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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Mad Cow Disease in California; America's Top Educator; Interview with T. Boone Pickens; The Tax Plan; "A Streetcar Named Desire"

Aired April 25, 2012 - 08:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Our STARTING POINT this morning: mad cow finally found in the U.S. So, people want to know if the school supply is safe.

Is Madeleine McCann alive? Police releasing new information on the little girl who vanished on a family vacation five years ago.

Plus, the FBI now involved in the New Orleans Saints spy-gate. Did the team spy on opponents? The reporter who broke the story joins us.

And his new role is being called steamy and sexy. Can Blair Underwood Marlin Brandon's "Stella"? He joins us live.

It's Wednesday, April 25th. STARTING POINT starts right now.

(MUSIC)

ROMANS: Every playlist should have a lot of Stones. "Start Me Up."

Good morning. Soledad is off today.

This morning, we have Ron Brownstein, editorial director of the "National Journal" and CNN senior political analyst. John Fugelsang, political comedian. And Will Cain columnist at TheBlaze.com.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I feel like we're about to kickoff like at the start of a football game.

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: I know. I know. It's a good song.

All right. We start this morning with mad cow disease, popping up in the U.S. for the first time in six years. It was found after a random test on a dairy cow in the commodities rendering plants in central California. It immediately triggered questions about the safety of the food supply.

Senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us now from Atlanta.

And good morning.

And we hear about mad cow even apparently in isolated case, it causes great concern because of the disease that can be transferred from cattle to humans.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. I mean, the disease is devastating. I actually did a story with a woman who had the human form of this disease and it is horrible. All she could do is moan. There was no treatment for her. I mean, this is an illness to prevent at all costs.

Let me talk about why this individual cow is not a threat. This cow that was found in Hartford, California, is dairy or was a dairy cow. This cow was never going to be consumed. If it's milk was drunk, experts tell me that it is not an issue because mad cow disease cannot be transferred through milk.

Now, Christine, I want to talk a little bit about how they detected this cow. They found it was sick through random testing. This cow showed no signs of the disease. Apparently seem to be fine. And they just found it randomly, which means they could have missed it, which means that cow's parts could have been ground up and put possibly into feed for, let's say, chicken or livestock and then you or I could have eaten that in turn.

And so that, of course, makes people nervous. But there are rules that say that you can't put the infectious parts of an animal into feed for humans or for other animals. So for example you won't find cow brains on the menu in any U.S. restaurants because cow brains, if that animal was infected, could get someone sick.

As you can see, there are safeguards for keeping mad cow disease out of the U.S. food system. Is it 100 percent? Well, probably nothing is 100 percent but I should note no one in this country has ever gotten mad cow disease from eating meat that came from this country.

ROMANS: Yes, the case you studied before was someone who moved to this country, right, from some place else and had contracted it somewhere else. And you know that this is something that industry and food safety people do not want to happen so they spend a lot of time making sure it doesn't.

COHEN: A single case could be devastating for the patient and for the industry.

ROMANS: Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much.

Time now to go to Zoraida for the other big stories of the morning. Good morning.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Christine.

We start with breaking news this morning. Her case captured worldwide attention and now there's new hope for missing British girl Madeleine McCann. Madeleine was 3 years old when she vanished in 2007.

This morning, U.K. authorities say she may still be alive, but refuse to say what evidence they uncovered to suggest this. Police released a new age progression image showing what Madeleine may look like now. She would be 9 years old this May. Madeleine was last seen in Portugal on a family vacation.

And for the second time in five days, a bird strike forces a passenger jet in New York to make an emergency landing. This latest incident involved a JetBlue flight last night from Westchester County airport headed to West Palm Beach. The pilot was forced to turn around just 15 minutes after takeoff when two geese slammed into the windshield and damaged it. One passenger described the impact.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The plane started swerving immediately right after the two hits. So, he was rocking the plane back and forth. We knew something was going on. I'm going to die. I'm not going to see my family. I'm not going to get home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: None of the 54 passengers on board was hurt.

And flying down the road at more than 100 miles per hour with a police escort. Two state troopers in New Jersey are now suspended after allegedly escorting dozens of luxury cars on a dangerous high- speed run to Atlantic City. This was all last month. The video you're looking at shows a similar incident from 2010.

