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Suicide Bomber Hits U.S. Consulate Vehicle; Democrats Ready for Charlotte Week; Are We Better Off than Four Years Ago?; Biden's U-Haul Stolen; Probing Equity Firms, Including Bain; U.S. Suspends Training of Afghan Police; Reverend Sun Myung Moon Dies; Isaac's Leftovers Soak Parts of Midwest

Aired September 3, 2012 - 06:00   ET



ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Breaking news. A deadly explosion near an American consulate in Pakistan. At least two Americans injured. New details on the death toll this hour.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The stage is set in Charlotte. Delegates in town for this week's Democratic National Convention.


BERMAN (on-camera): Good morning and welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman live at the CNN Grill in Charlotte for the Democratic convention. We will have more from here in just a few minutes.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): All right, John. We're looking forward to that. I'm Zoraida Sambolin back here in New York. It is 6:00 a.m. in the East.

We begin with breaking news in Pakistan where a suicide bomber riding in a car filled with explosives hit a U.S. consulate vehicle. It happened in Poshawar in north western Pakistan. That's about 120 miles from Islamabad. Take a look at the map there.

A Pakistani police source is now saying two Pakistanis were killed in that explosion. Twenty five others were injured at the scene. The State Department says two American staffers were injured.

We're going to continue to follow all of the developments and we'll bring you any updates as soon as they come in -- John.

BERMAN: Thanks, Zoraida. So here in Charlotte, the Democrats are gearing up for their critical convention week. It's their chance to show the nation why they think President Obama deserves four more years in the White House.

The convention doesn't gabble to order until tomorrow with San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro giving the keynote address and Michelle Obama is speaking at night.

A major problem facing the party heading into the convention is this question. Are Americans better off today than they were four years ago?

I am joined right now by my friend, CNN's Dana Bash. Dana, it's a question the Democrats have had a hard time answering the last couple of days?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They have. All you have to do is watch two of the president's top campaign advisers, David Plouffe and David Axelrod.

And you could tell, they didn't really have an answer. There was one Democrat who did have an answer, but for the campaign it wasn't the right answer, it was no. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you honestly say that people are better off today than they were four years ago?

GOVERNOR MARTIN O'MALLEY (D), MARYLAND: No, but that's not the question of this election. The question, without a doubt we are not as well off as we were before George Bush brought us the Bush job losses, the Bush recession, the Bush deficits and series of desert wars charged for the first time to the national credit card.


BASH: And that has created a political field day for Republicans. They are jumping on that saying, it's proof that we are not better off than four years ago. But let's take a look at the hard data.

First of all, job growth, that's the number one thing for people out there. When the president took office, we were bleeding jobs, 818,000. It went up to over 100,000, but not as good as it should be.

The unemployment rate that's definitely is where things have gotten worse. When he started it was 7.8, now it's 8.2 percent, which is just simply not good. The economic growth has gotten better.

It was terrible down 5.3 percent GDP and now it's up 1.5 percent and home prices, which is one of the key aspects of how people feel about the economy.

The median home price is 175,500 back when the president took office, now it's 185,000 so not so much better. It's mixed, but again, the data doesn't necessarily speak to the emotions that people have.

BERMAN: Right, exactly. The problem is in even areas where there has been improvement. You know, market improvement is so not so good people feel like they are much better off, which is why it is an important issue for Republicans.

Michelle Obama speaks tomorrow night here in Charlotte, but there is another speaker that a lot of Americans don't necessarily know. He is giving the keynote address.

BASH: That's right. Julian Castro, you mentioned him earlier, he is the mayor of San Antonio. Certainly, has the potential to become, you know, another rock star like Barack Obama. Nobody knew who Barack Obama was when he gave the keynote address.

This is a chance for Democrats first of all to highlight Hispanic- American, which is always a plus for them to highlight diversity, especially the fastest ethnic growing population in the country.

But also to highlight a city mayor, which if you look across the country, Democrats really rule on cities, probably makes some sense because Democrats tend to be in urban areas. But it does allow Democrats to show they have new faces and you know, could set the stage for some potential rock --

BERMAN: A 37 years old, young man, young age of 37 and an identical twin.

BASH: I didn't know that.

BERMAN: It's good for all of us, twin families everywhere.

Coming up at 6:30 Eastern, we're going to talk to Brad Woodhouse. He is the communications director for the Democratic National Convention about what to expect in the week ahead here in Charlotte.

