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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Vatican Prepares to Elect New Pope; Bloomberg to Fight Repeal on Sugary Drinks; Interview with Dr. Thomas Farley; New Scoring System to Help Your Credit Score

Aired March 12, 2013 - 07:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: STARTING POINT with Soledad O'Brien starts right now.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome everybody. Our STARTING POINT this morning, the papal conclave beginning today. 115 cardinals start the secret process to elect a new pope as the world waits for white smoke from within. We're live in Rome and at the Vatican this morning.

Then, a ban on large sugary drinks goes flat. Now, New York City's mayor set to fight a court ruling that stops his controversial law.

BERMAN: We have some outrageous video to show you. A toddler apparently putting his mouth to a bong, but that is only the beginning. We have the shocking details surrounding this story coming up.

ZAIN ASHER, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And up and up and up. The Dow set yet another record. Does this mean it's time to sell?

O'BRIEN: It's Tuesday, March 12th, and "Starting Point" begins right now.

Welcome, everybody. Our STARTING POINT this morning is the conclave day one. A 115 cardinals from around the world just finished celebrating a mass for the election of a new pope. A memorable event when Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the dean of the College of Cardinals, paid tribute to the former pope. Here's what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARDINAL ANGELO SODANO, DEAN OF COLLEGE OF CARDINALS: Such an interior attitude is ours today as we wish to offer ourselves to Christ, to the father who is in heaven, to thank him for the loving assistance that he always reserves for the holy church, and in particular, for the brilliant pontificate that he granted to us through the life and the work of the 265th successors of Peter, the beloved and venerable Pontiff Benedict XVI, to whom we renew in this moment all of our gratitude.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP) O'BRIEN: In just under four hours the cardinals will be taken from their residence at casa Santa Maria and escorted to the Sistine Chapel. Then they'll begin their processional and one hour later they'll be locked in to begin voting. Around 2:00 p.m. eastern all eyes will be on the top chimney atop the Sistine Chapel for signs of smoke signaling the cardinals have voted. They'll recite the invest per prayers and return to Santa Maria -- Santa Marta, rather for dinner. Let's get right to Rome this morning. CNN's Chris Cuomo is covering this historic event for us this morning. Chris, good morning.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Soledad. How are you? The Italian paper said it in one line, "It is time to choose." The mass just ended, the last for these cardinals before they enter the conclave. There are 150 cardinals, not just the 150 that will vote. They were joined by some 6,500 normal people who they call the laity in the Catholic Church. They waited in long lines to get in this morning, because of what a big moment it is. And the message of inspiration about what a Pope is supposed to be, about the sacrifice and the love for people that they're offering the next Pope will have.

This is an interesting moment for us all to observe because the Conclave is one of the best-known secret proceedings. It dates back to the 1200s, changed a little bit over time. But it is still a process where we really don't know what's going on. It makes it so hard to cover as reporters, because the only men who can tell you what's happening ain't talking, under threat of excommunication. They take a vow of secrecy. So it is a very big deal.

That said, a Vatican insider told me not too long ago that this time it's different. First, Pope Benedict XVI resigned. First time that's been done in like 600 years. So that set the stage for this conclave. But it's also different for a very meaningful set of ideas. They are calling this a potential watershed moment for the Catholic Church, big issues about financial responsibility, about the morality coming out of the sex abuse scandal. So this Conclave is very heavy with expectation. They've had ten general congregations where the cardinals have been able to talk about everything. Now, it is time to vote.

Now, to set the scene for you here, St. Peter's basilica behind us, it's been raining throughout the morning. They call them here temperale, the big storms that dump on us. No one knows that better than Miguel Marquez. He's been by the Vatican dealing with the weather and setting the stage for us. You look much better now, my friend.

(LAUGHTER)

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's -- the skies are treating us well. But you've just jinxed us, of course. It's about to rain here any second.

We've suffered rain, hail, everything today. The mass is just getting out behind me. You are absolutely right. Everybody we talked to across the board, whether in the U.S. or here in Rome, says this this Pope, this decision they were making, is going to be enormously important, and this Pope, will be vetted like never before.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: In the politics of becoming Pope, there's never been a race quite like this, the church's problems, enormous, the need for a powerful, unifying Pope, never greater.

MONSIGNOR KEVIN IRWIN, ARCHDIOCESE OF NEW YORK: We have to finish this. We have to get on with this. If we don't do this it's over, blow the candles out.

MARQUEZ: The new Pope will have to reinvigorate the church and bring its enormous bureaucracy, the curiae into the modern world. We're talking nuts and bolts, finances, being a good CEO.

IRWIN: The church does not run on Hail Mary. We've got to make it work in terms of personnel and money and being effective. And I think the question is, how effective is the curiae in an internet world.

