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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Hack Attack Exposes Major Security Gap; Man Blows Past Hoover Dam Checkpoint; Armed At The Movies; Seven Olympics Athletes Vanish; Dancing And Diplomacy; Relief On The Way For Nation's Farmers; USA Women Continue Domination; All American Final; "Curiosity" Gets A Better Look Around

Aired August 8, 2012 - 07:00   ET

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


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: And thank you both. And good morning to you. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. Soledad is off this week. Our "Starting Point," guilty. Jared Lee Loughner takes a plea deal for going on a rampage in killing six people. He will avoid the death penalty.

BALDWIN: Arrested. Cnn has learned overnight that police have hauled in the ex-girlfriend of the gunman who opened fire in that Sikh temple.

BERMAN: And the response to Romney Hood. Obaloney?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: We've been watching the president say a lot of things about me and about my policies, and it is not right. And if I were to coin a term, it would be Obamaloney.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: I didn't say it right. Obamaloney.

BALDWIN: Obamaloney.

BERMAN: The jabs are flying as the presidential election take the sharp dive into the absurd. Both campaigns will join us today. Romney campaign's spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, and Obama deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter.

Also coming up Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and, get this, "True Blood" star Debra Ann Woll."

BALDWIN: It is Wednesday, the 8th of August. STARTING POINT begins right now.

Good Wednesday morning, thank you so much for being with us here. We want to begin with our starting point this morning being Jared Lee Loughner, admitting he's guilty now and faces life in prison. BERMAN: Loughner changed his plea to guilty on 19 different charges admitting to killing six people and wounds others outside a Tucson grocery store. Gabby Giffords survived and is still recovering. He will avoid the death penalty. After the hearing a number of survivors came together outside the courthouse.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give up this hopelessness in this country that we can't do anything, because we can and we must.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These taboo words, gun control, can be spoken plainly in the halls of Congress again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One of ways I believe we can make good come out of this, is to begin some common sense discussion about who should bear arms, what hands should firearms go into.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Kyung Lah is live in Tucson this morning. Kyung, you were in the courtroom. How did Loughner seem to you?

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He seemed calmer than previous appearances, clearly medicated. When he first walked into the courtroom, he did have an unusual look on his face as he looked at the public at his family and reporters and some of the victims. He looked very briefly at everyone and sat down. He was very calm. He sat very still and he was able to engage with his attorney as well as respond to questions from the judge.

This is different from the Jared Lee Loughner ha reporters had seen in the past. In his first appearance he smiled when the charges were read against him. In another appearance, he had a loud, very sudden outburst and had to be subdued by the judges. What the doctors have testified to is that he is responding well to medicine. And it is his mental illness, his schizophrenia that prosecutors say they had to take into account for the plea deal. Here's what the prosecutor told us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN LEONARDO, U.S. ATTORNEY: The doctors who have treated and observed Mr. Loughner since the shooting agree that he suffered from a severe mental illness that is severe schizophrenia at the time of the shooting and before the shooting. The fragility of his continued competency to stand trial was taken into account.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAH: So how severe the doctor who was treating Loughner told the judge that Loughner's illness, while not the absolute worst, is one of the worst she has ever seen.

BERMAN: Kyung Lah, thank you very much this morning. BALDWIN: Pam Simon was shot twice and she was serving as the outreach director at the time and she was in the courtroom when he entered the plea. Pam, good morning to you.

PAM SIMON, SHOT TWICE BY JARED LEE LOUGHNER: Good morning.

BALDWIN: When you first heard guilty, what was your reaction?

SIMON: My reaction was one of this is going to be closure, not only for myself but for many of the other survivors and families of the victims.

BALDWIN: That's interesting you use the word "closure" here. This is a man, pam, who trialed to kill you. He shot you in your chest and hand. You were inside the same room, sharing the same air as this man in the courtroom. How did he appear, and how did you feel sitting in the room with him?

SIMON: Well, I've attended the other hearings as well. And a terrible irony is that the shooter was a student at the junior high I taught in over 20 years, so we walked the same halls. I did not know him at the time. My only thought for him now is just remorse that something couldn't have been done earlier, that he couldn't have had the medication he need earlier and this tragedy would not have happened.

But it was very emotionally charged. And as he said the words that he pleaded guilty to each count that was read, many of the survivors, including myself and families of the victims held hands or put our arms around each other. It was very tense.

