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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Security Threats; Fast and Furious Fallout; Managing The Middle East; Clinton's Global "Optimism"; The Women Who Rule

Aired September 20, 2012 - 08:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody.

Our STARTING POINT this morning, security threats against the ambassador. CNN has learned Ambassador Chris Stevens had serious security concerns before his death during an attack in Libya. And word from the senior intel official that it was a terror attack. We're live for you in Tripoli this morning.

Fast and Furious fallout. Fourteen federal law enforcement officials have been named in a scathing report about that botched gun-running program. Today, lawmakers will question the watchdog behind the report. We'll tell you why some say the attorney general not named with blame in the report, they think he's still to blame.

And the space shuttle Endeavour, look at that -- live pictures coming to us from our affiliate, KHOU -- almost home. Look at these pictures as it makes its way, once again, down the runway. That's a shuttle on top of a 747, doing its tour. Today, they're going to do fly-byes of Clear Lake, Johnson Space Center. And this is all before it makes its way to California.

We'll continue to watch it as it takes off. And --

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: There it is, airborne.

O'BRIEN: Takeoff. It's such a beautiful picture. I know we've been showing this now every day as it does its sort of last final journey, they're giving opportunity for people around the country to have a glimpse of the shuttle. And they take off and land and do these low fly byes so that people have an opportunity to get a final glimpse of Endeavour.

But every single time I find it amazing.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, NEWYORKER.COM: It's good NASA P.R.

O'BRIEN: It's great NASA P.R. What's the hashtag? See the shuttle or -- oh, #spottheshuttle. So when you do spot the shuttle, it will be over Houston and then do all these fly byes and a fuel stop. You can tweet #spottheshuttle and everybody can join in where they're seeing it.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The 747s, by the way, are specially designed to carry the shuttles. They will be retired too, in days.

O'BRIEN: And I didn't realize they were specially designed to carry the shuttle.

BERMAN: You have to be pretty strong to carry a space shuttle.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: I thought being a 747 inherently would do that.

That comes from our affiliate, KHOU.

Let's get to our panelists this morning.

Joining us, Margaret Hoover. She's a former White House appointee in the Bush administration. Richard Socarides is a writer for NewYorker.com. And Deepak Chopra is the author of "God: A Study of Revelation." And John Berman sticks around as well, from "EARLY START."

Nice to have all of you with us.

Let's talk a little bit about this new information, really devastating, although many people talked about it right after that attack in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens. The nation's counter- terrorism chief says -- and testified before Congress that yes, it was, in fact, an act of terror. That was conversation people were having in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.

Sources also tell CNN that the ambassador expressed concerns about security in the month before he died, specifically mentioning a rise in Islamic extremism and also a growing al Qaeda presence in Libya.

Let's get right to Arwa Damon. She's got the very latest live from Tripoli, in Libya, this morning.

So, if, in fact, it was terror, Arwa, then -- you know, brought about by whom exactly? Do they know?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: At this point in time, no, Soledad, they don't. And it's been over a week since that attack, in fact, did take place.

The Libyan government saying they have questioned at least 50 individuals, none of whom they say were directly involved in that assault on the U.S. consulate. But they do believe that extremists were involved in this attack. What is especially concerning, though, is that at this point in time, they do not possess the capabilities to specifically go after these particular organizations.

This attack that took place was not an isolated incident. There had been numerous attacks against Western interests in the months leading up to what happened on September 11th. You have the attack against the consulate itself in June. You then had attacks on the convoy of the British ambassador, the head of the U.N. mission, and a complex attack launched against the compound of the ICRC.

Libyan officials are telling us they specifically expressed these concerns on numerous occasions to the Americans, specifically citing facts that they could not control this threat, that there was a growing threat from extremist organizations. So people on the ground here well aware of what was taking place which, of course, is leading to even more questions at this point in time than answers, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Arwa Damon for us this morning -- Arwa, thank you for that update.

The other big story, of course, we're following this morning, the report on the botched-gun-running operation known as Fast and Furious. It is in. And the man behind it will be on the Hill today.

It puts Attorney General Eric Holder in the clear, recommending disciplinary action for 14 officials in the Justice Department and ATF.

Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy from South Carolina is on the House Oversight Committee. This morning, that committee is going to hear testimony from the inspector general from the Justice Department.

Nice to see you, sir. Thank you for talking with us.

So, walk me through what you think comes out of this report. Many are reading this and saying that the attorney general himself has been vindicated.

Do you believe, in fact, he has been vindicated?

REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, I guess that depends on your definition of vindicated. When you lead a law firm and people under you are being disciplined and sanctioned and cited for malfeasance, I don't think that's a vindication.

I think the folks that are vindicated by this report are Brian terry's family, for pushing Congress to do something. Frankly, Darrell Issa has taken a lot of heat over the last 20 months. I think what Inspector General Horowitz's report confirms is that this, for many of us, was never about politics but respect for the criminal justice system.

You know, I've read -- I've not read 500 pages. I cannot do that in less than 24 hours. But I've read enough to know this -- anyone who thinks the attorney general is vindicated, it would be tantamount to this, a headline. I want you to imagine this headline. Passengers charged with speeding. Driver exonerated. He is the driver of the Department of Justice.

O'BRIEN: I'm not sure that that's a fair analogy.

GOWDY: Why not?

O'BRIEN: It might be more like --

GOWDY: Why not?

O'BRIEN: Because I think the driver is the person who literally is driving the car, right? So who would be aware -- I understand the analogy you're trying to make, but the driver would know the speed they're going. In a way, according to the report which I have here, page 453, we determined that Attorney General Holder did not learn about Operation Fast and Furious until late January or early February 2011. And the entire report does vindicate him. They name specifically 14 people.

GOWDY: I respectfully disagree for this reason. There was a letter sent in February on department of justice letterhead that was demonstrably false, after he learned about it. There was a letter written in May 2011, after he learned about gun-walking, which was demonstrably false.

And the other point I would make is this -- knew or should have known. So, I ask the question of yourself, should he have known that this was going on in his department?

O'BRIEN: So it sounds to me like you're saying the leadership issue, where you think he is at fault, he was leading the entire department and that's where your analogy about driving comes into play?

You know, people, of course, have said that they think this is politically motivated. We've had conversations with Elijah Cummings early this morning who said that all along, he's thought this had a political motivation. And, of course, many people say, well, why not examine not just Fast and Furious but the gun running that we also know from this report happened under the Bush administration? Wouldn't that make people believe that it's less about politics and more about trying to end something that clearly had devastating effects on Brian Terry's family and the man himself?

GOWDY: And I am thrilled to go as far back as anyone wants to go. I am first and foremost a former prosecutor, even more so than a current member of Congress. And I don't care whether the Bull Moose Party, or the Wig Party or Republican Party or Democrat Party sanctioned gun- walking. It is wrong.

And I am thrilled to go as far back as Mr. Cummings or Mr. Issa or anyone else wants to go.

But you've been around long enough to know that when news is bad, you want to change the conversation. For just today, I want to focus on the I.G. report, the failure to properly read and analyze the wiretap applications, and this stunning conclusion, which the inspector general also reached. So, if we're going to like part of what he said we're going to like the rest of what he said.

This attorney general said even today if a border patrol agent were killed with a weapon from one of his investigations, he would not expect to be notified. Would you expect to be notified?

If you're the leader of a law enforcement agent, the leader of a law firm and someone has killed with a weapon from one of your investigations, would you not expect your subordinates to let you know that?

I have consistently said I have no evidence that Attorney General Holder knew about gun-walking before you and I knew about it. The question then is, should he have known about it? Is there a failure to supervise and lead within the department? And that is not a political question. I would ask the exact same question if Jason Chaffetz or one of my Republican colleagues were the attorney general.

This is bigger than politics. It's about respect for the Department of Justice, an entity I used to work for.

O'BRIEN: So then let's talk about what happens next, because when we talked to Congressman Cummings, he said let's talk about reform. Then you have a report which is devastating for the 14. I believe you're right that there are indications that say it would be obvious there were red flags that anybody reading these affidavits would be aware of what was happening.

So my question to you would be what happens next? How do you make sure that this doesn't happen again? Isn't that ultimately the question?

