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Tropical Storm Isaac Coverage; Interview With Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; Tropical Storm Isaac Threatens Florida and New Orleans; Tropical Storm Isaac Category T3; "The Hope and the Change"

Aired August 27, 2012 - 08:00   ET



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, everybody. Welcome to a special edition of STARTING POINT. You are looking right now at the forum. That's where all of those speeches, as soon as the Republican National Convention officially gets under way, we'll be heading.

We're coming to you live this morning from Tampa, Florida. But we're talking a lot about tropical storm Isaac this morning because hurricane warnings are in effect as it heads for the northern Gulf Coast from New Orleans to Pensacola, to Gulf Coast on alert as the storm strikes eerie similarities to Katrina, including the date of the landfall potentially.

So what does that mean for the Republican National Convention?

It's Monday, August 27th. And STARTING POINT begins right now.


O'BRIEN: Hey, everybody, welcome.

Our panel with us this morning: Lenny Curry is with the Florida GOP. Roland Martin is the host of "Washington Watch with Roland Martin". Ryan Lizza is with us. He's a Washington correspondent with "The New Yorker." And Jessica Yellin is CNN's chief White House correspondent.

We're all here -- and that's Roland feeling Jessica's boots. He's just jealous because you have boots.

It is a bit of a hot mess outside.


LENNY CURRY, FLORIDA GOP: So, you're coming in. You are prepared.


MARTIN: I lived through three hurricanes.

O'BRIEN: It's not as bad as we thought it might be. Actually, we were talking last week, we thought Tampa would get the brunt of the storm and it's gone to the west.

MARTIN: Bad news for those folks.

O'BRIEN: Very bad news for folks in the West and bad news for folks along the Gulf. We're talking Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama. They're all being told to leave their homes this morning as tropical storm Isaac has taken aim at the northern Gulf Coast, hurricane warnings are now in effect from Louisiana to the Florida panhandle.

The storm now is expected to make landfall near or in Louisiana, almost seven years to the day after hurricane Katrina struck.

CNN's Rob Marciano is live for us in New Orleans.

Hey, Rob. Good morning.


You talk about that comparison of the timing of this thing. Well, the track is eerily similar as well. I want to start off with that. And these are two graphics side-by-side that taken last night and on the left is the advisory for Isaac last night at 5:00. On the right is the similar forecast advisory seven years ago for Katrina seven years ago. So that had us certainly concerned.

What has us optimistic this morning, we can go back to the satellite pictures, the satellite looks nothing like it did seven years ago when Katrina was barreling towards New Orleans and it was exploding into a category 5 storm shortly before it struck, eventually as a category 3 storm.

Right now, tropical storm Isaac is just that, a tropical storm -- 65-mile-an-hour winds. But there is a plane in there right now and there are indications that the inner core is beginning to get a little bit more of a structure which means that intensification is likely here certainly before landfall.

Here is the forecast track. We're starting to nail down now where the coordinates are but a wide range of where this could make landfall. The center of this cone of uncertainty is certainly New Orleans but from Mobile Bay to lake Charles, Louisiana, we'll be under the gun for this. Timing tomorrow night into Wednesday morning.

No mandatory evacuations here yet in New Orleans. Beefed up levee systems like the one you see behind me. That floodgate on the 17th Street Canal was not here seven years ago and they hope it will protect the city this go around -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: We certainly hope so. All right. Rob Marciano for us. Thank you, Rob.

Tropical storm Isaac on the move and gaining strength, Southern Florida missed the worst of it, though. The storm lashed the Keys with heavy rains and winds.

People were thinking the worst would happen.

CNN's Jim Spellman is there, live for us in Key West this morning.

Hi, Jim. Good morning. How is it looking?


The sun is coming up and people are starting to venture out. And what they are finding is very little if any significant damage. We did get lashed here with high winds and heavy rains for most of yesterday afternoon. They've done an initial assessment and found little or no significant damage here in the keys.

Statewide, the Department of Emergency Management are going to be out now that the sun is up, do a larger assessment for the rest of the state. They are feeling fortunate here. They went through all the preparations. But it looks like they got a little lucky here, didn't really bear the full front of tropical storm Isaac, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right. Jim Spellman for us. He's in Key West this morning. Thanks, Jim. Appreciate it.

We want to get to Richard Knabb. He is the director of the National Hurricane Center.

Nice to see you, sir. Again, I know you just got that 8:00 advisory. So why don't you fill me in on what the latest is showing you about not just the track of the storm but also the satellite picture for the storm.

RICHARD KNABB, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Yes, it appears to be a gradual trend of getting more organized and strengthening. The pressure is down a little bit from the latest data, to 988 millibars. Maximum winds at 65 miles an hour, that's 10 shy roughly of becoming a hurricane.

