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Citigroup Suspending Foreclosures for a Month; Credit Rollback; Health Care Reform Roadblocks

Aired December 17, 2009 - 10:59   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning, everyone. It is Thursday, the 17th of December, and here are the top stories for you in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Moments ago, a London judge's decision on whether British Airways crews can strike. Holiday travel for one million flyers hinging on the ruling.

The Senate health care bill won't be the ambitious overhaul liberals wanted, but there's still plenty of change left in it, as you will see.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't want to live with him!


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't want to live with him.


HARRIS: Just an amazing story here. A distressed child caught in a tug-of-war between parents. Our Special Investigations Unit looks at a custody ruling that should not have happened.

Good morning, everyone. I'm Tony Harris, and you are in the CNN NEWSROOM.

So, the numbers tell a pretty painful story. Nearly 3.5 million people have received a foreclosure filing this year. Or worse, they have completely lost the roof over their heads. But now one major lender says it is planning to extend a helping hand. Susan Lisovicz is at the New York Stock Exchange with details on Citigroup.

And Susan, look, a lot of troubled borrowers will now be able to stay in their homes, at least for the holidays.

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We're looking at about 4,000, about 2,000 who have received notices, about 2,000 who were about to receive them.

Citigroup, Tony, is suspending foreclosures for 30 days as of tomorrow. That means no foreclosures, no evictions. Of course there are -- there is fine print. Along with this, the mortgage loan must be owned by Citi Mortgage or Citi Financial North America. You are out of luck if you simply make payments to Citi and the mortgage is owned by other investors.

A statement coming from Citi saying that, "We want our borrowers to have a much less stressful time, to spend their time with their families during the holidays, as opposed to worrying about their homes." But it must be said, Tony, that it's in the bank's best interest to keep you in your home...

HARRIS: Absolutely.

LISOVICZ: ... a bank doesn't want to have to sell a house when there's so many homes that are on the block that have lost value.

And, of course, we should also note the timing. It comes just a few days after bank CEOs met with President Obama about helping borrowers. And the president is supposed to meet with community banks next week, so we could see more of this.

HARRIS: OK. But Susan, look, the question must be asked here, is this just delaying, in many cases, the inevitable?

LISOVICZ: Well, we can compare this to last year because there were a whole bunch of banks that did this last year, that had these moratoriums. And what happened is that foreclosures rose after the suspensions were lifted.

What's more helpful is, obviously, loan modifications, long-term solutions. And we've been seeing some effects of that. Foreclosure filings have fallen the past four months as loans get reworked. But we need to see more permanent modifications.

And let's face it, a lot of these loan modifications are temporary. Foreclosure filings, Tony, are still up 18 percent from last year. It's still a very big problem.

HARRIS: It really is. All right, Susan. Appreciate you. See you a little later. Thank you.

Just in now to the CNN wire, British Airways' crew blocked from going on strike. The airline has won a high court injunction prohibiting the 12-day work stoppage that was set to start next week.

Union members are angry over plans they say will extend working hours and cut crew levels. Travel experts estimate the strike would have affected around a million passengers during the holidays. The union and the airline are still negotiating.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is at the climate summit in Copenhagen today. She pledged the U.S. will help bankroll a fund to compensate poorer countries for the cost of a climate treaty. Still no deal in sight as world leaders fly in for final negotiations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We have now reached the critical juncture in these negotiations. I understand that the talks have been difficult. I know that our team, along with many others, are working hard and around the clock to forge a deal, and we will continue doing all that we can do. But the time is at hand for all countries to reach for common ground and take an historic step that we can all be proud of. There is a way forward.


HARRIS: All right. A story we've been following for you.

A New Jersey man has won a long, hard court battle in Brazil for custody of his 9-year-old son. David Goldman has been fighting for custody of his son Sean since 2004, when his wife took the boy on vacation to her native Brazil and never returned. She remarried there, but died last year in childbirth.

Goldman spoke to CNN earlier today while on a flight to get his son.


DAVID GOLDMAN, WON CUSTODY OF SON IN BRAZIL: I do hope that we will finally be able to bring him home to me, his only parent, his only father, and his family that have been waiting for him for over five years, agonizing for his return.


HARRIS: Sean Goldman's Brazilian grandparents and his stepfather continue to appeal yesterday's court ruling.

Pro football player Chris Henry, a wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengalis, is dead. Police in Charlotte, North Carolina, say Henry was critically injured yesterday after falling out of the bed of a pickup during a fight with his fiancee. Henry died just about four and a half hours ago. He was 26 years old.