GOWDY: Yes, ma'am. Ultimately at the end of any investigation, you want to know how can we never have this conversation again. And I think the I.G. gives us a really good road map. He was very clear that even a summer intern reading these wiretap notifications would know about gun-walking.

For the government to listen in on your phone conversations or tap your phone is a very serious matter. We expect people to do their job, read the applications and read the affidavits. So if nothing else comes of this other than the Department of Justice being put on notice, we expect you to read wiretap applications with the seriousness with which it warrants, that I think there will be some success. The other --

O'BRIEN: Really? Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Let me stop you there. With all the effort and all the money spent and all the -- the takeaway is pay much more attention when there's a wiretap, you would be satisfied with that?

GOWDY: Well, I wasn't through. I wasn't through. There are others.

He also said there was a failure to connect the dots. Lanny Breuer specifically was singled out for that. That failure to connect the dots is because federal law enforcement agencies don't communicate with one another. In fact, often times they're in competition with one another.

So, this should be an indictment, if you'll pardon that expression, on law enforcement agencies being so caught up in who gets the credit that they fail to communicate with one another. That's another takeaway.

And I think the third takeaway is this. Whoever the next attorney general is, Eric Holder for another four years or who or whoever -- O'BRIEN: Me.

GOWDY: -- they need to know this. The Department of Justice is not just another political entity. It is something that Republicans and Democrats and independents and everyone else needs to have confidence in. We should not have had to have an I.G. report. We, frankly, should not have had to have a congressional investigation.

Ms. O'Brien, go back to the date those letters were written to the Justice of Department from us. Are those letters accurate? If we would have stopped when we got those letters and said OK, would we have had the full truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? We would not have.

O'BRIEN: Attorney general called for the report.

(CROSSTALK)

GOWDY: I hate to correct you, but Chuck Grassley called for the I.G. report before the attorney general did.

O'BRIEN: And he also did.

GOWDY: Oh, he did. I'm not saying he didn't. But at a certain point, we're calling him four committees of Congress. You could also argue if you're a cynic that the way not to have to answer our questions is to call for an I.G. report and say I want to wait until that report is concluded.

So, look, I never have said the attorney general knew about this. I've never said he was complicit in gun-walking. My point is, if you're going to be the leader of the nation's law enforcement agency and the nation's Department of Justice, you need to make it your business to have your subordinates tell you everything, whether it's good or bad, and he didn't do that.

O'BRIEN: On those points, the report agrees with you. Congressman Gowdy, nice to see you, sir. Thank you for talking with us. Appreciate it.

GOWDY: Yes, ma'am. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: The report on Fast and Furious, of course, provides little comfort for the family of that slain U.S. border patrol agent, Brian Terry. He was killed in a shootout back in 2010, in the Arizona borderland, linked to the gun-running operation.

On "EARLY START" this morning, his cousin, Robert Heyer, called the Justice Department's findings and the attorney general's comments disappointing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT HEYER, TERRY FAMILY SPOKESMAN: Nobody should be doing a victory dance right now. Anything less than a sober reflection of the mistakes made in the negligence by many officials within the Department of Justice and ATF, anything less than that is a disservice to Brian's sacrifice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Heyer says that his family can't find closure until someone is held accountable for proving that "Fast and Furious" program.

For other stories making news this morning, and John Berman has that for us. Good morning.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks so much, Soledad.

Mitt Romney continued his campaign swing through Florida today with a rally in Sarasota. Yesterday, Romney spoke to Latino voters at a rally in Univision forum in Miami. He's trying to get past the uproar over his comment dismissing 47 percent of the electorate. He has a new percentage now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a campaign about the 100 percent. And over the last several years, you've seen greater and greater divisiveness in this country. We had hoped to come back together, but instead, you've seen us pull apart, and politics has driven us apart in some respects. So, my campaign is about the 100 percent of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Romney said the Republican Party is the natural home for Hispanic Americans. President Obama will take on the same meet the candidate Univision event in Miami today. It will be streamed live on Facebook at 1:00 p.m. eastern. The president then heads to Tampa for a fundraiser before returning back to the White House.

Now, despite a deal that ended a strike for 30,000 Chicago public school teachers, some of the teachers may be out of a job next year. Mayor Rahm Emanuel says Chicago schools are facing a projected $1 billion deficit. That deficit has caused dozens of schools to shut their doors and put teachers out of work.

