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Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien

Taliban Poisoning NATO Food; Interview with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz; Interview With Sen. Dick Durbin; Violence Continues in Afghanistan; Interview with Congressman Howard McKeon; School Shooting in Ohio; Grading School Teacher

Aired February 27, 2012 - 08:00   ET



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome, everybody.

Our STARTING POINT this morning is claims by the Taliban for responsibility for a deadly blast, and also an attempted poisoning. Retaliation, they say, for the mistaken burning of the Koran.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is going to join us live. His not waiting for Washington, D.C. We're going to talk this morning about his -- how his company Starbucks is trying to create jobs and boost the economy.

And who are you wearing? For Ryan Seacrest, the answer was maybe the ashes of a dictator. No, it was all a prank. But we'll tell you how he got punked on the red carpet at the Oscars last night.

STARTING POINT begins right now.


O'BRIEN: I know. We've had a really good morning. That's Howard Schultz's choice, "Unchain My Heart." That's Ray Charles.

He's going to come and talk to us in just a few minutes. Howard Schultz, it's not Ray Charles, obviously.

Our panel this morning, Michelle Goldberg joins us. She's a contributor from "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast."

CNN contributors Will Cain and Hilary Rosen are back.

Nice to have you both.

Let's get right to the violence in Afghanistan. There's been a deadly suicide car bombing that happened overnight.

Plus, the Taliban is claiming credit for trying to poison the food of NATO troops. The food was tampered with at a forward operating base in Torkham, which is near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Traces of bleach were found in both fruit and coffee. Nobody, though, was hurt or even sickened.

The overnight suicide car bomber killed nine people, though, injured 12 others. It was at the Jalalabad airport in eastern Afghanistan. Excuse me, there were no Americans among the victims. The Taliban says, though, it is in retaliation for the Koran burning.

Let's get right to Nick Paton Walsh. She's live in Kabul, Afghanistan, for us this morning.

Good morning to you, Nick.


What we're hearing today is, of course, the Taliban coming forward quickly and claiming this suicide attack, which apparently damaged four civilian cars, some ISAF personnel lightly injured but we understand they are back at work now. It's not clear what the precise target was. But as you say, nine civilians were killed in this.

It's not clear really if the Taliban had planned this a long time ago and are just trying to claim responsibility for it now, suggesting it's part of the Koran burning response for some sort of political capital. But I'm sure what people will be worried about in the months ahead is if the Taliban consistently try to claim they are avenging this burning of the Koran. That could really stoke popular anger here. Perhaps even see some people share a common cause with the insurgency after this decade-long war.

But let me bring you to another event today also which is causing concern amongst many people. As you mentioned, this perhaps attempted poisoning further east near the Pakistani border. We understand that an Afghan worker in that dining facility went to his bosses after he said he found bleach -- chlorine bleach in the coffee and fruit there.

They launched an investigation. Nobody was hurt. Nobody was poisoned. They are not sure whether there was deliberate. It does seem strange how you get that much bleach into food, and everyone out there on that base is apparently eating prepackaged rations.

So, this is one of those instances after the minister of interior shooting we had on Saturday, a shooting we had on a base on Thursday, which have all claimed together four American lives, this perhaps attempted poisoning is making people really worry about that trust relationship between Afghans who work with Americans and NATO troops here. The NATO troops desperately trying to train them, getting them ready to take over security of the country so they can start their withdrawal.

And instances like this now growing, and growing in the intimacy of them as well, making many of them worry that trust relationship could perhaps be severed -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Nick Paton Walsh for us this morning -- thank you, Nick.

Kate Bolduan has some other headlines for us.

Hey, Kate. Good morning again.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. Good morning again. Good morning, everyone.

Gas prices still the big story, climbing closer and closer to the $4 mark. They went up another penny overnight. The national average for a gallon of unleaded is now $3.70. That's up more than 12 percent since the start of the year.

North Korea announcing it is prepared to fight a war against the United States and South Korea. That warning as the U.S. and South Korea prepare for their annual joint military drills. The North considers those drills a preemptive strike and claims they are really preparations for a nuclear attack.

Lockerbie bomber Abdelbasset al-Megrahi says he is the innocent victim of dirty politics in a flawed investigation. He is quoted extensively in a new book called, "Megrahi, You Are My Jury." The author worked on Megrahi's legal team for three years. He says the book contains, quote, "conclusive new evidence which destroys the prosecution case and discredits the Scottish justice system."

Another primary is upon us. Michigan and Arizona are up for grabs tomorrow in the Republican race for president. And a new national Gallup poll of registered Republicans has Mitt Romney two points ahead of Rick Santorum. So, they are basically neck and neck at this point. That represents a 12-point swing in one week with Romney picking up a key endorsement yesterday from Arizona Governor Jan Brewer.

For the first time in the 54-year history of the Daytona 500, the race will be contested on a Monday -- weather permitting, that is. The event was postponed by rain yesterday, and officials plan to wave the green flag at noon today. But the rain isn't letting up. And officials say they'll start the race under the lights tonight if they have to.

