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Alleged Terrorist Plot Thwarted; Interview with Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell; U.S. Housing Market Improves; Average Student Loan Debt Close to $27,000; Pup-Up Truck

Aired October 18, 2012 - 08:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: New details this morning about the wannabe terrorist and his brazen plan.

And is it a "binders" blunder?


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I went to a number of women's groups and said, can you help us find folks? They brought us whole binders full of women.


O'BRIEN: Well, it was funny. But does it affect voters, especially female voters? We'll talk about that this morning.

And are these ghosts a racist symbol? We'll tell you why a zoo had to remove these hanging Halloween decorations in our tough call.

Plus, she's a top celebrity chef reaching out to new clientele. Rachael Ray has got a new food truck for dogs.

It's Thursday, October 18th. And STARTING POINT begins right now.


O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. Joining us this morning: Ben Smith. He's the editor-in-chief of "BuzzFeed". The former D.C. mayor, Adrian Fenty, joins us as well. Will Cain is a columnist of John Berman is sticking around from "EARLY START." Ali Velshi is joining us around the table as well.

Because we are talking this morning about the alleged terrorist plot to attack a major U.S. target and to allegedly tank the U.S. economy. It was foiled by an elaborate sting by the FBI. The suspect is 21 years old. His name is Quazi Nafis of Bangladesh. He came to the United States on a student visa back in January.

Investigators say he parked what he thought was 1,000 pound explosive device and van outside of the Federal Reserve building here in New York City. But when he tried to set it off, nothing happened. That's because the explosives were duds. They had been supplied to him by the FBI. It turns out they were on to him the whole entire time. New York City police say this is the 15th terror plot that they have foiled since 9/11.


RAY KELLY, NEW YORK CITY POLICE COMMISSIONER: This individual came here with the express purpose of committing a terrorist act. He was motivated by al Qaeda. So, we see this threat as, you know, being with us for a long time to come.


O'BRIEN: We want to get to CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen and, as I mentioned, CNN chief business correspondent Ali Velshi joining us as well.

Ali was at the Fed on Monday. So, Ali, I'll start with you.


O'BRIEN: Did you notice anything strange about the Fed on Monday?

VELSHI: No, not all. Except that, you know, we all travel a lot. So, I go through airport security and I kind of know what on me is supposed to trigger the signal and I kept getting stopped. I couldn't actually get through. I kept emptying my pockets. There was nothing left.

Finally, he established that I didn't have anything on me, the security guard.

O'BRIEN: Lots of security there?

VELSHI: But not a lot of people. Not a lot of security guards. There are two guys posted in the front. No heavy armor. They have side arms. So it doesn't have a sense of being a fortress. It's not like the New York Stock Exchange, which is just down the road where you can't even get a car anywhere near it.

O'BRIEN: So let me ask the question of Peter Bergen. This is, as we heard from Ray Kelly, the 15th terrorist plot that has been foiled since 9/11. Where would you rank this particular one? And I know we don't have all the details about it yet, but in terms of seriousness.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It doesn't compare to some of the plots we saw in 2009, 2010, Soledad. You may recall Najibullah Zazi, who travel -- who was making a bomb, who was actually in contact with al Qaeda, travel from Denver to New York, was planning to blow up bombs on the New York subway. That was actually a much more active plot.

And, of course, it doesn't compare to Faisal Shahzad who drove a bomb- laden SUV to Times Square in May 1st, 2010 and tried to detonate it. He wasn't on the radar screen of the feds at all.

So, this one -- this guy came here, in his own words, to do jihad. On the other hand, he doesn't seem to be particularly bright. He was somebody who really believed that the guy he was talking to was going to travel overseas and meet the leaders of al Qaeda and get sign off for plot, which that seems pretty improbable, not the sort of story most people would believe.

So, you know, I think it's significant, by the way, that "The New York Times" put this on A-23 in the newspaper. That is a signal from "The Times" that while this was, you know, certainly a plot of interest it's not of seismic importance.

This guy was sort of a wannabe. He said he was in touch with al Qaeda. I don't think that's even clear. He said he was in touch with al Qaeda in Bangladesh.

O'BRIEN: And Susan -- and Susan Candiotti was reporting that he was acting alone, which would indicate something as well.

Will, you want to jump in.

WILL CAIN, COLUMNIST, THEBLAZE.COM: I'm having trouble with this concept of a wannabe versus someone who is in touch with al Qaeda. Peter, maybe you can help me out with this. Why is it that a lone wolf we should be taking less seriously than someone who's coordinated with someone? Is it simply because he wouldn't have the logistics to put this together, acting alone?

