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Planes Nearly Collide at Reagan National; The Price Of The Presidency; London Olympics Continue; Interview with Olympian Amanda Weir; One Olympian Overcame Heart Problems to Compete; Making a Splash; Survival by Craigslist

Aired August 2, 2012 - 08:00   ET



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

Our STARTING POINT this morning: just seconds from disaster. A triple plane crash was barely averted at one of the nation's busiest airports.

President Obama is issuing secret orders to help rebels take out Syrian dictators. How far does it go?

And it's rich man's game. The price tag to win the White House, $6 billion and counting, as groups outside spend unlimited cash. We're going to talk to the writer of a "TIME" cover story who looks at how the game changed from the last time that President Obama ran.

And Lochte versus Phelps. The rematch tonight, what could be another golden day at the pool for Team USA. We have a packed show ahead.

Olympic gymnast Chellsie Memmel will join us, swimmers Amanda Weir and Rebecca Soni.

It's Thursday, August 2nd, and STARTING POINT begins right now.


O'BRIEN: I like that song. Olympian Chellsie Memmel's play list. That's Toby Keith's "Made in America."


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Richard Socarides is joining us this morning. He's a former senior adviser in the Clinton White House. Abby Huntsman is back with us. She is the host of "Huff Post Live." And Ryan Lizza is a Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker."

It's nice to have you all with us.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks for having us.

O'BRIEN: Our second hour, frightening close call in the skies. The story about these three planes that came within 12 seconds of a midair collision. It happened at Reagan National Airport. You can hear in the radio transmissions just how confused the air traffic controllers were. They were dealing with bad weather, launched two flights heading right at another plane as it was trying to land. So they were all in the air.

Here is a little bit of some of that confusion.


PILOT: One eighty, we were cleared back there. What happened?

TOWER: 3329, stand by. We're trying to figure out, too. Stand by.

Muscle 1 approved as requested. You said route three to zone five?

PILOT: Are we going to 1-9 or are we going to one?

PILOT: National tower muscle 1-1, we are landing.

PILOT: OK. We really don't have the fuel.

TOWER: We've got a temporary stop on all departures right now. I'll try and get you out of here as soon as I can.

PILOT: We've got to get on the ground here pretty quick.

TOWER: Everybody stand by. We've got a couple of opposite direction arrivals. So it's going to be a little bit of a delay on your departures.


O'BRIEN: You know what I find so amazing, they are so calm. What they are describing is they have planes that are aiming for each other in midair.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: They're calm but that's very scary.

O'BRIEN: Terrifying.

SOCARIDES: And you've flown in and out of that airport, which we do all the time, it's when I worked there, too -- I mean, it's a very short runway. They come right down. And it's like -- and then you just stop.


LIZZA: Yes. It's a famously difficult place to land.

SOCARIDES: And it's right in town. Like the Pentagon is across the street practically.

O'BRIEN: Right, in the bad weather. You could tell the chaos, even though they are completely calm, you can tell there's a lot happening and they can't really keep track of where the planes are.

SOCARIDES: Twelve seconds, they say --

O'BRIEN: Right. According to "The Washington Post," a federal official blamed basic communication breakdown, sloppy procedures, and said it's a big screw-up for a big airport.

It brings us to Athena Jones. She's live in Washington, D.C.

Athena, so, do they know now outside of just sloppiness what exactly went wrong?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No. It's unclear. I mean, the FAA has said there appears to have been a miscommunication. They're investigating this. They said it just happened just after 2:00 p.m. It was during a really heavy rain at that moment in time, driving rain.

So the bad weather meant that air traffic controllers wanted to change the directions that planes were coming in. At first, they were departing and landing on runway one from south to north, they wanted to switch that to another runway from north to south. But clearly not everyone got that message.

And so, the FAA is investigating. They have cautioned us, though, away from using kind of -- talking about the number of seconds they were to impact. They said they can't confirm that as of right now. But we do know that these are big planes going very, very quickly. And, you know, it is remarkable how calm they were.

I'll say one thing. On the FAA Web site, it says that the U.S. air traffic control system is the safest in the world, and that the FAA and air traffic control organizations are working continuously to make sure that happens. You can bet they'll study closely what went down on Tuesday afternoon, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes, they always say that after a close call, right? We are the safest in the world and nothing happened. But, you know, I think there's a sense it may not have been 12 seconds but it was really way, way, way too close.

Athena, thank you for that update.

LIZZA: But it almost never happens. In some ways it's amazing it doesn't happen more often. You have a lot of planes flying around.

