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Iowa Caucuses Nearing; Violence in Syria; Buried Under Snow; Politics 2011: The Top 10 Stories; The Search For Ayla Reynolds; The Help Desk; Unwanted Holiday Gift Cards; Listening To History

Aired December 27, 2011 - 12:00   ET


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour now. I'm Drew Griffin. Let's get you up to speed no what's happening on this day.

The Republican presidential race shifting into overdrive. With just one week to go until those Iowa caucuses, it's the first big test of the 2012 race, candidates crisscrossing the state, five campaigning in Iowa today. So far, none has won the support of a particular Iowa congressman whose endorsement carries a lot of weight in that state.


REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA: A large percentage of Iowans haven't decided. I'm among them. I thought I would come to a conclusion in September or October. It's nearly the end of the December, and we're within a week of the caucus. And I have not gotten to that point where my head and my heart come together.


GRIFFIN: A fact-finding team is on the ground today in the Syrian city of Homs. But we are hearing reports of more gunfire near a volatile neighborhood in that city. The team of Arab League monitors trying to get the government of Syria to uphold its promise and end a brutal crackdown on protesters. Activists now say more than 6,000 people have been killed since the uprising started in March.


GRIFFIN: Well, the first votes of the 2012 presidential race are just a week away and polls show a three-way traffic jam at the top.

Wolf Blitzer will be interviewing one of those candidates, Newt Gingrich, later today.

Wolf joins us on the phone from Dubuque, Iowa.

And, Wolf, I have got to think that Newt Gingrich wishes this caucus was two weeks ago, when he was riding so high, but he has come down quite a bit from there.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You know, it's an amazing thing, but there's still a week to go. And they say, in politics, that could be a lifetime. I'm in Iowa right now in Dubuque getting ready for the interview in "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Newt Gingrich later today. All of the candidates, as of today, they will be nonstop. They're going to be going. If you watch TV at all in Iowa, you can't help but see all of these commercials and a lot of them are really hammering Newt Gingrich. These are the attack ads that are coming out from the Ron Paul campaign, from the super PAC that supports Mitt Romney.

There's some other attack ads from Rick Perry's campaign. So, I mean, Newt Gingrich is really, really getting pounded here in Iowa. You can't turn on the TV without seeing it. He's trying to take the high road, although in the last few days I think perhaps belatedly is beginning to realize you get hit, you got to hit right back and taking the high road might not necessarily have been the strongest strategy if you look at the narrowing of some of these numbers in the polls.

GRIFFIN: And there's two stories out in these last two days, some CNN reporting, talking about his divorce some 13 years ago on whether or not he or his wife at the time was asking for the divorce that he talked about and also this issue about Romneycare in Massachusetts. Both of those could damage him on the conservative vote.

BLITZER: Yes. On the Romneycare, "The Wall Street Journal" had a front-page story today saying that when Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts and they passed the health care, including the mandates, in the state of Massachusetts, one of the newsletters affiliated with Newt Gingrich's organizations published some glowing comments about it saying perhaps this was -- I'm paraphrasing -- the future and it was a good experiment and he congratulated Mitt Romney as governor.

Since then, he's come around and he's suggested that the mandates, even though at one point he supported mandates in the '90s when he was opposing Hillary Clinton's health care reform legislation during the Clinton administration, he now believes it's not a good idea, although, you know, he's had some conflicting statements, as you point out.

That could hurt him. I'm sure his challengers here will go after him on that. On the story that we reported yesterday, you know, his spokesman is pointing out they're sticking by their version that his first wife may have -- that Newt Gingrich may have filed the paperwork for the divorce, although they continue to insist she asked for the divorce, and she's not really saying anything right now, so that will be a subject, although I think a lot of people have discounted some of the personal stuff.

He's apologized for what he calls his mistakes in his life and he said he's not perfect. I'm not sure that's necessarily going to be as big an issue as some of his substantive policy issues that are really coming out. Ron Paul keeps calling him, you know, someone who's flip- flopped on a lot of these issues.

