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U.S.-Russian Tensions Over Death of Adopted Boy; Interview with Erskine Bowles; Wreck your Car, Pay a Tax; The Boyfriend of "Girls"

Aired February 20, 2013 - 08:30   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: That angle would be evidence that disputes his version. The reason it matters is the fact he didn't have his prosthetic legs on gives an atmosphere of fear. He felt afraid; he felt very vulnerable. It's why he grabbed his gun. It's why he sort of made his way the best he could to the bathroom. It really changes the story if, in fact, they can prove --

MICKEY SHERMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: But you're relying on CSI: Johannesburg here.

O'BRIEN: And they seem to have made some big errors that we can see so far.

SHERMAN: And they admit they don't have a lot of information.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: This is the beginning. This is a bail hearing, so this isn't the trial. This isn't a long careful plotting out of what happened, that he said she did. This is the very early days of the investigation and we're getting all little pieces of it, some of it contradictory, all at once as they decide whether he should be allowed to come home while he waits for trial.

SHERMAN: But they're going to be stuck with this testimony when the trial comes up. That's why this is so important.

ROMANS: Would this happen in the U.S.? Would so much information flying around so early?

SHERMAN: No, except for Florida, where everything maybe is --


O'BRIEN: Also, our other top story we're following for you this morning is the Russia's children's rights commissioner. He's now calling for a ban on international adoptions following the death of that 3-year-old boy, adopted Russian boy. The death took place in Texas. Investigators now in West Texas are calling the death of Max Shatto "suspicious."

And Russia's demanding the return of Max's younger brother Kuriel (ph), who was also Russian was adopted to Texas with the same family.

CNN foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott is live for us in Washington, D.C. State Department officials really have a lot that they're dealing with on this front this morning, don't they? ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Soledad, they do. They maintain that they tried to help facilitate meeting between Russian diplomats and authorities in Texas, but they're in a tight spot. Because this is yet another case of a Russian child adopted in the U.S. that they have to explain, and even as they try to get these 500 pending adoptions through the system in the face of this Russian law banning U.S. adoptions.

And Soledad, I don't think the State Department is really of one mind here, because some officials feel the Russians have rushed to judgment, making wild, irresponsible allegations that this boy was murdered. Others are saying, look, we see their point. You have 20 Russian children now who have died under suspicious circumstances with American families and, while that's a small percentage of the overall adoptions in the U.S., it's unacceptable.

O'BRIEN: Elise Labott, updating us on that story this morning. Thanks, Elise. Appreciate it.

Other stories making news, John's got that for us.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": Thanks, Soeldad. First news about the Pope just in to CNN. A spokesperson for the Vatican says Pope Benedict is considering issuing a decree that would move up the date of the conclave. That's where cardinals from around the world meet to choose the Pope's successor. Current church rules call for the conclave to start around March 15th but this decree could speed up the process. The rules in place deal with what happens when a Pope dies. Obviously, a Pope not dying in this case; that's why things could happen much, much faster.

Back here in the U.S., Senator John McCain getting an earful at a town hall meeting near Phoenix.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: This is an Orwellian experience. I've had enough, sir. You've had enough. You've had enough time. You've had enough time, pal. You've had enough time.



BERMAN: McCain was talking about his illegal immigration bill, and some people in his home state are not happy at all with it. Things got heated when some residents called for strict deportation programs, which McCain opposes.

McCain is one of eight senators from both parties working on an immigration plan. He says the White House has promised to cooperate. McCain also an expert at town meetings, never a good idea to try to cross him there.

New York City residents with pistol permits can now request their identities be removed from public records under the city's new gun control law. Handgun owners can fill out a form on the state police Web site. All they have to do is explain why they don't want their personal information kept private and cops say, in most cases, the request will be granted.

An update on the story we brought you Monday about the homeless man who returned an engagement ring that a Missouri woman accidentally put in his cup. He will be getting a big reward. A "Give Forward" Web page set up by Sarah Darling's family has raised more than $14,000 now for Billy Ray Harris. $10,000 of it since she appeared right here on STARTING POINT to tell us the amazing story. That number will likely keep climbing. The fund-raiser does not end until May 15th.