Earlier, we spoke to an attorney for one of the suspended officers. He compared the police escort to something cops would do for a funeral procession and suggested his client was just doing his job. He also threw NFL running back Brandon Jacobs, one of the drivers, under the caravan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLES SCIARRA, ATTORNEY FOR SUSPENDED NJ STATE TROOPER: Brandon Jacobs, this is a guy who plays for the Giants, running back, plays for the NFL. Some of these guys scoot of to the Caribbean in their off-season. He sticks around and does charitable events and that stuff. He knows my client through that kids hospital, fundraisers, those types of things. Calls up my client and says, can we do an escort. Some of the guys --

ROMANS: Does your client give permission to do that thing?

SCIARRA: Sure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Mitt Romney promising to deliver a better America if he wins the White House in November. The former Massachusetts governor sweeping to victory in all five GOP primaries last night, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Delaware.

And last night he tore into President Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Because he has failed, he will run a campaign of diversions and distractions and distortion. That may have worked at another place and in a different time but not here and not now. It's still about the economy and we're not stupid.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: Romney closing in on the 1,144 delegates that are needed to secure the nomination. CNN estimates he has 764 after last night.

And even though he's out of the race, Rick Santorum is finding it difficult to get behind Mitt Romney. The former Pennsylvania senator and his wife Karen spoke to CNN's Piers Morgan last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's the person that is going to go up against President Obama, it's pretty clear. We need to win this race. We need to defeat Barack Obama.

PIERS MORGAN, HOST, CNN'S "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT": Is that an endorsement, isn't it? Unless I'm mishearing things. You just endorsed Mitt Romney.

R. SANTORUM: Well, if that's what you want to call it, you can call it whatever you want. I --

MORGAN: Am I wrong?

R. SANTORUM: All I would say -- look, I believe --

MORGAN: Karen, you know your husband. Has he just endorsed Mitt Romney?

KAREN SANTORUM, RICK SANTORUM'S WIFE: Not at this point, no. We're working through it. We're talking about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: You got to give Piers credit for trying. Santorum is meeting with Romney on May 4th. Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich says he's staying in the race but concedes it may be time to reassess his candidacy.

Love them or hate them, the Kardashians are not going away. The family inking a new TV deal worth -- wait for it -- $40 million. The Kardashians sign on for three more seasons for their reality show on E! Entertainment Network. Last season, averaged 3 million viewers per episode. I know you love this show.

ROMANS: I have never seen this show. I only know who the people are by hearing other people talk about them.

SAMBOLIN: You approve of the money they're making?

ROMANS: I mean, it is America. It's capitalism. Whatever. Whatever. I just don't get it. Maybe I'm a nerd and I'm boring. I don't get it.

JOHN FUGELSANG, POLITICAL COMEDIAN: Opposite of that actually.

ROMANS: Zoraida, thank you.

Am I boring I don't get that?

FUGELSANG: You don't need to keep up with the Kardashians. You can slow down and watch the car wreck.

ROMANS: I'm trying to keep with the stock tables and the GDP.

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: I don't have a lot of time.

All right. The FBI and Louisiana state police now investigating allegations the New Orleans Saints eavesdropped on opposing teams. It's alleged that Saints general manager, Mickey Loomis, used a secret electronic device for nearly three seasons starting back in 2002. The Saints are denying these allegations saying it's 1,000 percent false. Not 100 percent, 1,000 percent false.

ESPN reporter John Barr broke the story.

John, they say you got it wrong. So tell me about your sourcing and tell me about what your reporting found that they were doing in there.

JOHN BARR, REPORTER, ESPN: Well, about a month ago, we started down the path to reporting a story about the bounty scandal. Excuse me. And in the course of that early reporting where we attempted to drill down and get a better context on that bounty story, we heard some information about this alleged eavesdropping. That was about a month ago.

We spent several weeks trying to nail down that information to corroborate it to vet sources. The timetable increased for us late last week when we heard on Friday that the U.S. attorney in New Orleans had received the information and then taken that information to the FBI in New Orleans. So we worked hard over the weekend to try to fill in any last holes in the story and we were able to break the story on Monday.

But this is something we've been working on for the past month and --

ROMANS: Tell me what it is exactly that your sources say was happening. So the stadium was wired so that New Orleans staff could listen to the opposing coaches and know what they were doing, giving them presumably an edge.

BARR: Correct. The information we have is that the previous general manager, Randy Mueller, asked for the installation of a box in his suite within the Superdome so he could only listen to the Saints coaches. Mueller was fired in 2002.

According to the sources we have spoken with, at that time the box was rewired so that it was only tapped into the opposing coaches so that then general manager Mickey Loomis could allegedly eavesdrop during games and hear the real time in-game communications between the coaches up in the booth to the coaches down on the field. Now, there are several different lines that go from those assistants up in the booth down to the coaches on the field. It's not clear precisely what line he tapped into, but our sources are telling us that he had a switch and that he could switch back and forth between the offensive and defensive coaches.