Now, he's the boss and he'll crowd surf if he wants to. Bruce Springsteen who, by the way, turns 63 in three days was (INAUDIBLE) from fans. This was at a concert in MetLife Stadium in New Jersey last night. Kind of like that guy in New Jersey. The rock icon leapt into the sea of hands, iPhones taking pictures.

This was all during a performance of the song, "Hungry Heart." If you're Bruce Springsteen, you can pretty much do what you want to, even at age 63. (INAUDIBLE)

O'BRIEN: That's great. Hanging on to the mic, directing the crowd.

All right. we got to take a short break. STARTING POINT is back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT.

The attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was an act of terrorism. The nation's counter-terrorism chief says extremists saw an opportunity to strike during protest over an anti-Islam film. Four Americans died, including the U.S. ambassador To Libya, Christopher Stevens. Now, the state department is warning U.S. citizens to avoid nonessential travel to Pakistan.

All this week, CNN is going in-depth to explore issues shaping the presidential election. Foreign affairs reporter, Elise Labotte, is focusing on the Middle East for us this morning. Elise, good morning.

ELISE LABOTTE, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Hi, Soledad. Well, I think foreign policy, originally, economy was the big issue on the campaign, but now on the wake of this horrible attack in Libya and these protests, it's certainly becoming a bigger issue, but I think we have to look at how President Obama has evolved over the last several years of his presidency.

Originally, he traveled to Cairo to try and bridge the gap between the U.S. and Muslim world saying he wanted a relationship based on mutual respect. In 2011, we saw the Arab spring, these uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa, and he was calling it an historical opportunity, pledging to stand with those seeking democracy. And here's how he said he envisioned U.S. involvement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LABOTTE: Now, so what does that mean President Obama did? He increased investment to the region to try to spur economic growth for countries in transition. And he was involved in select military intervention, choosing to get involved in Libya, for instance, but not Syria. But he was cautious with some allies balancing promoting democracy and U.S. national security.

And Bahrain, for instance, where the fifth fleet station (ph), he was a bit muted in his response to those protests. And he thinks that each of these countries has to choose its own course. The U.S. can impose outcomes, but Governor Romney has accused the president of being too differential to the Arab world, not sticking up enough for U.S. values and interests.

And in the wake of that U.S. attack on the consulate in Libya, and this Anti-American protest in the region he's accused the president of weak leadership in the region and saying he actually should have done more to shape the outcome of the Arab spring. Let's take a listen to what he said last week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: American leadership is necessary to ensure that events in the region don't spin out of control. We cannot hesitate to use our influence in the region to support those who share our values and our interests.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LABOTTE: So, what would Mitt Romney do if he were president? He said he would have gotten involved in Libya much quicker, with more U.S. manpower, and he would have actually picked winners in some of these elections, who he says values reflect the U.S., probably would not be backing Islamists, but supporting candidates and making sure that they win that and more align (ph) with U.N -- and he would make aid to Arab nations more conditional, specifically, in Egypt.

So, Soledad, in the wake of these last week's events, how the U.S. engages in these troubled region is tough question both candidates will have to answer as foreign policy is certainly becoming more central at the campaign.

O'BRIEN: And when you look at those polling numbers, people are much more interested than they were even three or four months ago. Elise Labotte for us this morning. Thank you, Elise. Appreciate that.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, a school bans bible versus during free game festivities in a place where high school football and faith have gone together for years. It's our "Tough Call" and its up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans, watching your money this morning.

U.S stock futures signal a lower open to Wall Street. World markets are falling after a weak manufacturing report from China. It showed China's factories slowed for an 11-month in a row.

A new survey by the American Payroll Association says more than two- thirds of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. Sixty-eight percent said it would be somewhat difficult or very difficult if their paychecks were delayed by just one week. That figure is down from 2010, though, immediately following the recession.

And fewer people have terrible credit scores. That's true. Nearly 1.5 million fewer people have the lowest FICO credit scores compared to last year. FICO says fewer people are taking on new debt, others are ditching credit all together since the financial crisis, and more people are in the very top ranks, Soledad. There are more people in the very top 800 to 850 category than just than last couple of years.