We will ask him if we're better off than we were four years ago. Tonight, don't miss this on CNN, the premiere of chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin's documentary "Obama Revealed, The Man The President."

It is very good. It's tonight at 8:00 and 11:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN. Don't miss it. Zoraida, let's go back to you in New York.

SAMBOLIN: All right, thank you very much, John.

It looks like the vice president's u-haul has been hijacked. Joe Biden is in Detroit today. He will be going ahead with today's plans to speak at the Labor Day rally, even though someone stole his u-haul overnight right from the Westin Hotel.

The u-haul was filled with equipment for today's events and although the VP spokesman won't specify exactly what was taken. Something similar happened to President Obama last October. A truck carrying $200,000 worth of podiums, audio equipment and presidential seals for a three-day presidential bus tour was stolen in Virginia that time.

New York's attorney general investigating whether private equity firms improperly used loopholes to avoid paying taxes. Among dozen firms that were subpoenaed in July, Bain Capital.

Mitt Romney's lawyer issued a statement denying Romney's involvement in the tax strategy. New York's attorney general is also the co-chair of a mortgage fraud task force appointed by President Obama.

And training of Afghan police recruits has been suspended by the United States temporarily. The move is designed to give our Special Forces time to double check the backgrounds of current Afghan police. There's been a troubling rise on the number of attacks on NATO troops this year. More than 40 reportedly killed by members of the Afghan security forces or by insurgents disguised as Afghan police.

The Reverend Sun Myung Moon has died. A self-proclaimed messiah, Moon founded the Unification Church, which was famous, as you know, for its mass weddings and which worldwide followers known as "Moonies" married simultaneously.

Moon's detractors called him a cult leader accusing him of brain washing and duping people out of money. He served time in prison in the United States for tax evasion. That was in the mid 1980s. The Reverend Moon was 92 years old.

Look at this, terrifying moments for spectators at a monster truck show in Eugene, Oregon, this weekend. Video shows the driver losing control of the oversized pickup after hitting a mud pick crashing into the panicked crowd.

Police say three people suffered injuries. Amazingly though, look at that, none are life threatening. They got out of the way quickly there.

Nearly a week after Hurricane Isaac slammed into the gulf coast there are new threats this morning posed by rain, swollen rivers and by the lakes. We'll have a live report from inside the damaged zone in New Orleans that is coming up next.


SAMBOLIN: Isaac has left over -- it's expected to some parts of the Midwest today, but so far Isaac, it has side stepped most of the Midwestern and plain states hit hardest by the drought.

Meantime, a little bit later today, President Obama will tour flood- damaged parts of Louisiana as initial inspections reportedly show New Orleans levees and pumps actually held up as advertised and that's paid for.

George Howell is following developments in New Orleans. George, what's the latest. I was just reading online that they have sweltering conditions and still a lot of people without power.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Zoraida, good morning. That is a source of frustration. We're talking about from last check of the utility, at least 129,000 people still without power.

But you do see these utility trucks going neighborhood to neighborhood trying to restore power, but it will take some time. Even read in a newspaper article it could take several days before that happens.

But I want to also take you across Lake Pontchartrain into St. Tammany Parish. That's where we've seen some flooding. We will see more flooding today right along the west Pearl River.

There's concern about at least 3 feet more of water coming into homes. Also, a lot of attention focused on this navigational canal that feeds into the river system. There were two locks there that officials feared could fail.

But today they feel more confident that those locks will hold up and keep the water back. Also, in nearby Plaquemines Parish, we visited that area the other day. We see residents returning to their homes.

When they do, they find many of these neighborhoods still under water. In fact, officials are doing their best to pump the water out and even breaching levees in several places to try to get the water out as quickly as possible.

But again, Zoraida, that could take, you know, up to a week before those neighborhoods are dry. Now we're hearing from government officials as well.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, she came into town just the other day and she said that government officials, they are on the ground and doing everything they can to help people get back to normal.


JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We will stay until this recovery is complete. We are here to be part of the team, part of the team in Louisiana and make sure that Hurricane Isaac is put to rest as soon as we can for all of those affected.


HOWELL: Zoraida, you know, things are returning back to normal. I don't know if you hear the bats. It threw me off for a second. The bats are out and things are back to normal slowly but surely here in New Orleans.

SAMBOLIN: It looks well lit behind you as well. But I want to talk a little bit about something that Janet Napolitano said. She used the word recovery efforts.

