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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

U.S. Military to Allow Women in Combat Roles; "Phantom" Continues Broadway Run; "The Phantom" is 25 Years Old; Nine-Year-Old Kid Fighting Hunger

Aired January 25, 2013 - 08:30   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": So as if the flu outbreak isn't enough, the CDC says a new strain of noro-virus has reached the U.S. from Australia, so thanks, Australia. According to the CDC the bug accounted for 58 percent of last month's stomach flu cases, causing nausea, forceful vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. One doctor said it's too early to say how severe or infectious it is, but he says new strains have the potential to increase disease because people haven't been exposed to it before.

So this little stunt could cost a pilot his license.

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(SCREAMING)

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BERMAN: So that happened over the weekend in Lancaster, Texas. The FAA investigating the pilot rightfully so, Jason Newberg. He said the stunt was well planned out but officials say he did not have a wafer and they think he broke the rule prohibiting pilots from putting people and proper in danger. That's crazy stuff.

Trading your stinger for a double chin. The New Orleans Hornets will be known as the New Orleans Pelicans, the tenacious defense of the New Orleans pelicans, the swarming -- the NBA team officially announcing it will change its name to the pelicans, which is the Louisiana state bird.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: I know, but why.

BERMAN: It just doesn't sound very ferocious.

O'BRIEN: Hornets sounds ferocious? You want to get hit by a hornet.

BERMAN: The screaming pelicans, fight, pelicans fight.

O'BRIEN: I like the hornets, I root for the hornets when I'm not rooting for the Knicks. I don't get it.

Let's talk about the raging debate after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted the ban on women in combat. He said that it is time to recognize the key role that women play in the modern military. Some conservatives and right-leaning media figures are against the idea. Here's what they've been saying.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we just put the cart before the horse.

HEATHER MACDONALD, MANHATTAN INSTITUTE FOR POLICY RESEARCH: Inevitably going to change unit cohesiveness because sex is inevitable. Eros is a very powerful and irrational passion.

DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The people we are likely to meet on the battlefield are people who use rape and sexual abuse.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about some of these arguments. Howie Kurtz, the host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES," Lauren Ashburn is a contributor for "The Daily Beast" and editor-in-chief for daily download. Welcome.

LAUREN ASHBURN, CONTRIBUTOR, "THE DAILY BEAST": Thank you.

O'BRIEN: What do you think? Dave Frum and I have had many talks on issues. He says rape and assault is what people face in the military and this is one of the reasons why women should not be in combat roles. What do you think of that argument?

ASHBURN: I disagree. I this I this is about equality for women. This isn't about feminism, it isn't about sexual assault and rape. This is about women being able to do the same thing that men are doing, as long as they can come up to the physical standards that men can, these are women who want to be there. It's their duty, they tell me.

O'BRIEN: The argument though as you know is not only the physical standards, and Will was leading the conversation about that.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, WRITER, NEWYORKER.COM: Leading?

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: He was leading from his position which is of the right, but there is an argument that is not the physical, that is also the sort of, you know, does it create a tenor or tone that somehow is a bigger problem? Will, lay out your position.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Lauren would grant you her premise, it is about equality for you but there's a greater goal, creating the most efficient and good fighting force that we can, and part of that is creating a cohesive unit to accomplish a singular goal. When you introduce sex into the equation you're venturing into the great unknown.

ASHBURN: Let's talk General David Petraeus who ran the war in Afghanistan. He had a lot of time for sex. Did that impact the Afghanistan war?

(CROSSTALK) SOCARIDES: I think that's an excellent point. Will, can I tell you --

CAIN: This is off topic.

SOCARIDES: Unit cohesion is one thing and military effectiveness is one thing but when you talk about sex, the two don't really equate. What you're really making is a moral and cultural argument against this. You're saying from a cultural --

CAIN: No I'm not.

SOCARIDES: It is. You're just using code words.

O'BRIEN: Howie, help me here break up this fight. The cohesion argument is an argument we hear a lot. I was talking to a guy earlier, back in 1940s the reason not to bring African-Americans in was a cohesion argument.

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": I think the counter argument, this is a decision made by the Pentagon and the defense establishment. The counter arguments I think fall short because there already are and have been for a decade women in combat just as there were gays in the military long before the policy was lifted and "don't ask, don't tell" got thrown out.

Personally I don't have any problem with this, you look at the coverage, three stories in "The New York Times" including an interview with a woman who was in combat it's how great this is and we haven't really except for the couple of clips you showed given much in the way of attention to those who are not comfortable with this decision.