O'BRIEN: Interesting.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Is that a good thing?

ROMANS: Paying down debt. That's right. Paying down debt.

SOCARIDES: Good thing for the economy?

ROMANS: I think you see its income -- it's interesting. You see a divide just like everything in the economy. More people at the very, very top and a big gap until the people at the very, very bottom.

O'BRIEN: And in economic terms, isn't it bad when you pay down debt? I mean, isn't it a positive economic sign is to be buying, buying, buying, right?

ROMANS: No. Pay down your debt.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

DEEPAK CHOPRA, AUTHOR, "SPIRITUAL SOLUTIONS": Psychology that she's --

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

CHOPRA: Psychology that has created a society where you spend money that we haven't earned to buy things that we don't need to impress people that we don't like. And that's the crisis right now.

O'BRIEN: For the record, that's totally not what I'm saying.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Deepak Chopra just told me that I'm a bad person.

CHOPRA: This is the hypnosis of our social conditioning.

(CROSSTALK)

CHOPRA: That that's good for the economy. It's not. In the long term, it's not.

O'BRIEN: But in the measure of --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: I think intellectually, right. But in the measure of the economy, there's a measurement that said people should go spend. You want to get us out of economic problems, America go --

CHOPRA: But they shouldn't spend money they haven't earned.

ROMANS: Two-thirds of economic growth is consumer spending, right? And that's what got us to the brink.

O'BRIEN: Right, I get that.

ROMANS: We have to restructure, rebalance the economy so that its trade, its investments, its other things, not just consumer spending on borrowed money to buy goods.

O'BRIEN: We measure consumer spending. We say high consumer spending is a good measurement for the economy. Me, personally, I'm all about paying down debt.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Just for the record. Also, I believe in affirmations now.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Stop tweeting me.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: I'm getting killed on Twitter about that, by the way. You seem so happy. How do you dare not believe in affirmations?

Moving on. Let's do our "Tough Call" this morning. Tiny town in Texas is now the center of a battle over separation of church and state. Cheerleaders for the -- I don't know if I'm saying it right -- the Kountze High School in Kountze, Texas decide to put bible verses on the paper banners that the football players will run through before the games starts.

And the bible verses say things like, "I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me." "God gives us victory." Someone filed a complaint and higher ups decided that they had to ban the bible verses. Hair on my lips there.

(LAUGHTER)

Many parents of students fighting back. They say faith and bible both strong parts of the community.

HOOVER: Were they winning before they were praying?

CHOPRA: That's good. This is the woman in charge of the money.

SOCARIDES: That banner right there said I could do all things through Christ. What if there are members of the team who aren't Christians, don't believe in Jesus.

O'BRIEN: They didn't want to have that conversation. They didn't think it belonged in a school-sponsored event.

HOOVER: Who is doing the sponsoring? The football team and the school can't have the banner, watching the game, are happy to have religious banners crescent, stars of David. The issue is it's an establishment clause issue from the first amendment, that the school itself can't be promoting a particular religion.

CHOPRA: I agree. What matters in the end, of course, is who wins.

O'BRIEN: Wow! I'm surprised. No, it's the spirituality of the people coming together.

SOCARIDES: Now if the team tried some of your new affirmations in the morning, they will win.

O'BRIEN: I believe we can win this game.

Despite high employment, looming fiscal cliff, President Clinton says there's reason to be optimistic. We'll take a look this morning at the five ideas he says are changing the world. That's ahead on STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. The Labor Department just released the weekly jobless claims.

ROMANS: These are the numbers we follow so closely -- 382,000 jobless claims filed, more than expected but down some 3,000 from the previous week. This is so important because it keeps showing us whether those unemployment lines are getting a little bit shorter. Something under 400,000 is good to see, down 3,000 from the prior week but a little more than economists had expected.

O'BRIEN: It's interesting to see the optimism numbers about the economy when something like that wouldn't make you run out and say, wow, I'm wild optimistic.

CHOPRA: Why is the stock market doing so well?

ROMANS: When you talk to fund managers they say it's overvalued. Why? The central banks around the world have been pushing money into the system to prop things up. The U.S. is growing. We're not in a recession here. The U.S. is growing. But there's some who think that maybe that stock market rally has run out. There's an election around the corner and fiscal cliff. Don't forget.

