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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Fiscal Cliff Looming at Year's End; U.S. Sending Patriot Missile Batteries to Turkey; JFK Security Threatens Holiday Strike; Was Basketball Blowout Unfair?

Aired December 14, 2012 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Our STARTING POINT this morning: down to the wire. The president and the speaker of the House met for just under an hour, but still no deal on the fiscal cliff, as Congress goes on vacation today. Any chance we'll have an agreement before the year ends?

Plus, the unbelievable score of a high school basketball game, it was 107-2. Was it a lesson in bad sportsmanship? We'll hear from the losing coach and the players, straight ahead.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Is there a way to get the jobless rate down to 6.5 percent? A look at the Federal Reserve's goal and what it will take to us get there.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Sending help but not all in. The U.S. sending Patriot missile batteries and 400 U.S. troops to Turkey to guard against Syria. Is this just a first step in a much bigger involvement?

O'BRIEN: And I sat down with the actor Aidan Quinn to talk about his new movie. It's called "Allegiance."

It's Friday, December 14, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

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O'BRIEN: Welcome, everybody. Our team this morning: Sebastian Junger sticking around with us all morning. He's the filmmaker, of course, and the author of new e-book called "A World Made of Blood". We're going to talk about that book in just a moment.

Will Cain is a CNN contributor, columnist for TheBlaze.com. Richard Socarides is the former advisor to President Bill Clinton, a writer for newworker.com. Everyone is wearing dark this morning.

"EARLY START" co-anchor John Berman dressed similarly.

BERMAN: I had the pastel. I had the bright pink, but sorry.

SEBASTIAN JUNGER, FILMMAKER: Stuck with navy.

O'BRIEN: The safe choice, navy.

Our STARTING POINT this morning: America inching closer to the fiscal cliff, 18 days we go over. That means triggering massive tax hikes and spending cuts all at the same time. The House of Representatives set to go home for the holidays today.

And yesterday, the president and Speaker Boehner met for 50 minutes and then released a statement that didn't say a whole heck of a lot, but both called the discussion "frank" and said the lines of communication remain open.

Our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash is in Washington, D.C. this morning. So, people are getting the warning, right? Forget your Christmas plans, you know, you're probably not going to be enjoying Christmas this year?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, they sure are. Nobody thinks that they're going home for Christmas, or if they do, maybe for a day and come back to Washington.

Look, I've been talking to sources in both parties this morning, Soledad, about that meeting yesterday with the president, and the speaker, which did not go very long, 50 minutes, and did not go all that well. And that what we need are new ideas, new proposals and coming together on a potential compromise. And I'm told by both parties they really restated their positions.

What seems to be going on is that frankly I think both sides are trying to run out the clock. The Republicans, they know that the Democrats have leverage and the speaker is just kind of waiting potentially to the last minute so he can say, I did my best, we're going to have to raise more revenue.

And on the flipside, the Democrats, the president knows he has leverage and he's running out the clock because it's win/win for him. If, at the end of the day, the Republicans cave on tax rates -- great. If not, and God forbid we go over the cliff, he knows all the polling shows Republicans will take the blame.

O'BRIEN: Yes. But one would hope we'd move away from polling and move towards sort of a big fix --

BASH: One would hope.

O'BRIEN: -- for the benefit of the American people as a whole.

I know that you've had a chance to talk to two former senate majority leaders each on the other side of the aisle. What do they told you?

BASH: That's right. Senators Lott and Daschle, who served opposite one another for six years about 10 years and they worked on many, many issues together, and they still think that it is possible to get a deal, it just has to do with the timing.

Listen to what they said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRENT LOTT (R-MS), FORMER SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: I still am convinced and hopeful at least that they're going to come to an agreement. There is an argument that you don't want to make it too early because that gives people that may not be too happy with it more time to undermine it, and so, the tempo and the timing is important.

TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), FORMER SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: I've heard people say in the last couple of days, Republicans and Democrats, said the time has come for us to put our country ahead of our party. And that's really what it's going to take, putting the country ahead of the party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Exactly what you were just saying, Soledad, the key difference between now and then, about a decade ago, is both parties, members of Congress of both parties are very concerned not just about general voters, but about getting primary from within their own party and that is why it is so much more difficult to get a deal.

O'BRIEN: Dana Bash for us this morning -- Dana, thanks very much.

No surprise that lots of people have been giving the president some advice. Dan Glickman is one. He's a former congressman. He's now a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center, served as Secretary of Agriculture under Bill Clinton. And he writes this in "The Huffington Post." I'm going to read a little bit of it, sir.

