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Chavez Needs Cancer Surgery; North Korea Launch Window Extended; Same-Sex Marriage; SNL'S "Fiscal Cliff Compromise"; Who Is Black In America?; Senator Blasts MTV; Grace, Gold And Glory

Aired December 10, 2012 - 07:30   ET



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. A serious health setback for Hugo Chavez, the 58-year-old Venezuelan president is heading again to Cuba. He needs the third cancer operation. This time, he is letting the Venezuelans know who his successor should be if in fact he does not beat the disease.

Patrick Oppman is in Havana for us this morning. Tell me a little bit about the timetable for his surgery. Any details that we now know.

PATRICK OPPMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. We know that Hugo Chavez left Venezuela a little after 1:00 a.m. local time. And he would undergo surgery almost immediately when he arrived here in Havana. So we're awaiting word if the surgery has begun. How long it will take, those kinds of details.

These are details sometimes hard to get, Soledad, as you know because Venezuelan leader has been tight-lipped in the last year and a half as he battles cancer. But Hugo Chavez says he is literally fighting for his life.

Now he's named a successor Nicholas Monduro, his vice president, who would take up the mantel for Hugo Chavez if Hugo Chavez was not able to stay in office. Essentially he would be the successor.

But Hugo Chavez, very interesting talked about the pain that he's feeling, the physical discomfort. Really talked about how this has not gone the way he had hoped it would.

He has had a number of setbacks, but, now, Soledad, he says his life is in the hands of God and his medical team here in Cuba.

O'BRIEN: He would be right. Patrick Oppman for us this morning. In the hands of God and the medical team. Thank you for the update. Let's get right to John Berman, other stories making news. Good morning.

JOHN BERMAN, ANCHOR, CNN' "EARLY START": Good morning, Soledad. We're going to stay overseas. The North Koreans are holding off launching a long-range rocket for now, but extending a launch window over technical problems. Earlier this month, the North Korean government announced a 13-day window for a possible launch. That window opened today. It is now a 20-day window that closes December 29th according to state run news. North Korea claims it's a peaceful bid to advance their space program. But as you can imagine the U.S. used it as something more sinister and is threatening sanctions if the launch takes place.

A busy Sunday at Seattle's City Hall, where 133 same-sex couples tied the knot in the day gay marriage went into effect in Washington State. The first same-sex couples to get married in Washington made it official at 12:04 Sunday morning, not waiting.

The couples were married Sunday in Seattle were among the first to pick up marriage licenses last Thursday. There was a mandatory three- day waiting period before they could actually tie the knot.

"Saturday Night Live" tackling the fiscal cliff. President Obama with a message to Republicans quit bullying Boehner.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, simply put, I felt sorry for this man. Earlier this week, I found my way into the congressional cafeteria. What do I see? John Boehner sitting by himself, all alone. Not a single member of his party willing to share his company. He didn't even have any milk to drink because -- well, tell them why, John.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They had taken my milk and thrown it in the garbage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They took it and threw it in the garbage.


BERMAN: That's Jay Ferrell as President Obama. He has become so good at this. Candy Crowley actually thought that was President Obama's voice.

O'BRIEN: I thought so too. He sound -- he's gotten so much better at his delivery. He's gone terrific. That was funny.

Let's talk a little bit about our documentary that aired last night. It was the fifth instalment of CNN's "Black in America" series. We asked the question who is black in America?

The question unravels the complicated, very densely packed issue of racial identity in this country. Here is a little clip.


O'BRIEN: You must have been told, well, you're not really black like 100 million zillion times.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, I love that conversation.

O'BRIEN: You do? You love that conversation. Why? I hate that conversation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is fascinating to me. It is fascinating.

O'BRIEN: So what do you check when you have to fill out a form like a census?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I say black now, but as long as I check other. I never checked white. I'm not white. America lets you know real fast you're not white.

O'BRIEN: Why do so many black people, me included, embrace the one- drop rule when it literally has its roots in terrible things?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the one-drop rule, in as much as it was oppressive, protected us, gave us an identity.


