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Calling for Lawmakers to Fix Gridlock; How do North Koreans Really Feel About Kim Jong-il's Death?; Positive Signs About Economy; Ron Paul Leading in Iowa, Gingrich Heckled; Bill Clinton Working to Make World Better

Aired December 21, 2011 - 11:00   ET

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


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Live from Studio 7, I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

Want to get you up to speed for this Wednesday, December 21st.

Well, House members, they're on their holiday break today, leaving the question of whether or not you're going to pay more taxes up in the air. House Republicans refused to go along with a two-month extension of a payroll tax cut that was approved by the Republican colleagues in the Senate. If there is no deal, your taxes will go up January 1st.

House Speaker John Boehner today stood by his call for more negotiations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE SPEAKER: Let's extend the payroll tax credit for a year. And all we're asking for is to get the Senate members over here to work with us to resolve our differences so we can do what everybody wants to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Less than two weeks before the Iowa caucuses, Republican Ron Paul now the new leader of the pack. In a new poll, 28 percent say Paul is their man, compared to 25 percent who back Newt Gingrich. Paul is holding a town meeting. That is happening in Iowa this hour.

More on the surge in the state later, our "Political Ticker."

And Turkish police detain dozens of people in an alleged terror plot. Many of them, journalists.

Journalists held this demonstration in Istanbul. It was just hours after the police roundup. Now, they say free press is under attack, but the government says those detained were suspected members of the press and propaganda wing of a banned separatist group.

Some American troops who just returned home from Iraq have just learned now that they may be redeployed to Afghanistan in six months. The new orders are part of an overall exit strategy from Afghanistan, and it's not known just how many are going to be sent at this point. They'll stay for nine months to train Afghan troops to get them ready for the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops by the end of 2014.

The Occupy Denver site was bulldozed overnight. The city's new police chief authorized the removal of all the stuff the protesters have been leaving on the sidewalk in Civic Center Park. Now, protesters reportedly set these fires as police tried to break up that camp. But while the site has been torn down, the demonstrators say they're not going anywhere.

The Russian rocket -- check it out -- is on its way to the International Space Station.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- to the International Space Station.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: The Soyuz rocket made a spectacular and successful launch from Kazakhstan this morning. The crew, with one American, is expected to reach the International Space Station on Friday.

And Earthlings -- all right -- that's us. We may not be alone.

A powerful NASA telescope has discovered two Earth-like planets. They're outside our solar system, about the size of Earth, and orbit a star that is similar to the sun. But they're too hot to sustain life as we know it. Finding one that can may be only a matter of time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DERRICK PITTS, CHIEF ASTRONOMER, FRANKLIN INSTITUTE: We are now discovering planets at such a high rate, that it's only a matter of time, maybe even less than a year, before we find an Earth-like planet in the right location where water can be liquid. And that's the real big thing. So it could be really soon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: All right. So remember this?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): I'm just a bill. Yes, I'm only a bill. And I'm sitting here on Capitol Hill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: All right. So we all remember the Schoolhouse Rock path of how a bill becomes a law in this country. Well, it seemed like a pretty simple, straightforward process, but right now there's a bitter standoff that is gripping Congress and a much more complicated game of political combat that is going on preventing any work from getting done.

So here's the catch. If this bill sitting on Capitol Hill, a two- month extension of the payroll tax cut, does not become law by midnight this New Year's Eve, your family very well could see a two percent cut out of your paycheck. That is about $40 per paycheck for the average American household.

This is not a small chunk of change in this state of this economy, especially not the week after Christmas. So, of course, neither side of the aisle wants to see that happen, but the problem here is broken government, plain and simple.

Understandably, a lot of folks starting to think that their politicians no longer have their best interests in mind.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With the way the economy is and stuff, and now we're going to have to start paying more money --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And if the Congress doesn't agree on this right here, I just don't know how we're going to make it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Congress isn't really considering the people of America and the struggles that we're going through.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: So what can we, the people, do to make Congress act? CNN.com contributor Dean Obeidallah, he's got an idea: lock the politicians in on Capitol Hill until they get something done.

Well, Dean, he joins us now.

I know that sounds a little crazy to folks at first, but a lot of people are frustrated and they understand. They want people to do their jobs. What do you think should happen?