Are we done with recovery efforts particularly in Plaquemines Parish, where I know two people perish? I think five deaths total so far including Mississippi and Louisiana.

HOWELL: You know, this is going to take at least a week and maybe more before we see many of these residents who lost power have the power restored. That's the first thing.

Then secondly where you find these neighborhoods that took on floodwater especially there in Plaquemines Parish, it could take well over a week before people can finally go back in the homes and start to clean out from all of the damage, the debris from that situation, and then get back to normal.

SAMBOLIN: All right, George Howell, live in New Orleans for us, thank you very much. It is 13 minutes past the hour. Let's get you up to date. Here's Christine Romans with this morning's top stories. CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS COVERAGE: Good morning again. Updating you on the breaking news we've been telling you about a suicide bomber riding in a car filled with explosives hit a U.S. consulate vehicle in Pakistan.

It happened in Peshawar, about 120 miles from Islamabad. A Pakistani police force is now saying two Pakistanis were killed in this explosion. Twenty five others were injured at the scene.

The State Department says two American staffers were injured. We're following development and will have a live report with State Department reaction just ahead.

Charlotte is all dressed up for the Democrats, convention business officially begins tomorrow. First Lady Michelle Obama and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro will be the featured speakers tomorrow night with Castro delivering the keynote address.

A fraternity pledge dies after a night of drinking. Now Fresno State University and the national organization that oversees the fraternity have suspended the chapter. Fresno police and the university are investigating just what happened to 18-year-old Phillip Dhanens. He had accepted an invitation to join the Theta Chi last week.

The U.S. is likely to stay out. American and foreign officials tell "The Washington Post," the U.S. isn't likely to intervene in Syria's civil war in the lead up to November's presidential election or even months after it. UNICEF report last week was the deadliest yet in Syria's civil war with at least 1,600 people killed.

An opposition network says yesterday alone, 144 people died in violence throughout Syria.

A fast growing wildfire in southern California San Gabriel Mountains forces 1,500 people to evacuate, most of them campers. Two hundred firefighters are fighting fire from the ground and by air. More than 3,600 acres have burned. This fire, Zoraida, is about 5 percent contained.

SAMBOLIN: Terrible pictures there. Thanks, Christine.

It is now 15 minutes past the hour. By now, you probably heard about sustainable farming on land, right? But chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta talked to one man who is farming sustainably in the deep sea, not with produce but with fish. And he says it may be the key to feeding a booming population.


BRIAN O'HANLON: Over the next 50 years, we need more produced than the last 10,000 years combined. And it's just staggering to think where is it all going to come from. We're already pushing the limits on land. We're already seeing food shortages in some parts of the world. So, we need to really pick up the pace and take it to the next level offshore and kin of open up new frontiers for farming.


SAMBOLIN: Well, check out more of Brian O'Hanlon's interview on "THE NEXT LIST." Next weekend, Sunday, September 9th at 2:00 p.m., right here on CNN.

Republicans are asking the question, are you better off now than you were four years ago? Christine Romans tells us whether that is true in terms of jobs and the economy. That is coming up next.


SAMBLIN: It is 20 minutes after the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START.

We are minding your business this morning.

You know, the RNC asked the question, are you better of now than four years ago?

With the economy ranking the top issue among voters, Christine Romans is looking back at the economic indicators for us to see what they show. I know you threw in housing this time as well.

ROMANS: I know, because housing, that's been improving.

But let's start with jobs first, because this is -- this is the big one. Jobs, it's the engine of your personal economy. With the president took office, it was 7.8 percent. Look at where it went. I mean, this went up to 10 percent, it was really ugly in the early days of the financial crisis but it has improved, 8.3 percent.

So, when you're in election season, Zoraida, it depends on how you look at it. It is improved from here but certainly this number is much better. This is the jobs growth. We were losing 800,000 jobs a month when the president took office and now, the most recent month, we gained 163,000. You want to see better than that. But clearly, this is almost two years of jobs growth.

But I will point out half of the jobs created in the recovery have been low wage jobs. So, we have a structural issue that's going to take the next president and next president to try to figure out how to fix that.

These are home prices. I put this in as well, the median home price was $175,000 early 2009. Remember, there was a big crash in home prices and we called it a double dip. And now it has come back a bit, $185,000.

You're hearing about debt on the campaign trail, at the RNC, the Republicans last week, two debt clocks, remember, Zoraida, at their convention. They are talking about almost $6 trillion of debt added underneath this president. And while that's true, it's really important to look at what the debt is from.