BALDWIN: Very tense and emotional. I know beyond the courtroom just yesterday, you were outside basically calling now for more gun control as we're hearing this echoing throughout the country. I'll get to that in a moment. I talked to Mayor Nutter out of Philadelphia. He's part of this coalition, mayors against illegal guns. You're demanding a plan. Let's look at this ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a veteran.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A mother.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A teacher.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're survivors of the Tucson shooting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our leaders gave us a moment of silence then.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But haven't given us a plan. President Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Governor Romney.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We demand a plan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: You're demanding a plan, I spoke with someone else yesterday in similar shoes as yours also demanding a plan. Why do you think the president and Mitt Romney have been reluctant to address this issue?

SIMON: Rather than spending time on why in the past what we're doing is looking forward and asking the American people to join not only us but the families of on average 34 people every single day are murdered by handguns or by some weapon in this country, every single day. And so we think the time is now to ask people to sign onto the online petition so that we have some political will to take to both of the presidential candidates and say now is the time. Now is the time that we need to open this discussion and prevent further tragedy.

BALDWIN: I know that -- I just want to share some numbers with this Pew Research poll. They took a poll after the Colorado massacre in aurora, 47 percent say it is more important, here are the numbers, to control gun ownership, very close number, 46 percent say it's more important to protect gun owners' rights. Pam, there's no real change in the numbers since the horrendous scene inside the movie theater. What do you say to nearly half of America who say, I have a right to carry a gun?

SIMON: Well, I think there are some simple things that we can start with, and we also need to do some educating. I have learned so many since joining with the other survivors working with mayors against illegal guns, and one of things that I think a lot of people don't realize is 40 percent of the guns purchased in the United States are purchased without -- legally without a background check, because if they are not purchased -- if they are purchased from a gun show or online, no background check is required.

The second thing I didn't realize is that many states do not put their records into the national database. And so if someone had a criminal record and that record was not entered, then they aren't going to be found when they go through when you purchase a gun.

BALDWIN: In the case in Aurora, there was no criminal record. He obtained those weapons perfectly legally. I have to ask this final question. Jared Lee Loughner, have you for given him?

SIMON: Absolutely. It was not his choice to get a serious mental illness. And I think what we need -- it does not take away the pain and grief and especially those that have lost someone. I lost a dear friend and my colleague Gabe Zimmerman. But it's time to forgive. It's time to move on, and it's time to find ways that we can both help people with the type of illness that Jared Lee Loughner had and also ways that we can find some common sense ways to examine who is going to be able to have a firearm.

BALDWIN: Pam Simon, thank you.

BERMAN: I always find that so remarkable, the human capacity for forgiveness. Stunning.

We have other top stories making headlines. We may never know why Wade Page killed six people at a Sikh temple near Milwaukee. He did not leave behind letters or any obvious clues about his motive. Meanwhile, south Milwaukee police arrested Page's former girlfriend on a gun charge. The 31-year-old waitress shared Page's interest in the white power movement and was active in at least two neo-Nazi organizations.

BALDWIN: After a tough two-year legal battle, vandalism and a bomb threat, the Islamic bureau in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, will open this Friday. It is taking place just one day after a mosque burned in Joplin, Missouri.

BERMAN: Get ready for the storm. Ernesto slams into Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. It seems to be fizzling out.

BALDWIN: Ernesto has been downgraded to a tropical storm. But the danger is far from over. Alexandra Steele is tracking Ernesto for us. Good morning.

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning to you both. You say the danger is over because it has the propensity to once it gets into the Bay of Campeche to strengthen into a hurricane once again. Here it is. Here's the center of circulation. It came ashore last night with hurricane-force winds, now winds down to 70 miles per hour. But you can see how small and tight, see the circulation right there. So those maximum sustained winds of 70 already expand out by 30 to 35 miles.

So we're going to watch it continue on its west movement, moving at 15 miles per hour. And backtrack westward we're expecting to continue at the same pace. It went over land so it weakened. But the expectation going over the warm waters of the bay of Campeche and reinvigorate and make the second landfall tomorrow, tomorrow night. We'll watch is move westward and again potentially do that.

Forecast rainfall especially in the mountainous region, could see a foot of rain, but the quadrant of concern pretty small because the center of circulation is pretty tight into and of itself.