And the search for two hikers on Oregon's Mt. Hood has been officially suspended. Authorities presume the two hikers, a 29-year- old woman and a 24-year-old man, are dead. The two have been missing nearly a week on the 11,000-foot-plus mountain. The body of their hiking companion was found Saturday.

Well, as you know, President Obama is leaning on Wall Street's fat cats, as he put it, to lend, lend, lend. But a new report shows banks are stingier than ever with their money.

What's going on here?

"YOUR $$$$$" co-host, Christine Romans, joining me now from New York.

And Christine, I'd like to say I'm surprised by this news, but I don't think anyone watching is. CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: No. Look, the president sat down, or was on a conference call, with these CEOs of the big banks on Monday. He said we want to see some results. Well, there are results we can give you.

The Treasury Department has been making these banks since April say how much they are lending to small business. We know that since April, small business lending by the top 22 banks that received TARP money, the bailout money, is down $11.6 billion. In October, the most recent numbers available, just released, small business lending down another billion dollars.

Put that into context, Tony, with what you've been hearing from some of these banks -- the Citigroup foreclosure initiative, for example, Bank of America this week saying that it would increase its small business lending next year by $5 billion. I agree with Susan, you're going to hear these banks say these little programs to try to show that they are getting the message from the president, but in the context of how much small businesses lending, just take a look.

Over the last six months, small business credit has been vanishing. Bank of America, small business lending down almost six percent. American Express down 4.5 percent. Wells Fargo -- Wells Fargo, by the way, the largest small business lender in the country, down four percent. JPMorgan Chase down -- you get the picture. It goes on and on like that, Tony.


ROMANS: It's interesting, though. The Wells Fargo CEO and others, frankly, have said, look, we can't wait to make good loans again to small business, but small business has an issue here. They're losing customers. The value of their assets is down because of a real estate collapse.


HARRIS: Not all of them, Christine. Not all of them. Come on.

ROMANS: Not all of them. Not all of them. But, Tony, you and I have talked about this many times. The numbers clearly show that the default rates are higher than they have ever been.

So, on the one hand, you've got good businesses who are saying, I need a loan. On the other hand, you have the banks that are playing defense, trying to protect themselves as these other business loans are going bad at record rates.

Now, one area where the president and these bankers agreed was they all said we're getting a lot of mail saying, hey, "I'm a good business owner. I have a viable business. I can't get credit."


ROMANS: Apparently, this is the message that's out there. I think what you're going to see is the banks are going to start to say next year will be the year.

Tony, it's not an act of charity. Everyone thinks that next year could be a better year. So when it's a good business sense for them to start lending again, they will.

HARRIS: OK. Can I offer up another thought for you, just a thought, and then take it apart?


HARRIS: Are the banks simply making more money doing other things? I don't know, buying T bills, treasury bills, derivative trading, making more money doing something other than lending?

ROMANS: Yes. I mean, they're losing money on lending. On credit cards, to switch from small business to credit cards, most of the major credit card portfolios, they're losing money.

They're losing money on their -- we talk about all the fees and everything. They're losing money on these credit cards right now because so many people are simply defaulting.

When you talk about the small business portfolio, I think it was the Bank of America CEO who, a few months ago, said that their portfolio for small business was a "damn disaster." I mean, so they are playing defense here.

And even the new Bank of America CEO, he's been saying that he is going to be focused on risk management for the bank, you know, for the foreseeable future. When I hear risk management and a bank, I think, oh, wow, the consumer and small business, the little guy, we're the risk right now; right? So we'll see how this plays out.

But I think next year, Tony, if the economy can get better, then I think they're going to start lending a little bit more. But keep that in context for how much they have pulled back on the lending for small business...


ROMANS: ... this year. And the reason why small business is so important, Tony, it is such a big part of job creation. If we're going to get out of this mess for jobs, small business is what is going to pull us out.

HARRIS: I'm going to send you an e-mail. Got another point to make with you. Look, the e-mail is coming.

All right, Christine. Appreciate it. Thank you.

ROMANS: All right. You got it.

HARRIS: Health care reform. While the clock is ticking in the Senate, members of the House are speaking out.

And Reynolds Wolf is tracking a soggy storm system that just won't give the South a break. Reynolds is next, right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.




HARRIS: So, the health care battle in Congress at a stalemate for the moment in the Senate after a compromise seemed within reach. So, where do lawmakers go from here?

