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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Rage Against America; Tracking Down Anti-Islamic Filmmaker; Fed Announces QE3; President Receives Bump in Swing State Polls; German Embassy in Sudan Engulfed in Flames; From Dancing Mat to Marathon Man

Aired September 14, 2012 - 08:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Soledad is off today. She will be back Monday.

And here's our starting point for this Friday: new reports of violence, new reports here. And the U.S. embassies on high alert right now, full court press underway to secure Americans overseas as outrage surrounding this anti-Islam film is growing.

BERMAN: On the hunt for the killers. Four arrests made in a Libyan consulate attack that killed a U.S. ambassador and three staffers.

BALDWIN: Also, frayed relations. How should the U.S. answer to all the violence playing out on Middle Eastern streets? What is the future of U.S. relations in the Arab world?

BERMAN: And we are covering this developing story for you the way that only CNN can.

Ian Lee is live in Cairo. Arwa Damon is live in Benghazi in Libya. We're talking with the former U.S. ambassador, Richard Williamson, and CNN's Candy Crowley.

It is Friday, September 14th. STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

BALDWIN: As we roll into this hour, we have three gentlemen sitting here at the table in the studio in New York. Plus you.

BERMAN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Thanks, Berman.

We have Bobby Ghosh, editor at large at "TIME" magazine, where he was once the Baghdad bureau chief, who also just told me he was just in Yemen a couple of weeks ago, inside the U.S. embassy. So, we'll talk with you about what we're seeing there today.

Also, Ryan Lizza, Washington correspondent of "The New Yorker." Welcome, Mr. Lizza.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks.

BALDWIN: Jamie Rubin is back, former Assistant Secretary of State, now a counselor to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Gentlemen, good morning.

BERMAN: All four gentlemen. Thank you very much.

Our starting point: This wave of rage, anti-American protests flaring in more countries overnight and with Friday prayers ending around the world right now, U.S. embassies around the world are bracing for more.

BALDWIN: The anger, defiance that began Wednesday over this anti- Muslim movie made in the U.S. It is now spreading now to 11 countries, 11, from Egypt, as far east as India.

BERMAN: In Egypt, there was mayhem just a few hours ago, fires, tear gas, rubber bullet. But this new development now, the ruling Muslim Brotherhood is calling for calm and calling off a nationwide protest.

But a huge single demonstration is planned for Tahrir Square in Cairo. That will go on.

BALDWIN: Also in Yemen this morning, new reports that police are firing warning shots to break up the mob. There yet again, day two, in the capital of city of Sana'a. At least five protesters were killed as hundreds of protesters stormed the American embassy there yesterday. You've seen the pictures. They were climbing the walls, setting fires, water cannons now pushing this mob back.

BERMAN: And there has been a major development in Libya. The first arrests in connection with the attack that killed two well-respected American diplomats and two former Navy SEALs.

BALDWIN: Let's begin our live coverage with Ian Lee, following the developments in Cairo for us.

And, Ian, set the scene, as we were sort of anticipating some protests after the morning prayers. What is the crowd like?

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, actually, the crowd here is getting larger now. It's growing steadily as protesters come from around Cairo and descend on Tahrir Square. We have a few thousand protesters in Tahrir Square. If you go away from Tahrir Square, about 100 to 200 yards toward the American embassy, you still have the clashes between the police and the protesters, the rock throwing. You have tear gas and something new we're seeing are water cannons being used.

The protesters, we saw the protesters try to tear down this brick concrete wall that is blocking the streets that lead to the embassy. It's about 10, 15 feet high. We saw protesters try to tear it down, so far unsuccessfully as police try to repel them away from that wall.

BALDWIN: Ian Lee, thank you very much. We hear it behind him. You can hear it as the crowds continue to grow larger. Ian, we'll check back in with you. Thank you.

BERMAN: And there is more news in the region to talk about right now.

Libyan authorities announcing the arrest of four men in connection with the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi earlier this week. Our ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and staffer Sean Smith among the four Americans killed. Also killed, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, both retired Navy SEALs.

BALDWIN: Doherty's mother find it incredibly difficult to come to grips with losing her son.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Glen was an amazing human being. And we are devastated. He was a great friend and brother and really good at his job. And it's a huge loss for everyone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: The voice of a mother. You can just hear the wavering in her voice.