GRIFFIN: Right. Let me ask you, Wolf. I know you're getting ready for that interview, but let me ask you about the second-tier candidates. Do you see any of them doing particularly well? And if not, do you see them dropping out after Iowa? BLITZER: I think of the three, and we're talking really about Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, and Michele Bachmann. Those are the second-tier candidates. Huntsman is really not even running here in Iowa, so forget about Huntsman for the time being.

He's spending all of his time in New Hampshire. But of those three, I suspect one or two of them if they really do poorly could drop out, maybe all three of them if they really all do poorly. Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, I'm sure they will relatively well. But these other three, we will see how they do. I wouldn't be surprised if one or two of them do really badly.

You know, Michele Bachmann was born in Iowa. She's spent a lot of time here. Santorum is the only one who has visited all 99 counties and Rick Perry has spent a ton of money here, and he's campaigning a lot. So they will have to do relatively well and we will see what happens.

Of the three, it looks like Santorum is getting a little momentum in the last week, and he's getting some endorsements. And so, we will see what happens. But you're exactly right. That's one of the things a lot of us will be watching. Of those three, who gets a ticket to New Hampshire?

GRIFFIN: All right, Wolf Blitzer, and, Wolf, you have Newt on live, right? He's going to be live.

BLITZER: Yes, Newt Gingrich will be live during our 4:00 p.m. Eastern hour. And, tomorrow, we will be speaking with Mitt Romney in Iowa as well, as well as his wife, Ann, and son Josh. I will be anchoring from Iowa today and tomorrow getting ready for the caucuses.

GRIFFIN: All right. Wolf Blitzer literally on his way to go do that show in Dubuque, Iowa, today.

Wolf, we really do appreciate it.

And you can stay with CNN, of course, for the best political coverage on television this afternoon at 4:00, as Wolf said. He will have Newt Gingrich.

Now to the sign of the times, falling movie sales. It's also your chance to talk back. Today's question, is the big screen worth it? "The New York Times" reporting that today sales of movie tickets are down this year $500 million for the year.

We did some number and movie popcorn crunching to figure out why and we pretty much got our answers. Take a look. The average price of a movie nationwide close to $8. In Manhattan, it's $13. In Los Angeles, some of those 3-D movies are $19. A family of four could plunk down 78 bucks just for tickets. That's before you start adding the snacks, which, by the way, cost a pretty penny, too, popcorn, six bucks. A couple of sodas, five bucks each. And we're talking big money just to see a movie on the big screen.

Compare that renting a movie on demand at home with an average price of about $5 or $6 for most cable or digital companies. It could explain why people are opting to sit on their couches in front of their flat-screens and not going to the theater.

We want to hear from you. Is experiencing the movie on the big screen worth it? You can leave your comments on Suzanne Malveaux's Facebook page, We will share some of your responses a little later in this hour.

And here's a rundown of some of the stories we're covering over the next hour. Witnesses say Syrian forces are firing again on demonstrators despite the arrival of Arab League monitors.

A family buried in this snow-covered SUV for two days before being rescued in Mexico -- New Mexico.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My wife and I looked at each other and held hands and said I love you and prayed. It was a Christmas miracle that they found us.


GRIFFIN: They did, indeed. And we will talk to that father live in this hour.

Then, from Anthony Weiner's sexting to the White House party crashers, a look back at the strangest political stories of 2011.

Also, how to trade your holiday gift card for cash.

And later, we're going to explain or tell you why Alexander Graham Bell's audio recordings from almost 130 years ago are now being listened to again.


GRIFFIN: This is from Syria today, the city of Homs, where gunfire is erupting again, a team of Arab League observers now on the ground in that city trying to get the government to end a brutal crackdown on the protesters.

Syria has kept international journalists out of that country.

Our CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom is following developments in Syria from Cairo, Egypt, because of that ban by the government.

Mohammed, we're hearing reports that thousands of demonstrators did take to the streets today. What can you tell us?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Drew, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Homs today. We saw a video live streaming out of Homs earlier in the day and this was corroborated by what opposition activists were telling us.

