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Payroll Tax Cut Stalemate; Interview With Michigan Congressman Fred Upton; Bird Flu Tests Seen As Terror Threat; 2011's Legal Dramas; McCain: Payroll Tax Stand Off Hurting GOP; Video of 2 Men Beating Homeless Man; Obama Approval Rating Going Up; Ron Paul Leads in Iowa

Aired December 21, 2011 - 13:00   ET


RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Randi Kaye. It is 1:00 Eastern Time. Let's get right to the news.

It is a showdown over the payroll tax cut in Congress. The issue left unresolved. The political games, the standoff between the House and the Senate continues. House Republicans are refusing to go along with a two month extension on the payroll tax cut, even through their GOP counterparts in the Senate passed it. Now, the House has left it up to a House, Senate conference committee to resolve it. Today, Speaker John Boehner stood by the move.


JOHN BOEHNER (R), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: 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.


KAYE: But most lawmakers are actually gone. Off on their holiday break. So, what does that mean for you, your paycheck and unemployment benefits? And what's this committee really about? We'll talk to one of its members, Congressman Fred Upton, in just a few moments. We are still keeping our eye on a massive blizzard that ripped through the Rockies and Central Plains.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It went from rain to sleet to snow.


KAYE: The storm has tapered off but several states are dealing with heavy snow, the blizzard shut down interstates and highways in at least five states. Officials say, the extreme conditions are to blame for at least four deaths in New Mexico alone. The National Weather Service has issued winter watches, warnings and advisories for much of the West.

Less than two weeks from the Iowa caucuses, and the polls are coming fast and furious. This one is at Iowa State Gazette Casey Iowa survey and among likely Iowa GOP caucus-goers, there's a new leader of the pack, Ron Paul. He comes in at 28 percent. Newt Gingrich has been tied for the top slot with Nick Romney in some recent polling. In this survey, he drops to second place, to 25 percent, but Gingrich does pull away from Newt Romney who was seven points behind with 18 percent. Ron Paul has spent a lot of time in Iowa, and obviously, that seems to be paying off. Both Ron Paul and Rick Santorum stumped in Iowa today.

Airline pilots will fly on shorter shifts and get longer rest periods. That's according to new rules from the FAA that were just finalized today in a push to increase safety and prevent pilot fatigue. The FAA unveiled what are the most sweeping changes in pilot rules in half a century.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a big deal to today. It's a big deal because for 25 years people have been talking about this and haven't done a dang thing about it.


KAYE: According to the new rules, in addition to other limits, pilots have a flight time limit of eight or nine hours. They are now required to have ten hours off between shifts. The FAA estimate the changes could cost airlines nearly $300 million a year.

For some military families, the recent homecoming could turn into preparations for yet another deployment. Thousands of soldiers now unpacking after returning from Iraq will have to pack up again for Afghanistan in the coming months. Afghan forces are being fortified as the U.S. prepares for its planned 2014 military withdraw. Members of the fourth brigade combat team first armor division were informed via Facebook about new orders. The posting said they were one of the four chosen for an Afghan mission in early summer.

The Army says eight U.S. soldiers have been charged in connection with the death of a fellow solder in Afghanistan in October. Private Danny Chen was found dead in a guard tower apparently from a self- inflicted gunshot wound. The eight officers and enlisted servicemen face charges, which include dereliction of duty, making false statements, maltreatment and involuntary manslaughter. The Army hasn't released details about what may have happened, but Private Chen had complained to his family about harassment by his fellow soldiers.

Former Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich is appealing his corruption conviction and 14-year prison sentence. The 55-year-old was scheduled to report to prison in March to start serving that time. The Democratic governor had been accused of trying to profit while he considered appointments for the Senacy (ph) vacated by Barack Obama. Blagojevich was convicted back in June and sentenced earlier this month.

This is the roar of the Russian Soyuz rocket. It took off from Pakistan just a few hours ago. Its three-man crew now heading to the International Space Station. On board are astronauts from NASA, Europe and Russia. They'll join three others already on the space station. The Russian Soyuz is currently is the only space craft that can relay crews to and from the station now that the U.S. shuttle program has ended.

Mismanagement, lousy political posturing, call it what you want but GOP leaders are taking the heat for leaving town without a payroll tax cut deal. So, now what? We will talk to Fred Upton about that next.