Arwa Damon is in Libya. She's on the phone with us from Benghazi.

And, Arwa, what are you learning about everything that's happening in the last two days.

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, we were just a short while ago at the compound where the attacks took place. It's quite chilling to be standing there, imaging how horrific and terrifying that entire ordeal must have been. The buildings are completely gutted, set ablaze, debris all over the place. Some of the walls are splattered with blood.

The head of the General National Congress here, Mohamed Megarif was touring the facility as we were there as well, and he was telling us that they now believe -- the Libyan government now believes this was a preplanned, highly-coordinated attack, be designated to cause maximum damage to the Libyan/American relationship. That is why it was carried out with such ferocity, ending with devastating consequences.

They have thus far four individuals in custody. Specifically what group they may be affiliated to, at this point, that information is not being dispersed. The Libyan government is only saying that they do believe they were affiliated with one of the many extremist groups that are in fact operating in this country, especially in this part, the eastern part. The city of Benghazi and areas around it, there are a number of extremist militias with training camps that operate with near impunity.

The government acknowledging at this point in time, given their current capabilities as a government, they are incapable of taking on these extremist elements. But the government now fully aware that it must somehow bring those who carried those out to justice, that it has to somehow impose rule of law or else risk the country disintegrating entirely.

BALDWIN: Arwa Damon for us in Benghazi.

And I just to pick up on that point, and I was looking at you Bobby Ghosh. I saw in the corner of my eye nodding when she was saying that the government in Libya is incapable of controlling these extremist groups. You wrote about this in your piece. Now that the dictators are gone, these extremists are left unchecked.

BOBBY GHOSH, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Yes. And in the old age, we knew exactly what Gadhafi or Mubarak would do in Egypt when protests like this would happen. He would send in his thugs and security agencies early and they beat people, even to death, if necessary, and suppress any form of public protest.

For one thing, these are democratically elected governments now. They can't do that. They have a responsibility and they want to be reelected. Some of the rage is real and some of the protest has to be allowed to happen. The question is, how do you control that? How do you prevent that from getting out of hand, as it has?

The problem there is that these governments are not yet fully in control of all the security apparatus. A lot of the security apparatus was loyal to the former regimes, and the relationships with these new elected governments are still a little fragile. So this is, in some ways, this is what the new democracies in the Arab spring confront. They have weak central authority, poor policing and they have a populous that now feels free and empowered to protest whenever they feel like it.

And more importantly, there are groups within this society who are taking this anger and cranking it up and bringing it out into the street in this organized way.

BERMAN: You are seeing Egyptian police and security forces with a stronger presence on the street today. In Yemen we've seen it over the last two days.

Is that an encouraging sign, Jamie, to the U.S.?

JAMIE RUBIN, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: Yes. I think it is. I think the early response of the Egyptian government was a little questionable. The first response seemed to focus on the film and not the violence and the breaking of the barrier between Egypt and the U.S. compound there. That is Egypt's responsibility, to control the perimeter.

Every country in the civilized world, an embassy has the right to expect the host government to protect its perimeter. That didn't happen in Egypt. In the early hours after the protests began, some of the key officials seemed to be talking about the film. Not about their own responsibility to protect the U.S. embassy.

And I think perhaps President Obama's phone call has made a difference. The President of Egypt now seems to have moved his focus from the film to Egypt's responsibility. And, obviously, in the case of Libya, I think they've done every single thing we could reasonably expect from this fledgling government, from the words that were spoken by the government, from the moment this happened to the steps they are now taking to arrest people, to try and track down -- you know, this was a very popular ambassador. I think the Libyan government there in Benghazi feels as bad as they can for their friends.

BALDWIN: And are ashamed.

RUBIN: And ashamed, yes.

BALDWIN: I want to broaden the conversation on and bring in Ambassador Richard Williamson. He was Assistant Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan. He is currently the Romney campaign senior foreign policy adviser.

So, Mr. Ambassador, good morning to you.

RICHARD WILLIAMSON, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: Good morning.

BALDWIN: Let's just begin with what we know today as far as the situation on the streets. We know of more rioting in Yemen, in the capital city there. We could hear the crowds over our correspondent's shoulders in Cairo. That they are increasing in size, at least in Tahrir Square specifically.

How do you interpret everything that's happening?

