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NFL Shooting Tragedy; Syria Warned Against Using Chemical Weapons; 29 Days Until Fiscal Cliff; Costas "Commentary" On Belcher Case

Aired December 3, 2012 - 08:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: It's Monday, December 3rd -- and STARTING POINT begins right now.


O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody.

Our team joining us around the table: Barbara Starr, CNN's Pentagon correspondent. We were talking this morning. It has been literally four years since we've seen each other in person.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Last time I saw you was Inauguration Day.

O'BRIEN: Yes, we talk all the time. But in person, four years.

Kamau Bell is a comedian, the host of "Totally Biased" FX. And New York Congresswoman Nan Hayworth is with us as well. Alina Cho sticking around to help us, too.

STARTING POINT is really this search for answers in the question about the suicide of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher who also killed his girlfriend over the weekend.

The team took to the field just a day after that tragedy. It was a somber victory. They beat the Carolina panthers 27-21, winning just their second game of the season.

On Saturday morning, police say, Belcher shot his 22-year-old girlfriend. Her name was Kasandra Perkins. And then he turned the gun on himself right outside the Chiefs' practice facility and right in front of the general manager and coaches, too. He and Perkins have a 3-month-old daughter whose name is Zoe. And now, she is left behind.

Casey Wian has been talking to Chiefs' players and coaches, all trying to come to grips of the violent murder-suicide.

What did coach Crennel who saw Belcher killed himself and the other players say after the game, Casey?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Soledad, it was a real somber mood as you mentioned after that game. This is only the Chiefs' second victory of the season. Normally, there would be a lot of celebration because by all accounts they played their best game of the season. But there was no celebration -- very limited celebration in that locker room.

Let's hear from some of those players and the coach had to say after the game.


ROMEO CRENNEL, KANSAS CITY CHIEF COACH: We stuck together as a team like we talked about, helped each other, all right? Family and friends, you relied on those people, all right? You relied on your faith to help get you through this, all right? We got through it in a grand way because everybody made a contribution. Everybody helped. OK? That's what a team is about.

SHAUN SMITH, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: I've been through this situation earlier in the year in Tennessee with O.J. Murdock when I was in Cincinnati. I'm kind of used to it -- I wouldn't say used to it but -- I've been in this situation before. So, just continue to try to pray for the families that lost loved ones and continue to go.

DERRICK JOHNSON, KANSAS SCITY CHIEFS: We need to talk to each other more as men. Not as football players. I mean in life. Because, generally, men don't really show their feelings. You know, they don't talk about what's going on. They don't cry. They don't show emotion.

I mean, to have act go on like this yesterday, that's one of those things, it could have been avoided. But as a teammate, you know, we have to do more about -- not getting in people's business but, I mean, just -- just, you know, making sure that, you know, your teammate's OK.


WIAN: That subdued mood was not just happening among the players. It extended into the stands. You know, there was a lot of debate about whether this game should be played or not. The stands were only about half full at the very most throughout the game.

And I got to tell you, Soledad, this was the quietest national football league crowd I've ever heard.

O'BRIEN: I'm not surprised. I'm not surprised. What a terrible tragedy.

Casey Wian for us -- thanks, Casey.

I want to bring in Joe Linta and also introduce Tiki Barber who's joining us as well. Joe Linta is the agent for both Belcher and also Romeo Crennel, the Chiefs' head coach who witnessed a suicide outside the team's practice facility.

Tiki, of course, former running back for the New York Giants, he's with us, too.

Let's begin with you, Mr. Linta. I think there's so many questions about why. You look back at sort of the Jovan's past, there's really nothing I see are red flags that you would say, oh, this was expected. Everything led up to this.

So, answer that question for me: what happened? Why?

JOE LINTA, JOVAN BELCHER'S AGENT: Well, the how and the why are really the questions that trouble everyone right now. I knew the young man for about five years. And I had nothing but fondness for him and great respect obviously up until Saturday morning.

And you just -- the how and the why is the craziness of this. There was nothing in my relationship with him that would indicate any troubling past, anything that troubled him, that would have caused him to commit such a heinous act as this. And we just -- we'll never know, unfortunately.

And I think that's the -- the great debate of this is how and why. And I think those that were with him down in Kansas City every day, because I'm not in Kansas City, would have the same trouble answering that question.