They were out today because they said that they weren't going to face any violence because the Arab League monitors had arrived there and they saw that the tanks had been withdrawn from the areas in the city that they had been in before. So they came out, and they demonstrated. They called on help from the international community and also called for an end to the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

We should also add that in the past couple of hours, we started to get reports from residents in Homs, that, in fact, at the scene of two different protests, one where the protesters were gathered earlier and another in a different part of the city, that Syrian forces according to eyewitnesses did start firing tear gas and bullets at people assembled there.

So we're now hearing reports of violence. It is a worrying development. And the residents that we speak to there are wondering what exactly the Arab League is going to be saying about it. We tried to reach Arab League observers who we know are staying in Homs for the night as far as what they're seeing and hearing at this hour, but we have not gotten a response from them at this point -- Drew.

GRIFFIN: We don't know yet if the monitors there, these Arab League monitors, actually witnessed this violence or if this happened outside of their purview.

JAMJOOM: We're not yet sure. We're trying to find that out.

We have seen videos emerging today purporting to show members of this Arab League delegation walking through different parts of Homs. There is one video in particular in which there are residents there that appear to be getting in to an argument with a government minder who's escorting the Arab League delegation around. And they're urging the Arab League observers there to go to parts of the city that they say have been really affected by the crackdown.

And then at one point in this video, it sounds like gunfire happening in a different part of the city. So, right now, we have not been able to speak to the Arab League monitors. We are trying to find out exactly what they have seen today and find out from the people that are still there in Homs that are staying the night if they have seen any indications of this violence that we are getting reports about right now -- Drew.

GRIFFIN: All right, Mohammed Jamjoom in Cairo, Egypt, thank you, Mohammed.

Well, what started out as a holiday ski vacation ended up like that, a battle for survival, a family of three trapped under the snow in their SUV. I'm going to talk with the father who was inside that vehicle coming up.


GRIFFIN: OK. A Texas family headed on a ski trip to New Mexico in their SUV when, man, something went really wrong. They ended up trapped for two days buried under several feet of snow.

David Higgins and his wife suffered hypothermia. Their daughter doing fine, but, of course, they're shaken up.

David joins me on the phone from Pueblo, Colorado.

David, I just have to ask the one question I have for you. How did your vehicle get in that snow? What happened?

DAVID HIGGINS, SPENT TWO DAYS TRAPPED UNDER SNOW: Well, we were driving from Clayton to Springer down Highway 56.

The snow, you know, was coming in. And before we made the drive, we checked the road conditions. We checked the weather. And the road conditions just said difficult driving, no road closures. And within 30 miles, the snowstorm started hitting us. It became a whiteout condition.

And as we were starting up an incline, the vehicle just stopped moving forward. The rear wheels started slipping in the snow. So, we moved the car backwards and forwards trying to get out of it. And at that time, the rear of the vehicle slid to the right and off the road where the front of the vehicle was still on the road, and so we just stopped right there.

GRIFFIN: And, obviously, it was snowing. And then you just waited a couple of hours and you realized we're now buried?

I think you used the word entombed in ice.

HIGGINS: We were completely entombed in the snowbank. There was nothing else around us. These are kind of the plains on this rural road.

And we were the highest object out there. And the snow just started building up around us. And by 5:00 that afternoon, we could not even get out of the vehicle. The snow was halfway up the doors.



GRIFFIN: Did you panic?

HIGGINS: No, we didn't panic.

At first, we felt like, you know, we will ride the storm out and when it's over we will just be on our way. We will knock the snow away and drive on to our destination.

GRIFFIN: But when you realized you couldn't actually open that door, get out or climb out, what was your plan? What did you do?

HIGGINS: Well, we had plenty of water. We had plenty of food. You know, we -- my wife did a wonderful job of pre-planning for this trip in that regard. We had our ski gear with us.

We happened to have a couple of sleeping bags and pillows, so we felt like, you know, we can stay warm. We never realized the snow would end up four feet over the top of our vehicle and we would be encased or entombed inside that vehicle.

GRIFFIN: How were you eventually rescued? How did people find you?