BALDWIN: Alexandra, thank you.

BERMAN: The FAA is imposing stricter rules on airplane traffic after a scary collision at Reagan national airport last week. It is temporarily burning two-way air traffic when planes fly in opposite directions as they arrive and depart from airports. The FAA says it is also considering other measures in the wake of the close call when an air traffic controller accidentally sent two commuter flights in the path of a third inbound jet.

BALDWIN: Take a look at this photo. This is not exactly what you want to see out your window. This a photo taken by a passenger on an Alaska Airlines flight. She looked out the window and saw this, a damaged spot on the wing with a handwritten note. Can you make this out? It says, "We know about this. Something is funky with our wing, we're aware." The airline says the plane was safe but did apologize for the sign. A maintenance technician wrote it to let the flight crew know it was an approved trim repair.

BERMAN: I would have freaked.

BALDWIN: Excuse me, we need to land this plane right now.

BERMAN: Bold. Ahead on STARTING POINT, an epic hack. Thieves crack into Apple and Amazon accounts exposing massive security flaws, and you haven't heard the scariest part. That's ahead.

BALDWIN: Romney hood or your favorite word, "Obamalony."

BERMAN: You nailed it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's like Robin Hood in reverse. It's Romney hood.

(LAUGHTER)

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If I were to coin a term it would be "Obamaloney."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: OK, have we hit a new low in the campaign? Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul joins us live. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. An Australian rescue team on the way to Antarctica to help an American expeditioner dealing with a medical emergency. They are trying to help transport the expeditioner out of the station. It is negative 22 degrees there right now.

Also this morning, more than 20 suspected Islamic terrorists killed by Egyptian air strikes in Sinai overnight. These attacks follow attacks by armed gunman at checkpoints near the Israeli border. Last Sunday, 16 border guards were killed by suspected Palestinian terrorists. John?

BERMAN: Mitt Romney will be in Iowa as President Obama makes campaign stops in the swing state of Colorado and may have his work cut out for him. A new poll shows Mitt Romney ahead in Colorado, voters who choose him there, 50 percent to the president's 45 percent. Things look better for the president in Virginia where he is ahead of Mitt Romney 49 to 45 percent. And in Wisconsin he has the advantage 51 to 45 percent from the latest Quinnipiac, CBS, 'New York Times" polling.

We're joined this morning by Andrea Saul from the great state of Massachusetts, Boston, Mass there. Andrea, your campaign is running ads in all of these key swing states right now dealing with the issue of welfare reform, specifically a letter that President Obama, his administration sent trying to grant waivers to some of the states to make adjustments to the law. Let's listen to this ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Under Obama's plan, you wouldn't have to work and wouldn't have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check, and welfare to work goes back to plain old welfare. Mitt Romney will restore the work requirement because it works.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Politifact, gives this the rating as "pants on fire," which means really, really false. President Clinton who signed the welfare to work law says it is not true and says the administration has taken important steps to ensure that the work requirement is retained and that waivers will be granted only if the state can demonstrate that people will be moved into work under its new approach.

ANDREA SAUL, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN PRESS SECRETARY: Look, John, if President Obama didn't want people to think that he was going to waive the central work requirement in welfare reform, his administration shouldn't have written a memo say it was going to waive the work requirement in welfare reform. That's what they've done. They can issue blog posts and have surrogate statements saying that's not what they meant. The memo still stands. That's exactly what it says. It's like giving a teenager, give me the keys, I'm not going to drive your car, I promise. It's ridiculous.

President Obama has been a vocal opponent of President Clinton's bipartisan reform in the '90s. It should come as no surprise that this would be something he would want to do.

BERMAN: Among the teenagers asking for the keys to this welfare waiver car, was then Governor Mitt Romney in 2005 who asked for just this kind of waiver when he was governor. He said increased waiver authority, allowable work activities, availability of partial work credit, and ability to coordinate state programs are all important aspects of moving recipients from welfare to work. Whys had Governor Romney's opinion changed over the last seven years?

SAUL: It hasn't at all. There's a big difference between asking for more state flexibility and gutting the central work requirement in welfare, which is what we see now. When Governor Romney was governor, he actually strengthened work requirements. He vetoed a bill that would weaken them. So for the Obama campaign to try to say that when someone is working to strengthen work requirements, somehow that was weakening them, that's not right.