WILLIAMSON: I think what we're seeing in Yemen and Egypt and Libya is turmoil that's very disturbing, that crowds U.S. interests and, frankly, is part of a pattern where they see less resolve and strength of the United States. And they feel they can have these sort of assaults on U.S. sovereign soil. So it's very disturbing.

And it's part of a larger Middle East where we have things spinning out of control in Syria and we have Iran to engage in nuclear breakout. It's a region that has great stress and where America has to provide some strength and leadership that's been lacking.

BERMAN: Ambassador Williamson, you are an adviser, as we said, to the Romney campaign. You have been speaking out quite loudly the last few days about what you see as the deficiencies in the Obama administration, how they've handled the situation in the Middle East, specifically in Libya.

I want to read you a quote, what you said yesterday. You said, "There's a pretty compelling story, that if you had a President Romney, you would be in a different situation. For the first time since Jimmy Carter we've had an ambassador assassinated."

That seems to suggest you are blaming President Obama, his administration, for the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

WILLIAMSON: First, let me be perfectly clear. The people responsible for this horrendous act and this murder are the people that raided that consulate and committed those acts. Having said that, having served as chief of mission abroad for the U.S. as an ambassador, having worked in the State Department, I know there are things that can and should have been done.

When there's a change of regime in Libya, we should have learned the lessons of the Baltics, of Timor Leste, of Sierra Leone, and that is we go in there to help for reconciliation and reconstruction. The administration chose not to do that. Second -- so some of the capacity of the new government, which is a moderate Islamist government, to be able to deal with these and other issues would be greater.

Second, 9/11 is 9/11. It's not a surprise that this is a day where bad things might happen. And it's disturbing to get some reports of intelligence that may have not been followed up. I think the reporters like yourselves have to ask what was known, when did the President, Secretary of State know it? What action did they take?

I spent time in Libya. I knew the ambassador when I was the President's special envoy to Sudan. I had negotiations in Tripoli. We knew the consulate in Benghazi was less secure. Did he really have to travel on 9/11?

So, there's a series of technical questions. But the big policy questions are, are we going to be more forward leaning in providing leadership? We've not done that.

BERMAN: Mr. Ambassador, rest assured, CNN is asking the questions about what the U.S. knew about these attacks before they happened. We asked the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, yesterday who said there were simply no warnings. Those were his words. We're still, of course, looking into this right now.

But you did mention you have been served in past administrations and you have been stationed overseas. Then you also certainly know that these attacks on embassies are things that have gone on for decades. It happened in the Reagan administration in Beirut. It happened at embassies throughout the world, throughout both Bush administrations.

It does happen sometimes without warning. Correct?

WILLIAMSON: Sometimes without warning. We know absolutely this was not without warning. There was evidence of what was going to happen in Egypt a week or so ahead of time.

Second, we are in a heightened situation, post-9/11, on the anniversary, which has symbolic needs and symbolic reasons to be concerned about the safety of our people.

And, third, there are real questions about what contingencies were on the table in the State Department, to increase the security in Libya.

So I applaud you for continuing to pursue this story. There's conflicting evidence coming out. And some of it is not comforting. BALDWIN: Ambassador Williamson, just back to John Berman's original question, let me phrase it to you again, because again, to quote you, "for the first time since Jimmy Carter, we've had an American ambassador assassinated." Are you saying that had Mitt Romney been president, this wouldn't have happened?

WILLIAMSON: Well, first, it's just a fact that we haven't had an ambassador assassinated since Jimmy Carter's presidency.

Second, I do think that Governor Romney who has a view of the Middle East, a view of the Middle East that is stable and secure where people's dignity and pluralism and economic opportunity are recognized can be achieved, but it has to be achieved with U.S. leadership and U.S. leadership from the front, not behind. It means giving technical assistance to the people.

BALDWIN: So, given all of these things you're pointing out, what it have been prevented had Mitt Romney been president? You're his foreign policy guy.

WILLIAMSON: Well, I tell you, one of the difference would have been -- yes, one of the differences was Obama cut the assistance to democracy and civil society groups in Egypt dramatically when he came into office.

BALDWIN: With all due respect, sir, yes or no.

WILLIAMSON: With all due respect, answers are more complicated, so give me just 30 seconds.

BALDWIN: Sure, you got it.