HIGGINS: Well, in the beginning, we were told by one of the people that tried to help us -- one of the cars behind us tried to help us, and they said, let the people know that you're mile marker 52.

So, within the first hour, we called 911. We gave them our mile marker, but we also gave them coordinates from our GPS. Come to find out we were actually at mile marker 49, so we were three miles from the actual mile marker we told them. The GPS just gets them within a semi-close proximity.

And it wasn't until they got the volunteer search-and-rescue team out there, who I'm sure has very good experience of doing this -- they looked at a very long snowbank and they said, guys, we need to look at this.

And, honestly, I know God guided them to where we were, because they said they threw the probe down through the snow about two or three times when it struck the vehicle.

GRIFFIN: Well, somebody was looking out for you because otherwise we might have found you in the spring. That wouldn't have been such a pretty sight. I hope your family is doing well. We're told you suffered hypothermia, as did your wife. Are you guys OK now?

HIGGINS: On that, yes. When they got us out there, we were -- we were below 90 degrees in our body temperature. So we were starting to suffer the first signs of hypothermia. We were -- somewhat had pneumonia when we came out of there. And we're still -- you know, my daughter and I are doing well. My wife is recovering, but has made great progress.

GRIFFIN: Well, David Higgins, we wish you and your family the very best. And I hope you do get to go skiing later this year.


GRIFFIN: Enjoy some of that snow.

HIGGINS: We do plan to go skiing. This did not ruin us from that.

GRIFFIN: OK. Take care, Mr. Higgins, from Pueblo, Colorado.


GRIFFIN: Here's another story.


GRIFFIN: An entire nation is going to skip an entire day, for what reason? WOLF: Let's see. Birthday party. Crazy football time. I have no idea.

GRIFFIN: Pacific island of Samoa.

WOLF: Really?

GRIFFIN: Yes. They have decided to head back to the future. Samoa plans to skip Friday this week, Reynolds, switches sides on the international dateline.

The Samoan prime minister says the move puts the nation on the same footing as its key trading partners in New Zealand and Australia. The new time zone will put Samoa three hours ahead of eastern Australian time, instead of 21 hours behind it.

It did this before, 1892. Samoa had two July 4's when the country changed the date to help sailors on board ships bound for San Francisco.

WOLF: It was the day so nice, they had it twice. You had to have Two Fourth of Julys.

But in this situation, you know it's inevitable. There will be someone on Samoa who is not going to be paying attention to the newscasts. They will be enjoying some pretty fancy eggnog. And then they will wake up and they are like what was in this stuff? My gosh. It was so strong. I missed an entire day.

GRIFFIN: It's a resort joint. Right? You're staying there for the week. Are they going to charge you for Thursday?

WOLF: Interesting. Yes, the refunds. Very interesting story on refunds, no question.

GRIFFIN: Maybe we should both go there and check it out.

WOLF: I'm there.

GRIFFIN: Thanks, Reynolds Wolf.

WOLF: You bet.

GRIFFIN: Politicians gave comedians a lot of material to work with during 2011. We will count down the top 10 stories from this year in politics after this.


GRIFFIN: Here's a rundown of some of the stories we're working on this hour.

Next: a lot of twists and turns in the world of politics, a look at some of the best political stories of the year.

Then, Maine authorities offer a $30,000 reward, the largest in the state's history, for information to find this missing girl.

And later, don't let that unwanted holiday gift card expire. We're going to tell you how to trade it in for cash.

Right now, Mitt Romney is speaking in New Hampshire, Portsmouth, talking about jobs to the people there. He is not in Iowa with the rest of the group. Romney's strategy has been to focus on New Hampshire, where he has owned a home and of course was a governor of the neighboring state there of Massachusetts.

We continue to follow the politics with a big year, big moments and in some cases big laughs. From "The Daily Show" to "Saturday Night Live," comedians had lots of material to work with.

CNN's Joe Johns counts down the top 10 stories from this year in politics.


JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Number two, the Hermanator. Maybe time, Backyardigans will play his swan song.