That's some wonderful news.

O'BRIEN: That's such great news. They sent me a note that, right after they did the interview with us, that the amount of money in that fund doubled and so it's been climbing ever since.

SHERMAN: Well, how much did that lady in the bus case get?


O'BRIEN: More. I think it actually ended up being more than $600,000.

SHERMAN: I think she bought a state.


O'BRIEN: I don't know about that, but certainly it ended up giving her some money that she can do whatever she wants with now.

All right, we're just about eight days away from $85 billion and across the board forced spending cuts taking place. And with Congress in recess, no solution in sight, some familiar figures are stepping in and offering their own plans. Yesterday Democratic businessman Erskine Bowles and the former Wyoming Republican Senator Alan Simpson unveiled an updated version of their budget plan from 2010 that eventually failed. And even before the forum began, protesters were voicing their outrage.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm really sorry, sir. You're going to need (INAUDIBLE).


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) tax refunds, can you tell us that?


O'BRIEN: So it kind of started off a little bit messily as Erskine Bowles joins us. He's the co-founder of the Campaign to Fix the Debt. It's nice to have you with us sir.

So what was going through your mind when the protesters, before you got underway, were already arguing about it? Did it make you feel like really dealing with this issue is going to be tougher than it has been, which has been very, very, very tough?

ERSKINE BOWLES, CO-FOUNDER, CAMPAIGN TO FIX THE DEBT: No. We know it's going to be tough. Look, the problems are real. The solutions are all painful. There's no easy way out and we've got to make sure that we're sensitive to the needs of all Americans. We've got to do this in the right way and that's what we tried to put forward is a balanced plan. Luckily, we got a chance to explain it to those people and I think they understand better now.

O'BRIEN: Why don't you walk us through it now. We know that this sort of version 2.0, as we can call it, is a total of $2.4 trillion from the deficit. Walk me through some of the provisions of it. We have it up on the screen as well.

BOWLES: Yes, it's $2.4 trillion of deficit reduction, that's in step one. A quarter of that comes from fundamental reform of the tax code, rolling the base (ph), just simplify the code and make us more globally competitive and hopefully therefore to create jobs and growth.

Secondly, a quarter comes from reforming our health care policies in the U.S. so that we can slow the rate of growth of health care to the rate of growth of the economy. And then a quarter comes from cuts into various domestic discretionary budget, plus the other mandatory part of the budget. And lastly, we do go to more accurate gauge of inflation, the changed (ph) CPI, and we have some interest savings as a result of this.

All of that combined together reduces the debt down below 70 percent of GDP and the good news is it keeps it on a downward path so it puts our fiscal house in order. It means my generation won't be the first generation of Americans to leave this country worse off than we found it.

O'BRIEN: Let's focus for a moment on that $600 billion in new tax revenue. Here's what John Boehner said in an op-ed that he wrote for "The Wall Street Journal." He said, "The president got his higher taxes, $60 billion from higher earners, with no spending cuts at the end of 2012. He also got higher taxes via Obamacare. Meanwhile, no one should be talking about raising taxes when the government is paying people to play videogames, giving folks free cellphones, and buying $47,000 cigarette-smoking machines."

So it doesn't sound to me that he's going to support and embrace that part one, $60 billion in new tax revenue.

BOWLES: Soledad, to get this done, we're going to have to -- this was clear at the end of last year -- we're going to have to push both sides out of their comfort zone. The Republicans are going to have to accept more revenue; the Democrats are going to have to accept more cuts in our health care spending. That's the only way we can reach a compromise that really makes sense and solves our long-term deficit problem.

If you look at the fundamental changes we want to make in the tax code, we have about $1.2 trillion worth of back door spending in the tax code every year. That's why we only net about $1.2 trillion in total income taxes coming into the country from individuals and corporations. What we want to do is to wipe as many of those out as possible, and to use the vast majority of them to reduce income tax rates but to use about $500 billion more to reduce the deficit.