But first he is not a dignitary or celebrity or even an adult. But you should know Julian lightener. He is only 13, and already on a big mission.


JULIEN LEITNER: What's it cost to change the world? Two bucks. For two bucks, you can buy a bag of chips or a quarter hour of parking. Or one of these things.


KAYE: How cute is he? Julian launched this web site hoping those two dollars will add up to $2 million for charity. Here's hoping you inspire others, Julian, to get up and do something, too. For working to change the world two dollars at a time, Julian, you are today's "Rock Star."


KAYE: They all agreed they want to extend the payroll tax cut, Democrats, Republicans, the Senate, and the House. But again, we're looking at another political showdown in Washington. In the meantime, we may all be paying more in taxes and looking at a smaller paycheck. If you're unemployed, some of you may not get your benefits. Bottom line, your lawmakers haven't finished their business. Yet the halls of Congress are practically empty living up to the reputations of that do nothing conference. The Senate overwhelmingly passed a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut, but yesterday, the House rejected that idea in a very round-about way, some critics are calling a cop- out.

The House essentially voted for a House, Senate conference committee to settle the dispute. House Speaker, John Boehner, chose these House members who are still hanging back in Washington to serve on the payroll tax conference committee. One of them, Republican Congressman, Fred Upton from Michigan, joining us now.

Congressman, nice to have you on the show. We have to ask, because I'm sure the American people would like to ask, why can't you get this done? Why the need for this committee?

REP. FRED UPTON (R), MICHIGAN: You know, this is the normal way that things are done. The House bill is always different from the Senate. The conferences usually organize to resolve the differences. I think we can get the job done. And when I left the office to walk over here to do this interview with you, Randi, I was watching Jay Carney, the president's press secretary, say the president still supports a one-year extension, so do most of us. Why is it that we can't sit in a room and figure this out and get the job done way before we actually get to the deadline of January 1st?

KAYE: I want to read you something from an op-ed in today's "Wall street journal." Quoting here, "The GOP leaders have somehow managed the remarkable feat of being blamed for opposing a one-year extension of a tax holiday, that they are surely going to pass. Republicans have also achieved the small miracle of letting Mr. Obama position himself as an election year tax cutter." So, my question to you, has the GOP botched this campaign by behaving this way?

UPTON: No, I don't think so. Look, we're all on the -- most of us on both sides, House, Senate, Republican, Democrat, are on the same page. We want a one-year extension of the payroll tax. It means, to the average family, $1,000 which is a lot of money. I just listened to your "Rock Star" a few minutes ago and he said for $2, you can change the world.

Think what $1,000 can do, or literally $40 a month or whatever it might be, for the average worker. So, we can get this thing done. We have appointed comparees (ph). It's not our road or the highway. We know that there are going to be changing in both of the bills. Let's sit down, figure it out, and get the job done, and then get out of town.

KAYE: So, the end of the year, looking at the calendar, is 10 days away. What can you say today to the American people so that they -- give them a little sense of calm so they don't have to worry anymore about their paychecks taking a hit. I mean, what actually is going to happen in the next 10 days?

UPTON: Well, I know that -- again, watching the report a few minutes ago, I saw that the president reached out to Speaker Boehner. I think that he spoke to the Senate leaders as well, anxious to find out how those discussions went. But again, we're all on the same page, one-year extension is a lot better than two months. Let's get the job done. Let's actually appoint comparees (ph), let's sit down and figure out where we need to go and get the job done so that we don't go all the way up to the end of the deadline.

KAYE: I want to ask you about the White House's Twitter campaign related to this payroll tax cut. They -- the White House tweeted this. What does $40 mean to you? And they're getting a heck of a response from people asking and telling them what a difference $40 a paycheck might mean to them and their families? What do you make of the response and what do you say to those people?

UPTON: It does make a difference. To every family it makes a difference. Whether it's a tank of gas, whether it's maybe going out to a meal with your spouse, taking your kids there. It means a lot. One thousand dollars a year for the average family making $50,000 is a heck of a lot of money, and it's something that we cannot turn our back on as we look at these very difficult times -- economic times.

KAYE: As you say, you all agree so I think we're all looking forward to an agreement before January 1. UPTON: I hope so. We can do this.