You say, "I have a humble suggestion for the president in order to break the logjam and give this debate a noble and unifying context next week. The president should schedule an address before a joint session a Congress so he can articulate to Congress and the American people what he with do better than most, and provide us with a teachable moment by asking us the all-important question: are we still a nation sacrificing a little -- excuse me -- for the greater good?"

Why do you think a presentation before a joint session of Congress versus the two of them sitting in a room and continuing to try to hash out a deal is a better way to go?

DAN GLICKMAN, SENIOR FELLOW, BIPARTISAN POLICY CENTER: Well, Soledad, the issues are very big here. They have to do with the future of the country, jobs, economic security. And these issues are being debated like it's another political campaign, a question of power, who is going to win and who is going to lose.

And I don't think the American people really understand what's going on there, other than Washington seems to be at its games again like it played before the election. And so, only the president has the bully pulpit.

While I generally agree with the concepts that he's put forward, substantively, I do think he is the only person who can talk to the American people, paint a picture, create a narrative why we're going through all this. And that is totally absent from this discussion. Most Americans think it's a tribal battle in Washington not affecting their lives in any way.

O'BRIEN: But painting a picture and you even point out in what you wrote on "Huff Post", the specifics are less important than sort of the big picture rationale. And I think one of the big points of contention in all this is lack of specifics, right? Like what actually programs, what are we actually thinking about cutting, exactly what will the tax rate be, things like that? I think people would argue that specifics -- lack of specifics has been a big problem in this debate.

GLICKMAN: Well, that's a question of leadership, and both the president and the Congress have to come up with those specifics.

But I'm reminded back in the Kennedy address, John Kennedy, ask what you can do for your country?

Somebody has to ask the American people, the wealthy and others as well, the whole society, whether they're willing to sacrifice for the good of the country and to maintain America's strength in its economy around the world. Nobody's done that yet, and I -- you know, we've seen proposals like the Simpson-Bowles proposal or the Domenici-Rivlin proposal and others that do lay out fairly, in fairly specificity the specifics. And I think we can reach agreement.

But somebody has got to ask the American people, here are the facts, here is what happens if we don't do anything, that's not good for America, for Republicans and Democrats, and has to bring the American people into the debate. So far, this has been an inside Washington debate.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, WRITER, NEWYORKER.COM: You know, -- Congressman, hi. It's Richard Socarides. And I agree with you.

I mean, I think if you -- you know, if we all think about the speech that Bill Clinton gave at the Democratic Convention, if Barack Obama could go before Congress and give that kind of a speech now I think it would really help him and the Democrats win the day in these negotiations, and I think that's the kind of thing you were suggesting, right?

GLICKMAN: It is. But I think he has to be careful not to give a partisan speech. This is a bigger speech than this. This has to do with the future of the republic.

After all, if we can't even add or subtract our deficit into some reasonable way so the American people have some predictability and fiscal sanity, nothing is going to work.

So, I think he's the only one that can articulate this to the American people, but it has to be done in a way that's not engaged in political gamesmanship.

O'BRIEN: I'm not a cynic. I mean, sometimes I am, but today not particularly. I've got to tell you -- I don't see how a speech somehow brings the American people who feel disconnected from a fiscal cliff discussion, right? What could I do? You do a very moving, let's say an amazing speech, moving, I laugh, I cry, I move, to do what?

BERMAN: These conditions are not a mystery. These are the same lines from the same people we've been hearing for 14 months. I'm not quite sure how speaking to them in front of a different group of people makes any difference.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I just --

O'BRIEN: Please do.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I'd love to throw to Dan, is this -- I'm not sure of the president's desire to do what you describe, which is to mix up the fiscal cliff and our long-term debt situation. I've seen no desire coming from the White House to deal with both issues at the same time.

GLICKMAN: Well, OK, first of all, I recognize it's maybe rather late to do a speech today. It might have been done three or four weeks ago. And, of course, you just can't -- the president just can't do a speech without getting the speaker's permission to do that kind of thing.

But, you know, if you look at the issue bigger than just what the tax rates are going to be or what the entitlement cuts are going to be, this has to do with the fiscal stability and strength of America, to be the leader in the world. These are fundamental issues. It's important as anything else we're dealing with.

Somebody has to articulate the significance of what have we're talking about to the American people so they understand it, and it has to be done in a nonpolitical, nonpartisan way.

O'BRIEN: Dan Glickman joining us. He's the former Democratic congressman and former agriculture secretary under President Clinton and senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center -- it's nice to have you with us, sir. We appreciate your time this morning.

