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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

President May Receive Post-Convention Polling Bounce; Interview with Larry Summer; Chicago School Teachers on Strike; Family Research Council Holds Event; Interview with Tony Perkins; Pole Dancing For Kids?; Chicago Teachers On Strike; "Our Fighters Are Coming To Get You"; Fugitive Iraq VP Sentenced To Hang; Obama Gets A Bear Hug; Poll: Obama Getting Convention Bounce; Fiscal Cliff Awaiting At Year's End; Eastwood Breaks Silence On RNC Speech; "American Idol's" Randy Jackson

Aired September 10, 2012 - 07:00   ET

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


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you and welcome to STARTING POINT. Soledad O'Brien is off today, I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Ali Velshi.

Our STARTING POINT breaking news, teachers on strike. Chicago teachers hitting the picket line instead of the classroom right now. Leaving 400,000 students out of school this morning. Where do the intense negotiations stand?

SAMBOLIN: Back in session, the election season is the home stretch and lawmakers -- in the homestretch and lawmakers return to Capitol Hill today but even with that fiscal cliff approaching, will they actually get anything done?

VELSHI: Plus, re-igniting the American economy. A weak jobs report fueling both campaigns this morning. CNN is going in-depth, taking a look at the jobs crisis in America.

SAMBOLIN: A packed show ahead. Former U.S. Secretary Larry Summers, Chicago School Board President David Vitale, NFL stars Brendan Ayanbadejo and Wade Davis, and "American Idol" judge Randy Jackson.

VELSHI: It is Monday, September 10th. STARTING POINT begins right now.

We begin with breaking news. Parents in scramble mode right now. A teachers strike shutting down the nation's third largest public school system this morning. Late last night labor talks between the Chicago teachers union and school officials broke off. The walkout this morning impacting 400,000 students in nearly 700 schools.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAREN LEWIS, CHICAGO TEACHERS UNION PRESIDENT: We have failed to reach an agreement that will prevent a labor strike.

DAVID VITALE, CHICAGO SCHOOL BOARD PRESIDENT: You know, this is not a small commitment we're making at a time when our fiscal responsibility, our fiscal situation, is really challenged.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Casey Wian is live from Chicago. Casey, Chicago hasn't seen a teachers' strike in 25 years. What's actually holding up this deal?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting, Zoraida, because the teachers union says that they've come pretty close in these negotiations that have been going on for eight months, and intensified over the weekend, to reaching a deal on the financial aspects of this. The school district says it has offered over four years an average 16 percent raise for Chicago teachers. That doesn't seem to be a big sticking point.

What the teachers union says they are concerned about, though, are job security issues and working conditions at the schools. They say that a new evaluation system for teachers that is being proposed could cost 6,000 teachers their jobs over the next year or two. They also say they want to maintain their existing health benefits. Now, some people, though, cannot believe that this strike actually happened, and one of them who says it's not necessary is Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL, (D) CHICAGO, ILLINOIS: I am disappointed that we have come to this point, given that even all the parties acknowledge how close we are, because this is a strike of choice. And because of how close we are, it is a strike that is unnecessary. And I believe that the parties at hand should do what they need to do to do right by our children.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WIAN: Now, within the next half hour or so, teachers are supposed to show up on picket lines to begin the official action of that strike. Also, parents who are working parents wondering what they're going to be doing with their children this morning. They do have an option that some of them say is not so great. Schools like the one behind me are going to be open for four hours this morning starting at 8:30 local time to provide child care, not teaching to these students. What will be interesting to see is if parents -- if teachers are striking, and on the picket line out here, whether parents are actually going to be willing to allow their children to cross that picket line to go into these facilities.

SAMBOLIN: Casey Wian live for us in Chicago, thank you. Chicago school board president David Vitale says they're close to an agreement. He's going to join us live in our next hour with an update on the talks.

VELSHI: A look at some other top stories this morning. New details on a tense situation unfolding right now near Detroit. It's an armed standoff with an accused cop killer. The West Bloomfield police department confirms to CNN that one of its officers, who was shot late last night, has died. They're not naming the officer, but we know he is a 12-year veteran of the police force. He was responding to reports of gunfire in a home when the suspect turned his gun on the police. The armed suspect is now barricaded in that home.

SAMBOLIN: Power is starting to come back to millions of people who lost power in Cuba. Affected areas included all of Havana, more than 2 million people there. Cuba has an aging power grid so brief outages aren't unprecedented. By barring a big storm a massive outage on this scale is really rare there. The west side state run newspaper blames the outage on a transmission line that feeds the western tip of the island.