O'BRIEN: Coach Crennel, I know, is also a client. Have you had a chance to talk to him? What has he told you?

LINTA: We've -- we've just talked via text. It was kind of like, you know, I'm here for you, I'm praying for you, that kind of thing. And, you know, really, there's nothing to be said when you lose a loved one, and especially under these conditions, I think we all grieve in our own way. You don't try to impose your grief on someone else the way you might handle it.

And you know, I just want to let him know I'm thinking about him. He, as well as Scott Pioli, are in my prayers, as well as obviously both families.

O'BRIEN: Let me bring in Tiki Barber. You heard the clip of Derrick Johnson who plays for the Chiefs. He was saying we just have -- very emotional, sort of saying we've got to figure out how to, I guess, get in each other's heads. We understand people who are having problems.

How, practically speaking, do you do this?

TIKI BARBER, FORMER NFL RUNNING BACK: It's very difficult, because you're together all day as a football team. You're in your little meeting groups. The linebackers know each other very well. The running backs know each other very well.

O'BRIEN: You know about people's emotional problems, money problems, family problems?

BARBER: A little bit. It all depends on how long you've been together. But I think what happens in sports, especially football because it's such a masculine environment, you try to mask everything. If you hurt your ankle, you fake it and you run it of like nothing's wrong. Especially if you have an emotional or mental problem, you're certainly going to mask it, because along the way if you don't you're going to get weeded out.

Football is a game of attrition. So, the weak don't make it to the top levels. And so you mask any issues or demons that you may have so that you can get to that top level.

I think it's a disservice, quite honestly, to the individuals in the games because statistics will tell you that there are a couple guys in the NFL that have mental issues and it doesn't get addressed often enough.

O'BRIEN: So, let me go back to Joe Linta for a second. We know that Jovan went to the field and the facility and he talked to his coaches. I mean, he was talking to them with a gun to his head.

Why do you think his instinct after he kills his girlfriend, the baby in the other room, would be to go and thank his coaches?

LINTA: I think the instinct would have been the kind of young man that he was and the way he was raised that, you know, he probably -- I mean, I don't know. I'm speculating. Maybe he knew that he had to take his own life after what he had done. Maybe he came to that realization. I don't know. I'm speculating.

But I think he truly, really, wanted to go and thank those two individuals in particular that were so instrumental in the success of his career and his life on the field, and that were Scott Pioli and Romeo Crennel.

I don't represent Scott Pioli, but Scott's one of the finest men I've ever been associated with in my years in the NFL. And Romeo is just the salt of the earth type of person, I think what Romeo did yesterday, which was really just him being him and shepherding that team through that process was nothing short of amazing and unbelievable that he could remain strong for them when he was grieving himself, same with Scott Pioli.

O'BRIEN: Brutal. Brutal, and to see those pictures of Jovan Belcher holding his baby with his girlfriend, and them smiling. It's so contradictory to what we now know.

Joe Linta, thank you for talking with us -- Mr. Jovan Belcher's agent and also agent for Romeo Crennel as well.

LINTA: My pleasure.

O'BRIEN: We appreciate it. Tiki, as well, thanks for talking with us.

Other stories that are making news today and Alina has got that for us.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Soledad. Thank you.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a stern warning to Syria today. We'll talk a little bit more about that a bit later on. Meanwhile, we want to get to the situation in California, because there is no end in sight to those northern California rains. In fact, this weekend the third Pacific storm to hit the region in five days unleashed floodwaters and knocked out power to thousands of people in San Francisco, Sacramento and several surrounding communities. And there is rain in the forecast again tomorrow after a brief respite today.

Now to that story about Syria. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issuing a stern warning to Syria today. She said that any move by the Assad regime to use chemical weapons against rebels would be considered crossing a red line by the United States, and that would prompt action by the U.S. Syria is known to have a vast stockpile of chemical weapons.

Authorities have ordered folks in Doyline, Louisiana, to evacuate their homes as they work to secure more than 6 million pounds of gun powder. The improperly stored M6 powder was found on Camp Minden. That's on property leased by Explo Systems.

Workers are now busy moving that powder into authorized storage facilities on the very same site. And so far, they have safely stored more than 1 million pounds. That, by the way, is enough to fill 27 18-wheelers.