BERGEN: I think that's right. I mean, you know, there's an actual ceiling to what a lone wolf can do and we saw it at Ft. Hood, Texas, where Major Nidal Hasan killed 13 people. I mean, 9/11 involved dozens and dozens of people, 19 hijackers, people in Germany, people in Afghanistan, money transfers from Dubai. Obviously, the more people you have in the operation, the more threatening you can make it.

But, of course, from a law enforcement perspective, it's easier to break up some things with larger numbers of people because there are more connections between people that you can detect. That's why lone wolves often get through, or trying, you know, it's more likely that they can get through because by definition they're not in contact with people so they're harder to detect.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask a question of Ali, first. This is a little bit of the FBI's quote of what his motivations were.

VELSHI: Right.

O'BRIEN: "I came to this conclusion -- about the Federal Reserve Bank in New York -- that targeting America's economy is the most efficient way to draw the path of obliteration of America. I decided to attack the Federal Reserve Bank of New York which is by far the largest by assets, most active by volume, and most influential of the 12 regional Federal Reserve banks."

VELSHI: Yes, this speaks to Peter's point. This fellow wasn't all that bright. That's lifted straight from Wikipedia. I think if you went outside and asked 10 en Americans, 10 New Yorkers about the New York Federal Reserve, and I love the Federal Reserve -- I don't think they could tell you anything about this building or what it does. Some people might know that it's got the biggest gold vault in the world, 80 feet below the street. It's just not a well-known landmark. Some of us know it, I read in years.

O'BRIEN: Is that brilliance or is that stupidity?

VELSHI: Well, he didn't -- what he got he didn't know in any other fashion. I mean, his words were exactly what he got off of the Internet.

ADRIAN FENTY, FORMER WASHINGTON D.C. MAYOR: I wonder, for Peter, what he makes out of the FBI and New York police letting this get all the way to the point where the guy pushes the trigger. Are they also trying to send a message to the greater terrorism world that, you know, we can get you, we're on to you in some public way? Or was this just an attempt to make sure you had enough probable cause for an arrest?

BERGEN: I think maybe a little bit of both. Certainly if you read the complaint against him, you know, it's going to be -- if everything is true in that complaint, a jury is not going to find it problematic to convict this guy.

But I think also -- I mean, the number of these cases, New America Foundation where I work, we kind of track jihadi terrorism cases, and it's interesting. This year, there's remarkably fewer of these cases, and it may go to Mayor Fenty's point that people are aware that the feds are doing a pretty good job of breaking these kinds of plots up and you're taking quite a risk, talking in the Muslim-American community in New York about wanting to do jihad, you're likely to bump into an undercover informant, as happened in this case.

O'BRIEN: Peter Bergen, thank you for your insight. Appreciate that. Of course, Ali Velshi, as well. Thanks, guys.

Other stories making news and John Berman has got that for us.


At least eight al Qaeda fighters have been killed by a U.S. drone strike in Yemen. The attack took place at a farmhouse in the southern part of the country. According to Yemeni officials, high-ranking al Qaeda operative Nader al Shaddadi was among the eight that were killed.

Together again. Mitt Romney and President Obama will be on the same stage in New York tonight. It's the second time this week. They'll be guests at the Al Smith Charity Dinner. It's an annual event hosted by the New York diocese. It's always very funny. It is Mitt Romney's only public appearance today.

The president campaigns in New Hampshire before heading to the Big Apple for a taping of the Jon Stewart show. It's actually called "The Daily Show" and tonight's charity dinner.

The third and final presidential debate takes place Monday night. And it will focus on foreign policy. CNN's live coverage from Boca Raton, Florida, begins at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

New Yorker Mayor Michael Bloomberg taking a $15 million into national politics, in these final weeks of this campaign. Bloomberg, a billionaire and registered independent, is creating his own super PAC to direct millions of dollars in donations to elect candidates who support his biggest policy initiatives, legalizing same-sex marriage, enacting tougher gun laws and overhauling schools.

The nationwide outbreak of fungal meningitis has now claimed four more lives, a total of 19 deaths so far. And federal health officials report that 247 people across 15 states have been sickened. The outbreak has been traced to a contaminated pain steroid made by a Massachusetts pharmaceutical company. Federal officials are investigating after raiding the company facility on Tuesday.

Other health news -- a deadly outbreak of E. coli in North Carolina has been traced to a county fair. At least 16 people, including three dozen children became sick. State officials say one child has now died. They believe the source of the outbreak is the petting zoo as E. coli is often spread from animals to humans. Wash your hands after going to the petting zoo.

And it is now quite a billion dollars but Ashton Kutcher's move to "Two and a Half Men" is paying off.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not broke. I'm worth like a billion dollars.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I beg your pardon?