O'BRIEN: Joining us to continue this conversation three of the subjects in the documentary, Mikaela Angela Davis is the former editor of "Essence" magazine, Perry "Vision" Divirgilio, a poet and teacher, and Professor Yaba Blay is the artistic director of the One Drop Project and she was a consulting producer on our documentary.

It's nice to have you all with us. So why do you think this touches such a nerve? I mean, all you do is sit for a minute on my Twitter feed timeline, and realize like people were angry, freaked out, emotional about this. Why?

YABA BLAY, CONSULTING PRODUCER, "BLACK IN AMERICA": It touches on our lived experience. I think, you know, I don't know that I'm biased, but I think of all of the black in America iterations, that this is one that everyone can relate to, whether it's them personally, as a mother, father, grandmother.

All of the feedback I was getting online, always included a personal testimony, how this reminds me of my grandmother, this reminds me of this, I have a story, and I think it's one of those things that people tap into on a personal level, and it's -- there is an emotion there.

O'BRIEN: The documentary focused on two young poets in your class. You mentor both of them. How unusual were their story? They grapple with racial identity. You picked two people who were the dysfunctional ones. Is that -- is that the case or do you think their quest typical?

PERRY "VISION" DIVIRGILIO, POET AND MENTOR: I don't think it's dysfunctional. I think what they are doing is very normal for teenagers just brave enough to throw it out there, let the world know this is who I am, how I feel. You heard these lot during workshops. You know, folks look at that's a young black man or young black woman, were checking other, were not wanting to identify with race at all. I'm a man, woman, I'm human.

O'BRIEN: Many people actually also, I mean, on Twitter, who knows who many is. Listen, kumbaya real progress would be when we don't have to talk about race it all. We're just Americans.

MICHAELA ANGELA DAVIS, FORMER EDITOR, "ESSENCE MAGAZINE": Acting like it doesn't exist doesn't heal and this incredibly emotional response as Yaba said. America as a family this is our taboo issue. This brings up so much -- triggers a lot of black girl pain.

It triggers a lot of secrets and bias. It triggers emotional things in life. Any family -- when we go into our history and say this horrible thing created this characteristics, people don't like to look at it. This is the road to healing. The only way we'll feel hole, we talk about where we're fractured.

O'BRIEN: So John Berman is our token white man on the panel this morning, John Berman, in all seriousness.

BERMAN: I am white, all seriousness.

O'BRIEN: This conversation, was it one that you were ever aware of?

BERMAN: I was just thinking what makes this so interesting, the minute you put a question mark on it, you know, who is black in America or what is black in America, it makes everyone ask a question of themselves.

And the question I ask myself, fundamentally different I am sure than the question that you guys are asking yourself and no, I don't think I know what color is when you ask about that. A lot I don't know and a lot of questions that you have to ask yourself.

O'BRIEN: The most painful thing for me was seeing the clip of Lashante, 7-year-old girl. It was heartbreaking as she walks with her mom. Let's see if we have that.


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I think my skin is ugly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why do you think it's ugly?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Because I don't want to be dark.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don't want to be dark?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: No, I want to be light skinned.


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Because light skinned is pretty.


O'BRIEN: That's brutal, just brutal.

BLAY: Every time I see that clip, I tear up.

O'BRIEN: I know, I was watching your face while you watched it. BLAY: I was that little girl. I was Lashante. I may not have put words to it, but you are very aware who is privileged who is seen as beautiful, which little girls are on TV with the curls in her hair. She knows from a lived experience that's not her.

But later in the clip, Lashante says to her mother that I want to be light like you and if you look at her mother, her mother is not light skinned, but the pain of being dark skinned, you will take an incremental step lighter and think that will improve your life.

O'BRIEN: What is the solution? One of the things I am disappointed in this documentary, we didn't have time and it's not our job, I think we don't lay out solutions. What are the fixes?

DAVIS: Having this conversation, this is the solution. It's not that it's done after this, but the fact that that little girl so matter of factually articulated it. When I was her age, I wanted to be dark skinned. I didn't say that to anyone. I used to dream about it.

