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Iranian President to Address U.N. General Assembly; Interview with Michele Flourney; NFL Replacement Refs Draw Continued Controversy; Frat Suspended Over Alcohol Enemas; Anti-Austerity Anger; Raging Violence In Damascus; Phone Hacking Scandal Set For 2013 Trial; Soldier Accused Of Killing Soldier; Drug Lab Chemist Accused Of Lying; Haiti Calls For Compassion; Hunger Games; New School Lunch Menus

Aired September 26, 2012 - 07:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Berman. Soledad is off today. Our starting point, tough talk on Iran from President Obama at the United Nations, as Iran's leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad prepares to take the podium today. He's given fiery speeches before. Will he inflame an already heightened tension in the Middle East?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: The battleground votes, new polls show president Obama ahead in Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania, and in some cases, by double digits. Can Mitt Romney win the presidency without the power of these swing states?


And by the way, check out this incredible video. A tornado touches down, ripping through homes and buildings. It is all caught on camera.

ROMANS: Wow. A busy morning ahead. Our guests include Michele Flournoy, co-chair of the Obama campaign nation security advisory committee, Tiki Barber, former player for the New York giants, Rudy Giuliani, former New York City mayor, of course, Ben Cohen, cofounder of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, and singer Cyndi Lauper.

BERMAN: Awesome. It is Wednesday, September 26, and STARTING POINT beginning right now.

First we have some news just in to CNN. Two American soldiers in Afghanistan were killed today in an attack by a suicide bomber. The attack happened in Logar province just south of Kabul, Afghanistan's capital. A spokesman for the governor of Logar province said the suicide bomber detonated himself during a military operation. He also said one American soldier was injured. We will have more on this developing story as details come in.

ROMANS: A big day here in New York. Iran's controversial leader will deliver his final address to the U.N. General Assembly as president of that country. That address is today. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is stirring up controversy before he even begins. He told reporters that Israel will be eliminated from the Middle East and that there will be a new world record free of what he calls "American bullying." BERMAN: The threats come after this warning from President Obama.


BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Make no mistake, nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained. It would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations, and the stability of the global economy. And that's why the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.


ROMANS: CNN foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott is with us. What can we expect from Ahmadinejad today? Will he tone it down or go out as fiery as he always does?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think he's going to double down, up the ante, and hear more of the same. Previous years he's talked about American officials being responsible for 9/11, talking about that the holocaust never exists. I think he's very sidelined at home, not very strong right now. I think he'd like to use the world stage as a bullying pulpit, if you will.

And then when he talks about this new world order, it has a lot of resonance in some of the countries that do feel like the United States and the western countries, the permanent members of the security council, call all the shots. So while he says a lot of things that are, rhetoric that's very fiery, at the same time he does have an audience. He's not just speaking for himself.

ROMANS: People have been asking to tone it down, Ban Ki-moon --

LABOTT: Ban Ki-moon, U.N. secretary-general said, listen, your last time, why don't you go out like a statesman, tone it down a little bit? The rhetoric between the U.S., Israel and Iran over Iran's nuclear program, very hot. There's a lot of worry that Iran -- Israel could preemptively strike against Iran. So he's saying, listen, you might want to tone it down. But I think that he's going to go in the opposite direction. This is his last time at the U.N. General Assembly, and I think he's going to go for broke.

BERMAN: I like you said bullying pulpit there.

ROMANS: We're going to talk with Michele Flournoy, the co-chair of the Obama campaign's national security committee. She's coming up in just a few minutes.

BERMAN: Meanwhile Iran and its president have been insisting all along they are not pursuing a nuclear weapon. But Bill Clinton, he's not buying it for a second. He's calling on international inspectors to verify Ahmadinejad's claim that Tehran's nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. The former president not mincing words at all with CNN's Piers Morgan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: What they're really saying is, in spite of the fact that we deny the holocaust, that we threatened Israel, and we demonize the United States and we do all this stuff, we want you to trust us.


CLINTON: Not on this I don't.


BERMAN: President Clinton also calling on followers of Islam to stop resorting to violence when they hear someone challenge their faith in an increasingly diverse and internet connected world.