And in the past few days I've talked to a number of people and they say it's very important because if he just had the real time plays, there's a lot of jargon that NFL teams use with respect to the plays that they call. But if he could tap into the head coach, they may have talked about more big picture strategic things. Hey, if we score a touchdown here we'll kick an onside kick. That type of thing.

ROMANS: Right. I mean, clearly, it's important stuff. Before Will and John jump in, but I want to read what the head coach said. He called it ludicrous, juvenile and irresponsible of the report.

And former Saints coach Jim Haslett also cast doubt. He said, saying, at no time during my tenure as head coach of New Orleans saints did Mickey and I discuss monitoring opposing team coach's communication nor did I have any knowledge of this. To my knowledge, this concept was never discussed or utilized.

I just want to make sure that, you know, that's their reaction to your report.

Will, you want to jump in?

CAIN: Yes, John. I think one of the odd details in the story so far is it was the Saints general manager, Randy Mueller, intercepting communication. Do you have anything in your story that suggests Mueller was passing that to the Saints coach who actually would have real use for that information? I don't know what a general manager would do with that information during a game. So, did he pass that info on to his own coaches?

BARR: Well, just to clarify, Randy Mueller was the general manager from 2000 to 2002. He's the one who according to sources listened to his own coaches.

CAIN: Right.

BARR: Mickey Loomis just to clarify that point.

But your point is valid, you know? We did not suggest -- we did not report, I should say, that the Saints gained a competitive advantage by doing so. We didn't report that Mickey Loomis listened to the device. We just know that according to sources who we found to be credible that the device was rewired. It wasn't wireless. It was a hard wired system that was rewired in 2002, allegedly, so that Loomis had the capability to listen in.

So, what our sources are telling us, at Loomis' direction, the device was rewired in 2002. Mickey Loomis has been characterized to us as a cap guy, a salary cap wiz, and not an Xs and Os football guy. So, it is a valid question, just what could he really do with this information that he received in real time to give them an edge? It's a great question.

FUGELSANG: John, real quick because we're short on time. Did your sources explain to you why they were sharing this information with you?

BARR: Well, you know, I think it would be -- if I got too much into their motivation, it might come dangerously close to outing them. I do know that this is information that's been out there for several years. Obviously, it is coming out now.

You know, ultimately I think the individuals that we spoke to recognize that it was wrong. I think the reason it came out now is because all of the people involved are mindful of the fact that it might not only have violated the rules of fair play, it also may have possibly violated state and federal laws. And when everybody became cognizant of that, that upped the ante for them and increased their desire to get the information out.

ROMANS: John Barr, the reporter for ESPN who broke the story, who I'm assuming is not very popular right now New Orleans Saints fans, and certainly --

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: No, no.

John Barr, thank you so much for that.

Now, ahead on STARTING POINT: how to connect with America's youth. Slow jam the news couldn't hurt. We're going to check out President Obama's late-night performance.

Plus, we're feeling less pain at the pump these days, right? Or are we?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: OK. We're talking about Teacher of the Year. A 12-year-old goofball the president calls her. So, what's what makes her so effective in the classroom? We're going to meet her next. (CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: Come on! I'm going to get touched with my (INAUDIBLE). You're watching STARTING POINT.

(LAUGHTER)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: How about that apple? Seventh grade English teacher, Rebecca Mieliwocki, award Teacher of the Year by President Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She's got high expectations for her seventh graders and for herself, but she also knows that school can be fun. And that fits a personality that she describes as a 12-year-old goofball dying to get out. And I have to say, she was a little goofy when I met her.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Rebecca was from 53 finalists. She joins us this morning from Washington. Congratulations. I'm going to do a little editorializing here and tell you that the largest profession in America is teaching. 3.2 million of you. It's the most important job in this country.

You stand in front of those kids, and the relationship they have with you is what's going to determine whether or not they are successful, and they make this country successful. So, congratulations on being, you know, recognized for your success in the classroom.

REBECCA MIELIWOCKI, 2012 NATIONAL TEACHER OF THE YEAR: Thank you so much. Earl? Earl?

ROMANS: I've been told. Thank you. Thank you, Mrs. Mieliwocki,. It's Ol. I'm told if I'm going to do it or just black gold, Texas tea.

MIELIWOCKI: Oh, you know what, actually, when I was in the other room getting my glam on, I heard something about mad cow, and I thought that's how you were introducing me. And I was like, hey, come on!