And also, with President Clinton, what we had was a bipartisan Bill that went through Congress. What we see time and again with President Obama, he signs execute orders and gets no one on board to work toward any kind of agenda. He decides what's going to please his liberal base and with a stroke of a pen waves away the work requirements.

BERMAN: You say liberal base, but it is some Republican governors asking for this waiver right now. Let's move on. There are some other new polls.

SAUL: The Republican -- I do want to correct that. The Republican governors that you're referencing actually didn't request that. They didn't think it was in his legal authority to do so. Again, requesting more state flexibility is a lot different than gutting the work requirement.

BERMAN: So it's safe to say the ads aren't going away. Let's move on, Andrea, because there are new numbers out from the ABC News and "Washington Post" dealing with the issue of favorable. How much voters like the candidates.

And on this number right now things don't look all that positive for Governor Romney here. These new numbers say Americans favor the president some -- some 50 percent of Americans view Mitt Romney unfavorably, right there, only 40 percent view him favorably, 53 percent view the president favorably. That's Mitt Romney in August, 49 percent view him unfavorably. He's been running for president on and off since 2006. His poll numbers in the favorability are low as any nominee since 1984. How come he can't convince people to like him?

SAUL: First off, people are still getting to know Governor Romney. But the important thing that keeps coming out in survey after survey is Americans think they'll be better off with president Romney than under current President Obama. They trust him most on the economy and to turn things around. That's the thing people care most about is getting a job, having more pay come back in their paycheck. And under this president, we have seen the policies haven't worked. Sure, he's a nice guy, but doesn't mean people are able to meet their bills and get a job. Those are the things Americans care most about.

BERMAN: Are you saying people don't have to like Mitt Romney to vote for him?

SAUL: Well, I think that the more people learn about Mitt Romney, the more they are going to like him and the more they see they can trust him to turn this economy around. President Obama has not been able to get the job done and that's why middle class Americans are suffering so much. Governor Romney is launching his bus tour to talk about plans to strengthen the middle class. That's what voters want to hear about while President Obama doesn't want to talk about the issues at hand.

BERMAN: Let's talk about the bus tour going through the swing states with pretty flashy surrogates who will be appearing with him leading them to speculate that he might announce his decision soon. Give us news here. Can you categorically state it won't happen before Sunday?

SAUL: I can tell you, you can be the first to know if you download Mitt's VP app from the Web site. You could be the first to know along with all of the other Americans who download it too.

BERMAN: Politi-Fact rates that as pants on fire, because I'm not going to be the first to know if everyone is finding out at the same time. That's a load of "Obamaloney." Did you come up with that phrase, by the way?

SAUL: I did not. But what you see with President Obama, he distorts Mitt Romney's plans. The president is going to raise taxes on Americans and raise taxes on small businesses where governor Romney has a plan to lower the rates and reform the tax code.

BERMAN: Andrea, we'll see you soon, I'm sure.

SAUL: Thank you.

BERMAN: And coming up, we'll put the same questions to Stephanie Cutter, who is the deputy manager for the Obama campaign. She joins us in the 8:00 hour.

Baloney may be the favorite processed meat.

BALDWIN: I'm with you, Berman.

Security lapses lead to an epic hack attack. How easily it happened and how you can minimize your own risk, next.

BERMAN: Check out this Florida mansion, my next home. You won't believe how much it sold for. It's all ahead. You're watching STARTING POINT.

BALDWIN: In your dreams.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: It's 27 minutes past the hour. Welcome back to STARTING POINT.

All major U.S. pro sports leave are suing New Jersey over this law that would allow sports betting there. The organizations say they want to protect the integrity of professional and amateur sports, but the governor of New Jersey, Mr. Chris Christie, says the government cannot ban sports gambling in some states and allow it in others.

BERMAN: A Miami mansion sells for $47 million. That is the highest price for a home in the country ever. But what does that get you? Well, just a mere ten bedrooms, 14 bathrooms, a two acre gated island, wine cellar, fingerprint identification -- here's my favorite part, pink sand.

BALDWIN: Pink sand.

BERMAN: Imported from the Bahamas because the sand in Florida.

BALDWIN: Isn't good enough.

BERMAN: So you bring in your own pink sand. BALDWIN: I say pink sand is a little special.