WILLIAMSON: The U.S. government cut assistance to the reformers for two years when Tahrir Square began. The Vice President of the United States said Mubarak was a reformer, a Democrat. The Secretary of State reformer. We did get out in front.

The result was we didn't have relationships with the reformers. They didn't look to us. They didn't trust us. This gave room for the Muslim Brotherhood to succeed. The Romney administration would be there, would be more active, trying to work with civil society, with reform movements so we would be partners in this evolution, not running behind and not seen as part of that. I think that changes the dynamic. And so, yes, there would be a difference.

LIZZA: Ambassador, just quickly, first of all, I don't see how changing our relationship with some of the reformers in Egypt has anything to do with the attack in Benghazi. But on this issue of America's alleged weakness in the Middle East, is your position --

WILLIAMSON: Let's talk about Benghazi then.

LIZZA: Yes, let me -- I want to ask you about --

WILLIAMSON: Let's talk about Benghazi then. LIZZA: Because it seems like you're drawing a straight line to what you view as the Obama administration's weakness, your word, in the Middle East by actually inviting these attacks on U.S. government officials and embassies. Is that your position?

WILLIAMSON: My position is the world's better off when America leads and so are other countries. Our failure to do that contribute? Yes, it contributes, just as it's contributing to the chaos and deaths in Syria where we now have 20,000 people killed, innocent people. And the U.S. has basically been missing in action as this has happened over the last 18 months.

But if I can go back to Benghazi, one of the lessons of post conflict situations was that you stay in after the authoritarian leader falls. And if you don't, it contributes to chaos and weak government. The Clinton administration did that in the Baltics, in Kosovo. The Bush administration --

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAMSON: Excuse me, the Balkans. I apologize.

BALDWIN: And I apologize.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: We have to leave this here, Ambassador Richard Williamson, former Assistant Secretary of State and Romney's senior foreign policy adviser. We appreciate it, sir. Thank you very much.

BERMAN: We have so many questions --

WILLIAMSON: Thank you very much.

BERMAN: Thank you, ambassador. We do have so many questions still this morning of what's going on around the world.

And ahead on STARTING POINT, he made the anti-Islamic movie that has spawned these violent protests against the U.S. all over the world, but who exactly is he? We look into the shady past of the man so- called Sam Bacile coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: All right. Just in to us here at CNN, there are now reports that protesters are trying to storm the German and British embassies in Sudan. Police there firing tear gas, trying to stop some five 5,000 protesters. Many were hurling stones at the two embassies in Khartoum. Witnesses tell Reuters flags are being dragged down.

Again, this is happening in Sudan. Obviously, as soon as we have more information, we'll bring it to you, but just the latest, the latest news in a string of countries where these embassies are being stormed.

BERMAN: And as this is all happening this morning, we are learning more about the man behind that anti-Muslim film that has triggered so much of this hatred against the U.S. The writer and director has been identified as Sam Bacile, but that name is a fake. Miguel Marquez went looking for him.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, John, behind me is the house that CNN and all the media has traced to the man we now know to be called Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. He's been hunkered down in there. He is not coming out, and CNN knows exactly why.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ (voice-over): He's the shadowy maker of a low-budget anti- Islamic film who has a criminal past and many aliases, clearly, someone who doesn't want to be found, and as we discovered, for good reason.

In 1997, Bacile, his real name, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula spent a year in prison convicted of intent to manufacture methamphetamine. In 2010, he spent another year, this time in federal prison, for fraud.

(on-camera) These are just some of the documents for criminal cases against Sam Bacile or Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. It is clear by going through these that investigators had a hard time tracking him down as well. The guy had several addresses, many social security numbers, and lots of names.

(voice-over) Court documents show he used at least 17 different names, including Sam Bacile, Kritbag Difrat, PJ Tabacco (ph), and Thomas Tanas.

(on-camera) Anyone having anything to do with Sam Bacile is scared to death right now across Los Angeles. This is a neighborhood in Long Beach. A man who lives here says that Nakoula Basseley used his address to get credit cards and conduct some of the fraudulent activity that he carried out. He found out about it, called the police, and hasn't seen since.

(voice-over) Numbers associated with Bacile's many identities turn up nothing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The number you dialed is not a working number.

MARQUEZ: Even anti-Islamic activists who work with him say they were never exactly sure who he was.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sam was not his real name. I knew that.