ROMANS: She is goofy. She is goofy, but she's not mad. So, tell me, what is it that you do? What's your philosophy for keeping expectations high for yourself and for your students as the president mentioned that you think is successful in the classroom?

MIELIWOCKI: Well, you know what, I didn't start out as a teacher. I kind of came into teaching from the business world, and in that community, results matter. You have to be on your game. You have to get your job done. And you have to be good at what you do, and that's how you rise to the top. And I took that idea, that kind of, I don't know, unusual business model into the classroom, and it's about getting results with kids.

So, I know that my number one job is to help build their skills and make them 21st century communicators. I'm their English teacher. But there's nothing that says that, you know, while we have very hard work to do that it can't be engaging, it can't be lively, it can't be real and relevant and right now.

So, I just try to kind of tack onto what it is kids are really into, what they're passionate about, whether it's Justin Bieber, whether it's the Black Eyed Peas, whether it's Facebook, whatever it is, I use that and kind of piggyback on that and take that to the lessons and the skills that I need them to know.

ROMANS: You can tell that you've met the international sex symbol, Will Cain, on this program who has a question for you now.

MIELIWOCKI: Absolutely. Yes.

CAIN: So, you may have just given me the answer to my questions, Rebecca, which is give me some specifics. You're accused of unconventional teaching tactics --

MIELIWOCKI: Like you.

CAIN: I'm kidding with you. But what are specifics? Bringing pop cultural references into the classroom? What do you do that's unconventional that seems to be working?

MIELIWOCKI: Well, I make sure that kids are front and center in their own learning, that they're taking ownership of what it is that they want to know, and then, I help explain to them what it is that they need to know. We'll do things like we do a lot of small group activities. They'll partner together.

We do a lot of projects. Some very big on project based learning. So, one of the assignments I had my kids start the year with was they all designed an app for a smartphone that an incoming middle schooler can use to help navigate school life and whether it could be an academic app that could help with homework or study tools, whether it would be a bully locater, whether it could be cafeteria lunch rating system, those kinds of things.

They have to design the app and do the little thumbnail write up and the graphic. Those are real world skills. They might go to work as a computer programmer or some sort of designer, graphic designer. That might be a job they could have, and so, I design projects that give them an outlet for work that they may do when they grow up.

ROMANS: Let me show you -- I want to show you quick before Ron jumps in. I want to show you the failing grade -- I mean, you look at rankings of the U.S., and quite frankly, it's kind of abysmal. We're 14th in rating, 17th in science, 25th in math. I argue that a lot of other countries aren't doing what we do in American public schools, which is -- it's just different here.

It's a different society, and we do a lot more, and we expect a lot more out of our public schools. When you see rankings like that, I mean, what do you think about your profession and your ability to help American kids do better with the rest of the world?

MIELIWOCKI: Right. Right, right. Well, you know, every teacher I know is on a quest to get even better, and I think that's kind of uniquely American quality is this thirst for improvement for innovation, for moving forward to being better. We're very used to our unique position on this planet as being a free nation and an innovative nation, and educators are committed to making sure that kids can stay competitive.

I mean, when you talk to one teacher and another teacher, they just feel an obligation and the responsibility to do their best work with kids. Now, do I have the funding to do that best work? Do I have everything I need to prepare kids for the 21st century? I wish I could say yes, but I don't.

But I don't let that stop me. You know, I have dug deep into my purse. And honey, I hope you're not listening, but I -- you know, they released a statistic that said the average teacher spends $400 of her or his own money on kids.

ROMANS: We spend twice as much per student today than we did in the 1970s.

MIELIWOCKI: Yes. I want -- I said to them that's a good start. That's a cute starting number. And honey, again, turn off the TV. It's so much more than that. I can't tell you. I mean, I've fed children. I've transported kids to practices and to plays. And I've bought supplies for my classroom.

ROMANS: I think that extra mile that shows -- I mean, the kids know, too and that really is the connection they get, and that's why you got all the way to the White House. Rebecca Mieliwocki --

MIELIWOCKI: We can do better. We can do better than that, and we are doing better. I just know that great minds and good people are at work in education all over this country. I'm so proud to represent teachers. I'm so thankful and honored. What a day yesterday was.

ROMANS: I bet.

MIELIWOCKI: The president called me a goofball.

ROMANS: Nice to meet you. Thank you so much, Rebecca Mieliwocki. We'll talk to you again soon. She's the National 2012 Teacher of the Year.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, President Obama slow jamming on student loans with Jimmy Fallon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Now is not the time to make school more expensive for our young people.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON": Oh yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: All right. The president going late night to grab some young voters. We're going to have the highlights. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: What we've said is simple. Now is not the time to make school more expensive for our young people.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON": Oh yes.