Minding your business this morning, it is the hack attack heard over the internet. Matt Honan an out with a frightening story how he was hacked last week.

BERMAN: What's scary is the way the accounts were attacked and it could happen to anyone. Poppy Harlow is here with all the details. Poppy, tell us what went down here.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: This is going to be a little confusing, it could happen to anyone and I think the important part for viewers is that there's nothing you can do to protect yourself. This was a glaring loophole, a blind spot found when you talk about identity verification. These hackers used his Amazon account to get into his Apple account. How it works, you call Amazon and they pretended to be Matt Honan saying they wanted to add credit card number to the account. Then Amazon said we need your name, billing address, and your email attached to the account. They handed that over.

Then you add a new e-mail to the account, now that you have access to it and you can e-mail yourself a new password. This is how it happened. Once you have that password, you're able to get the last four digits of the credit card number on the account and associated e- mail address.

That is all you need to get into -- for an Apple I.D. basically, to get into I-Cloud, for example. So they were able to get into his I-Cloud account, his Gmail, his Twitter, he talked in the article sensibly about losing his photos and things that he didn't back up.

(Inaudible) in this "Wired" article is that Matt Honin wrote, he said, the very four digits that Amazon considers unimportant enough to display in clear on the web are precisely the same ones that Apple considers secure enough to perform identity verification.

So that's how this went down. It's also important to note and CNN Money is reporting on this, this morning, saying that Amazon said they have fixed the gap on their end.

BALDWIN: That was my question. Is the loophole closed? That's what I want to know.

HARLOW: The loophole is closed as of yesterday afternoon. Apple said we found our own internal policies weren't followed completely. So apparently this can't happen going forward, that's what they are saying, but we'll see.

The fact that this happened specifically to him and the hackers tweeted out from his account, they said, Clan VV 3 and phobia hacked this Twitter.

This is a glaring blind spot. And the issue here, there's nothing you could have done. Not that you had an easy password or something. Things are so complex and Amazon and Apple have different identity verification processes and they found --

BERMAN: Hackers are so devious.

HARLOW: Right, I mean, they did this purposely to him.

BALDWIN: He was a "Wired" guy and he was able to realize this happened to me and needs to be fixed versus --

HARLOW: And figure out how it happened and wrote this extensive article telling people, alerting people.

BALDWIN: Good for him, Matt Honin. Thanks, Poppy.

BERMAN: All right, Poppy Harlow, thanks so much.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, maybe we'll call her the secretary of shake. I love this. Good for her. Hillary Clinton caught dancing again and really going for it. We have the tape.

BALDWIN: Good for her you say. Also ahead, seven Olympic athletes disappear from the games in London, but there may not be any foul play involved. We have the details there.

BERMAN: And relief on the way for the nation's farmers, and man, they need it, suffering through the worst drought in 50 years, tens of millions of federal cash coming their way as your grocery bill skyrocket. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joins us live. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. It is 35 minutes past the hour.

BALDWIN: Take a look at today's top stories shall we?

First up, this man blows past the Nevada checkpoint approaching the Hoover Dam sparking a standoff. But he couldn't outsmart the SWAT team. They raised the barrier.

They trapped this guy's vehicle between the barrier and the truck so he had nowhere to go pretty much so he did finally peacefully surrender.

BERMAN: A man from Ohio faces arraignment today after police say he caught packing a pistol at a showing of "The Dark Knight Rises." Police in West Lake say 37-year-old Scott Smith had a loaded 9- millimeter hand gun and three knives in a bag with him on Saturday.

Smith's lawyer said he didn't intend to use the weapons. He just wanted to protect himself in case someone tried to imitate last month's deadly Colorado theatre shooting. Police say he did not have a concealed carry permits.

BALDWIN: Seven athletes from Cameroon have just vanished from the Olympic Village in London, possibly maybe trying to defect. They include five boxers, a swimmer and a soccer player. It's still not clear if they are seeking asylum in Britain. Immigration officials in London are not talking.

BERMAN: Hillary Clinton showing off her moves again. The secretary of state mixing dancing with diplomacy during her 11-day African tour. Clinton danced at the dinner hosted by her South African counterpart.

She even did a little bump and grind. I think she was doing well there. I have to say. That dance party followed her busting a move on Sunday in Malawi.