O'BRIEN: Which is terrifying to hear that.

LIZZA: You are you on the plane all the time.

O'BRIEN: Yes. You know, I don't want to know that. I really don't. I want to know that these things a lot.

We got other stories making news outside of airplanes.

I know you're a scared flyer. We have to stop this conversation for Abby. She can't take it.

We've got more stories making news today. And Christine has got that for us.

Hey, Christine.


Soledad, breaking news. Three suspected al Qaeda members have been arrested in Spain. Spain's interior minister says there's clear evidence that they could have been planning an attack on Spain or elsewhere, somewhere else in Europe. He called their arrest one of the biggest operations against al Qaeda in Spain. We're going to have more details as they come in. But again, three al Qaeda arrests.

More breaking news. Reports of a 6.1 magnitude earthquake in central Peru. The quake jolted people awake this morning. Many of them rush out into the street. We don't have word on damage or injuries yet, but we're going to bring you new details as those come in.

The tropics have reawakened. Rob Marciano watching a depression that could soon become a hurricane. The hurricane season's fifth named tropical storm -- Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning again, Christine.

Yes, this thing has hard a time getting itself together. But we have four weeks for the atmosphere and the ocean to recharge. There it is. It's the glob of cloud, about 500 miles east of the Bravados and heading towards St. Lucia. Those are some of the islands that are under a tropical storm watch.

Winds at 35 miles an hour right now, slow strengthening forecast, but it's up again some pretty strong headwinds. So, we're not sure how strong it's going to get, if at all, if it does become a tropical storm, its name would be Ernesto. But the forecast track in pretty good agreement. It does bring into the Caribbean. So that is certainly a reason for concern. We'll keep you updated as we get information.

Guys, back up to you.

ROMANS: All right. The only time being disorganized is a good thing, when it's a tropical depression.

MARCIANO: Exactly.

ROMANS: All right. Thanks.

Time for round two. Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte set for their final Olympic showdown tonight. The American stars compete against each other for the last time, in the 200-meter individual medley tonight in London. The first showdown on opening night went to Lochte in the 400 IM but both of them were cheering with teammate Nathan Adrian last night. He took home gold in a dramatic 100-meter freestyle finals, squeaking by with one hundredth of a second victory.

Coming up a little later, Olympic relay swimmer Amanda Weir joins us live.

Hey, here's your up-to-date medal count. The United States is fully even with China, just moments ago, after winning gold in the women's eight rowing finals. China still has four more gold medals than the U.S. Japan is third with 17 overall. And that medal changed, it's changing all the time. It's so exciting.

O'BRIEN: I know. I love watching that. We should really just do everybody, not just the top three.

All right. Christine, thank you.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: Two American gymnasts, well, that's true. Don't you want to know how other nations are doing?


O'BRIEN: Tonight, Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas, we'll be cheering for them as they compete in the women's individual all around. They're going to try to grab another gold as they face Russia's top two gymnasts.

Last night, Danell Leyva redeemed himself in the men's contest. He and his teammate John Orozco was rooting for him, trying to overcome a disappointing fifth place finish in the team finals. Leyva was able to do that, got a bronze medal at the end of it all. Orozco, not so much, ended up finishing at eighth place.

Chellsie Memmel silvered in the 2008 Beijing Games and was the 2005 all-around world champion.

It's nice to have you talking with us, Chellsie. Certainly appreciate it.

Redemption for Danell and everybody was rooting for him. What do you think he was able to do to overcome what was such a rocky start and frankly that John Orozco was not able to do?

CHELLSIE MEMMEL, 2008 OLYMPIC SILVER MEDALIST: Yes, it was a rocky start and it was a rocky start even, you know, with team finals and not getting a medal. But, you know, this looks like he zoned in and was able to focus, especially in his last two events, those were his strongest events. So, it was great that he was able to end on bronze .

O'BRIEN: He had said about the Japanese gymnast, Kohei Uchimura, he just spoke of his admiration for him. It was so nice to hear that. He said this, "If I spoke Japanese, I would tell him that he is the best gymnast that ever lived so far. I'm going to keep working to beat him. His gymnastics is so beautiful. I'm working toward that. I'm not trying to copy his style. I have my own style. I need to perfect me more to beat him."

It's such an interesting -- in a way, he's already looking for the next four years. As you could tell, he's setting that up already.

MEMMEL: Yes, he is. I know the guys didn't quite accomplish what they wanted to by getting a medal in the team. You know, I bet Danell is looking to get that gold medal in the all-around. And, you know, there is such an air of respect for the top athletes, especially Uchimura because he is, you know, one of the best male athletes ever.