If you think about it, you know, if we've got $1.2 trillion worth of annual spending in the tax code of these tax expenditures, over ten years that will add up when you add in inflation to $13 - $14 trillion and we only want to use $50 billion of it to reduce the deficit, that's a very good trade for people to make. That's a smart thing to do to put our fiscal house in order.

O'BRIEN: But as you mentioned, the Democrats are going to be out of their comfort zone when it comes to health care cuts, and you're mentioning specifically cuts to Social Security as well. You know, some people have described that as the third rail, that anybody who does that can expect to pay for it later down the line in any kind of re-election campaign.

BOWLES: Yes, I don't question the fact that it's politically difficult. But all we're doing is making Social Security sustainably solvent so it will actually be there for the people that need it. We do things in our plan like increase the minimum payment to 125 percent of poverty; we give people between 81 and 86 a 1 percent per year annual bump up so that -- because, you know, that's when most private pension plans run out. But again, we've got to make some of the changes that we propose if in fact it's going to survive.

Let me give you one example, just show you how small the changes are. We recommend changing the retirement age one year 40 years from now, and one more year, 65 years from now. And we even take a portion of the people, about 20 percent of the people who still have these back- breaking jobs, and we give them a hardship provision that allows them to still get Social Security at 62.

By doing things like that, we can make Social Security sustainably solvent, but if we don't make those kind of small changes, we'll never get there and it will go broke, at least by 2031.

O'BRIEN: And by the way, eight days away from these massive spending cuts hitting. Erskine Bowles is a co-founder of the Campaign to Fix the Debt, and also the co-chair of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. It's nice to have you with us this morning. We appreciate your time.

BOWLES: Thank you so much.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, fender benders never good, but there's one town where they're going to be especially costly. We'll explain why straight ahead. And then he's one of many men on the show "Girls". Alex Karpovsky, who plays Ray, will join us live. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. So just when you thought the government had run out of things to tax, Missouri City, Texas, which is a Houston suburb, which has a very big budget problem, has decided to start charging a crash tax. Next month, drivers will pay up to $2,000 for road service, depending on how bad their wreck is, even if they don't call for help because of course in crash, they then send the tow truck to clear off the road to keep the traffic going.

BERMAN: I don't know, I feel like if there is a state or city expenditure there, they may have something going there. It's an awful big burden on somebody who's just been in an accident. We got in a family car accident when I was 6 in Vermont, we hit a guardrail, and I remember my father having to pay for the guardrail that was sort of dented.

ROMANS: Oh really?


O'BRIEN: That just seems a little expensive and maybe not his fault.

JOSH BARRO, BLOOMBERG VIEW: Is $2,000 really the cost of this thing though? I mean, often you see these local governments, they say, "Oh, we're going to impose a fee," but really it's a back door tax to raise revenue. They charge a fee that's vastly in excess of the actual --

O'BRIEN: I like your cynicism and skepticism about the government on this.

SHERMAN: I thought they're there to serve and protect us, not to charge us.

O'BRIEN: Yes, but you know, the truth is a small government, a small town or city government, that's a huge burden on them, I would imagine.

ROMANS: Municipalities are really still feeling the pinch and they have a lot -- they have to triage which services they can give and which services can't and how even when you have people in Washington talking about how they're not going to raise your taxes, your taxes are going up all over the country because in the state and local levels, they're raising fees for going to the park, going to the pool, having a car crash, everything, because they don't have any money.

O'BRIEN: Interesting. See how it turns out for them to watch that.

All right still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, he is a man on the hit show "Girls". He's also an accomplished filmmaker with two movies come out this week. Alex Karpovsky known to fans as Ray, he's going to talk with us up next. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: The title of the hit HBO show might be "Girls" but now the boys are getting some attention, Alex Karpovsky plays Ray, who is having some relationship problems with one of the girls in the show, take a look.


ALEX KARPOVSKY, ACTOR: It's hard to tell someone so young that things don't always end up the way you thought they'd be. Maybe it's weird that I'm dating someone so young.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think it's weird, young girls are great. Young girls and older ladies. It's the in betweens that are the problem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right, exactly. Yes women under 18 and over 40 are the best relationships. For the young ones they can still maintain enough insecurity to be vulnerable which is attractive and the older ones they don't you know they don't have these (EXPLETIVE DELETED) expectations of what a relationship needs to be.