We ought to devote a whole segment to one candidate for president, because he meant so much to so many. What would this election season have been without the pizza man himself, Herman Cain? Whether it was his request for Secret Service protection, even before his wife found out about the alleged 13-year affair with a woman that Cain denied ever having, or was it his now infamous brain freeze when talking about Libya?

HERMAN CAIN (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do not agree with the way he handled it for the following reasons. No, that's -- that's a different one.

JOHNS: Herman Cain was the candidate to beat for a little offbeat levity on the campaign trail this year. Suffice it to say when he finally rolled up the campaign banners and walked off in to the sunset as the last official act, he actually quoted "Pokemon" the movie.

CAIN: Life can seem impossible. It's never easy when there's so much on the line.

JOHNS: Number nine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Two women are at the door.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't answer it.


JOHNS: If they had use add really large girl, they might have gotten away with it. Former Prince Georgia's County Maryland executive Jack Johnson and his wife, Leslie were a power couple who got caught on the wrong side of the law.

Court documents said he took bribes ranging from $400,000 to $1 million. But where there's a high-level bribery, an FBI wiretap operation seems almost always not far behind.

When the agents knocking on the door, the audiotape of the moment was not pretty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you want me to do with this money?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Put it in your panties and walk out of the house.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, but I mean all this cash, Jack.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I got the one from --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Put it in your panties.

JOHNS: Number eight, if he had dressed up as an elephant or a donkey, would anyone have noticed? Democratic Congressman David Woo of Oregon got caught on camera dressed up in a tiger suit, but he didn't resign his job until reports surfaced he had an unwanted sexual encounter with the 18-year-old daughter of a long-time friend and campaign donor.

Number seven, after all this time they thought they were smarter than everybody else. A bill to outlaw insider trading by members of Congress got on a fast track after a series of reports about how House members with special access to financial information always seemed to outperform the market on their Wall Street investment.

Number six, and the lowest blood sugar of the campaign award goes to Rick Perry. Sometimes he seemed all over the place, completely forgetting part of his stump speech in the middle of a nationally televised debate.

GOVERNOR RICK PERRY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will tell you, it's three agencies of government when I get there that are gone. Commerce, education and the -- what's the third one there? Let's see.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't name the third one?

PERRY: The third agency of government I would do away with -- education, the -- commerce. Let's see. I can't. The third one I can't. Sorry. Oops.

JOHNS: At another time, almost completely over the top another time, almost too much energy. What's going on with this guy?

PERRY: This is such a cool state. Come on, live free or die. I mean -- you know? You got to love that, right? I come -- I come from a state, you know, where they had a little place called the Alamo and declared victory or death. We are in to those slogans, man. Live free or die, victory or death. Bring it. The ones that want to stay in the old system, pay the lawyers, pay the accountants, all that money that's gone -- or, that, 20 percent flat tax. Take your deductions off. Send it in. Today has been awesome, girl!

JOHNS: Into the handlers, endurance sports and that's what this campaign is, some brain freeze is also what you can call balking or hitting the wall. Nothing that can't be fixed with a protein bar and a banana. Please keep it on the bus for all of us.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, we call them super and task was heroic, but they couldn't save the day. The not so "Super Committee" and the debt debacle when our countdown continues.


GRIFFIN: Polls pandering and pot shots. The political narrative of 2011. CNN's Joe Johns has the top five stories in politics this year.


JOHNS: Number five, somehow he completely missed that writing on the wall. When he resigned his office this year, Republican Senator John Ensign said he was leaving the capital to save his family from embarrassment.

But now it looks like he got out of politics because he couldn't raise enough money to get re-elected. Why couldn't he raise enough money maybe because of his money handling skills? He got his parents to give his girlfriend and husband a $96,000 gift, ostensibly to keep the affair quiet.

Number four, no, what I said was congressman elect. Democratic New York Congressman Anthony Weiner was absolutely adamant that someone hacked his Twitter account after what you might call an inappropriate photo was sent a college student under Weiner's name.

It was only after CNN's Wolf Blitzer pressed Weiner on the owner of the briefs in the picture that Weiner slowly started to come clean.