So we are forecasting that to happen be with the next 24 hours, just not sure exactly when. We'll be getting the data from the aircraft all day. And the reason why strengthening is anticipated is that it's over the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico, waters there 86, 87 degrees, very warm and the center of circulation is directly embedded with all the thunderstorms near the center.

A much more concentrated ball of thunderstorms than we saw yesterday. It was a more sprawling structure over the Florida Keys. So, given that and the weak wind shear in the atmosphere, it's going to strengthen.

O'BRIEN: The temperature of the water is critical obviously. How does the temperature of the water today compared to the temperature of the water seven years ago when it was Hurricane Katrina that was barreling that direction?

KNABB: Very similar. The Gulf of Mexico is almost always plenty warm in August and September, to support strengthening tropical storms and hurricanes. So -- and there's not been any significant system ahead of this to churn up any cooler water. And the gulf has some deep water beneath the surface. So, it's get turned up. It's happened even more fueled down there.

So, we're going to be expecting strengthening and how much strengthening is the big question. Right now we're forecasting it's a category 1. Could it become stronger than that? Yes. Regardless, it's a large enough system capable of producing a significant storm surge, six to 12 feet of storm surge flooding aboveground level, anywhere within southeastern Louisiana, the coast of Mississippi and Alabama.

Those folks might be told to evacuate today and you need to heed the instructions from your emergency management officials.

O'BRIEN: And when are you predicting landfall at this point?

KNABB: Landfall will be approximately some time tomorrow to late tomorrow night. That is somewhat depending on where it comes ashore because the coastline isn't straight. But the weather is going to go downhill well in advance of that. And that's why today is the day in preparation because tonight is when it's going to see the weather go downhill, it will get worse and then tomorrow night sometime the center will come ashore and it will last -- the bad weather will last after the center comes ashore.

These are large systems, especially this one, and the weather will penetrate well inland as well. It's going to slow down in its forward speed as it comes in. So that's going to be a longer period of winds and rains pile up the flooding, pile up the ocean water.

So slow moving, relatively large systems we don't like to see that, but that's what we've got here.

O'BRIEN: All right. Richard Knabb is the director of the National Hurricane Center -- thank you, Richard. Appreciate the update from you.

And as Isaac heads into the Gulf, FEMA already is mobilizing their staff.

We want to get right to FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. He's in Gainesville, Florida. He has briefed President Obama on what is tropical storm Isaac that happened yesterday. He was also the director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

It's nice to see you again, sir. We always appreciate talking to you.

So, we were talking as you heard to Mr. Richard Knabb. We talked to Rob Marciano just a moment ago. Basically, they said the good news, if there is some, we're looking at maybe hitting as a category 1 and I think the good news but might make people think, oh, well only a category 1.

Are you worried about that?

CRAIG FUGATE, FEMA DIRECTOR: Oh, yes. And I think, too, as we've seen all week, everybody focuses on the point. It's a very big storm. The storm surge is fierce, people need to evacuate, evacuation orders are given.

But it's moving slow, so we would expect a lot of heavy rain, localized flooding and also potentially extensive power outages. So make sure you're charging your phones up today. You don't want to get caught short if that storm does impact you.

O'BRIEN: You know, a lot of the issues in Hurricane Katrina which I covered a lot seven years ago where in how do you get resources in around a storm and they kind of went in well after the storm hit and that was a big problem. What are you doing differently today in terms of resources if, in fact, a storm hits and it hits hard and there's lots of damage?

FUGATE: Well, we start moving. We've been moving supplies since earlier last week, and we maintain supplies particularly in Louisiana.

So, we've been moving stuff to get ready for the impacts but we're also working closely to the states and what their unmet needs are. We don't wait for a storm to get there. We're moving now.

As I briefed the president yesterday, he president wants to make sure we have what we need in place before the storm hits.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I was going to ask you about that briefing with President Obama. Tell me a little bit more about it. How long did it take? What kind of questions did he want answered from you?

FUGATE: Well, the biggest questions he had was, you know, with Dr. Knabb was on the hurricane and intensity forecast and then what the governors would be looking at, evacuations, but he also wanted to make sure that we had all the things that the federal government would possibly need in support of the states and so, we were working on that and his biggest concern is we were doing everything we need to do to support governors, depending upon this track and how strong it comes ashore.

O'BRIEN: You know, we were just talking a few moments ago to Rob Marciano, who was standing in front of the 17th Street Canal, which they have these big, giant, massive gates right there at the levee but, of course, none of it is tested.

How confident -- there's the shot of it -- how confident are you that, in fact, this is going to resolve of many of the problems that they saw in New Orleans should this storm hit in a big way there?