So, there's always something to push towards and work to get to.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about the women, Gabby and Aly made the cut. And Gabby spoke about the momentum that they now have from the gold medal going in to what they are trying to do tonight. Is that -- that's pretty much how it works, right? It gives you a certain amount of impetus and can really help out tonight.

MEMMEL: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, they're going -- you know, they're on such a high right now from -- you know, from winning the team gold. I mean, unbelievable. I'm so proud that they were able to accomplish that. And it is. They're just going to be riding -- they have such a huge boost of confidence from winning. So, I think we're going to see a really great competition later on.

O'BRIEN: Can I ask you a quick question before I let you go? 2008, you were competing with an ankle that was hurt.


O'BRIEN: It turned out after a routine that you had broken it and you were competing with a broken ankle. How is it possible to be so badly injured and yet be able to focus so much on the games? At the same time, the crowd is roaring and it's really noisy as we see and hear when we watch these games.

MEMMEL: Completely mind over matter. It was I wanted to do it, I wanted to compete. I wanted to make it happen.

And, you know, I just pushed the pain aside and you are. When you're in that environment, with the adrenalin and the crowd and everything, you don't feel it as much. But it is, it's completely mind over matter.

O'BRIEN: Chellsie Memmel, it's nice to have you talk with us this morning. Appreciate it.

MEMMEL: Yes, my pleasure.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

So much fun to talk to Olympic athletes.

SOCARIDES: She's so charming. She's like such a nice way about her.

O'BRIEN: And to chat with them about sort of strategy of being high caliber, elite athlete, I find that just so incredible.

All right. We got to take a short break.

Still ahead, it is a rich man's game. No surprise there. The estimated price tag for this November's presidential election, $6 billion, the B dollars. Some people it could be a good sign. We'll tell you why.

Plus, should Olympic medal winners have to pay taxes on their win, is our tough call this morning.

Here's Richard's playlist, a little Prince, "I Would Die for You."

You're watching STARTING POINT. We've got to take a break. Back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: These cups are available for $20 if you - directly to me.


O'BRIEN: I don't think advertising our CNN mugs. That's a good deal, right, maybe $25?


LIZZA: The iconic neon green tea.

O'BRIEN: Exactly -- some free tea with that one up, $25, I'm willing. That's Abby's playlist this morning. That's Katy Perry, "Wide Awake."


SOCARIDES: That was good. That's good. I like Katy Perry.

O'BRIEN: It is. It is. These are all treadmill songs.

The 2012 presidential campaign could end up being the most expensive in U.S. history. A new report from the Center for Response and Politics estimates that the elections is going to cost at the end of the day $5.5 billion. The report finds that $2 billion that's already been spent. More than 220 million of it has come from Super PACs and other outside groups.

And conservative-leaning groups are outspending their liberal counterparts. The center estimates that outside spending will top $500 million by the end of the election cycle. At a new cover story out today, "Time" magazine examines the changes in campaign finance since President Obama's historic election back in 2008.

Michael Scherer is "Time's" White House correspondent. He's also the author of the cover article, which is called a "Rich Man's Game." Nice to see you again, Michael. Always great to have you.


O'BRIEN: Walk me through the changes from 2008 to today in terms of campaign strategy as relates to the money.

SCHERER: Well, 2008 was a small dollar story. It was an online story, as well. Two-thirds of the money that Barack Obama raised something like half a billion dollars came online, about a third of that was -- about a third of all his money came from people who are giving less than $200. And that never happened before in national politics. And because of that money, Obama was able to outspend John McCain, 2-1.

And it really was seen as sort of like earthquake in a way politics responded. Historically, campaign finances have been just something for rich people. They gave the maximum amount. People bundled money. You had some outside spending. What we're seeing this year is a return to the old model. Obama is outperforming his 2008 benchmarks. He's raising more money from people who are giving under $200.

He's raising money from more people at this than he was at this point in 2008. And yet, his campaign is convinced that they are going to lose the money race, and they're going to lose the money because Romney is incredibly good at raising money from people who give the maximum allowed, which is $2,500 a person.

And his supporters are incredibly good at attracting very wealthy people, millionaires and billionaires, to give much larger checks as high as $5 million apiece to these outside groups. And so, what we've gone from this small dollar renaissance back to sort of the old world where the very large money is the most decisive in presidential elections.