BITZER: You would know if this is your underpants --

ANTHONY WEINER, FORMER NEW YORK CONGRESSMAN: Photographs can be manipulated. Photographs can be taken out from one place and put it in another place. Photos can be doctored.

And I want to make sure that we know for sure what happened here. It certainly doesn't look familiar to me, but I don't want to say with certitude to you. I know some certain truths here.

JOHNS: Not long after that interview, the truth came out.

WEINER: To be clear, the picture was of me and I sent it.

JOHNS: Ten days later his once promising political career was toast.

WEINER: Unfortunately, the distraction that I have created has made that impossible. So today, I am announcing my resignation from Congress.

JOHNS: Number three, and now, the show can't be called "Real Ex- Housewives of D.C." Mikael and Taric Salehi finally called it quits this is year in the most embarrassing of tabloid fashion possible. They're the White House party crashers who somehow slipped into a state dinner and rubbed elbows with the rich and powerful including the president setting off a security paranoia in the complex that continues to this day.

The Salehi's broke up just a few days before a bankruptcy sale of their property in Virginia's wine country when she ran off to Nashville with the lead guitarist from the rock and roll band, "Journey."

Number two, it sounded like it was right out of the comic books and turns out that wasn't too far off. A legion of Super Friends, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman and their allies, the "Super Committee" of 12 super heroes named this year to save the day on Capitol Hill, cut spending, make everything taste great and less filling.

What the bad guys of Wall Street threatened to downgrade Uncle Sam's credit, the "Super Committee" was brought together to save us from ourselves. Unfortunately, it didn't work. The bad guys win and win the last time, too?

And number one on the list, guess who's laughing all the way to the bank this time. After nearly taking down the economy three years ago and getting massive bailouts from the federal government, the banks are now mostly back reporting record profits again.

Though for much of this year, unemployment hovered at or near 9 percent. The good news is if you work at a bank you'll probably be just fine.


GRIFFIN: And this reminder, tune in a week today for the country's first caucus. America's Choice 2012, live coverage of the Iowa caucuses begins Tuesday night, January 3rd at 7:00 Eastern here on CNN.

Well, she vanished from her bedroom days before Christmas and now police say this toddler was indeed abducted and her family is desperate for answers.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bring her home! Just bring her home to us. I want my baby home. I want her home.



GRIFFIN: Police are stepping up their search for a missing toddler from Maine. They're now offering a $30,000 reward for information on the disappearance of 20-month-old Ayla Reynolds.

Last seen in her bed days before Christmas, police confident they say they say that the little girl was indeed abducted. CNN'S Deb Feyerick has the latest on this investigation.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's Friday night, December 16th, 20-month-old Ayla Reynolds is ready for bed, wearing her green polka dot pajamas with the words "daddy' princess" on the front.

Her father, Justin Dipietro, puts her to sleep. He says it's the last time he saw his daughter. The next morning, Ayla was gone, vanished sometime during the night.

Dipietro had been carrying for baby Ayla for weeks, after her mother, Trista Reynolds, checked herself into a 10-day rehab program. After completing rehab, Reynolds filed court papers to regain custody of her daughter. The papers were filed the day before Ayla was last seen.

Police say both parents are fully cooperating in the case, and say they have no suspects yet, but they are certain Ayla was taken from her home on that Friday night.

CHIEF JOE MASSEY, WATERVILLE, MAINE POLICE: We believe that someone was involved in taking her out of the house and that's where the focus of this investigation has turned.

FEYERICK: Two days after Ayla's disappearance, Trista Reynolds tells various media outlets, including HLN's Nancy Grace that she worried her daughter was not safe with her father.

The day after Ayla's mother gives these interviews, Justin DePietro writes a letter to law enforcement. He says he has no idea what happened to his daughter, nor does he know who's responsible for her disappearance. Adding, "I will not make accusations or insinuations towards anyone until police have been able to prove who's responsible for this."

