to the games. And they are iconic in their own way. Michael is, you know, kind of an Olympian of this era, I think. And, yes, I think he's at least talkable in the same breath as those athletes.

O'BRIEN: "Greatest" has a big definition. So he's going to swim this week tomorrow and Friday and Saturday. Do you think he'll continue to break his own records?

PEIRSOL: Yes. There's still a few chances for him to medal. He still has a few swims left, and some of his best ones, likely some more gold. So, yes, I mean, you'll be seeing quite a bit of Michael still to come. He's halfway done.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about Ryan Lochte. He started off very strong with the gold. And then he has really struggled a little bit. Talk to me about the psychology of how you come back after that, because he's been tweeting, you know, even his own frustration.


O'BRIEN: You certainly as an athlete have been through those highs and lows. What do you think he is going through right now?

PEIRSOL: Sure. An eight-day meet is a very long meet. But you don't get to that level and swim that many events if you weren't capable of resetting. And what Ryan has done is he hasn't really swum slow. He has swum incredibly well. The rest of the world is just very good. And that does make a difference. You know, a lot of these swimmers that have already touched the wall maybe ahead of Ryan, not many people have heard about them, but they're really good swimmers.

And, you know, it does kind of -- at the level of competition, I think it shows what Michael did last time, how impressive it is. But at the same time, what Ryan is doing I think is still incredibly impressive. And the standard with which Michael did that kind of throws off kilter, I think, how amazing being able to swim seven events in an Olympic games really is anyway.

O'BRIEN: Right.

PEIRSOL: And it's a marathon kind of week for that guy. It's a long week.

HOOVER: Aaron, how about Missy Franklin? Can you put in perspective how hard it is? Her winning the gold medal in the 100 meter backstroke 30 minutes after having swum another race, where she qualified in the freestyle. Has that ever happened before in American Olympic swimming?

PEIRSOL: Well, that's unique. I'm sure it's happened to some degree. But I think it's special. There's a certain level of fearlessness in Missy. And there's -- you know, what she did last night was -- because of that, but also because she would have won anyway it would have been special, but kind of what she went through to do that, it was just very unique. It's a unique thing unto her. She's got something very much to be very proud of. And it's just -- that was an impressive feat for about 20 minutes there. That's not easy.

O'BRIEN: What are you watching outside of swimming? What's your next favorite sport to watch?

PEIRSOL: I got to see my U.S. boys play water polo last night. They did really well. Tennis is going on. And Wimbledon is the venue. And I have always wanted to step foot in there. And between volleyball, we're looking over at the Pell dream right now. And the pillow, where they play basketball, I love that name. And hockey. If I could go see it all, I would.

O'BRIEN: You're listing everything, Aaron.


PEIRSOL: I like that. I'm a kid again. I haven't seen an Olympics for a long time. And it's absolutely incredible. London has done an incredible job with these games. It's -- these are amazing.

O'BRIEN: It looks amazing.

PEIRSOL: And to see it at home, yes, they are, they are pretty spectacular.

O'BRIEN: We are insanely jealous of all our friends who are overseas enjoying it in person. Aaron Peirsol joining us this morning.

PEIRSOL: Thank you so much. Thank you, guys.

O'BRIEN: Crops throughout the Midwest shriveling because it's one of the worst droughts on record. We're going to take you live inside a general store in Iowa where the farmers are gathering for their daily breakfast of steak and eggs and talk about the harvest.

Here's Richard's playlist, a little Janet Jackson for you. "It doesn't really matter." You're watching STARTING POINT. It does matter. It all matters.


O'BRIEN: It is the worst drought in 50 years. And in Iowa where corn and soy beans are king, farmers are watching the crops shrivel. There are dying hopes for a good harvest this year. Christine Romans is in Iowa in her native territory, with an in-depth look. Tell me what you're doing this morning.

ROMANS: Well, this morning I'm in the Argo general store, which has a cult following. Farmers come and gather for breakfast and head off to the fields and off to work. And they are all talking about this, the corn. This is a decent ear of corn that we got outside in one of the fields, decent but not perfect. Not perfect Iowa corn. This is not a good ear of corn. And this is pretty typical of the kind of stuff that we're finding out there. This corn does not have enough moisture. It's not getting enough rain. And there is no rain in the forecast at least for the next week or so.

So what the farmers are talking about here, they are talking about how bad this year is. And I talked to a farmer this morning, 92 years old, he's been farming fulltime since he was basically a kid, until he was 90, and still overseeing the family farm. And I asked him how this year stacks up. Listen to what he said. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: Farming, has it changed a lot since when you started?