O'BRIEN: Some of these are amazing, 47 percent -- 47 people, 47 individuals account for more than half of the $230 million that's been raised by Super PACs from individual donors. Forty-seven people account for half of $230 million and a thousand donors. One thousand donors make up 94 percent of that --

SOCARIDES: Mostly right? I mean, to me, it's obvious that why this is happening is that really, really rich people really, really like Mitt Romney, and they want him to be president.


LIZZA: I don't think it's definitely low. I think they don't like him, and look at one of his top fundraisers. Adelson didn't like -- he didn't support him in the primaries. They just don't like Obama. They don't think Obama is good for their business. Hey, Michael, can I ask you one question about this?


LIZZA: One thing that strikes me is, we -- so, we have a system now where you can write big checks. It's never been worse in terms of how much money can flood into the system. At the same time, when all that money is being spent on it seems, and tell me if I'm wrong, are television ads and we're in era where the power of a political ads seems to be declining.

So, it is just a lot of money chasing -- well, the four percent of undecided voters, but just seems like it's not -- you can't do a lot with money in politics these days, because people are already polarized, and TV ads aren't that effective anymore.

SCHERER: Yes. I think you're right to an extent. There's no other type of campaign spending even with the internet and mobile and everything else we have. It is as effective as television still. Still the most effective medium, but it's also true that it doesn't reach a lot of people.

You have a race now which, you know, one Obama aide said there's probably something like three to seven million persuadables in the swing states and incredibly small amount of people considering the billions of dollars they're going to be spent. But a lot of these ads are not just doing persuasion, they're doing based turnout.

And if you move near swing state now, you know, as we do here in D.C. if I was watching the Olympics last night, every fourth or fifth ad is another one of these politics spots. They're barraging the airwaves. I do think there's a point of diminish return. You know, once you saturate the airwaves for several months, people kind of tune out these ads, unless, they're very, you know, very surprising in some way.

But that said, there is no other way of spending this money that is more effective at this point than this. The other thing to say, though, is that there are two different strategies here. The Obama campaign like Bush in 2004 has invested very heavily in grassroots, in organizing in data to identify voters who wouldn't, otherwise, be noticed.

And they're going to have probably the most advanced turnout operation that politics anywhere in the world has ever seen in the final weeks before the election. The Romney campaign hasn't had the time to do that. They don't have the same amount of resources to do that, and so, they're defending more heavily on this television spending.

So, we're going to see probably in the end far more spending going through television stations and radio stations coming from the Republican side, but there is also this very quiet game that's going to be played at the same time where we won't have as much visibility on that could be as decisive assuming the poll state is closer --

O'BRIEN: Michael Scherer, appreciate your time this morning. Thank you for being with us.

SCHERER: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning, you know, you send all those -- training, you finally get to the Olympics. At the Olympics, you're able to overcome the agony of defeat, have the thrill of victory, you win the gold medal, and then you get a tax bill for $8,000 because it costs a win. That's our "Tough Call" this morning. We'll be back with that straight ahead.

And, good news, your boss is about to give you a raise, probably. Christine is going to explain in our business headlines straight ahead. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. Our "Tough Call" this morning, should Olympians who win medals pay taxes on their price? Senator Marco Rubio is trying to exempt medal winners from paying taxes. Currently, the IRS collects taxes on the value of the medals at a 35 percent value. The value of a gold medal is roughly $650.

Tax would be $236. Winners also receive big cash payments. Gold medal gives you $25,000 cash payment, silver 15 grand, and bronze $10,000 according to Americans for Tax Reform. Gold medal winner could face a tax on both prices calculated at over $8,000, but Sen. Rubio was introducing a new bill that would keep the medal winners from paying taxes. He said they should not be punished for their athletic achievement.


SOCARIDES: Why shouldn't you pay taxes on your income?

HUNTSMAN: This is not a tournament for cash. Before you guys already know how you two feel, they are fighting for our country.


O'BRIEN: Ryan, did you ever win a trophy in high school or college --




O'BRIEN: We don't need taxes for like, you know, tennis trophy in high school.

LIZZA: No. A trophy is different than income. If the gold medal is $25,000, in America, you get tax on your income --


O'BRIEN: But you're also being taxed on the value of the gold medal --


LIZZA: Listen, look, there's one argument for this, and that would be, if it created some disincentive to go there and win a gold medal, I can understand the government saying, OK, we don't want to tax something. We don't want to create disincentive for these guys to win a gold medal.

Does anyone think that the Olympians there are -- don't have enough incentive to win a gold, because they have to go back and pay a few hundred dollars in taxes?