Like if I could wake up and look like that chocolate girl with that hair that looks like patent leather. That was what was beautiful in my neighborhood, but we didn't talk about it. So this is the -- Soledad, are you in the solution. We're in it right now.

O'BRIEN: You make me feel better. That clip, that's tough. This is going to be a project for you. You are turning this into a book full of memoirs, called the "One-Drop Project." When that book comes out, we'd like to have you come back to talk about it.

DAVIS: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: I'm booking you now. And a poet in Philadelphia, nice to have up Michaela Angela Davis, always nice to have you with us, we appreciate it. Thanks, guys, and thanks for the year of work on the doc.

All right, "Who Is Black in America," is going to re-air, if you missed it, will re-air on Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN.

Ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, a new MTV show sparking lots of controversy, about teenagers in West Virginia, the state's governor is fired up about it, and not in a good way. We'll talk about that.

And Gabrielle Douglas won hearts of America with her incredible gold medeal performance at the London Olympics. Rio 2016? We'll talk to live, got a new book out. We're going to ask about that too. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back. MTV is under fire for a show that it has selected to replace "Jersey Shore" first episode has not even aired yet. It's called "Buck Wild." So I don't feel that the former governor of West Virginia is going out on a limb when he's concerned about what's going to be on it. He's already written a letter to MTV demanding that the network cancel it. The reality show based in West Virginia, the senator's home and writes this. "Instead of showcasing the beauty of our state, you preyed on young people, coaxed them into shameful behavior, and now are you profiting from it. That is just wrong."

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, MTV is under fire should be one button on the computer. Look, when they come and they come to your -- I think, look, he's exactly right. In all likelihood about what this is going to be like.

O'BRIEN: It's terrible, it's raucous, raunchy, the senator hates it.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Look at it, it's "Jersey Shore" for West Virginia. Chris Christie famously spoke out about rescinding the Snooki tax break. But if you go to folks in New Jersey on the shore and ask them, has this really hurt your local economy? They say no. You talk to the bar owners down in Seaside, New Jersey. They love the new business they have gotten.

REPRESENTATIVE JOSEPH CROWLEY (D), NEW YORK: I think there is some aspect about that this is very true. Joe Manchin, you represent the state of West Virginia this is not the image you want. I understand it. The lack of creativity on TV.

BERMAN: Coaxing them into the behavior. Are you really doing a reality show or creating the reality that are you then filming in all of these shows?

CROWLEY: It goes back to the John Denver song, "Take Me Home Country Roads." maybe West Virginia isn't all that. That song wasn't about West Virginia, it was about Virginia.

HOOVER: Early criticism helped shape the way the show ends up going.

BERMAN: Happy ending, "Buck Wild?"

O'BRIEN: First of all, if they are calling it "Buck Wild," it will be bad for state of West Virginia.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, instead of winning an Olympic gold medal, gymnast, Gabby Douglas was almost a server at Chick-Fil-A. Why she almost quit and who convinced her to stay the course. We'll talk to her in a moment.


O'BRIEN: In the London Olympics this summer, Gabrielle Douglas made history. She became the first American gymnast to win a team and an individual gold medal in the same Olympics. Gabby has written about a book about her incredible journey to the Olympic podium. It's called "Grace, Gold, And Glory."

Gabrielle Douglas is with us. It's nice to have you, such a pleasure. In the run up to the Olympics, we saw the profiles of all the Olympians, then in the book I read there was a point where you were about to quit and go work at Chick-Fil-A close to the Olympics. What happened and why did you decide not to quit?

GABRIELLE DOUGLAS, AUTHOR, "GRACE, GOLD AND GLORY": Yes, I wanted to quit right before the Olympic games, and I wanted to work at Chick- Fil-A and go into other sports like track and field. I was very home sick.

My family came to Iowa to celebrate Christmas with me, and before I know it was all said and done. It went by so fast. They were ready to pack up and go to Virginia, and I wanted to go with them all because I was very home sick and wanted to go home because I missed it so bad.