MARQUEZ: From the time a cardinal becomes a cardinal, the race for Pope is on. They are judged on their intellectual, religious and spiritual heft, even their ability to communicate in Italian. Politicking done, support secured in, formal settings, and often in out of the way and unlikely venues.

This restaurant is just around the corner from the Vatican. Cardinals come here in the ones and twos. They have lunch, dinner, sometimes a little wine. And some places like this that a lot of the heavy lifting is done. Benadina has served meal to powerful Vatican insiders for 21 years. "Dozens of cardinals have been here the last couple of weeks," she says. "When you're at the table, you decide things."

Deciding important for many reasons, as one cardinal jokingly told her during his last meal here, the conclave is under way, he eats bread and water until a new Pope is named.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: Many of those cardinals joking that being in the conclave once it starts is a little like being in prison. Their first vote, this afternoon, will be about 2:00, we expect, 2:00 eastern time. That's when we expect to see smoke rising from the chimney. Just behind that roof there is the Sistine Chapel. We don't expect it to be white. If this rain keeps up, we're not sure we're going to see smoke at all. Chris?

CUOMO: That's right. It's very tough to see that smoke. Conclave starting is a very harsh thing. But some creature comforts have been built in for these 115 cardinals. It will be a very big decision. Soledad, back in New York.

O'BRIEN: Chris, thank you very much.

I want to get right to Monsignor Richard Hilgartner. He's the head of the U.S. conference of Catholic Bishops, also CNN contributor. Father Edward Beck is in Rome for us this morning. Nice to have both of you gentlemen back with us.

Monsignor, we'll start with you. 2:00 p.m. is kind of the time that everybody is looking at. One of the things I find interesting is whether you're Catholic or not Catholic all eyes are on the chimney at a time when they think there might be some interesting information coming out. What do you think the chances are, realistically, that today is a day at 2:00 they'll decide on the Pope.

MONSIGNOR RICK HILGARTNER, U.S. CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS: I think today will be more of a learning experience for all the cardinals, for them to really see what all the others are thinking about. And clearly that's going to affect how they vote. And some of them are probably still wondering themselves and will allow the ritual to kind of take them through and lead them up to that moment. It's a very prayerful moment. Their ballots are cast in silence.

And those who have been through it before have spoken about the fact that it is an intensely prayerful moment because they find it a little bit, not just awe-inspiring, but probably a little just -- there's a lot of weight on that. The gospel reading this morning at mass saying it was not you who chose me but I who chose you. And part of their oath that they'll take today, not just the oath of secrecy, but really an oath of fidelity that implies that if they are the one chosen that they would accept it. And I would venture to guess that many of them probably would rather not have to make that decision.

O'BRIEN: Really? We have been talking about it in sometimes political terms, as if everybody wants to be Pope and you enter the Sistine Chapel with the goal of hoping to emerge as Pope. But you seem to be framing it as it might be not the choice of most cardinals.

HILGARTNER: I would imagine not. When we are called to priesthood, it's not a decision that we make, and we make our promise to our bishop to be sent where the bishop wants to send us, to whatever parish or whatever ministry we're sent to, and without any real ambition. So this is a moment that really runs counter cultural to the whole life of a priest.

O'BRIEN: Let me bring in Father Beck if I may. We hear the monsignor talk about it as sort of a learning opportunity today. How does it exactly that work? We'll see the Fumata, which is what they've been calling -- what we refer to as the smoke come out. And then what happens from there that informs the learning experience for the next day, and days ahead?

FATHER EDWARD BECK, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, again, probably, as monsignor said, we won't have an election today. The first vote is usually a cast everything vote. Some vote for their friends. They just want to get a feel of where the others are. Continuing to pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And then when there is the election, they will break, go back and have a dinner. Some people think that because it's a conclave they never talk. Of course they go back to Saint Marta's. They have a dinner. There's some private meetings. What did you think about the vote today? What did you think about that candidate? So some of that does occur. But keep in mind just because people talk about a candidate does not mean that the Holy Spirit is not moving in that room and with those men. When former Pope Benedict was asked about, does the Holy Spirit pick the Pope? He said, I wouldn't say that. I would say that the Holy Spirit moves in us in the room and hopefully brings us to the best person for this position.

O'BRIEN: Father Beck and monsignor, thank you, guys. Appreciate it. Always enjoy being walked through sort of the process as we drill down into exactly what happens in the days, really, hours, and then days and maybe even weeks ahead. Appreciate it.

Coming up at the bottom of the hour we'll take a virtual look inside the Sistine Chapel. And then we're going to be talking with Cardinal Edward Egan, the former archbishop of New York. He is not in Rome, and I wonder if he wishes very much that he were there. So we'll -- and he's not obviously inside the Conclave because he's going to be talking to us. But it will be interesting to see if he -- how he feels about that, not being part of those discussions.