MARQUEZ: The same true even for actors in his own movie.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He told me he was from Israel. He told me he was going to show the movie in Egypt. And either I assumed he was from Egypt or --

MARQUEZ: He led you to believe he was Egyptian?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, because that's what I believed. MARQUEZ (on-camera): Well, this is the best address we have for Sam Bacile or Nakoula Basseley, whatever you want to call him. You can see all of the media is camped out here. We're going to try one more time to talk to him.

Mr. Bacile? Mr. Nakoula? It's Miguel Marquez with CNN.

(voice-over) This house, the center of an intense search for answers from a man who has many questions, hanging over his head.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(on-camera) Nakoula also told friends and co-workers that he was Israeli-American. Well, CNN has discovered that's also not true. We talked to people here in the neighborhood, people who know him. They say he is Egyptian, and he's a member of a Coptic Christian church -- Brooke, John.

BERMAN: All right. Miguel Marquez, my good friend, with a great report from California, thanks very much.

BALDWIN: Miguel, thank you.

Coming up next on STARTING POINT, First Harry, now Kate. The duchess caught with her top off, bikini top off and the palace now responding this morning.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: Okay. Here we go. Welcome back to STARTING POINT. First Harry, now the Duchess of Cambridge, the Duchess Katherine Middleton saying she is saddened that this French gossip magazine has now published topless photos. She was on a private holiday in the south of France. The palace is now responding saying the royals are flat out angry and in disbelief and are exploring their legal options. Right now, Prince William and Kate are in Malaysia on a tour of Asia.

BERMAN: There you go.

BALDWIN: There you go. I mean -- I just hate it. I hate it for her. She wants to be on a private vacation. You know, probably she and her husband are out, you know, hanging out on a boat and someone with a camera, somewhere, snapped this.

BERMAN: I have to say Piers Morgan, who I defer to on all things royal, tweeted earlier that he is totally on your side, says this is an outrage, but -- but --

LIZZA: If you're Kate Middleton you don't go topless on your vacation. The sad reality of being a royal is cameras follow you everywhere. It's not as stupid as a Vegas pic.

BALDWIN: I'm with you there.

BERMAN: And it was only the top apparently.

LIZZA: In that sense it was very demure.

GHOSH: Where is the security? If you're guarding a celebrity like that, knowing that there are paparazzi everywhere certainly you're looking at the parameter to see if you can spot a camera. I don't get this. This seems like such an amateurish error.

BERMAN: Thank you, gentlemen, for humoring us on this subject here. I'm sure we will come back to this.

GHOSH: We all feel for her, after we buy the magazine.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: Exactly right.

Ahead on STARTING POINT. Politics, we want to talk about that, too, because President Obama, he has a boost in three polls in three battleground states. How critical is this for Mitt Romney? We want to break this down next with our very own Candy Crowley. You are watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. We have an update on our top story this morning. Anti-American protests flaring up in more countries overnight. And with Friday prayers ending right now this morning, U.S. embassies around the world are bracing for more.

BALDWIN: Also new this hour, protesters are trying to storm both the German and the British embassies in Sudan. Police are firing tear gas to try to stop the 5,000 people, many of them hurling stones. The anger has now spread to 11 countries from Egypt to Morocco to India. Let's look at these pictures live from Cairo, because thousands upon thousands in Tahrir Square, sort of the nucleus that it was of the revolution last year, Muslim Brotherhood calling for calm, calling off the protest. Bobby Ghosh here with "TIME" magazine wrote the cover story here, getting information about the protesters in Tahrir.

GHOSH: There have been tweets suggesting the protesters are turning hostile to its foreign generals. I'm a little concerned about our colleagues out there.

BERMAN: They did call the Muslim Brotherhood to call off nationwide protests but did suggest there would be this one large protest in Tahrir. And that, in itself, could ignite things, drawing everyone to one single place.

GHOSH: But Tahrir is a square that can be contained to some degree. They're hoping, I think, people will come, express themselves and then quietly disperse. We've seen over the past year and a half that the mob has a mind of its own and has a tendency to go off in directions where those who are organizing these things don't always intend. It's not that far from the American embassy. It's a very short walk.