HENRY VENHORST, IOWA FARMER: Oh, you talk about change a lot. I walked behind a team of horses cultivating the corn. At that time we cultivated corn. Now they don't even cultivate it. At that time, we planted about 18,000 or 20,000 corn plants per acre. Now they plant 35,000 to 38,000 plants today.


VENHORST: It's about as bad as it was in '36.

ROMANS: In '36?

VENHORST: In '36 it was real bad then.

ROMANS: Wow. And it was bad in '56, it was bad in '88. There were some bad patches in 2005.

VENHORST: Yes -- yes but they -- they weren't as bad like it is this year. This year I think is worse.


ROMANS: Not very many people can reach back to 1936 and remember the droughts from the 1930s. So pretty interesting conversation with him, as well.

I talked to another farmer who said, look, this isn't the end of the world. It's bad. But Christine, it's not the end of the world. Most of these people have insurance, have crop insurance. They'll just stand in place this year. You know, they are not advancing. They are not growing their business. They are not growing their income. They're probably just going to -- they're going to be just sitting still this year.

So we won't know for sure, Soledad, until they get in the combines and harvest this corn and see what they've got. There's still hope for the beans. Everyone wants me to make sure I tell the world there's still hope for the soy beans if they can start getting some rain. The soy beans are planted a little bit later than corn -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Ok Margaret was going to ask you that and so she was waiting for you to give us the update on that. Great. Thanks, Christine. I appreciate that.

ROMANS: Tell -- please tell Margaret that Harry first voted for Herbert Hoover.

HOOVER: Really?

And he probably went to his dedication of the Hoover presidential library right around the corner from where you are now. (CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: That's awesome. That's so great.


O'BRIEN: All right, Christine, thank you.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT -- sex and money and politics. Just a typical day in Washington, D.C., isn't it?

A new book takes us behind the campaign curtain written by a woman who would know all about it. Bridget Siegel raised millions for the 2004 Kerry/Edwards presidential race. Her new book is called "Domestic Affairs".


O'BRIEN: It's great to have you welcome. We're back in a moment.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Zoraida Sambolin with your "Top Stories".

Beginning today, all new health insurance plans will have to provide eight free preventive health treatments to women. It is a requirement to the President's health care reform law, impacting an estimated 47 million American women. The benefits include contraceptives, breastfeeding supplies, and prenatal care.

And for the first time ever, a Latino will be giving the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. President Obama has picked San Antonio Mayor, Julian Castro. It was Barack Obama, the junior Senator from Illinois in that same spot in 2004, and then he burst onto the national scene -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: That's a very interesting selection, isn't it? Julian and his brother are really up and coming rising stars in the Democratic Party. Very, very interesting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It will all be about the (inaudible) --

LIZZA: The Obama spot.

O'BRIEN: Clearly the message they are trying to send there.

Intrigue and politics -- speaking of politics, a campaign that is filled with sex and scandal, back room dealings. It sounds like Washington, D.C., any typical day. But it is the topic of a new fictional novel from a woman who's really lived the real thing.

Bridget Siegel was the finance director for multiple campaigns, including Kerry-Edwards in 2004. And she used all of that knowledge in her new book which is called, "Domestic Affairs", and literally affairs people.

So how much of this is real? Will we be able to read through this and name names?

SIEGEL: I hope so. You know, it's all compilations. But what I like to say is I really tried to keep all of the stories in it are true. Just different pieces put together as one.

LIZZA: But names have been changed. The stories are true but names have been changed.

SIEGEL: The names has been changed. Yes but all the experiences in the book actually are true stories from friends in campaigns and myself.

O'BRIEN: You say a lot of what Margaret has often said about the youth of people running these campaigns. You were 24 when you were in charge of raising zillions of dollars for these campaigns.

SIEGEL: It's amazing, it really is amazing on all fronts in the campaign, the youth that is at the helm of all of these positions.

HOOVER: Not a lot of other people, by the way, are willing to stay up 24 hours a day for that many days in a row. For that little pay.

SIEGEL: Exactly.

LIZZA: What's your favorite story and what's your favorite anecdote in the book?

SIEGEL: My favorite anecdote in the book?

LIZZA: Because I understand this is the "50 Shades of Gray" of political novels.