Two top members of Congress, Democrat Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Republican Ron Paul of Texas, joined "LARRY KING LIVE" last night to debate the issue.


LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": OK, Congressman Frank, we'll start with you.

Is this dead on arrival in the Senate or do we have a shot here?

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Larry, you know, one of the things that's most troublesome to me, having come from a state legislature, is the lack of interaction between the House and the Senate. You know, there's just an institutional barrier there. And I tell you this, I'm not really sure what's going on.

And I also have to say, I've been pretty preoccupied up through last Friday with the financial reform regulations, so I haven't looked at it.

But I don't think it is dead. There is a great need to do something. We do have some people who are always going to say if it can't be perfect, I'm against it. Those are not the kind of people who ought to be in elected office, because that's not the way a democracy works.

KING: All right...

FRANK: So I believe you are still going to see a pretty good bill.

KING: And what do you believe, Ron Paul?

REP. RON PAUL (R), TEXAS: Well, I'm afraid he's right. That's something that will come down. Since I take the approach that we don't need more government in medicine and blame so many of our problems that we've had too much government in medicine already, so I'm not anxious for anything to come.

But, really, the question is, how do you pay for it?

And I think more and more Americans, at least now, are getting worried about how you pay for it. And -- and even though I have an idealistic approach to medicine in everything that I do -- that we should do it with less government -- I do think everybody should be concerned about paying for it.

And that is the reason why -- you can't talk about anything economic without talking about foreign policy. And that's why I've emphasized that the waste overseas is so bad and it gets us in trouble. And we're fighting these wars that are never declared and they're endless.

So I'd save hundreds of billions of dollars by bringing our troops home...

KING: You...

PAUL: ... and I would be willing to put a lot of that into medical care, but I still...


PAUL: ... wouldn't endorse the idea that we need more government...

KING: Do you...

PAUL: ... management or care.

KING: Do you both...

FRANK: Larry...

KING: Do you both fill philosophically believe that no American should go without health care?

FRANK: Well, I don't think we can guarantee that by the government.

But, Larry, I have on to say something first that I am afford is going to be disappointing to many of your visitors -- your viewers. I agree 100 percent with what Ron Paul just said. The hundreds of billions -- the trillions we are on -- on the verge of wasting in wars that do us more harm than good, that's really very important. And I -- Ron Paul has spoken very accurately and I agree with him on that.

I do believe that we ought to have a system that makes it -- that extends medical care, but you can't guarantee it. I think we can do a lot better in providing it.

I would also say that, you know, an example of my differences with Ron is I think Medicare is a good thing. I think for older people, they are better off on Medicare than what replaced it and that's government medicine.

I would also say the most popular form of medicine as it's practiced in America, in my experience, is the wholly government medicine that is dispensed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The veterans I talk to would get very angry if someone said we're going to abolish the medical services at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is, after all, wholly government. KING: Congressman Paul, would you agree that public at large does not want to you fail again to come up -- you as a body -- to come up with something that improves what we have?

PAUL: Well, I -- everybody does. But I might believe very sincerely that you can improve it with less government. Others would believe that you have to have more government.

For instance, in the imperfect world that we have, I don't think that we should be cutting out funds from Medicare. You know, it's in big trouble already. But they were talking about taking $400 billion out of Medicare to so-called pay for these others. That doesn't mean -- that doesn't make a lot of sense.

No, I agree with the idea that everybody should have good health care. But I just don't believe that government delivers on their promises...

FRANK: Except...

PAUL: ... when you think about houses. We were going to give everybody a house and, look, the poor people lost their houses. It was good intentioned, but the programs didn't work. So that's why I'm afraid that when you promise people health care, that some of them will come up short.


HARRIS: OK. More on this next hour. Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina joins me in the NEWSROOM to continue our look at health care reform.

As the debate continues now, the looming question is, what's still in the bill that's being worked on now? Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins me next with the answer.


HARRIS: All right. Checking our top stories right now.

President Obama heads to the international climate summit in Denmark this evening. Rich and poor nations remain deadlocked over emissions cuts and aid. The U.S. now vowing to join other wealthy countries in raising $100 billion for climate funding.

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford dodges another impeachment vote. A state house committee instead approved a resolution censuring Sanford yesterday. The Republican governor has been under fire for an extramarital affair and alleged misuse of state aircraft.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi left a hospital this morning. His face, as you can see here, covered in bandages. Berlusconi is recovering from an attack four days ago when a mentally ill man hit him with a small statue. It broke his nose and two of his teeth. The battle over health care reform intensified, to be sure. With Republicans trying to block the bill and Democrats battling over proposed compromises, the question is, what could end up in this bill and how exactly would it affect you?