ASHBURN: "Daily Download", we did a piece saying this, quoting somebody from "The National Journal" --

KURTZ: "National Review."

ASHBURN: Sorry, who had brought this up, the media will most likely spend, 75 percent or 80 percent of the media will be in favor of this, and that is the coverage that will be dominant.

O'BRIEN: But isn't that partly because it seems to me there are not a huge number of voices against it.

BERMAN: That's exactly right. One of the most interesting stories is few people on Capitol Hill, almost no one in the active military saying this is a bad idea and in some cases that's under-covered on television, where we have put a lot of people on TV saying this is an awful thing, notwithstanding Will who has the arguments that are perfectly rational, but in some cases you have to look hard to find these people who are objective.

CAIN: So Howie's point about the conversation and the debate you should check some of the assumptions from which you're operating. You qualify David Frum who as not crazy and bringing an opinion. All I'm doing is bring an element of the debate represents an extreme minority and I'm suggesting those assumptions are not true.

SOCARIDES: Did you support gays in the military?

CAIN: My opinion on gays in the military is similar to this. I am not in the military, have not served. That being said while you bring up David Petraeus I thought you were going to bring up was his opinion on this, not his personal exploits. We should take the entire military ground to leadership.

SOCARIDES: Did you support the integration of gays in the military?

CAIN: I outsourced the opinion to the military.

SOCARIDES: So you thought that was OK but this is not OK?

CAIN: You seem to be signing me a conclusion which I am not making. You understand I'm bringing --

SOCARIDES: I asked if you supported it or not.

O'BRIEN: Gays in the military, yes or no.

CAIN: If the military thinks it's advantageous to --

SOCARIDES: You're not going to say yes or no.

(CROSSTALK)

CAIN: What you're imposing on this debate does not do it a service.

SOCARIDES: You quoted Tucker Carlson the conservative --

O'BRIEN: "Feminist latest victory, the right to get your limbs blown off in war. Congratulations."

ASHBURN: As I said, it is not feminism. It is all about equality. There is a great book coming out called "Undaunted," it follows the lives of four women in combat, one who left behind a two-year-old and a four-year-old. This is a non-traditional woman who says that it is her duty, it is her calling, her family is military, and damn it, she's going to be there.

KURTZ: At the same time some women also care about looking good. It's not necessarily a polar opposite between getting into the trenches and the women.

ASHBURN: There's' great story about hairspray, the buns that the women have, have to be three inches and have to be perfect, so all of these women have to bring cans and cans of hair spray to Afghanistan. But you know it's a great book.

O'BRIEN: We have to wrap up this debate but I love when you're all fighting. Guys, nice to see you as always. Appreciate it.

Ahead this morning, 25 years and counting, the most successful show on Broadway. We're celebrating a quarter of a century of "Phantom." Stars are here to talk to us about that, we'll talk to Hugh Pabaro and Sierra Boggess, she plays Christine. Welcome.

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(SINGING)

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O'BRIEN: Oh my gosh, I love Broadway so much. "The Phantom of the Opera" is hands down the most successful show in the history of Broadway, 25 years the longest running show. Here it is the numbers, seven tony awards including best musical, 10,000 performances since it opened in 1988, seen by 15 million people grossing over $850 million. The stars of "Phantom" join to us talk about the milestone, Hugh Panaro plays the phantom and Sierra Boggess plays Christine.

HUGH PANARO, "PHANTOM," "PHANTOM OF THE OPERA": Good morning.

O'BRIEN: Revenues bigger than $5.6 billion. "Titanic" was $2.2 billion, "Avatar" $2.7 billion. What is the magic of "Phantom" that rakes in the dough basically?

SIERRA BOGGESS, "CHRISTINE," "PHANTOM OF THE OPERA": I always say the score is the first thing that I always have to talk about that Andrew Lloyd Weber wrote. It's one of the most gorgeous, lush, romantic scores written, and everyone knows it. It's amazing. People who haven't even seen a Broadway show know "The Phantom of the Opera" score.

O'BRIEN: How many times have you played the phantom?

PANARO: I've been told by what I call the people on the Internet, I don't count but I think about over 1,800.

O'BRIEN: I read now nearly 3,000 times you've played phantom.

PANARO: You know I think that is when I was younger I played Raul, the other part. So I think they've mushed me all together.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Let's go with 3,000 roughly performances of "Phantom of the Opera." Is there a point where it becomes so second nature while you're out there acting you're like, oh, I need to pick up bread on the way home or every day it feels different and engaging?