ROMANS: Three new battleground states, three key battleground states, Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania looking very secure for president Obama right now. Brand-new poll this morning from Quinnipiac university/CBS and "The New York Times." In the critical swing state of Ohio, the president has a 10-point lead over Mitt Romney among likely voters, 53 percent to 43 percent. In Florida, the president leads Romney by nine points, 53 percent to 44 percent. And it gets even worse for Romney in Pennsylvania. He's trailing the president there by 12 points, John, 54-42.

BERMAN: Those are big numbers. The buckeye state now the undisputed focus of the campaign for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney making four stops in Ohio this week. He'll visit Columbus, Cleveland, and Toledo today. The president will also be in Ohio today. Making stops in two college towns, Kent and Bowling Green. Ohio has 18 electoral votes, the seventh highest number in the nation, and we love this statistic. No Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio. That is why it's so important.

ROMANS: Mitt Romney's wife Ann making an appearance on "The Tonight Show." she was asked about the fallout from Romney's comments, that 47 percent of voters won't choose him because they're dependent on the government.


ANN ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY'S WIFE: It's very -- again it's a very frustrating thing because you try so hard to get your message out and you try so hard to let people know, you know, this is a guy that I know cares. This is a guy that cares for the 100 percent.


ROMANS: Ann Romney said her husband's remarks were misinterpreted.

BERMAN: You have to take a look at these images, storms on a tear. Storm chasers saying at least one tornado has touched down in rural southwestern Illinois. The roof of a farm house east of St. Louis was ripped to shreds. A tractor was also overturned by the high winds. A number of funnel clouds were spotted in the area but they never reached the ground. And, there were no reports of any injuries.

ROMANS: Cameras roll as Muslim activists spray paint the controversial subway ad, one critics call hateful and racist. It suggests enemies of Israel are savages. Check out this video from "The New York Post."


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stop her! Stop her!



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are you arresting me for? What are you arresting me for?


ROMANS: That's Egyptian born activist Mona Atehowi (ph). She says she did this and it was free speech. That's the very argument supporters of the posters used to win the right to put them up. Three of the 10 posters at various subway stations were ripped or defaced during the first day they were up.

BERMAN: As we mentioned, Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will speak at the United Nations general assembly today. His speech comes after president Obama said the west will do what it must to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.


OBAMA: Make no mistake, a nuclear armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained. It would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations, and the stability of the global economy. It risks triggering a nuclear arms race in the region and the unraveling of the nonproliferation treaty. That's why the coalition is holding the Iranian government accountable, and that's why the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.


BERMAN: Michele Flournoy is the co-chair of the Obama campaign's national security advisory committee. Until recently she was the undersecretary of defense for policy at the Pentagon. She was in the situation room with the president during the bin Laden mission.

Now, Michele I want to ask you this, because, the president of Iran, Mr. Ahmadinejad, speaks today. But your former boss spoke yesterday, some people still slamming him for not taking a hard enough line on Iran. Listen to what "The Wall Street Journal" said. They said, "In his U.N. speech Tuesday, president Obama took a tougher than usual election-season line against Iran. The cold reality is, that after nearly four years of failed diplomacy and half-hearted sanctions that he opposed until Congress forced his hand, neither Iran nor Israel believe him." Essentially saying actions speak louder than words. Your reaction?

MICHELE FLOURNEY, CO-CHAIR, OBAMA CAMPAIGN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISORY COMMITTEE: I think that actions do speak louder than words. And if you look at the record of the president, he has led the international community in posing the most crippling sanctions ever imposed on any country. He has said that all options are on the table. I can tell you from my time in the Pentagon that option is very real. It is important that we give diplomacy time to work. We still do have time. The president has been clear and consistently clear in his determination to absolutely prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. There's no doubt about that whatsoever.

BERMAN: But the leader of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu doesn't say we've been very clear. He keeps calling us to lay out a deliberate red line here. So there are people here in this world, key allies, that don't think the president is being clear.

FLOURNEY: I think we have laid out a red line and that is Iran cannot actually get a weapon. And we've had extensive, intensive talks with the Israelis. There's no light between us on the intelligence picture, there's no light between us on the policy objectives and we've worked very closely in a number of areas on diplomacy, on sanctions to try to further isolate Iran and get them to change their decision-making calculus and give up the quest for a bomb.