(LAUGHTER)

FALLON: You should listen to the president.

(LAUGHTER)

FALLON: Or as I like to call him the preezy of the united seezy.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: President Obama slowed jam on the news on Jimmy Fallon's late night show, and the show was taped in front of a big audience of the UNC Campus. The president is courting young voters, took time to answer some of their questions from twitter.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FALLON: This first one's from @BoboBrian.

(LAUGHTER)

FALLON: And Bobo says --

OBAMA: What does Bobo have to say?

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: I woke up wondering what Bobo --

(LAUGHTER)

FALLON: (INAUDIBLE) what does Bobo have to say. Due to economic pressures influence on voters could likely see a ... Ah, forget it. Are you going to legalize weed or what?

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: I figured that's what Bobo was going to ask.

(LAUGHTER)

FALLON: Sounds like something he'd be interested in. Yes.

OBAMA: We're not going to be legalizing weed or what any time soon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: Weed or what.

BROWNSTEIN: Notwithstanding the answer, it's easier for Obama to kind of culturally connect with young people. Harder for him to make an economic case after four years that are pretty tough -- it really is the classic example of people who run presidential campaigns is going to be a choice or a referendum. Choice, pretty good for him. Referendum, much tougher with young people.

ROMANS: Forget the politics. How is the comic timing and how do you do, you know, from a comedian standpoint?

FUGELSANG: Oh, you know, he's terrific. He's really solid. He's the most relaxed guy in the room, which is why he can pull this off better than some previous presidents could, but as far as the weed question, he gets asked that at almost every town hall he does.

The White House staff hates it. And those questions aren't going away, especially because he ran saying he wasn't going to harass clinics for medicinal marijuana in California.

ROMANS: How did we go from Jimmy Fallon to the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana?

FUGELSANG: It's an issue young people care about.

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: All right, ahead on STARTING POINT, we interrupt this program for bears crashing the 11:00 news. Watch as they sent the weatherman running.

Plus, T. Boone Pickens, a Texas oil man, says he can save America from foreign oil. His solution in this time of sky high gas price, I'll tell you. Billy Joel covering the Disney classic "When You Wish Upon a Star." STARTING POINT will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: That's "Let's Groove" from actor Blair Underwood's playlist. He's coming up a little bit later. Time to go to Zoraida Sambolin for today's other big stories.

SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you. Two more members of the Secret Service are out, resigned in the wake of the Colombia prostitution scandal. A total of nine agents are now out of work. President Obama last night discussing what they did on "The Jimmy Fallon Show."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A couple knuckleheads shouldn't detract from what they do. But what these guys were thinking, I don't know. That's why they're not there anymore.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: The president said he was pretty mad when he found out what the agents were doing before his visit to Cartagena.

A former close aide to John Edwards will be back on the witness stand for a third day of testimony this morning but this time he'll be cross examined by the defense. The prosecution's star witness, Andrew Young, telling the court yesterday about detailed plans Edwards made with him in order to hide an affair with his pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter. Young testifying about a day when he says Hunter made so many frantic calls to him he told her, quote, "Somebody better either be pregnant or dying." Young says her reply was, quote, "Nobody's dying." When Edwards found out that Hunter was pregnant, Young says he called her, quote, "a crazy slut," and said there was a one in three chance that it was his child.

One World Trade Center will soon be the tallest building in New York City. The Port Authority says construction is moving quickly and it could surpass the empire state building's height as soon as Monday. One world trade will be the tallest building in the western hemisphere at 1,776 feet when completed.

A live weather report at a news station in Pennsylvania gets crashed by a bunch of bears. Have you seen this? A meteorologist took off when a mama bear and her three cubs wandered into the station's backyard weather studio. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Obviously we had very little notice that Kurt was not in the backyard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is live video from the backyard right there. There are two bears.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look at that. This is why he's not out there right now. I don't blame him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: The bears eventually found their way back into the woods.

ROMANS: That's a great story. Thanks, Zoraida.

Some relief at the pump this week. It may not last long. This morning gas prices are down six cents from a week ago and it's two cents lower than a year ago, continuing yesterday's trend when for the first time in two-and-a-half years when the current price dropped below the price a year earlier. But analysts expect they could increase again before Memorial Day weekend. They do every year, right?

Joining us now with the panel, T. Boone Pickens, founder and chairman of BP Capital Management. Nice to see you. Nothing more political than gas prices. They sling barbs at each other on the campaign trail. Come on, a president can't control the price of gas. We have a world market for that so we don't have the president controlling the price of gas. Do you think this is going to be a political weight for who will be blamed they can't lower prices?