O'BRIEN: Its' 100 some odd days.

ROMANS: It's 102 days and they did a study that found uncertainty about the fiscal cliff and certain things are adding to the unemployment. They look to Washington and say forget it.

O'BRIEN: Uncertainty is always bad. I know so little about economics.

CHOPRA: How can they there be any creativity?

O'BRIEN: For creativity, good, banking, bad.

Let's get to other stories making news. John's got that.

BERMAN: Thanks, Soledad. It was terrorism. Brand new details on the attack in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens. The nation's counterterrorism chief telling Congress heavily armed extremists saw an opportunity to attack during those protests over an anti-Muslim film and they took that opportunity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEW OLSEN, NATIONAL COUNTERTERRORISM CENTER DIRECTOR: I would say, yes, they were killed in the course of a terrorist attack on our embassy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Sources tell CNN Ambassador Stevens expressed concerns about security in the months before he died, specifically mentioning a rise in Islam extremism and Al Qaeda presence in Libya. He also talked about being on an Al Qaeda hit list.

And 6 million American will face a tax penalty in 2016 under President Obama's health care overhaul. About 80 percent of those who will be penalized for not buying insurance are in the middle class. Average penalty is about $1,200, according to this analysis.

All right, check out this tornado of fire caught on camera. Filmmaker spotted 100 so-called fire devil in the central Australian desert. This is a filmmaker, which is why it looks so good. The swarming column of warm air touches a brush fire, producing what looks like a tornado of flame.

O'BRIEN: That's the audio of that. That's what's crazy about those.

BERMAN: I want to talk about this because this is on a lot of our minds this morning. "Good Morning, America" anchor Robin Roberts is set to have a bone marrow transplant this morning. The 51 year old Roberts is undergoing chemotherapy in preparation for today's procedure. She thanked her fans in a blog post saying "You give me courage to keep going." Robin is fighting a blood disorder called myelodysplastic syndrome which she developed following treatment for breast cancer. Robin is one of the brightest, sunniest people I know. All of our thoughts are with her.

O'BRIEN: Absolutely. We are praying and rooting for her.

SOCARDIES: Everybody loves her for those reasons, right?

BERMAN: She's just great.

O'BRIEN: President Clinton has a new "TIME" magazine cover story. If you're a former president you want to do a cover story, they give you the cover, touting why he's optimistic and you should be, too. That's his message. We'll take a look at the five reasons he said everything is on the bright side. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: Welcome back. You're watching STARTING POINT.

One of the very big winners at the Democratic convention obviously was Bill Clinton, whose rousing convention speech energized the Democratic base. The former president took to the campaign trail in support of current President Obama, talking to crowds in Florida. This week he is penning the cover story for "TIME" magazine, "The Case for Optimism, Five Ideas that are Changing the World."

Jim Frederick is the international editor for "TIME" joining us. If you were a former president, you call "TIME" magazine say I have an idea and I would like it to be on the cover? Is that how it works?

JIM FREDERICK, INTERNATIONAL EDITOR, "TIME" MAGAZINE: It's not quite that easy. He has to pitch the idea and we have to like the idea. This is in conjunction with the Clinton global initiative, the New York meeting, annual meeting is happening, starting this weekend. He had this great idea where we in the news and in politics focus so much on the negative that he said, you know, I think that the overall arc of human history is for the better. And, actually, even in these pessimistic times, there's a couple of thing that is I think that the world needs to know about that are actually improving.

O'BRIEN: Real indications for a case for optimism. Let's run through some of those things.

FREDERICK: Yes, sure.

O'BRIEN: He says five things. Phones mean freedom. Healthy communities prosper. Green energy means good business. Women rule and the fight for the future is now. I want to talk about first women rule. Moderator's prerogative, I guess. He points to Rwanda where 50 percent of the parliament is now populated by women. And that's an indication for him that there's been a tremendous growth in the role of women, at least in Rwanda.