A silent movie is the talk of Tinseltown this morning. "The Artist" goes home with five Oscars, including best picture, director, and actor. Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" also won five Academy Awards.

But the moment everyone is talking about this morning happened before the show, when Sacha Baron Cohen dressed up as his new character, the dictator, dumped an urn all over Ryan Seacrest's tux.


SACHA BARON COHEN, ACTOR: The interesting thing, it's actually -- oh, sorry. You've got Kim Jong Il on you. Wait a minute. We have to clean this up. If somebody ask you what you are wearing, you will say Kim Jong Il.


BOLDUAN: If you missed it, he said, "You've got Kim Jong Il on you."

According to an E! story, Ryan Seacrest could actually press charges against the dictator/actor for a stunt. But, of course, Soledad, that would just draw this out even more.

O'BRIEN: Which is exactly what he would love. He is promoting a movie, people. Hello.


O'BRIEN: But Ryan seemed pretty good with that, like he's a pro.

BOLDUAN: I don't know how I'd handle that.

O'BRIEN: He's like, I'm really mad but I'm not going to show it. That's what I did.

All right. Kate, thank you very much.


O'BRIEN: Well, Starbucks in Harlem is not just brewing coffee. It is sort of a new model for doing business. The pilot program is a partnership with local organizations and they are trying to raise money for disadvantaged young people. Five cents of every purchase goes to the Abyssinian Development Corporation, which provides education, job training and social services.

Sheena Wright heads up the ADC, says the partnership is empowering people at her neighborhood. Listen.


SHEENA WRIGHT, PRESIDENT & CEO, ABYSSNIAN DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION: Part of the money that they have given us has helped us really strengthen the curriculum in our elementary school and provide professional development and support for teachers so that in one year, we increased the number of third graders reading on grade level by almost 20 percent. I mean, that's the type of impact the investment has had.


O'BRIEN: A real tangible change.

And Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz joins us, the panel this morning.

Nice to have you. Thank you.

So, why that pilot program? Was this a shift from sort of giving money which Starbucks does, to sort of investing?

HOWARD SCHULTZ, CHAIRMAN, PRESIDENT AND CEO, STARBUCKS CORP.: Well, I think we have to recognize that we are living in a time right now where government unfortunately can't solve all the problems we have. I look at what's going on at the state level. Almost 42 states out of 50 are facing a budget deficit. There's going to be significant cuts in social services.

I think at Starbucks, we are asking ourselves a very important question, and that is how can we use our scale for good? Five cents doesn't sound like a lot of money, but it will be $100,000 in Harlem, $100,000 in the Crenshaw District in L.A.

And we plan to give away as many stories as we can over the next couple of years not only to underserved communities but to make a statement that we need to turn inward and look at ourselves, and as business leaders and as businesses in general, we too have a corporate responsibility to the people in the communities that we serve.

And what I'm trying to say is, that it's not just about making a profit. We're a public company. That's our responsibility. But we believe strongly we have to balance profitability with a social conscious.

O'BRIEN: So, you have said this is about reinventing capitalism.


O'BRIEN: Who's going to follow you? I mean, who do you want to follow you? There are people following you already.

SCHULTZ: Well, I think there are significant like-minded business leaders who are we talking to. We'll probably announce a couple of new partnerships in the next couple of weeks. But I think you are well-aware of this. This is wristband in our stores. We've raised almost $8 million.

O'BRIEN: This was to get people to buy those at $5 a pop to create a fund that would eventually free up capital for --

SCHULTZ: Well, the point is that small businesses are the engine for job creation in America. There's 13 million people unemployed. Almost double that in some areas of African-American and Hispanic communities.

Again, we said, what can we do? We noticed that small businesses were not getting access to credit. All of the money we raised goes to small businesses to try and do everything we can to create jobs. We've done a lot of that already.

O'BRIEN: What's wrong with the model of just, you know, giving the money, writing a check, which I know you guys do, and just handing out $100,000 to the ADC?

SCHULTZ: Yes. I think we learned a long time ago that it's not about writing a check. It's not about marketing our press release. It's about a deep level of engagement and participation and a partnership in which our people, the community at large, can come together and do something in which the whole is much greater than the individual pieces.

O'BRIEN: Can I see the bracelet?


O'BRIEN: Think these guys want a better shot of it -- and what a good marketing opportunity. Oh, he's got two.

SCHULTZ: No, it's one. But it says "indivisible" on it.

O'BRIEN: Can you see that? There you go.

So my question for you, is this something that you came to because you grew up poor in the projects? I mean, I read your book. It's good book.


O'BRIEN: I liked it a lot.

Or is it because as a businessman, you think this is a strategy that is going to make money for Starbucks at the end of the day?

SCHULTZ: This is not about making money for Starbucks, not about marketing for Starbucks. It's true, I grew up in fairly subsidized housing in Brooklyn. I think all of us are a product of our childhood. So, I have a level of sensibility about the issue.