CNN's patient advocate, Elizabeth Cohen, joining me now to break it all down for us.

And Elizabeth, give us some examples of proposals in this bill and how they would eventually affect everyday people, you and me.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Tony. To do this, we have brought back these avatars that you know you and I both love to illustrate what this bill, as it stands now, could mean to you and me.

Let's take, for example, the Smith family. The Smith family, they have two kids, they have their own computer business. They don't have insurance. That's what they don't have, because they have their own business.

So they make $57,000 a year. In the state they live in, they do not qualify for Medicaid. However, under this new bill, they would be able to get Medicaid. So, they are definitely in much better shape.

Now let's take a look at someone else who needs help. His name, we call him "Heart Attack Harry," and that's because Harry had a heart attack.

And Tony, what do you think? Does any insurance company want to insure this guy?

HARRIS: No, absolutely not.

COHEN: No. No. He's going to cost them a fortune.

HARRIS: Pre-existing condition, no way.

COHEN: That's right. Exactly. So he's in a terrible situation right now, so under this bill he would be able to get insurance, because insurance companies would not be allowed to just tell him no.

Now, let's take a look at how much money he makes. He makes $43,000 a year. He works for a small company that does not offer insurance.

Now, what this bill would do is it would give him a credit of about $700 towards buying insurance. Now, that's not much, but it would allow him to get insurance for just under $4,000. And the bill would also cap how much he would have to pay out of his own pocket.

So "Heart Attack Harry" needs some cardiac surgery next month. He will spend $2,000 and that's it. He won't have to spend any more.

HARRIS: Well, that's better than what he has now. Come on.

COHEN: Absolutely. Well, nothing is worse than what he has now. That's for sure.

HARRIS: Yes, exactly.

Now, will people still get penalized for not getting insured?

COHEN: You know what/ They will get penalized for not getting insured. And the purpose of that is that the whole purpose of this is to bring in as many people as possible into the insurance pool, especially those young people who are so good for the pool.

So, what this does is it fines people $95 if they don't get insurance. A lot of people think that's not nearly enough, a $95 fee isn't going to deter anyone.

HARRIS: Right. And there's still a lot of shuffling -- I guess that's fair -- lately, and there are plenty of things that are likely not to appear in the final version from the Senate. Is that correct?

COHEN: Right. Let's go over those three things.


COHEN: And this is all talk now. And who knows? This will probably change a million times. But this is how it is right at the moment.

Right now, the public option is out. It appears from the Senate bill that that's not going to happen. Also, Medicare starting at age 55, that was an idea someone had. That is not going to happen, apparently.

And also, language allowing arbitrary caps. There was some thought that the bill was going to let insurance companies say, oh, you've spent too much money, I'm putting a cap, we're done. The insurance company is done paying for you. Now, apparently, there is talk that that will not happen, so cancer patients, others, very happy about that.

HARRIS: Very good. I think we're going to run this again next hour. That's good information.

Elizabeth, appreciate it. Thank you.

COHEN: Thanks, Tony.

HARRIS: You know, we'll get some insight into where the health care bill stands next hour. I'll be joined live by Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina.


HARRIS: What is its? Well, it is "The Price is Right" meets the pulpit. Go to church, win cash prizes. A good way to fire up attendance during a time of economic tribulation.

CNN's Christine Romans with a report prepared for our special "In God We Trust: Faith and Money in America."


PASTOR DAN WILLIS, LIGHTHOUSE CHURCH OF ALL NATIONS: All right, Father. You get it all. It all belongs to you. We thank you. It all is yours, in Jesus' name.

Whoo! Let's go!

ROMANS (voice-over): At the Lighthouse Church of All Nations in suburban Chicago, parishioners are lining up every week, hoping to receive more than just the Sunday sermon.

Church Pastor Dan Willis also recently began giving away money. With a congregation hit hard by the economic downturn, Willis finishes every service with a cash prize, giving away $1,000 every week.

WILLIS: If you are in seat number 365, you just won $500.

Due to the economic recession, I wanted to teach the parallel between faith and finances.

Three hundred, 400, 500. How are you feeling right about now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm happy. Thank you so much!

ROMANS: Willis doesn't call the prize a lottery. Instead, referring to it as a love gift, a chance to bless a lucky few while also helping fill his pews. He says church attendance has grown from about 1,600 to 2,500 in just a few weeks.