GLICKMAN: Thank you so much.

O'BRIEN: Let's get right to John Berman for an update on other stories making news.

BERMAN: Thanks, Soledad.

We have big news this morning about Syria's ongoing civil war and a new role for the United States. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has signed an order sending two Patriot missile batteries to Turkey, along with 400 American troops to help that country defend against any possible military action by Syria.

Now, this move was expected as the rebellion in Syria destabilizes the Assad regime.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is in Beirut, monitoring this situation. And, Nick, what's the latest?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We don't know the location, John, where these U.S. troops will be deployed. But we just have heard that the German parliament, another one of the three nations expected to contribute Patriot missiles has approved their deployment, too. So, we're looking in the months, weeks ahead at seeing a variety of NATO nations contribute troops to that particular area.

As I say, the U.S. not entirely clear where they'll station there. But this does bring the world's largest military machine and U.S. troops right into that volatile area.

Let me give you the back story, about two or three months ago, there were exchanges of fire when the Syrian army was accused of shooting into Turkey, Turkish military shot back at them, troubling time, I think, people concerned that may draw Turkey into the war somehow and we saw now, of course, the request for NATO'S help being honored.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta also saying that there is a plan in place in case the Assad regime uses chemical weapons. Not clear the Patriot missiles were involved in that. They are NATO says purely there to defend Turkey -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Thanks, Nick. Nick Paton Walsh in Beirut this morning.

President Obama will meet with U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice at the White House today. Rice, of course, made that huge splash yesterday, withdrawing her name from consideration to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.

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SUSAN RICE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: I didn't want to see a confirmation process that was prolonged, very politicized, very distracting and very disruptive because, there are so many things we need to get done as a country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Rice was repeatedly criticized by Senate Republicans for statements she made about the cause of the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in September. She originally said the violence started over anger about that anti-Muslim film.

We're going to take a live look right now at a rally in Cairo in Egypt. This in support of President Mohamed Morsi. This comes ahead of tomorrow's referendum on the country's new constitution proposal. Members of the opposition say the discussion is too Islamist and infringes on minority rights, they're apparently protesting outside the presidential palace right now.

Security guards at New York's JFK airport could walk off the job next week, ouch, just in time for the holiday travel rush. They threaten to strike if they don't get better equipment and training. There are about 300 guards. They handle traffic in front of the terminals and help secure tarmac gates.

So happy holidays, travelers.

O'BRIEN: All right. Take a look at this picture of a high school basketball scoreboard -- yes, 107-2, that is not a mistake. Now, there are some calls for the winning coach, the winning coach, to be fired for allowing such a crushing loss. We're going to hear from the losing team's coach and their players -- that's coming up next.

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O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. So, we want to start this morning by showing you a scoreboard. You're not misreading it. The score of this basketball game was 107-2, the final score of a girl's high school basketball game. The Bloomington South Lady Panthers won. They defeated the Arlington High School Golden Knights.

Now, the Knights are made up of a number of young women who've never played on a varsity team before. But a lot of the buzz was that the sign was really an indication of bad sportsmanship. Team members join us this morning along with their coach, Ebony Jackson.

Nice to have you guys with us. We certainly appreciate it. So, I'm going to start with you, coach, if I can. Tell me how everybody is feeling after what not only was it a really devastating loss, everybody was talking about it. It made headlines all over the place. How are you guys feeling about that?

EBONY JACKSON, COACH, ARLINGTON H.S. GOLDEN KNIGHTS WOMENS' BASKETBALL TEAM: Well, we were, we weren't shocked the next morning, but then, again, we weren't in shock. It's a humbling experience, and at the end of the day, we're blessed because we have one another and we just go back to the grind on the basketball court the next morning.

So, it was shocking news, but we got over it and we just are back on the ground on the basketball court.

O'BRIEN: Briella, if I can ask you a question. I believe you're a freshman at Arlington. Have you played basketball before? What went wrong in the game that the score was so lopsided?

BRIELLA TOMLINSON, FRESHMAN, ARLINGTON HIGH SCHOOL: Yes. I've played basketball before and I think what went wrong was that we just -- it was a struggle because not everybody on the team has played before and this was an actual varsity game, and it was more competitive because they've played longer than most of us and they just work.

They work very hard, and we just haven't played before and it was probably really hard for all of us as a team.

O'BRIEN: So, coach, let me ask you a question. As you know, some of the fallout from this game is that people were saying there should have been a mercy rule, meaning, they should have either figured out how to, after a certain number of points, were scored played the game differently, maybe the opposing team stop shooting on you, maybe there -- called the game, stop the game, whatever. I mean, there -- you know, sort of various versions of what should have happened. And by letting the game go on so long that that was really bad sportsmanship. Do you see it that way from the opposing team?