DEAN OBEIDALLAH, CNN.COM CONTRIBUTOR: I'm actually not kidding when I say let's take a page from the NBA owners and lock Congress out until they start getting something done for the American people. Honestly, this is like the movie "Groundhog Day," but it's not funny. There's no Bill Murray in it.

It's the same thing over and over every few months, there's some issue. And I'm going to be honest with you, it's Congress overall, but it's getting more and more focused, as John McCain said and "The Wall Street Journal" said, on the Tea Party members on the House of Representatives preventing a deal on certain issues which are good for the middle class. They're good for all of us.

So I think my frustration is echoed by the vast majority of Americans that are frustrated with our Congress.

MALVEAUX: And Dean, this idea is actually getting some traction, this Occupy Congress that is gathering momentum online. What can people really do besides vote the bums out of office the next election?

OBEIDALLAH: Well, I'm going to be honest, voting the bums out sounds so easy. People say that all the time. But even in 2010, Congress's approval ratings were at 20 percent. Still, almost 90 percent of the members of the House and Senate running for re-election were actually re-elected. So it's not that easy to vote them out.

I think one thing practically, frankly, call your congressional office. Send an e-mail to your congressman or congresswoman. Tell them this is not working, we want you to work for us.

It's not longer -- it should not be have a Tea Party agenda or a liberal agenda, it's an American agenda we need to help the middle class. It's 99 percent -- 100 percent of us can benefit from certain things now. Making a deal on the payroll tax cut helps all of us not just the holidays, for the whole year. We need the money.

MALVEAUX: And right now it seems Republicans are getting the brunt of the blame here this time. Even "The Wall Street Journal" editorial board this morning says this. It says, "At this stage, Republicans would do best to cut their losses and find a way to extend the payroll holiday quickly."

Now, I don't need to tell you this, Dean, but that's pretty big news. When "The Wall Street Journal," generally supportive of GOP policies, takes aim at Republicans, this is more than popular anger beyond liberals versus conservatives.

OBEIDALLAH: I agree with you. It's not partisan.

You have "The Wall Street Journal," you have John McCain saying the same thing. And that is, they know this tax cut will ultimately get passed. The question is, how much time and delay that we must get to before it's achieved.

We know what's good for the American people. There's a reason Congress has nine percent approval. I mean, right now, there are STDs more popular than our United States Congress.

So, Congress, get your act together. It's the holidays. Do something good for the American people. Renew the payroll tax cut.

MALVEAUX: All right. Dean, that's pretty strong language there. And that pretty much conveys how unpopular Congress is.

And as you had mentioned before, there are things that we can do. Send e-mails, tweets, flood these offices with calls. Let people know how you feel about this.

Dean, thank you very much.

OBEIDALLAH: Thanks, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And we also want to hear from you about this. It's as simple as tweeting your members of Congress. Does it require something bigger to happen to end the partisan gridlock?

Our "Talk Back" question today: What can we do as everyday citizens to fix this broken Congress? You can post your responses on my Facebook page at Facebook.com/SuzanneCNN. We're going to air some of your thoughts later in the hour.

Here's a rundown of some of the stories that we are covering.

First, a North Korean risks his life to tell CNN about his country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STAN GRANT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "North Koreans don't speak openly," he says. "If anyone knows I'm talking, I would be sent to prison. And there's no mercy there. I would be shot dead."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Then, a U.S. soldier facing tough times pawns his Purple Heart.

Plus, searching for a planet just like ours. We're going to see how NASA's latest discoveries stack up with our home planet.

And the office in Harlem impacting 400 million lives and 180 countries.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I love this work. Anybody that had the life I've had, anybody that was given the gift that I was given by the American people, you'd be crazy not to do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: How Bill Clinton and his foundation are changing the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Many of us are taken aback by these pictures. All right. So they show North Koreans crying hysterically over the death of their dictator, Kim Jong-il.

All right. So we wondered, what if all that sobbing -- is it real, is it just for show? Are they crying for a man? Essentially, they are crying for a man who allowed them to starve while he built nuclear weapons, indulged in taste for cigars, cognac, gourmet food. He kept them isolated from the rest of the world.

So you've got to wonder, how do they really feel?

Our Stan Grant, he goes looking for the answers. He is just over the border, in the Chinese town of Dandong.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GRANT (voice-over): This man does not want to be identified. He's afraid even to talk.

"There are many North Korean spies here," he says. "Many. Many. There are hundreds of spies."

We'll call him Mr. Lee, a North Korean living on the China side of the border in Dandong. He says he risks death just being seen talking to us.