FUGATE: Well, it was designed for a much larger hurricane than what currently Isaac had forecast it for. I think that's why the mayor of New Orleans is looking at that before he makes any more decisions about evacuations. But those coastal areas don't have that protection.

So I think this is most important now to folks that are on the coastal areas. If you're being asked to evacuate -- remember, you don't have a levee system. The storm surge could be deadly. You need to move to higher ground now.

O'BRIEN: A good message to get out.

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate -- nice to talk to you again, sir. Thank you for your time. We appreciate it.

As that message has been getting out, we've seen lot of changes here at the Republican National Convention because of what is storm Isaac but expected to be hurricane Isaac in the next 24 hours or so. They're going to convene today, but for a very short time, just about 10 minutes or so. That's going to happen at 2:00 p.m. Eastern. The entire event has been condensed into three days.

Our chief White House correspondent is Jessica Yellin. She's here in Tampa. So walk me through the new three-day schedule which was a four-day schedule. Who got chopped and who got to stay?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right, micro compressed. Donald Trump got chopped.


YELLIN: So, there will be no Trump at the convention. He was going to speak today. Instead he spoke to Sarasota Republicans. Instead, they are going to do the shortened schedule.

Tomorrow, you'll see Ann Romney, the governor's wife, you can expect to present a more intimate picture of him, maybe warm him up, one of the governor's challenges is had his likability numbers. And then, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey -- you can expect him to take a 2x4 to some of the president's policies.

Wednesday, Governor Jindal of Louisiana is a rising star in the Republican Party --

O'BRIEN: He may not make it, right?

YELLIN: Given what his state is going through, it's kind of iffy, we'll see. He's still on schedule. But, yes, we don't know.

And on Thursday, Governor Romney is speaking. He'll be introduced by Marco Rubio, again, rising star senator here in Florida and former Governor Jeb Bush has been moved to Florida -- I mean, Thursday. I'm sorry.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you. I know exactly what you meant when you said that.

So, are people worried right now -- I mean, those who are managing the RNC, is this a panic mode because of the weather and because of the optics with the storm that looks like a decent size storm heading for New Orleans, all the -- what that means politically. You know, the undertones of that or no?

CURRY: I don't think so. And part of the narrative -- of the Mitt Romney narrative, even barring the storm, he's known as a disciplined person that doesn't react -- overreact to things that he can't control. We're going to see that.

When we get on with this, see Mitt Romney speak and we see the narrative and the story of his life, the story will be told.


RYAN LIZZA, THE NEW YORKER: Not to politicize the storm , which will inevitably happen --

O'BRIEN: I think storms are -- certainly, the aftermath is political, right? Reaction and responses are absolutely political.

But go ahead.

LIZZA: With permission to put --

O'BRIEN: You have my permission.

LIZZA: This convention, one of the people, the names that is not going to mention is George W. Bush. He's not here. Obviously, when anyone talks about Katrina, the first thing they remember is the crisis management of the Bush administration which I think was widely judged to be a failure.

Does the Republican Party worry about that right now, when you think of hurricane and Republicans, that it's not necessarily two things that have gone together in the past?

CURRY: A number of elected local, state, and federal government, failed obviously in Katrina, they failed the people.

LIZZA: Right.

CURRY: But, look, the Obama administration has a record.

O'BRIEN: But they're gone, though, right? They're all -- they're gone. We're not going to hear from Governor Blanco. We're not going to hear from Ray Nagin. They're not going to be any part of the story.

So I guess my question would be the timing might be problematic.

CURRY: It's all going to -- it will all come back to the economy and spending. That is going to come back.

MARTIN: Real quick, look, it hurts the Republican s because of the attention, but here's the reality. Republican governors in Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas -- they still have Republicans out front. The whole issue is what's the aftermath? What's the damage?

That's the real concern. Until that happens, you really can't say what the impact will be on the Republican Party.

O'BRIEN: And certainly -- hopefully, there will be no damage and no aftermath to talk about and it will be a story we can just move on from.

CURRY: And we're seeing governors -- again, Governor Scott stepped up when it looked like the party was on and said I'm canceling my events.

O'BRIEN: All right. So if you -- thanks, appreciate it.

If you want to know what it's like to experience the national convention from the inside, well, Lenny Curry nose. He' knows. He's done it a zillion times.

But if you want to know, you can enjoy the CNN election roundtable. Wolf Blitzer and the CNN political team are going to be hosting that. You can submit your questions and get answers in real time and a live virtual chat.

Don't miss the CNN election roundtable. That's tomorrow at 12:00 Noon Eastern. Go to if you'd like to be part of that.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, it's not the just Republicans who are in town for the Republican National Convention, some Democrats are trying to crash this party. Up next, Los Angeles mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa is going to join us. Take a look at what's key for the rest of the race.