These are the Bush era tax cuts right here. Look how much those tax cuts here are adding to our debt. Take a look at this. This is wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is how much that added to our debt.

Right here is the crisis, the economic crisis. That's how much of our debt are huge. It's too much, right? But that's what is causing it. This right here is the bailout, this little thing here and this right here are some other recovery stimulus kind of measures and all that. That's what caused all this debt, Democrats and Republicans together running up that debt. So I doubt you're going to see a debt clock this week. They're not so laser focused on the national debt like the Republicans are.

SAMBOLIN: No, I doubt it.

Well, what's the one thing that we need to know about our money today? You know, the one thing you need to know today, stock markets are closed, Zoraida, for the holiday but the S&P 500 is up more than 10 percent this year. This is a perfect time to check how your 401(k) is balanced and make sure it's appropriate for your age and your risk. Follow me on Twitter, I'm going to put out for a link to a quiz to figure out your risk tolerance.

SAMBOLIN: I love that link, by the way. I think it's very handy, everybody should go to Christine --

ROMANS: When the market is closed, it's a perfect time to really look at it passionately.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: We are going to head back to John Berman. He is live in Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention.

Good morning to you.

BERMAN: Good morning, Zoraida. I'm in the CNN grill where CNN will be headquartering its coverage for most of this week here in charlotte. We are the first broadcast to go live from the fantastic restaurant. It is the place to be here.

And coming up, we're going to ask Democrats this -- they had 24 hours to come up with an answer to this question, are you better off than you were four years ago? Do they have a better answer than they had yesterday?

Come back. You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Breaking news overnight -- a suicide blast targeting Americans in Pakistan.

BERMAN: The ghost of Reagan. In 2012, Democrats struggling to answer this question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RONALD REAGAN, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Are you better off than you were four years ago?


BERMAN: Some message trouble for team Obama as convention week begins this week in Charlotte.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman live at the CNN grill in Charlotte for this week's Democratic National Convention. We'll have more from here coming up in just a few minutes.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Looking forward to it, John.

I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Back in New York. It is 28 minutes past the hour.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

SAMBOLIN: We begin with that breaking news. A suicide car bombing in Peshawar Pakistan -- a car loaded with explosives hit a vehicle used by the U.S. consulate there. We are now being told two Pakistanis were killed.

Foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty is here with the latest on the American casualties. I know the information is flowing in. What do you know now?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPNDENT: Well, at this point from the State Department, we know there were two U.S. personnel and two Pakistani employees who were injured in that attack. They are saying no personnel from the consulate were killed.

Now, the other information about the two Pakistanis is coming from the local police. They say the two Pakistanis were killed, not clear exactly who they were. This -- it could have killed bystanders if indeed that's what happened, and that 25 were injured.

Zoraida, you know that it's not uncommon, right after something like this to have some confusion. In fact, there was some confusion among the local authorities about whether or not an American had been killed. But the whole idea of it is the more disturbing thing, that this is an area that has seen a lot of attacks, similar attacks over quite a period.

And what's going on right now in this area around Peshawar is that the Pakistani forces are taking the fight to some of these Islamic militants. And that could be one of the reasons that this happened. Whatever it was, it was quite a major attack. We understand that the vehicle, the suicide vehicle, had about 242 pounds of explosives and it cut in front of this.

There were apparently three according to local officials, three vehicles in the convoy -- two from the consulate, one a police vehicle. This vehicle came in front. The suicide car, and essentially really did major damage to that first car. SAMBOLIN: We're taking a look at the pictures. They are simply incredible.

So, you mentioned confusion earlier. And there were reports actually we have them, that somebody was sharing an American passport and saying that that person was among those dead and that is not true?

DOUGHERTY: Well, as far as we know it is not. I mean, we checked with State Department and they are definitely saying, you know, again, two Americans injured, two Pakistani employees of the consulate injured.

But they also said they were looking into reports of perhaps Pakistanis locally who might have been injured or killed. But again, it is not uncommon in the confusion for something like that to come out.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty, thank you so much for joining us this morning. We appreciate all of the details.

Let's head back to John Berman.

BERMAN: All right. Thanks, Zoraida, the latest poll numbers show the presidential race is still locked in a dead heat. It's now 47 percent to 46 percent in a new Gallup poll. The president on top by a razor thin margin of 1 percent, which even if you're not good at math, you know is really, really close.

And this is a president who will try to reenergize voters at this convention this week.