"North Koreans don't speak openly," he says. "If anyone knows I'm talking, I'll be sent to prison. And there's no mercy there. I'd be shot dead."

As we persevere, he opens up a little more, painting a picture of a harsh life across the border where people are starving, aid is scarce, and the only factories operating are for making military weapons. Right now he says he fears a desperate country with a potential power vacuum that could so easily lash out.

"Before Kim Jong-il died, he was preparing the country for war and death," he says, "and to hand power to Kim Jong-un."

Other North Koreans here are in mourning, weeping openly for the "Dear Leader. Flowers continue to be delivered to the North Korean consulate building. Korean businesses, restaurants normally flourishing, have closed their doors.

(on camera): It's closed?

(voice-over): Dandong is separated from North Korea by the Yalu River, about a kilometer, less than a mile across. Cross-border trade flourishes here. China props up the destitute North Korean economy.

Dandong is a bustling, small Chinese city -- tall buildings, noise and traffic. On the other side, emptiness and silence. A lone, disused Ferris wheel a symbol of a colorless world.

From this pedestrian bridge we can walk right to the edge of the border. So close, yet so utterly different.

(on camera): This is the end of the line. This is about as far as the bridge goes. It stops right here, where this side of the line, I'm in China. If we step out from this bridge here, I enter North Korea.

(voice-over): Mr. Lee knows too well what happens there -- a regime obsessed with pumping money into its military, while desperately poor people go hungry, he says.

"Pig feed, that's all we can eat. Corn. No one can get full on that," he says. "There is no food, not even food from China. It's been blocked for three years."

"Even if you have money," he says, "there is nothing to buy. Any goods are traded for what little food remains."

Mr. Lee is well off by his countrymen's standards. He has relatives on the China side who run businesses. It's a lifeline for his family back home. Mr. Lee is able to work here on a limited visa, but he crosses back and forward just to keep his family alive.

"I can't not go back. I have to. I have a son and daughter," he says. "If I don't go back, they can't survive."

He has shed no tears for Kim Jong-il and harbors no great hope for the so-called "Great Successor," Kim Jong-un. But, still, he lives in fear of what the North Korean regime can do. Spied upon, afraid to speak out, as much a prisoner of the hermit kingdom as those whose lives are trapped in its borders.

Stan Grant, CNN, Dandong, on the China/North Korea border.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: More people are working now in dozens of states, and the national unemployment rate is now down. We're going to take a look at the bright spots in the job market.

And for more than 40 years, McDonald's has been far away the biggest burger chain. But "The Wall Street Journal" may have just started a beef by projecting a new number two. The second place burger wars are sizzling.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: All right. We told you about a big beef. This is the battle over which burger chain is number two. Here's how they stand.

McDonald's, number one; Burger King, number two; Wendy's, in third place. But by the end of the year, "The Wall Street Journal" expects a big burger flip. For the first time in 40 years, a new number two, Wendy's, reigning over Burger King. An upset.

Stocks are in the red today. Right now the Dow Jones is down 72 points.

Felecia Taylor, she's at the New York Stock Exchange.

Felecia, I don't know if you're a burger eater or not. I guess that was big news in the burger world. I know that we do have some good news, right? Well, good news and bad news on the housing starts.

FELICIA TAYLOR, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

MALVEAUX: Yesterday, good news on housing that sent the stocks up higher. But then there's another report out today on just how bad things were in the housing bust.

What does that report show us?

TAYLOR: OK. So it's kind of a conflicting report. And that's the point.

By the way, as opposed to the burger, I'll take the fries any day. MALVEAUX: Yes, those are good.

TAYLOR: And my favorite is McDonald's.

MALVEAUX: Really?

TAYLOR: I know. Yes.

MALVEAUX: OK.

TAYLOR: I know. It's a weakness I have. All right. So I just admitted that on national television.

MALVEAUX: You get one.

TAYLOR: OK.

So, what's interesting about this is that the numbers for the housing sector were revised downward for the last five years, and they were down 14 percent. So that's very significant.

And the problem with that is, clearly, if we're coming from a lower place, then it's going to take a longer time to recover. So that's why there was a mixed reaction to this report.

It's not really affecting the marketplace today. The marketplace is still taking a look at what's going on in Europe and other sort of headlines coming out of the euro sector. So that's not really what's important right now.

The important part is how long it's going to take to recover. But the good news is, is that we are trending upwards.

