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Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien
Obama Administration Attacks Romney's Time as Massachusetts Governor; Interview with Deval Patrick; New Tapes Released Concerning Charles Manson; Two American Kidnapped in Egypt; Truancy Case Controversy; Banning Big Sugary Drinks; Are Mermaids Real?
Aired May 31, 2012 - 06:59 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST: Welcome, everybody. Our "Starting Point" this morning is breaking news. Two American tourists have been pulled out of their car in Egypt at gunpoint. They've been kidnapped. The gunmen just announcing their demands. We're going to be live with the very latest details straight ahead.
And developing story, the Obama campaign changing tactics, backing off Bain Capital attacks, instead going after Mitt Romney's record as Massachusetts governor. A new ad being released this morning. The current governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, will join us to talk about what's true and what's not.
Plus a Texas judge throws a truant student in jail in Texas. What's the story behind why this 17-year-old is missing school is now catching the nation's attention, and new developments as well in her story. It's Thursday, May 31, and STARTING POINT begins right now.
Welcome, everybody. Our STARTING POINT is this breaking news. Two American tourists have been kidnapped at gunpoint in Dahab in Egypt's Sinai region. The kidnappers, it appears, are trying to negotiate some sort of prisoner exchange. Let's get right to CNN's foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty live at the State Department for us. Jill, what do we know?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, we've been talking with the State Department. And the State Department is in touch with the families of these two people. Names have not been given. They're 31 years old. The state department is providing counselor services and they are in touch and working very closely with Egyptian authorities to try to resolve this.
Essentially, what happened, these two people, two Americans in a car on their way to a resort at Dahab. You mentioned that name. It's a former fishing village, apparently really a lovely site, a place for snorkeling and diving. And so they were on their way. Their car is stopped. They're yanked out of the car and taken away.
And it appears that the people who did that want the release -- the demand is for the release of an Egyptian man who was arrested with a large amount of drugs. So, presumably, could be negotiations trying to get them free. This, Soledad, is a Bedouin area, a good example of some of the problems happening after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, an area that doesn't have a lot of resources. There's a lot of resentment against the central government. And it has happened before. Remember back in February, there were a couple of Americans briefly kidnapped, happened to some Chinese workers. So it's turning into a bad situation there.
O'BRIEN: We're continuing to watch that situation. Thanks very much for that update.
Let's turn to Christine Romans with the day's headlines. Good morning, Christine.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad.
Five people are dead after a gunman goes on a shooting spree in Seattle. A sixth shooting victim suffered fatal injuries. As police closed in the gunman took his own life. Authorities still don't know what triggered the rampage. Seattle is considered of course one of America's safest cities but has been plagued by a wave of gun violence this year. There were 20 homicides in all of 2011. So far this year, they've already had 19.
And Indiana high school senior finds out this morning that she'll be stuck in Mexico the next three years. Elizabeth Olivas is class valedictorian at Franklin high school and is supposed to deliver a graduation speech Saturday. She has lived in Indiana since she was four-years-old but was born in Mexico and never became an American citizen. The law are required she return to Mexico within 118 days of her 18th birthday to get a visa or green card, but got there one day late. Now she's banned from returning to the U.S. unless she's granted a waiver this morning at the U.S. consulate in Juarez. We'll talk to Elizabeth next hour on "starting point."
The Dragon heading back to earth, the commercial Space X capsule released from the International Space Station earlier this morning. Deorbit is scheduled for this morning. Splashdown is expected before noon.
We're getting our first look at Pedro Hernandez in custody, New York City police releasing this photo of Hernandez, who is suspected in the death of Etan Patz 33 years old. Police say the 51-year-old Hernandez confessed to murdering Patz, the six-year-old boy who disappeared in 1979. He is charged with murder and now is on suicide watch at a New York hospital.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg no longer one of the world's very rich people. While he has been enjoying his honeymoon in Italy, Facebook stock has been dropping. The company has lost a quarter of its stock market value, and that mean Zuckerberg has now fallen of Bloomberg's top 40 billionaire's list index. Zuckerberg is still worth about 14.7 billion. The stock closed at $28.19 yesterday, Soledad.
O'BRIEN: That's a terrible thing to have to tell him. But then the good news is that you're still worth $14 billion. It's not so bad.
ROMANS: That's a lot of billions.
O'BRIEN: Christine, thanks.
The Obama campaign is launching a new attack strategy this morning after weeks of hitting Mitt Romney for his work at Bain Capital, the Obama administration is now taking aim at his record as governor of Massachusetts. It's trying to discredit the Republican nominee's time spent there. In just a few hours Obama senior strategist David Axelrod will be leading a news conference in front of the state house in Boston to try to push that message as well.