And then, of course, we've got live updates as we continue to track tropical storm Isaac as we are expecting it to turn into a Category 1 hurricane in the next 24 hours or so. You're watching STARTING POINT, and we are back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're looking at a live shot inside the forum. That's where all those speeches and the convention is going to be held. We're in Tampa, Florida this morning for the Republican National Convention, and it is not just Republicans who are in town for the event over the next few days. We're going to see lots of Democrats in Tampa as well.

Hmm, I guess, they're following the GOP's every move. One of them joins me now, the Los Angeles mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa is the national co-chair for the Obama campaign. He's also the chairman of the Democratic National Convention, which takes place next week in Charlotte.

It's nice to see you, sir. Thanks for talking with us. Why are you in Tampa? Is it really a simple as you want to jump in there and take some of the messaging away from the Republicans?

MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA, (D) LOS ANAGELES: Want to compare and contrast the candidate. But first of all, let me just say that our hearts and prayers are with the people of Florida and the Gulf Coast and New Orleans, and obviously, that's our priority.

And as you know, the vice president has suspended his campaign activities here in Florida because of that. And, the president and FEMA is focus working with the state to make sure that priority number one is the safety and protection of the people of this area.

O'BRIEN: What's your message is going to be as you're here in Tampa while the convention is running simultaneously to what you're going to be talking about?

VILLARAIGOSA: Well, you know, we called this the pre-invention convention. I think there's an effort to bring in Madison Avenue type ad people to remake Governor Romney and Mr. Ryan, and we want to set the record straight. I think it's important for people to remember what they said during the primary season, what he's done when he was in business, what he's done as governor.

They talk a lot about job creation, and we know that he was 47th out of 50th, put more debt on the people per capita of Massachusetts during this time as governor than anybody else in the country.

O'BRIEN: So, the answer to my first question is really, yes, we're here to be the Democratic talking point at a time when everybody is focused on Republican talking points.

VILLARAIGOSA: That's exactly right. To be able to compare and contrast who the candidates are and what the choices are before us.

O'BRIEN: So, when you look at the polling and most categories you see that have been polled upon, President Obama is doing better than Mitt Romney, but in one main one he's not. He actually beats the president when it comes to questions about the economy. It's relatively close.

Forty-six percent for President Obama, Governor Romney gets 50 percent in the polling, and that's flipped for almost every other question this particular poll. When the conversation goes back to the economy, and many people said, September job numbers, guess what, all we're going to be talking about is economy. How concerned are you about those numbers? Isn't that the key poll question?

VILLARAIGOSA: First of all, I've said for a long time, for at least a year now, this is going to be a very close election. The country is evenly divided. This isn't going to be a walk in the park for either candidate. We've got our work cut out for us given the economy, and the fact that the country is so polarized.

At the end of the day, it isn't just about today, however. If you want to talk about the last 29 months, obviously, the economy has been moving up. We've created more jobs in the last four years than they did during the entire Bush years.

O'BRIEN: But no one is going to say, yey, the economy. The economy is sluggish. The growth is slow.

VILLARAIGOSA: We also got to talk about the future. When you look at the Ryan/Romney budget, they're devastating the safety net, $5 billion, almost $ 6trillion in cuts. Cutting taxes as well to a level that isn't sustainable. You know, they talk a lot about cutting the deficit and this budget will make it so that we can't fix the deficit for 29 years. So, I think we got to talk about the future, obviously, about what's going on now, but also about the investments that we've got to make going into the future.

O'BRIEN: Antonio Villaraigosa here to be a bit of a spoiler for the Republicans on the Democratic side. Nice to see you, Mr. Mayor. Thank you for talking with us.

VILLARAIGOSA: Thanks for having me.

O'BRIEN: We truly appreciate it.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT, I'm going to show you the latest on tropical storm Isaac's track turning toward the Gulf Coast after lashing the Florida Keys in Miami as well. Going to take to you hurricane headquarters up next as we track that storm.

And don't forget you can watch us on your computer or your mobile phone, go to STARTING POINT is back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

Our top story this morning is tropical storm Isaac which is on its way to becoming a Category 1 hurricane. Right now, it's on a path to strike the Gulf Coast. Forecasters say it could make landfall near New Orleans late on Tuesday or very early Wednesday morning and that would be seven years after hurricane Katrina hit.

I want to get a quick check of the weather. Meteorologist, Bonnie Schneider, joins us from the CNN Hurricane Headquarters in Atlanta. Seven years ago today, Bonnie and I were having this exact same conversation about the direction of a hurricane named Katrina that was heading into the Gulf Coast. Good morning, Bonnie.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Soledad. That's right. Seven years ago, we were talking about Katrina. Lucikly, this storm, Isaac, well, it is getting better organized. It is nowhere near the size and intensity that Katrina was, though, does pose a risk and a threat to New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast as well as Alabama.