Joining me now is Brad Woodhouse. He's the communication director for the Democratic National Committee. Dana Bash is here as well.

Brad, you've been shaking your head all morning as you've been sitting here off camera, because we've been playing sound for the last 24 hours of Democrats being asked, are you better off than four years ago?

I'll give you a chance to ask the question -- are we better off today than we were four years ago?

BRAD WOODHOUSE, DNC COMMUNICATION DIRECTOR: Absolutely. Joe Biden does it in a very short form. He talks about G.M. is alive and Osama bin Laden is dead.

The truth is though is that the American people know. I mean, we were literally a plane that was heading -- the trajectory was towards the ground when the president took over. He got the stick, he's pulled us up out of that decline.

We were losing 800,000 jobs a month. Lost 3.5 millions, Americans I know have not forgotten, we lost 3.5 million jobs in the last six months of the Bush administration. We gained 4.5 million jobs over the past two and a half years. So if you just put those side by side, clearly we're better off. However, we have a long way to go.

BERMAN: So, just to be clear, the answer this morning from Brad Woodhouse of the DNC is yes?

WOODHOUSE: Yes, we're absolutely better off.

BERMAN: Yesterday however from Martin O'Malley, who's a fairly well known governor of Maryland, the answer was a little different. Let's listen to that answer.


BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: Can you honestly say that people are better off today than four years ago?

GOV. MARTIN O'MALLEY (D), MARYLAND: No, but that's not the question of this election. The question, without a doubt, we are not as well off as we were before George Bush brought us the Bush job losses, the Bush recession, the Bush deficits and series of desert wars charged for first time to credit card -- the national credit card.


BERMAN: So he says no, you say yes, is there a disagreement?

WOODHOUSE: Well, let me say that what I do agree with him about, that this is a question about where we go from here. Last week in Tampa, you didn't get any of that from Republicans, what are you going to do?

I mean, it's one of the biggest criticisms, even from the right, about Mitt Romney's speech. He didn't talk about a rationale to elect him. He didn't talk about what he would do. You will see that this week in Charlotte. The president will talk about -- in this convention, will talk about where we were, where we've come and where we want to go.

BERMAN: Dana is itching to get a piece of this action.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thank you. Isn't this -- first of all, I want to say, this is clearly what you get when you bring the spokesman for the DNC on, you had an answer. But why is it that it took 24 hours to get that kind of answer?

I mean, you would think the two leaders of the Obama campaign would be able to answer that the way you just did.

WOODHOUSE: Well, look, I think that they are articulated in broad form what I just said. That is that we really have moved the country forward. We have a long way to go.

I mean, look, we don't want to be Pollyannaish about this. People understand that there are a lot of people out there hurting, that we need to restore middle class security, that's what the president has worked on. We would be a lot farther down the road if Republicans had work with the president, if they had reached a deal on a grand bargain around debt or deficits, or even if they adopted the president's jobs plan or portions of it.

But I think we all agree, we've moved the country forward and we need to continue to do so.

BERMAN: Brad, I'm glad you're here, because we didn't get your first reaction. You're going to be the first to react to a brand-new video from the Republicans out this morning.

WOODHOUSE: Well, I can only imagine.

BERMAN: That talks about President Obama.

WOODHOUSE: It's filled with the truth.

BERMAN: And his promises versus accomplishments. Let's play this video so we can get your first ever reaction.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These are the steps that we must take.

There are plenty of steps we can take --

Right now.

Right now --

To start getting our economy back on track.

To help create jobs and grow this economy.

If we are going to deal dependence on foreign oil.

If we're going to deal with our dependence on foreign oil.

We're going to end our dependence on foreign oil.

We'll recruit an army of new teachers.

Allow to recruit an army of new teachers.

And make college affordable.

Make college for more affordable.

To repair our crumbling roads and bridges --

We've got crumbling roads and bridges.


BERMAN: You have to give them credit for some good video searches there.

WOODHOUSE: Well, I mean, that's great. They have a wonderful research department over at the RNC.

The truth is some of the things they pointed out there, the president has done. He has made college more affordable. He's taken out the middle man. He's reformed the college loan system.

He created 4.5 million jobs. He promised to do something about health care -- he did it. He promised to end the war in Iraq -- he did. He promised if given the opportunity, he'd go after Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, he did it. He's kept his promises.

You know, the Republicans made a pledge. The other thing they didn't have in there, they could have had a little 2009 caption, the Republicans -- Paul Ryan was in this meeting -- met on inauguration night in 2009 and plotted obstruction of the president's agenda.