FREDERICK: I think in a lot of places. I think opportunities are increasing for women worldwide, social justice opportunities are increasing. There are also hard statistics that more women are teaching in institutions of higher learning. And also with reason we use the subhead of women rule, there are more women in parliaments and governments worldwide than any time in history, something like 20 percent worldwide. And Rwanda is just one example of a global trend. So, you know, even in places like Saudi Arabia, which have centuries- long issues with women's suppression, slowly, but surely -- we're not anywhere near where we in the with west think those countries should be, but driving is becoming more acceptable in Saudi Arabia.

O'BRIEN: There are changes?

FREDERICK: There are changes.

CHOPRA: And there is unequivocal data that the best way to improve the world is the empowerment of women, particularly the economic empowerment of women. FREDERICK: Right and he points there also that when there are more women in the higher offices of business and government there's actually less corruption.

SOCARDIES: And more fairness.

O'BRIEN: Margaret, let's get together and talk about that after the show, shall we? Talk about the sisterhood.

Let's talk about another issue, which he says by not wiring communities, you allow -- and everybody has cell phones.

FREDERICK: Right.

O'BRIEN: You actually allow these communities to kind of jump over what has been historically a hurdle, right?

FREDERICK: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Wiring an entire community, expensive, challenging. Cell phones change all that.

FREDERICK: Yes absolutely and he takes head-on the notion of a digital divide or this idea that floats around that there is going to be such a thing of info haves and info have-nots. Wireless technology he points to the mobile phone, not even cell phones just a cheap, simple Web phone that can send SMS, has been the device that has more single-handedly lifted people out of poverty than any other perhaps in human history.

O'BRIEN: I think there are people who would sit at this table and say and there's also a case for pessimism. Let's look at the global economy. Not just here in the United States where there's a case for pessimism there is also a case for pessimism in other countries as well.

There is violence in the Middle East -- that could be a case for pessimism. There is a growing gap between the haves and have-nots. That's a -- a case for pessimism. He kind of focuses on the optimist part. Is that, in some ways, spinning it too positively?

FREDERICK: Well, I would say that he addresses this in the piece and he says that the world is so focused on the pessimistic aspects of the way that some things are going that he's not saying necessarily -- although he does say you know that he's -- he's optimistic about the future overall.

But he said even if you can't grant me that, I want to focus on some areas that are indubitably getting better because he believes that it's a feedback loop. He believes that if you believe that the situation, despite what you see in the news reports about women worldwide or in certain parts of -- of the world are getting better and it's possible to affect change, then you might be more optimistic about affecting change yourself.

SOCARIDES: Can I -- Jim Can I ask you, what do you think -- what is it about Bill Clinton that has allowed him to have this unique place in our culture, in our society today? I mean he's like no other former president in history really.

FREDERICK: Yes that's a good -- well, I think that he has never wanted to relinquish the spotlight. On some level, his ambitions for the Clinton Global Initiative are truly global and historical. He has turned CGI, in just seven years, into one of the great forces of philanthropy. And I just think that he was also a younger president and I think he decided after eight years of being president that this was not his final act. It was just one act of a five-act life that he was going to have.

O'BRIEN: It will be interesting to see what -- what becomes next for him as Hillary Clinton stays in the political spotlight, as she looks to 2016, and sort of what his role -- if that happens, what his role will be in all of that. And as you say, he's a young president.

Thank you for talking with us.

FREDERICK: Oh it's good to be here.

O'BRIEN: Jim Frederick is the international editor of "Time" magazine.

Ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, they run "Fortune 500" companies with thousands of employees, manage mergers, trades-- all women. The 50 most powerful women in business will be revealed, up next.

Then tune in to CNN today at noon Eastern when we announce the top ten CNN Heroes for 2012. And then you can log on to CNNHeroes.com to vote for the person who you think is the most inspiring.

STARTING POINT is back in just a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: New this morning, "Fortune" magazine's "2012 List of the Most Powerful Women". It covers everything from business to Wall Street to media, to national security. Pattie Sellers, is the editor- in-chief for "Fortune", has been in charge of this list since it started 15 years ago.

Nice to have you with us. Let's -- let's walk through --

PATTIE SELLERS, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: Thank you, Soledad. I'm editor-at-large. I just want to -- I just want to make sure. Yes, you gave me a promotion. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Congratulations.