BALDWIN: We want to talk politics. And to do that, we bring in our best chief correspondent Candy Crowley. Candy, good morning to you. Big news this morning, obviously, thee polls, Virginia, Florida, Ohio. Those polls are up on the screen. Walk us through what you've been seeing.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, what we're seeing now is that in three key states where Mitt Romney has to do well, he is now behind. And it's not just a one or two- point race. We are seeing that in Florida and Virginia. Right now you're looking at Ohio, actually. There's a seven-point difference, President Obama leading Ohio by seven points. That's not great.

Now you look at Florida, there's a five-point differential. It's the same thing in Virginia. All things considered you would rather be ahead in these polls than from behind. Is it undoable for Mitt Romney? It is not. But going into the fall campaign, the President clearly has the edge.

BERMAN: Those Ohio numbers particularly alarming for the Romney campaign, because, as we always say, no Republican has ever won the White House without also winning Ohio.

CROWLEY: I try not to say that. But you're right. But can I just add that the fact is that you look at all three of those states, Mitt Romney has to win them. That's troublesome when you say it's 50 states. Not really. It's six or seven states and it's very hard to put together those 270 elect oral votes for Mitt Romney if you don't win all of those.

BERMAN: Mitt Romney was asked about the polls in general, a lot of them showing him trailing Barack Obama. In an interview with ABC News George Stephanopoulos that aired just a short while ago on "Good Morning, America." Let's see what Mitt Romney said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Beating an incumbent is never easy. The President exudes an air of likability and friendliness, which is endearing. But at the same time I think people recognize that he has not done the job they expected him to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Do they recognize that yet, Candy? That doesn't seem to be showing up in the polls.

CROWLEY: I think if you look at how you think things are right now, we had a CNN/ORC poll out that says how is the financial situation right now? How do you think things are going in the United States? And 60 percent plus said not well. But then they said how do you think they'll be doing in a year? About the same amount said I think they'll be better.

So there is a recognition. I think he's right on the facts of it, that there is a recognition that all things are not well with the economy right now, and that certainly is what the Romney team has wanted to spinoff of. But the question is, do they think this is the right track? Do they think the trajectory is right, because if American voters look at this economy and say we think it we keep going this way, it will be fine, then that is bad news for the Romney campaign.

LIZZA: Candy, it's Ryan. My view is that if Romney loses, the post mortem is going to be that he just decided that it was enough that the economy was bad and Obama would lose and he would be sort of there as the default candidate. And when he picked Paul Ryan it seemed maybe he was going to change that strategy and elevate this into more of a choice remember than a simple referendum. I don't know if you agree with me or not. It just seems like the Romney campaign hasn't shifted that strategy that a few weeks ago they signaled they were going to shift into this sort of new mode and that they're still just relying on Obama's collapse rather than articulating a positive message for their campaign.

CROWLEY: Well, certainly, they've been knocked off message, for sure, in the Middle East for the last couple of days. And that's a whole different kettle of fish. It seems to me that they are now about three, four, 4 1/2 hours or so -- my math isn't great this early in the morning where Mitt Romney can say here is the deal. Here is what I propose. And those are the debates.

It's difficult to do this, as you know, out on the campaign trail. In many, many ways the campaign trail is designed for the faithful on both sides. I've rarely been to some kind of forum during an election year where it wasn't just filled with people who were already going to go vote. So it's tough to say, "and here's my alternative," in any kind of great length. I will say, when Mitt Romney has had a chance to do that in various interviews, I will say, he hasn't. Will he carry that out in the three 90-minute times he has to address a really super large audience?

LIZZA: His last chance.

CROWLEY: Yes.

BALDWIN: Candy Crowley, thank you. We'll see you Sunday morning on "STATE OF THE UNION."

Quickly, also when you look at these poll number, it seems to me, what is it, more than 80 percent of the folks strongly support a candidate. So most people have made up their mind.

LIZZA: And they are and highly energized on both sides now.

BERMAN: We have some other top stories we're following. A short term spending measure to keep the U.S. government funded through March passes the House and now moves to the Senate. Party leaders agreed to this solution earlier this summer to avoid a budget showdown during the fall election campaign. Current funding for federal agencies expires by the end of the month.

