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May 31st, 2012
04:51 AM ET

Correction to Ghaith Abdul-Ahad blog post

An online blog post about reporter Ghaith Abdul-Ahad's groundbreaking PBS report on Al Qaeda operations in Yemen incorrectly stated that Ghaith Abdul-Ahad was an Israeli reporter, when in fact he is a native Iraqi.

Read the blog post here.

Filed under: Correction
May 30th, 2012
01:12 PM ET

Democratic strategist Christine Pelosi dismisses 'ridiculous' Trump, shifts focus to real issues

Mitt Romney became the presumptive Republican nominee yesterday after his Texas primary win helped him reach the magic number of 1,144 delegates. You would think that Romney clinching would be the top political story of the day, but instead, a Romney surrogate and fundraiser is making headlines of his own.

Businessman and entertainment figure Donald Trump is in the news yet again for claiming that President Obama was not born in the U.S. Democratic strategist Christine Pelosi stopped by today's "Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien" to discuss how Trump stumping for Romney many or may not affect the campaign.

"Donald Trump is only saying loudly what a lot of Republicans have been dog whistling for months…it's ridiculous and it has to stop," Pelosi said.

"I'm glad Governor Sununu [refuted Donald Trump earlier on Starting Point] but I'd also like to hear that from Governor Romney."

Pelosi noted that it is important that people focus on real issues such as jobs, the economy and the empowerment of working families, but got into a debate with panelist Margaret Hoover as to whether or not President Obama is a job creator.

"No doubt, we need to do better," Pelosi said, but noted that President Obama has indeed improved upon his predecessor.

Pelosi is the daughter of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who during her time as Speaker of the House, was the highest ranking woman in the history of the United States. She is the author of two politically-themed books and writes frequently for The Huffington Post.

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Filed under: 2012 Race • Birthers • Politics
May 30th, 2012
01:03 PM ET

Tenn. mosque ordered to cease and desist construction, spokesman says he thinks it was 'singled out' for its faith

Last year, Soledad visted the town of Murfreesboro, Tennessee outside Nashville to report on a local mosque-building controversy. Reminiscent of such occasions as the 2010 "Ground Zero Mosque" outrage in New York, her report prompted the obvious question: What is the state of American tolerance?

A Tennessee judge ruled yesterday that construction of the new Islamic Center of Murfreesboro must be halted because the city wasn't given enough notice of the project, rendering permits invalid.

Saleh Sbenaty, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, talks with Soledad about his concerns this morning on "Starting Point."

"We have a church next door, and they have applied thorugh the same process, and they were approved through the same process," Sbenaty says. "I"m not sure why we would be any different. We're just American citizens, as everybody else. Why are we singled out?"

See the rest of the interview in the clip above.

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Filed under: Islam • Tolerance
May 30th, 2012
12:17 PM ET

Council on Foreign Relations' Michael Wahid Hanna says military intervention not an option in Syria

With the UN Security Council convening today on the deteriorating situation in Syria, Century Foundation fellow and member of the Council on Foreign Relations Michael Wahid Hanna believes that the current strategy in the country is suboptimal but "it's the only one that exists at the moment."

Hanna cites complex sectarian and ethnic grounds and a divided opposition in Syria for the difficulty in creating a clear plan of resolution. "More importantly," he tells Soledad on "Starting Point", "there is a divide in our international community which limits the range of options which can be brought to bear." Hanna says that a plan of managed transition and Alawite control of the security sector may be the best way to get cooperation from Russia and those in Syria that fear what a regime change could bring.

"It's not a clean concept. I would only say all the other options are very bad," Hanna continues. "If this fails, we're looking at protracted, bloody, sectarian civil war that could have regional impact in terms of Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and other countries and so this isn't something we should be discarding very lightly."

Military intervention is off the table, Hanna says, and he believes all diplomatic possibilities should be exhausted.