KAYE: Fred Upton, thank you very much. Thank you for your time.

Whether or not you agree with the White House's new Twitter campaign, the fact is, if it doesn't pass, you will be out about $40 a week is what we were just talking about. So, we wanted to ask you the same question, what does $40 mean to you. Send us your iReport at

A deadly virus, potentially a weapon of war. Pretty scary stuff, huh? What the government is doing for the very first time as a result of this, next.

KAYE: A very important development on bioterrorism to tell you about. Researchers in Wisconsin and the Netherlands, working separately, have created a form of the deadly bird flu virus that can easily spread from person to person. There is growing concern that if terrorists got their hands on this information, they could create a virus that could kill millions of people around the world. The bird flu virus, known as H5N1, is fatal in 60 percent of human cases. Since it was first detected back in 1997, about 600 people have been sickened by it. Of those, only 336 have died, mainly because it cannot yet be transmitted between humans.

In response to the new research, the government's National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity for the very first time has asked the journals "Science" and "Nature" to withhold certain details of the new research from reports they intend to publish.

Joining us to talk much more about this is Dr. Michael Osterholm. He's the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. He's also a member of the National Science Advisory Board.

Dr. Osterholm, nice to have you on the program.

First tell us --

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, UNIV. OF MINN. SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Thank you. Thank you very much. Good to talk to you again.

KAYE: Thank you. You as well.

What do you know about this new research? I mean how significant of a discovery do you think this is?

OSTERHOLM: Well, first of all, let me just add one disclaimer. As a member of the board, I can't get into the confidential nature of the work. But there's a fair amount of information that's in the public domain that I can talk about.

Basically the efforts were really to see if the H5N1, or bird flu viruses, which to date have not transmitted readily from person to person, as you noted, could actually go through a series of genetic changes that would actually make them capable of doing that and really becoming the next pandemic influenza strain. And what the authors were able to do in the two papers that are now being considered, did demonstrate changes that could very well mean that the virus could become readily transmitted between humans.

KAYE: So what do you say to critics who are saying that this is, in a sense, censorship, telling these journals that you can't publish this information, these findings?

OSTERHOLM: Well, first of all, we all agree that kind of the ultimate original sin is scientific research is censorship. But we also understand that there is a way to move very critical information to those in the scientific world that have a need to know without informing the entire world. And what I mean by the entire world, particularly those individuals who may, for nefarious reasons, want to try to duplicate this work and that virus somehow get into the population.

And I would really be mindful here that it's not just terrorist we think of. Even someone working with the virus in a laboratory where they are not sufficiently careful to keep it from escaping, could very well be the reason why this could start another world-wide pandemic.

So the efforts we really have undertaken is to try to find that right middle point. How do we make sure that the right information is moved to the people of a need to know, but that it's not in the hands of those who could use it for unfortunate purposes.

KAYE: How easily do you think this could get into the hands of terrorists or anyone who might want to do any harm with it?

OSTERHOLM: Well, in the scientific world, openness is what we're all about. That's, in fact, how science moves forward is to make sure that others can see what we did, how we did it and have others duplicate it.

And so, on the other hand, remember, physicists have been working with classified our secure data since the 1930s and 40s. We know that there have been other efforts in the life sciences in, meaning biology, where we've worked with agents of bioterrorism that were done under research classifications of what we call classified.

So it's not that this hasn't happened before. What we have to do now is realize that we've suddenly really leapfrogged over an infectious agent that we worried about, but never thought it being a potential agent of intent to harm, and now being that. And so we're all working at how to try to find the best means to support this work, to make sure that it's done right, that it's done safely and that those who have a need to know, know, and those who don't, won't get it into their hands.

KAYE: Right.

OSTERHOLM: And I think that can be done.

KAYE: So given the sticky situation that you seem to be in right now, I mean, do you have any thought that maybe this research shouldn't have been done in the first place? Any regrets?

OSTERHOLM: Well, first of all, I think this research is very important for several reasons. One is, is that until now there were a lot of people who doubted that H5N1, the bird flu virus, would ever become a pandemic influenza strain. Meaning that it circulates around the world among a largely unprotected population and causing great damage. Now we have no doubt.