Meanwhile, the search for Ayla widens. Police receive nearly 200 tips. Civilian volunteers joined state, local and federal authorities in over 80 searches of the area, including a nearby river, a pond and several hiking trails. Cadaver dogs are brought in. Still, no sign of the missing girl.

TRISTA REYNOLDS, AYLA'S MOTHER: Is she OK? Is she laying somewhere dead? Is she safe? Is she cold? Is she being fed? Is someone watching her? RONALD REYNOLDS, AYLA'S GRANDFATHER: Bring her home! Just bring her home to us. I want my baby home. I want her home.

FEYERICK: And on Christmas Day, prayers instead of presents for Ayla. It's been over a week since the blond-haired, blue-eyed toddler was last seen. In these cases, time is the enemy. But police continue their search, hoping a new $30,000 reward will bring them closer to finding little Ayla.



GRIFFIN: We'll certainly keep you posted on that story.

You know it's not often you get anything free, but today we've got free advice from the CNN "Help Desk." And don't you hate when you get a gift card to a store that you don't like? It doesn't have to go to waste. How to trade that card in for cash.

POPPY HARLOW, CNNMONEY.COM: Time now for "The Help Desk," where we get answers to your financial questions. And joining me this hour is Gary Schatsky, he's a financial planner and president of, and Gail Cunningham is with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

Thank you both for being here.

Gail, first question to you. This comes from Julie in Ohio. Julie writes, "my son has over $100,000 in private loans for school, but he isn't making enough to cover the monthly costs. My husband and I are co-signers on a good portion of those loans. Should we dig into our 401(k) to pay them down?" This is tough.

GAIL CUNNINGHAM, NATIONAL FOUNDATION FOR CREDIT COUNSELING: It is tough. And these parents are going to have to choose between bad and worse -- ruin their credit or raid their retirement. People don't understand often, when they co-sign on a loan, they are equally responsible for the payments and fulfillment of that debt. And all the activity is reported on both the co-signer and the primary signer's credit report. So if the payments are not being made, the credit is tanking. Which will, of course, negatively impact their future access to credit.

If they raid their retirement -- I'm not for that either. I might suggest that if they're still contributing to their retirement plans, maybe suspend that temporarily. Temporarily is the key word until the son can get back on his feet and assume the responsibility himself.

HARLOW: Yes, that's a great point.

Gary, your question comes from Bill in Missouri. Bill writes, "my wife and I each have a 401(k). Is it better to combine them or keep them separate?"

GARY SHATSKY, FINANCIAL PLANNER: Well, it's an easy answer in that you can't combine 401(k)s from two different people.


SHATSKY: You know, you've -- the only way it ends up getting combined is if it becomes an IRA and then you inherit it. So it's not really a choice we have.

HARLOW: It's not a choice and they can always roll over into an IRA of they want to, individually.

SHATSKY: Absolutely.

HARLOW: Guys, thank you so much.

And if you've got a question you want answered, just send us an e-mail any time to


GRIFFIN: Christmas is over. And if you're like most people, you probably got a gift card to a store you never shop. Well, don't throw it away. Alison Kosik joins us live from the New York Stock Exchange to explain how you can actually swap cards for cash.


ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, how much do you hate when that happens? You get this great gift card and you think, I'm never going to spend it. And, you know what, you're not alone. Americans are actually sitting on $41 billion in unused gift cards. I'm talking about money that's actually accumulated over the past seven years. And just this holiday season, Drew, consumers spent almost $28 billion on gift cards and only about half of that is going to get used by the end of January.

So, of course the question is, what happens to the rest of that money on that card? Well, first of all, you go, you can't return them to the store, but you can try to unload them online. So, yes, enter card swapping websites like Plastic Jungle, Gift Card Rescue, Card Pool, ABC Gift Cards. Those are great places to go to. They allow you to sell your unwanted cards at a discount, of course, or trade them for something that, hey, you do want.


GRIFFIN: And what's the charge? I mean these companies have got to be making something off of this.