Joining me this morning, Obama supporter and Massachusetts governor, Democrat Deval Patrick. Nice for seeing you, governor. Thanks for being with us.
GOV. DEVAL PATRICK, (D) MASSACHUSETTS: Good morning, Soledad. Thanks for having me.
O'BRIEN: It's our pleasure. Why the shift away and off Bain and focused on Romney's job that you now have? Was there some backlash certainly among the surrogates?
PATRICK: First of all, it's never been about Bain, but whether Governor Romney has accomplished in either the private or public sector the kinds of things he said he wants to do for the nation as president. He sold us, Soledad, the very same lines that he is offering now in his campaign for president, but it just didn't happen. He talked about more jobs. We were 47th in the nation out of 50 in job creation in a good economy. He talked about slimming down government. In fact, it grew. He talked about fiscal discipline, and instead, he left a 1.1 billion deficit.
O'BRIEN: Governor, let me dig into some of those numbers. You say 47th in the nation in job creation. If you look at the Massachusetts Tax Foundation, which is using the statistics from the bureau of labor statistics, when the governor came in to office 150,000 jobs had gone in the recession, obviously, as you well know. The Dotcom bubble had burst. right. But once he was in office for roughly 12 months, the state stopped losing jobs. By the time he left office he regained those lost jobs plus, they say, 31,000 incremental jobs. So a net gain of 31,000 jobs.
PATRICK: Let me be clear, Soledad.
O'BRIEN: Is that wrong?
PATRICK: I didn't say he didn't add any jobs. I said in a good economy, we were growing third from the bottom compared to other states around the country. That's no longer true.
When he said that, for example, he was going to make government smaller, it is a fact that he added more people to the workforce. He said he was going to show us fiscal discipline. It is a fact that he left a $1.1 billion deficit. These aren't attack points. They're just facts. And when we talk about what he's trying to sell to the American people as his agenda and his experience when he's running for president, we ought to be able to look at those facts.
O'BRIEN: So here say clip about debt in Massachusetts. Let's play a little of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Under the Romney administration we accumulated the greatest debt buildup of any state in the country. That's after a campaign promise to do exactly the opposite.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His used debt to pay for annual operations cost, like paying your rent on your credit card. That was Mitt Romney's plan for paying the way we maintained our highways and cleaned our streets.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: I think the Romney campaign would argue isn't really the debt ceiling fight about this very thing? This is what President Obama is doing, too, right? You use debt and money that is essentially borrowed to pay for the costs you need for everyday living. Isn't that a fair slam on the president?
PATRICK: Well, I think I heard the clip, but the point is that the -- there's debt that we use to finance infrastructure, long-term expenses, the same way that people take debt for a mortgage, for example, for their home, or debt that we use for operating expenses. In a state as you know, Soledad, you have to balance the budget. So being able to run a deficit for operating purposes is not a very good idea. We had a structural deficit here when Romney left. It's gone today, I'm happy to say.
O'BRIEN: Let me ask you about taxes and fees. This is a big part of the clip you've released online. Let's play that first and we'll talk about that on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He raised our taxes by raising our fees.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But a rose by any other name is absolutely still a rose. Fees are an increase out of the pockets of every Massachusetts resident. That's a tax.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: So are those fees today still in place? Or when you came in as governor did you say those fees are unfair, we're being nickelled and dimed -- let's get rid of them?
PATRICK: Many of them are still in place. About a quarter billion -- excuse me, three-quarters of a billion, Soledad, in additional fees. The gas tax was also raised. The question is not whether they went up or went down. The question is whether as a philosophical point of view you believe that fees and taxes ought to fund the services that people say they want. And Governor Romney says that the solution to our economic woes is to cut taxes and fees. By the way, that's never been born out historically, but he didn't actually do it when he was here.
PATRICK: But you still have these same fees so if philosophically you think fees are philosophically the bad way to mimic taxes, why not rescind the fees?
PATRICK: Well, in fact, in some cases we have. In others, we've had to increase them. But we have never hidden behind a suggestion that we weren't doing that, that we weren't trying to fund the services people say they need. That's a point of integrity. That's not a point of good or bad of raising fees. I'm just saying that Governor Romney has made the point that he didn't raise taxes. In fact, he did raise the gas tax. And from the perspective of the taxpayers, fees are a tax.