BERMAN: Believe it or not, this is actually true. He is number on "Forbes" list as the highest paid TV actor. Kutcher made an estimated $24 million between 2011 and 2012. Nowhere near the $40 million Charlie Sheen made the year before.

O'BRIEN: It's kind of near it.

BERMAN: Capitalism is a wonderful thing.

O'BRIEN: Not to complain about the $24 million.

BERMAN: Former "House" star Hugh Laurie and Ray Romano tied for second. They each made $18 million. Good bless them all. Rich.

O'BRIEN: I wonder how many hours of work that translates to, right? How many shows?

BERMAN: They work hard.

O'BRIEN: Yes. No, I agree, $24 million, nice number.

All right. Let's go back to talking about Mitt Romney's "binders full of women" comment. Could be more than an Internet sensation. Could have affect on women voters. We're going to talk this morning with Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell. He's a Romney supporter. We'll ask him about that coming up next.

And the presidential candidates weren't the only ones fired up the debate. Comment from one of Mitt Romney's son who took a swing at President Obama will talk about, straight ahead. We'll back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

Today, the candidates are on the trail again, ultimately both landing here in New York City tonight for an annual Catholic charity dinner.

Yesterday, for President Obama and Joe Biden, it was all about the binder. They were attacking Mitt Romney for comments he made at the debate about receiving binders full of women. Here's what happened.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We don't have to collect a bunch of binders to find qualified, talented, driven young women, ready to learn and teach in these fields right now.

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The idea that he had to go and ask where a qualified woman was, he should have just come to my house. He didn't need a binder.


O'BRIEN: Bob McDonnell is a governor of Virginia. He's chairman of the Republican Governors Association. He is a Romney campaign supporter.

It's nice to see you, sir. Always nice to have you with us. You can see, obviously --


O'BRIEN: -- the Obama campaign is running with what has become with a little bit of an internet sensation, Tumblr account that went viral.

Is there a genuine concern about any kind of impact on voters outside of being sort of funny from some people's perspective? The big question for you would be: do you worry that this will actually affect women and their vote?

MCDONNELL: Not at all. This is a serious campaign. And I think maybe a laugh or two here or there is probably a good idea, and hopefully, the catholic charities event will get a few more of those. But, Soledad, if you saw the Pew poll today, Mitt Romney has gone from 18 points down with women to now tied, 47-47.

And despite all the rhetoric and all the attempts of the Obama administration to separate men from women over social issues, largely contrived, I think, what men and women care about in this election, Soledad, is the economy, getting us back to work and getting us out of debt. What Mitt Romney's point was that he actually affirmatively went out to make sure that he had great, competent, qualified women in his cabinet.

I think, at one point, he had more women in his cabinet than any governor in the country. So, that was the broader point. I'm glad the Obama administration is having fun with it, but the point is that this race is now clearly going in the way of Mitt Romney because he's a serious candidate. He's a leader. And I think the debates are proving that.

O'BRIEN: Hang on for one second, governor. I want to ask a question of Will Cain. Politically speaking, he's saying, listen, at the end of the day, it's funny and everyone can run around with it. But, the bigger question is, will it have political impact? Do you think, I mean, supporters will always say not really.

CAIN: Well, you know, it's always hard to -- and we should not underestimate the power of popular media like SNL parodies and --

O'BRIEN: What is that impact?

CAIN: You know, for the casual, uninformed voter, I'm afraid it impacts them quite a bit. The question isn't will it, but should it? And this is just being turned into. The mayor and I had a back and forth earlier about this, something that I think that is being built into a political tool that was just a little funny line.

O'BRIEN: Governor, let's get back to a little bit of the debate. We heard in the debate Mitt Romney talking about his tax proposal, and he said this. I want to play that clip.


ROMNEY: Every middle income tax payer no longer will pay any tax on interest, dividends, or capital gains. No tax on your savings. That makes life a lot easier.

If you're getting interest from a bank, if you're getting a statement from a mutual fund or any kind of investments you have, you don't have to worry about filing taxes on that, because there'll be no taxes for anybody making $200,000 a year and less on your interest, dividends, and capital gains.


O'BRIEN: The president, at the time of the debate, used the word sketchy to describe the governor's math. I want to play that chunk as well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: If somebody came to you, governor, with a plan that said here, I want to spend $7 or $8 trillion, and then, we're going to pay for it, but we can't tell you until maybe after the election how we're going to do it, you wouldn't have taken such a sketchy deal. And neither should you, the American people, because the math doesn't ad up.


O'BRIEN: The president called it sketchy, and there's a new Tax Policy Center rated Governor Romney's plan and they say this. "These new estimates suggest that Romney will need to do much more than capping itemized deductions to pay for the roughly $5 trillion in rate cuts. Other tax benefits that he has proposed."