And a follow-up to the story of Jeffrey Hillman, the homeless man who receive add pair of shoes from a selfless New York City police officer. "The New York Times" actually caught up with Hillman on the upper west side and his new boots were nowhere to be seen.

Get this -- the 54-year-old Hillman said that the boots are hidden because, quote, "they are worth a lot of money" and he could lose his life over them. Hillman says he was honorably discharged after serving five years in the Army in the late 1970s and 1980s. It was the picture seen around the world.

So sad that he feels like he has to hide them and it was such an extraordinary gesture by this --

O'BRIEN: That one story, right, is indicative of so many things in the American culture -- the idea that you're a vet and you're sleeping on the streets, the idea that for people who are in poverty or homeless, anything of value, you shouldn't even use even if it's shoes because someone -- you know, it's so unsafe, that someone could rob you. I mean --

CHO: The extraordinary gesture of that New York City police officer.

O'BRIEN: The compassion we saw.

CHO: The photo seen around the world. It was incredible.

O'BRIEN: You know, I was out a couple of days and you guys had a chance to talk to him on the show. I was really jealous. I really wanted to do that interview.

All right. Alina, thank you.

We have to take a short break. But still ahead this morning, as the clock ticks, both sides in D.C. are digging in about the fiscal cliff. One lawmaker says it looks like we're going over it.

We're going to talk this morning to Carlos Gutierrez. He's the former Commerce Secretary for the Bush administration. That's coming up.

And Bob Costas strays from sports into a highly charged political debate, takes a little bit of heat on Twitter about it. We're going to talk about that, too.

You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT.

If we go over the fiscal cliff at the end of the year, taxes will go up. Major spending cuts will kick in. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says it is critical to negotiate a deal before that happens.


TIMOTHY GEITHNER, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: This is something we can do, and I think we're going to get there, because there's too much at stake not to get there -- not just for the American economy but the world economy. And we have a chance to do something very good for the country now, very good for the country now.


O'BRIEN: Republicans, though, aren't happy with what I think you could call a first iteration of the plan. Listen.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I was just flabbergasted. I looked at him and said, you can't be serious? I've just never seen anything like it.


O'BRIEN: That's Majority Leader Boehner saying that he was stunned to get some of the details of what the president was planning. Joining us this morning, Carlos Gutierrez. He's the former Commerce Secretary under George W. Bush, also the former Director of Hispanic Outreach for the Romney campaign.

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

CARLOS GUTIERREZ, (R) FMR. COMMERCE SECRETARY: Pleasure, Soledad. How are you?

O'BRIEN: Earlier this morning, I was talking to Senator Blumenthal, and he was sort of saying I'm optimistic, I'm hopeful. And I was like, where do you see that? I don't know that I see optimism. Do you or you know --

GUTIERREZ: No. I agree with you. I'm very disappointed. And you know, the big picture is more than just the fiscal cliff. And a lot bigger than do we raise taxes on people who are there to make more than $250,000 a year. This is about the debt. It's about the fiscal deficit. It's about our economy. It's about our future.

It's about our children. And, President Obama is playing a very risky game, because in the end, this is his presidency. And, you're going to look back and have a bar chart of deficits and debt. And there's not going to be an asterisk that says it was the republicans' fault. So, I think we've got to stop playing poker, work together, and understand that we're working to save the country.

O'BRIEN: But that might be the long game, the asterisk in history books later, right? The short gain is raising taxes, and that really is what everything is focused on right now. And I think, Nan, it's fair to say that that could be a big problem for Republicans. They -- you know, all polls indicate that it's going to be the Republicans that hold the bag if you end up, you know, not raising taxes on people who are perceived to be very wealthy who could afford it.

REP. NAN HAYWORTH, (R-NY) MEMBER, FINANCIAL SERVICES CMTE.: Well, there is the -- there are the atmospherics, and then, there are the economic realities. And of course, if you look at a lot of the polling surrounding the election and post-election exit polling show that, in fact, President Obama was elected primarily because people felt that he was compassionate, that he cares about them.

And that's an important quality. But, in fact, they endorsed the fiscal approach that Governor Romney suggested, which was that we need to grow. You know, we need to have a tax policy that makes sense. We need to tackle --

O'BRIEN: Polling also shows that people think the richest Americans should pay more taxes. Clearly. I mean, there's no doubt at all on that. So, let's go back to Secretary Gutierrez. What is the -- what is the give? What are Republicans putting on the table in terms of specifics? Because the Democrats charge Republicans haven't really -- you know, that they've laid out something, maybe the Republicans hate it.

