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Israel Kills Hamas Leader; Congress and President Set to Begin Negotiations on Fiscal Cliff; New Details Emerge about Petraeus Resignation; Israel Launches Strikes In Gaza; New Mideast Violence; NYC Nanny Indicted In Double Murder; Texas A&M Wide Receiver Found Safe; Obama Surveys New York Storm Damage; General Honore On Hurricane Recovery; McAfee "Seems To Be Bonkers"; Gene Mutation Linked To Alzheimer's Disease; Jordin Sparks On "Sparkle"

Aired November 15, 2012 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. Our "Starting Point" this morning, violence in Gaza. Rocket attacks between Israel and the Palestinian militants after the U.N. security counsel holds an emergency session about this crisis. We're following the developing story. Live reports up next.

And tough talk from the Commander in Chief. President Obama makes it clear, he is willing to work across the aisle on tax rates, but says Republican leaders need to not mess with his ambassadors.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: The Dow falls nearly 200 points, closing at a five-month low, and this morning news, the Eurozone has slipped back into recession. Oh, and that fiscal cliff is still there. What it all means for stock investors?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Right. So, Mitt Romney has some ideas about why he lost the election. It's not because of his own campaign. He says it's because of gifts the president gave to young, minority, and women voters.

O'BRIEN: A lot to talk about this morning, among our guests, Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen is back. Retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore is with us. Singer and actress Jordin Sparks will join us.

Nevada Congressman Joe Heck is with us. NASCAR driver Kurt Busch, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Maryland Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger, and "Twilight" actress, Elizabeth Reaser, all with us this morning.

It's Thursday, November 15th, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

Morning. Welcome, everybody. Our starting point this morning, those escalating hostilities between Israelis and Palestinian militants, threatening to trigger a full-scale Mideast war. Israel is targeting Hamas sites in Gaza with airstrikes while militants fire rockets across the border into southern Israel. The tipping point for this new violence was Israel's assassination of the top Hamas military commander. That brings us right to Sara Sidner. She's live for us in Gaza city. Sara, good morning. SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Yes, we've been seeing air strikes again and again here in Gaza city. We've seen more than a dozen air strikes since we've been here, which is a few hours. On the other side of the border, we've been seeing rockets coming in. We're talking about dozens of rockets since the targeted killing of Ahmed al Jabari, the head of Hamas' military wing.

Now, what we have also seen in the streets are thousands upon thousands of people who participated in the funeral for al Jabari. He's not only the head of the military, he was not only a man, a commander of the military, but a man who was one of the founders of Hamas, a symbolic member of Hamas. So many, many people out to commemorate his death.

We saw shooting in the streets, as you see a lot of times during funerals and also for times of celebration, but this one certainly a commemoration. And then we have been seeing a lot of violence between Gaza and Israel. We know that there have been at least three people in Israel, citizens in their apartments when rockets rained down on the apartment, killing three people and injuring one, and we know 13 people have died here in Gaza from those airstrikes. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Sara Sidner for us, thank you for the update.

Let's get to Washington now, where a pretty fiery President Obama ready to take off the gloves, if the Republicans want to fight. The president clearly stating two key demands during his first news conference, ever since winning reelection, the first on taxes and the fiscal cliff.


BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But what I'm not going to do is to extend Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent that we can't afford, and according to economists, will have the least positive impact on our economy.


O'BRIEN: The president also making clear that he has Susan Rice's back. That's his ambassador, the embattled U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Initially she said that that September 11th attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi began as a spontaneous protest against an anti-Islam film. Well, now two top-ranking Republicans are vowing to block her nomination if, in fact, she is picked to be the next secretary of state. That had the president very anger. Here's what he said.


OBAMA: If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me.


O'BRIEN: White House correspondent Dan Lothian is in Washington, D.C., this morning. Let's start first, Dan, before we get to the ambassador, the embattled ambassador, let's start with taxes.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes. You know, Republicans pushing back on the president yesterday, because they don't want to see taxes raised, even on wealthy Americans, because they believe that that will stifle economic growth and will hit those people who are the job creators. At the same time, there does appear to be this willingness to find areas of agreement, some compromise, and while there doesn't seem to be that much wiggle room, Speaker Boehner sounded a bit optimistic.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: I've outlined a framework for how both parties can work together to avert the fiscal cliff, without raising tax rates.

A few have looked closely at what the president have had to say, looked closely at what I have to say. There are no barriers here to sitting down and beginning to work through this process.