O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a question of polls of favorability. Those polls are narrowing the gap between President Obama and the former Governor Romney. Romney is up 13 points. President Obama is down --
PATRICK: On a national level?
O'BRIEN: Yes, and specifically if you look at women, the president down seven points among women. He's still ahead, ahead, the president, that is. Why do you think he's losing women, president Obama?
PATRICK: You're asking the wrong person, Soledad. I don't care about the polls.
O'BRIEN: Oh, please. Yes, you do. I have never in my whole life heard a politician say honestly they don't care about the polls. Come on.
PATRICK: If you've been listening to me, I say it all the time. The pundits and the pollsters trying to tell us what is going to happen from day-to-day is a lot less important than connecting with the concerns, the anxieties, and the aspirations of the American people in time for Election Day and beyond. And that's why I'm supporting President Obama. I think he is about governing for the long term, not the next poll, not the next election cycle, not the next news cycle. And that is a real difference between what the president is offering to the American people and what Governor Romney offered to Massachusetts while he was here in Massachusetts.
O'BRIEN: You might be the only person on both campaigns who is not paying attention to the polls, sir. Governor Deval Patrick, thank you, sir. He also has a new book called "Faith in the Dream." Thank you, governor.
Also in Egypt, two Americans have been kidnapped at gun point. We'll update you on their situation. Plus the secret Charles Manson tapes, police now getting their hands on eight hours of recordings. Could they reveal more murders committed by Manson?
Get off the treadmill. There's new this is morning that exercise could be bad for some of us. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.
O'BRIEN: This morning, Los Angeles police are hoping that new evidence could reveal if infamous serial killer Charles Manson is behind new unsolved murders, a court granting LAPD to more than eight hours of taped conversation between Manson follower Charles Watson and his attorney. Watson is considered to be Manson's right-hand man in the gruesome murder of seven people back in 1969. He's currently serving a life term in prison.
Criminologist and behavioral analyst Casey Jordan joins us this morning. She's also a professor and has included the Manson murders as a point of study in some of the courses that you teach. It's nice to have you.
CASEY JORDAN, CRIMINOLOGIST: Great to be here.
O'BRIEN: What value do you think these eight hours of audio recordings could have?
JORDAN: We have to admire the LAPD for there being thorough. These audiotapes had come up in a bankruptcy decision. And I think part of it is that they want to listen to them and find out if it sheds light on any other unsolved murders or cases that could have been cold for more than 40 years, but also to keep the hands out of someone who might want to exploit them for profit.
O'BRIEN: It's pretty unusual that an attorney would be taping his own client. That wouldn't happen today.
JORDAN: Not today. Back in 1968 audio cassettes were relatively new. And probably this attorney wanted to preserve the conversations for his own efforts. But today that would be highly risky to preserve anything that could be used against your client in the future. Tex Watson doesn't have any objection.
O'BRIEN: He waived that privilege was waived so those tapes could go to the guy working on his book.
O'BRIEN: Eventually they went to the attorney, because he had no way to pay the attorney. The attorney is dead, the law firm goes under, declares bankruptcy. Now they're in the hands of the LAPD. Are there any unsolved crimes that they think could be related to the Manson murders?
JORDAN: Maybe two or three from that era. I think it reflects our continued fascination with those Manson murders. It really represented this watershed in our culture, this Helter-Skelter attack on Hollywood and capitalism. And I think people want to get inside the mind of Tex Watson to see if there are details that he may have divulged to his attorney.
O'BRIEN: The LAPD chief wrote this, "When trying to get permission to have these tapes. He said the LAPD has information that Mr. Watson discussed additional unsolved murders committed by followers of Charles Manson. It is requested that the original recordings be given to the LAPD in order to determine if information regarding unsolved murders was included in the recordings." Is there any evidence at all that that, in fact, is in those tapes?
JORDAN: Just because he discussed unsolved murders doesn't mean that he admitted that he was involved in them in any way. They could have been talking about things in the news. Remember, the entire Manson clan was very forthcoming. They didn't deny anything at their trial. They just basically said it was a political maneuver to lock them up forever. If Tex Watson, who, by the way, says he found Christianity and wrote a book -- I think he would have said something by now.
O'BRIEN: He also gave them to his nephew, saying I don't want these to fall into the wrong hands.
JORDAN: I don't think he wants anyone to exploit them. If anyone were to do it, it would be Tex Watson. As you mentioned, he already wrote a book. Anything connected to the Manson family will be considered a hot commodity.
O'BRIEN: Why? Why do we care?
JORDAN: That one is really at the top of murders that really just felt like the world was out of bounds, completely chaos.