So, if we can continue to see those numbers continue to the upside, that's a very good thing. So, while we know the patient was even sicker than it was before -- than we thought before -- the point is, we are getting better. So that's the good news in the report.

MALVEAUX: A great way to put it.

And what about the general trends in the job market? How are those numbers looking?

TAYLOR: Well, it's interesting, because the numbers are improving. As you remember, we saw the last jobless number go down by .4 of one percent to 8.6 percent. And what's significant is that if you take a look at the unemployment rates in 43 states, they fell in November. So, again, very good trending moving forward.

If we take a look at the map, it shows the biggest drops in the rate. In Michigan, 9.8 percent. It dropped nearly a full point from October, so clearly that's significant. Also, we had rates in Alabama, Minnesota, South Carolina, and Utah all fall.

The part that doesn't really sit well is that it's not because of job creation, it's because that people actually fell out of the unemployment lines. I mean, they dropped from the jobless market, and that's the part that's disturbing.

So, it's a slightly misleading number, because it's not because we're seeing jobs created, necessarily, but because people are going out of the jobs market. That's the problem.

MALVEAUX: OK. I see. All right. Felecia, thank you very much.

She brings up a very good point, but it's not just the job market that is improving. We're going to talk with economists about other encouraging signs that things may have turned the corner.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Here's a rundown of some of the stories we are working on.

Next, it may be hard to believe, but there are some positive signs about our economy.

And then, caught on camera. You're not going to believe this, holiday deliveries gone wrong -- very wrong.

And later, could planet Earth have a twin? We're going to tell you about NASA's new discoveries.

Well, 2011 almost over. It's been a tough year for millions as the economy has struggled to recover from this Great Recession. But as the year ends, there are some encouraging signs about the economy.

Joining us to talk about that, Georgia Tech economics professor Thomas "Danny" Boston.

And Danny, you point out that there are some good things to look at here in this new year. Let's take a look at them.

THOMAS "DANNY" BOSTON, ECONOMICS PROFESSOR, GEORGIA TECH: There are some good things. And we're waiting for you to finish your spending, and then we'll have the full picture.

MALVEAUX: Oh, my spending? I have not gone Christmas shopping yet. So we'll see if that makes a difference in the economy.

Let's start with the housing. Housing, how's that?

BOSTON: Housing permits, housing starts, up nine percent over the last month. Up 15 percent over the last year. So that's a good number, because that has been the biggest drag on economic activity.

MALVEAUX: And new claims for unemployment dropping. What does that mean?

BOSTON: New claims for unemployment. We've been looking for those claims to go under 400,000 for months, and now they've settled under that. The last figure was 366,000. That's a good number.

MALVEAUX: Consumers, they're spending and they're saving less. Is that really good? Good for the economy? BOSTON: Well, you know, we're kind of getting back to the old habits, but right now it's good because consumers had been saving almost at record rates, at close to five percent of their disposable income. Now it's down to three percent.

They're spending more. Online spending was up 15 percent over last month. Another good indicator.

MALVEAUX: And the European debt crisis, how does that relate to what's happening here in this country?

BOSTON: Well, very important, because the three largest banks hold actually over $15 billion of European sovereign debt in the five countries that are hardest hit. So, resolving that issue means that makes more money available for U.S. consumers because U.S. banks don't have to set so much aside in reserves. So that's a good resolution as well.

MALVEAUX: And the job market, are there more jobs becoming available to folks? Are they going to see more opportunities in the coming year?

BOSTON: The signs indicate that they will. We've done a small business survey that indicates that there will be significant hiring. The claims for unemployment insurance, those claims are down. So all the indicators are that there will be increased hiring over the next several months.

MALVEAUX: You sound kind of optimistic.

BOSTON: Yes. Sure. You have to be.

MALVEAUX: You're not usually.

(LAUGHTER)

BOSTON: It's getting into the holidays.

MALVEAUX: Yes. I like that. I like that a lot. And I guess I should go out and do a little spending, right?

BOSTON: You have to help us. We need your stimulus dollars.

MALVEAUX: All right. Not too many. There are not a lot of dollars this year.

Thank you very much.

BOSTON: My pleasure.

MALVEAUX: Danny Boston.

BOSTON: All right. Sure.