But no, it's not about that. What it's about is, unfortunately, we are living at a time right now in which we cannot embrace the status quo. The government can't embrace the status quo and neither can business. We need to be more nimble and more entrepreneurial.

And we need to understand, we cannot allow the gap between the haves and have-nots get wider. If we do, they will be significant issues in America.

So, in a sense, it's good business, but it's not about selling more coffee. It's about putting our heart and our conscience first and recognizing that we have responsibility.

O'BRIEN: You have been very disappointed sort of on both sides of the aisle -- at least what you blogged about it and write it about it.

SCHULTZ: You have to bring that up?

O'BRIEN: Yes. Yes, I think we do. We're going to talk politics for a minute and then we'll go t break -- and then we'll talk more politics.

I know certainly after the debt ceiling crisis, you were really, really mad. And said you were going to withhold funding anybody. And you were asking other people to come onboard with you.

How many people ended up joining you?

SCHULTZ: Almost 170 CEOs from both sides of the aisle joined me from suspending contributions to incumbents, and we still -- we maintain that.

And I think what we have asked for is we wanted to see civility. We wanted to see citizenship over partisanship. And I just felt this was no time to give money to politicians.

When I think that there's going to be $6 billion spent in the presidential election cycle, there's something profoundly wrong when you look at what's going on in the country. And we're going to spend $6 billion on that situation.

O'BRIEN: All right. Well, on the other side of this commercial break, we'll talk about whether or not you are seeing any of this return to civility. I'm going to say no, but that's because we talk about it every day.

Also ahead, we're going to talk to majority whip, Senator Dick Durbin, live. He is not a fan of Newt Gingrich. He spent a lot years working with him. We'll talk about that.

Plus, turning the tables on teachers. They published in New York City sort of the teachers' grades, and that could have national implications. We'll ask whether that's a good idea or not.

You're watching STARTING POINT. We got a short break and we'll continue our conversation on the other side.


O'BRIEN: We judge people very harshly on their musical taste. This is Sheryl Crow, "Everyday is a Winding Road." It's Howard Schultz's pick this morning. He's two for two. Very good. We like them.

SCHULTZ: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Let's continue our conversation. We were just talking about sort of civility in Washington, D.C., and also, I think just getting stuff done. If you look at how people perceive politicians, Congress, 10 percent, I think, you know, approval rating, which is I always think it's just nine percent now. I think it's actually down a point --

SCHULTZ: It's only family and friends approve.

O'BRIEN: Because their spouses are voting for them, and that's it. How do you get there, do you think?

SCHULTZ: Well, I think -- I know that Senator Durbin is coming on, so I want to be careful. What I would say is that in our lifetime, and this is a rhetorical question, do you think there's ever been a time where you've seen so much partisanship?


SCHULTZ: Ideology?


SCHULTZ: And almost everything, especially now, is through the lens of whether or not it's going to affect my election in a positive way. And, when I hear the politicians talking about we're going to do the people's business, I mean, I just shake my head and say, are you kidding me? When there's so many things going on.

So, I think as a result of that, there's so much cynicism and a lack of trust and confidence. And in a sense, this is -- I don't mean for this to sound like an overstatement, there's a political crisis, a crisis of confidence and leadership in which we do not feel represented by the people in Washington.

O'BRIEN: So, when did you become a political activist? Because that's what it sounds like.

SCHULTZ: I wouldn't say I'm a political activist.

O'BRIEN: I think some people would say you are.

SCHULTZ: I am a proud American who's profoundly disappointed by the direction in the country, and feel as if -- and I don't want to blame Washington to the point where they're the problem. The problem in the country is that Washington is not doing their job, and businesses and business leaders need to do more.

And I think that's what I'm trying to do, speak up in a way that is civil, respectful, but at the same time, I want do something.

O'BRIEN: So, what are you doing? You have 17,000 stores in 50 states, and I think 56 countries as well.


O'BRIEN: And you've been on a hiring increase.

SCHULTZ: Yes. We're hiring. We're going to remodel 1,700 stores, open up more than 200 in the U.S., hiring thousands of people. And we're doing everything we possibly can to use our scale for good and to demonstrate to other businesses and business leaders that we, too, need to step up and we have a responsibility.

O'BRIEN: Do you think the business community as a whole is going to follow you in that? I mean, do you feel like you have to blame D.C. before the business community comes in and says, OK, we can create a fund that will allow for capital that is easy to be accessed by small businesses who often have a problem accessing capital?

SCHULTZ: I think business leaders more than ever before recognize that if the middle class is left behind, that's just not good business. So, if they're going to look at it through the lens of that, and as a result of that, we need to create both social and fiscal programs that do everything we can to help small businesses, help the middle class, and in doing so, it is going to be good business.

But make no mistake. What we're doing in Harlem and with the (INAUDIBLE) and development group is not about marketing, not about the brand. We want to do things to help the people who are being left behind. And in a sense, and this question has been asked to me a lot, isn't that the role of government? Well, the answer is yes, but we're not going to wait. We're going to do our part.