The changes that we know about that have allowed this virus to become more readily transmitted among ferrets, an animal model that really approximates what happens in humans, should be a clarion (ph) wake-up call to the entire world that tomorrow this particular flu virus could become the next pandemic and dwarf anything that we've seen in modern history.

Second of all ism it now does give us more information about how we might anticipate when another flu virus is moving towards becoming a pandemic strain. Are there markers in those viruses when we see them in animals, like birds, that should give us warning that maybe something's about ready to happen.

KAYE: Yes.

OSTERHOLM: So this work does have real benefit, but we also recognize the downsides. And that's what the National Science Advisory Board was trying to do, was really use the wisdom of Solomon to accentuate the positive and to really minimize the negative.

KAYE: Dr. Osterholm, great to have you on the show. And I hope to get back to your lab in Minnesota sometime very soon. Thank you very much.

OSTERHOLM: Thanks, Randi. Good talking to you.

KAYE: You as well.

Millions were glued to the television as this year's historic court cases played out right before our eyes. The players became household names -- Casey Anthony, Amanda Knox, Conrad Murray. Next, a fascinating look back at 2011, the year of the legal drama.


KAYE: Welcome back. As the year comes to a close, CNN is looking back at 2011. It was a year filled with cameras and reporters inside and outside the courtrooms across the country and across the world. I was lucky enough to cover some of these cases firsthand. Here's a look at the legal dramas that defined 2011.


KAYE (voice-over): 2011 was the year of legal drama. And none grabbed the country's attention more than the Casey Anthony trial. Anthony, 25, was accused of suffocating her two-year-old daughter, dumping her body and embarking on a month long party streak. Spectators fought for seats. Millions more watched it all play out on television.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We, the jury, find the defendant not guilty.

KAYE: This verdict only further enraged a public convinced she was a cold-blooded killer.

CROWD: Justice for Caylee. Justice for Caylee.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's wrong she got away with this.

NANCY GRACE, CNN: The devil is dancing tonight.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: O.J. number two. That's what you're hearing here, O.J. number two.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Conrad Murray caused the death of Michael Jackson.

KAYE: In Los Angeles, all eyes were on Conrad Murray, the cardiologist on trial for killing the king of pop. His defense team argued Michael Jackson injected himself with a deadly dose of the anesthetic Propofol. The jury didn't agree. Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to four years in jail.

LINDSAY LOHAN, ACTRESS: I'm not taking this as a joke. It's my life.

KAYE: In what's becoming another Hollywood tragedy, actress Lindsay Lohan continued to battle addictions. After violating probation following a conviction for stealing a necklace, Lohan was ordered to work at the L.A. County Morgue.

Sex, violence, and corruption may sound like the makings of a Hollywood movie, but it was the core of Amanda Knox's murder trial in Perugia, Italy. In 2009, Knox was convicted of killing her roommate, Meredith Kercher, whose body was found half naked, her throat, slashed. But after four years in an Italian prison and still so many unanswered questions, the 24-year-old walked free.

AMANDA KNOX: Thank you to everyone who's believed in me, who has defended me.

KAYE: "News of the World's" drama played out before parliament. One of the oldest and best selling newspapers in Britain was forced to shut down following accusations reporters illegally tapped phone messages of nearly 6,000 people, including a 13-year-old murder victim, politicians, the royal family and celebrities.

HUGH GRANT, ACTOR: When a story has been obtained by hacking the phone of a murdered schoolgirl, or the family of some -- of a soldier killed in Afghanistan, I don't find that lovable and naughty. I find that cowardly and bullying and shocking.

KAYE: "News of the World" honcho Rupert Murdoch, and his son James, were grilled by parliament over this scandal, then forced to pay millions in compensation.

CROWD: DSK, shame on you. DSK, shame on you. KAYE: Back in the U.S., we saw a French leader's future crumble in a New York courthouse. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, once hailed as the future president of France, resigned as head of the International Monetary Fund after being accused of raping a hotel housekeeper. The charge was later dropped.

The former leader of a 10,000 member fundamentalist Mormon sect wasn't so lucky. Warren Jeffs was convicted of sexual assaulting a 12-year- old and 15-year-old girl he claimed were his, quote, spiritual wives.