BERMAN: Israel says they could be six months away from a weapon. But you're saying the red line is obtaining a weapon itself. That is the red line, when they get the weapon, that's when action will come?

FLOURNEY: Well, I think that all of the intelligence communities, and they've testified about this publicly, you know, they agree, they believe that there is at least a year -- at least a year away, if not more from getting a weapon. But remember, the facilities they're using are under IAEA safeguards. There's a lot that we would see if they were to start to dash towards a bomb. So the belief in the international community is that we still have -- we still have some time to work this problem before we ultimately have to make a decision whether or not to use military force to delay the program.

ROMANS: And you say we have time, Michele. But the Israelis say we don't have time. You say there's no light between us in terms of the intelligence. So why is there so much difference in the rhetoric?

FLOURNEY: Because, I think the Israelis, if they were to try to act alone, have a more limited set of military capabilities to work with. And so their window of decision, if they were to go alone, will come sooner than if they were to rely on the United States in a broader international community to make good on this determination to prevent Iran from acquiring weapons.

BERMAN: You know, Michele, there's been a lot of criticism over the fact the president did not have any bilateral, official bilateral meetings with world leaders yesterday. He's done it in the past, past incumbents have done it when they were here for the United Nations general assembly. Obviously personal relationships do matter in foreign policy. And there was an article in "The New York Times" yesterday which caught our eye here. It had a quote from a Middle East official. It said, "You can't fix these problems by remote control. President Obama doesn't have friends who are world leaders. He doesn't believe in patting anybody on the back, nicknames. You can't accomplish what you want to accomplish with such an impersonal style." Do you agree the president has an impersonal style?

FLOURNEY: Not at all. I think he has met extensively with his counterparts. When you look at Bibi Netanyahu, I don't think there's a world leader he's met with more. He picked up the phone, they had an hour long conversation. This is simply a scheduling incompatibility. He spoke with leaders from Egypt, Libya, Yemen, a number of other countries just last week in the wake of events in the Middle East. This is an everyday part of his job. And he takes -- he relishes it. He does it with gusto. He has very strong relations with a number of these leaders.

BERMAN: Yet there is a feeling that he doesn't have deep personal relationships with a lot of foreign leaders. Which of the foreign leaders he is closest to?

FLOURNEY: I think he's very close to a number of our NATO allies, to the president of Turkey, to a number of leaders across the gulf, and Asia. Again, you know, I just think it's -- to wage that criticism, it's not based on the actual facts. And my, you know, witnessing of the president in action tells me that he has very, very close and warm relations with a number of his counterparts around the world. And he works at those relationships. He invests in those relationships.

ROMANS: Michele, we should show some of these latest polls show the president with a lead in some of these swing states, like Ohio, and Florida, and Pennsylvania, in some cases a double digit lead. And a Romney political adviser said he doesn't trust polling and the internal numbers are looking better. He said after following the Obama campaign manager who spoke kind of optimistically about the battleground states listen to what he said.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're sort of spiking the ball at the 30 yard line, I know. Look, Ohio there's still 42 days to go. We are in it by any stretch inside the margin of error in Ohio. And the Obama campaign is going to have some problems there.


ROMANS: What do you think? I mean, is it too early to be optimistic with double digit leads in some of these states?

FLOURNEY: I think it is early days. I think it will be a close race. But I'm very optimistic that the American people will recognize president Obama as the leader, that this country needs, not only in terms of our economy but in terms of leading us on the world stage, which is so important to our security and prosperity.

BERMAN: All right, Michele Flournoy with the Obama campaign, thank you very much for being with us this morning. FLOURNEY: Thank you.

ROMANS: Ahead on STARTING POINT a truck driver gets into a car accident and walks away after exiting through the windshield. You got to see -- yes, you got to see it to believe it.

BERMAN: It is amazing.

Plus the fury over the replacement refs' botched call, this is not going away. In fact it has both presidential tickets agreeing. You thought it was impossible. Next we will have former New York Giant Tiki Barber. He joins us live with his take. Great to have Tiki here on STARTING POINT. Back in a moment.


ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. Minding your business this morning, U.S. stock futures are down slightly. Stocks closed at two- week lows yesterday. The Dow fell more than 100 points. Good economic reports yesterday. But then Caterpillar said global growth is slowing. That spooked investors. Cat cut its profit outlook citing weaker demand for its construction and mining equipment through 2015.

But the housing market, this was that good economic news I was telling you about, showing kinds of a rebound. Data from S&P/Case-Schiller shows home prices in 20 major cities has gone up for the past three months in a row, rising back to 2003 levels. Home prices are still down about 35 percent from their peak during the housing bubble, but getting a little bit better here lately. Data on new home sales out at 10:00 a.m. eastern.

BERMAN: It's dragging us all down, the fans, the players, the outrage growing over that botched call heard round the world. What replacement refs handed the Seattle Seahawks a win over the Green Bay packers Monday night. So, we want to talk about this. Who better to talk about it with than New York Giants all-time leading rusher, retired running back Tiki Barber. Tiki is here with us this morning. You saw the play.


BERMAN: What did you think?

BARBER: It was clearly an interception. And the NFL has upheld that interception because they have to. The game was already over. There's nothing they can do about it. But what's really interesting, and this is just a similar matter of what's happening around the NFL for the last three weeks, what's interesting is if you watch the games, if you listen to the commentary on the games, it's not about the players. It's not about the teams. It's about the referees. And that ultimately is what's really detrimental to the league.

ROMANS: What is the experience of these referees making these calls?

BARBER: A lot of them are 1-AA, lingerie league you're hearing reports. These are the lower level of the college referees. Because the higher level college referees wouldn't take this job, because it was going to be temporary, two, three, four weeks, then they lose their position in the ACC and the big 10. So they decline. So you've got the lower level of the referees.

ROMANS: What are the players saying? They're at the top of their game and they must be real frustrated.

BARBER: The players are starting to really speak out about this for a couple of reasons. One, because finally, and we knew it was only a matter of time before it happened, a game was directly decided by of a referee's call. But also you're starting to see chaos ensue on the field. These refs don't get the respect of the players, obviously. They're yelling at them. They're not getting the respect of the coaches who are in their face. You see a lot of fines handed down to head coaches for arguing with these referees. Eventually something bad is going to happen to a player because there's not enough control on the field.

BERMAN: That's what the NFL Players Association is saying now. They put out a statement yesterday. They said "The decision by the NFL owners to look out the referees jeopardizes your health and safety." They say safety is an issue here.

BARBER: It is.

BERMAN: If you were playing, Tiki, what would you do about this? What can the players do about this to get a solution?

BARBER: Take a knee on every play like one of the green bay packers linemen said in protest. Really it's hard to do anything. To a man, I don't know all 1600 players in the national football league. They're generally good people. But when you put them on a field on Sunday something transforms. You turn into this animal who is playing this very violent, emotional, hard-fought game. If you can get away with a little something extra because the refs aren't policing you correctly you're going to do that. And you're starting to see it. Coaches are manipulating referees. We saw it in the San Francisco 49ers game, Jim Harbaugh went up to a referee and said I want to call a challenge here even though he had no time-outs. He had a time-out. I want to challenge this. How does that work. The referee gave him a challenge even though he shouldn't have, because he didn't have any timeouts.

ROMANS: How much does this represent the referees case?

BARBER: I think a lot. The NFL thought these replacements would get overtime and give the NFL the upper-hand. I think the regular referees have the leverage now because of so much outrage. The ironic thing is one of the not talked about issues was the publicity and the fanfare that these younger referees were going. We know Ed Hockley's name because he's such a personality. By locking them out the referees are getting much more attention than the regular referees ever got.

BERMAN: We should remind people what the issues are. It is salary. The referees want raises, pension and 401(k)s. The referees want a pension as opposed to a 401(k). And there's also this issue of replacement refs. The league wants these replacement refs to step in if they don't think the referees are doing a good job.

BARBER: Let's not forget, the regular refs also make a lot of mistakes. Some of them are underperforming. That's one of the issues the league talks about. We don't want your bad decisions affecting games. We want the ability to replace you. Referees, the NFL wants to bring on six new crews. So if crew five or eight or whatever it may be, is having a bad couple of weeks, they can just replace them. And that's obviously not sitting well with the current group of referees.