President Barack Obama's numbers are looking up on two fronts this morning. His campaign says it raised more than Mitt Romney did in the month of August, a total of $114 million, compared to Mitt Romney's $111 million. More than half of that came from 1.1 million people who donated an average of $58 each.

And the latest Gallup daily tracking poll shows a post-convention bounce for the president. He leads Mitt Romney 49 percent to 44 percent. That is up one percentage point from before the democratic national convention.

SAMBOLIN: President Obama's thoughts and prayers are with the family of a Florida police officer who died in a crash during a presidential motorcade. Jupiter police officer Bruce St. Laurent was killed when a pickup truck hit his motorcycle on I-95 in West Palm Beach. Officer St. Laurent was a 20-year veteran who spent 18 of those years on the motorcycle patrol. That accident is being investigated as vehicular homicide.

VELSHI: It's too soon to tell whether Tulane football player Devon Walker will be permanently paralyzed. He's in intensive care in an Oklahoma hospital after doctors stabilized his fractured spine during a three-hour operation yesterday. Walker was injured Saturday during the last play of the first half in a game against Tulsa. Doctors say it could take up to 72 hours to determine the full extent of his injuries.

SAMBOLIN: Wow. Football is back and so is Peyton Manning. Playing his first regular season game for the Denver Broncos and first game in 20 months after four neck surgeries. He threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-19 win over the Steelers. Tim Tebow making his debut with the New York Jets, but for once he wasn't the story. Tebow finished with five rushes for 11 yards and didn't throw a pass in the game. Starter Mark Sanchez in total control. Jets win 48-28 over Buffalo.

VELSHI: Ouch. The U.S. open Serena Williams pushed to the limit on her way to a fourth title there. Serena rallied to force a third set tie-breaker and beat top ranked Victoria Azarenka last night in New York City. She became the first 30-something woman to win a grand slam since 1987, and it is her 15th grand slam title overall. The men play today. Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray in their final.

SAMBOLIN: Look at those arms.

All right, so Congress will be back at work today for an abbreviated pre-election session. We are expecting more of the same. Which is.

VELSHI: Not much.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. A live picture now.

VELSHI: Beautiful. Looks nice.

SAMBOLIN: Their main focus will probably be the bare minimum, preventing a full-on government shutdown later this month.

VELSHI: Also we're expecting Illinois Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. to return to the Hill for the first time since may after he checked out of the Mayo Clinic where he was treated for depression. Athena Jones is following all of the developments from Capitol Hill. A busy Monday morning for you. Good morning, Athena.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Well guys as you know this Congress isn't really known for getting a whole lot done. And as you mentioned, the only must-pass legislation is a short term spending measure to fund the government through the end of the year. That has to get to the president's desk by the end of this month. And we can say with almost certainty that's going to happen. The House is expected to vote on that bill on Thursday and we're told the Senate will get to it next week.

But beyond that, it's really a big question mark. A lot of things that they might pass or could past, and one of those things is the Farm Bill. There's still some division, some differences between the House version and the Senate version. If they can reconcile those they can get that passed. If they can't we might see some drought assistance and aid to people hit hard by hurricane Isaac get put into that spending measure.

But you know the fact that they haven't been able to get a whole lot done probably plays in to what their poll ratings are. I'll put those numbers on the screen if we have them -- 12 percent approval, 82 percent disapproval for Congress as of right now in the recent poll. Ali?

VELSHI: Wow. You would think that might prompt them to do something differently considering there's an election coming up. Thanks very much. Thanks, Athena.

SAMBOLIN: And coming up in about 20 minutes, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin is going to join us live.

VELSHI: You've already had so much back and forth on the campaign trail one side says this, the other one says that. Who are you supposed to believe with all the spin out there? So over the next three weeks CNN is going to size up exactly where Barack Obama and Mitt Romney stand on issue after issue so you can decide. Today we're talking about jobs. This is the most important issue to most people in America.

And with us we've got Larry Summers. You know him, currently a professor at Harvard University, former treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton, former director of the National Economic Council for President Obama. And for better or for worse, Mr. Summers, you are the architect of many of the things that this administration has done. So you're a perfect person to talk to about this. Welcome to the show.

LAWRENCE SUMMERS, HARVARD UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: Glad to be with you.

VELSHI: All right, let's talk about the jobs numbers came out on Friday. By many -- by a lot of analysis a disappointment, although compared to August it wasn't all that bad. 96,000 jobs created. But here's where all the discussion is. The unemployment rate went from 8.3 percent down to 8.1 percent because so many people left the workforce. 368,000 people left the workforce in August. And that has created a lot of speculation as to who those 368,000 people are. Are they retirees? Are they people who went to school? Or are they people who left the workforce because they were disillusioned? What's your take?