LOTHIAN: The president says that he is open to any ideas, good ideas, from Republicans, to get revenue. He said that he will not slam the door in their faces, but still taking that tough stand that he will not extend those Bush-era tax cuts for wealthy Americans.

We also saw the president take a strong stand, as you pointed out, in defending his ambassador, Ambassador Susan Rice. The president realizing that she's been coming under attack from Republicans, in particular, Senator John McCain, who's been going after her, because of the narrative that she told shortly after those Benghazi attacks. Senator McCain saying that he just wants to get all the facts, suggesting that the White House has not been transparent. The president says anyone who's attacking her is simply, quote, "outrageous."

O'BRIEN: Dan Lothian for us this morning. Thank you, Dan. In just a moment, we'll get some more reaction from the Maryland congressman, Chris Van Hollen. That's straight ahead.

First, John Berman has a look at other news this morning.

BERMAN: We now know the identity of the FBI agent who helped start the investigation that eventually led David Petraeus to resign. He's veteran investigator, Frederic Humphreys II. And others say that Paula Broadwell, her security clearance is now suspended. Also, Petraeus will testify about the Libya consulate attack after all, before a closed hearing of the house intelligence committee. That will happen tomorrow.

BP has reportedly agreed to pay an unprecedented fine and admit to criminal misconduct in connection with the 2010 Deep Water Horizon spill. Reuters reports that BP and the justice department have cut a plea agreement that could be announced as soon as today. BP will only confirm that it's in advanced discussions is and they haven't reached a final agreement.

Cy Young award going to the knuckleballer and the fire-baller, the New York Mets' ace R.A. Dickey. Dickey won the national league Cy Young. In the American league, it was the young flame thrower, David price. The lefty very, very good, of the Tampa bay rays. He won the cy young award. Price tied the American league for wins with 20.

So Mitt Romney is taking heat from at least one top Republican for claiming the president defeated him by giving gifts to young minority voters. Listen to how the defeated GOP nominee is explaining his election loss in this phone call to some top donors.


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What the president's campaign did was focus on certain members of his base coalition, give them extraordinary financial gifts from the government, and then work very aggressively to turn them out to vote.


BERMAN: Now, Louisiana's Republican Governor Bobby Jindal, says Romney has it all wrong and he is not speaking for the entire Republican party. He says that the GOP plans to rebound from its election loss, it has to stop dividing the American voters. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: Yes, that's making some waves this morning. That full transcript of what he said, I mean, people can check out. I think it's in "The New York Times," the "L.A. Times" as well, a fascinating read.

BERMAN: I thought it was remarkable, and actually quite surprised to read it, for a few reasons.

O'BRIEN: Or you can say, sounds like the 47 percent once again. We'll talk more about that. No surprise. Let's get right to our next guest, Maryland Chris Van Hollen, the ranking Democrat on the House budget committee. It's nice to see you, sir.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, (D) MARYLAND: Good morning, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about the escalation in out and out fighting now between Israel and the Palestinian militants. There are now 100 terror sites, apparently, according to Israel, that they are attacking in response to rocket attacks that have come from the Palestinians. What is your take on what's happening here right now and how likely it is that this will escalate into a full-scale ground war?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, Hamas continues to rain rocket attacks into Israel. Israel, of course, has the right to defend itself. Hamas has dedicated itself to the destruction of Israel. They've never been willing to recognize the existence of the state of Israel. So Israel's taking actions, defensive actions, in this case against the Hamas military leader, to put an end to the strikes against Israel. So this is a matter of Israel exercising its right to self-defense. O'BRIEN: The president's in New York today. Tomorrow, he's going to start those initial sort of face-to-face talks about getting settled on the fiscal cliff. How do you -- how are you feeling about how this could go? It's interesting. I hear compromise kind of in the air, excuse me, but then when you get to the actual details, people seem very far apart to me.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, you're right, Soledad. Look, the president has made clear two things. Number one, as he said in the campaign, we've got to ask higher income earners to contribute more to reducing the deficit, because if we don't, we're going to hit everybody else that much harder, seniors on Medicare, kids' education. So we should ask higher income folks to pay a little bit more.

And he has put on the table, the president, a plan for getting there. Now Speaker Boehner has set the right tone, but the jury is very much out on the substance of the speaker's proposal. He says he's willing to do additional revenue, but he has not been willing to show anybody how. You know, back during the campaign, Mitt Romney had a tax plan, but he wouldn't show anybody how he was going to do it.