MALVEAUX: So, do you ever wonder what happens to all those carefully- wrapped packages you pay for and you drop them off to be delivered? Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: A microchip and sky miles just made this holiday season especially special for a teen in Missouri and her four-legged buddy. That's Addison popping out of the bag. She disappeared in June while her family was in Florida. She was eventually picked up as a stray. Identified through her microchip. Fellow dog owners rallied to send her home. One of them gave up her Frequent Flyer Miles. Addison flew first class --

(LAUGHTER)

-- arriving just in time for Christmas. Love that story.

All right. You're feeling a little warm and fuzzy from that one. This one's going to make you mad, especially if you are having packages delivered for Christmas.

Jeanne Moos with the worst deliveries ever caught on tape.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 'Tis the season for packages. And next time you open one intact, be grateful this didn't happen to it. This was a computer monitor, tossed over a gate in southern California by a FedEx delivery man. But then the surveillance camera video was delivered to YouTube and made the news.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh. No, no.

MOOS: And now FedEx is saying, we have seen the video and frankly we were all shocked.

But that's not the only drop of memorialized on YouTube.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Handle with care. Just like that. Ground service, I get it. Ground.

MOOS: It's not just FedEx.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AD NARRATOR: What can brown do for you?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: UPS Brown can toss your package underhand. It can toss it overhand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at that.

(LAUGHTER)

MOOS: It can toss it like a horse shoe. Fences and gates are the delivery man's nemesis. As a driver posted, from a delivery point of view, gates are hostile. Don't like it, get rid of the gate.

The guys videoing this UPS delivery man compared his technology to loading garbage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Think there is going to be anything damaged in there?

MOOS: Of course, it could be worse. At least they're not Ace Ventura.

(SINGING)

MOOS: Of all the special deliveries we saw, none was more special than this by FedEx.

(LAUGHTER)

There were sparks coming off the box. And the man who was shooting --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This guy has no idea that he's pushing an oven.

MOOS: As for the computer monitor heaved over the gate, the person who posted it said the monitor was broken. And it's sad, because he was home at the time, if the delivery man just rung the bell.

(on camera): I'm sure what you're probably wondering is, does this guy still have a job? FedEx told CNN, "We have I.D.'d the man involved and he is being handled according to our internal disciplinary policies."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AD NARRATOR: Federal Express, when it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: They said overnight, not in one piece.

But now that everyone has a camera, it does not pay for the delivery elves to get sloppy.

(SINGING)

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: A decade ago, former President Bill Clinton left Washington for an office in Harlem. Now the Clinton Foundation is world renowned, impacting 400 million people in 180 countries. Stick around for a preview of our "Big Stars, Big Giving" special.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Presidential Candidate Newt Gingrich came to get an endorsement from an Iowa lawmaker, but he also got heckled at the event in Des Moines just moments ago. Here's how it all played out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH, (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to say, first of all --

(SHOUTING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: He's the 1 percent. He's the corporate 1 percent candidate.

(SHOUTING)

(CHANTING)

(SHOUTING)

(CHANTING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: All right. So demonstrators from an Occupy Des Moines -- that was them shouting, "Put people first," as Gingrich first started to speak. As you can see, they were escorted out of the room. One man who stayed behind interrupted Gingrich again a few minutes later.

Ron Paul, the man to beat in the Iowa caucuses.

Jim Acosta is live from the political desk in Washington.

Jim, this is interesting, a new poll showing that Ron Paul is now leading the pack?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Suzanne. I can't believe the words that just came out of your mouth a few moments ago, "Ron Paul, the man to beat in the Iowa caucuses." But, you know what, he might be. If you look at this pole that came out earlier this morning from Iowa State, it takes your breath away almost. Ron Paul with 28 percent of the vote. There's Newt Gingrich, very close behind with 25 percent of the vote.

I have to say, Suzanne, looking at this poll, I think the other interesting factor in all of this, besides Ron Paul -- and, yes, he does have a very formidable organization in Iowa. People have to pay attention to that. But after the beating that Newt Gingrich has taken in Iowa -- and you just showed a video clip a few moments ago, those Occupy Wall Street protestors giving him the business there -- all of these negative attack ads coming from the Romney super PAC, coming from Rick Perry, coming from you name it, out in Iowa, to see Newt Gingrich just three points out of the lead within the margin of error actually should be good news to Newt Gingrich that he is not out of this yet.