So, they're basically saying the math doesn't work. Is this very damaging, because the details have been low at this point?

MCDONNELL: No. There's six other studies, including one from Princeton and American Enterprise Institute and others that say that the Romney math does work. But the first question really is what's the president's plan to get us out of debt? He said four years, Soledad, and we've got 23 million people that can't work.

We have higher taxes. We're six trillion more in debt and Americans have $4,000 less in take-home pay. I mean, I think we start with that and then ask what's the rationale for a second term of Barack Obama that's going to make us any more financially secure? Secondly, I think --

O'BRIEN: Let me just stop you there for one second if I can, governor, because you know -- and we discussed this a lot, those others six reports, one was a blog post, some of those are completely partisan. So, they've been debunked in a lot of ways. I guess, my question would be, you don't think the Tax Policy Center is accurate when they say this is not going to work? This does not add up. That's what they say.

MCDONNELL: No. I'm saying if you look at credible reports from American Enterprise Institute and Princeton University, you've got on contrary view on that. So, there are studies, I think, on both sides. I'm saying that there's not a plan for governor -- for President Obama that he's laid out for the second four years that I think will produce any different result.

At least, Mitt Romney has a plan. And what he believes is that you don't get more revenue to solve the debt problem simply by raising taxes. That's the one plan that President Obama has laid out. He said the way you do it is you have a tax code that encourages economic growth and job creation and you grow the economy that way.

It really is a fundamental difference between two candidates on how you raise revenue and get us out of debt.

O'BRIEN: And as you well know, the American Enterprise Institute is a conservative think tank. So, having them support that is not exactly a surprise. Before I let you go, I want to ask you a quick question about Virginia. 2008, President Obama was the first Democrat to carry Virginia, I think, it was in like 40 some-odd years. Pre-date

MCDONNELL: Forty-four. Yes.

O'BRIEN: Forty-four years. So, pre-debate polling show that the president was up 15 points in the state of Virginia. We don't really have good post-debate polling yet. We're hoping to get that soon. How worried are you that your state is going to go for President Obama when the polls show a significant lead pre-debate after the first pretty awful debate?

MCDONNELL: I'm not sure what you're looking at there, Soledad. I can only tell you that five months ago, Mitt Romney was down eight points in Virginia. Today, almost all the polls have him had up one, two or more points. And I think it had a lot to do with that first debate when people actually got to see Barack Obama and Mitt Romney side by side, overwhelmingly, and especially women decided.

This was a leader. This was a guy with real answers and real solutions that focused on results, not rhetoric, not blame like the president, but had a way to get us jobs and get us energy plan, and get us out of debt and provide more incentives for entrepreneurs. So, there's a lot of polls, Soledad, as you know.

I think some are probably more reliable, but the trends are unmistakably going towards Mitt Romney. He was here yesterday with Paul Ryan the day before. He'll be back in the near future. He's spending a lot of time in Virginia.

O'BRIEN: Near future like 20 some odd days so it better be the near future. Only 20 some odd days to this election. Nice to see you, sir. Thank you for talking with us. We always appreciate it. Governor Bob McDonnell from the state of Virginia.

MCDONNELL: OK. Soledad, glad to be back on.

O'BRIEN: Pleasure.

We got to take a short break. Still ahead on STARTING POINT, take a look at these pictures. These are Halloween ghosts, but there are some people who interrupted this as a racist sign. We're going to talk about that in our "Tough Call" coming up next.


O'BRIEN: OK. Our "Tough Call" this morning, after fielding lots of complaints, the St. Louis Zoo is dismantling its controversial boo at the zoo Halloween display partly because of this. These are hanging ghosts.

Now, the ghosts were designed to have black faces because they didn't want them to be seen at night. Several customers complained. They said it was racist and they said it looked like lynching. I think the big takeaway for Halloween is if you're going to hang anything so that you avoid the lynching comparisons, bring in a black friend. Have them eyeball your display, right? And say, how do you feel about this? If they feel badly, take it down. What do you guys think?

BEN SMITH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "BUZZFEED": I mean, it doesn't seem like it was meant ill, but Halloween is a big holiday for like super insensitive stuff. I live in a neighborhood in Brooklyn with a lot of Orthodox Jews, and yet there are people in the neighborhood who dress up as Hasidic Jews for Halloween, so I don't know. It seems like racial insensitivity is the part of the thing.

O'BRIEN: Bring someone in. Have them eyeball your costume.

CAIN: If I had brought you in, Soledad, would that have set off your alarm bells?