O'BRIEN: And every time Charles Manson comes back up for parole --
JORDAN: We're galvanized.
O'BRIEN: And we're reporting on it again. Casey Jordan, thank you for being here.
JORDAN: Glad to be, Soledad.
O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, a big "Get Real" to a pregnant mom who got herself arrested. How the urge to get a piercing wound up getting her hauled off to the cops.
Also, a quiet afternoon at the local watering hole shattered by this, a runaway SUV. It's all caught on camera, crazy pictures there. Our STARTING POINT team headed in, Margaret Hoover, Marc Lamont Hill, and Will Cain, good morning. No chairs for you. You'll have to stand the next two hours. Welcome.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (MUSIC)
O'BRIEN: Marc Lamont Hill must be back.
MARC LAMONT HILL, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. Set the music goal high today, will. See what you got.
O'BRIEN: He has made a lot of movement.
O'BRIEN: Let me introduce everybody. Our team this morning, Margaret Hoover worked in the G.W. Bush White House, Marc Lamont Hill is professor at Columbia University, and Will Cain is a columnist for TheBlaze.com. Nice to have you all.
Time to "Get Real" this morning. This one takes the cake, as they say -- 20-year-old Stephanie Irene Santana, who was drunk, is now officially out of the running for mother of the year. The pregnant and drunk Houston woman was arrested after she stopped at a tattoo parlor at 2:40 in the morning, 2:40 am. Apparently it's an all-night tattoo parlor. She wanted to get a piercing. And she's kind enough to mention to them, like how fast will this go, because I have my kid in the car.
So tattoo parlor employees called -- except for the drinking thing and the kid in the car thing alone. But the tattoo employees called the police, found the one-year-old girl asleep in the vehicle surrounded by beer bottles, apparently, and prescription Xanax pills. Seven-and-a-half months pregnant, so let's list, shall we --
WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I wrote it down.
O'BRIEN: Can you? Where is your chart?
CAIN: It's not a chart. It's handwritten scribble notes. Drunk, 20.
O'BRIEN: Underage drinking.
CAIN: OK. Seven months pregnant.
O'BRIEN: And drinking.
CAIN: Bad, bad, with one child already, going for a piercing. Lot of people --
O'BRIEN: And beer bottles and Xanax found where? In the diaper. diaper. Hopefully, she'll get some help and turn her life around.
O'BRIEN: Still ahead on STARTING POINT, we have some breaking news to share with you from Egypt. Two Americans have been pulled out of their car at gun point and are now kidnapped. We have details to tell you about straight ahead.
Plus a Texas teenager jailed for missing class. She's an honor student working two jobs to try to support her brother and sister. Is the judge going to cut her a break?
And if you're watching us at the gym, stop what you're doing. Literally get off the elliptical machine, because there is news today that is exercise could be bad for you.
O'BRIEN: At equinox downstairs they're like, I'm out.
You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
O'BRIEN: Morning. Welcome back, everybody. We start with breaking news. Two Americans have been kidnapped overseas. Two American tourists taken at gun point, apparently, in the town of Dahab in Egypt's Sinai region. The U.S. embassy says they're in close contact with authorities, trying to resolve the situation as quickly as they possibly can.
CNN's Jill Dougherty is live for us at the State Department.
Hey, Jill, good morning.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Soledad. So we've been checking with the State Department and they tell us that they are in touch with the families of those two people, 31 years old, both of them, who were kidnapped. That the State Department is providing all the services, counselor services, that they need and the most important thing is that they are now working very closely with Egyptian authorities, trying to resolve this.
It appears -- you mentioned they were on the way to this town of Dahab, which is a resort. And it appears that they were taken out of their car because -- by Bedouins, because the Bedouins themselves had a man who was taken into custody for apparently having a large amount of drugs. So it looks as if -- they're simply holding them because they want their guy back.
This, Soledad -- by the way, Dahab is a resort. Apparently it's a beautiful area, not far from Sharm el-Sheikh, former fishing village, a lot of diving and scuba diving, all sorts of things. And you can imagine it's a very nice place. However, Egypt, as we know, has a lot of problems after the fall of Mubarak. There's a lot of tension in that area because the Bedouins feel that they get almost nothing from the central government.
So that's been seething. And remember that this has happened before. There were two Americans in February who were kidnapped. But they were released. And there have also been Chinese workers. So problems in that area. And we can just hope that the State Department, along with the Egyptian authorities, will be able to bring this to a close peacefully and the people will be OK.
O'BRIEN: We'll continue to monitor the situation. Jill, thanks.