SUMMERS: No question some of them were people who were disillusioned. This number is in line with what we've been seeing for some time. The economy was in a very deep valley. Three years ago. We are climbing out of that valley, but we're not climbing that fast and we're still not out of the valley.

But at the same time, where other countries in the world are still going down, United States is climbing. Frankly we have climbed faster if we'd been able to implement the full set of policies this president had wanted to and not been blocked by that Congress with 12 percent approval that you were talking about a little earlier.

VELSHI: The problem with this though is that as people go to the polls in 57 days they have to make a choice as to which president is going to do more for the economy. And if President Barack Obama is re-elected, and you still have the intransigence in Washington that we have seen for the last 3 1/2 years, nothing more is going to get done. So doesn't that argue for Mitt Romney being elected because he'll have a friendlier Congress?

SUMMERS: Hardly. President Obama wants to take us in the right direction. He wants to stop teachers from being laid off. He wants to take advantage of a moment with two percent interest rates, less than two percent interest rates, with construction unemployment in excess of 15 percent to fix the nation's schools, to build the nation's infrastructure. He wants to support the Federal Reserve in keeping interest rates down, not try to undermine the independence of the Federal Reserve. He wants to facilitate for all the people who can meet their obligations, bringing down the mortgage rates by making available refinancing. Candidate Romney has resisted that.

And President Obama wants to maintain low taxes for people who are about to spend the money and inject it back into the economy, and Governor Romney wants to go in the opposite direction. I think if there's a clear mandate in this election for the approach we're taking, that there will be a recognition in Congress of the need to take further steps, and President Obama has shown with the last year, with the measures he's taken with respect to housing, with the measures he's taken to support small businesses, that he is able to act, even in a difficult political environment.

But most important, President Obama is taking the country in the right direction. He's recognizing that this is a moment when we need to put construction workers back to work. This is a moment when it is madness in the short run and in the long run to be doing nothing and sitting by while hundreds of thousands of teachers and first responders are laid off.

VELSHI: Let me ask you about this, Mitt Romney and then Paul Ryan made a statement that they can create 12 million jobs over four years in their first term, that's 250,000 jobs a month on average, for four years. Now, I'm going to talk to you about whether that's possible or not in a second, but very shortly thereafter, it sounded like a strange offer to me, but Stephanie Cutter, who works for the Obama campaign said this shortly thereafter. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANIE CUTTER, OBAMA CAMPAIGN SPOKESPERSON: Economic forecasters already said over the course of the next four years, if we stay on the president's plan, we'll create 12 million jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Larry Summers, you are not a party hack, you are an economist, a very accomplished economist. Listen to this, this has only happened three times in the history of the world. In America. The first time was under FDR where growth was 8.4 percent. The second time was under Ronald Reagan where economic growth was 3.4 percent. The third time was under Bill Clinton where the economic growth was 3.9 percent. Right now it's 1.7 percent. That's the latest reading we have. Next year is estimated to be 2.3 percent. It is just not feasible that over the course of four years starting from the next presidential term that 12 million jobs are going to be created. Why did the Democrats get on that bandwagon?

SUMMERS: Well, I'm afraid you're not right.

VELSHI: About what?

SUMMERS: I think Stephanie Cutter was accurately quoting what the consensus of expert economists --

VELSHI: That's not what I asked you. That's not what I asked you.

SUMMERS: Half of them are Democrats. There will be -- my expectation is that 12 million, plus or minus a bit, one never knows precisely, is a reasonable forecast. And I think what you're not recognizing when you're so pessimistic is that the fact that we are in this valley means we have much more room to climb, and there's much more room for jobs to expand -- increase and expand, than would normally be --

VELSHI: So do you --

SUMMERS: And that's why it is a reasonable forecast over the next four years. VELSHI: Do you doubt the consensus estimate that the U.S. will grow by under 2.5 percent in 2013, because we're going to go gang busters in 2014 and 2015? I'll back up the truck and buy U.S. equities, invest in everything U.S. something's going to happen that is somehow going to make the U.S. one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, possibly growing as fast as India?

SUMMERS: Well, India's slowed -- India's slowed way down. You don't need seven percent, eight percent, growth rates you're seeing in Asia to produce that kind of job creation. But the fundamental point is there are a set of dynamics that are coming into play, most important of which is that we've been creating close to a million households each year, and we've been building far fewer number of houses because of the excess inventories. Those inventories are now most of them worked off and so most economists expect housing construction to pick up.