PANARO: I think the beauty of live theater you have a brand new audience every single night, and you have children who may have never seen a Broadway show before and it's their first, you know, foray into musical theater. I feel like we have almost a job to keep it fresh no matter what because we might be inspiring that future phantom or Christine.

BOGGESS: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Let's play a little bit of "Music of the Night" which is one of my favorite numbers. Let's play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PANARO: Let your soul take you where you long to be only then can you belong to me --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: OK.

BERMAN: It turns out they can sing pretty well.

O'BRIEN: Yes apparently it's amazing.

BOGGESS: I did so well.

SOCARIDES: You sounded so good.

BOGGESS: It's my best.

BERMAN: You know a lot of people love "Phantom" and congratulations on the success and also something of the show that theater snobs love to hate a little bit.

BOGGESS: What?

PANARO: Jealousy, jealous party of one, jealous party of one.

BERMAN: There you go. The best answer.

O'BRIEN: So you know when they did "Les Mis" the musical as a movie did you think oh that's so brilliant or did you think as some did, like those people can't really sing so well.

PANARO: I haven't seen it yet, have you seen it?

BOGGESS: Saw it in London. Yes I mean, I think that anytime that we can create, you know we're creating our on live theater and they're creating film it's such a different genre but if that brings what we do to more people then --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Do you think that would get people to say oh my God, I loved it in the movie theater, now I want to go see it on Broadway, does it help or does it make people feel like I've seen it.

PANARO: I think it helps. Yes.

BOGGESS: Oh no, I think it does actually because "Chicago" has had a movie as well.

O'BRIEN: Right. That was great.

BERMAN: "Phantom" had a movie.

BOGGESS: "Phantom" had a movie.

O'BRIEN: Right of course.

BOGGESS: Yes ticket sales, I mean, yes, because people want to see the original as well.

O'BRIEN: How many times, how long have you been in your role as "Christine?"

BOGGESS: Well, I haven't done 3,000 performances but I did the Vegas production which was this brand new upscale like shooshed (ph) up production in Vegas in 2006 for a year and then I did the 25th anniversary in London because "Phantom" turned 25 in London a couple of years ago.

O'BRIEN: So then do you think like you know it's time to break out "Christine", the ingenue. She's so sweet, she's so lovely, she's so naive and like your next role is Miss Hannigan, crazy over the top drinking during the show, I mean is that kind of how you map out your career?

BOGGESS: I -- I definitely don't like to pigeon hole myself in one thing. So yes, it's good to -- I've gone away and done very, very different things to "Christine" and then come back and now you know I have a whole new feeling about "Christine". Yes.

O'BRIEN: Well, congratulations.

CAIN: 25 years, $5.7 billion, 1,800 personal appearances, these are just I mean really those cannot be understated.

O'BRIEN: 10,000 performances -- it's amazing.

SOCARIDES: How much longer can it go?

PANARO: You know what, I think --

SOCARIDES: Another 25.

PANARO: Absolutely.

BOGGESS: Come on, bring it.

PANARO: We were just talking, there are people who saw the show when it opened who have brought their children and now actually are bringing their grandchildren.

O'BRIEN: It's so great.

PANARO: It's literally become like this generational rite of passage.

O'BRIEN: I love it, I love that. It's so great, I love Broadway.

PANARO: Yes.

O'BRIEN: I love New York. PANARO: We love you.

BOGGESS: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Great to have you, congratulations.

BOGGESS: Thank you so much.

PANARO: Thank you.

BOGGESS: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: We've got to take a short break. Still ahead, this morning -- he's 9 years old but he's taking on the issue of hunger, raising thousands of dollars, we'll tell you the inspirational story behind that young man, straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT everyone. John Berman here with some of today's "Top Stories".

A brand new twist in the Chandra Levy murder mystery: "The Washington Post" reports the defense attorneys want a retrial. They say prosecutors withheld important information about a witness. Ingmar Guandique, a Salvadoran who was in the U.S. illegally is serving a 60 year sentence now for the murder.

A sheriff's deputy dragged while his dishcam rolls, he was trying to handcuff a shoplifting suspect near Orlando, the guy spins around and gets back in his car and drives off, dragging the deputy with him, that is terrifying. The deputy is OK and the suspect was later found hiding in his attic, he is being held without bail right now.

Very controversial new abortion bill in New Mexico, under the bill a victim of rape or incest could be charged with a felony if she gets an abortion. The measure says that's tantamount to tampering with evidence.