SIEGEL: Exactly. There's a lot of scandal and fun in the book and hopefully a lot of insight into what it's like on a day-to-day basis, you know. And I really wanted to bring to light the -- the interesting part of being a fundraiser, especially on a campaign, and a young fundraiser. You're working 24 hours a day. You have no money. You're -- you know, you're running yourself ragged. And yet you're flying on a private jet to get to somewhere where you need to grab a metro card.

LIZZA: What's -- what's the most -- what's the most extreme thing you ever saw a fundraiser do to get a really big check for the campaign.

SOCARIDES: Or you see the recorder coming out at hand.


SIEGEL: I can't tell you that. I can't name names. You know, we run ragged, run all over the place.

SOCARIDES: Whatever it takes.

SIEGEL: Whatever it takes.

SOCARIDES: I want to ask, I want to ask though, don't you think you know with all -- based upon all of your experience here that most of these people working on campaigns are doing it for the right reasons? Are people trying to do the right thing for the right reasons? You know, Margaret will agree with me, right?

HOOVER: I -- I actually think, I'm very idealistic and youth are idealistic, right?

SIEGEL: Absolutely.

HOOVER: And that's why we are willing to dedicate ourselves.

SIEGEL: There is no other reason to do it. Do you, you know it's not the pay, it's not they hours, you do it because you believe. You believe in government. You believe in the candidates.

SOCARIDES: That government can help people and change the world, right?

HOOVER: Yes and the idea of freedom and America and the principles of the country --

O'BRIEN: The two reporters on this will just stay very silent. We're going like, sure.

SOCARIDES: Yes, however you can -- however you can get into a lot of trouble trying to do the right thing, right? I mean, you know, you can run afoul of some laws. You can have a romance. You can -- lots of trouble.

HOOVER: Who is the protagonist? Who is the protagonist?

SIEGEL: Sure, the protagonist, I'm going to let people just guess about it.

HOOVER: Ok, fine.

SIEGEL: I'm trying to figure out who it is.

LIZZA: Well we're not getting a lot out of here.

SOCARIDES: In the book. In the book.

HOOVER: In the plot. In the plot.


O'BRIEN: It's a presidential candidate.

SIEGEL: A southern governor who is running for --

O'BRIEN: Handsome? SIEGEL: A handsome southern governor.

LIZZA: Charismatic?

SIEGEL: Charismatic indeed.

SOCARIDES: Really? Extraordinary.


SIEGEL: And really an idealistic young fundraiser who is kind of in over her head and learning about this whole world of politics and fundraising at a whole new level.

O'BRIEN: You wrote this on your Blackberry.

SIEGEL: I wrote it on my Blackberry on the New York City subways, believe it or not. It was the only place I could write it. And it was the only place --

O'BRIEN: Because it was quiet and you could have some space to write or because you were so swamped that you literally only had those moments?

SIEGEL: No. There's no signal. And I think it was filling the void of the campaign Blackberrying all the time. I missed it. So I needed something to do with my Blackberry after I finished campaigns.

O'BRIEN: It is a scandalous, scandalous novel called "Domestic Affairs". Bridget Siegel, congratulations on the book.

SIEGEL: Thank you so much.

O'BRIEN: Great to have you talk about it with us.

SIEGEL: Thank you so much for having me.

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


O'BRIEN: Time for "End Point". Richard do you want to start for me?

SOCARIDES: I think we're getting very close to a Romney VP pick, and I think it's going to be Rob Portman, senator from Ohio.

O'BRIEN: You're just throwing it out there.

SOCARIDES: And anybody that wants to bet, because I have been very successful. How much? Dollar?

O'BRIEN: A dollar.

SOCARIDES: Ok. HOOVER: You're betting against it being Portman? I'm going with Pawlenty too. You and me. Sol and I will take your Portman and raise you a Pawlenty.

SOCARIDES: You have a bet. We're going to do that.


SOCARIDES: I have a dollar from you, a dollar from you.,

O'BRIEN: All right. Ryan, 15 seconds, man. That's all I have.

LIZZA: "End Point". These polls today in "the New York Times," swing states, show that 4 percent, only 4 percent of likely voters, actually are undecided. This whole election, hundreds of millions of dollars, are being spent at 4 percent of the public who hasn't made up their mind on these two candidates.

O'BRIEN: And turnout, right? It's not just about the undecideds. It's also going to be who actually comes out and votes.

We're out of time. "CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now. We'll see everybody else back here tomorrow morning at 7:00 a.m.

Hey Carol, good morning.