O'BRIEN: And I think the speaker would say that he has also had a plan. In fact, when he lays out some of his details, you can see the area of conflict, which is in that specific raising taxes part. Here's what he had to say.


BOEHNER: There are ways to put revenue on the table without increasing tax rates. We've talked about this now for over a year. You could -- you know, there's all kinds of information and data out there. But getting into the specifics of that, at this point, would not be conducive to trying to come to an agreement with the White House.


O'BRIEN: So is this just the starting point in negotiations, or is this a line in the sand? Like, we're going to raise tax rates versus where there's no way we're actually going to raise tax rates. How do you see it?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, this is a question of math. And as I look at the math, in trying to get the amount of revenue necessary for a balanced deficit reduction plan, it's very hard to get there if you don't have the tax rates on higher income individuals go up.

If you take a look at the Simpson-Bowles proposal, for example, it assumes the amount of revenue you would get if the top rate went back up to where it was during Clinton era levels. On top of that, they do tax reform to generate additional revenue.

So what the president has said is, if you really want to hit the revenue target necessary to combine with cuts to get the deficit reduction we need over a period of time, you've got to have the rates go up. And it gets back to the point, it's about math, and Speaker Boehner should show us his plan. The president's plan has been before the American people for almost two years now, about a year and a half, in terms of raising the rate and also reducing the value of some of the deductions for higher-income individuals. That's already part of the president's $1.6 trillion revenue plan, a revenue plan, I should add, Soledad, that actually has less overall revenue in the president's plan than in the bipartisan balanced Simpson-Bowles proposal.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a question about the latest news we're hearing about Governor Romney, who has been doing calling with some of his donors. And one of the things he's been saying is he blame his loss on the president's gifts. I'll read a little bit. "With regards to the young people," he says "the forgiveness of college loan interest was a big gift. Free contraceptives were very big with young college-aged women." It goes on to say, "You can imagine someone making $25,000 or $30,000 a year that you're going to get free health care. I mean this is huge. Likewise with Hispanic voters, free health care was a plus. In addition with regards to Hispanic voters, amnesty for children of illegals, the so-called Dream act, was a huge plus for this voting group."

A lot of people, and actually, high-ranking Republicans have said that he is off the mark on this. What's your reaction to what he has said in this call?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, I agree with Republican Governor Jindal that Governor Romney's remarks were way off base. They were a reminder about the comment caught on tape made during the campaign, sort of writing off 47 percent of American people.

In addition, with respect to allowing young people to stay on their parent's health care plans until they're 26. If I recall right, Governor Romney said, hey, that was a part of the affordable care act, a part of Obama care that he was going to try to keep. So to go after the president's vote on the basis that we protected more young people from, you know, catastrophic health care costs, that we wanted to make sure people have access to birth control, and those kind of things, I think is going to strike the American people as just kind of very of kilter. And clearly some of the governor, Republican governors and others recognize that it's another Romney mistake.

O'BRIEN: Congressman Chris Van Hollen with us this morning. Nice to see you. Appreciate you, as always.

Christine's minding your business this morning. News on the stock market and bad news out of Europe.

ROMANS: Yes, lots going on. First let's talk about the markets, you guys. Stock futures are up after a really tough day yesterday. Since Election Day, the Dow is down nearly 700 points since the election. This morning we learned that the euro zone has fallen back into recession. That's the second recession in Europe in four years. And there's the looming tax increases and spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff. CEOs were optimistic about their 90-minute meeting with President Obama yesterday. Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke in a statement urging a solution to the fiscal cliff. He says this, "Our customers are working hard to adapt to the new normal, but their confidence is still very fragile. They're shopping for Christmas now and they don't need uncertainty over a tax increase."

And it's interesting, because insiders, inside the beltway, are starting to say, well, it's more like a slope, it's not a cliff.

O'BRIEN: I think Mike Duke is right. It's a cliff.

ROMANS: It's a cliff if you're going to get a tax increase in your first paycheck next year. It's a cliff if you're not going to get your payroll tax holiday, which is 20 bucks a month. It's a cliff if you're living paycheck to paycheck, which is what Mike Duke is saying.

O'BRIEN: And if you're trying to decide, do I buy my kid a bike or not?

ROMANS: And weapon don't know how the market would react if they push this a week or two weeks in. It's playing with fire.