But now, the Republicans have to lay out something. What are Republicans specifically willing to cut?

GUTIERREZ: I think that Speaker Boehner went a long way by saying we are going to put revenues on the table. And, Soledad, the Obama administration very cleverly has made this a debate about tax increases. I wish that the explainer in chief who explains very well, I wish he would explain to the American people what's going to happen to Medicare if we don't act.

That needs to be explained. This is not just about, you know, sticking it to people who make over $250,000 a year.

O'BRIEN: Okay. Let's talk about that, then. GUTIERREZ: And he has the opportunity to do that.

O'BRIEN: Let's take taxes which is an issue, let's take that off the table for the moment. Then, what would Republicans propose as cuts to entitlements? What's on the table? Medicare's a good one.

GUTIERREZ: I mean, you know, one thing that needs to -- that we all need to understand, that $700 billion was taken out of Medicare to begin Obama care. So, right there, you know, from a management standpoint, why would you reduce money from something that's going broke?

The other thing that we need to understand is that tax rates are going up on January 1 within Obamacare. So, we're talking about almost a trillion dollars of increases in taxes and fees.

O'BRIEN: OK. But let's not talk about the Democrats for a moment. And let's not even talk about what the president's put on the table. Let's talk about the Republicans. Give me specific cuts that Republicans would be behind, because we're really short on specifics from the GOP. Lay out for me, here's what we're willing to cut in terms of entitlements. Put it on the table.

GUTIERREZ: Well, there's been a plan in terms of indexing the increases. We are going to have to find a way to reduce the gap between how much Medicare costs per person and how much we pay, because it's not going to last. It's going to go broke.

O'BRIEN: So let me bring in Nan for a second, then. I'm sorry. Forgive me for cutting you off, but tick off for me. I mean, as you know, one of the biggest criticisms from the Dems is that the Republicans as much as they're flabbergasted, as word, and shock and stunned and amazed and overwhelmed by what the Democrats have proposed --

GUTIERREZ: We are. Of course, we are, Soledad. Listen, since the Bowles Commission had 3-1 expense to taxes, President Boehner -- Secretary Geithner said yes, they'd the plan (ph). He sent to Boehner had 2-1 expense to taxes. It's actually .25-1. So, the Republicans are putting something up on taxes.

Let's talk about revenues. Now, they're also supposed to put something up on Medicare? What is the role of the leader of the country?

O'BRIEN: Let me ask our congresswoman then. So, lay out for me, if we're going to take taxes for a moment off the table, because voters like me can't often manage several -- taxes as we discussed let's put off the table. We're talking about entitlements.


O'BRIEN: We're talking about things we're willing to cut. What are Republicans willing to cut?

HAYWORTH: Well, there are all sorts of opportunities in the whole federal budget. The number one to me would be the consequences of the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 health law. Very well intentioned but on massive costs. I would definitely - we have to discuss it again.

Social Security and Medicare are commitments that we've made to our seniors over decades. So, that really -- Secretary Gutierrez is exactly right. You know, we've got $700 billion was shifted out of Medicare that is going broke.

O'BRIEN: So, are you saying you're willing to cut Social Security or not willing to cut Social Security?

HAYWORTH: No. We have to have a rational approach to -- Social Security's primarily a little bit of an arithmetic issue. The age of eligibility is going up. That's already in current law. We have to have a conversation about that, but it's got to be Democrats, Republicans together.

And I think politically it's very -- it's clever, but it's -- I don't think Republicans are going to go along with -- well, gosh, Mr. President, somehow you're asking us to make all the tough suggestions and choices about --


HAYWORTH: Secretary Gutierrez is exactly right. This is for the president to lead on as well. And I think he's entirely capable of doing it, and I think he does need to.

GUTIERREZ: This is the biggest deal in this presidency. This is -- we're playing for the highest stakes. We're playing for the country's future economically. Why doesn't he take charge of this? Why doesn't he explain to people why we have to do something about expenses, about Medicare, about entitlement, that they're going to go broke in ten years?