Once they got control of the house in 2011, they have done that. They obstructed anything on jobs. They obstructed anything on debt and deficits.

Paul Ryan encouraged John Boehner to walk away from a grand bargain because he said --

BERMAN: But at that minimum, when you play that sound together for four years ago versus today, it does leave the viewer with the feeling, that gosh, we're still talking about these things and there hasn't been the progress in here that we'd wanted.

WOODHOUSE: Well, look, these are issues that if you go back and look at some of the C-Span footage from previous conventions, we're talking about these issues in memorial. But we made progress on issues, really when progress started to wane, the Republicans took over the House, and they said they weren't going to help on jobs, they weren't going to help on debt and deficits, they weren't going to try to reach any solutions because that would help the president.

BERMAN: Dana has been there the whole time in Congress while this is going on.

BASH: Yes, covering Congress.


BASH: But no, that leads to what we were thinking about as you were talking -- going forward for this convention, it's a hard line to walk, right, in between touting the accomplishments that you believe you have made and reality which is people are still hurting. How -- can you take us inside on how you are talking about messaging and walking that line?

WOODHOUSE: Look, the one thing we do is we're not going to be out there, like and be Pollyannaish about it. We're not talking like the economy is going gangbusters. We understand people are facing real challenges and some of these challenges are we're in the deep hole, it's taken a long time to climb out.

But we need to also talk about the vision -- the vision of the future and we need to talk about those things that get the economy moving, a balanced approach to debt and deficits, an approach that builds the foundation of this economy from the middle class out, not the top --

BASH: No mystery celebrity guest, right?

WOODHOUSE: No mystery celebrity guest. No empty chairs.

BERMAN: All right. Brad Woodhouse, thank you so much for being here. You came with a clear answer. Yes, he says, we're better off than four years ago --

WOODHOUSE: Absolutely.

BERMAN: -- answer this morning.

Thanks very much.

And, Dana, great to see you back here.

BASH: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. So, what does President Obama think about Clint Eastwood's shtick at the Republican convention, the empty chair that Brad was just talking about. He says, just a flesh wound. The president told "USA Today" he wasn't offended by Eastwood's talking to an empty chair. That was supposed to represent him.

Mr. Obama saying, quote, "One thing about being president or running for president, if you're easily offended, you should probably choose another profession." And he also added by the way that Eastwood is a great actor and even better director.

If you want to know what it's really like to be inside a Democratic National Convention covering it, tomorrow you have to join the CNN election roundtable with Wolf Blitzer and CNN's political team. You do it by submitting your questions and getting answers in real time in the CNN live virtual chat. Don't miss the CNN election roundtable tomorrow, 12:00 noon Eastern. You do it by logging on to

I'm going to do that right now, Zoraida while we go back to you in New York.

SAMBOLIN: I was hoping that you would share insider secrets via Twitter or Facebook page. So, we're looking for that as well, Mr. Berman.

BERMAN: Well, my secret this morning was don't confuse the hotel moisturizer and conditioner because it really screws you up as you're walking out the door at 2:30, believe me.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, look all those intimate details. Thank you very much. We look forward to more.

Thirty-eight minutes past the hour. Isaac is still flooding parts of the U.S. close to a week after it made landfall as a hurricane. The national's capital even getting a bit of the action now. The latest threat from the Midwest to Washington, D.C. and points north, it's coming up next.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START. It is 42 minutes past the hour.

The Midwest is getting another dose of what is left of Isaac, so is D.C. Washington has been getting hammered with heavy rain.

Meteorologist Alexandra Steele is following Isaac's leftovers with your travel forecast.

Good morning.


Hi, everyone. Good morning to you.

A rough night in Washington, D.C., especially around Howard University and also around children's hospital, getting about two inches of rain there in 20 minutes. So, coming down fast and furiously.

Much quieter now but warm, humid showers and thunderstorms erupting today as well. So, kind of very unsettled, unstable atmosphere.

Here's where the heaviest rain is. So, east of Cinci, a wet day down through Kentucky and through Mississippi, Alabama and into Georgia. Heavy rain moving in.

And here also is where the potential for some severe weather will be maybe this afternoon and early tonight.

A big picture in the Northeast, New England beautiful Labor Day. If you're off hitting the beaches, very warm and humid and incredibly muggy here in the Southeast and, again, two pockets of severe weather to be mindful of. Maybe an isolated tornado, more hail and damaging winds -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Alexandra, thank you very much.