She likes to dance. Remember this, the secretary of state dancing up a storm earlier this year in a bar in Cartagena in Columbia.

BALDWIN: You enjoyed that very much.

BERMAN: I do. You know, I think it's joyous.

BALDWIN: I think it's joyous and I think if you have seen the text from Hillary, those guys, the Twitter page, they say Hillary is cool. That's pretty cool. Cool moves.

Moving on here, we need some rain dancing, thermometer popping temperatures bone dry conditions plaguing much of the country here. Right now, farmers and ranchers, they are dealing with the worst drought, folks, in 56 years.

We're talking 60 percent of the lower 48 states. They are suffering some level of drought. So the federal government is trying to provide help and make it rain here with federal relief funds.

President Obama calls this drought historic and the impact on farmers profound. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We are taking every single possible step to help farmers and ranchers to fight back and recover.

The Department of Agriculture is announcing an additional $30 million to get more water to livestock and restore land impacted by drought.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: I want to bring in Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. He is going to be overseeing the distribution of that $30 million in relief funds. Secretary Vilsack, good morning.

TOM VILSACK, AGRICULTURE SECRETARY: Good morning.

BALDWIN: First up here, I know those farmers, those ranchers, they need the money. They want the money. How quickly can they get it and what exactly does the $30 million go toward?

VILSACK: Well, part of the concern here is how the drought is affecting livestock producers. They don't have access to the hay or feed they thought they were going to have at the beginning of the year.

So this money is designed to provide assistance to access additional haying and grazing opportunities as well as dealing with water issues. They may be able to drill wells and things of that nature.

They're going to be able to get this money very quickly. We're going to get it through our NRCS process and so they'll be able to access it very quickly.

This is in addition to also providing some additional credit opportunities. We're concerned about not only farming operations, but also small businesses that are dependent on the agricultural economy.

So the credit unions are now going to be giving greater flexibility to work alongside SBA and USDA to provide a number of credit opportunities for folks.

BALDWIN: So these are opportunities and as we've been talking and showing the pictures. I have to say, you know, it's one thing for us to sit here in big cities and try to understand and sympathize for what these farmers and ranchers are going through.

We had a farmer on air a couple of weeks ago, I mean, this is a grown man, tough as nails crying over the situation. Can you just hammer home for me, sir, how truly difficult this is for these folks?

VILSACK: Well, you can imagine doing your work perfectly, doing everything exactly the way you're supposed to do it and then basically losing everything through no fault of your own.

That's essentially what a drought can do. Now fortunately, we have new seed technologies and perhaps the yields will be better than we expect and we hope that's true.

But many farmers are in fact going to lose basically their entire crop. Now this is a little different than in the past because many of those farmers have crop insurance, which is going to help them get through the process.

We need some disaster assistance and relief and the only way we're going to be able to get the full scope of disaster assistance is if the House of Representatives completes work on a farm bill and it works out the differences between the Senate and the House in terms of comprehensive disaster assistance and the farm bill.

BALDWIN: Speaking of the farm bill. Let me play a little sound. This was the president speaking yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PRESIDENT OBAMA: Congress needs to pass a farm bill that will not only provide important disaster relief tools, but also make necessary reforms and give farmers the certainty that they deserve.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: So, you know, he wants to see this five-year farm bill pass, but my question I guess, he's calling on Congress right now. Is he though playing politics because, you know, members of Congress, they are not even in town right now to listen?

VILSACK: Well, I think it's important for the president to say this and certainly important for constituents back home to tell their members of Congress on recess that they are interested in seeing a farm bill done.

The Senate passed the farm bill in a strong bipartisan vote. The House Agricultural Committee also passed a bill on a strong bipartisan vote. It takes some leadership upon in terms of the House leadership to get this thing on the floor and get it voted on and get the differences worked out.

Because it can include a comprehensive disaster assistance program not just livestock folks, but also especially crop producers who are also hurting as a result of this drought. That assistance together with certainty as to what the policies are going to be for the next five years.

Because prior to this drought, we actually had some momentum building in the rural economy, rural manufacturing going up, record incomes and record exports for farm products.

We want to continue that momentum and to do that we need certainty in terms of what the policies and programs are going to be.

BALDWIN: You're mentioning the House specifically and I just want to read a tweet. This is from Kevin Smith, the spokesperson for House Speaker John Boehner. Here's the tweet, "In his remarks today the president forgot to mention that Senate Dems refused to take up bipartisan House drought relief before adjourning hash tag shocked."