Let's get right to Christine Romans. She's got a look at the day's top stories.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Soledad.
Syrian state television says the government has freed 500 prisoners who were arrested for their alleged involvement in the anti- government uprising. It comes as regime forces target the town of Houla with mortars and rocket again today. Houla is the site of last week's massacre that left more than 100 Syrians dead and nearly half of those dead are children.
A new bombshell in the hazing scandal at Florida A&M University. A band member charged in another suspected hazing there. Prosecutors say 25-year-old Dante Martin was involved in the beating of a female band member as part of a hazing ritual called crossing bus C. The alleged victim says she was beaten until she was woozy.
Drum major Robert Champion died in November after authorities say he was beaten in the same ritual. Martin is not charged in Champion's death.
Former Rutgers University student Dharun Ravi will begin serving a 30-day jail sentence this morning for spying on his gay roommate with a Webcam during an intimate encounter. That roommate, Tyler Clementi, then later committed suicide. The judge said he didn't see any purpose in putting the 20-year-old Ravi in a prison with hardened criminals for a longer period of time.
Not exactly happy hour at Gordy's Bar. Check out this incredible surveillance video. A few of the regulars having drinks at the local Watering Hole in Little Canada, Minnesota. This was yesterday. A 51- year-old woman lost control of her vehicle, took out a utility pole, then crashed right through the wall, pinning five customers against the bar.
The manager Pat Sazenski got out of the way just in time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAT SAZENSKI, BAR MANAGER: It happened like that. You didn't have time to react. Three feet down and I see the pole flying through. And I thought that is kind of strange. Then all of a sudden I heard a boom and then the truck came right through the wall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROMANS: Six people, including the driver, were hurt. Police say the driver may have had a medical condition that caused her to lose control.
The news we've all been waiting for. Could exercise actually be bad for you? A new study claims exercise could increase heart risk in some healthy people. Ten percent of the study's participants who engaged in rigorous exercise actually got worse on at least one measure linked to heart disease, blood pressure along with insulin and cholesterol levels.
Researchers say they don't know why but they do point out that most of the participants saw improvements with exercise.
So, Soledad, you cannot unplug the treadmill. Because it mostly is good for you.
WILL CAIN, COLUMNIST, THEBLAZE.COM: So breaking news, go back to the elliptical.
O'BRIEN: That's right.
O'BRIEN: Earlier I may have mentioned you should hop off the elliptical. I'd like to rescind that mention and tell everybody to put down the donut, go back to the elliptical.
O'BRIEN: Woops. Thanks, Christine.
So there's this really interesting case out of Houston to tell you about. And it has caught the nation's attention. It involves a 17-year-old girl. You might have heard of this story. Thrown into jail for a night for truancy. There she is right there. Her name is Diane Tran. She missed 18 days of school this year. And under Texas law when a student misses more than 10 days in six months, the school has to file a complaint against the student in court.
But what makes Tran's case unusual is her background. Really, she's been basically abandoned by both her parents. She missed school because she's working two jobs, one full time, one part time, and she's doing that because she's got two siblings to also support, one younger, one who is already off in college. On top of that, she's an honor student.
Here's a list of her partial class load.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DIANE TRAN, SENTENCED TO JAIL FOR TRUANCY: Dual credit U.S. history, dual credit English, college algebra, Spanish literary AP.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Well, people were outraged when the judge sentenced her to jail overnight. And now that her story is public there's a big push to try clear her record, get her help. And one of the folks leading that charge is Al Hoang, he's a councilman in Houston.
Nice to see you, sir. Thank you for talking with us. Certainly appreciate it. The judge is reconsidering. And I believe the order is vacated. Would that mean that it never happened? Her record is clear?
AL HOANG, HOUSTON CITY COUNCILMAN: Good morning, Soledad. Thank you for inviting me here to voice the Asian community as a whole, to support Diana Tran. The judge already vacate the charges but in Texas it has to be followed with a motion to expunge in the district court. And her attorney, Mr. Brian Wise, is going to file that motion today.
O'BRIEN: What moved you about her story? I know you started getting involved in trying to help her clear her name really after the story started getting big, national attention.
HOANG: Yes, exactly. Once the Asian community has heard of this matter, they immediately voiced up and I have received numerous e-mail and the president of the Vietnamese Community in Houston and Vicinities, Teresa Hoang, also sent a letter to me and also a letter to the judge immediately, asking to vacate this judgment.
And you know what, Soledad, the community here, they said to my office -- they said that the judge did not consider what we call the discretionary power so that he would not jail her, but the judge fortunately later on, he was informed of her situation and immediately already reversed the judgment. So he already vacate the judgment. That's very good.