BERMAN: The criticism has been universal. We're even hearing now from our national leaders. If you're running for office, you're a politician you have to weigh in on this. Let's listen to a smattering of what people are saying.


CLINTON: I thought the pass was intercepted. I thought that the defender hit the ground before there was joint possession. And, yes, it means that we need to get the strike over.

ROMNEY: I sure would like to see some experienced referees with NFL experience come back onto the NFL playing fields.


BARBER: It depends on what state they were in. Think were in Wisconsin or Virginia, you've got to play to what the voters are listening to.


ROMANS: This is a game we all care about. Politics, you can take it or leave it. Everyone cares about football.

BARBER: It does cross over.

BERMAN: You think the politicians should be weighing in?

BARBER: They're fans. They're interested in connecting with communities, and people who are going to vote in two months. So, yes, they are going to weigh in. It's going to get someone's attention. If they say I liked Mitt Romney's response to my Green Bay packers getting jobbed last weekend, I might listen to what else he has to say.

BERMAN: The Seahawks are in big trouble because Washington is not a swing state here.


BARBER: Yes, you're right. Neither is New Jersey. So our Giants and Jets don't have anything to worry about. BERMAN: Tiki Barber, thank you for joining us.

ROMANS: Nice to see you.

Breaking news we're going to show you live pictures out of Greece where police are using tear gas. There are thousands are protesting austerity measures. Showing you pictures from Reuters, monitoring them actually all morning over in Madrid there were some violent protests all overnight also against austerity as Spain is facing a new government or a new budget actually we'll be talking about tomorrow.

But here in Greece, as you know, this has been sort of the center of the anti-austerity movement. It was the first big country where the government had to start tightening its belt, having people work longer, have fewer government services and pay more taxes so that it could get big, big bailouts from the European Union. And you can see the people, this is what people feel or do when they're told they have to live on less and work longer for less.

BERMAN: It is why these governments are in such a bind, because the central banks and the European community and Germany telling the countries you have to crack down on your excess budget, your excess spending, but the people, the population says uh-uh, and they're obviously taking to the streets right now.

ROMANS: That's in Greece. We're also watching what's happening in Spain overnight.

BERMAN: We'll keep you updated on that.

But also ahead on STARTING POINT, it's a case of underage college drinking taken to the extreme. And now a fraternity is suspended. Why this particular kind of partying is really raising the alarm. We'll have a live report coming up next.


BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. Hazing that dangerously crossed the line, a fraternity at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville suspended over alcohol enemas. Twelve students cited for underage drinking, another for disorderly conduct.

ROMANS: One student rushed to the emergency room over the weekend with alcohol poisoning. The hospital says his blood alcohol level was five times the legal limit.

The student who was sent to the E.R. is now out of the hospital. Reportedly back in class. National correspondent David Mattingly is in Knoxville, Tennessee. David, what is the latest on this shocking story?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's say right up front here that the university is saying this is definitely not a case of hazing. But this is a case of alcohol abuse that continues to be investigated. Once that student showed up at the hospital with alcohol poisoning, the Knoxville police were involved, and they're the ones who made the headlines by releasing these graphic statements going into excruciating detail the practice of this unusual and dangerous form of taking in alcohol that they believe was going on at that fraternity house.

A source familiar with the investigation confirms to us that police did, in fact, talk to a student who said that practice was going on at the house at that time and they found paraphernalia, tubing and other things that would be need to go along with that practice.

But right now, the parents of this 20-year-old are adamantly saying he was not participating in that. They're not denying the fact that he showed up at the hospital with alcohol poisoning.

But they are saying that they're conducting their own investigation, they're getting their own facts, and they're saying that their son is telling them that that didn't happen. That practice that we're talking about.

He said it didn't happen. And that they're concerned now, the defamation of character that is occurring to their son, they're very upset with the Knoxville Police Department for having gone out so early with so much detail.

But they're saying that they're now saying that they're denying that that was going on. And we're going to be hearing more from them today, possibly, as well from the university officials.