T. BOONE PICKENS, FOUNDER AND CHAIRMAN, BP CAPITAL MANAGEMENT: Sure. They don't have anything else to talk about.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMANS: Last night Mitt Romney was talking about the president's all of the above energy strategy and made fun of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I have a hard time sometimes understanding what he means when he says he's for all of the above when it comes to energy. And then I finally figured it out. He's for all of the energy sources that come from above the ground, the wind and the sun. Now, I like the wind and sun too. But I also like the energy that comes from below the ground, the oil, the coal, the gas, we're going to get them both.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: You like wind and solar and natural gas. Who has --

PICKENS: I like all-American.

ROMANS: You like independence from foreign oil.

PICKENS: Exactly.

ROMANS: Who's got the best plan of those two guys?

PICKENS: I do.

ROMANS: Are you running for president, sir?

PICKENS: I'm telling you, I've got the best plan. It's a simple plan. The first thing is quit blaming someone for the price of gasoline. That's all set by cartel, which is OPEC. That's it. And they have the swing all. They produce 31 million barrels a day. They are going to call the shots. They've already told you they have to have $100 a barrel because of social commitments within their country paying off the people --

ROMANS: I talked a vice president from FedEx, and they're using more oil than we are going to use. We complain what we pay at the pump he's saying what you are saying -- get used to it. The needle is not being moved by the United States. What about the keystone pipeline. Also very political. Should we do it?

PICKENS: Of course you should do it. The Saudis claim they have 250 billion barrels of oil. They don't. Probably 150, 175. But there's 250 billion barrels in Alberta, and that's the pipeline. That's Keystone.

BROWNSTEIN: We're down from 60 percent on foreign oil to 45 percent in 2011, what's been improving that number and what's been driving and what do we do to move it down further?

PICKENS: The economy is down, demand is down. If you want is it step down on the economy, you can cut demand more. But the oil and gas industry in the United States has done an outstanding job. The oil and gas industry in this country has gotten out there, found oil, found gas. We had the cheapest -- just a second. We had the cheapest energy in the world, the cheapest. Nobody is cheaper than we are.

BROWNSTEIN: Real quick, the other after 20 years of stalemate we have been increasing fuel economy standards. What's the role that's playing?

PICKENS: That's great. Anything that conserves helps the economy and the price of fuel. But you're getting ready to have the gasoline price -- hang onto your hat.

FUGELSANG: Keystone, most of that oil would go to China and India. We're exporting so much oil right now while prices are so high.

PICKENS: We're not exporting. We're exporting product. They are coming into our refineries and it's coming out of their high price getting into that arbitrage and shipping it out of the United States. We're not exporting oil. We're exporting product.

ROMANS: It's interesting. Natural gas prices have been going down and down and how to use natural gas in this country. I was talking about how they use that in long haul trucks and how to use that but in North Carolina you have oil fields switching from natural gas to oil.

They're not switching. They're moving away from drilling dry gas wells and drilling oil wells not just in North Dakota. It's all over the country. Fred Smith knows more about energy than I do.

BROWNSTEIN: Would more domestic production have a material effect on the price Americans pay at the pump?

PICKENS: Will more?

BROWNSTEIN: Would more U.S. production domestic production of oil significantly affect the prices Americans pay at the pump?

PICKENS: Sure it would. Yes. You see we're 10 percent under the rest of the world today on oil prices. It's $120 a barrel. We're $105.

BROWNSTEIN: Isn't the paradox that higher prices make it more attractive to drill for some of the tougher oil which is what is increasing our domestic production?

ROMANS: You look at the northeast, some of the refineries are trying to refine this messy oil, and it costs more to refine that stuff.

PICKENS: No, that isn't right. The northeast refineries are in horrible shape because they have to compete with the Gulf Coast refineries. Gulf Coast refineries are processing light sweet crude coming off of production out of the basin and out of Texas, out of west Texas.

ROMANS: It's easy to refine stuff.

PICKENS: Yes, it is. Here you have the eastern refineries. They're processing heavier crude and it costs more. So they are taking in foreign price crude and it's about -- that's why those refineries are for sale.

ROMANS: I want to switch gears quickly. We want to get to this. Big talking point for the president is about fairness and rich people paying their fair share. I'm happy to inform you that you are rich.

PICKENS: Well, I feel very uncomfortable because they keep saying that. I'm 84 years old next month. And after I was 70, I paid $665 million in taxes.