And if we give it that final boost by carrying through on the president's housing plan, as will happen if he is re-elected, then we'll be in a position to reap that kind of benefit. We're seeing a set of adjustments that are -- that are in place. So I have to tell you that I do think that the forecast of 250,000 jobs a month, which is what's implicit in the 12 million job figure, is a reasonable estimate over the four-year period if the president is re-elected and is able to carry through on his programs.

VELSHI: So you've talked about what can be done domestically. We have intransigence in Washington which stands in the way of that kind of growth number that you're suggesting will be higher than mine. You haven't put one out there. What about Europe? I mean Europe is certainly a headwind, it's got to be responsible for at least some of the loss of jobs that we -- or the lack of growth in jobs, the loss of those manufacturing jobs. You have -- you're that optimistic despite the fact that Europe hasn't quite got its act together yet?

SUMMERS: I'm encouraged. I'm encouraged by what Mario Draghi did last week, the set of commitments he made to support the nations that are in the most difficulty on the basis of rigorous conditions. Yes, I think that is a sign that the European situation may be coming under some control.

And that, by the way, is a credit to the international pressure that has been brought on to Europe. Europe has moved too slowly. But it has moved, and that's a reflection of the enormous effort Secretary Geithner has put in to supporting Europe, the enormous effort that the president personally has put in to conversations with Chancellor Merkel, President Hollande, and the other European leaders.

VELSHI: Do you think the fed should do something this week in terms of QE-3?

SUMMERS: You know old treasury secretary habits die hard. So I'm not going to prescribe or predict what the fed does.

I have to say, I have to say that I have been really disturbed by the rhetoric on the Republican side, which has at some junctures come close to threatening the Federal Reserve and suggesting that somehow this is a moment when more austerity from the Fed to do something for the economy. That's not what small business owners who need to finance their inventories across this country think. That's not what homeowners who are having a very difficult time but the one silver lining in it is low mortgage rates. That's not what they think. I certainly don't think this is the time to be attacking the fed on the side of austerity.

VELSHI: Larry Summers, pleasure to talk to you. Thanks very much for being with us.

SUMMERS: Thank you.

VELSHI: All right, if you've got a personal economic story you'd like to share visit the CNN iReport website. Check out our assignment page and let us know, simple question. Are you better off now than you were four years ago?

SAMBOLIN: And ahead on STARTING POINT, mixing politics and religion. The family research council trying to motivate Christians to pray for the presidential election, vote. FRC president Tony Perkins joins us live next.

And teaching kids how to pole dance? Parents are outraged at one dance studio's new gimmick. Wait till you hear this. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. It is 22 minutes past the hour. And just two days after Democrats pulled up stakes and left Charlotte after their convention, two conservative groups held an event there encouraging Christians to get out to the polls. It was called "I Pledge" and simulcast to churches across the country. Headliners included actor Kirk Cameron.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KIRK CAMERON, FORMER ACTOR: One of our political parties right now is wondering if the name "God" should be in the platform. According to our forefathers God is the platform.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Tony Perkins is the president of the Family Research Council. He hosted the "I Pledge" event, and his group claims 500,000 members throughout the country, there's a strong voice for many conservatives. Thank you for being with us this morning. We appreciate it.

TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Good morning, Zoraida. How are you?

SAMBOLIN: I'm doing well. Thank you for being with us. So same-sex marriage is in the Democrats 2012 platform. But they had to especially add back in a reference to God during their convention. The Democrats say it was simply an oversight. What is your reaction to that?

PERKINS: Well, you know, I said it gets kind of -- when you supersize government with cradle-to-grave programs, I guess it's kind of a challenge to make room for God on the tray. You know the fact it was an oversight, they say it's an oversight -- OK, oversight. But nobody, you know, two days into the convention, oh, Mr. President, by the way, we didn't, we forgot to put in that we support unlimited access to taxpayer funding of abortion, or oh, Mr. President we forgot to put in that we support the redefinition of marriage.

I think that a lot of people question whether or not it was oversight or whether it's a reflection of the president and his party and this call for the separation of church and state. I think this is really the outcome. It's not a separation of church and state. It ultimately is a separation of god from government. I think that's what we saw in the Democrats original platform.

SAMBOLIN: It was president Obama who called to add it back in, saying he'd like it to reflect the 2008 platform. The Family Research Council co-hosted the event this weekend, and it was called "I Pledge Sunday." What was the goal of that event?