In Arizona, Jared Lee Loughner, a diagnosed schizophrenic, gunned down Congresswoman Gabby Giffords in a Safeway parking lot. Giffords was shot in the head, but managed to survive, surprising everyone by regaining her ability to speak. Laughner was declared incompetent to stand trial in 2011, but may face the death penalty in the future.

Troy Davis lost his fight on death row, though he maintained his innocence until the end.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This night the state of Georgia legally lynched an brave, a good and an even innocent man.

KAYE: Davis was put to death for the 1989 murder of an off-duty Savannah police officer, although seven of the nine witnesses against him have recanted or contradicted their testimony. Even world figures like Pope Benedict XVI and President Jimmy Carter had urged the execution be halted.

Also staring down death row, Joshua Komisarjevsky was convicted of the 2007 brutal murder of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters. Hawke-Petit was raped and strangled by Komisarjevsky's accomplice, Steven Hayes, who was sentenced to death in 2010. Michaela, just 11, was sexually molested, then left, along with her sister, to die in a fire set by the men.

Jaycee Dugard was fortunate enough to escape her abductors. Just 11 years old when kidnapped in 1991, Dugard gave birth to two children during her 18 years in captivity. The father of those children? One of her abductors, Phillip Garrido. Phillip and his wife Nancy were convicted this year on charges of abduction and rape.

And 2011 was the year that saw Brian David Mitchell sentenced to life in federal prison for the 2002 kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart in Utah. Mitchell took Smart from her bed in the middle of the night and raped her repeatedly during her nine months of captivity.

Legal dramas and historic court cases that defined 2011, but will be remembered long after the calendar turns.

Randi Kaye, CNN, Atlanta.


KAYE: And here's a question for you today. The GOP historically is all about lowering taxes. So why are some suggesting House Republicans have managed to lose the payroll tax cut issue and maybe even the election already to President Obama? We'll talk about that next.

But first, our political junkie question of the day. Can you name the only president to serve a full term without appointing any Supreme Court justices? If you know the answer, send me a tweet @randikayecnn. I'll give a shout-out to the first person with the right answer, so get on it, when we come back.


KAYE: Before the break we asked you to name the only president to serve a full term without appointing any Supreme Court justices. The answer? Jimmy Carter. Four justices were appointed between 1970 and 1975 by President Nixon and Ford, which didn't leave any vacancies for President Carter to fill. Reagan would follow Carter and appoint three more to the court. And a shout out goes to Dr. Kenneth Wilcox who was one of the first to tweet the right answer. Nice going. You can tweet him and congratulate him at @drkenwilcox.

Senator John McCain is saying that the payroll tax stand off is harming the GOP.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R), ARIZONA: It is harming the Republican Party. It is harming, the view, if it's possible, any more, of the American people about Congress. And we have got to get this thing resolved.


KAYE: New CNN polling seems to indicate that McCain is correct. 50 percent of Americans say they have more confidence in the president, with only 31 percent saying they have more confidence in Republicans in Congress.

The fair question to ask is this, are Republicans losing the tax issue to President Obama.

Let's ask CNN contributors, Maria Cardona and Will Cain.

Will, the "Wall Street Journal" says that Republicans are losing the tax issue to the president. Do you agree?

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. They're losing the issue because they lost the debate. First of all, they have been painted as the party who is now opposing a tax cut and even the word cut is losing the debate. The Republican Party is for lower taxes, but above and beyond that, it is for economic growth. And a second component to, of course, lower taxes is certainty. Let's just say this. A two month payroll tax extension is a joke. It's a banana republic-style joke. There is no certainty to any business to set forth any kind of hiring practices or consumers to set for purchases on a two-month schedule. But a year is not much better. The Republican Party should be fighting for certainty and, yes, lower taxes, but they have lost both debates and now they just look like a squad fighting with themselves. KAYE: Maria, I want you to weigh in on the Tea Party. How would you say the Tea Party caucus is impacting the whole debate?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: They are the ones who are controlling Speaker Boehner in this. It was clear as they went into the negotiations, and the Senate Republicans thought that they had a deal with Speaker Boehner. Most of them, 90 percent of Senators, voted for the tax cut extension for two months. When House Speaker Boehner goes back to his Tea Party caucus and they say, there is no way to do this, he has to renig on this. He has lost absolute and total control of the Tea Party caucus. And as a result, the Tea Party caucus is now being seen as the one who is losing this battle to President Obama and the Democrats.