BALDWIN: The Federal Reserve going to pump $40 billion a month into the U.S. economy, yet another round of stimulus. They will also keep interest rates at historic lows. Chairman Ben Bbernanke hopes that will lead you to more buying, more borrowing. But not everyone agrees, including Mitt Romney, who spoke to ABC News.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: What Bernanke is doing is saying that what the President is saying is wrong. The President is saying the economy is making progress, coming back. Bernanke is saying no, it's not. I've got to print more money. I don't think what Bernanke is doing is going to get the economy going.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: When you look at the big board yesterday, stocks soared in reaction to the Fed's move. The Dow gained more than 200 points. Dow futures are up ahead of the opening bell today.

BERMAN: There is new evidence of the Syrian government's assault on its own people. Video posted on YouTube shows a plane firing what appears to be a rocket over the town in the suburbs of Damascus. The opposition says nearly 60 people were killed yesterday in the area that was surrounding the Syria capital.

BALDWIN: A volcanic eruption in Guatemala forcing the evacuation of 35,000 people. Look at that smoke. The volcano of fire started spewing ash and fire near the capital city of Antigua. And a CNN iReporter just happened to be working nearby and took this breathtaking video with, of course, his iPhone. This is the sixth time this year this particular volcano has erupted.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Fair point. That does change everything.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, we have a very special guest is coming in. He's known for his dancing moves, but actor J.R. Martinez is putting on his running shoes. It's for a new cause. He joins us live coming up. You're watching STARTING POINT.

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BALDWIN: Just in to us here at CNN, we've been reporting here about this embassy, the German Embassy in Khartoum in Sudan. We now know that it's engulfed in flames. We talked about this protesters, thousands of them are storming embassy there as well as the British Embassy in Khartoum. This is in response to that film mocking the Prophet Muhammad. No personnel are believed to be inside.

BERMAN: We are going to be following this, of course, all morning. But first next on STARTING POINT we're going to take a turn here.

He won "Dancing with the Stars" and now actor J.R. Martinez has a new goal in sight. He is joining us live with his newest mission. Here he is hey J.R. man. He's coming up next.

BALDWIN: We're glad to see you running, marathon run? What's happening?

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BALDWIN: Okay, so our next guest, he's famous for his moves. Of course we watched him on "Dancing with the Stars".

BERMAN: Wow.

BALDWIN: As well as his acting role, shaking it, shaking it. Long, long running soap opera role on "All My Children." But one of J.R. Martinez's biggest achievements was fighting for our country in Iraq where he was severely injured when his vehicle hit a land mine. That was back in 2003. He suffered severe burns to more than 40 percent of his body.

BERMAN: But during his recovery, he discovered he could help motivate other burn patients and now he's taking his inspirational story even a step further. J.R. will be running the New York City Marathon on behalf of Timex. He's shaking his head; he is not so sure about it but he is.

BALDWIN: Nearly a step further.

BERMAN: But he is -- he is, in fact running the New York City Marathon on behalf of Timex and raise money for the New York --

J.R. MARTINEZ, ACTOR, MOTIVATIONAL SPEAKER, FORMER U.S. ARMY SOLDIER: I don't know if I'm running the whole way.

BERMAN: Well then tell us. I mean, you've obviously -- you've taken on challenges before.

MARTINEZ: Yes.

BERMAN: But now a marathon, I do have to tell you, its 26 miles.

MARTINEZ: Yes 26.2 miles. And then they say because you actually weave through a lot of the people you end up, because this Timex watch, you know it monitors your pace, and your distance and your heart rate. But you actually can end up running about 26.8 or 26.9 miles. So I was like, wait a minute. That's a deal breaker for me. Like you know that that's a little bit further than 26.2 but I'm excited.

BALDWIN: So your deal with Timex is not only are you then running this marathon, you are starting last?

MARTINEZ: Dead last.

BALDWIN: Dead last place?

MARTINEZ: Yes, dead last.

BALDWIN: And every time you pass someone --

MARTINEZ: So I get to watch you, you, you and you run off. Have fun. Be excited. Go over the bridge and here I am just watching you go.

BALDWIN: And the reason is?

MARTINEZ: And the reason is -- is Timex is committed to donating $1 to the New York Road Runner Youth Program which a program that actually benefits a lot of children in the New York area and essentially introduces them to running, introduces them about health and lifestyle which is important. And I think for me, my goal is -- Jenny (inaudible) did an amazing job last year, she is the one that did it and she raised just a little under $31,000.