O'BRIEN: We'll keep talking about the fiscal cliff because we're on day number 47 or something like that.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, growing fear about the economic disaster if we do go over the cliff. But Warren Buffett says it's not going to be that bad. He had an interview with Poppy Harlow. That's coming up next.

And could the end of Twinkies be near? We'll tell you why hostess is threatening to shut down its factories ahead. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. There are 46 days, 16 hours, a little change left, before we hit the fiscal cliff. But the billionaire investor, Warren Buffett, he doesn't seem all that terribly concerned. He, of course, is known as the "Oracle of Omaha," claims as long as president Obama holds his ground on the wealthiest Americans paying more taxes, America can go over the cliff without actually falling into a recession.

Poppy Harlow sat down with him for an exclusive interview. I'm surprised that he's not more, like, up in arms about this.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Me too. He's not alarmist about it. I want to make clear there, he certainly thinks we need to have a compromise, and put country over party. But he doesn't want to president to give in. He wants the president to take a very hard line. He says, we may need to go past December 31 see those automatic tax cuts and hikes come.


HARLOW: What is the likelihood of the United States falling into a recession if we go over the cliff?

WARREN BUFFETT, CHAIRMAN AND CEO OF BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY: I don't think that's going to happen? I think if we go past January 1st, I don't know if it will be January 10th, but we're not going to permanently cripple ourselves because 535 people can't get along.

HARLOW: Even if we go over for two months, does that dip this economy back into recession?

BUFFETT: I don't think so.

HARLOW: You don't think so? That's interesting, because the cbo believes that.

BUFFETT: We had hurricane sandy that disrupted the economy for a period. We had hurricane Katrina years ago. There are things that will disrupt the economy. 9/11 was an extraordinary case. But we have a very resilient economy. We've had one for hundreds of years. And the fact that they can't get along for the month of January is not going to torpedo the economy.


HARLOW: So I want to make clear, he wants to see a deal made. But guys, he told me you have to be willing to go past December 31st. If you need to, you have to make every attempt to reach a deal. But he says, quote, "Don't roll over and give away the store." He sees the president in his second term being able to hold a very hard line. Bottom line, you know where he stands on taxes. He wants them much higher.

O'BRIEN: Talking about taxes, how much higher?

HARLOW: That's the question, getting specifics. I asked him that on capital gains taxes, money made off of investment, but also on income taxes for regular people. Take a listen.


HARLOW: Are you saying there's no taxation level that's too high? Whether it's capital gains or investments or income?

BUFFETT: We certainly prospered with capital gains rates more than double what they are currently.

HARLOW: So we'd be fine with 30 percent capital gains?

BUFFETT: I think, sure.

HARLOW: What about income tax?

BUFFETT: We believe -- look, income taxes, they were as high as 90 percent during my lifetime. Very few people got up there. But I saw lots of people paying, you know, federal tax rates of 50 percent, and they went to work every day.

HARLOW: So at this point, there's no level --

BUFFETT: Well, I think they can be significantly higher than they are.


HARLOW: So this puts him at odds with pretty much every other CEO out there. Christine Romans is holding her breath.

ROMANS: You don't hear CEOs say, you could just keep raising taxes on investment income and it will be OK.

HARLOW: They say it will stifle growth, and he really doesn't believe it. In Lloyd Blankfein's op-ed in "The Journal" yesterday talked about that.

O'BRIEN: He weighed in to on 2016.

HARLOW: Can we just get past the 2012 election? He did. This surprised me when it came up. We were talking about women and the importance of women in America's recovery, which you love to hear a man talking about how important women are in terms of getting this economy back on track. So I said, all right, what about a female president? He said, I hope it is in 2016, I hope it's Hillary Clinton. He told me, he doesn't think there's any better qualified candidate than Clinton for the office.

O'BRIEN: Nice to have a billionaire say that.

HARLOW: And in 2008, he gave money to both Clinton and Obama. He's been a very big supporter of hers.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, General Petraeus might finally be speaking out about his affair with his biographer. And our STARTING POINT team is heading in. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. Our team this morning, the actor Stephen Baldwin is back, and you talked to us a little bit about some of the work you're doing with your daughter, some of the work you're doing on the movie front, and you're always talking politics. Jim Frederic is with us, the international editor for "TIME" magazine. And "New York Times" columnist Charles Blow, way down on the end. I usually have him here in case I need to stop him.

Let's talk "TIME" magazine. A new issue released this morning featuring the cover, right there, the Petraeus affair, shedding new light on the fall of the CIA director, David Petraeus. "TIME" says there was an internal debate within the FBI about whether to report the affair to the White House, but because there were no national security concerns, the decision was made not to do it.