O'BRIEN: Oh Alex Karpovsky joins us this morning. Nice to have you with us.

KARPOVSKY: Thanks for having me.

O'BRIEN: I can't decide if I think Ray is interesting and deep and thoughtful or if he's like gross and disgusting in some ways.


O'BRIEN: Because sometimes he really is. What do you think?

KARPOVSKY: Yes, I can't decide either. He tries to walk this line, he keep himself a mysterious man. Yes he tried -- he's a little bit older than most of the characters on the show and it's still because of that he feels some sort of strange obligation to give them advice.

O'BRIEN: Even if it's like screwed up, weird, terrible advice sometimes.

KARPOVSKY: It's very perverse, it's very twisted and sometimes it's completely bankrupt but he tries nonetheless.

O'BRIEN: Did you believe when you were part of the pilot that this thing was going to be a big hit?

KARPOVSKY: No. And it's not because I didn't have faith on the show. I worked with Lena on "Tiny Furniture", I know she's brilliant and so and so unique. But I thought it was just too narrow in its focus really to catch on. And that's why I thought it would be a great show because we really focus on something very specific and it's very raw and authentic. But I didn't know if that would have sort of broad appeal.

O'BRIEN: So why do you think it has caught on? Because I think a lot of people will say that it's sort of this sliver of life, of very particular young women and their friends.


O'BRIEN: And a very particular part of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Why do you think it works?

KARPOVSKY: I don't know if I really know why it works. Maybe because the show is really grounded in authenticity and I feel a lot of people can relate to the problems. Even though they do folks sort of mirror sliver I think a lot of the problems in the relationship are universal in nature and maybe people can grab onto that.

O'BRIEN: Did you audition for it? I mean what was that like?

KARPOVSKY: I didn't audition for it. Lena is a friend of mine.

O'BRIEN: You did not.

KARPOVSKY: I did not, no I worked with Lena on "Tiny Furniture" which is a movie she made before this. Myself --

O'BRIEN: Right, another terrific movie.

KARPOVSKY: Thank you. Yes, I was in that with Lena and Jemima Kirke who plays Jessa on the show and she just brought over myself and Jemima on to "Girls."

O'BRIEN: You've got two other movies that are debuting I think on Friday right at Lincoln Center which is not very far from here.

KARPOVSKY: No it's around the corner. Yes one movie is called "Rubber Neck" which is a psychological thriller and another one is called "Red Flag" which is a road comedy, and they are opening up as a double bill theatrically here on New York on Friday.

O'BRIEN: So let's talk about "Red Flag" for a moment. That's a movie about what happens in the press tours.

KARPOVSKY: Yes exactly.

O'BRIEN: So describe that for me.

KARPOVSKY: Yes so I made a movie a few years ago that's called "Woodpecker" and this organization put it on the tour of the south where you -- it's a press tour you basically show the movie, Q&As and you present then the film.

O'BRIEN: All the report, I mean for people who don't know what a press tour is right. All of the reporters come and sit down and say so tell me about your character, what was the movie like. And this is how you pitch the movie you know one after the other is how you do these press tours back-to-back-to-back-to-back. KARPOVSKY: Exactly -- exactly right. And it could be grueling as you know and it's -- you want to promote yourself and get out there but you could also lose your mind saying the same things all day and in an effort to keep it fun and maybe walk away with something creative I decided to make the movie during the press tour so "Red Flag" is basically a film, it's kind of a meta affair, a film about a guy on tour with a previous film.

O'BRIEN: I want to play a little clip and then we'll talk on the other side.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One way to maybe help that out is to replace the swear word with a normal, ordinary word, and maybe the swear words can lose their power. And then maybe later on down the road you'll have to replace that word with another word and maybe that word with another word but it might be a good way to you know help with your stress management, you know? Right?

KARPOVSKY: Yes. Cliff that is the dumbest fritata thing I've ever heard in my life.