HUNTSMAN: The least we can do is not have them pay taxes on winning a gold medal. I mean, it's ridiculous.

SOCARIDES: What Christine said earlier this morning in the six o'clock hour, this is another GOP tax loophole.


LIZZA: The Republicans talk about, you know, making the tax code easier.


LIZZA: -- Rubio jumped on this because it's like a nice cause.


HUNTSMAN: Soledad, please help me here.

O'BRIEN: First of all, I agree with you, Abby. I think that if you're representing your nation, the least the nation could do for these people who, by the way, most of these athletes struggle, do not get a lot of funding --

LIZZA: Your gold medal is going to be on a box of wheaties a few months.

O'BRIEN: Maybe. Maybe. And if you're a silver medalist, you probably won't. And depending on the sport. If it's a sport that's popular, maybe. All these years, and you probably are in debt. And your parents have scraped together money to take you to training in hockey practice or gymnastics practice. Come on, man.



O'BRIEN: -- that actually any good accountant worth their salt should be able to get the tax rate much below 9,000, maybe even to zero, because the truth is that's only -- the $380,000 threshold is when all of that would kick in.

SOCARIDES: And you get to deduct your expenses. You have expenses, right, expenses for going -- your travel.

O'BRIEN: Get a good accountant, and you can avoid paying these taxes.

SOCARIDES : Like the Republicans.

O'BRIEN: Last word. Or just get a good accountant like anybody. Come on, man!


O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT -- I know you have a good accountant. Olympian, Amanda Weir is going to join us live. She's going to talk about tonight's big showdown. Is she on team Phelps or team Lochte?

HUNTSMAN: Lochte is on -- call me, baby.

O'BRIEN: All right. Quick thinking. Did you hear this story? The TSA officers being called heroes. They stopped kidnappers at the airport. They were able to notice that a woman who seemed nervous, and we'll you what happened there.

You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. Just ahead this morning, from Team USA's swimming crew Olympian Amanda Weir will be joining us live. And from the new movie "Craigslist Joe," Joe Garner stops by our studio. His mission was to try to survive for 31 days with absolutely nothing but Craigslist.

First let me get to Christine Romans with a look at today's top stories. Good morning, Christine.

ROMANS: Good morning again, Soledad. Breaking news. Three suspected Al Qaeda members have been arrested in Spain. Spain's interior minister says there's clear evidence that they could have been planning an attack in Spain or elsewhere in Europe. He called their arrest one of the biggest operations against Al Qaeda in Spain. We'll have more details as they come in.

Deadly violence in Syria this morning, rebels equipped with heavy weaponry are pounding a military airport in Aleppo. An opposition activist network says 41 people have been killed in the country today. This as sources tell CNN President Obama has signed a covert order authorizing U.S. support for Syria's opposition forces. The directive allows clandestine action by the CIA and others to help the rebels. It's not clear what type of support has been authorized or when the order was signed.

Meantime, Syrian President Assad is calling on his forces to restore stability to the country.

Six weeks before the Aurora movie massacre, red flags about suspected shooter James Holmes may have been missed. According to KMGH, something Holmes said caused his psychiatrist to make a call to the University of Colorado's threat assessment team. But no further action was taken because Holmes was in the process of dropping out. KMGH's investigative reporter spoke to our Anderson Cooper.


JOHN FERRUGIA, KMGH INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: The team thought they had no jurisdiction, no control over him, so there was nothing that they could do vis-a-vis this concern that she had. Again, we don't know what the concern was. What we do know is that no one, through our sources and through our reporting, we have been told no one contacted the Aurora police department with any of these concerns.


O'BRIEN: Now there are questions about Dr. Fenton and the university, what they knew, and whether they were legally obligated to call police with those concerns.

Two alert TSA officers are being credited with rescuing a kidnapped woman. This happened last month at Miami International Airport. Now the behavior detection officers noticed an injured, nervous woman who did not seem comfortable with her group. When they separated her, she accused two women in the group of repeatedly punching her over a man and stealing her money. Those two women then were arrested.

Minding your business this morning, if you have a job, a raise is coming your way next year. How much? Average pay raises should be 2.9 percent next year according this is according to a survey of employers by the human resources firm Mercer. It's better for the very top performers. The very top performers' pay will raise 4.5 percent.

Move over Rosebud. Movie geeks are buzzing this morning. For the first time in 50 years, "Citizen Kane" has lost its title of greatest film. The British Film Institute, which releases its poll of critics once a decade, picked the Alfred Hitchcock thriller "Vertigo" this time around. "Vertigo" lost out to Citizen Kane by four votes 10 years ago. And Soledad, "Vertigo" is the best movie of all time, no question.