O'BRIEN: Ghosts don't have black faces. And so, I'm trying to understand, having hung many ghost displays in my lawn over Halloween, right? They're just big white sheets. You drag them around, you pin them to things.

CAIN: Absolutely, but what they're saying --

O'BRIEN: So, why do your ghosts have black faces? It's a little weird.

CAIN: Invisible at night and had lights inside?

O'BRIEN: I totally get it. I would just say here is your risk of how it might be read, because my ghosts don't have black face. Just saying.


FENTY: There are going to be people with different views on this one. They clearly took the safe route and probably best thing for a big organization, you know?


O'BRIEN: Yes. I don't think the question is is the intention to be racist. Clearly not. I mean, it's the St. Louis Zoo, but it's more like the impact could give you something you don't want, and so avoid it, I would say.

All right. We're moving on. Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, the latest plot to try to attack the United States. It was busted, though, before it happened. New details on a wannabe terrorist. A live report straight ahead.

And also, one of Mitt Romney's sons said he wanted to hit the president. Surprising radio interview with Tag Romney. We'll play you what he said.

And this one is for the dogs, how celebrity chef, Rachael Ray, is reaching out to a new customer. We'll explain, straight ahead.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. Out top story this morning, he pressed the detonator. It was a dud, though. The foiled plot against the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. A 21-year-old man is under arrest, that he wanted to wage jihad. The feds say he had a vision of destroying America.

National Correspondent Susan Candiotti is following some of these developments for us. The way the plot was laid out shows that this man, young man, was willing to take it to the very end.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He was. Of course, one of the other big questions is, how well connected was he? He talked big, according to federal sources and according to the criminal complaint in this case, but authorities say they've been able to find no evidence that he really did have friends in al Qaeda. He certainly was a devotee of al Qaeda. He was inspired, he said, by al Qaeda. And he is the one who selected his target, which was the Federal Reserve Bank right there on Wall Street, close to the stock exchange, because, he said, he wanted to strike a blow at America's economy.

In fact, sources also tell us that at one point he even mentioned taking out president Obama before selecting a landmark like the Federal Reserve Bank. Here is what the police commissioner of New York, Ray Kelly, had to say.


KELLY: He comes here with the -- again, the purpose of committing some sort of jihad here in the United States. He goes to the New York Stock Exchange. He sees that there's significant security there and he shifts his target to the Federal Reserve Bank.


O'BRIEN: And there have been other sting operations like this. You might recall earlier this year, one man was arrested after allegedly plotting to blow up the Capitol. He, too, had a bomb constructed and on his way there, a fake bomb. Authorities made that arrest. This man has appeared in court already, didn't say much, is represented by the public defender's office and we'll have to see how this all plays out in court.

O'BRIEN: Susan, thank you very much.

John Berman has a look at the other news making stories today.

BERMAN: Hi, Soledad. Some 20,000 pages from the Boy Scouts of America's so-called "perversion files" are being made public today. They document cases of more 1,200 leaders and volunteers dismissed for alleged sexual abuse. CNN spoke to one alleged victim.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just thinking about it makes me angry, because how could you do that to somebody? How could you bring yourself to do that to somebody that is so innocent and, you know, has done nothing wrong?


BERMAN: The perversion file documents cover a period from 1965 to 1985.

A court ordered a high profiled free speech case in Texas expected to expire today. Cheerleaders at one school were barred from the government using banners claiming Bible verses. They got a temporary restraining order against the ban but that restraining order ends today. They are expected to continue the fight.

Mitt Romney's oldest son said he had a hard time staying in his seat during Tuesday night's presidential debate. Listen to Tagg Romney responding to a radio host when asked how he felt when the president questioned his father's integrity.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is it like for you to hear the President of the United States call your dad a liar? How do you react to that?

TAGG ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY'S SON: Well, jump out of your seat and you want to rush down to the debate stage and take a swing at him, but you know you can't do that because -- well, first because there's a lot of Secret Service between you and him but this is the nature of the process.


BERMAN: Tagg Romney went on and said his father is, quote, "terrified" before debates, but then he corrected himself and used the word "butterflies" instead.

FENTY: I think his dad wants to hit Tagg.

O'BRIEN: And 20 some odd days.


BERMAN: So intense for these families.

O'BRIEN: It must be. It must be horrible to sit there and watch that 90-minute debate with someone you love, sitting there, hoping that they're going to do well.

Let's get to the latest jobless number this is morning. Christine Romans has that for us.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: OK, it's really weird -- 388,000 unemployment claims filed, up 46,000 from the week before. Remember last week when I told you they fell 30 some thousand, it looked so strange? Now they've risen by some 40 some thousand. Last week's number with his a four-year low. That's now been revised up a little bit. To put this in perspective, though, you got this volatility within these weeks, let's look at a chart that shows the trend -- I guess we don't have it. If you looked at this trend, it would be drifting lower since 2007 after a really big spike.