Republican state lawmaker Catherine Brown sponsored this bill but she says she never meant for victims to be punished. Brown says she meant for the law to help prosecute rapists who force women to have abortions to cover their crimes. She insists the problem is with the wording used when the bill is drafted. She said she is working now to straighten this out -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, John, thank you.

A lot of people want to change the world but there's one little boy who is 9 years old and he's actually doing it. Three years ago CNN Hero Will Lorsi saw a man who is asking for food and thought that he would be able to help. And now he and his friends are tackling hunger, did I mentioned he's nine years old. They're doing it in their hometown in a really big way.

Take a look. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILL LORSI, CNN HERO FINALIST: One day when I drove home from a little league game I saw a homeless man with a cardboard sign that said "Need a meal." So I told my mom I wanted to do something.

BO SODERBERGH, BANK DIRECTOR: Will Lorsi is a nine-year-old child. I hesitate to call him child. I think he's in a category of his own. And as a seven-year-old he decided he was going to take on this issue of hunger.

LORSI: Welcome to FROGS.

My group is called FROGS and it means Friends Reaching Our Goals and our motto is "Having fun while helping others".

I want to you write what we could do for a spring project.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will's big personality does not come from me.

LORSI: Fire me up, pepper me.

SODERBERGH: I think every time you meet Will you look at him and you say, are you kidding me? But together with his buddies, they have raised over $20,000 or the equivalent of 100,000 meals for Tarrant area food bank.

LORSI: I have some friends I guess, lamb from India. And these peaches are a delight.

SODERBERGH: When you see somebody who gets so engaged and gets so much of the community engaged it's an endorsement of the battle we fight to end hunger.

LORSI: Thank you for your time and remember no matter how tall or small you are, you can make a big difference.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Got to love that kid. Nominate a hero at CNNheroes.com. Our "End Point" is up next. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Oh my gosh, the two of you are getting along --

SOCARIDES: Yes, what's happening here?

O'BRIEN: -- I'm very afraid.

Time for "End Point," eenie, meenie, minee mo, I'm going to pick Richard. What have you got?

SOCARIDES: You know, I thought the interview you did with Senator Martinez was very interesting. And he wouldn't really answer --

O'BRIEN: (INAUDIBLE) flatter me in front of everyone, you should keep doing that. Go ahead. Why? Why do you think? The rebranding?

SOCARIDES: I think he wouldn't really answer your question as to whether or not are they re-branding their old ideas the Republicans in this effort or are they going to actually change some of their ideas.

O'BRIEN: So Will Cain, let me can you that question.

CAIN: Well, I want to say that really like that necklace to start off. It's been catching my attention all morning.

O'BRIEN: Again, thank you. God, I like this.

CAIN: Re-branding the Republican Party, you played a clip of Bobby Jindal saying we cannot engage in identity politics. I take issue with that. And I think this issue we're debating this morning over women in the military, women in combat is an example. It has nothing to do with identity or quality. It has to do with a different debate. And that is about the best military, I want to have the debate there. Can we have that debate? That's the one we're actually forwarding.

O'BRIEN: OK. I think there's a ton of people who would say but it is about identity and it is about equality and maybe it also is about the best military and all those things cannot be sort of separated out in order to have a debate that you want to have on one front. It's about all of them.

CAIN: Let's do them one at a time. Let's start there.

O'BRIEN: OK. I'm willing to do that but for another day. John, go ahead. You get the last 20 seconds.

BERMAN: This is the last day before we really kick into the horrible Super Bowl brothers Jim and John Harbaugh coaching against each other the Super Bowl.

O'BRIEN: That's awesome.

BERMAN: As the parent of twin boys, let me just say, you know Cain/Abel, Romulus/Remus -- sometimes it doesn't end well.

CAIN: Who's Cain, who's Abel?

BERMAN: We'll find out.

O'BRIEN: Or in your family, Cane and Abel.

BERMAN: My boys are both perfect and they get along every minute of every day.

O'BRIEN: Sure. Still ahead -- I mean, on Monday on STARTING POINT, because it's Friday, from the winners to the losers to the fashion, we're going to have a complete recap of the SAG Awards. They take place on Sunday night. Plus the hit AMC show "The Walking Dead", David Morrissey is going to join us to talk about that.

BERMAN: Wow. O'BRIEN: And also remember the Darth Vader Volkswagen ad, sneak peek at the ads for this year's Super Bowl.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello right now. Hey Carol, good morning.