Even if it comes in as a Category 1 storm, that could certainly do some damage. We're looking at the storm becoming a big rainmaker for parts of the south as well as it will eventually come onshore there. In the meantime, we want to let you know there is a hurricane warning that does continue all the way from Destin to Morgan City.

Hurricane watches extend further westward. We're also monitoring still some nasty weather through Florida. Frequent lightning strikes popping up right now on Florida's east coast, and then on the west coast, heavy rain sweeping across Tampa well into the Gulf of Mexico. This is a tornado watch.

It's in effect for another 30 minutes. So, we're watching it very closely. We still run the risk of severe thunderstorms even though the storm is away from Florida. That's what happens when you have a large tropical storm, Soledad. The expansiveness of it really does show that the entire southeast needs to be on alert for tropical storm Isaac.

O'BRIEN: It clearly does. All right. Bonnie Schneider for us. Thanks, Bonnie. Appreciate the update.

Still ahead this morning, back to New Orleans. There, they're under a hurricane warning. We're going to take you live to check on the current conditions outside and also take a look at how that city is preparing for the storm. We're going to talk to the superintendent of New Orleans Police Department, Ronal Serpas will join us live.

You're watching STARTING POINT, and we're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. We are coming to you live at the CNN grill this morning at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. You are looking at the forum where all the speeches will be made while they were doing rehearsals yesterday loud right on the floor, but it will be very exciting. Look at all these pictures. Of course the convention has been shut down for today. It will only be 10 minutes long as they open it up and then quickly close the convention. They're still doing a lot of the last minute building. What will be hurricane Isaac is forming in the Gulf and that's the big problem here. And Donald Trump was taken from his spot. Governor Romney is still set to accept the nomination on Thursday. I have to imagine that Donald Trump thing has to be good news.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every cloud has to have a silver ling.


O'BRIEN: In all seriousness because some of the headlines he will bring could be a big distraction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The top story in Tampa is your top story is the hurricane.

O'BRIEN: That's true and that could be problematic. We're talking about that with Lenny Curry, the Florida GOP chairman. Ron Brownstein is with us as well, the editorial director of "The National Journal." Roland Martin is the host of "Washington Watch with Roland Martin." Will you stop?


O'BRIEN: Ryan Lizza is the Washington correspondent for the "New Yorker," nice to have all of you with us. The hurricane is really what we're talking about this morning and hurricane warnings are now in effect for folks from Louisiana, the Florida panhandle, storm Isaac is what it is now but it's heading for the northern gulf coast. It could make landfall near Louisiana and that would be on the seventh anniversary of hurricane Katrina. That brings us right to Rob Marciano who is live in New Orleans. Rob, so what's the feel there? I have to imagine the anxiety is so high considering the timing, the anniversary and just whenever a hurricane comes to New Orleans, that is emotionally very tough.

MARCIANO: It is. You're right about that. I think the timing of this and certainly the path it's taking, yesterday when we arrived there was high anxiety for sure. The gas stations that we saw, there were lines around the corner, many of them have run out of fuel.

There you see a comparison, the tracks at 5:00 yesterday and the forecast tracks from hurricane Katrina seven years ago and that compared with tropical storm Isaac now. The good news is Isaac is nowhere near the strength that Katrina was back then. The satellite picture not extremely organized although getting reports from the recon aircraft in there now, the clouds and radar suggest that an eye is forming as the hurricane center is telling us. Once that happens, all bets are off. There's a lot of heat content and we do anticipate strengthening.

Right now just under 400 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi and heading in this direction and the computer models and our expertise and both here and at the National Hurricane Center are saying that we're looking at this landfall to come in through Tuesday night to Wednesday morning likely as a category 1 storm.

The question is, can New Orleans, if they get a direct hit, withstand that? The answer the Army Corps and certainly the city officials say is a resounding yes. Part of the reason some of these structures that have been in place since Katrina, this is the pumping station and a flood gate at the 17th Street Canal, one of the horrific scenes during Katrina when the levee opened up and all that water from Lake Pontchartrain poured into the northern part of the city. I don't think that will happen unless Isaac becomes greater than a category 3 storm. Hopefully that won't happen, but until we get indications otherwise, only voluntary evacuations under way here within the city limits. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: I have a quick question to ask you. So we know the Mississippi is very low and we know the path of the storm looks like it's heading right up the Mississippi. What could the impact of that be? Would that play any role on the strength or the weakening of the storm?

MARCIANO: Not necessarily. If the Mississippi is flooded out in a hurry like during the oil spill which was actually good for that particular situation, it will change the temperature near the mouth. But by the time the storm gets that close, it's almost onshore. So the flow of the Mississippi shouldn't have much to do with the strength of it at least. Lake Pontchartrain is down somewhat compared to what it was during Katrina, so that would only help any sort of surge we may get when the storm comes onshore. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: All right, Rob Marciano, thank you. Appreciate it.