That's what he should be doing. You know, Lincoln-esque style. He should be able to deliver the bad news. He can do it. He was re- elected. Where is he?

O'BRIEN: Secretary Carlos Gutierrez joining us this morning. Appreciate your time, sir. Nice to see you as always.

We got to take a short break or I'm not going to hit my commercial on time. STARTING POINT, we're going to be talking about the world of controversy now that has been waded into by Bob Costas. There are some angry folks on Twitter who say stick with sports and not to your take on gun laws. Talk about that straight ahead.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. NBC sportscaster, Bob Costas, created a little bit of stir on social media by using his halftime segment during last night's Cowboy's Eagles broadcast to advocate for gun control.

He was commenting on the murder/suicide that we were just talking about just a moment ago, the Kansas City chiefs' linebacker, Jovan Belcher, who killed the mother of his three-month-old daughter and then took his own life. Here's a little bit of his 90-second commentary. Listen.


BOB COSTAS, NBC BROADCASTER: Handguns do not enhance our safety. They exacerbate our flaws, tempt us to escalate arguments, and bait us into embracing confrontation rather than avoiding it.


O'BRIEN: Well, as you can imagine, the you know what hit the fan after that. And people on -- the Twitter hit the fan. People tweeting things like "if guns kill people, do spoons make people fat?" I don't remember Bob Costas saying anything at halftime about four people dead in Benghazi. If O.J. Simpson had not had a knife, Nicole Brown Simpson would still be alive --


W. KAMAU BELL, HOST, "TOTALLY BIASED" ON FX: Slow down. I think the case was --


BELL: He was found not guilty of this.

O'BRIEN: So, what do you think? Bob Costas wading into territory that he shouldn't have?

CHO: I think he was feeling emotional about it. I think you should cut him a break. I mean, this is something that was incredibly tragic that happened. I mean, yes, we've been saying that they're looking into undiagnosed concussions, potentially, as a problem in the NFL because there have been some six murder/suicides in the past year or two.

But, you know, it was an emotional moment. He's been covering sports for a long time. I was actually quite surprised because knowing what little I know about Bob Costas it seemed a little uncharacteristic. He doesn't usually do that type of thing. But, I say cut him a little slack.

BELL: He's had 90 seconds to talk about guns over his career. Bob Costas is a great commentator. And I think the big issue is that we don't want to talk about gun control in this country. And every time anybody talks about it, they get yelled at.

O'BRIEN: Well, I was going to say that I actually think that what he did was to sort of raise the topic and maybe -- just by raising the issue, maybe that's not the right forum, but it's true. We don't really have good, thoughtful conversations about gun control or about domestic violence either really at the end of the day. This guy killed his girlfriend in the ultimate case of domestic violence. STARR: You know, in both cases, your heart has to go out to all the families affected. And maybe that's one of the issues here. These terrible violent crimes just wreak havoc through families that are victims of them for decades and decades. It's not just the guns.

O'BRIEN: And now the three-month-old baby. Zoe is living with relatives.


CHO: I thought it was interesting what you were saying earlier, which is that, you know, you've obviously covered the military for a long time and this sort of macho attitude in the NFL where you don't talk about it. You said kind of reminds me of what happens in the military.

STARR: The military and the NFL are collaborating very closely right now on diagnosing head injuries from football.

O'BRIEN: Oh, I didn't know that.

STARR: -- from being at war. It is the same issue. The culture of young men being together and, perhaps, not willing to talk about their problems worried about the stigma.

HAYWORTH: And that's the root cause in this terrible, tragic event. It's not the gun. The gun was an instrument, but the root cause was a deep disturbance, unfortunately.

O'BRIEN: I don't know. I actually don't -- I don't know that I agree with you on that. And I don't know that I don't agree with you on that. I do think that we should have conversations about our gun laws, accessibility. I have no idea what his access to a gun was.

STARR: How can it be wrong to talk about guns? Whatever your position is, that's not really the relevant point.

O'BRIEN: And I'm going to throw in domestic violence. Another topic we don't really to talk about.

All right. We got to take a break. Still ahead this morning, disaster underground when a commuter tunnel collapses, crushing cars. We'll tell you what happened there.

And the mayor who won't be dining like a mayor this week. Cory Booker is going to start his food stamp experiment. I think this is awesome. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.