JACKSON: No, I don't see it that way. I was asked about the mercy rule and I do not believe in the mercy rule. I just believe in character, and this is the game of basketball. And I believe that all rules and regulations should stay the same, but I believe that this is a time for the opposing team or ourselves, whichever way the game is going if it's a lopsided score like it was that you work on your crap.

The team works on something that they've never worked on before, and therefore, that will milk time off the clock, eventually, and you won't have to go through the nurturing phase as I have been with my girls, but nonetheless, it's been a blessing.

SOCARIDES: So, I have a question. Who scored the two points that you got?

(CROSSTALK)

JACKSON: Right here. Free-throws. Free-throws.

SOCARIDES: So, that's your hero.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: And you built from there.

JACKSON: Yes. That was it.

O'BRIEN: You guys have lost 23 games. You've really had a tough time, and I know the school was taken over because of some academic issues. And so, now, there's a level. Everybody has to have a "C" grade point average on the team or they're not allowed to play, and it's been a real challenge for you.

What happens as you move forward -- Mike Epps, the actor, came in, gave a talk to the team and really said listen, you know, there's a lot of growth that can be had basically in losing, right? When you lose, you can come back from that in a big way. What's the strategy, coach, now and how are you bringing your girls along, your young ladies along for the next games?

JACKSON: Well, ever since the game had ended and all this has come about, our minds have not changed. They are the same as if this was the first game of the season. Just staying humble, working hard, continuous effort every single day and keeping a smile on our face and basically still getting after it in the classroom first.

And we just haven't changed who we are and how we do things, and I just tell my girls every single day, it's about getting better, growing relationships, and building our character at the end of the day. So, we haven't changed anything. O'BRIEN: I think that's true. I completely support that, and yes, in the classroom first and foremost, and then on the basketball court after that. Coach Ebony Jackson joining us. Briella Tomlinson and her teammates joining us as well from the Arlington High School Golden Knights women's basketball team. Thank you for being with us.

I had a chance to tour their school. They have a great school, and they're really doing a great restart focused on academics. So, we really cheer them.

CAIN: They have an opportunity to learn, I think, one of the life's greatest lessons is, you're not going to avoid failure. You're not going to avoid adversity. It's actually what happens after that. So, here you go. Here's your opportunity.

O'BRIEN: Love that. You put that so well, Will Cain.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: We got to take a short break.

Still ahead, is there a way to get the unemployment rate down to five percent? We'll take look at what the Federal Reserve is trying to do to get there. That's straight ahead.

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ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome back to STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans, watching your money this morning.

U.S. stock futures are up slightly but worries about the fiscal cliff persist. The S&P 500 snapped a six-day winning streak despite some modestly upbeat economic data on jobless claims and retail sales. But you know what, the S&P is still up almost 13 percent this year, starting to be some worries go over the fiscal cliff you'll undo some of those gains.

All right. Federal Reserve Chief Ben Bernanke, the man who popularized that term "fiscal cliff," says the Fed stimulus will continue until the jobless rate falls to 6.5 percent. That is a full percentage point below where we are right now. So, how do you get there? To get there in one year, one economist told CNNMoney, we need to create 270,000 jobs per month.

To get there in two years, we need 200,000 jobs per month. The growth right now about 150,000 a month. So, growth at that rate is unlikely. It could mean at this rate it could take until 2018 to reach 6.5 percent unemployment. Here's the math from the Brookings Institution, if hiring stays like it is right now, the jobless rate won't turn to a pre-recession five percent until the year 2025.

O'BRIEN: And Bernanke is saying that they will keep the rate at that level until then.

ROMANS: They're going to keep flooding the market. They're going to keep interest rates low and they're going to keep stimulating until we get back to 6.5 percent. So, that means the Fed is going to keep propping things up as long as they can. Long time.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, reminding people of the Trayvon Martin case. Remember this, the 17-year-old who was shot to death in Florida? A man said that, apparently, the music in the car, the boys were riding, was to loud and there's a chance that the fact the shooter could use the controversial "stand your ground" law as his defense.

We're going to talk to the parents of the young man who was shot and killed. Jordan Davis' parents will be joining us to talk about that case coming up.

And then this young man, a wounded warrior. Was he mistreated on a recent Delta flight? We'll tell you what witnesses say happened to him. He's a U.S. veteran that has them outraged. That's straight ahead as well.

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