PERKINS: Well, Zoraida, it was designed to reach, as you mentioned, churches across the nation. We had over 2,500 locations. Every state was represented, either in church or a small group home setting. And it was a call to faith, family and freedom, and it was a recognition of the issues facing our nation, whether it's the economy of the $16 trillion in debt that we have, which is a moral issue. Or it was the issue of marriage, or life, or religious liberties which we find under attack today.

And it was a call for them to pray for our nation, pray for our leaders, pray for the upcoming election, to prepare by registering and registering two or more friends to vote, and then taking the pledge to actually vote on November the 6th. And what we ask people to do was go to Ipledge2vote, the number two, vote.org and take the pledge to vote. We had a great event.

SAMBOLIN: I'd like to turn to the shooting. How is Leo Johnson? He was the man who was wounded in that attack.

PERKINS: Zoraida, thank you for asking about Leo. He's doing much better. He had a little setback, had to go back into the hospital, but he's back out. We expect him to make a full recovery and we're very grateful for the concern that people across not only this nation but literally around the world. I was just amazed how many people see what took place at FRC and they've been praying for Leo and our staff. He's going to make a full recovery.

This raises concerns that many have in this arena that we're in as we discuss issues, and we are going to continue to discuss these issues from a fact-based position. But we do think that the rhetoric has gotten out of hand, where people are labeling organizations in an effort to marginalize them.

SAMBOLIN: I'd actually like to talk about that. First of all, we're very happy that Leo is doing well and wish him well in his continued recovery. So you have a press conference right after that shooting and said this about the suspect.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PERKINS: Corkins was given a license to shoot an unarmed man by organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center that have been reckless in labeling organizations hate groups because they disagree with them on public policy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: And you blame the Southern Poverty Law Center in part for that shooting because it labels you as a hate group. Saying, on its Web site that quote, this is what they say, "The Family Research Council builds itself as a leading voice for the family in our nation's halls of power but its real specialty is defaming gays and lesbians. Do you think that that is an unjust assessment that they make of your organization?

PERKINS: Without question. And what really has transpired here is that the southern poverty law center is working with homosexual groups that will trying to redefine marriage and they're going in like they did in Minnesota, actually, where there was a school that had a policy that was neutral on, you know, homosexuality. And a parents group was supportive of that policy. The SPLC plc went in to that district to try to enforce a pro-homosexual policy and labeled the parents group as a hate group, just like they're doing to pro-marriage groups across the country.

And look, we can differ on policies, and we can have -- we can have a debate about what is the best direction for the nation to go. And that's healthy. That's how our policies are made. It's always been that way. We come with different views and we arrive at a consensus.

But when you start using these packed and loaded words that are designed to incite and entice people, that becomes very destructive. And that's what the Southern Poverty Law Center is doing. So we're calling on people, look, let's have the debate, but bring the facts to the table. Let's arrive at a consensus. But let's stop inciting what literally is at the point of taking lives of people. That's wrong. That has to stop. And we're not going to tolerate that at all.

SAMBOLIN: I know that your organization does not condone violence. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. We certainly appreciate your time this morning.

PERKINS: Thank you, Zoraida. Have a great day.

SAMBOLIN: You, too.

VELSHI: All right, just ahead on STARTING POINT, a dance studio offering pole dancing classes to kids as young as five. PERKINS: How do you feel about this?

VELSHI: Look at this. It's weird. The owner says parents are asking for the classes themselves. Details next. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. We're curious what you all have to say about this story. As we know it is very hard getting kids off the couch.

We have an opinion on this. And off their phones and getting them active these days, but I bet you've never thought of this activity for your preteen daughter, pole dancing.

VELSHI: So let's show you the flyer. This is from a dance studio in Canada, over on the far west coast in British Columbia, called "Twisted Grip," offering what they call, quote, "little spinner pole dancing classes for kids as young as 5."

Their words, not ours, while this may sound totally inappropriate, the dance class instructor says there's nothing wrong with it at all.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's nothing provocative. There's nothing -- nothing sexual about it. It's pure fitness and strength, and fun. I mean, kids love climbing trees. They'll climb anything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Did you hear what she just said? Kids climb trees. They would have a ball doing this. So --

VELSHI: Sure, pole dancing for little kids.

SAMBOLIN: We want to know what you think.

VELSHI: It's $70, by the way.

SAMBOLIN: I think it's a great idea. It's really good for the core and something the kids can do with their moms.

VELSHI: I've been working on my core a lot actually. I'm engaging it rye now and I don't even have to have a pole.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, anyway, it's 32 minutes past the hour. Ahead on STARTING POINT, the money race is on. President Obama announces a huge cash grab and Mitt Romney is not going to like it.