O'BRIEN: What's been your biggest surprise about the Harlem store?

SCHULTZ: The biggest surprise is the way the community has embraced the store, the pride that people have. And I think people stepping up for the wrist band, the fact that's almost 600,000 people are wearing the wristband around the country.

O'BRIEN: I just got one. I just found one.

SCHULTZ: I think it demonstrates a lot. And we now have real live stories of people who have gotten the loans, who are hiring people and starting businesses. And that's a win-win for us, for the country, and we're just trying to do our part.

O'BRIEN: Howard Schultz, it's nice to have you joined us this morning.

SCHULTZ: Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: If any time you'd like, we'd love to have you back. And as you mentioned, your book, "Onward," is a great book. I really loved it.

SCHULTZ: Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, Senator Dick Durbin is going to join us live. He says he's known Newt Gingrich for decades and he worked alongside Rick Santorum, and he's got thoughts on both of them. He'll also talk about what the chances are for either of them taking the White House. We're going to talk to him straight ahead. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: I like this. I like this. Let's just let it play. "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy." I like that. That would be the senator's pick this morning. Senator Durbin is with us. We're going to chat with him in just a moment.

First though, we want to talk about our top story, which is a suicide bomber who has attacked NATO troops in Afghanistan, and also this attempted poisoning at NATO as well. Traces of chloride bleach have been found in coffee and fruit. The Taliban is now claiming responsibility. It's all part of these deadly demonstrations and violence that have been tied to the burning of Korans at the U.S. base. The president apologized to Hamid Karzai and called the burnings inadvertent. GOP presidential candidates, though, continue to slam that apology. Here's how it went on Sunday.


MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've made an enormous contribution to help the people there achieve freedom. And for us to be apologizing at the time like this is something which is very difficult for the American people to countenance.

RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There was no act that needed an apology. It was an inadvertent act, and it should have been left at that. And I think the response needs to be apologized for by Karzai and the Afghan people of attacking and killing our men and women in uniform and overreacting to this inadvertent mistake.


O'BRIEN: Majority whip senator, Dick Durbin of Illinois, is with us. He serves on the judiciary, appropriations, and foreign relations and rules committee. Nice to have you. Thanks for being with us. We appreciate your time.

SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D) ILLINOIS: Good to be with you.

O'BRIEN: OK. So, let's talk a little bit about what's happening now in Afghanistan where things seem to be spiraling out of control, I think it's fair to say with no end in sight. You heard some of the Republican candidates, apology is a mistake. Do you agree with that?

DURBIN: Not at all. And understand, just go back to history a little bit to 9/11, President George W. Bush, I sure had my differences with him, but I thought he got it right, and he stuck with it through his presidency. He said our war is not with the religion of Islam.

Our war is with those who would distort it and turn it into terrorism. And I think that was a bright spot kind of a guiding principle. It was adopted by President Obama. Now, listen to these Republican candidates for president. They're at war with Islam. What the president is trying to do is to calm down --

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Senator Durbin, I haven't heard one thing that backs up what you suggest. Just give me an example, how are they at war with Islam?

DURBIN: Newt Gingrich saying that the president is guilty of appeasement by saying that we -- though, it was unintentional act that he believes that we should not have destroyed this Kora and should have basically said we're sorry that it occurred.

CAIN: I don't see how that amounts to war on Islam. DURBIN: What you listen to is incendiary rhetoric coming out in a very delicate situation. Lives are at stake here. The president is showing leadership. The president is stepping up, trying to calm a situation. These three candidates are coming on television doing the opposite.

O'BRIEN: So, we're told by analysts that it doesn't matter, that's not permeating the president's apology, what Hamid Karzai is telling his own folks in Afghanistan that none of it is actually really making much of a difference. What's the fix?

DURBIN: You know, the fix is, to be very blunt with you, to follow the president's lead and bringing these troops home, the sooner the better, for my point of view. I was one of 23 who voted against the invasion of Iraq. I voted for the invasion of Afghanistan to go after al Qaeda for what they did to us on 9/11. I thought it was the right thing to do. I didn't know I was voting for the longest war in our history.

Al Qaeda is now a shadow of its former self. Osama Bin Laden has been caught and eliminated at this point. And still, we are present in Afghanistan. Dramatic commitment of American lives and American fortune and no end in sight. I would just say, ultimately, our hope is turn this over to the Afghans.

At this moment in time, it appears we're a long way from having a trusting and working relationship. We need to start gearing ourselves into a new position, bringing our troops home.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about gas prices. Here is what your friend, Newt Gingrich, colleague of yours for a long time, had to say about gas prices. Listen.


NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think if we go all out for energy independence to get free of the Middle East, then we can get to $2.50 a gallon gasoline.

ROMNEY: Immediate income in America dropped by 10 percent in the last four years. Even as gas prices have doubled.