KOSIK: They do. So what they do is they offer about 90 percent of the value of your unwanted cards and they sell cards, actually, at a discount, as well. Up to 35 percent off. And that means that they will buy your unwanted $50 gift card, let's say, for about $45 and then turn around and sell it to someone else for $32.50. You know, it's a pretty good deal.

An alternative that you have here is you can go to eBay, with has thousands of gift cards on the auction block. In fact, today, and I took a look and it's looking like it's mostly a seller's market. I saw a $25 Home Depot card go for $23.50. A $15 Starbucks card, that's going for $13.75. Of course you've also got the greedy people on eBay. There's an iTunes gift card listed for above full price. Don't fall for that.

Speaking of falling, stock prices, they're not falling. We're in the green right now. The Dow's up 17. The Nasdaq is better by nine. We've got a couple of mixed economic reports not really moving the market. I think what you're seeing is investors sitting out the rest of the year. Four more trading days left.


GRIFFIN: Alison, thank you so much.

Well, you've been sounding off on our "Talk Back" question. Today, "The New York Times" reporting movie ticket sales down by a half billion dollars this year. But the high price of movie tickets and popcorn and all the rest, and less expensive alternatives for watching movies at home, we're asking, is the big screen worth it?

Kevin says, "rarely. Most home theater systems offer the same effect and microwave popcorn is less than the price of one adult ticket. Plus no screaming babies, unless they're your own."

Jim writes, "big screen with its dramatic sound, is much better than watching a DVD or streaming movie. But, the high price is just not affordable. Fortunately, a theater here in Oakland is only $5 all day every day Sunday and Tuesday. So there is no reason theaters across the U.S. cannot charge a reasonable price. Just give up the expensive popcorn."

Zuhaib says, "I'd rather wait two months and get it for a quarter of the price."

And finally, Gerald. Gerald says this. "It's worth it if the wife is happy afterwards, if you know what I mean."

Two hours napping in a movie theater, Gerald. I know what you mean.

Thanks to all of you for writing and keep the conversation going on

Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, was also behind some of the earliest audio recordings ever. Now almost 130 years later, we are hearing those recordings for the first time.


GRIFFIN: Alexander Graham Bell was on the cutting edge of technology in the 1880s, but now his audio recording experiments have been recovered and restored 130 years later. Here's Brian Todd.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The audio clips among the earliest ever recorded have been virtually unplayable for over a century. In the past year, scientists have found a way to listen to them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One, two, three.

TODD: After Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877, there was a rush of competition among scientists to make sound recording commercially viable.

DR. CARL HABER, LAWRENCE BERKELEY NATIONAL LABORATORY: Edison and the Bells had settled on the cylinder as the format.

TODD: Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, was part of the competition. He sent several sealed tin boxes to the Smithsonian Institution with early prototypes of recordings to protect himself in case of a future patent challenge. The recordings have been stored in the Smithsonian since the 1880s. But with no device to play them, they sat on the shelf.

Enter Carl Haber of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

HABER: We can use this camera to take a large number of pictures of the item and create a very, very detailed digital representation of the structure of the surface. I'm going to rotate the record now and you'll see this starting to move up and down as if a needle was riding up and down in it.

TODD: Around 18,000 optical images are taken for each rotation of the disk. Then the computer does its work to play back sound from the images.

HABER: This kind of a bowl is the groove that the stylist would sit in.

TODD: There's a reading of Shakespeare's "Hamlet."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To be or not to be, that is the question.

HABER: To be or not to be.

TODD: And, Mary had a little lamb.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mary had a little lamb. And its fleece was white as snow. And everywhere that Mary went, (INAUDIBLE).

HABER: At that point, the first part of the record ends. Something apparently went wrong. It's probably the first recorded example of somebody being disappointed.

TODD: The digital imaging system is ideal for archivists trying to protect the historically valuable disks because there is no physical contact needed to hear the audio recordings.

TODD (on camera): The Smithsonian has about 200 early audio recordings from Alexander Graham Bell's Volta (ph) Laboratory. So far they have used optical imaging technology to decipher six of those recordings. You can listen to them by logging on to

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


GRIFFIN: And CNN NEWSROOM continues right now with Randi Kaye.