The story goes on to say that Paula Broadwell, Petraeus' mistress, had been approached about a Senate run in North Carolina, but Petraeus angrily rejected the idea and told her she shouldn't sell out, whatever that means. "TIME" also reports that Broadwell tried to recruit Lance Armstrong this summer to ride bikes with general Petraeus for the general's 60th birthday. That never happened. We know how it's ended up for everybody in this big affair. Why don't we start for us about this? Explain to me the Senate thing. That's fascinating.

JIM FREDERICK, INTERNATIONAL EDITOR, "TIME": At the Aspen security conference during the summer, we have great reporting where she was having cocktails after dinner with six or seven close companions and she revealed that she'd been approached by North Carolina moneymen, saying that you should really run for office, and that she described during this cocktails that she had presented to her mentor, David Petraeus, well, what do you think about this? And she related that David Petraeus came out vehemently against this idea. You know, what are your -- what's your stand on abortion, birth control, gun control, taxes, the fiscal cliff -- and she said she didn't really have answer, that she was more enamored with being a politician than being a policymaker. And she said that he really came after her, saying -- and that's what the sellout is. You know, why would you want to go down the road of just being a politician in order to be beholden to money interests when you can go into elected policy, think tank. He was trying to convince her that she had a bright, bright future.

But also by extension, he made it very clear that he had no political ambitions, despite what a lot of people had been saying around him, that he might even be a presidential candidate.

BERMAN: Was this before and after -- did he have perhaps another motive for not wanting her to run for office.

O'BRIEN: There are also a lot of people looking into your background.

FREDERICK: If you walk back the timeline, they were romantically involved, and they didn't know it yet, but they were already being investigated.

O'BRIEN: This is just fascinating. The reporting is great on it. Thanks for the update on that.

We've got to take a short break. We'll come back in a moment and talk about the president, who's back in New York today. He's going to be doing a tour from some of the damage from hurricane sandy. Will that visit actually help speed up recovery process for people who are still struggling? We'll take a look at that.

And then this, details behind a close call for one police officer. Take a look.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Let's start with John Berman who has a look at the day's top stories.

BERMAN: All right, thanks, Soledad.

Escalating hostilities between Israelis and Palestinian militants threatening to trigger a full-scale Mideast war. Israel is now targeting Hamas sites in Gaza with air strikes while militants fire rockets across the border into Southern Israel. The latest sort of tipping for this new violence is Israel's assassination of the top Hamas military commander.

A New York City nanny indicted for the murders of two young children left in her care. The 50-year-old Yoselyn Ortega was arrested earlier this month for the deaths of 6-year-old Lucia Krim and her 2-year-old brother, Leo. Police say the mother came home to find the children dead in the bathtub and witnessed the nanny trying to kill herself.

Texas A&M wide receiver Thomas Johnson has been found safe. He's been missing since Monday just as the team was coming off a huge victory defeating Alabama Saturday night. No details on where Johnson was found or what he was doing.

A Wisconsin cop is very lucky. Officer Dane Wifnefski got back into his SUV moments before an oncoming car veered over the center line and smashed into him. The police chief says the officer has some neck and back pain, but didn't need to go to the hospital, amazingly.

And then there's this. Say it isn't so, the makers of Twinkies, Hostess, Cupcakes and other yummy snacks is threatening to liquidate its entire business if the company's bakers continue their strike. Hostess says it cannot continue operating because of these work stoppages at about two-thirds of its 36 plants.

O'BRIEN: You know, that sounds like a chopping off your nose to spite your face kind of move.

BERMAN: Even if they liquidate, the Twinkies that are on the shelves now will last another 600 years.

O'BRIEN: These are people's jobs and livelihoods at stake. That's terrible. So I hope they can figure it out.

All right, in just a few hours, President Obama is going to be on the ground here in New York City getting an up close look at damage from superstorm Sandy.

The president is going to tour Staten Island, which was, of course, one of the hardest hit areas and meet with some of the storm victims as well.

CNN's Victor Blackwell is live for us in Staten Island. So what are the expectations of what the president will do today? What's kind of his plan?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's two-fold, he's going to fulfill the role of comforter in chief and speak with the people who lost their livelihood. Like this business behind me, this tech company, the businesses are completely devastated by this storm.