O'BRIEN: Very contradictory.

ROMANS: Last week, we knew that there was this big drop in jobless claims, and some economists were saying it looked like California hadn't put all their paperwork through. California got mad and said, no, we did everything by the book. This week we see this big spike in jobless claims. So it seems there's seasonal distortion, something going on. It's the end of the fiscal year. You never know how that might affect things, too. You usually do not see such big moves over two weeks.

O'BRIEN: You've been talking about a lot of the moves in housing as well and what was -- or has certainly been in the recent past a major slump. There could be some signs that they're on some recovery for the month of September, construction of new homes.

ROMANS: Yes, the construction of new homes the strongest since July 2008, up 15 percent from the previous month, annual rate of 872,000. It has many people hoping that the U.S. housing slump could finally, could timely be here. I saw another report from Harvard from its joint center on housing saying remodeling activity is picking up. We're expecting more people with more money in the bank because they're able to refinance their homes. There's signs of life in housing.

O'BRIEN: Interesting. We want to bring in "Housing Wire" editor Jacob Gaffney to join in on this conversation. You heard us talk about those numbers in housing. What does it means for the housing? Are we in the "R" word, recovery? Or is it too early to say that?

JACOB GAFFNEY, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "HOUSING WIRE": No, it's not too early. We are in a housing recovery. It's the one bright spot in the economy. You just said some of the numbers. I want to add that is a 45 percent improvement yearly on housing permits. The trend of housing starts, new home builds, will continue. Barclays Capital thinks we could see up to a million per month.

As you said before, compared to '05, '06, that's still 60 percent, at least, below those numbers. And with those jobless claims that George is saying, it seems even though the housing is in a recovery, you know, it's not supporting the jobs market. Home builders are scalable. They're not hiring up to build more homes. I mean, who is going to buy these homes if there's not jobs? That's the real concern going on right now on our side and what we're looking at.

ROMANS: The thing about housing starts for people who hope that this is a real recovery when you start a new home, you're talking about construction workers, bricklayers, you're talking about carpet-layers and filling the home with goods. That's a real locus of economic activity. But we would have to double or triple housing starts from here to be healthy. Is that right? GAFFNEY: That is correct. And when you're talking about health of the markets, jobs is number one. That is an excellent point. That's number one. The real question that we in the housing and mortgage markets are dealing with now is that when is the mortgage recovery going to happen? You know, it's great that we're building these homes and it's good that we can refinance people who already have homes. But how are we going to get people into these homes, these new homes?

O'BRIEN: I was going to ask you that.

GAFFNEY: Fannie Mae, for example -- go ahead.

O'BRIEN: For people with new starts, that's an interesting number. If I own a home, trying to sell that home or trying to buy a home, what does this recovery mean for me?

GAFFNEY: Well, I guess that remodeling number is interesting, because are people doing this DIY work to sell their home or are they planning to stay there? You know, we've done 6 million mortgage modifications and I don't know how many re-financings. Those are people who are staying in their homes. They can't sell their homes. So they're not going to buy homes.

We have a huge overhang from the government sponsored enterprises of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Fannie Mae has about a million foreclosures coming into the market next year. Who is going to buy these homes? You have to have such a high credit to get it. The major lenders, people who traditionally used to give people mortgages -- the money they're making on mortgages now is going not to new lending, but to paying for their legacy issues, the former lenders that have them in hot water and have them in the courts.

O'BRIEN: Lots of questions where all these -- I'm going to stop you there because we're out of time. But, obviously, as Christine has been following this number for us, we'll keep talking about is it really a recovery and is it a recovery for everybody?

Jacob Gaffney joining us this morning. Thank you.

Rachael Ray is our next guest. Her dog days just getting started, you could say. Her pup-up truck, not a pop-up truck but pup-up truck. She joins us live, we're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Look who I found when I opened up my "Details" magazine, page 48. Will Cain, age 37, he's listed under the new wave of political pundits. Here is what they say about him: "He has proved himself a master at stirring up controversy, sparring with Democratic Senator Dick Durbin and even host -- and even host Soledad O'Brien."

CAIN: And even host Soledad O'Brien.


FENTY: That's your claim to fame.

CAIN: Thank you, Mr. Mayor.

O'BRIEN: And a very handsome photo as well.


CAIN: Thank you to "Details." I'm flattered.

O'BRIEN: All right, still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, the average student debt, who wants to take a guess at that?

BERMAN: It's $27,000.