We'll have to wait for other polls. We should caution our viewers that poll was taken over a 10-day period. That is a longer period of time as, say, CNN/ORC does in its polls because sometimes that snapshot might -- in the first couple of days of that 10 days, he might have been looking good. The last part of that 10 days not so much.

MALVEAUX: Sure.

ACOSTA: So sometimes those polls, you have to take them with a little bit of a grain of salt. But good news for Paul and Gingrich.

MALVEAUX: What about Mitt Romney here, because you bring up a good point. The fact that you've got these negative ads that he has been hitting Gingrich with that seem to be impacting his poll numbers now. Does he defend these ads? What does he say behind those?

ACOSTA: You know, Mitt Romney talked to the press a little while ago this morning and he was asked about these ads. They're actually coming from a pro-Romney super PAC. We should caution people, these are not coming from the Romney campaign.

People might be asking themselves, what's the difference? The difference is the Romney campaign cannot coordinate with this pro- Romney super PAC. This PAC, which is called Restore our Future, can blanket the air waives with attack ads. They have damaged Newt Gingrich. Mitt Romney was asked about this. He said, look, Newt Gingrich can complain all he wants about these ads. But basically, Romney is saying, if you can't stand the heat in the kitchen that's underway in Iowa, New Hampshire, he said, the hell's kitchen, as he called it, from the Obama campaign, is coming. That's going to be a lot hotter in there. Mitt Romney is basically saying to Newt Gingrich, deal with it.

MALVEAUX: All right. Jim Acosta. Thank you, Jim.

For the latest political news, you know where to go, CNNpolitics.com.

OK. We are talking about $40 a paycheck. That is how much the gridlock in Washington could cost your family starting New Year's day if Congress doesn't do something fast. With the clock ticking, it feels like there is little that we can do to convince lawmakers to stop the fighting. For today's "Talk Back" question, we are asking you, what can we do as everyday citizens to fix the gridlock in Congress.

Zachary says, "We can post the names of the representatives and Senators everywhere possible, with the heading, these are the people holding the country hostage for political gain. Vote for someone else."

Burrell says, "Stop paying these politicians. Let them see how it feels not to have a decent paycheck." Adam agrees. He says, "I think we should recall their pay for the year. If I didn't do my job, I would get fired and not get paid. Why are they any different? Every person in this Congress should not be allowed another term in office."

Karla says, "We need more people running as Independents for Congress. Perhaps if we could elect someone who isn't first beholding to their party, then maybe some work would get done."

We're going to be airing more of your comments in the next hour of CNN NEWSROOM. Please keep them coming. Post your ideas on my Facebook page at CNN.com/SuzanneCNN.

Big names, giving back. Alina Cho, she goes one on one with former President Bill Clinton for her "Big Stars, Big Giving" special.

Alina joins us live from New York.

Alina, I mean, amazing here. Former President Bill Clinton, he has been busy ever since he left office. This new chapter in his life, he keeps going.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He does. It's unbelievable. As you know, Suzanne, from covering the White House, he famously does not sleep. Over the past several years, I've had an opportunity with the "Big Stars, Big Giving" series to interview people like Madonna, Elton John, Halle Berry. Bill Clinton is not a Hollywood star, but he is one of the best known names on the planet. He's a former U.S. president. He's also the founder of the Clinton Foundation. For a decade, as a private citizen, he's been using his influence to change the world. The thing is, he says it's changed his life too.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHO (voice-over): No matter where he goes, President Bill Clinton is greeted like a rock star. The man, many Democrats call the best president in modern times, is working to make the modern world a better place to live.

(on camera): You had it in your mind that you didn't want to spend the rest of your life wishing.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I was still president -- I enjoy talking about what happened when I was president. I don't mind telling those stories. But you just need to keep doing something new.

CHO (voice-over): That urge to do something new inspired the former president to open an office in Harlem and create the William J. Clinton Foundation. Today, the Clinton Foundation celebrates what it calls a decade of difference.

(on camera): 400 million people impacted in 180 countries. When you hear that, do you think to yourself, wow, that's incredible or, oh, boy, there's a lot to be done?

CLINTON: Both. This little pill, because of the discount, will save 200,000 lives in the world this year.

Driving down the price of AIDS medicine, driving down the price of malaria medicine, building up health care systems that people can afford. People ask me, are you doing more good now? I say I'll have to live a long time to do as much for all the people as when I was in government.

CHO (on camera): But you can go places.

CLINTON: But I can go places and do things.

How many sites do you have in Port-au-Prince?