SANTORUM: We now have $4 a gallon gasoline. Some are suggesting it's going to be $5 or maybe more this year. Why? Because the president's doing nothing.


O'BRIEN: Is the correct answer to free up the strategic petroleum reserves?

DURBIN: It is a temporary fix. It might show some modest impact on gasoline prices for a short period of time. What is interesting is we are moving into a new era because of a number of things. Fuel efficiency in cars. being one. The alternate fuels, which we've used like ethanol, being another. New finds of oil in the United States and offshore. And we are exporting oil, which is kind of -- in refined products.

O'BRIEN: More than we're importing?

DURBIN: Yes. And what we are seeing here is a market force that should be bringing gasoline prices down. I think what it indicates is that these market prices are not really reflective of market conditions. They're reflective of some --

O'BRIEN: But isn't the big picture, the issues, many of them with Iran, is really going to be the problem?

DURBIN: No doubt about that. If there was anything near war or confrontation in the Middle East, it would impact the flow of oil. As it's diminishing, it's still very important to the United States economy.

O'BRIEN: So, the high prices, though, my understanding is are totally correlated to that uncertainty.

DURBIN: On the suspicion and uncertainty. But what I have found when it comes to oil companies and gasoline prices, any excuse will do. And they react, and reflect, the headlines. They hardly ever react the other way, that things are nice, let's get back down to $2 a gallon as some of these candidates are promising.

O'BRIEN: How does that factor into the election, do you think? Because people will be mad. I mean, you're paying more at the end of the day, no matter what the reasons are, whether it's Iran, whether it's the strategic petroleum reserves, whatever. If you're paying more, you're going to be annoyed.

DURBIN: What boils down to is we've have had 23 straight months of economic growth in this country. We've had five straight months where unemployment has gone down. Gasoline prices are a big factor in retail sales and whether people are living paycheck to paycheck.

So, if we're going to continue to see economic growth, we really have to hope these oil prices start stabilizing, gasoline prices stabilizing, but I have found, because I dust off the release every year, that every spring we go through this. Gasoline prices go through the roof. Politicians scream bloody murder. At the end of the day, at the end of the investigation, nothing changes. We wait for the cycle, the next year for it to appear the same way with gasoline prices going up.

O'BRIEN: You worked with Newt Gingrich 30 years. Right?

DURBIN: I have known him for 30 years.

O'BRIEN: Rick Santorum, 10 years or something like that?

DURBIN: Long time.

O'BRIEN: Give me your take on both gentlemen. DURBIN: Well, I think we are coming to understand who they really are.

O'BRIEN: That's a very political answer. What does that mean?

DURBIN: Basically, look at this. There are 80 Republicans serving in the House today who served with Newt Gingrich as speaker. I think you can count on one hand those who are supporting him. It's an indication of their knowledge of the man and their trust in his leading our country.

On Rick Santorum's part, what we are seeing now as he tries to bring the cultural wars to the front and make this part of the campaign is a real definition of who he was in the United States Senate. It was always a cultural war. It was always a battle about sexual preference or a woman's right to choose. For him, that consumed him as a United States senator. And I think that's what's leading his campaign.

So as the campaign unfolds, we learn who they really are, what their values really are.

O'BRIEN: Senator Dick Durbin, nice to have you. Thank you for joining us this morning. Appreciate it.

DURBIN: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, New York City releases grades of teachers. And some are scoring low even if the kids in their class are acing the tests.

California is thinking about banning smoking even in your own backyard. We'll talk about those stories and much more as STARTING POINT continues. Back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. We've got some headlines to get to coming to us out of Afghanistan. Let's get right to Kate Bolduan who has that. Kate, good morning.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey there, Soledad. First some breaking news that we want to take you. We're getting details coming in right now. You're looking at aerial images here from the Cleveland Akron area of Ohio, where a school is on lockdown after a possible shooting there. This is the Chardon high school. We don't have -- we do not yet have that confirmed whether or not the lockdown has to do with a possible shooting, but we are obviously looking into more details because this is a very fluid situation. We'll have much more on that as it comes in.

Other headlines that we are watching, 22 passengers on a Carnival cruise ship from California were robbed at gunpoint while docked in Mexico late last week. No one was hurt, fortunately, but valuable items including cameras, cash, and watches were stolen. Carnival is apologizing. And a scuffle at a hospital lands a Kennedy in hospital. Douglas Kennedy, son of the late Robert F. Kennedy, is now facing misdemeanor charges for allegedly fighting with two hospital nurses while he was holding his newborn son. Kennedy says he was trying to take at baby for a walk about, but two nurses tried to stop him. The nurses say the child was not yet discharged and they had to enforce hospital rules. Kennedy allegedly twisted the arm of one nurse and kicked the other. He is charged with harassment and child endangerment.