SELLERS: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Editor-in-chief. I'm sorry about that. Editor-at-large is what I meant to say. How do you do the math to calculate who is -- who is in the top of the list? SELLERS: There are four criteria. The size and importance of the woman's business in the global economy, the health and direction of the business, the arc of the woman's career, how quickly she's moved up and her runway ahead and something we call social and cultural influence, which has traditionally put Oprah very high on the list.

O'BRIEN: Interesting Oprah now has fallen on this list, though she is still on the list. We'll talk about that in a moment.

I want to talk about the top five. But I'll read the names and then we'll go through them.

Ginni Rometty, who is IBM, she's the CEO and the President; Indra Nooyi, she is the Chairman and CEO of PEPSICO; Meg Whitman, the president and CEO of Hewlett Packard; Irene Rosenfeld is the chairman and CEO of Kraft; and Ellen Kullman is the chairman and CEO of DuPont.

Some of those women were on that list before, three of them, two of them are new in the list. Talk to me about Ginni Rometty?

SELLERS: Ginni Rometty became CEO of IBM on January 1st of this year. IBM is doing really well, IBM is the fifth most valuable company in the world in terms of stock market value. And it was kind of a no brainer. You know the two biggest tech companies in America are IBM and Hewlett Packard.

We have Meg Whitman, the CEO of Hewlett Packard at number three on the list. And it was a pretty easy call because IBM is actually worth, in terms of stock market value, ten times what HP is worth.

O'BRIEN: Interesting.

SELLERS: Surprising.

O'BRIEN: So you -- you have a woman named Phebe Novakovic.

SELLERS: Novakovic.

O'BRIEN: She's the highest -- highest ranking woman in Defense. In January she'll be named the CEO. How has she been able to navigate what is -- often we talk about like overwhelmingly male field -- but in her field it's really, really, really overwhelmingly male.

SELLERS: Well, honestly, we don't know everything about all these women. This is one of the questions we have. We have three women in defense on this list, which is amazing -- two women from Lockheed Martin and Phebe Novakovic.

We actually have our Most Powerful Women's Summit coming up, which you're coming to, and we have a panel on this. We have some of these defense women on a panel, asking how are you able to navigate in the ultimate male industry?

O'BRIEN: I should mentioned is the COO of General Dynamic. Gisel Ruiz? SELLERS: Highest ranking newcomer on the list, runs -- is COO of Wal- Mart's U.S. business, which a $265 billion business. She's a young woman. We have seven newcomers and two returnees on the list. She's the highest ranking newcomer.

O'BRIEN: What's the -- you've done this since the beginning --

SELLERS: Since our beginning, 1998.

O'BRIEN: -- for 15 years. What's the biggest change that you've seen in women who you're now considering to make the list?

SELLERS: The biggest change is you know, when we started in 1998, there were two female "Fortune 500" CEOs. Today there are 19 out of 500, female CEOs -- pathetic. But what we have today that we didn't have 15 years ago is women running really big companies. The companies you mentioned, they're all household names.

MARGARET HOOVER, AUTHOR, "AMERICAN INDIVIDUALISM": Even still, with women serving on corporate boards, my understanding is that it will take 70 years to reach full parity for women serving on corporate boards as men, if we go at the concurrent rate that we're continuing on.

CHOPRA: Not if everybody reads Bill Clinton's article.

HOOVER: At the current rate -- at the current rate of leveling things out. So how are we doing --

(CROSSTALK)

SELLERS: 16 percent of Fortune 500 board competition is female. I actually believe it may take longer than 70 years.

HOOVER: So we're doing well in some areas, but not so well in other areas?

SELLERS: That's right. I mean, you know, there's this problem of being stuck in the teens. There's the glass ceiling. There's the leaky pipeline. And there is another problem, which is sort of you're not supposed to talk about but women need to make more -- take more risks with their careers.

O'BRIEN: And we'll be talking about the Most Powerful Women's Summit as I head to commercial break. You guys can talk about that during the commercial break.

SOCARIDES: It's like a very important issue for women.

SELLERS: It is.

O'BRIEN: Come to the Most Powerful Women's Summit. That's happening in --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: You could be my date absolutely.

By the way, plus one. Exactly. Nice to see you, Pattie. Thanks for --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: We're out of time. "CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now. I'll see you back here tomorrow morning.