CAIN: Mr. Wang, I want to just follow up on something you just said. I know the rules are that if a student misses 10 days in a six- month period then it's turned over to essentially the justice system. But how much discretion did the judge have? What could he have punished her with? What were his choices?
HOANG: Well, the Texas legislative intent was not to punish the good student, but only to punish the troublemaker. Here, this case, Diana Tran skipped classes. She has excuses. In the code it says very clearly that if a student is going to miss class without excuses, but now she has excuses. So the discretionary power of the judge is fairly huge in this matter. So after the judge, he said on the news that after he has been informed, he believes that this is the right thing to do, that is to reverse the judgment that he already ordered previously.
O'BRIEN: One of the things that seemed to be motivating the judge, in fact, was a sense of like slippery slope. You know, if you don't -- if you don't come down hard on one student, then the rest of them might get away with everything.
Let's play a little bit of what the judge said and I'm going to go to you. Go ahead, let's play that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUDGE LANNY MORIARTY, MONTGOMERY COUNTY TEXAS: If you let one of them run loose, what are you going to do with the rest of them? Let them go, too? A little stay in the jail for one night is not a death sentence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARGARET HOOVER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I guess what I want to know, Soledad, maybe you guys have an opinion on this, but where is the school system on this? Because I -- you know, before you even get to the criminal justice system, to a judge, where are her teachers? Shouldn't the teachers be concerned that she's missing class and inquire why are you here? Should school officials and principals have some compassion and concern for this student? Maybe they could have dug a little deeper into the story before this got --
O'BRIEN: It does feel like -- feel like she fell through the cracks, Mr. Councilman. And I'm curious to know now that people know her story, money has been rolling in. There seems to be a lot of support for not just her specifically, but her brother and sister as well.
Do you sense that this is going to be able to -- with more people sort of understanding what's behind the missing school days, she'll be able to have sort of better fortune going forward?
HOANG: Definitely, Soledad. And if the people listening, if they want to help her, they can go on helpdianatran.com, helpdianatran.com. Well, the judge said that quote, you just quote before, he said those things because he was not been fully informed but later on he was fully informed, he changed his mind. That's what it is.
O'BRIEN: All right. We see that you've already raised, it looks like, $100,000 for her. Has she said what she's going to do with the money? Clearly she's a good student. Great student. She wants to go off to college.
HOANG: Yes. She is going to use that money to fight the legal system here so to clear her record, to expunge the case. And then the rest she will use to support herself and also the siblings that she is trying to help.
O'BRIEN: Houston City Councilman Al Hoang, joining us this morning. Thank you, sir. Nice to see you. Appreciate it.
HOANG: Thank you.
O'BRIEN: Still ahead -- you bet.
Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, do you enjoy drinking that big soda at the movies?
Sip up now. New York City is trying to put an end to those sugary oversized drinks.
And are mermaids real? A new mocumentary has some people believing that, in fact, they are, but they look like that.
CAIN: So not Ariel.
O'BRIEN: Listen, it's so no Ariel.
Here's my playlist, a little Kanye West to get the morning going. "Amazing."
MARC LAMONT HILL, HOST, "OUR WORLD WITH BLACK ENTERPRISE": Kanye West? You?
O'BRIEN: I love Kanye.
HILL: I know.
O'BRIEN: Oh, sarcasm.
HILL: I said country music.
O'BRIEN: Got it. Got it. Cold. You're watching STARTING POINT.
O'BRIEN: There you go. Yes. Don Henley, "Boys of Summer," that's off of Will Cain's playlist.
HILL: Well done. Well done.
HILL: I approve.
O'BRIEN: Kind of Will Cain pick on day, isn't it? A little teeny bit.
HOOVER: Every day is Will Cain pick on day.
O'BRIEN: No, no. I love Will Cain. This morning --
O'BRIEN: Why do you guys laugh hysterically when I say that?
It could be the end of the Big Gulp. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to ban the sale of all sugary drinks that are larger than 16 ounces. He wants the ban at all New York restaurants, movie theaters, sports arenas and more. They're going to -- the proposal is going to go on June 12th to the Board and -- the Board of Health. And since he controls all the members of the Board of Health, it's expected that they're going to approve it after the three-month comment period.
Nanny state. I can read your mind. Nanny state.
CAIN: It's so -- nanny state is one angle to go. The other angle is just the arbitrary silliness of it. I can buy, under this law, this proposed law, a big old beer but I can't buy a big old Coke. Beer would be OK. Alcoholic beverages would be OK.