O'BRIEN: It is a great movie. But the greatest, what does that mean?

ROMANS: It's subjective, but those two movies are really incredibly good movies.

O'BRIEN: But are they greater than somebody else's favorite? I thought we were having the same conversation about --

LIZZA: "Chinatown" is my favorite.

SOCARIDES: That's a great movie.

O'BRIEN: Come on. The greatest, that's a --

ROMANS: What about "Hot Shots 2"? Wasn't that Charlie Sheen?


O'BRIEN: You're right. There are some that would not make the list. I stand corrected. Christine, thank you.

Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, who's the greatest among them? They're back in the pool facing off in the men's 200 meter individual medley. Missy Franklin will go for another gold in the women's 100 meter freestyle. Last night she claimed victory in the four by 200 relay along with her teammates. The U.S. swim team has been strong this Olympics. And on Saturday, Amanda Weir claimed the bronze medal as part of the four by 100 relay. She has four medals from the 2006 Olympics, six national titles to her credit. She joins us this morning. Nice to see you Amanda. We appreciate it.

Let's talk about the big win, Americans winning their eighth gold medal in swimming on Wednesday. When the women's four by 200 meter freestyle relay team beat Australia I think it was. You know, were you surprised? Or is it just such a strong team that they're just going to dominate?

AMANDA WEIR, 2012 OLYMPIC BRONZE MEDALIST: I mean, they are pretty dominating team. It was so exciting to watch. And it seemed like it just kept getting faster and faster. And on the end, she got a 1:53. We knew she could pull it out in the end.

O'BRIEN: Ryan Lochte, Michael Phelps, who are you rooting for?

WEIR: I don't know. They are both my teammates, and they are both great guys. So different. It's hard, you know, to pick one. They are just both amazing.

O'BRIEN: Well, Abby Huntsman who is sitting here with me says it's Lochte all the way for her.

SOCARIDES: I wonder why she said that.

O'BRIEN: Phelps said we love racing against each other, and neither one of us likes to lose. And I say we bring out the best in one another. Is that sort of how it works? You're competing against often your teammates. Do they challenge you and push you as well?

WEIR: Yes, they do. You know, the U.S. is so deep in every event. And we really push each other. Like, you know, relays, we're all competing for a spot to be on relays, which is just such a great problem to have, you know. You know, we could put together a relay so many different ways. And our depth is definitely our biggest strength.

O'BRIEN: Speaking of depth, Missy Franklin will be going for her third gold medal in the women's 100 meter freestyle final.

WEIR: Yes. O'BRIEN: What do you think of her chances?

WEIR: Missy is just amazing. I can't believe how much swimming she's been doing. She is such a great girl. And I'm pulling for her all the way. I can't wait to watch her swim tonight. That's my favorite event.

O'BRIEN: Back-to-back for her.

WEIR: It's going to be awesome. Yes, motoring through the whole way.

O'BRIEN: She really has, and not missing a beat. Amanda, nice to have you with us this morning. Appreciate it.

WEIR: Thank you so much.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

We've got to take a short break. But still ahead, Dr. Sanjay Gupta will report on a U.S. swimmer going for the gold today six years after a heart surgery. Pretty amazing.

And then we'll talk to a filmmaker who was determined to figure out if it's possible to survive on craigslist alone.

HUNTSMAN: Clearly, he survived.


O'BRIEN: Well, because he's here live in the studio. The answer is yes.

HUNTSMAN: Guys, he survived.

O'BRIEN: Come on, Abby. You're giving it away. The movie does look good. We're back in just a moment.


ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine romans with your top stories this morning. Stunning video of a man being swallowed up by a sink hole in Taiwan. It happened during a typhoon earlier this morning at the temple of the San Shah in Taipei. Firemen were unable to save the victim.

And this video from a convenience store in Texas, a truck going straight through the wall and sending the clerk across the room. He survived with head and arm injuries. Police arrested the driver. They say she hit the gas instead of the brake, and she had been drinking.

Take a look at this. That is London's mayor Boris Johnson dangling in the air after taking a ride down a zip line in Victoria Park to promote the Olympic Games, of course. Johnson came to a halt about 65 feet from the end of the line. He was stuck, dangling, and waving, for five minutes, waving his British flags, before park officials fetched him. It was a disconcerting experiencing for him, Olympic glitch.