VELSHI: Illinois Senator Dick Durbin joins us next. You are watching STARTING POINT. I'm just going to work on my -- there he is. He is coming in right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SAMBOLIN: It's 37 minutes past the hour. Welcome back to STARTING POINT. Let's take a quick look at your top stories. For the first time in 25 years, Chicago teachers are on strike. Contract talks broke down late last night.

Even though school officials insist they offered everything they could in a four-year contract that included a 16 percent pay raise over the life of the deal.

Thirty thousand teachers and aides in the nation's third largest public school system set to walk picket lines this morning. You're taking a live look there in Chicago. This impacts 400,000 students in nearly 700 schools.

VELSHI: All right, going to the other side of the world, quote, "our fighters are coming to get you." That is a warning from a Jordanian militant with links to al Qaeda to Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad.

Abu Sayaff making that threat in a speech yesterday saying his group will launch deadly attacks inside Syria to help topple Assad. Security officials say Abu Sayyaf is the head of a group that has produced several al Qaeda linked militants who have fought U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 10 years.

SAMBOLIN: New developments and major worries about Iraq's fragile government this morning after the country's fugitive vice president was sentenced to death.

Vice President Tariq Al Hashemi, Iraq's top Sunni politician, who fled the country months ago, was sentenced to hang for killing two people. He was also accused of running a death squad. Al Hashemi says the charges were politically motivated.

VELSHI: A president pumping pizza parlor owner is the talk of the campaign trail this morning. You got to see this. The owner of Big Apple Pizza in Melbourne, Florida, got a little closer to the president than most voters will ever get. And probably a little closer than the Secret Service enjoyed. Look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Good to see you. Look at that. Look at that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm so excited.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: The owner there is Scott Vandeucer. He stands 6'3", weighs 260 pounds and is able to bench 350 pounds, which is basically more than two of the president.

SAMBOLIN: By the way a registered Republican who voted for Obama back in 2008. So the Obama campaign getting a big fundraising boost for August. The campaign says it pulled in $114 million last month. VELSHI: Now this is the first time in four months that the president has out-raised Mitt Romney. Romney campaign says it raised $111 million in August, $3 million less than the Obama team did.

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, the number two Democrat in the United States Senate, is here with us. Good morning, Senator. Good to see you.

SENATOR DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: I'm buying that guy's pizza.

VELSHI: Yes, no kidding, right, under any circumstances. Senator, thank you for being with us. This convention bounce, let's just talk about this for a second.

Gallup has a daily tracking poll and it shows that the choice for President Obama right now is 49 percent versus last Tuesday, which is 47 percent. Mitt Romney has gone from 46 percent down to 44 percent. It seemed to be a two-point switch over to President Obama. Is that a convention balance or is it something else?

DURBIN: Well, I think it could be partially the convention, somewhat the economic news. It's been a positive experience. You know, some of the speeches there, Michelle's speech I think was the most-watched speech as of that point from both conventions.

And then Bill Clinton's speech, which for many of us who are political animals was a tour de force for the whole campaign to end on a positive, forward thrust. And the president hit it out of the park.

So we felt it was a great convention, very little dissension, everybody together and a lot of energy coming out of it.

SAMBOLIN: Let's go back to talking about the fundraising, the money at hand. What do these numbers tell you? Because it is the first time that President Obama has raised more money than Mitt Romney and it takes a lot of money to make a campaign successful. So what does this tell you?

DURBIN: Well, remember the "Super PAC" world is raising millions and millions of dollars in support of Romney. Seventeen angry old white men are coming up with millions of dollars to try to, of course, push for their candidates.

But if you happen to own a cell phone and you ever gave a nickel to a candidate, you're being inundated every day by requests for money. On our side, on the Obama said, five, six, eight different solicitations every day, we're getting this basic support of individuals across America.

We believe they have to rally for the president at this point, otherwise the "Super PACs" are going to own the television stations.

VELSHI: Senator, we were talking to Larry Summers this morning about unemployment, and about the economy and the United States. One of the big issues we're facing is this fiscal cliff. A lot of people carry on about it a lot and a lot of people say you're overreacting, Congress will ultimately in the 11th hour get down to it.

But you know there are real reasons why you can't wait until the last minute on this, particularly companies that need to warn their employees that they're going to get laid off if they don't get their government contracts renewed.

This is a real problem for an economy that is not growing quickly enough. You have a particular plan to get this off the table, at least for the short term.

DURBIN: I do. And of course, it's contingent on a president who will work with you, and it's based on the re-election of President Obama, to be very open with you about it.