First, though, John's going to look at some of the other stories making news this morning.

BERMAN: Thanks, Soledad. New details this morning on the deadly helicopter crash in southern Afghanistan. We now know that all five people who died are Americans. According to a government spokesman the black hawk chopper lost control and went down near Kandahar City. Bad weather appears to be the cause. Coalition forces say there was no enemy activity in the area at the time of the crash.

In a new op-ed this morning former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan claims he will cut $4.6 trillion from the federal debt while balancing the budget in the next 10 years. In "The Wall Street Journal," Ryan calls for increased oil drilling, the repeal of president Obama's health care reforms, and overhaul of Medicare and the welfare system and rewriting the tax code so just two tax brackets exist at 10 percent and 25 percent. This as President Obama begins a three-day Capitol Hill charm offensive. The president meets with Senate Democrats today, House Republicans tomorrow, and Senate Republican and house Democrats on Thursday. He is trying to get some kind of a budget deal done.

Elsewhere, the suspect in the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater massacre James Holmes expected to enter a plea later this morning. Yesterday a judge ruled that Holmes could be given medically appropriate drugs during psychiatric interviews and possibly face a polygraph test if he chooses to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. Holmes must also waive all medical confidentiality and turn over the names of any doctors or psychologists who treated him. Holmes is accused of killing 12 people at that theater last summer.

Take a look at this shocking video. Washington state police say this cell phone video shows a mother letting her 22-year-old son take a hit --

O'BRIEN: It's 22-month. BERMAN: Sorry, 22-month-old son, that's what makes it so startling, take a hit off her marijuana bong. Police say they received this video anonymously. The mother, 24-year-old Rochelle Bratton, was arrested. Police also reportedly found 40 marijuana plants in the home. The 22-month-old boy is in the custody of protective services.

O'BRIEN: God.

BERMAN: Disturbing.

O'BRIEN: That's just awful. What are people thinking?

BERMAN: You know, if she had a bong in her hand she may not have been thinking, obviously.

O'BRIEN: Really. Ahead this morning a new fight is brewing after a judge overturned New York City's ban on those large sugary drinks. The health commissioner is going to sit down with us next.

And then a police officer with just moments to spare when a car catches fire, we'll show you the dramatic rescue that was caught on tape ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is vowing this morning to fight a repeal of the city's ban of sugary drinks over 16 ounces. It was supposed to go into effect today but a state judge said it was, quote, arbitrary and capricious.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, (I) NEW YORK: We strongly believe that in the end, the courts will recognize the board of health's authority to regulate the sale of beverages that have virtually no nutritional value, and which, consumed in large quantities, are leading to disease and death for thousands of people every year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Dr. Thomas Farley is the health commissioner for the city of New York. It's nice to have you with us.

DR. THOMAS FARLEY, HEALTH COMMISSIONER, NEW YORK CITY: Good morning.

O'BRIEN: Walk through with me the judge's ruling. You said you were pretty surprised. You thought you kind of had this victory in hand.

FARLEY: Basically the judge said that the board of health doesn't have the authority to put in place this regulation. Our lawyers think he's wrong on the law. More importantly, he's wrong on health.

O'BRIEN: He also says this, it applies to some but not all food establishments in the city. It excludes other beverages that have significantly higher concentrations of sugar, sweeteners and/or calories on suspect grounds, and the loopholes inherent in the law include, but not limited to, no limitations on refills, defeat and/or serve to gut the purpose of the law.

He also said, and I guess that's an extension of it's capricious. There are so many loopholes in this, that this law wouldn't even work was basically part of the gist of his argument.

FARLEY: Obviously we disagree. The board of health certified a rule for vetting trans fats in restaurants, and that likewise had some complexity to it. The board of health regulates what it can. And it did what it can here and it was very appropriate. Again our lawyers think we're going to win on appeal. But more important, this is really crucial for health. We have a major problem with obesity in New York City.

O'BRIEN: That's two different arguments. Let's talk about the appeal first. What makes you think you can win on appeal? Or would you extend the ban, which some have suggest -- even the judge himself actually felt that the ban because it was limited was problematic in your -- in the ruling anyway, so would extending the ban work and is that part of the appeal?

FARLEY: First of all it's not a ban. It's just a cap on container size. And so we're very support of it. The appeal is going to say that the board of health does have the authority to do this. And we think the appeals court when they look at this and they look at the history of the board of health, will recognize it does. The board of health banned lead in paint in 1959. If we didn't have authority to do that we'd still have lead in paint.