But the important thing here is that if taxes go up on 160 million Americans, they lose. I agree with Will that there is a lot of uncertainty but there is more uncertainty if you are a middle class family, expecting the tax cut, and you don't get it. That is why the political battle is being won by Obama and the Democrats.

KAYE: Will, how do you think this is impacting the GOP candidates in the race?

CAIN: I mean, I guess it's never good for your side of the aisle or your team to be looking at itself as though it can't get along and can't put together a cohesive strategy on how to approach tax cuts. So it's not going to come off well. I do think, in the long haul, this is a tree falling deep, deep, deep in the forest. It doesn't really affect how people will vote either in the primaries or in November.

KAYE: Maria, what do you think?

CARDONA: I disagree. Especially when you have somebody like Mitt Romney, who is one of the presumed frontrunners, not being able to take a stand on where he is on the payroll tax cut. Here is somebody who called the tax cut a temporary little Band-Aid. He is completely out of touch with the middle class and with what working families are going through. This debate is not going look good for him going into 12012.

KAYE: Let me switch topics here. I want to ask you both very quickly about this comment by Newt Gingrich who was at an appearance in Iowa. Some of the crowd asked him if they could depend on him, and what kind of things they might expect from him, and what he might do for the gay and lesbian community. So let's listen to this comment and I want to ask you about it.



NEWT GINGRICH, (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's the most important topic to you --

(CROSSTALK) GINGRICH: If that's the most important to you, then you should be for Obama.


KAYE: So in case you didn't hear it clearly, he basically said you should vote for Obama if that's your main issue.

So, Will, to you first. What do you make of how he handled that?

CAIN: I think that clip is a little bit disingenuous, Randi. I don't think it is really true to how that conversation went. It makes Gingrich look really dismissive in that conversation. Essentially, that man came up to Gingrich. On a longer clip, you would see this. And said, what do you do if you have somebody who supports basically everything you stand for except for your position on gay marriage. How should I engage you? How should I vote for you? He said, I would love to engage you on any of the topics. But on that one issue, I'm opposed to gay marriage. And it that's the central issue to your voting pattern, if that's the main issue that matters to you, Obama is probably your guy. In fact, I'm not fan of Gingrich, but you have to give him credit for honesty.

KAYE: He did say -- you're right, he said, if this is your issue, this is your big issue, then you should do it.

CAIN: Right.

KAYE: Then you should vote for Obama.

Maria, I will give you the last word.

CARDONA: I agree with Will on this. When it was first presented to me, it did seem like he was dismissive. But in the longer cut of it, it is that Gingrich is telling him, look, if this your number-one issue, you are better off voting for Obama. To me, that shows some kind of core, some kind of principle, which in the GOP debate, right now, if Romney is the person you are going up against, that will help Gingrich because Romney, an apple, has more of a core than he does. So I think this actually helps Gingrich.


KAYE: Wow.


We will end there.

Maria Cardona, Will Cain, thanks.

That is "Fair Game" today.

CARDONA: Thanks, Randi.

CAIN: Thanks. KAYE: Whether or not you agree with the White House's new Twitter campaign, the fact is, if the payroll tax cut doesn't pass, you will be out about $40 a week. So we wanted to ask you this question: What does $40 mean to you? Send us your iReport at

This Middle Eastern country has seen its share of violence this past year. The opposition is claiming a government-led massacre. Find out who they're calling on for help when we go "Globe Trekking" next.


KAYE: Let's go "Globe Trekking."

Today we start in Syria. The country's major opposition group is condemning President Bashar al-Assad's regime for what they call, quote, "horrific massacres" this week, and calling on the U.N. Security Council to help protect civilians. According to the Syrian National Council, 250 people have died after a 48-hour period while the U.N. estimates nearly 5,000 have been killed this year. CNN cannot independently confirm the allegations because the Syrian government restricts the activity of journalists in the country.

The Japanese government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company have unveiled a decades-long plan to decommission the damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The plan, which has three phases, is expected to take 30 to 40 years to complete. The plant was badly damaged from the earthquake and tsunami that hit in March. That disaster killed 15,000 and displaced another 80,000 who lived within a 12-mile radius from the plant.