And right now, authorities in Washington state are searching for the shooter who fired at cars and police officers in a town about 90 miles north of Seattle. And they are warning people to stay inside.

A man was shot in the leg yesterday afternoon in the town of Arlington. Officers say they heard shots coming from the woods and called in the SWAT team. When the SWAT team arrived on the scene, they took came under fire.

And tragedy this weekend in an air show. This is in Davenport, Iowa, where a plane crashed and exploded. This was in front of thousands of spectators. The pilot of a high performance L-39 Albatross jet trainer was killed on impact after his plane nosedived into an alfalfa field Saturday during the Quad City air show.

Good gracious. Take a look at that. The FAA and NTSB are investigating that crash. Horrific.

The Belgian Grand Prix got off to a messy start on Saturday. Take a look at this pictures, with the first corner crash that ended that championship hopes of point leader Fernando Alonzo and three other drivers.

It was a really nasty wreck. You're looking at it there. But here's the good news. No drivers were injured. Wow.

To other top story, John Berman, he is with the DNC in Charlotte.

Good morning to you.

BERMAN: That is some car crash there. I really can't (INAUDIBLE), especially when everything is going so smoothly here. I'm with Soledad O'Brien who's going to tell us what's coming up on "STARTING POINT." Exactly.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're going to, this morning, follow that breaking news, obviously, out of Pakistan. Two Americans injured after that car bomb exploded near the American consulate. We'll update you on what's happening there with a live report from the state department this morning.

Also, as you pointed out all morning, Democrat's turn today. Delegates are in town for this week's DNC, Democratic National Convention. But that big question that you guys have been talking about all morning, are you better off now than you were four years ago? You'll remember, it was Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Maryland Democrat, who said no.

And he's going to be joining us this morning. We'll talk to him about that no answer.

Also, we'll take a look at Ryan Lizza's new article in "The New Yorker." It's called "Let's Be Friends," and it focuses on the relationship between the former president, Bill Clinton, and the current president, Barack Obama, examines their friendship and the pros and cons of the Clinton factor. Of course, President Clinton will speak at this convention.

So, this morning, we're talking to the Maryland governor, Martin O'Malley. Maryland congressman, Elijah Cummings, will be our guest as well. Reince Priebus is going to join us from the RNC as they do the opposition message here. Jim Rogers, the CEO of Duke Energy, he's also the co-chairman of the Democratic National Convention. He'll be joining us as well.

And design guru, Ty Pennington, last week, he built half a house (ph), this week, they do the other half, then they're going to join them together. He's our guest as well. All that and much more right at the top of the hour on "Starting Point."

BERMAN: So much to talk about right here in the CNN Grill, which is the hub of activity here at the Democratic National Convention.

O'BRIEN: At this hour.

BERMAN: At this hour. And when we come back, we're going to talk more about what the Democrats have planned, what they need to accomplish here in Charlotte. You're watching EARLY START live at the CNN Grill. Stay with us.


BERMAN: We are here at the CNN Grill in Charlotte with an inside look at this week's Democratic National Convention. And one question Democrats are being pressed to answer, are Americans better off now than they were four years ago? Now, some of President Obama's top advisers have flat-out struggled with a clear answer.

Just a few short minutes ago, we did get a clear answer from Brad Woodhouse (ph) of the DNC. He said, yes, we are better off. I'm joined right now by Richard Socarides, a former senior advisor to President Clinton. I'm also joined by Amy Kremer who's the chairman of the Tea Party Express, and our friend, Christine Romans, is with us in New York right now.

We're going to get to the argue (ph) better off question again in a second, but first, I want to talk sheer convention strategy. In no more than two sentences, preferably even one, what do the Democrats need to do this week, Richard?

RICHARD SOCARIDES, FMR. CLINTON WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER: I think the president has to tell people what the second term is going to be like, and I think also, we have to return to talking about what electing Mitt Romney would be like, tax cuts for the rich, no economic plan. They're running a negative campaign. We're looking forward to what the next four years will be like.

BERMAN: I'm going to hold off my question to you, because Richard teed up perfectly a new Obama ad that is just released this morning. Let's play that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The middle class is carrying a heavy load in America, but Mitt Romney doesn't see it. Under the Romney plan, a middle class family will pay an average of up to $2,000 more a year in taxes. While at the same time, giving multimillionaires like himself, a $250,000 tax cut.