A trial will resume in April for 16 Americans facing criminal charges in Egypt. The Americans are part of a group of international aid workers accused of fraud and of stoking unrest in the country. and 14 of them showed up in court yesterday to hear formal charges read. Diplomatic talks are reportedly happening behind the scenes. One of those on trial is the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

And Rick Santorum is detailing his economic reform plan in a "Wall Street Journal" editorial. Among Santorum's proposals if he becomes president, a pro-growth, pro-family tax policy that triples the personal deduction for children and eliminates the marriage tax penalty. Restoring America's competitiveness is another, by cutting the corporate tax rate in half to 17.5 percent, and unleashing America's energy by approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

And this is a story will have a lot of people talking. A town in California is looking at making it a crime for anyone to smoke anywhere outside, even on their own property. The proposal appears to be the result of a bit of a neighbor dispute. A local couple complained smoke from their neighbor's yards was causing health problems for their children. We will obviously have to see where this goes. If it moves ahead, Soledad, you can be sure it's going to have a lot of people talking.

O'BRIEN: That's just weird. In your own backyard? I sort of feel like --

BOLDUAN: Too much.


BOLDUAN: Apparently they tried to resolve it according to some reports.

O'BRIEN: I think he resolved it. And it was done. Now there's a law. All right, thank you, Kate.

Let's turn now to developments out of Afghanistan. We have been talking about it all morning, a pretty violent scene overnight. The Taliban now is claiming responsibility for a deadly attack near a NATO base that left nine people dead. The Taliban says it's all retaliation over the burning of Korans. The attack follows another attack that hand over the weekend. Two American officers were shot dead. It wasn't in the battlefield but if their office inside a highly secured government building. The person who pulled the trigger has still not been caught. Joining us this morning is Republican Congressman Howard "Buck" McKeon, chairman of the House armed services committee. It's nice to see you, sir. Thank you for talking with us. Let's talk a little bit about these protests that we have seen continue to spiral out of control across Afghanistan now. Are you surprised to the degree which you see them growing and not showing any signs of stopping?

REP. HOWARD "BUCK" MCKEON, (R) CALIFORNIA: Well it just shows what an unstable condition it is over there. And we have made progress, but that progress is fragile, and we can see that it's very fragile. So the thought of two officers killed sitting at their desk, it just --it's a very scary situation.

O'BRIEN: Absolutely, because it speaks to someone's ability to infiltrate and obviously have access to those very officers. What do you think is really behind all these protests? Obviously, in some way, it is about the Koran burning. But it seems to me and I think many others it's not just about that.

MCKEON: Well, I think it starts there. But the Taliban looks for any excuse they can get to fire people up, and to turn them against us. We are there to protect our interests in the area ever since they trained there to perform the 9/11 attacks. And it's to our interest to make sure that doesn't ever happen again and to give the Afghan people the ability to protect themselves. We're there to train them to dismantle, defeat the Taliban, but at the same time, to train the Afghan security forces so they'll be able to protect themselves. If we're not able to do that in the timelines that the president has put us under and the withdrawal of the troops before we've had the opportunity to do that puts us in a precarious situation.

O'BRIEN: The president has apologized, and some people have said that it was a mistake for him to apologize. Others have said that apology is the right thing to do. In either case, it doesn't seem to be making much of a difference. Hamid Karzai has also pretty much called for calm among his own people. That also doesn't seem to be making much of a difference. What do you think of the president's apology?

MCKEON: Well, I get tired of apologies. I think if the president is doing it because he thinks it will save lives of our troops, I commend him for that. But I think that it's probably not the right strategy. As we can see, it hasn't done anything to calm things down. I get tired of the fact that we apologize when they kill our people. And I just have -- I just have a real problem with that.

O'BRIEN: What is the right strategy then?

MCKEON: Well, I -- it's a difficult situation. But I think when the president gives timelines, not based on conditions on the ground, that's the thing that puts us in jeopardy. I supported when he sent the troops there to provide the additional manpower to make the progress that we needed. He didn't send the amount that the generals requested. But it still gave us more support there, and we made great gains in the south. We're trying to make those gains now in the north and in the east. But he pulled 10,000 troops out this year. He's talking about pulling out another 20,000 plus this year before the fighting season is over.

Instead of following timelines, we ought to make these changes based on conditions on the ground recommended by our leaders, General Allen and those who are in charge over there. That gives us the best support to achieve the mission that we have.

You know, we've committed a lot of lives, and a lot of treasure, over there and to pull our troops out before we have accomplished it, without doing it based on the conditions on the ground, I think, puts us in great jeopardy.

O'BRIEN: Michelle, you wanted to jump in.

MICHELLE GOLDBERG, JOURNALIST, "NEWSWEEK": Yes. I keep hearing Republicans say, why aren't they apologizing to us for the deaths of our soldiers? And I guess I want to ask, has there ever been a situation that you're aware of in American history where an occupied people apologizes to the occupier for the things they try to do to drive the hated occupier out?

MCKEON: Well, I think this goes back before occupiers. I think when they have cut the heads off on television of unarmed, noncombatant people, nobody has ever apologized for that. And I think that it just -- the American people see our young people going over there, putting their lives at risk, and then hearing our leaders apologize for things that they do. I just think that people are fed up with that.