I don't know what would happen with a President Romney because as Bill Clinton said the arithmetic doesn't work for what he has proposed. But with President Obama, I think we need in a lame duck session to move toward a plan with certainty.

That we're going to resolve this, bring down the deficit, follow the lines of the Simpson-Bowles commission, give the committees jurisdiction and my plan six months to get this job done, and in the meantime, show good faith by reducing deficit, reducing spending during that six-month period.

I think there's a sentiment for that in the Senate. I can't speak for the House. The Tea Party people there are pretty hard to deal with. But when it comes to the Senate, I think there's a bipartisan sentiment to have that happen in the lame duck. Otherwise, the uncertainty doesn't help anyone.

SAMBOLIN: I think a lot of people are concerned about that right. They're worried that Congress will not act, that they won't do anything on behalf of the American people.

DURBIN: It would be a disaster. I f you take a look at everything that's going to happen at the end of the year it's going to affect everyone. Not just the wealthiest. It will affect every family.

Now the reason we've set up this so-called cliff or steep slope is to force congress to act, to come together on a bipartisan basis. And people say well that's harsh medicine. That's strong medicine. It's the only way. It's the only way to get a responsible reaction --

VELSHI: But it never worked. It didn't work with the debt ceiling debate. It took us right to the edge and beyond the edge. Isn't that dangerous?

Because now it becomes clear, or at least it's starting to become clear, that this wasn't a congressional threat, this was from the White House to say look you guys better work, you better do something or the country's going to stand in peril. Guess what? The country is in peril. DURBIN: Well, I think what the president and Congress agreed to, this harsh medicine of this fiscal cliff was an understanding without this there are always excuses. Put it off till tomorrow. Don't do it.

But Simpson-Bowles said over a 10-year period of time let's honestly, responsibly reduce this deficit and in the meantime not kill the recovery. Now we have a chance to do that. And I think we can.

And the American people will -- I think they'll buy it if you put everything on the table, treat it fairly, starting with revenue, making sure that everyone pays their fair share of taxes. Then we can get down to the basics.

Making sure Medicare survives this, and doesn't, you know, end up being lost in the sauce when it's all over.

SAMBOLIN: Senator Durbin, I can't let you go without asking you about the schools in Chicago. You know, they're on strike. This is the first time in 25 years and there's an impasse. Do you have any idea how to get beyond that impasse?

DURBIN: Well, I don't have the Durbin plan for solving this. But I'll tell you, more than 400,000 kids, 200,000-plus families this morning, had the harsh reality of no place to go. What are these families going to do?

I mean, you've got to find a place, are you going to stay home from work today because of this? What's going to happen to your son or daughter?

Both sides need to get back to the table as quickly as possible and really stay and negotiate through the night if necessary, get it over with quickly so that we can get these kids back in school.

SAMBOLIN: All right, thank you so much, Senator Dick Durbin. Appreciate you stopping by this morning.

VELSHI: Ahead on STARTING POINT, Clint Eastwood speaking out about his now empty chair, the famous one next to him at the Republican convention. We'll tell you about that. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. It is one of the most memorable moments from the RNC after Clint Eastwood's improvised remarks featuring that empty chair.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINT EASTWOOD, ACTOR: What do you want me to tell Romney? I can't tell him to do that. Can't do that to himself? You're -- you're crazy. You're -- you're absolutely crazy. You're getting as bad as Biden.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VELSHI: Eastwood is now speaking out for the first time since that speech. The actor and director tells the publisher of his hometown paper "The Carmel Pine Cone" that his speech was unscripted and spontaneous.

SAMBOLIN: Eastwood says, quote, there was a stool there, and some fellows kept asking me if I wanted to sit down. When I saw the stool sitting there it gave me the idea. I'll just put the stool out there and I'll talk to Mr. Obama and ask him why he didn't keep all of the promises he made to everybody.

VELSHI: That's a better line of reasoning than, I thought about that for a long time and planned it that way. If I were Clint Eastwood, I would also say that I just made that up.

SAMBOLIN: All right, 49 minutes past the hour. Ahead on STARTING POINT, is he or isn't he? Rumors swirling that "American Idol" star Randy Jackson will be the next to leave the judge's table. We're going to ask him about that coming up next. You're watching STARTING POINT.

VELSHI: There he is.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. It's made stars out of virtual unknowns, but "American Idol" will look very different when the new season debuts in January, right?

VELSHI: Yes. Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler are out. Now rumors that Grammy Award-winning producer, Randy Jackson may be leaving as well. There's no point to continue with these rumors because here's the man, right here in our studio. We can talk about anything you want after you answer that question. Are you staying or are you going?