O'BRIEN: The average student debt for people graduating from college has reached mind boggling levels. We'll bring Christine back to talk about that and she'll be able to answer your questions.

Also, Rachael Ray has a new season underway but also a new venture for dogs. We'll talk about that, live. Her new pup-up truck, I love saying that, is right outside our studios. You're watching STARTING POINT.

Welcome Rachael nice to see you. How are you?

RACHAEL RAY, CELEBRITY CHEF: Good morning. Nice to see you, honey. How are you?

O'BRIEN: I'm great.


ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans minding your business.

U.S. stock futures are down slightly. We just learned there was a big jump in jobless claims last week. 388,000 unemployment claims were filed for the first time last week, that's a 46,000 jump from the week before. Remember the week before there was a big decline?

At 10:00 a.m. Eastern we're going to get a look at the housing market with some numbers on existing home sale. A new report says settlement money meant for homeowners is instead being used by states to close their budget gaps. Less than half of the $2.5 billion from the mortgage foreclosure settlement with big banks less than half is actually gone to struggling homeowners, that's according to a study by the housing non-profit enterprise community partners first reported this morning in "The Wall Street Journal."

All right, average student loan debt is now nearly $27,000. That's according to a report from the project on student debt. Two-thirds of class of 2011 graduated with debt. And on average they had $26,600 in student loans. The driving forces -- rising tuition costs and the tough jobs market -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Wow John Berman you're exactly right. You guessed $27,000, you were off by $400.

BERMAN: It's sounds like it could be higher given what college costs now.

O'BRIEN: Really, you think for overall average, I mean, for people who are checking out that sounds --

BERMAN: It would be $50,000 a year for private institutions.

O'BRIEN: Right but most people are not going to spend $50,000.

CAIN: Right for those groups it's $10,000 a year.

O'BRIEN: Right, right it's crazy. It's a lot of money.

ROMANS: It's amazing.

O'BRIEN: Well, the Emmy-award winning cooking/talk show Rachael Ray is going strong in its seventh season taking off with a bang last month with a visit from First Lady Michelle Obama.

This season will also feature the triumphant return of talk show legend Regis Philbin who is going to be making monthly appearances.

Rachael is also having a lot of fun off screen as well. She's launching a brand new pet food truck right here in New York City. In a street full of food trucks she'll probably have the only pet food truck. Right now, it's parked right outside of our studios at Columbus Circle. You have a Nutrish -- the brand of dog food.

RAY: Right. Well, several years ago for human kids we started an initiative called Yummo and it had several tiers to it to eradicate hunger and to improve the overall health of American children. To drive that, instead of having big galas, or asking people to write checks, you know and having auctions and all of that, we dedicated product across the board through all of our merchandise so that that would be the revenue stream for this.

O'BRIEN: And you made millions of dollars.

RAY: Yes. And so we've used that model for the animal rescue.

O'BRIEN: Nutrish.

RAY: Nutrish has been around a few years now. We've given away about $3 million so far, we've raised about $4 million. And 100 percent of my proceeds go for animal rescue groups large and small.

O'BRIEN: Why pet food? I mean --

RAY: Well because my dog is my child. And you know I do the work for the human kids because I think as Americans we can't afford the health care costs of the future if our kids are taking cholesterol medicine at age nine. But in my --

CAIN: Is that your dog? What kind of dog do you have, Rachael? RAY: I have a red-nosed pit bull actually.

CAIN: All right.

RAY: I like to make people aware that pit bulls are not born evil any more than a human could be born evil. So I choose pit bulls. But our -- our initiative helps all animal groups, large and small. We have some partners, you know, that we always give to quarterly but then we do all sorts of awareness and drives to drive money to the smaller mom and pop organizations that are helping save animals across the country. Our food is made to human standards.

O'BRIEN: You could have brought in some dog food for us.

RAY: I have actually eaten the kibble food and started to write a passage.

O'BRIEN: Really?

RAY: That's why I have such clean teeth and good gums and the shiny coat.

CAIN: One touching note -- never say I eat dog food on TV.

RAY: Yes I don't, right?

O'BRIEN: She said she did. I think that's OK.

RAY: Right, but you know what, it's made here in America and everybody --

O'BRIEN: What's in it?

RAY: -- you can read the label just like you would a menu. Peas, carrots, lamb, beef, chicken. I mean, you know they're terrific. We have just six organic treats, we have the dry food. Today we're launching the wet food and the wet food is based on the meals that I make for my own dog, Isaboo.

So with the Pup-Up Truck we'll be serving animals as if they were humans, on little plates and giving them doggy bags.

O'BRIEN: That's so cute.

RAY: It's -- it's cute but it has a great purpose. You know 100 percent of my take from that goes to the animal rescue. And that's amazing in just a few years we're already up to about $4 million.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about the show for one second if you will.