And this is the scene in homes and businesses all over Staten Island. He's going to talk with people who either lost someone or the people who know relatives and neighbors who lost someone. Remember of the 43 deaths here in New York, more than half of them are in Staten Island. Also, he's here to view the recovery. You can probably hear in the background that the power tools are working right now.

So as soon as the sun came up, crews were back out working and that's what Dominic Traina wants to hear more of. He moved to this area of Newdorf on Staten Island when he was 13. It was 1959.

Four years later, he got married and bought a house up the road. Now, both houses are destroyed by this storm, and I asked him what he did when he saw those houses for the first too many after Sandy.


BLACKWELL: When you came back and saw this, what did you feel? What did you think?

DOMINIC TRAINA, STATEN ISLAND RESIDENT: I cried. You know, I don't know what I thought. I'm still in shock. You know, right now, we're living in the basement. We've got nothing. We have nothing.

BLACKWELL: How do you start over?

TRAINA: At 66 years old, I don't know. I really don't. We're just going to stick together with the kids and try to make the best of it.


BLACKWELL: We understand that the president will walk down Cedar Grove Avenue. That's where Dominic Traina grew up and raised his own children, and that is where those houses were lost.

He expects to speak to the president today and he's going to tell the president, please support my neighbors. I don't think I'm going to live here any longer, but they need your help -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: That's such a sad thing. All right, Victor Blackwell for us. Thanks, Victor. Appreciate the update.

A lot of people are asking today why more is not being done to help some of the victims of Hurricane Sandy. It's a question being asked as well by Lieutenant General Russel Honore. He headed up, of course, the joint task force Katrina in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

He says New York and New Jersey are ignoring some of the big lessons that were learned from Katrina's recovery efforts. He has got a new op-ed on He writes this, "where is the command center? Who's in charge? Where's the National Guard?

During the Hurricane Katrina disaster, about 20,000 federal troops were mobilized, 20 ships, including a hospital ship, about 50,000 National Guard members, 200 helicopters assisted in the relief efforts.

So far, in Sandy relief efforts, about 11,000 National Guard troops were deployed and only two ships have assisted. This as people still suffer."

And General Honore joins us this morning. He's in Baton Rouge. It's nice to talk to you, sir, as always. Thank you for being with us. How would you grade the response to superstorm Sandy, as we've been calling it, and also the aftermath of the response?

LT. GENERAL RUSSEL HONORE, AUTHOR, "LEADERSHIP IN THE NEW NORMAL": I would say during the search and rescue and the information going on from the governors before the storm and the search and rescue was an "A."

I mean, they did a superb job. My observations are based on the recovery. Soledad, what we learned in those two big storms of Katrina and Rita is that when you go in with ground troops, the National Guard, and the Army, you have to stay in those communities to focus on the vulnerable population, the elderly, the disabled, and the poor.

You just don't go in there in the daytime to help them. You've got to put commanders on the ground, just like we did in Iraq, occupy that block, occupy that community, and create a relationship under those people that are left behind, so they know that someone's there if they have trouble.

O'BRIEN: So let me ask you, then, about what you wrote in this op-ed. You said this, "we learned a lot about what really works in our Katrina recovery efforts, but New York and New Jersey seem to be ignoring those lessons.

First, I would like to praise the serge and rescue operations in New York and New Jersey, but now they could be doing much better now that they've entered the difficult part, the recovery operation."

So what lessons are they missing? If you had to give them two pieces of advice, what would you say?

HONORE: Get in there and what we call enabling tasks. In Katrina, we cleaned storm gutters, so in case it rained again, the water would flow out. We cleaned hospitals. We had troops re-establish cell phone towers, so people could use their phones.

We had medics on the ground from the Navy and the hospital ship to go in to give people shots, not using doctors without borders. We can do better than that. We've got the capacity.

We know how to do this. They seem to go in light and then they're not occupying those streets and have presence patrols so they're with the people 24/7. And there's a commander in charge of several blocks at a time.

O'BRIEN: You wrote a book called, "Leadership in the New Normal," a short course, which I always appreciate when I'm on a plane. But in all seriousness, there are some folks who would say, listen, maybe it's that people here in the tri-state area don't know how to really be prepared.

For those folks who are in the south, where there are a lot of hurricanes, they know that preparation doesn't mean run out to the store and buy a flashlight, which is what we like to do here in New York.

It means gather fuel. It means release stockpiled water. It means take care of yourself literally for a couple of weeks, probably.