O'BRIEN: Maybe they're worried about child obesity number. Right?
HILL: It's an obesity issue.
CAIN: OK. So I can go to this arbitrary. It's 15 ounces, OK. 16.5, not OK.
HILL: So it'd be interesting, when you go to a movie theater --
O'BRIEN: This is 20, right?
O'BRIEN: So what they're saying is this is no longer would be for sale.
HOOVER: Got it.
O'BRIEN: You would be forced to buy this.
O'BRIEN: And theoretically, you could go buy 25 of these.
O'BRIEN: Stuck them all down. It'd be perfectly fine.
HILL: But people don't do that. When you go to the movie theater, there's a -- there's a soda that's this big, 16 ounces, for $2, and this thing for seven cents more you can get one this big. And then most of us say yes because of the cents. No one is going back to the stand and get another one. That said, I don't agree with this.
HILL: I get -- no, I get the logic of it, but I don't think the government should be dictating what I drink and what I do.
HOOVER: Whoa, individualism, Marc Lamont Hill, I -- I couldn't agree more. Like where did you put your bleeding heart this morning?
HILL: I have a bleeding heart looking rooting for big kids. Something to deal with it.
HOOVER: No, I agree. Look, we do have an obesity problem and when you have obese children that becomes a public health problem, and who's paying for public health? Well, the public is paying. So there is some sort of balance, that isn't the way --
O'BRIEN: It all comes down to money?
HILL: Right, right.
HOOVER: But isn't it --
HILL: Exactly right.
O'BRIEN: Overweight small children in this state.
HOOVER: I think -- you know Michelle Obama's plan is we have a public advocacy campaign where you allow people to have the information in front of them and they can make smart choices. And sure the kids sometimes they're going to sneak the super sized drink.
HOOVER: But if you give people the information, you've got to trust them to be able to make decisions in their life.
HILL: Really, did that work with smoking so well? Did -- everyone knows --
HOOVER: People didn't have the information. That was the controversy.
HILL: Many people do now and still don't pay attention.
O'BRIEN: They had the information from the 1960 Surgeon General's report that said --
HOOVER: The (INAUDIBLE) community --
HOOVER: The public didn't know exactly what was happening.
CAIN: So just to be clear, New York City, now you can't buy alcoholic beverages infused with caffeine, you can't buy caffeine beverages over 16 ounces, you can't buy trans fat restaurant foods and everything you do buy must post a calorie count.
O'BRIEN: I love the calorie count thing.
HILL: Calorie count is fine, I think.
O'BRIEN: That's great.
HOOVER: It's information.
HILL: It's information, Will.
O'BRIEN: That's right. It's the information.
HILL: I know you're against the information and facts. But it's OK to have a calorie count.
O'BRIEN: We're glad you love our city, Will Cain. We're glad you love to be here from Texas.
HILL: Right. I know.
O'BRIEN: All right. Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT. Mermaid mania. Did humans evolve to become sea creatures? A Discovery Channel special, kind of like a mocumentary, goes viral. We're going to talk to the man who created it, coming up next.
HOOVER: Not cute.
O'BRIEN: And -- I know, they're not cute at all.
And a homecoming queen, she's cute, she's set to speak at her high school graduation on Saturday, but she's stuck in Mexico on a technicality over her visa. We're going to talk to her straight ahead.
You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.
O'BRIEN: It's sort of following the footsteps of "War of the Worlds" and the "Blair Witch Project." It's a mocumentary that many people thought was real. "Mermaids: The Body Found," premiered on Animal Planet this weekend. The program unfolds as a conspiracy cover-up combines real-life science and speculation about how this particular creature, by the way, looks nothing like the mermaids I imagined, could have evolved from human beings.
The show was so popular literally millions of millions of people watched it that it's going to re-air tonight. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The body was one of the most important anthropological finds. Possibly one of the most important scientific discoveries in human history. This was an intelligent tool maker with grasping hands evolved from a primate ancestor, one that walked upright on land like us. If this creature is part of the human family tree, how human is it?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Charlie Foley is the executive producer, writer and creator of "Mermaids: The Body Found."
Nice to have you.
CHARLIE FOLEY, EXEC. PRODUCER, "MERMAIDS: THE BODY FOUND": Thanks so much for being here.
O'BRIEN: Wow. So it's fake, right?
CAIN: It looks right there.
HOOVER: Mermaids are not real.
FOLEY: Well, there are some things in the film that are in fact real. So if you watch it, there is this phenomenon called "The Blue" which was recorded in 1997 in the Pacific Ocean.