In London, police are searching for the perps involved in stealing a piece of art work. This one right here, the bronze sculpture, called "Two Forms," was displayed in Dolwich (ph) Park for more than 40 years and valued at more than $750,000. Police say the piece, created by renowned sculptor, Barbara Hepworth, was probably stolen to be sold as scrap metal for a few hundred bucks. The theft follows a surge in demand for copper, leading metal thieves to target railways, phone lines and even war memorials.

Prince William and his wife, Kate, are visiting homelessness charity, Center Point, in London. This is the same charity Princess Diana supported, as you can see in this file video you're about to see of one of her visits. William took over the charity after her death. In 2009, he spent a night among the homeless during an event sponsored by that charity.

Bill Clinton has said he didn't want to spend the remainder of his days wishing he was still president. So how is he making sure that doesn't happen? We will hear from him in his own words about why life after the White House is better than ever.

But first, sure, he's got a stressful job, traffic, unfriendly pets, and sometimes tricky delivery areas. However, that is no excuse to toss a customer's merchandise like a bag of trash. Like this guy right here, tossing a computer monitor over the fence like it's a pillow. Thanks to security cameras and video sites like YouTube, you have been caught. Sorry, Mr. Reckless delivery man, your 15 minutes are up.



KAYE: It's been decades since he left office, but he hasn't slowed down one bit. Bill Clinton's foundation is making big strides in HIV and AIDS treatment, bringing life-saving medications to some four million people.

Our Alina Cho sat down for with the former president for CNN's Christmas special, "Big Stars, Big Giving."


ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (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.


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.


KAYE: You can catch the entire interview with President Clinton on CNN's "Big Stars, Big Giving." It airs December 24 at 2:00 p.m. eastern, and on Christmas day at 4:00.

It's video that will shock and outrage you. Two young men taping themselves as they kick, hit and knock down a homeless man. That video and what's going to happen to them is next.


KAYE: Let's check stories making headlines at "Street Level."

We start in Wall Township, New Jersey, where, I have to warn you, we have some video that is tough to watch. You see a homeless man being pushed and kicked by an unidentified person while his friend records it all on camera. Even as the homeless man tries to walk away calmly, the two continue to taunt and physically attack him. You can see the man's bloody nose when he turns to face the camera. Police have arrested two teenagers in connection with that attack.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stay by the window.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can't breathe. Jump.






KAYE: Dramatic video, you see it there, from Detroit, where two people trapped in a burning home had no choice but to jump from a second- story window. The first guy you saw there was told not to jump until he told rescuers he just couldn't breath. The second person also jumped out but may have suffered some broken bones during the fall.

A Chicago man is being charged with abuse after he allegedly posted a photo on Facebook where his 1-year-old daughter with her hands, legs and mouth apparently bound with tape. Police say 21- yeawr-old Andre Curry was charged with aggravated domestic battery. We want to show you the photo, which you may find disturbing. Police says the photo had the caption, "This is what happens when my baby hits me back." The photo has been removed from Facebook.

In Auburn, Maine, he was third man to publicly accuse Syracuse basketball coach, Bernie Fine, of molestation. In an unrelated case, Zack Thomaselli pleaded guilty to charges that he molested a teenage boy back in 2009 and 2010 when he was the teen's summer camp counselor. According to his lawyer, he faces three years in prison after striking a plea deal?

In Michigan, there is something you won't normally see in your local pawnshop, a Purple Heart medal. A soldier on leave from Afghanistan needed a little extra cash for the holidays and pawned it. The store's owner says several people have asked to buy it so they can give it back to the soldier. But he ways they will hold on to it until the soldier comes back in. Stick around for the next hour of NEWSROOM. Brooke Baldwin will be talking to the owner of that pawnshop.

Now to Los Angeles, where a legend was made with this iconic movie, "Citizen Kane."





KAYE: Orson Wells, who wrote, directed and starred in "Citizens Kane," won his only Oscar for best screen play in 1941. But the golden statue was auctioned online and sold for more than $861,000 on Tuesday. The auction house did not identify who bought the Oscar but revealed illusionist, David Copperfield, was one of the unsuccessful bidders.