And right now, remember, this university has put this fraternity on suspension for 30 days while this investigation is going on. That means they can eat, they can sleep, and they can study, but all other fraternity activities have had to be stopped right now, right in the heart of football season.

ROMANS: So let me get this straight. His family takes issue with the alcohol enema part of the story. But they're not denying that he had five times the legal limit and he's underage and ended up in a hospital with alcohol poisoning?

MATTINGLY: Without going into the details, they do confirm that he was hospitalized. They say he was released on Sunday, and was back, actually, in class on Monday.

Beyond that, they're saying that the details that are coming out that they say are erroneous and they're fighting for their son's reputation at this point.

BERMAN: All right, David Mattingly in Knoxville. This is a strange one. Thanks very much.

ROMANS: Ahead on STARTING POINT, unbelievable video. A truck driver flies through a window in a head-on crash. The truck driver, we can tell you, is not hurt. Details just ahead. BERMAN: And in this video, it has gone viral. Students protesting Michelle Obama's big effort to make school lunches healthier. Why they say they are starving as a result.


ROMANS: Breaking news in Greece right now. You're looking at live pictures from Athens. Police in riot gear are now firing tear gas at some of the 50,000 protesters who have gathered for the largest anti- austerity demonstration in months now.

Demonstrators have thrown rocks and gas filled petrol bombs. We're going to monitor the story and bring you more as it happens. You can see the smoke rising there over the streets of Athens.

And people who are very, very angry about the austerity measures that are still under way in this country, as it has to -- has to raise retirement ages, it has to raise taxes.

It has to collect more -- it has to start collecting taxes in some cases so that they can qualify, Greece can qualify for big, big bailouts from the European Union.

The very future of Greece and whether it stays in the euro, using the euro currency, are critical here. And the people of Greece do not like the way the standards of living and their lives are changing.

BERMAN: We will keep you updated there because it is obviously very tense in Greece this morning.

Other top stories we're following, raging violence today in the heart of Damascus. Two explosions hit the building that houses the Syrian Joint Chiefs of Staff. Reports say the blasts were followed by heavy fighting inside the building.

Iran also says one of their journalists was killed in a blast. All of this as world leaders scrambled to find ways to end the Syrian civil war here in New York at the United Nations General Assembly.

ROMANS: The "News of the World" phone hacking case will go to trial next September. A judge in London set the date earlier this morning as former Chief Executive Rebekah Brooks and six other staffers appeared in court. The scandal forced the paper to fold after 150 years.

BERMAN: An Army private based in Fort Hood is facing manslaughter charges after shooting a fellow soldier in the face. The two soldiers were drinking Sunday night and watching a football game.

Police in Kaleen, Texas say when Private Isaac Young got a case of the hiccups. His friend pulled out a gun in an attempt to scare them away. The gun went off and killed Young. Bail is set at $1 million for the accused shooter.

ROMANS: She may have tainted evidence that put more than 1,100 people in prison. This morning, new information on a growing scandal in Massachusetts, former State Drug Lab Chemist Annie Duken is now accused of lying to the Health Department when she applied for the job.

She's already confessed to misconduct, and is the focus of a criminal investigation for allegedly mishandling and tampering with drug samples. The Health Department said Duken told them she had a master's degree when she didn't.

BERMAN: That is a mess up there. Now you have to check out this viral video of a lucky trucker in Russia, barely escaping death. It shows a head-on collision between two trucks after a tractor trailer makes a sudden move.

The driver of the smaller truck, you have watch this here, he comes flying out of the shattered windshield. There he goes. He pops out of the windshield. This is the good part. He just walks away without a scratch.

ROMANS: Amazing. All right, turmoil in the Middle East front and center this week at the United Nations, but there's another crisis that's getting much less attention. Two and a half years after being ravaged by an earthquake the island nation of Haiti is still struggling to get back on its feet.

BERMAN: Last month, Hurricane Isaac served as a painful reminder of Haiti's troubles. Despite a flood of humanitarian aid from around the world, Haiti's infrastructure remains weak. Roughly 400,000 people are still living in makeshift housing and tents.