As Rob mentioned, New Orleans could feel the effects of tropical storm Isaac or by then hurricane Isaac by Tuesday. It's expected to make landfall late Tuesday, early Wednesday. And Wednesday will the seventh anniversary of hurricane Katrina. People have called hurricane Katrina the single most catastrophic disaster in U.S. history.

Joining us this morning from New Orleans is Ronal Serpas, a superintendent of the New Orleans police department. Nice to see you, sir, thank you for talking with us. What's different this time around in what you manage than seven years ago?

RONAL SERPAS, SUPERINTENDENT, NEW ORLEANS POLICE DEPARTMENT: There are so many differences. Since Katrina there's been hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure built and put in place with flooded protection. We have the most state-of-the-art command and control systems that we use now to make sure we can seamlessly cooperate and coordinate our efforts with local, state, and federal officials.

We don't want to lose the opportunity to send our best wishes and prayers to those who have fallen in the path of Isaac. There has been some death, devastation and destruction from wind and water. Here in New Orleans we feel comfortable and strong and our response, our government's response and our ability to get through this storm but, remember, the best plan for any storm is to be ready to evacuate if necessary. We don't see that yet f. We do, we'll let people know. It will come together very nicely.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about your department's response. Seven years ago the New Orleans police department really, I think it's fair to say, had a black eye in a lot of the response, and some of that was because family members who hadn't been evacuated now became a focus for some of the police officers who had to decide between helping out the city or helping out their families. What's different now? Are you demanding that family members have a plan or be evacuated?

SERPAS: It's much different. Two weeks ago we began testing our notifications and realigning officers' understanding that they are public servants but they have family, too. Take care of them first so that you can give yourself fully to the people you serve. We feel strongly that's in place. The issue about Katrina, the anniversary, makes this heightened, makes everybody a bit more concerned. I think we're going to do well. We have to get the officers to take care of their families first so they can stay here and take care of the people.

O'BRIEN: What about the prisoners? I remember the early pictures when the choppers would fly over and show the prisoners out on the overpass in the baking sun after the hurricane had roared through. What's the plan for them? Have you already mapped out -- are they being evacuated?

SERPAS: We work closely with the sheriff. He's part of our emergency team. Yesterday we had a meeting with the mayor and part of the process is determining when and how the sheriff will move prisoners and will be there to assist him any way possible. It's all going to be orchestrated very carefully and in preparation before the storm gets here. O'BRIEN: All right, we're watching it. Ronal Serpas is the superintendent of the New Orleans police department. It's nice to see you, sir. We know you're busy, so we appreciate the time.

SERPAS: Yes, ma'am.

O'BRIEN: It's interesting, the thing about the date, of course, I find so creepy. We spent a lot of time in New Orleans when the storm hit and a lot of time since the storm has hit so many people there, that anniversary. It's such a terrible anniversary even with no storm coming.

MARTIN: Extraordinary to have it on the same day.

O'BRIEN: Category 1 is far from what hit New Orleans, which was a category 5.

MARTIN: And of course the difference there it was the levees breaking that contributed to the beyond just the hurricane itself and the winds. So the hurricane was one thing. Levees breaking was a totally different thing that greatly contributed to that whole disaster.

O'BRIEN: Right. And I'm sure you see all this money poured into the levee system at least, again, I'm not from New Orleans. Until it's tested, who knows? Who really knows?

MARTIN: Mother nature has taken care of many man built things.

LIZZA: What a complex series of questions with this convention. What is appropriate depending on what happens in New Orleans? This is obviously one of the biggest moments left in the campaign and yet you have this enormous event that affects real lives and real people that you have to be cognizant of going forward Wednesday and Thursday.

MARTIN: It happened in 2008. The first day of the Republican convention, this is similar.

LIZZA: The first day may be gone now forever but we're talking about potentially the climax moment which is when you have the national spotlight on the acceptance speech and how that will be affected, very difficult choices.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will the Republican Party never have another convention in Florida in August in hurricane season?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll still try to make the case for it. It's not going to be easy.

O'BRIEN: And it still affects the convention. We've been talking about the RNC. We've been talking about what is going to turn in, we expect, to a hurricane Isaac, but there are other stories. Christine romans has an update on those stories. Hey, Christine.

ROMANS: Good morning again, Soledad. Authorities in Saudi Arabia foiling a terror plot with links to Al Qaeda. Government officials says busted extremist terror cells in Riyadh. Eight suspected militants, most from Yemen were arrested. They say they were in contact with "that deviant organization abroad," a term the Saudi government uses to refer to Al Qaeda.