FOLEY: And this mysterious sound that has long defied explanation. People don't know what it is. It's presumed to be organic in nature but that is a real sound that was recorded. In our story the Navy is involved in sonar testing that has resulted in beachings of whales. And that is also real. The Navy has actually conducted sonar tests that's resulted in beaching. For years they deny that they were involved in doing that. So that's also real.
There's a theory that --
O'BRIEN: But you show pictures like this, right, where you have the actual mermaid which by the way looks nothing like the mermaids I imagined. You know, I kind of look closer to the Ariel, long, red hair, sparkly tail thing.
FOLEY: So I think -- we imagine these mermaids so -- to -- in a way that would be biologically plausible. So if you were -- if mermaids were real, they wouldn't look like Ariel. The first thing you would (INAUDIBLE) is your hair because hair is (INAUDIBLE) in water so you wouldn't have hair.
The coloring, in fact, is something that we see in other marine mammals, in situations like whales and dolphins, in animals like great white sharks, it's called counter sheeting, where you're dark blue on the top and you're sort of paler on the other side, and that's camouflage in water. So if you're looking down through the water, the blue outline breaks your form, you can't be seen so easily. And if you're looking up against the surface, you're paler underneath. And it's harder to make out you're --
O'BRIEN: Did people think this was real? When the 3.5 million people watched this on Sunday night?
O'BRIEN: Do they -- how many of those are, like, wow, mermaids are real?
FOLEY: I think a fair number of them think that it's possible. And very flattered by that because we tried to create a world that was very convincing that imbued with science and informed by science so I think that makes it more realistic, more realistically rendered.
HILL: It's possible that mermaids exist and actually thinking that this is real, right? A lot of people are stupid. I mean let's be honest, right?
FOLEY: I'll give you an example. So a few years ago there was something discovered in an Indonesian Island called florist called the hobbits. And these are three feet tall -- it's a human species that was three feet tall. There are all sorts of myths and legends around the world of little people that live, pixies, brownies, sprites. And before that that species have been found. You would have thought that's simply impossible. That's just a legend. Just a myth.
Now, it's actually science record. That's true. That's a real creature. And so I don't know that it is so implausible to believe that there might be another species of humans that evolved in a different direction. There are actually animals that have done this, that have gone from land to the seas. Orcas did it. That evolved from wolf-life ancestors millions of years ago. Polar bears are doing it right now. They split from brown bears about 150,000 years ago. In that short span evolutionarily, they developed webbing in their front paws, they can hold their breath for minutes at a time. They're a marine mammal.
HOOVER: Seems to me that -- sorry to interrupt you. There's a cultural fascination with these mythological creatures. You have vampires now, you have zombies now, you have avatar. And --
O'BRIEN: Kim Kardashian was tweeting you during your show.
HOOVER: So I mean what do you think is the root of this cultural fascination with these mythological creatures in trying to find some basis of reality in them?
FOLEY: I think it's a great question. And I think -- I think people want to believe in legends. And I think people also believe that there might be a kernel of truth in legends. And one of the interesting things about mermaids is that every sea faring culture on earth has a story about mermaids. Cultures that never had contact with one another. And they all have very faithfully rendered the same depiction of the same mythic animal. That's curious. How did they all arrive at the same idea, the same mythic creature, and depict it similarly?
O'BRIEN: Charley, I believe. I believe.
CAIN: Final question. After all your evidence, all your plausibility, all your talk of other cultures have the same -- do you believe that mermaids exist?
FOLEY: I believe that there is a lot that we haven't yet discovered. In the past decade plus there have been two new species of whales found in the open ocean. Largest animals on planet earth that ever existed. They've just been discovered in the past decade plus. You've heard that the -- the deep seas have been less explored than the surface of the moon. That's true. So I still think there's a lot yet out there to be discovered. And so that's what I believe in.
O'BRIEN: Charlie Foley, nice to have you. "The Mermaids: The Body Found" is going to air on tonight on Animal Planet.
FOLEY: That's right. At 8:00.
O'BRIEN: All right.
FOLEY: Thanks so very much.
O'BRIEN: You bet.
FOLEY: Thanks for having me.
O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, a high school senior and the class salutatorian stuck in Mexico right before she's supposed to graduate on Saturday. She could be banned from returning to the United States for three years. We're going to hear from her rant the top of the hour.
And of course we continue to follow that breaking news. Two Americans have been kidnapped at gunpoint in Egypt. We'll take you live to Cairo straight ahead.
You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.