ROMANS: You paid $665 million in taxes over 13 years?

PICKENS: Yes. I feel I've been -- in the last two years I haven't made any money.

ROMANS: What's your tax rate, your effective tax rate? Do you know off the top of your head?

PICKENS: I have losses from '08 and '09 and didn't pay taxes last year. I don't get a salary. So if I sold something and I would get --

ROMANS: So you don't agree with this Buffett rule that we can start on the road to fixing America's financial problems by making rich people pay a greater share of wealth in taxes?

PICKENS: Redo the tax code. That's what we need to do. Quit picking around the edge of it. Go ahead and redo the tax code. Do a value added tax and go from there. We'll get more taxes out of it. And now we pieced it together where you have special interests get special deals. And I don't like to say all of the subsidies that the oil industry gets, come on. The oil industry plays the same thing as GE and other manufacturing companies.

CAIN: This is something I advocated for. Reform the tax code. Simplify it make it easy to understand and do away with credit and exemptions. But whether or not we're talking about oil, we could talk green energy subsidies, would you be OK with that if plays in that industry say do away with my credits and subsidies and we'll be fine? One of the beneficiaries of the complex tax code has been various aspects of the energy industry. I'm saying you're in the energy industry and you advocate for a simplified tax code, and you're fine with that?

PICKENS: Sure. I'm fine with that, yes. Don't have the idea that you're going to replace foreign oil or any other oil with wind or solar. They do not move an 18 wheeler. The only thing you're going to move an 18 wheeler with is diesel or natural gas. That's it. We're oversupplied with natural gas. It's $2. Beijing is $16. The Mideast is $15. Europe is $13. And this summer you will see $20 natural gas in Japan.

ROMANS: T. Boone Pickens, we have to leave it there. I could talk gas and oil with BP Capital Management. Nice to see you, sir.

PICKENS: Thank you.

ROMANS: Ahead on STARTING POINT, two time Golden Globe nominee Blair Underwood is in the house. We're going to talk to him about his new role on Broadway taking on the role that Marlon Brando made famous in as "A Streetcar Named Desire". From Blair's playlist -- Jennifer Lopez, Pit Bull "Dance Again".

Hi nice to see you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey shut up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You quit that howling down there and go to bed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Throw my clothes down here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You shut up. You're going to get the law on you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stella.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- woman and then call her back. Well, she isn't going to come.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Listen Stella.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They'll haul you in and turn (inaudible). You stinker.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stella.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: The thing about that scene is what he's saying and it's also when he's not saying something he's still so unforgettable. That's Marlon Brando making that -- that role and that scene iconic. And now actor Blair Underwood is taking on "A Streetcar Named Desire" with some twist.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLAIR UNDERWOOD, ACTOR: Stella. Stella. I knew want my baby to come down. Stella. Stella.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Wow. Blair's performance is just nominated for a Drama League Award this week. First, congratulations.

UNDERWOOD: Christine you really just got (inaudible) to Marlon Brando.

(CROSSTALK)

ROMANS: We did, we did, but hey. Wait, how many people -- but Blair how many people can -- can do that? I mean, you have this great shot at this iconic role.

UNDERWOOD: Well thank you I saw you yelling "Stella" on the teaser.

ROMANS: I was, I was.

CAIN: She said, before you came out, she turned to three of us and she said don't talk during this segment. I'm talking to Blair Underwood.

UNDERWOOD: Yes, right, right.

CAIN: I've got to tell you, she's right. This is an intimidatingly handsome man. I mean, intimidating.

ROMANS: It is, it is but you are taking on this amazing role.

UNDERWOOD: Yes.

ROMANS: In this, you know this famous play. How do you make Stanley -- how do you reinterpret Stanley at the same time --

(CROSSTALK)

UNDERWOOD: Right.

ROMANS: -- you dropped his last name. It's a very Polish last name. How do you reinvent this character?

UNDERWOOD: Well you're right. It is a multicultural cast and the best way I even know to approach something like this is to start from scratch. I mean, you know, you have the comparisons here but you know they in 1947 when they -- when they did this play, Elia Kazan and Brando and the entire cast they started from this incredible literary masterpiece that is "A Streetcar Named Desire" by Tennessee Williams.

So we are just kind of building up on that. There are you know certain permissions we got from the Tennessee Williams' estate like Kowalski to remove that.

ROMANS: What else? They changed the name of the restaurant too.

UNDERWOOD: The restaurant is Galatoire's in the original, in the original play. Galatoire's was a segregated restaurant in the 1940s so we changed it to Bilky Chase. Bilky Chase which --

BROWNSTEIN: I was in a -- I was in an event with her last week.