ROMANS: With us in their first-ever joint interview are the president of Haiti, Michel Martelly, and the Haitian prime minister, Laurent Lamothe. Both are here for the U.N. General Assembly and spoke at the Clinton Global Initiative.

Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us. As you know, on this program and CNN in the United States, in the months and now years since the earthquake our hearts have been with the Haitian people, as you try to rebuild.

And I was struck by, as Hurricane Isaac was coming, was coming through, we were watching it on the radar, our own reporters were in Haiti, telling people that this storm was coming and many people couldn't leave.

They wouldn't leave their tents or wouldn't leave where they were because they didn't have another option and they wanted -- they just were not prepared for another natural disaster.

So I'm -- I'm curious, where are we now in terms how well is Haiti withstand another natural disaster? Are things better than they were just a couple of years ago?

PRESIDENT MICHEL MARTELLY, HAITI: I would say that we are very happy where we are today. When we first came in power, one year after the earthquake, we had about 1.5 million people still under the tents. And today that number is down to about 300,000 and it tells you how far we came, and how well we're doing.

ROMANS: You were elected president after the -- after the earthquake.

MARTELLY: When I came into power, first of all, through the campaign I promised to people that I would take them out of the tents. And after promising, we started working. So we came into power ready for this job and barely one year after I came in power, we are about only 300,000 people under the tents and we're still moving.

ROMANS: Three hundred thousand people under the tents. Where are you moving them to? How well are you building up the infrastructure?

MARTELLY: We have a very well elaborate program and that's why it takes time because we don't just pay them to get out. We rehabilitate their homes that have been destroyed or we create a better place for them to stay.

ROMANS: Mr. I know that you suffered loss of life after that Hurricane Isaac. How well -- how well is the island prepared now?

LAURENT LAMOTHE, PRIME MINISTER OF HAITI: Well, right now we are better prepared. We have a very strong disaster and prevention management program. Yesterday, we had a meeting with the representative of the secretary-general of the United Nations on this.

We have -- I mean, right now, we're investing public funds and putting it into the public budget to be better prepared financially for it. We have the support of several countries to come and assist us in to the disaster prevention and management strategy that we have.

I mean, Haiti is building 10 hurricane shelters, which never existed in the country. Right now, next year we'll have a place to take the people into shelters, and into assisting them.

BERMAN: So many of our reporters who were in Haiti for Hurricane Isaac, they were telling us some of the people in the tents, some of the 300,000 people, didn't even know the storm was coming. Even if they did, they had nowhere to go. How do you fix that problem?

MARTELLY: Well, first of all, I would say that they were aware of it except that they felt alone and we did our best by taking the kids and the women to schools so they could spend a moment there.

It wasn't easy. It was a very first. And in Haiti trying to do this type of movement, it was never done before inside the education system. We're having problems today, but we have been able to put more than a million people in school.

People complain about schools not having been paid yet, but they must understand this is a program that started one year ago, and we will encounter problems.

ROMANS: I know that the United Nations special envoy for Haiti, which is run by Bill Clinton announced that they've got $2.8 billion disbursed into the recovery effort, another $2.5 billion still available. Do you feel like progress is being made that the money is being used wisely because in this country there's a big election year debate about foreign aid, aid that is spent in other countries that, you know, some Americans feel like they don't see results.

MARTELLY: Well, in a country where everything is to be done, I think, $4.8 Billion is kind of small. And right after the earthquake, we had evaluated about $12 billion. So for $4.5 billion, $4.8 billion is kind of small.

I must tell you that right after the earthquake, that money was used to feed people, to take care of them so it wasn't really engaged in reconstruction.

BERMAN: Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, President Martelly, thank you so much for joining us this morning. It's great to have you and good luck.

MARTELLY: Thank you very much.

BERMAN: Ahead on STARTING POINT, flying a plane with babies crying their eyes out? Well, there may be a way to find peace in the air.

And why these students insist that the first lady's big push to make school lunches healthier is leaving them starving.


ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. New guidelines from the Obama administration about school lunches are causing uproar among a few students at least.

BERMAN: The program is designed to make school food healthier, but it is sparking something of a lunch room rebellion. Teachers and students in Kansas created this video, which has gone viral.