O'BRIEN: Congressman Howard Buck McKeon joining us this morning. We appreciate your time, sir.

MCKEON: Thank you for having me.

O'BRIEN: You bet. Still ahead on STARTING POINT, New York City is grading its teachers, and all of those grades made it right to the front page of the New York papers. It had our Twitter blowing up over the weekend. Why Steve Perry supports the measure straight ahead on STARTING POINT. Stay with us.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

O'BRIEN: Hey welcome back, everybody.

We're going to update you on the school shooting that we told you about just a few minutes ago in this breaking news story. It's happening at Chardon High School, which is near Cleveland. And we have no real specific word on injuries at this point, but the reports are that apparently two gunmen have gone into the school and they opened fire. They walked up to and injured three or four students.

Police are on the scene. They continue to search for the gunmen. We understand that there are children who are trapped inside the cafeteria who have been texting their parents saying essentially that they are ok and that they are hiding at this point. And this is all that we know about this story right now.

Police are searching for, we are hearing. two gunmen at Chardon High School, which is outside of Cleveland, Ohio and no specific word on injuries, although either three or four students we understand have been shot at this incident.

We're going to continue to follow this obviously and update you as we know more about this story. We're going to continue to work on details on that.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, turning the tables on teachers. New York City publishing the teachers' grades, front page of the paper. The union is calling it a public shaming. Is it a good idea? We're going talk about that straight ahead as STARTING POINT continues right after this.


O'BRIEN: Teachers are finding themselves being graded now in a very public fashion. Amid controversy, New York City publicly released internal rankings of teachers. The Teachers Union said they are based on inaccurate, misleading information.

Here to give the final grade so to speak is CNN's education contributor, Steve Perry.

This was a huge deal over the weekend. Our -- my Twitter, your Twitter was blowing up over this. It was a front page story that literally ranked a thousand teachers more for fourth to eighth grade Math and English. Why do you think that this was a good idea?

STEVE PERRY, CNN EDUCATION CONTRIBUTOR: I think it's a good idea because parents need to understand who it is that's educating their children. Very often one of the things that parents are looking for are who are the best teachers in the school. When you don't have school choice you have to look for who the best teachers are for your children. And the best teachers are the ones who provide the grades that are most accurate.

More specifically, very often when you send your kids to a low performing school and they have an A average, for instance most of the colleges don't see that as an A average. So what parents need to know is who are the teachers that are adding the most value to your child's academic life.

O'BRIEN: Ok but there are so many problems with this test. I mean, first of all more -- about a quarter of the teachers aren't even teaching anymore, right. Also the people who created the very test that they're grading on they say there's a 35 percent to 53 percent margin of error; 53 percent margin of error. I mean, that's just the start.

They say that, you know, there are errors, emissions. They didn't even calculate and count in charter schools.

To me, it seems like a public flogging of people without really being necessarily based in actual facts. You could pick over it and get something out of it.

PERRY: Well, I don't know about the test itself, and I couldn't speak about the particulars. However, this is a beginning point. And typically, when you're beginning a new process, there are kinks.

But most important is the information that the parents receive on children. Many parents don't know who the teachers are who their children are with. Meaning they don't know how good or bad they are at teaching. That's the job of a teacher, to explain something to a child in a way in which they will learn it.

And what we're seeing is that the grades are not standardized, meaning that you could get an A, in one teacher's algebra class and a C, in another teacher's algebra class. We don't know which one of those grades is most accurate. When we're sending children to college, we need to be able to send them of or into the world with some baseline understandings of what we as a community value.

O'BRIEN: All right, Steve Perry for us this morning. Thanks Steve.

We've got to get to some breaking news that's happening outside of Cleveland. So I appreciate your update on that. We're just going to have to agree to disagree on that.

More on the story that we were telling you about just moments ago breaking news story happening at Chardon High School which is near Cleveland, Ohio. It's coming to us from our affiliate WKYC.

We are told that the shootings happened just around 7:40 in the morning. There were two suspects, they are now both in custody. There was word that there might have been a third person who was on the loose. That's why the school was actually on lockdown.

And they -- they believe that the third person could now be in custody because they're releasing students from that high school. So there might be two -- definitely two people in custody. Might actually be a third person in custody now because the students are being released.