I mean, that's true, is it not, Mr. Secretary? Because the House passed, and just looking down passed $383 million emergency relief package last week and the Democrats in the Senate, they refused to take it up before they went on vacation. So will this $30 million relief be enough? Who's really responsible for this relief here?

VILSACK: The $30 million is certainly going to provide some assistance, but it's nowhere near what we need. The House disaster assistance program was a good start in the discussion, but it didn't cover specialty crops.

I think what we can do with the passage of the farm bill is basically provide a comprehensive disaster assistance program, which is what the Senate and I think many members of the House want. Get it done and provide at the same time the certainty that producers need so they can begin planning for the future.

If we basically allow this thing to continue beyond September 30th, the 2008 farm bill program expire and then we get this discussion wrapped up in a tax policy and sequester and deficit reduction.

I'm deeply concerned that it then becomes so complicated we don't get help and assistance to folks that they need.

BALDWIN: We are all thinking of the ranchers and farmers and also selfishly speaking of ourselves because we are all going to be feeling this as we head to the grocery stores here in the coming weeks and months as well. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, appreciate it, sir. Thank you so much.

VILSACK: You bet. Thank you.

Still to come this morning here on STARTING POINT, a big high and big low for the U.S. women's gymnastics team at the summer games. We're going to take you live to London next.

BERMAN: Plus, some awesome new pictures from Mars courtesy of the "Curiosity" rover. We're going to take you inside this high stakes NASA mission. We are so excited for this. You're watching STARTING POINT.

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BALDWIN: The Olympic Games focused on track and field today as U.S. women's gymnastics wraps up their routine. Aly Raisman won gold in the floor exercise. She wowed to the judges as she wrapped that floor routine and she also scored the bronze on the beam.

BERMAN: Fellow American and all around champ, Gabby Douglas, she did not fare quite as well. She took a fall on the beam to finish seventh. She'll have to be satisfied with her two gold medals so far.

Zain Verjee is live in our Olympic Bureau. Tell us all about this Olympic drama -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There's always drama when it comes to gymnastics, you know, guys. Yes, you know, it's really great to see Aly Raisman get a gold in the floor exercise. She's the team captain so good for her.

It was a little bit of a controversy when it came to the bronze on the beam. But she ended up getting that because the coach made an appeal. And she ended up getting the highest numbers there for the bronze.

Sad news though for Jordyn Wieber because she did the floor exercises too and she ended up limping off. She also landed outside some of the lines. So she didn't do too well. She was seen walking out with a bit of a brace. So it may be like a stress fracture for her. BALDWIN: Amazing these pictures of these young women upside down, twisting and tumbling. Zain, I want to ask you about the track, big day on the track for Americans, including a photo finish in what is it 100-meter hurdles final?

VERJEE: Yes, it was 100-meter hurdles and it came down to Dawn Harper of the U.S. and Sally Pearson of Australia and it came down to 200 of a second and both of those athletes just stood on the pitch and they looked up. They didn't know who had won. It was that close. And the U.S. missed it and got silver just by that much.

BERMAN: So Zain, I happen to think that beach volleyball is always historic. It's always an intense moment of history.

VERJEE: You do, do you? Right, why am I not surprised?

BERMAN: These finals are particularly historic. What's going on here?

VERJEE: Well, the good news for the U.S. is that the U.S. is going to win gold. And I know this because the U.S. is actually playing the U.S. in the finals. So congratulations.

BALDWIN: Process of elimination.

VERJEE: -- in advance for winning the gold medal. OK, guys, but I'll tell you a couple of cool things that are going on here. Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings have been playing for a long time. They've got two golds already.

They've actually had to go into the kind of couples therapy because of bad dynamics ahead of the Olympics, that kind of relationship therapy they've been having.

And then all four of the athletes on the U.S. beach volleyball final team have been having dinner together and just being great buddies, but then secretly trying to find out what each other's weaknesses are. So it's going to be a fight even though you'll get gold and silver.

BALDWIN: Interesting. I hope we don't have to have co-anchor therapy at the end of the week.

BERMAN: Yes, I'm sure. I need it already. We are all cheering for the Americans in that beach volleyball finals. Zain, thanks very much.