Hanna states that fissures in the al-Assad regime and Syria being isolated from the international community are the keys to bringing change to the riotous nation. "Obviously Russia abandoning Assad would be an important prerequisite but I don't think in and of itself it can solve the situation."

May 30th, 2012
11:20 AM ET

Reporter Ghaith Abdul-Ahad goes undercover in Yemen to illuminate 'new phase of Al Qaeda'

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Ghaith Abdul-Ahad was an Israeli reporter, when in fact he is a native Iraqi. Apologies to Mr. Abdul-Ahad.

Iraqi reporter Ghaith Abdul-Ahad traveled to Yemen to discover the Al Qaeda base firsthand and offers Soledad O'Brien a chilling glance into the terrorist regime on "Starting Point" this morning.

Al Qaeda has previously found strength in its guerilla tactics and unorganized domain, but Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is a cohesive unit, well-known for terrorist acts such as the bombing of the USS Cole, the unsuccessful underwear bomber, and the 2010 cargo plane bomb plot. It's a move for independence, Abdul-Ahad says, and a move for the group to control their own state.

"This is the new phase of Al Qaeda," says Abdul-Ahad. "It's post-Osama Bin Laden, post-Pakistan, post-Afghanistan."

The documentary focuses on three cities in Yemen that have been overtaken and cultivated by Al-Qaeda, and the differences between the three show the diversity in the group's reign.

Abdul-Ahad says Jaar, for the most part, is life as usual - except the court systems and police force are completely run by Al Qaeda. Azzan, a mountain-town, is what he calls the "citadel" of Al Qaeda: isolated and confident. But the city of Lawder fights constantly to fend off the Al Qaeda rule.

"Al-Qaeda can take over a town, can take over a part of a population, but when the population turns against Al Qaeda, this is the end of Al Qaeda," Abdul-Ahad says.

The full half-hour PBS Frontline special "Al Quaeda in Yemen" aired last night and can be viewed on

Filed under: Al Qaeda • Terrorism
May 30th, 2012
10:12 AM ET

Fmr. Gov. John Sununu: Donald Trump is wrong, and we should be talking about the jobs problem in the U.S.

In a heated exchange with "Starting Point" anchor Soledad O'Brien, fmr. New Hampshire Governor John Sununu lamented the ongoing coverage of the 'birther' issue and emphatically stated that "Donald Trump is wrong" on the issue of where President Obama was born.

"Why is CNN so fixated on this? Why don't we talk about the jobs issue in this country?" Sununu asks Soledad. "Mitt Romney has made it clear - Mitt Romney has made has clear that he believes that President Obama was born in the U.S."

Later in the interview, Soledad presses Sununu to put the controversy to rest by disavowing birther claims.

"How come someone doesn't say, 'Donald Trump is wrong?' We're going to tell Donald Trump he is wrong," Soledad asks.

"Donald Trump is wrong. The president is born in the United States," He says.

Read more from the conversation in the transcript below.

Gov. Sununu also talked about the struggling U.S. economy, and says it all comes down to job creation.



Filed under: 2012 Race • Birthers • Jobs • Politics
May 30th, 2012
09:25 AM ET

Rep. Rogers says working with Arab League key to Syria issue, says public pressure could turn Russia

Eleven countries have now kicked out their Syrian ambassadors, including the U.S., Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Canada, Bulgaria, The Netherlands and Japan. In just a few hours, the U.N. security council meets to talk about what to do now, after a massacre in the town of Houla where 108 civilians were killed and nearly half were children.

UN envoy Kofi Annan, who's been meeting with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, says Assad himself "condemned the killings too." He even vowed to organize an investigation but many say the Syrian government is the one to blame.

The White House insists military action is not the right course of action, but GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney thinks otherwise. He released a statement saying "we should work with partners to arm the opposition so they can defend themselves."

This morning on "Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien," Intelligence committee chairman Congressman Mike Rogers (R-MI) says the U.S.'s best response at this point is to work with the Arab League and allies to confront Syria.