School board members are telling us that at least two shooters walked in and shot three or four students -- happened in the cafeteria. They are not able at this point to update us on the condition of those students the three or four who have been injured. We're going to take a moment to listen in to our affiliate WKYC as we listen to what happened.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes and we are taking our orders from the safety forces and they -- we're going to do things as orderly as we can. And the first thing we're going to do is any parent who has a middle schooler who wants to take them home, we are allowing that. But we have to do it in a fashion where we sign them out and know when they are leaving.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ok so first steps first, the middle school and the elementary school students and then at which point in time you'll reassess the situation. Will the high school students be brought here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are waiting to hear from the safety forces what we're going to do. Obviously, traffic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do they have control over there?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do they know how long it's going to be?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stephanie, can you ask her if the high school is still on lockdown?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, can you confirm that the high school is still on lockdown?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is on lockdown.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ok but in terms of parents who are watching this at this point in time --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would discourage any high school parent from getting in their car and coming up to the high school right now because there is nowhere to get near it and there's nowhere to park and the streets are all clogged.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In terms of safety, however.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Safety those students are safe right now, ok. Totally safe. The shooter is in custody. The building is in lockdown. We have mental health professionals coming to the building. (INAUDIBLE) And we just need to have our parents stay put for the moment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now you said gunman. Was there only one gunman?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know for certain. My understanding is there was one gunman.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ok in terms of where that gunman is, we hear -- we're hearing he is in custody?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we also are hearing that three students were injured.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know the exact number. It may be three. I don't know for sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do we know the depth of their injuries by chance?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do we know the depth of their injuries by chance. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. She just left but she was saying that she heard that there were three people injured. She didn't say -- she didn't elaborate. But again, Chris, I can tell you that we did see those medical helicopters flying away from the scene. We also saw ambulances with their sirens. So this is a very serious situation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stephanie, we are looking behind you at this video. These students are probably middle school students who are now getting a chance to go home with their parents.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, that is correct. They are being reunited with their parents. These are middle school students that are now being evacuated.

And, again, just to reiterate, the high school is still on lockdown. All the students are still inside. We have been told that they are safe. But, again, the children that you're seeing leaving this building are middle school students.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you were at the school administration building. And even parents who are watching this at home, if they are a parent of a middle schooler, is the advice the same? That they shouldn't be trying to get to their kids right now here at the school administration building?

Reporter: well, this is where they will be reunited. So what we have been told by school officials are do not try in any way to go to the high school. You will not be successful. Come to the Board of Education building, which is right next to the middle school, and that is where you need to pick up your children.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, it's heartbreaking to watch these young people walk out of that school. At 8:56, when on any reasonable day, they should be in school learning. Instead --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go ahead. Please go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Chris, can I just -- can I just interrupt you? We are now having more information about the high school students. Ok.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of the parents are getting (INAUDIBLE) --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One minute. So we're -- ok. We're going to be walking just a little ways. We have been told that parents are obviously on edge right here. We have been asked to go a little further away from this crowd, because as you see it's now around the block.

But we do have new information here about where the high school students are being released. Sir, can you elaborate?

JOE BERGANT (PH), SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT: My name is Joe Bergant, superintendent of Chardon Schools. All of our high school students are now safe. The person who -- the alleged person who did the damage is in custody. And the students are being evacuated from the high school to Maple Elementary School.

Parents, take your time getting there. And we're doing the best we can with the staff we have.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Superintendent, can you discuss a little in terms of the events unfolding? Nobody wants this to happen. In terms of the process as to how it was handled.

BERGANT: All I can tell you is that the school district has done a great job in its testing of these kinds of disaster drills. And everything we put in place in testing they are activating right now and it's going as smoothly as possible for such a horrible incident. That's what we have. That's about all I can say.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. And thank you Steve so much. There has been some confusion, superintendent, in terms of whether there were one or two gunmen. Can you clarify that for us?

BERGANT: I believe there is one person in custody right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is there another person on the loose?

BERGANT: I don't know the answer to that. I believe not. I believe there was one person who committed the act. That person is now in custody. And the school campus is now safe. However, we are now dealing with the large amount of people coming to get their children.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In terms of the injuries, do you know how extensive those were?

BERGANT: I don't know. I have no idea.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. Thank you very much.

And you just heard again from the superintendent of Chardon. They are releasing the high school students to an elementary school here. He is saying that the high school students are safe. He is also saying that every safety procedure was followed. He is very proud of that.

But he does not know in terms of the extent of the injuries that we are hearing in terms of those students. He is also saying that he believes there was one gunman who is now in custody.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stephanie, if you get the chance to speak with Superintendent Joe Bergant again, please ask if he has any reports of whether the gunman was a student --

O'BRIEN: All right. this is coming to us from our affiliate outside of Cleveland. Chardon High School was on lockdown. We are being told not that the students who are at that high school have been released. They are being sent to the middle school where they will be able to be picked up by their parents.

Apparently, there was a gunman on campus. Three or four students have been shot by that gunman. The condition of those students is unclear. It's also unclear if it's one gunman or two gunmen. We are told by the superintendent on the scene that one gunman is in custody.

There are confirmations though coming in to CNN that two gunmen were there, and are now in custody. So obviously, as the story unfolds, it continues to be very complicated. But it looks like the school is now safe. Middle schoolers and elementary schoolers have been removed from their buildings. It's the high school which was on lockdown. It's now being transferred -- those students who are safe are being sent over to the elementary school to be picked up by their parents.

We have Deb Feyerick, she's standing by. She's going to cover "CNN NEWSROOM" this morning and obviously continue coverage of this story.

Deb, good morning.