ROMANS: We should explain a little bit. I mean, these kids are saying that we have these healthy school lunches, but if you're a student athlete, you're starving to death, it's not enough food.

BERMAN: Falling down during practice. Obviously, the people in Kansas have a sense of humor. Kevin Concannon is the undersecretary of Food and Nutrition at the USDA.

He helped launched the "Healthier Meals" program. He's been visiting schools to help them work it out. And when you watch this video, sir, you know, these kids are saying they're hungry. What's your reaction?

KEVIN CONCANNON, UNDERSECRETARY FOR FOOD AND NUTRITION SERVICES, USDA: Well, you know, the kids, it's a matter of, as you say, I have been visiting schools across the country. And for the most part schools have made the adjustment to a much healthier diet.

You know, we're serving just about the same number of calories as most schools were in the past. The difference being, these are healthier calories. More fruits and vegetables, and you know, less pizza, less of those tater tots, and generally, you know, a much healthier meal for kids.

But we're also saying to schools, as is true in that Kansas school, you may, for your very active athletes, football players, soccer players, you could serve a snack in the afternoon, that USDA is more than willing to help schools provide.

ROMANS: We're showing the old lunch menu, sir, and the new lunch menu. You can see from tater tots to applesauce from, you know, chocolate milk to low fat milk. From canned pineapple to sweet potato fries.

I mean, it seems as though the epidemic of childhood obesity, one in three kids in this country is overweight or obese and so many kids are getting the bulk of their calories from school anyway. That's the point of the whole program.

CONCANNON: It is indeed, and just this week, there were national reports here in Washington on the growing problem of obesity. So this is a systemic effort to provide healthy foods to kids, the 32 million American kids who have lunch at school every day.

BERMAN: There were some kids in this video that were very, very young, and there were obviously some teachers in involved with this video, also. Do you think that school administrations are misinterpreting your plans?

CONCANNON: You know, it happens occasionally, that they too rigidly, if you will, interpret it, but I've been out at the schools. The first week in August, I went to a school in New Orleans, a little girl, a first graders next to me.

We sat next to each other. She said, sir, if you don't finish your broccoli, I'll finish it for you. I declared, that's victory, we're winning.

BERMAN: That also seems insane. A kid who likes broccoli? Let's find that kid. Come to my house.

ROMANS: Look, I want to look a little bit at the calorie count, the previous lunch standards versus the new lunch standards. You show -- we're going to show on our screen exactly what the minimums are by grade. There you can see K through three, minimum, previously was 633. Now --

BERMAN: On the right, it's the maximum now. Saying that the new maximum for people K through 8 is 700, the maximum for 9 through 12 is 850 calories for lunch. Is that enough, sir?

CONCANNON: Yes, it is. You know, this recommendation came to us from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science. It was chaired by a pediatrician from the one of the nation's medical schools, represents the best in science.

As we've looked at -- we did an analysis earlier this week. Most schools were serving within this calorie range in the past. The difference is more fruits and vegetables, more leafy greens, more orange vegetables and basically a much healthier meal.

ROMANS: It's going to be a shock to the system in the very near term and you know, you've got to admire the clever, you know, the clever videography of those kids.

But at some point, if this is what schools are serving, you know, when, next year, two years, three years? That people will automatically go for the healthy stuff?

CONCANNON: I think, you know, younger children are already making the adjustment. I think it's harder on high school kids. Any parent will tell you even at home, it's a challenge often with teenagers to get them to eat the healthy foods.

BERMAN: Do you think the video was funny, sir, or did it hurt your feelings?

CONCANNON: I did. I saw it for the first time last night.

BERMAN: So no hard feelings?

CONCANNON: No hard feelings. We love Kansas.

ROMANS: We love Kansas. Kevin Concannon, thank you so much, under secretary for Food and Nutrition Services. Nice to see you. STARTING POINT back in a moment.


ROMANS: Much more ahead on the second hour of STARTING POINT. Mitt Romney losing ground in three key battleground states and in some cases by double digits, what does the campaign need to do to get back on track? We're going to ask former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, top of the hour.

BERMAN: And Cyndi Lauper, she opens up about her life and a revealing new memoir. Some surprising details about some of her biggest hits, all that, just ahead.