Two NATO troops are dead in the latest insider shooting in Afghanistan. An army soldier opened fire on the two in eastern Afghanistan. Coalition forces returned fire, killing that soldier. It's the late nest a series of green on blue attacks against NATO-led troops. Officials say at least 42 have been killed by afghan forces or insurgents disguised as soldiers or police.

A swarm of hundreds of quakes near the California-Mexico border, the strongest a 5.5 magnitude jolt. The swarm centered in a town 10 miles east of San Diego. A seismologist saying by last night they recorded about 300 earthquakes. One family got several jolts on camera.




ROMANS: This is the most seismic activity in the area since the 1970s, no injuries and, Soledad, only minor damage reported.

O'BRIEN: Thank goodness. That's a terrifying thing to be in. You noticed the young girl grabs the kids, the boy with the headphones on is -- all right. Thanks, Christine, appreciate it.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, oil workers are scrambling as tropical storm Isaac is bearing down on offshore oil and gas supplies in the Gulf. Prices are skyrocketing, too. You're watching STARTING POINT. We'll have that story straight ahead.



Tropical storm Isaac probably will become a hurricane and it is dodging really this close to Florida and heading to the nerve center of American energy production, Gulf oil production. You see all of these spots here, these are hundreds and hundreds of drilling platforms. This is a critical part of the nation's energy infrastructure when I layer on to here all of the refining facilities, low-level refining facilities.

Also take a look at this, these are the strategic petroleum reserves, all of those emergency stockpiles of American energy. You add in all of these different chemical and refining and storage facilities and you can see just how busy this area is.

And now, Soledad, I put in for you all of the pipelines here so this is exactly why we're looking at a bull's eye on the nerve center of Gulf energy production here with the way tropical storm Isaac is tracking right now. We'll be closely watching gas and oil prices. Soledad, gas prices for you and me are already up seven percent so far this month in August. This kind of disruption coupled with a big disruption -- disruption in Venezuela over the weekend certainly bears watching -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right keep watching it for us. Christine, thank you.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT "The Hope and The Change" -- a hard-hitting documentary about President Obama is going to be screened this week at the Republican National Convention. We're going to have the director of the film joining us live up next.

You're watching STARTING POINT.

And we're also watching tropical storm Isaac for you as it's expected to turn into a hurricane as it's going into the Gulf Coast. We'll watch that as well.

We're back in just a moment right after this short break.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT.

You're looking at the forum where activity is going on in there even though today it's only going to be about ten minutes of business at the Republican National Convention. We're expecting that tomorrow, Tuesday, they will hold a full day.

There's a movie coming out and it is not a glowing profile of Mitt Romney that's going to show at this convention. Instead it is a stinging indictment of President Obama. The movie is called "The Hope and The Change" and it highlights 40 Democrats and Independents who voted for President Obama back in 2008 and now say they are disillusioned. Here is a little clip.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The party is over. The smoke has cleared.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He didn't come up with any solutions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He didn't make good on any of his promises.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our credit rating went down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our taxes are going up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The deficit is going up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These costs are astronomical.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're spending way too much. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He promised change and we all got fooled.


O'BRIEN: The film was produced by Citizens United, which is a conservative non-profit advocacy group and the writer and director of the film Steve Bannon joins me now.

It's nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us.

STEVE BANNON, DIRECTOR, "THE HOPE AND THE CHANGE": Thanks for having me Soledad.

O'BRIEN: What a film -- often Citizens United we know funds a lot of ads and that's been a real strategy during the election on both sides, right, to funnel a lot of money into attacking the other guy through an ad. Why do a full length film?

BANNON: I think Citizens United actually their big thing is to do films. They've done films in the past. Like Dave Bossie who is my producer and partner on this actually went to the Supreme Court to have the right to make films like Michael Moore and then advertise them without having to put the disclaimer on.

O'BRIEN: That was the Hillary Clinton film back in 2008.

BANNON: Yes exactly -- in fact the unintended consequences of that was the Super PACs and all of that. He actually went to make a film like this and so we could go and put it up on cable TV, do a commercial deal and then take ads on it.

O'BRIEN: What's -- what's the benefit of a film rather than a bunch of attack ads?

BANNON: I think a film gets -- I think in this film what we did is we've taken a year to go, last year we had this idea -- let's go -- we thought in the run up to the election the key people would be -- people who voted for President Obama, Democrats and Independents who are either lean towards not voting are leaning towards not voting for President Obama

So we retained the services of guys like Pat Caddell and Kendra Stuart (ph) Democratic strategists to help us go do focus groups. We went to the key battleground states, the key districts within those states.

If you remember Peter Hamby, of CNN wrote an article about (inaudible) county (ph) we went right to (inaudible) county. So these people are all registered Democrats and Independents from the absolute micro targeting that David Axelrod is doing. In fact I would think -- David Axelrod has done the same focus groups, the same focus groups for the same people.