CHO (voice-over): As the U.N. special envoy to Haiti, he's visited the country 20 times since 2009. His foundation has raised $23 million toward the rebuilding effort, helped fund programs to fight childhood obesity in 13,000 U.S. schools, established a mentoring program for entrepreneurs.

Then there's the Clinton Global Initiative.

CLINTON: We wanted to be better.

CHO: Since 2005, the annual meeting has drawn a wide range of people -- 150 heads of state, 20 Nobel Laureates, everyone from Bill Gates to actors like Matt Damon.

CLINTON: I try to bring people together who know things I don't know.

CHO: 2,500 commitments have come out of the Clinton Global Initiative. When fully funded, they will be valued at $69.2 billion.

CLINTON: You are so beautiful.

CHO: Working tirelessly to make a difference, traveling all over the world.

(on camera): 150 countries, more than that.

CLINTON: Yes.

CHO: What keeps you going?

CLINTON: I love this work. Anybody that had the life I've had, anybody that was given the gift that I was given by the American people, you'd be crazy not to do it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHO: You know, he likes to joke that it gave him something to do after leaving the White House.

(LAUGHTER)

Suzanne, he says he has a wife with a traveling job, which is true. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the most traveled secretary of state in history.

But no matter what your politics are, you have to respect the measurable difference that he has made since launching the Clinton Foundation. You just look at what he's done with AIDS medications, driving down the prices of AIDS medications. As a result, four million people around the world have life-saving AIDS medications who might not otherwise have them.

MALVEAUX: Wow.

CHO: So he works tirelessly. He doesn't stop. He's been to 150 countries and counting. What he's been doing is extraordinary.

MALVEAUX: Alina, I remember when I covered him at the White House. Famously, he would jog to the McDonald's and have a burger and fries.

(LAUGHTER)

He takes good care of himself. He's in much better health now. How did you find him in terms of -- the way he's able to get around, his energy, his enthusiasm and his health?

CHO: He looked incredible. You know Bill Clinton, and we were told we'd have about 15 minutes with him. We had about 45 minutes with him. Afterwards, he wanted to stick around to talk about his diet. I asked him -- first of all, he looked very thin, as you can see. He looks unbelievable. I asked him, are you still vegan. He said, I had two little bites of turkey at Thanksgiving. Beyond that, he told me, which is interesting, the two hardest things for him to give up when he decided to go vegan, were not the hamburgers and that type of thing, he said frozen yogurt and cheese. Those were the two things he missed the most. Yes.

MALVEAUX: OK. Well, he has not stopped.

And, Alina, we appreciate your great reporting.

You don't want to miss Alina's holiday special, "Big Stars, Big Giving." She's lined up more rare and revealing interviews with celebrities and causes tht they support. It airs this Saturday, December 24th, Christmas Eve, at 2:00 p.m. eastern. Again, Sunday, Christmas day at 4:00 p.m. eastern.

Have you met the neighbors yet? These are a different kind of neighbors, the ones outside our solar system. NASA says it's discovered a couple of earth-like planets.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: A Russian rocket is on its way to the international space station.

ANNOUNCER: (INAUDIBLE) the international space station.

MALVEAUX: The Soyuz rocket made a spectacular and amazing launch from Kazakhstan this morning. The crew, with one American, is expected to reach the international space station on Friday.

Well, we may not be alone. A powerful NASA telescope has discovered two earth-like planets. They are outside our solar system, about the size of earth and orbit a star that is similar to the sun. One hitch. They cannot sustain life as we know it. But finding one that can, may only be a matter of time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DERRICK PITTS, CHIEF ASTRONOMER, FRANKLIN INSTITUTE: It means that we have made another step closer to finding the holy grail of all the research that we do and that is to find a planet that is the size of the earth, in the right location, around its star, so that it could possible have liquid water and, therefore, of course, you know the next line, possibly have some form of life. So that's the big step here. We've found planets, for the first time, that are about the size of earth, and that's a big step forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: For a big step forward, going to bring in Alexandra Steele, who is joining us.

Oh, I love this stuff.

(LAUGHTER)

ALEXANDRA STEELE, METEOROLOGIST: Me too.

MALVEAUX: It can't sustain life. Do we know why?

STEELE: In the words of Cole Porter, it's too darn hot.

(LAUGHTER)

Essentially, it is, on average, it's about 1,000 degrees, Suzanne.