O'BRIEN: And so far, probably close to the only one. All right, appreciate it, Christine.

A swimmer, Rebecca Soni, is going for the gold medal today. Last night she proved that she definitely has more than enough speed to pull it off in the semifinals of the women's 200 meter breast stroke. She was able to set a new world record. But as Sanjay Gupta explains in this week's "Human Factor," before she was an elite swimmer Soni had to undergo surgery on her heart. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A great swim by Rebecca Soni.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: These days, Rebecca Soni is used to getting to the wall first. But being an Olympic swimmer wasn't always part of the plan.

REBECCA SONI, OLYMPIC SWIMMER: When we grew up, my family, we didn't watch a lot of sports. My parents were from Europe, so we didn't understand the American sports. So I never had those people to look up to and be like, oh, I want to be like them.

GUPTA: As she began to excel, she refocused her goals. But an unexpected obstacle got in her way.

SONI: I was diagnosed with SCT. It was basically a rapid heart rate, but only at certain times, usually exercise-induced, and my heart rate would go up to 400 beats per minute.

GUPTA: Six years ago as the episodes became more frequent, Soni decided to have an operation to remove abnormal tissue from her heart. When she was healthy again she dove back into training and qualified for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where she won one gold and two silver medals.

SONI: I definitely feel like I had the meet of my life in 2008, the race of my life with the 200 breast stroke. To win a gold medal, break a world record all in one race, was kind of that ultimate moment of sport.

GUPTA: Even so, Soni wasn't ready to hang up her suit.

SONI: I could have probably walked away and been happy. But I still felt like I had a little bit more to give to the sport. I'm just excited to race.

GUPTA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.


O'BRIEN: And still ahead on STARTING POINT, what happens when a man decides to ditch all his friends, all his possessions, and live off the generosity of people on Craigslist? We'll tell you the man behind the new movie "Craigslist Joe". That's coming up next.

Here is Abby's play list, Ellie Goulding, "Lights." You're watching STARTING POINT. we're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: So Craigslist is a Web site that helps people find almost anything they need through a classified ad. You can look for a job, you can look for an apartment, you can sell your furniture, you can find a baby sitter. A film maker wanted to find out what would happen if he had to live off of Craigslist for one month.

In "Craigslist Joe", a new movie, Joseph Garner goes across the country relying on Craigslist for food, for shelter and basically the generosity of strangers. For 31 days, he cuts himself off from his family and friends, has no money, just a laptop, a cell phone, clothes on his back. Here's how it went.


JOSEPH GARNER, "CRAIGSLIST JOE": With no money, no contact with anyone I know, I'm going to live entirely off Craigslist.

I'm just seeing if I can, A, survive. If I can literally eat, find shelter, find showers. B, try to travel America. See if I can find a community out there.

For the next month, this is all I've got. Away we go.


O'BRIEN: "Craigslist Joe" opens today in select theaters across the country. Nice to see you Joe; thanks for talking with us. On one hand --

GARNER: It's a pleasure to be here.

O'BRIEN: -- it sounds like's a crazy idea. On the other hand, Craigslist is really all about a community. What did you ask for? I mean what did put out there that people started responding to, to help you out?

GARNER: Well, I was just in my postings a regular guy. I didn't reveal that we were doing a documentary. I was just a guy looking to meet up. Or if there was an extra room in a car going to another city. I was just looking to connect with people and kind of taking it from there.

O'BRIEN: You were shooting it, though, the whole time. Did people react differently when they realized that they were going to be part of a documentary?

GARNER: You know, initially, people didn't know. But once they agreed to meet up, I let them know. We just had one camera guy who I actually met on Craigslist the week before I went out there. And I spent a number of days with a lot of people. And I felt like people were very natural with me, and we kind of just forgot the camera was even there.

O'BRIEN: Walk us through some of your experiences. What was the very best and what was a complete nightmare?

GARNER: You know, the very best, I just met so many incredible people. Like when I went out there, I had very little expectations of like who I would meet, where I would go. I met incredible people from all over the country that just kind of showed me amazing generosity and just goodwill.

As far as the worst, there were definitely some days without food, without shelter. But the overwhelming majority of the people I met were absolutely amazing and just really inspired me.

O'BRIEN: I want to show everybody a clip from New Orleans, which is one of my favorite cities, which I think counts as one of your best experiences.

So let's play that clip and then we'll talk about it on the other side.


JOHN, ARTIST: We have been able to take over certain houses and blocks and areas, and do art installations and bring in individuals to the area that wouldn't have necessarily been in those areas.