O'BRIEN: Right. Part of the argument of the judge was, and let's continue with the lead in paint metaphor if you would like to, there's not a store where you can buy lead in paint next to a store where you can't buy lead in paint. What this judge is saying a 7-Eleven would be exempt and could sell whatever they want next to a Korean grocery store, which we have a zillion here in New York City, where they would actually be limited under the health department laws. So that's what he's sort of pointing to the capriciousness. Would you extend the limitation so that something like the 7-Eleven would also not be able to sell the larger sugary drinks?

FARLEY: The board of health doesn't regulate convenience stores or grocery stores. That's one of the realities the board of health had to deal with when it came up with this rule. Just because the rule doesn't cover everything doesn't mean it shouldn't cover the most important thing that it can regulate and that's something that's important from a health perspective that's also true legally.

O'BRIEN: We're going to be talking to the restaurant's association later and they said, listen, one of their big problems, and again it's lobbying, but one of their big problems is that they don't feel like they're partners in this. They feel like the city is trying to tell them what to do and ultimately the better way to reach healthier options for people in the city is not to dictate something where, by the way, you could go and just pick up five different sodas and get that large number of sodas if you wanted to.

FARLEY: Well the restaurant association doesn't like any of the regulations we put forth. They don't like the letter grading, they don't like the fact we inspect to make sure their temperatures are the right or that refrigerators are the right temperature. But we do that to protect the health of the customers and New Yorkers overall support that.

O'BRIEN: Interesting. One of the things that the mayor said to David Letterman was this. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLOOMBERG: I think that it is incumbent on government to tell people what they're doing to themselves and then let people make their own decisions. So our job is to educate people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: So there are people who would say the ban is not that. The limit is not educating people. The limit is literally not allowing them to purchase something. It's kind of the opposite of what the mayor was telling him.

FARLEY: I disagree. Right now if you want 32 ounces of soda you can buy 32 ounces of soda. Under this rule in the future, if you want 32 ounces of soda you can get 32 ounces of soda in two cups. That just simply is a little reminder that maybe this is beyond what you should be eating but you can certainly consume that and buy it. And the restaurants can sell that.

O'BRIEN: What happens? What's the plan in terms of like a timeline for the appeal?

FARLEY: The city will be filing an appeal. I don't exactly know the timing but sometime in the next few months, a board of appeals judges, five judges, will rule on this. And again, our lawyers have looked at this very closely before we even put the rule in place and we're confident we have -- that the board of health has the authority to do this.

O'BRIEN: We'll see. It will be interesting. I've been a long supporter of it. I actually think it's a good idea. But I do think the judge has interesting points. We'll talk to the restaurant association a little bit later this morning. As you know they completely disagree with you. Will be interesting to hear what they have to say. Thanks for talking with us.

Also ahead, going to be talking a little bit more with Andrew Moesel, as I mentioned, he is the spokesman for the New York restaurant association.

Also your credit score could go up soon. We'll tell you why a new scoring model could help lots of Americans. That's up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ASHER: Welcome back, everyone, I'm Zain Asher in for Christine Romans. Minding your business this morning, another day, another Dow record. The blue chip average hit a record high for a fifth straight day. Right now Dow futures are pulling back, but only about 20 points. That's not surprising considering the Dow is up 10 percent this year.

And a new credit scoring system, Vantage Score 3.0 could help improve people's credit scores. Vantage score was created by the three credit bureaus Equifax, Experian and Transunion and under the new system people with bad debt in collection no longer have to wait seven years to have their debt removed from their records. Also millions of people with no credit history will be able to use utility and rent payments to help them get a score. This could actually help 30 million more people get a score who otherwise would have been ineligible.

O'BRIEN: That's great news. Obviously paying for those utilities helps create some kind of a record.

ASHER: Especially for foreigners who come to this country and you don't have any credit history at all, this will obviously help them a great deal.

O'BRIEN: Or students, or somebody who doesn't have the opportunity to kind of have a record of purchases. All right, Zain, thank you, appreciate it.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, a live look at Vatican City where 115 Catholic cardinals are preparing to vote for a new pope. We'll have details this morning on the historic process. And a look inside the Sistine Chapel where the cardinals will be voting. That's coming up next.

Plus a police officer pulled a man from a burning car. The whole thing caught on video. You have to see this. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Our team this morning, Katherine Rossman is joining us, she's a columnist for the "Wall Street Journal." Alex McCord, from VH1's "Couple's Therapy," she was also, you might remember, on Bravo's "Real Housewives of New York." I remember that craziness. And Rachel Thomas is president of "Lean In," created in conjunction with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's new book. We're going to talk a lot about that this morning.

First though, the big story coming to us of the 115 cardinals from every corner of the globe will be filing in to the Sistine Chapel to help select a new pope. Earlier this morning they celebrated a special mass at the Vatican.