"I'm not sure arming is the right answer here," Rep. Rogers says. "We're just not exactly sure who the bad guys are and who the good guys are right now in Syria. You don't know who you're giving weapons to."

"A more concerted effort by standing shoulder to shoulder with the Arab League, who does want to do more in Syria, is probably the best course of action," Rep. Rogers adds.

In the video below, Rep. Rogers also explains how public pressure could force Russia to take a different stance on Syria and further condemn their actions.

Filed under: Arab League • Russia • Syria
May 30th, 2012
08:28 AM ET

Starting Point playlist for Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Kanye West's "All of the Lights" kicked off our Starting Point playlist this morning, a pick from panelist Margaret Hoover. The 2011 Top 20 hit features vocals from a wide variety of artists ranging from Elton John to Fergie.

Margaret also picked Joe Cocker's 1969 cover of "Feelin' Alright" and Lifehouse's 2007 hit "First Time."

Ron Brownstein of the National Journal was a panelist today and brought two rock gems with him. First up was "Pride and Joy" by the legendary Stevie Ray Vaughan, followed by "Keep the Car Running," Arcade Fire's critically acclaimed 2007 hit.

Will Cain picked a soft-rock classic for his first playlist pick this morning: Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down." The 1989 hit was Petty's first release without his frequent band The Heartbreakers. Will also picked James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World." The 1966 single was a Top 10 hit for the Godfather of Soul.

Of course, Will also went a little country, picking "Time Marches On," the mid-nineties hit by Tracy Lawrence.

SP host Soledad O'Brien picked a couple of songs herself for today's playlist. Soledad picked "Shine" by Ledisi and Chaka Khan's classic "Tell Me Something Good." The song, a Top 5 hit in 1974, was written by Stevie Wonder.

May 30th, 2012
08:20 AM ET

Get Real! Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg allegedly stiffs Rome waiter while on honeymoon

Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg allegedly skipped a tip for a waiter while honeymooning in Italy.

Filed under: Facebook • Get Real
May 30th, 2012
06:49 AM ET

Starting Point live blog for Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

This morning, "Starting Point" is live at 7am Eastern. Soledad O'Brien will talk with our panelists, columnist Will Cain, American Individualism author Margaret Hoover and "National Journal" editorial director and CNN Senior Political Analyst Ron Brownstein. Our panel will be talking about the following top stories:

Romney hits 'magic number' for GOP nomination but Donald Trump's fiery 'birther' defense steals thunder

After Syria massacre, what can the world do?

David Letterman talks with Regis Philbin on a special edition of "Piers Morgan Tonight"

Share your comments in the section below. If you're not by a TV, you can watch us here at Let's get started.


[UPDATED  7:20 Eastern] Ivan Watson, live in Istanbul, Turkey, says that Turkey announced it is expelling Syrian diplomats from the Syrian embassy in Ankara.

[UPDATED 7:28 Eastern] Chairman of the Intelligence Committee and former FBI agent Rep. Mike Rogers says he's not sure if arming the Syrian opposition is the answer  "mainly because we're just not exactly sure who the bad guys are and who the good guys are right now in Syria, so you don't know who you're giving weapons to."

[UPDATED 8:06 Eastern] Award winning journalist Ghaith Abdul-Ahad says of jihadists in Yemen, "This is the new age of Al-Qaeda." Adbul-Ahad says that the city of Jaar "has now become a de facto independent state that's run by Al-Qaeda."

[UPDATED 8:33 Eastern] Fellow of The Century Foundation and member of The Council on Foreign Relations Michael Wahid Hanna says that the current strategy in Syria is sub optimal but "it's the only one that exists at the moment." Hanna says that the international community can possibly push a "managed transition" in Syria.

[UPDATED 8:52 Eastern] Democratic strategist Christine Pelosi says that it is important to focus on the real issues-jobs, the economy and the empowerment of working families. "As far as this "birtherism" is concerned," she says "Donald Trump is only saying loudly what a lot of Republicans have been dog whispering for months."

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