So the people that are here are the ones that are -- like have their heart in New Orleans.


O'BRIEN: That was an artist named John, who had taken over a space, I believe, in the lower Ninth Ward, which of course was decimated by Hurricane Katrina. And they were trying to revitalize it and revamp it really and bring a new use for it.

I know your goal was to rely on the kindness of strangers. What's your big take away from it? Are strangers kind or are strangers kind of mean?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Or kind of crazy.

GARNER: You know in my experience, before -- even before I left, I always believed, you know, people given the opportunity would do the right thing. And you know, I was just so inspired and blown away by the overwhelming majority of people's willingness to kind of lend a helping hand and be open enough to trust me and take me in.

And like that clip you played, you know, it was pretty devastating just walking around the Lower Ninth Ward. I just kind of assumed everything was kind of put back to normal, and everyone was back in their homes. That wasn't the case.

But it was people like John that kind of, you know, banded together with the people in his community to really try to rebuild it in a positive way. And I just saw that all over the country, just people really coming together, you know, especially in these tough times.

Zach Galifianakis is the executive producer. And I know that -- I know that for a lot of people, to meet up with strangers -- if my kid told me they were going to do that, if he was old enough or any of them I would have been like, no, no, that's bad. How did you -- how did you stay safe? I mean, I know, you know Craigslist has safety warnings, you know, be in a public place and don't invite strangers into your home and tell friends and family members where you're going. All those rules you broke, every single one.

GARNER: Yes. My -- my mom was a little worried about me going out there. Fortunately, the camera guy who I went out there with, Kevin, he was about 6'4". So that made her feel a little more comfortable.

SOCARIDES: A little bit of protection.

GARNER: But I would try to meet people in public places and really just kind of establish a rapport online and then on the phone. And you know, if I was willing to or expecting people to take a chance and trust me, I in turn had to trust them.

O'BRIEN: Joe Garner is "Craigslist Joe". The movie is out starting today. Nice to have you. Good luck with the movie. We appreciate you talking to us.

GARNER: Thanks so much for having me on.

O'BRIEN: You bet. You bet. I want to see that movie. Because it sounds like a great concept.

SOCARIDES: It was great. I think it's an odd story, though. I mean, I'm not sure what it was -- like that people were going to be nice to you if you said you had no money? I mean, it's kind of like begging on Craigslist.

O'BRIEN: No. It's the American spirit. People will be willing to help you out and invite you into their community.

SOCARIDES: But this guy was -- this guy was not really who he said he was.

LIZZA: And you call me cynical?

SOCARIDES: I mean, it wasn't like, it's not like it was a true story of someone who had no money and did this.

O'BRIEN: No he's trying to explore what it's like to cross the nation.

HUNTSMAN: It's what America is all about.

O'BRIEN: Thank you, Abby. Guys, guys, I'm going to have you sit next to me tomorrow, Abby. SOCARIDES: Well, what's the point though. The point is that this is what America is all about? I don't get it.

O'BRIEN: Go and watch the film and then report back to us.

SOCARIDES: Ok a little movie report.

O'BRIEN: Yes I'll appreciate that.

LIZZA: I hope you're never on Craigslist looking for generosity.

O'BRIEN: "End Point" is up next.

The nation is full of generous people. I love that.


O'BRIEN: God I love our music. "End Point"; who wants to start? Richard, 15 seconds or less.

SOCARIDES: I would say call people's attention to the front page of "The New York Times" today. Ted Cruz's victory in the Texas Republican primary means that the Tea Party is poised to exert a big influence next year in the U.S. Senate. Very scary for those of us who don't support the Tea Party. But if you're a Tea Party person and you thought your candidate for president was not going anywhere, you're going to have a lot of people in the U.S. Senate next year. It looks like six senators.

HUNTSMAN: Well, I'm going to go far from the Tea Party and Kissing day tomorrow at Chick-Fil-A. And I'm going to come back here on "STARTING POINT" and maybe we'll have to celebrate it right here.

LIZZA: A little kissing right here at "STARTING POINT."

SOCARIDE: I'm so glad I'm here tomorrow.

O'BRIEN: Ryan --

LIZZA: It would be a same-sex kiss-in.

O'BRIEN: Or just a kiss-in.

LIZZA: I just want to encourage the viewers to tune in tomorrow for "STARTING POINT" kissing day. That's my "End Point".

O'BRIEN: You can't even get through that, can you?

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now. We'll see you back here tomorrow morning. Save me, Carol.