O'BRIEN: You were living with a host family. That's why your family would occasionally come in. Your coach was in Iowa, and your host family lived there, and they took you in with other little kids. Your brother talked you out of going to a career at Chick-Fil-A and focusing in on your Olympic dreams instead. What did he say to you?

DOUGLAS: He was the one that talked to me. We relate because we're so close in age. We've always been two peas in a pod ever since we were little. He told me to keep going and push yourself and put your body on the line. He's an athlete too. So we can relate to each other.

O'BRIEN: I love your book.

DOUGLAS: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: It's not that much about gymnastics really. But it's a lot about your mom and her faith and how that got you through. Your family was homeless. You've had very tough financial times. You've been through a lot. What do you think has been the thing that's gotten you through ultimately?

DOUGLAS: I think the thing that's gotten me through was my mom. She's a fighter. She sacrificed pretty much everything for me to accomplish my dreams. She's always been there for me. My faith plays a big role in my life. It helps me overcome obstacles.

O'BRIEN: You tweet about it a lot.

DOUGLAS: I tweet about it a lot. I don't know where I'd be without it today.

O'BRIEN: You talk about bullying at a gym called Excalibur. Am I getting the name wrong? I think that one. And you said there's kids who said 'Gabby's our slave' and other sort of racial comments, I guess I would say. And people say, you never talked about them before.

Why are you complaining about them now? Do you feel like you're under the microscope now, or do you feel -- how does it feel to be? You got your gold medals. You're world famous. You can't go anywhere with everyone like this on you. You're 16, 17 years old.

DOUGLAS: Yes, almost 17. I mean, if I learned something, I'm going to share it. It's part of me just telling my story and relating to other girls, just relating to -- about the dad and about my experience being homeless, our financial problems.

I feel like I need to share it with everyone so I can kind of relate and just to speak up if you're being bullied and if you feel that way. No one likes to be made fun of or joked about.

If you feel like that way, then you need to speak up. You don't take it too far because you want to speak up and you want to tell an adult and know that they know best for you.

BROWNSTEIN: What's the level of -- give us a sense of the level of commitment the year before the Olympics, the last year. How many days a week, how many hours a day are you practicing?

DOUGLAS: I was practicing about four hours Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and 5-1/2 Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday.

O'BRIEN: Wow, slacker.

CROWLEY: What's your regimen like now? What do you do in terms of working out?

DOUGLAS: Not the gymnastics side of working out. I've been traveling and doing media and appearances. I've been working out and keeping myself in shape.

HOOVER: Can you tell me one thing? During the Olympics, you had such incredible performances, and there was a point in the Olympics where you actually got criticism for your appearance rather than your performances. How did that make you feel?

DOUGLAS: Well, I didn't really know until after, like the all around finals, when they call Gabrielle Douglas. What's going to pop up? Gabrielle Douglas' hair, I click on it. There's a whole back and forth argument about my hair, like half bun, half ponytail. I'm going to click on something else because there's no need for me to delve in the negative.

O'BRIEN: If you listen to social media, you can really lose your mind. Trust me, I know that too. You want to be an actor when you grow up?


O'BRIEN: I'm so excited for you. When you're a star, will you come back and talk to us about your new role?

DOUGLAS: I would love that.

O'BRIEN: See that, everybody, commitment already. The book is called "Grace and Gold." She brought her gold medals to see. Can I see this one? I won't touch it.

HOOVER: You heard the oil from the hands is bad for touching it.

O'BRIEN: Buzz it look like I'm wearing it?

HOOVER: Looking good.

O'BRIEN: Gabrielle Douglas, congratulations on your new book. I'm going to give this to my daughters. I think you're a huge role model and for bringing your gold medals in and your mom, who we love.

We're going to take a break and talk about the meeting between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner. Finally, they get face to face to talk about the fiscal cliff. What they're saying after the unscheduled meeting at the White House.

And the divas back this weekend on VH-1. Adam Lambert is hosting. We'll be joined by Mr. Lambert straight ahead. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. Our STARTING POINT this morning, meeting face to face. Finally, President Obama goes behind closed doors with the House Speaker John Boehner. They are trying to hush out a deal before we go over the fiscal cliff, can they come to an agreement?