O'BRIEN: You know well, Roland -- go ahead, Roland.

MARTIN: How do you deal with folks who lie? I saw a friend, I wonder, I heard one of the women say, oh my God taxes have gone up. If you look at the stimulus bill, and actually the 40 percent of that are actually tax cuts. And so when you look at analysis -- if we look at the analysis of what has happened.


MARTIN: Taxes have actually -- they have not gone up. So when somebody lies in the film, what do you do?

BANNON: These are called voters.

MARTIN: No, no right but they also lie.

BANNON: No, well I mean, voter -- voters can be low information voters. They can be mid-information voters. We went and took a pool of voters, right; who voted for President Obama who are active in the voter pool, registered voters who are likely to vote.

Some said they are not going to vote because they may not vote for President Obama. But we got their feelings. And some of them had information that's not absolutely perfect. I mean, a lot of them don't know a lot about Obamacare.


MARTIN: But if somebody lied -- why would it include the lie?

O'BRIEN: It sounds like it doesn't matter to you if the information of the voter is accurate or if it's --

BANNON: No, it matters but when they're talking about their own personal beliefs, some of that is in there, absolutely.

O'BRIEN: But taxes going up isn't a personal belief, it's a fact, right?

BANNON: It was a belief of hers.

RYAN LIZZA, "NEW YORKER": It's as important to point voters to the film (ph) -- what was the common anti-Obama sentiment from these voters.

BANNON: The common anti-Obama sentiment -- by the way, the film starts of initially it looks like the Obama campaign film. We go back to 2008 when they had this great emotional holding up. I think it's that he didn't fulfill his promises. I think they felt he was going to focus on the economy, focus on jobs, focus on, you know, making the American economy stronger and really focus on getting them back to work and uniting the country.

So I think when you (inaudible), they feel the country is more divided than ever and in their lives they feel like the economy is not going back. I mean this is a film of the working class, the middle class of this country. And I think it --

O'BRIEN: Is it preaching to the choir, though? You basically, okay, those 40 people --

BANNON: Well, actually not. In fact that's why -- I didn't have any conservatives, there's no conservative subject matter experts. Other films have (inaudible) conservative talking heads in them. Here these are all Democrats, in fact, we're going to take this to the Democratic National Convention next week and play it in the theater across the street. We'll be advertising this on CNN and MSNBC. This is not really for the Fox audience. This is really for those undecideds --

LIZZA: In Massachusetts, we found some voters that voted for Romney back when he was governor but aren't going to support him in a presidency which the polls in Massachusetts say there are thousands, what do you think they would -- what do you think --

BANNON: Well, David Axelrod had something the other day when we had a special on Fox --

LIZZA: You can find voters who support someone and then flip.


BANNON: By the way, we went to -- this is just not 40 voters. We did focus groups for over a year. We had, by the way, there were Democratic strategists who did these focus groups for us. I think those --

MARTIN: Well, Pat Caddell is no longer really --

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you one last quick question and I get your point at this. You know, when people do analysis (inaudible) they keep saying and Joe Klein was saying this earlier -- it cannot be about the other guy, right? And we've heard this on both side sides. It cannot be the other guy did this. It has to be here is what my vision is.

Isn't that the inherent problem in your documentary? It really is here is the other guy, we round up a bunch of voters who do not like him.

BANNON: No but -- by the way, these are his supporters. Remember, these are people that actually supported him. These are people that voted for him. What I want to do is take a slice of that which people call the undecideds today and I think they're undecided as to are they actually going to go vote this time. So I want to take a slice at this is not a pro-Romney film. It's not a pro-Romney film. It is not --

O'BRIEN: It's an anti-Obama film.

BANNON: It's a film I think that gets -- I think it's --

O'BRIEN: It's an anti-Obama film. Let me help you with that.

BANNON: It's a film -- (CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Let me help you with that.

BANNON: It's a film that lays the argument of the undecideds.

O'BRIEN: Let me help you with that. That's an anti-Obama film. We're out of time.

MARTIN: This is why we're wearing boots today because you'll step in a whole of it. It's an anti-Obama film.

O'BRIEN: Steve Bannon, nice to have you. Thanks for coming and talking about it. It would be interesting to see the reaction you get when you show that at the DNC next week.

We'll talk about it then.

MARTIN: I'm sure -- I'm sure they'll --


O'BRIEN: We have to take a short break. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: As we wrap it up for STARTING POINT this morning, we're planning big coverage of Isaac right here at CNN. I'm going to be joining my colleagues Anderson Cooper and Rob Marciano along the Gulf Coast starting tomorrow morning live here on "EARLY START" and on STARTING POINT.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now.