So, Romney hits the middle class harder and gives millionaires an even bigger break. Is that the way forward for America?


BERMAN: That ad refers to a study from the non-partisan tax policy center, Amy, which talks about the middle class and how they would be affected by Mitt Romney's tax and economic plans and really gets to the issue of the middle class. Who is the best candidate for the middle class? How would you respond to that ad?

AMY KREMER, CHAIRMAN, TEA PARTY EXPRESS: I would say that the biggest tax put on the middle class is through Obamacare. I mean, that's one of the stifling job -- you know, one of the problems that jobs aren't being created, because these employers can't afford to pay the taxes or pay for the insurance for the employee.

So, they're simply not hiring. And at the end of the day, you can tax somebody into oblivion. There's not enough money you can raise from taxes to pay for the spending. The spending has got to stop.

BERMAN: But you saw Christine Romans, and Christine, I want to bring -- let me bring Christine in right now, because you've been showing a graph all morning which shows where this national debt and the growing deficit comes from, and the biggest chunk of it or a huge chunk of it were from tax cuts over the last 10 years, right?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean, if you look at the Bush tax cuts, which are some debt hawks will tell you are the Bush-Obama tax cuts now, because President Obama did continue those tax cuts, but the lost revenue, the lost government revenue from those is a huge chunk of the national debt.

There are other things as well. There are two wars. There's also a financial crisis, which really sapped revenue as well. But a lot -- when you look at taxes and taxes and what they've done to the economy, it's been pretty interesting to see -- it's both now, Bush and Obama have both had tax cuts now, big tax cuts for the middle class.

BERMAN: Yes. I mean, Amy, you can make the case that tax cuts, you know, or increased taxes hurt economic growth but you can't say that cutting tax hasn't added to the deficit?

KREMER: Listen, at the end of the day, though, like I said, you can tax everybody, all the rich people, all of their money, it's not going to cover the spending. You have to stop the spending. President Obama knew how important it was to cut the deficit. He said when he was campaigning in 2008, he would cut the deficit in half in his first term --


BERMAN: But again, and I'll go back to Richard here --

KREMER: So, he knew how important it was, but he virtually did nothing about it, and he had a Democratic controlled House and Senate the first two years in office.

BERMAN: -- to cut into the deficit by letting the Bush tax cuts expire on people making over $250,000. That is one way he has proposed to cut it. So, it's not really fair to say he hasn't done anything, because he tried to do that. Richard, last word.

SOCARIDES: I mean, I would just say that Amy's economic plan is no more specific than Governor Romney's economic plan for this country. I mean, saying that Obamacare is a jobs killer and saying that we're going to cut taxes and cut spending is not an economic plan.

KREMER: Obamcare is a jobs killer, it absolutely is. I mean, employers are not going to hire, because they can't --

BERMAN: All I can say is this gets me excited for this week. I'm so glad you're here.


BERMAN: It's going to be an energetic and lively morning, which is a reason to come back and stay with us every morning here at the CNN Grill. Richard Socarides, former advisor to Bill Clinton, Amy Kremer, Tea Party Express, thank you guys both for coming in. We will see you again very, very soon.

Meanwhile, let's send it back to Zoraida in New York.

SAMBOLIN: Ooh, it's going to be fun, indeed. Thank you, John.

"Best Advice" is still to come. Today, we hear from education secretary, Arne Duncan.


SAMBOLIN: Fifty-eight minutes past the hour. We're going to wrap it up as always with "Best Advice." Christine Romans is up.

ROMANS: Hello. Arne Duncan. I spoke with Arne Duncan last week, and I asked him, you know, he's a guy who's running the nation's public schools, right? What's the best advice you ever received?


ARNE DUNCAN, EDUCATION SECRETARY: That's a great question. I think the best advice I've received so much great advice from so many different mentors. I think the best advice is to follow your heart, to follow your passion, and to surround yourself with people who will tell you the truth, who will tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.


ROMANS: Surround yourself by people who will tell you the truth, what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. That's great advice in a political season, especially.

SAMBOLIN: It is, indeed. My days of Arne Duncan were back at the Chicago Public schools. We both work for (INAUDIBLE).

ROMANS: Really?

SAMBOLIN: -- my fondest memories of him. Yes. We worked really hard, I got to tell you that.


SAMBOLIN: Good advice. Good advice. Thank you very much, Christine Romans.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: That's it for us on EARLY START. Fifty-nine minutes past the hour. "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien starts right now.