O'BRIEN: I love the idea of this movie having been on the other side of these press tours you really seen people, I've had some actors like cry. It's hot in the room and it's back-to-back, it's exhausting.

KARPOVSKY: Yes, I mean in a sense it feels like interrogation, asking the same questions over and over all day.

O'BRIEN: And hoping of a different response that you gave to the other person.

KARPOVSKY: Until you crack but I think the way to keep it interesting is to have a slight different take and maybe make a movie while you're on the tour. That's how I kept my sanity.

O'BRIEN: Do you still do stand-up?

KARPOVSKY: No, that was a chapter from my early 20s. I dropped out of grad school to become a stand up comic which I don't recommend and I basically did a lot of sort of weird comedic performance art, Andy (inaudible) was a huge influence. And I basically ran out of jokes and then turned to movies.

O'BRIEN: How did that and then studying anthropology which you did in college -- how do that play into what you're doing today or is it just wasted time that never paid off?

KARPOVSKY: I think it's largely a waste of time but you know, one thing -- yes, right. I mean one thing they did sort of train us to do to some extent is basically examine a culture or group of people and break down their behavior or certain traits into very quantifiable and analytical parts. And I guess when I approach a character, when I try to break down a character or try to write a character I do sometimes -- it is helpful to break it down to elementary substances to recombine and make it manageable and engaging.

O'BRIEN: Friday, two movies debut at Lincoln Center here in Manhattan and of course, Alex is an actor on "Girls" as well, which now has been renewed for season three.


O'BRIEN: Nice to have you. Thanks for being with us.

KARPOVSKY: Thank you so much.

O'BRIEN: We certainly appreciate it. We have to take a break. "End Point" is up next.


O'BRIEN: Time for "End Point" this morning. Where do you want to start?

SHERMAN: With the gentleman in South Africa.

O'BRIEN: Oscar Pistorius.

SHERMAN: I don't think it's a slam dunk either way. I think by tomorrow I think they're going to give him bond, maybe attach some conditions to, maybe some travel restrictions but I think they're going to let him out.

O'BRIEN: You have been on both sides in these kinds of disputes so would you, given the choice to enter on the prosecution's side at this point or to be part of the defense team, which would you pick, seeing how things have gone?

SHERMAN: The prosecution has an easy job, they don't have a client to protect other than the community, and everything is done for them. If they make a mistake nothing bad happens to them. When you're on the defense if you screw up, somebody goes to jail for a long time. I would prefer to be on the defense philosophically.

O'BRIEN: Interesting. All right. What is your "end point" this morning?

BARRO: Well, I think, you know, the first Simpson-Bowles plan did a lot to drive the debate in Washington for a number of years. I think this new plan we're seeing out is not going to be very relevant. The key issue in Washington --

O'BRIEN: You don't think it's relevant at all?

BARRO: No. I think the key thing --

O'BRIEN: Eight days to go?

BARRO: We need smaller goals. We need something that will unwind the sequester and replace it with something less economically damaging and we need a budget for next year.

O'BRIEN: Do you think that happens in eight days?

BARRO: No but I think that retroactively it's likely that we'll do some things to undo at least part of the damage of the sequester.

O'BRIEN: Interesting.

BERMAN: Retroactively though?

BARRO: Yes, well it's not really retroactive. The sequester hits but it's not like they immediately cut government spending by "x" percent. It's a process where the military starts saying well, whatever submarines we're building we'll keep building but we'll cancel one in a few months. So there's time even after the sequester hits.

O'BRIEN: You don't think it's an eight-day cliff.

BARRO: The bigger problem is the uncertainty. We don't know what's going to happen.

O'BRIEN: That's very true.

Well, thank you guys for helping us out this morning. We certainly appreciate it.

Coming up tomorrow on STARTING POINT, Academy Award winning actress Octavia Spencer is going to join with us a preview of the Oscars. I'm a huge fan of hers, excited about that.

Connor Rabinowitz and Erin Roberts too -- she's the sister of his organ donor and then the two of them fell in love. We'll share with you their unlikely love story. That's tomorrow on STARTING POINT.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now.