HONORE: Yes. You know, you live in a very populated area. People have an appreciation that you can't get out, but the problem, come back to the same group of people, the vulnerable population, the elderly, the disabled, and the poor.

And that makes up about a third of our population. Look who is suffering, who's the majority of the people who are in those high- rises without heat and electricity, poor people, elderly, or disabled. We need to be on those streets. We need to occupy those streets and be there for our fellow citizens.

O'BRIEN: Can I ask you a quick question about General Petraeus? Just give me some insight into how somebody at the highest levels of the military, who then goes on to the CIA one would put everything at risk for what now appears to be not some big national security issue, but your basic affair 101. Why?

HONORE: Well, I don't know, Soledad. It's been going on a long time. We can go back in history and find examples of that, people, even presidents, who have participated in -- it's unfortunate.

You've got an outstanding general, an outstanding warrior who made a grave mistake. And I'm sure today he's regretting all of that and hopefully that will be a lesson for all of us.

O'BRIEN: That's an interesting point. Lieutenant General Russel Honore with us this morning, always nice to see you, sir. Thank you for talking with us.

If you want to read the general's piece, you can find it at It's also on the CNN opinion sites, on Facebook and on Twitter.

Ahead this morning, he's wanted for questioning in the murder of his neighbor. Police though cannot find John McAfee, although he's been doing interviews over the phone with various media outlets.

Brazil has tough words for the American software tycoon -- Belize, I mean, has some tough words for him as well. We're going to talk about that straight ahead.

Plus, she's ruling the charts and taking over Hollywood, apparently. The actress and singer, Jordin Sparks, will join us. That's ahead stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. The prime minister of Belize is harshly criticizing the anti-virus software mogul, John McAfee, says he's bonkers, actually. Police want McAfee to answer some questions about his neighbor's murder, but McAfee is in hiding. He says the authorities in Belize are trying to frame him for the crime. Let's get right to Martin Savidge. He's live in Belize this morning. So what are the authorities telling you?

O'BRIEN: Well, Soledad, what they're saying is that they are absolutely frustrated that they have not seen and cannot find John McAfee, despite days of intensive searching.

And they also say that they cannot believe that after all this publicity, no one has come forward to say they have seen or know where John McAfee is. We're on this small island, where he has lived, also the same island where his neighbor was murdered.

It's located about 35 miles off the coast of the mainland here in Belize. And the frustration by authorities, well, listen, here's the prime minister and then the police department.


DEAN BERROW, BELIZE PRIME MINISTER: Never met the man. Don't know what he looks like. I don't want to be unkind, but it strikes me that he's extremely paranoid. In fact, I would go so far as to say bonkers.

SAVIDGE: Do you have any idea where Mr. McAfee is?

RAPHAEL MARTINEZ, BELIZE POLICE SPOKESMAN: We strongly believe that he's still in the country and we believe that he will come in.


SAVIDGE: It is the taunting that authorities continue to get in the form of these reports that McAfee makes to members of the cyber media that really gets to the government here, especially when he says the government's out to kill them.

They say, look, we're a democratic, law-abiding, peace-loving nation here. We have a professional police force. He just needs come in to answer some questions.

After all, it was his neighbor who was murdered. So far, he has not done that, which is why people grow more and more suspicious here with each passing day -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Martin Savidge for this morning. Thank you, Martin.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT, she first stepped on to the scene with "American Idol," but now Jordin Sparks is taking on a bigger stage, Hollywood. We'll talk about that and what it was like to work with Whitney Houston in "Sparkle." And she joins us, coming up next.


BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. Your "A.M. House Call" this morning, deadly jolt. The "New York Times" reports the FDA record showed that those 5-hour energy shots you see on counters almost everywhere have been linked to 13 deaths and 30 life- threatening instances in 2008.

Look at this. The incidents include heart attacks, convulsions and at least one spontaneous abortion. That will get your attention.

And a discovery of a gene mutation could yield important clues and causes in Alzheimer's and better treatments, too. Researchers say the mutation triples the risk for patient that is develop the disease, but affects just 0.3 percent of the population. It interferes with the brain's ability to prevent the build up of plaque, which as you know is a big part of Alzheimer's.

O'BRIEN: Interesting. All right, well, it had been a very busy year for singer and actress, Jordin Sparks, topped off by a big role in the movie "Sparkle" alongside the late Whitney Houston. Here's a little beat of that.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All I think about is music. Everything I see, hear, feel turns into a song and I try to turn it off, but I can't. I know the Lord loves me and he wouldn't torture me with something I want to do but can't do so I figured --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You figured out what's wrong. Sparkle, you can have a gift. It's how you use it.