So my goal this year -- I'm not going to sit there and say I'm going to try to beat her time but my goal this year is to raise $31,000. So hopefully I will be able to get there.

BERMAN: I have run this before.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Wow, good for you.

BERMAN: The first time I ran it, I was -- it sounds like I'm bragging, but wait. I had to be carried over the finish line by a friend because I essentially collapsed at the end here. So how is the training going?

MARTINEZ: I know. It isn't humane. No, no -- I know but you know what I have motivation. It's going well. It's going well, I'm up to 11 miles now and the difficult part for me is that I travel all the time because I'm doing a lot of motivational speaking.

And -- and so it's -- it's -- the good thing about this watch, the Timex GPS Ironman run trainer, is that it -- like I said it tracks my pace, my heart rate and my distance. And so I can go into a city and not know exactly where I am, but just go run and it tells me oh you've been running for this amount of miles, this amount of time, your heart rate's this. I'm up to 11 miles now.

BALDWIN: Good for you.

MARTINEZ: Eleven miles. So I know I have less than two months away. And I've heard what's kind of keeping me grounded is that I've heard people say that run marathons is that you usually only train up to 18 to 20 miles before the marathon, you never really train to do the full 26.

So if I keep enhancing every single week a mile I'll be at 18 miles a week before the marathon. So I'll be right there.

LIZZA: How many people run this thing? What's the most -- what's the --

(CROSSTALK)

MARTINEZ: It's like, I think it's 47,000 people.

LIZZA: Okay, if you win this thing -- MARTINEZ: I'm not winning this thing. I mean -- I'm not winning this thing, it would be amazing, but I don't -- I'm definitely not winning this thing. So I'm just going to commit to $31,000 that that's going to be raised for the program, which I said went out on a limb and I said if I only pass $25,000 people, then guess what, I'm dishing out some -- some money out of my own pocket but that program is getting at least $31,000.

BERMAN: You're going to make up the gap?

MARTINEZ: I'm going to make it up. And because I think -- running is amazing. It really is -- it's a great thing for -- you know, you get to be outdoors. And especially here in a city like New York, I mean it's beautiful. You know it's like you're always distracted. And it's almost like when you walk in a city, before you know it, you're walking like 50 blocks. I think running is the same thing.

So everybody can follow me at Twitter -- @iamjrmartinez. Follow my progress, I'm going to be blogging pictures and everything and then you can also go to our Timex Sports Facebook.

BALDWIN: You're going to be blogging and tweeting and running?

BERMAN: And passing people?

MARTINEZ: I would like to sit here and say that I'm going to do all of that but there's actually going to be -- because Timex did pretty much give me a coach. So I have a coach that's going to be running alongside me.

So if you see a tweet it's not necessarily my language --

BALDWIN: There you go.

BERMAN: J.R. Martinez, good luck to you.

MARTINEZ: Thank you. Hopefully.

BALDWIN: We hope you're not carried across.

BERMAN: You'll have a better result than I had.

MARTINEZ: Thank you guys.

BERMAN: We will have our "End Point" coming up next.

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BALDWIN: Time for the "End Point". Jamie Rubin had to leave us. Gentlemen, you have the floor.

GHOSH: well I think they -- I think what we're learning now in the Middle East is that there's going to be crises like this more and more often. You have weak democratically-elected governments that do not have full control over their streets, their security forces and you have populations that feel empowered to speak their mind and voice their rage and organizations that are cranking up that rage and directing them against the United States.

So far for the Obama administration, the one that comes after that, this is going to be a kind of crisis that they encounter over and over again. And so they need to come up with new strategies of how to deal with it.

BERMAN: Ryan, you basically have just time to agree with Bobby.

LIZZA: Well, I agree with you.

I think we're reaching a tipping point where this could start to define the presidential election in the coming weeks. Sometimes this things pass and move on but it looks like it's reaching a tipping point where we have a worldwide crisis that both candidates are going to be talking about next month.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Ryan Lizza from "New Yorker", Bobby Ghosh, "Time" magazine. Brooke Baldwin, It was a great week here with you.

BALDWIN: Hey, John Berman.

BERMAN: Soledad O'Brien is back next week.

BALDWIN: See you around.

BERMAN: Carol Costello, "CNN NEWSROOM" begins right now.