UNDERWOOD: Mia Chase.

BROWNSTEIN: Hey absolutely.

ROMANS: But it was not segregated.

UNDERWOOD: It was integrated then in the '40s and is still up and running and great food today.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

UNDERWOOD: Yes.

ROMANS: Wow so tell me --

UNDERWOOD: No but I should say --

BROWNSTEIN: The pictures of presidents on the walls.

UNDERWOOD: Yes that's right.

BROWNSTEIN: You're exactly right.

UNDERWOOD: But I should say beyond that it is the same script -- same story, same play. It's just projected through a different prism.

ROMANS: Well that's a human -- and so it's this kind of this brutal character.

UNDERWOOD: Yes. ROMANS: This brooding brutal character but it is almost an everyman experience. I mean you can dig into that character that Brando played and find the every man.

UNDERWOOD: I think it's one of the -- why it's one of the most iconic roles in the American theater because you run the spectrum of -- and this man who I see Stan as a man-child. He is a brute. He is -- he's animalistic as they say. But you know what, that moment right there when he's yelling Stella is after he's beaten his wife Stella.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

UNDERWOOD: She's pregnant. That's a cry from the heart. Don't leave me. He's desperate.

FUGELSANG: Well that and so -- we talking in the break about previous mixed race role African-American production in these plays in the past. For this one though, I guess the question transcends race. How do you as an actor approach Stanley to make him a sympathetic character?

UNDERWOOD: To really tap into the why of why he is the way he is. Why is he so desperate for her? Where does that come from? It's not really in the script in terms of you've got to create that back story. You know was he left alone? You know what's -- what are the relationships with other women. His mother and all of that kind of stuff. That we now from a psychological stand point look at it and analyze with someone in treatment earlier. A lot of that analysis -- psychological analysis.

(CROSSTALK)

ROMAN: We're going to get some -- wee have more with Blair Underwood right after the break coming up. So don't go anywhere. More about Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire". We leave you with another track from his playlist. I like it. Nice.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: We're back with Blair Underwood and we were talking about Tennessee Williams and his vision and his play, "A Streetcar Named Desire" and how now you are Stanley on Broadway for this. What a path that must have been for you to try to interpret Tennessee Williams in a different way.

UNDERWOOD: Yes. Yes. It's amazing. We were talking about Tennessee Williams and just how as a man of the South and as a gay man of the South and as being an outsider, he understood -- especially the French Quarter -- he understood the mixture of the culture; the French and the Spanish and the African.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, I think about doing this today. A man like Stanley is even more marginalized by the economy today than he would have been in 1947. I'm just wondering about how that kind of hovers over this in your mind. UNDERWOOD: What a great question. I mean he is. He is that blue collar kind of guy. We spoke of desperation from him towards Stella. But you know, the beginning of this play, Stanley and Stella are expecting a baby. As a father of three, there's that sense of protection of the family, you know, that whole nesting side that comes in. Everything is heightened.

When the economy is bad and when it's the 1940s or it's today. Whether, you know, you are threatened by in this case Blanche Dubois, coming in here taking an insurance policy that is Bell Reve that plantation of his wife, and all of those things threaten his reality and he from a very animalistic, man perspective --

BROWNSTEIN: Well, home is the one place he has power in his life.

UNDERWOOD: That's it. That's right.

(CROSSTALK)

UNDERWOOD: That's his kingdom.

ROMANS: But opportunity and lack of opportunity and trying to preserve your opportunity. Eight shows a week.

UNDERWOOD: It is hard work.

ROMANS: It is. It is really hard work. It's nice to see you.

UNDERWOOD: Only 16 weeks. Brando and that crew did it for two years. We're doing it for 16 weeks.

ROMANS: Blair Underwood. It looks fantastic. I'm going to see it. Thank you for dropping by.

UNDERWOOD: All right. Come backstage.

ROMANS: I will. Don't ask me twice. It's on tape. I've got it right now.

The "End Point" with our panel is coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: Time for "End Point". There's not much time. So Ron Brownstein gets it.

BROWNSTEIN: The debate over the Arizona law at the Supreme Court today highlights two big fault lines in our society. How we're going to hold together in a country that's becoming more racially diverse. And also red states and blue states moving really far apart on how they approach a lot of different problems.

ROMANS: All right. That's profound and concise. That's what we like on ""End Point".

ROMANS: All right. John Fugelsang, Will Cain and of course, Ron Brownstein, nice to see all of you.

And Carol Costello, nice to see you too. Good morning, Carol.

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