CAIN: Yes go.

RAY: Sure.

O'BRIEN: Regis Philbin, who is hilarious, now he's coming on once a month. RAY: Yes, he's there every couple of weeks. Regis shot --

O'BRIEN: He calls you a little dynamo.

RAY: -- yes there is nobody, Regis is the king. You know I think Regis really created the format of that intimacy. You know just chatting with the home viewer and sharing, you know, everyday life. What he did last night or what he's doing next week. So it's such an honor to have him on every a couple of weeks.

O'BRIEN: Can he cook?

RAY: We are teaching him actually. I just taught him yesterday how to make bacon and eggs and broiled tomatoes.

CAIN: Wow.

RAY: We're working on breakfast, lunch & dinner and he gets sort of a Rege 101 each time he's there. We were just filming yesterday a -- it's an NBA player cook-off. Because we usually do football players so we wanted to give the basketball players some love.

Regis and I next to a seven-foot two human is just priceless. So that's coming up and Monday you mentioned the First Lady was on to launch our season.

O'BRIEN: Right.

RAY: Monday we're doing the whole show with Ann Romney. She says some shocking things in that one.

O'BRIEN: Really? About food or about politics?


CAIN: Give us a little tease.

RAY: We were playing a game -- roulette game and she was answering your questions. I can't give away the answer but one of the questions prompted the most shocking thing I think I've ever heard her say.

CAIN: Give us the question.

O'BRIEN: What was the question?

RAY: Most embarrassing moment. One of her most embarrassing moments.

O'BRIEN: Interesting.

BERMAN: That's a good tease.

O'BRIEN: That's going to be --

RAY: It involved a massage, not of her.

BERMAN: Whoa. RAY: It's crazy. It's crazy. She was great fun. What an inspiration she is. 14 years with MS and she's so strong and determined. And she makes meatloaf, Mitt's favorite meal, in the kitchen. She brought a whole bunch of the family with her. We had a lot of fun.

O'BRIEN: That's great.

RAY: She was really generous.

O'BRIEN: We're looking forward to seeing that. Rachael Ray, it's nice to have you with us. Congratulations on the seventh --

RAY: Nice to see you. You come back on our show.

O'BRIEN: You know I'm not a great cook but I'm always to help and clean.

RAY: You don't have to cook.

O'BRIEN: I know.

RAY: But we haven't seen you in a long time.

O'BRIEN: You know, I love to eat.

RAY: There. That's the perfect equation. Perfect equation.

O'BRIEN: Done and done. We'll make it --


O'BRIEN: Rachael, it's great to have you with us. We appreciate it. We're looking forward to seeing that truck outside this morning.

We're going to take a short break. "End Point" is up next. Stay with us.



ROMNEY: Brought us whole binders full of women.

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": My guess is they did not refer to what they presented as whole binders full of women. But perhaps referred to it as a well-organized collection of qualified resumes. But, hey, binder of women, book of broads, notebook of nipples, whatever. Whatever.


O'BRIEN: I can't believe he said that.

It is time for "End Point". Mr. Mayor, do you want to start for us? What's the big takeaway in 30 seconds or less? FENTY: I thought when Obama said when he was busy responding to Benghazi that Mitt Romney was putting out a press release. I thought that kind of was a big issue and symbolized Romney's kind of just being politically expedient, taking advantage of the situation but not really offering any ideas of his own.

O'BRIEN: The thing that went viral, of course, was the binders full of women. Does it matter?

CAIN: No. It's completely substantiveless. The mayor and I were talking earlier about moments that were good for both candidates. I think President Obama's strongest moment was when he looked at Mitt Romney and said would you make an investment with so few details in reference to his tax plan?


CAIN: I thought Mitt Romney going over once again in the last four years, the details of wealth lost and housing prices and all of that, he does it very fluidly and asked do you want four more years of that? Those were their strongest moments.

O'BRIEN: I thought he was very strong when -- Governor Romney was very strong when he listed failures, you know.

CAIN: Exactly.

O'BRIEN: He was the strongest when he was just ticking off failures. That was a very, very good moment for him in the debate. He did it a couple of times when he said --

SMITH: Yes. I mean basically holding his own out there against the President. And I think Democrats are getting very nervous about this election. The polls are quite, quite tight. You don't want to be the incumbent two weeks out with the polls this close.

O'BRIEN: This is going to be interesting to watch. Makes the race very close for us to watch. All right.

BERMAN: All right.

O'BRIEN: Thank you for being with us. Certainly appreciate it.

Time to get to "CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello. I'll see everyone back here tomorrow morning.

Hi Carol, good morning.