BALDWIN: We are. Go U.S. Thanks, Zain.

BERMAN: Still ahead on STARTING POINT, some mind boggling new pictures from Mars, Martian gravel, a mountainous sunset and most exciting of all, the search for life. The truth is out there. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BALDWIN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. The Mars rover "Curiosity" is exploring the Gail crater this morning and sending back amazing photos here.

NASA released the first color image of Mars' surface. The video of the landing, if you haven't seen it, go to the Twitter feed and check it out.

And just a couple of days, we should be seeing even more high resolution images here of the red planet. Scientists expect it will take months for "Curiosity" to reach a mountain at the center of this crater.

And so it's the primary target of this two-year mission because it could, we're hoping, they're hoping, give valuable insight into whether Mars can in fact sustain life.

BERMAN: One of those big questions. Denton Ebel is a geologist who specializes in meteorites. He is curator of the American Museum of Natural History. Thank you so much for being here.

BALDWIN: Good morning.

DENTON EBEL, CURATOR, THE AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY: Great to be here.

BERMAN: You're just so excited about this mission. We were just chatting.

EBEL: Yes, I am. It was a late night on Monday night, Monday morning actually, but it's fantastic success, just fantastic. It's a triumph of jet propulsion, the landing.

BALDWIN: Walk us through because I've been looking at these different images. I mean, it's amazing they have video from -- we won't call it a rover. We're calling it a big bad SUV so this lands and we have the first images. When you're looking at these, I guess these layers of the sand, and you see this mountain, did that surprise you?

EBEL: Most of what we're seeing are testing cameras, looking to see if everything is OK that we can see, and that things are good with the rover -- excuse me, with the big bad SUV.

BALDWIN: Yes.

EBEL: And it's going to be some time before we really start doing science using cameras, but this is a laboratory. We study Martian meteorites on earth. We can do anything we want in the lab.

Here we have a laboratory on Mars that is going to look at layered topography that records three kilometers of stuff that's recording a huge amount of Martian history.

BERMAN: So talk to you about the Gail crater then. You're a geologist. Why are you so jazzed up about the Gail Crater? EBEL: The selection of this landing site, this landing site in particular was a long process. And first of all, it has to be safe. It has to have a nice flat area to land in. That was there.

And it has these layers -- three kilometers, Mt. Sharp it's now called in the center, is three kilometers of -- excuse me, five kilometers, almost three miles, of sediments that are different.

They are different layers, which we have seen using our Mars reconnaissance orbiter assets in space. So the combination of what we've done already with these new opportunities is wonderful.

BALDWIN: So when will they start, you know, doing this experimenting? How long will it take? When should we get some answers? I'm impatient already.

EBEL: We're some kilometers away from that actually starting up that mountain.

BALDWIN: OK.

EBEL: And all these illusions to climbing mountains and so forth, this big bad SUV is capable of doing things that other rovers couldn't do.

And one of those things is to climb because it's rough terrain in some places. There are cliff sides. But that's where you want to be as a geologist, with a hammer, banging on the rock.

We have a hand lens there. Literally a hand lens type camera. We have mass spectrometers. We can measure isotopes of oxygen, hydrogen and carbon.

BALDWIN: What are you most excited about. What do you want to know?

BERMAN: What's the one thing that you want to know?

EBEL: I want to know the organic chemistry in those rocks, if there's any.

BERMAN: Me too. Why?

EBEL: All right, we're together. The nation is together. We all want to know these things. Why, because they are clues to the possibility that there was once life on Mars.

There are clues to the possibility of there still being microbial life below the surface. Also this big bad SUV is going to tell us about the radiation environment in a way we've never known before.

So what are the fluxes of nasty stuff on the surface? And that paves the way for humans as well.

BALDWIN: This is so huge for deep space exploration. I was talking to Charlie Boldent recently, the head of NASA saying, he thinks in our lifetime there will be boot prints on Mars.

EBEL: I hope it's within mine and his lifetime I hope.

BALDWIN: I look forward to covering that. Denton Ebel, thank you very much. Here's a little nerdy trivia for you. One Martian year is 687 earth days. Take that.

BERMAN: Go figure.

BALDWIN: Marinate on that.

BERMAN: I'm only 28 years old on Mars. STARTING POINT is going to be back in just a moment.

BALDWIN: Thank you so much.

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