Near New York's Central Park, the "Guinness Book of World Records" says is the world's the largest menorah. The first light of the menorah was lit last night, the night of Hanukah, the Jewish Festival of Light. This menorah is 32 feet tall, 28 feet wide and weighs in at 4,000 pounds. It shares the spotlight with a nativity scene sponsored by the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.

New poll numbers are a good sign for the Obama re-election campaign. The president's approval rating now at 49 percent, a five percentage point jump since last month.

Senior political director, Mark Preston, joins me now to talk about this.

Mark, why is the president's approval rating going up?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL EDITOR: Well, it's going up because he's doing very well against Republicans, especially with what we're seeing with this fight over the payroll extension. The fact of the matter is, people are very frustrated at gridlock here in Washington. We've seen that play out in the past week.

We've seen the House of Representatives, lead by House Republicans, decide to leave town and not cut a deal with the White House or the Senate to try to get the payroll extension done. In fact, it caused John McCain to criticize the House Republicans yesterday when he was on "The Situation Room" for not getting it done. Just this morning, we saw "the Wall Street Journal" put out an editorial where they were critical of the Republican leadership, and said that President Obama was in a better position, Randi, to get re-elected today than he was a year ago.

But this is also very troubling for House Republican. Take a quick look at these numbers right here. If you're a House Republican and you're looking at getting re-elected in 2012, this is a very, very damning number. Look at that. Right now, who do the voters have more confidence in getting things done, some of the major issues? Back in March, 39 percent. Has now fallen to 31 percent for Republicans in Congress, while we've seen President Obama climb six points. So right now, Republicans are in a bit of a message battle internally. That's only good news for the White House and President Obama -- Randi?

KAYE: And how has this whole payroll tax mess being handled out on the campaign trail? How are the candidates dealing with it, the GOP candidates? PRESTON: This is one of those situations where they don't want to get in the middle of it. They're going to talk about cutting taxes. But it would be very difficult for any of these candidates to be critical of what is happening on Capitol Hill because many of the Republicans are supporting their candidacies. and at the same point, you might have certain factions of the Republican Party that are very important in the primaries that actually agree with what's going on because they don't want to see any deals cut.

So this is a battle that you're seeing play out in Washington, D.C. It's not necessarily a battle that we're seeing played out in the streets of Des Moines or New Hampshire or down in South Carolina -- Randi?

KAYE: What do you think of Ron Paul? We saw that new poll out today. Ron Paul looking like he's making some progress there. He's visited Iowa a bit and is making a lot of progress in the polls there. Do you think he'll walk away with this one?

PRESTON: I think there's a very good chance of winning the Iowa caucus. Interestingly, I was with Ron Paul back in 2010 in Iowa. He was giving a speech to a fundraising dinner. And, at the time, I was talking to him and talking to his campaign manager, and said, what do you really think about Iowa? They said, we might have a shot at Iowa. We've made inroads within the Republican Party. We've seen that play out.

Ron Paul has a very simple message that plays very well. And that's exactly what we're seeing with Ron Paul. He's very plain spoken. He doesn't go into high hyperbole. Actually, his message is playing out to the point where his supporters could show up on Election Day, January 3rd in Iowa, and he could walk away with the caucuses -- Randi?

KAYE: And what do you think Newt Gingrich needs to do right now? A lot of people say maybe he just the flavor of the month but he seems to be holding on to it.

PRESTON: Yes. Randi, he's kind of pushed up against the wall. I spoke to one of his advisers last night. Here's the deal. Newt Gingrich said that he will not go negative. He is taking incoming from all sides, whether it's from Ron Paul or Rick Santorum. He said that he's going to stay positive in his message. His campaign believes he has to remain that way. He needs to continue to show that is he a leader. And if he's able to do that and deflect a lot of this incoming, then Newt Gingrich has a chance of perhaps winning Iowa, if not placing very well out there. We'll see what happens in the next couple of weeks. But do not say that Newt Gingrich is dead. A lot of people saying that he was the flavor of the month, and that people are souring on him. Let's not give up on him.

KAYE: Mark Preston, glad we had time to chat. Thank you very much.

And thank you, everyone, for watching today, as always. I'd love to hear what you think. You can continue the conversation online, on Facebook or on Twitter, at randikaye@CNN.

That will do it for me on this Wednesday. I'll hand it over now to Brooke Baldwin now.

Hi, Brooke.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Randi. Thank you so much.