I'm going to show you both planets. Tell you what's most remarkable about this.

Here's Kepler 20E, the first one. It's slightly smaller than earth. Now the size of these is really one of the most key factors. A 6.1 day orbit. A short one. Temperatures over 1400 degrees, so hot enough to melt glass. It is certainly not warm enough to support our life. Way to hot.

Kepler 20F, this is slightly larger than earth. Has an orbit that's a little bit longer. Temperature 800 degrees Fahrenheit, so also can't support life either. That's the average day on Mercury if you're interested. But here is what's most notable. And to give you a little perspective, these new planets are earth sized. They have found a lot of planets since 1995, about 200. But most of them, much larger than earth. That's key. Also, it's kind of a real kudos and a real feather in the cap of this Kepler space craft because not only are they finding planets that are smaller and smaller, they're finding them at farther and farther distances, which is key.

Here's the penultimate. The next goal is to find a planet which is in the sweet spot or the goldilocks zone of the star that will support water, and thus life. Could it be bacteria, mold, the unknown. Human's probably not. So I like that. It's called the goldilocks zone. So finding those planets that's in the right distance to their star, like our earth, that can support water and then life.

MALVEAUX: Just a matter of time.

STEELE: Yes.

MALVEAUX: I don't even know. Do you know how many planets there are now? I have no idea.

STEELE: Now we have got super planets. Pluto has been downgraded. So, you know, what do you know? But there are --

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: Lots and lots of planets.

STEELE: That's right. But the key to this is the size of these planets that are being found outside the solar system, the smallness of them. That's really the key, the size of the earth.

MALVEAUX: All right. Thank you very much.

STEELE: Sure.

MALVEAUX: Exciting stuff.

You'd expect to find TVs or jewelry in a pawnshop, but not this, this priceless treasure. How one soldier's military medal ended up in this store.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: An Army sergeant told her son she wouldn't be home for Christmas, said she was stuck in Afghanistan. But then --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED ARMY SERGEANT: Hi, you!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Those stories make me cry every time. She surprised him in his school in Ft. Pierce, Florida. It was amazing.

In the meantime, there was a surprise waiting for Sergeant Kristy Sexton (ph) at home. The electric company decorated her house for the holidays. They even put the word "Army" in green lights across the lawn.

You can find a lot of things in a pawnshop, but one prized possession getting a lot of attention in a Michigan store.

Courtney Ferna (ph), from our CNN affiliate, WXMI, reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COURTNEY FERNA (PH), WXMI CORRESPONDENT: The phone has been ringing off the hook inside A to Z Outlet in Holland.

BRYAN VANDERBOSCH, OWNER, A TO Z OUTLET: I see so much every day or every week.

FERNA (PH): The buzz is from one of the store's newest items. Look closely. Among the rings, beyond the gold watches is a Purple Heart, a medal awarded to U.S. soldiers wounded in battle. This one was earned in Afghanistan 2010.

VANDERBOSCH: He had been in here the week prior to that, needed some money and asked me at that time, and he brought it in the following week. I purchased it from him and put it on display.

FERNA (PH): Vanderbosch says the active duty soldier, home on leave, needed a little extra money. So he reluctantly sold something he almost gave his life to get. When news started to spread about the medal, many veterans wanted to help.

VANDERBOSCH: I have people walked in and asked me, how much did you pay for it? I will pay for it, so you can get it back.

FERNA (PH): Garrett Vanderduim, who served in Vietnam, was one of those people.

GARRETT VANDERDUIM, VETERAN: A Purple Heart is a treasured thing among service guys, so I thought it would be a good thing to help him out, especially during Christmas time.

FERNA (PH): But the medal is not for sale. Vanderbosch says he will keep it safe until the soldier decides to come back.

It's a pleasant surprise for Carlos Mendez, who was born in Cuba, and doesn't take his rights as an American for granted.

CARLOS MENDEZ, CUBAN-AMERICAN: When I see something like that, it's just awesome that somebody is willing to go out there and defend out freedoms.

FERNA (PH): Many items in the pawn shop have a story. But the story behind each Purple Heart is one that affects every American.

VANDERDUIM: It means the ultimate sacrifice for your country. You were wounded. You can't get much closer to the end than that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: That was Courtney Ferna (ph) from CNN affiliate, WXMI.

The shop's owner said that the soldier will remain anonymous. The owner did not say how much he paid for that Purple Heart.