O'BRIEN: I love this movie.


O'BRIEN: You can't watch yourself. This is Jordin -- this is me doing Jordin Sparks, watching herself.

SPARKS: It's one of those things that it's so amazing that I got to do it and at the same time seeing Whitney -- every single time I see her. She was so incredible.

O'BRIEN: Was she?

SPARKS: She was so sweet.

O'BRIEN: You tell a great story about what she said to you when you were filming the final scene of "Sparkle." Tell me about that.

SPARKS: We were filming the scene when I was in the pretty red dress. After we were finished, she had come to watch everything. She just wanted to be there to support us and to support, you know, it kind of coming to a close.

And she was sitting there and she says come here. Come to the side of the stage. I come over and she takes my face in her hands and goes, you're everything that we wanted for this part. You're perfect.

And I just bawled. I completely lost it was so amazing to hear somebody that you have looked up to say something like that. It was great.

O'BRIEN: You are looking at roles now where you are not singing. Do you prefer that? Is it hard to say, no, I'm a singer? I'm an actor. I want to be a singing actor? You're doing a ton of things.

SPARKS: I definitely am. I want to be able to do all sorts of things, which has been incredible. Since "Sparkle" I've gotten a couple of other scripts and it's been a very vast array of roles. There was a comedy, a drama and then there was like this action amazing script as well. There have been a couple of different things.

O'BRIEN: The avengers with Jordin Sparks.

SPARKS: Right? There have been a couple of scripts with his music involved as well. I don't mind doing that as long as it's the right thing. I actually teamed up with Excedrin because I suffer from migraines.

O'BRIEN: Your whole life?

SPARKS: I started suffering from a couple of years ago. One of the facts I learned when I teamed up with them is that they are hereditary. My mom for as long as I can remember she actually suffered from them really badly.

Like she'd be down -- she'd be on the couch in a dark room and Excedrin was the only thing that worked for her. So to be able to team up with them was really, really great.

But they have this new app where you can track your triggers so you can prevent and take preventative steps when you see what your personal triggers are after you tracked them for a while.

O'BRIEN: I used to get terrible migraines in college and dropping out of college seemed to help a lot. I went back! I went back. You have a perfume, too.


O'BRIEN: It's called Ambition, which I love.

SPARKS: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Honestly, when you're making a perfume, are you literally, I like this, or people come to you and say sign here and it's done and done?

SPARKS: No, one of the big things -- this is actually my third fragrance. I really wanted to be involved and I wanted to be able to wear it and go, OK, I know that I did this and I picked these scents.

Plus my nana is actually allergic to pretty much everything. If it wasn't OK past her nose, I didn't want it to go out. She needed to be able to smell it. I did pretty well on the three of them.

She's good. She doesn't have an allergic reaction. She doesn't get migraines, which is amazing. I wanted to name it ambition, because that's kind of where I am in life right now. I kind of want to do a little bit of everything.

O'BRIEN: I love that. I had a boss once who told me that he thought ambition in a girl was bad. When I heard that this perfume was called ambition, I'm buying this for me. I'm buying this for my girls.

I think that's terrible, sexist and awful. He knows who he is. I hope he's watching. Anyway, congratulations to you and all your success. It's great to have you with us.

SPARKS: If you want to get more they have this free app called my migraine triggers and download it at You can download it and track it for free.

O'BRIEN: The movie "Sparkle," by the way, is out on DVD on November 30th and it's such a great movie. I feel like I should be giving out free samples of perfume, and "Sparkle" DVDs.

SPARKS: Next time I'll bring some.

O'BRIEN: We would love that.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, fighting words from the president. We'll tell you why he has been really kind of fighting with two of the nation's most powerful Republicans. We'll tell you what it's about.

Plus you probably heard about his cursing at other drivers, cursing at the press. A new side of NASCAR driver Kurt Busch, got a new documentary about his life. It's called "Outlaw." That's ahead.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Our STARTING POINT this morning, tough talk from the commander in chief, President Obama making it clear he is willing across the aisle on tax rates, but also letting Republican leaders know not to talk about his ambassadors.

Violence in Gaza this morning, rocket attacks between Israel and Palestinian militants after U.N. Security Council holds an emergency session about the crisis. We're following a developing story live straight ahead.

ROMANS: And the Dow falls nearly 200 points, closing at a 5-month low, Soledad, this morning.