RANDY JACKSON, JUDGE, "AMERICAN IDOL: Listen, I'm telling you something, "American Idol" is an amazing show.

SAMBOLIN: Come on. Are you staying? Everybody wants to know.

VELSHI: That sounds like going. Come on.

JACKSON: It's an amazing show.

VELSHI: Nobody ever said anything they're actually doing is amazing. They always talk about stuff they did.

JACKSON: Just don't believe everything you hear. That's all I'll tell you.

SAMBOLIN: So you're not going to confirm reports you're the next one to leave?

JACKSON: Listen, I will confirm this. You guys ready?

VELSHI: Yes.

JACKSON: I was, believe it or not, a former model. I was. Listen. People find this hard to believe, but it's true. Look at me. I'm representing. It's fashion week.

SAMBOLIN: You look good.

VELSHI: You are looking good. Let's talk about what you can tell us. Mariah Carey confirmed as a new judge.

JACKSON: She's definitely there.

VELSHI: All right, what else can you tell us about the new judges?

JACKSON: I think the weather here is better than I've seen it in a while. I'm so happy for Serena Williams. I love her. Serena, if you're watching wherever you are, big props. Go Djokovic tonight.

SAMBOLIN: Have you spent a lot of time with Mariah Carey as you're planning for the new season?

JACKSON: I work with her. So I know her pretty well, yes, yes.

VELSHI: All right, let's talk about the evolution of the show. It spawned all sorts of copy cats. How do you feel about where the show is now compared to where it was in its heydays, if you want to call it that? How has it evolved? What do you like? What do you not like?

JACKSON: As I said before, "American Idol" is one of the best shows ever. I think, you know, we born the whole tradition. So there are a lot of shows that have copied, that have borrowed, but I still think that it is the best. It's the number one.

You know, it's the Picasso, not the copy of the Picasso. But speaking of Picassos, taking diabetes to heart, I'm suffering with Type 2 diabetes. Merck and I have teamed up to get the word out.

Great educational awareness program about type 2 diabetes and the risk -- I should say the risks. Because, you know, people with type 2 diabetes at two to four times higher risk of developing stroke or heart disease.

It's a very, very serious disease. When I was diagnosed back in 2003, I didn't know I had it. A lot of people out there walking around with it today don't know they have it. I wound up in the emergency room.

Thinking I had a cold, the flu. Doctor said, listen, come in, I want to run some tests. Found out I had type 2 diabetes, which is a serious disease. I had to go through a very serious life change.

I'm really happy about this taking diabetes to heart campaign that we're doing. I stress people to go and see your doctor often. I think men are worse than women about seeing the doctor often.

VELSHI: What's the effect of the campaign? What do you want men to do? Go and talk to their doctor? JACKSON: I want men, women, everyone. There are about 26 million people in the country living with diabetes and 90 percent of those are type 2. So the statistics are just amazing.

The fact that it's -- you know, you've got a good chance of developing heart it is or stroke should be maybe stop you in your tracks and go and visit your tr. We've got a thing we call the ABCs, blood sugar test, blood pressure and cholesterol.

Get with your doctor. Come up with the right treatment plan that's right for you. Go often. I would go every two years if I felt something was drastically wrong. I know you're supposed to go every year. No one really wants to visit the doctor.

This is something that's kind of near and dear to my heart, this campaign. We've got an amazing web site takingdiabetestoheart.com where we pledge people to join me.

We got insights, tips, questions to ask the doctor, recipes, and it's just an amazing, amazing campaign. That's the real reason I'm here. What "Idol" has given me is a platform to really talk about things that are really near and dear to my heart that I think can actually help people.

SAMBOLIN: I always wonder what takes you from that diagnosis to sharing so many personal details about your health.

JACKSON: I live with it. I always wanted to pay it forward. I didn't know I had it. I'm sure there are a lot of people like me. There's never enough information out there to help people. Sometimes -- my dad would always say, this is not what you hear sometimes, it's who you hear it from. Listen to the dog, baby.

SAMBOLIN: I do agree with that. Congratulations for that. We're very proud of that. Randy Jackson, thank you for joining us even though we tried to get the info out of you.

JACKSON: Go, Jets and Giants and Yankees.

SAMBOLIN: All right, thank you for that. We appreciate it.

VELSHI: All right, next on STARTING POINT, happening right now in Chicago, the nation's third largest public school system teachers on strike this morning, 400,000 students with nowhere to go.

Why have the talks failed? The school board president, David Vitale, joins us live. You're watching STARTING POINT.