WILLIS: Debt is not a financial condition. Debt is a spiritual condition.

ROMANS: Recent winners say the money couldn't come at a better time.

FRANK CRUZ, PARISHIONER AND $250 WINNER: I went down to Red Lobster and celebrated with my wife and my kids. And then after that, I paid a couple of bills off and I did groceries.

CARYN POWELL, PARISHIONER AND $250 WINNER: As I drove out, my gas tank was on "E," so I drove straight to the gas station.

WILLIS: Could you imagine what would happen -- and I get passionate about this part -- if every church did something like this?

ROMANS: That's exactly why some others in the religious community are concerned.

WILLIAM SCHWEIKER, THEOLOGICAL ETHICIST, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO: The whole point of the Christian life is to care for others, to love others, to give. And yet, this could set up a mindset where the purpose of going to church is to acquire for one's self, which is what Christians usually call sin.

WILLIS: We love you and there's nothing you can do about it.

ROMANS: Still, Willis says it's not just the love that he hopes will continue to grow at the Lighthouse Church, but also the parking lot. He plans on building an additional lot to handle the hundreds more people coming to church every week, praying for a chance to win some cold, hard cash.

WILLIS: Sweetheart, you just won $100!

ROMANS: Christine Romans, CNN.



Balancing faith and finances. In a time when money is tight, Christine Romans explores the intersection of how we worship and how we spend. "In God We Trust: Faith and Money in America" airs this Saturday night at 8:00 Eastern here on CNN.

It is a decision that could make or break millions of holiday plans. A judge rules in the British Airways strike.


HARRIS: All right. Just within the hour Britain's High Court granted British Airways an injunction preventing a union's 12-day holiday strike.

Our Jim Boulden is at the court in London. And, Jim, what was behind this dispute in the first place between the airline and the union.

JIM BOULDEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, British Airways and the cabin crew unions have been having a spat for a good six to eight months, really.

British Airways needs to cut costs, obviously, trying to become profitable again. It's been a terrible cup of years for all the airlines. So it cut flights a number of cabin crew and long haul flights. Flights to New York, flights to Miami, San Francisco, you would see less cabin crew on there. They also want to hire new cabin crew at less money.

The Cabin Crew Union said no way, we've hated this idea so they voted for this strike on Monday. Now since then there's been this huge uproar, criticism for both sides really, Tony. But the one thing British Airways did is take the union to court here. They started yesterday afternoon talking. The judge ruled an hour ago that the union broke the UK law, the labor laws here, and the judge has said that the strike cannot go ahead starting next Tuesday. That was going to be for 12 days and cause huge chaos for probably over a million people around the world, Tony.

HARRIS: All right. And Jim, baggage handlers and check-in staff are looking at a walkout next week.

Anything on that?

BOULDEN: Well, you know, I think they were doing that in sympathy. We'll have to see if they have the guts to go through with that, Tony. That would be interesting to find out because that would still, of course, cause chaos at Heathrow Airport.

But, let's go over to Michael Holmes at Heathrow Airport who may have more on that -- Michael.


Now, listen, one thing to point out too, the union says they're going to probably have another vote on this. When that's going to happen, we don't know. But, yes, we've been here for a day or two now talking to passengers. They have been worried about this, they've been angry about it. So many plans have been thrown into disarray whether this happens or not.

Why should I talk about it when I've got somebody here. I'm going to bring in Katie Markus who's from Illinois. Come right in, Katie. Now, Katie's been studying abroad and she's got a lot of mates who've been studying abroad as well.

How did this strike when it was all going ahead impact them?

KATIE MARKUS, PASSENGER FROM ILLINOIS: Well, I've been going to school with about 16 girls, and about half of them that I came here on British Airways with have been affected and they've had to pay at least $300 to about $2,000 extra just to make sure that they had a ticket home.

HOLMES: Because they were going to buy another ticket for another airline.

MARKUS: Yes, before Christmas to see their family.

HOLMES: Right. And of course now that the strike is officially off, they still got the other tickets so they paid double.

MARKUS: Yes. they have two round-trip tickets now.

HOLMES: So how do you feel about it being off?

MARKUS: I feel like it was just a lot of stress for everybody that's been involved, just from talking to the people -- I mean I'm on British Airways right now and it was just tough to deal with along with going to school and then having to keep in touch with your parents. And they don't know what to do and you don't know what to do.

HOLMES: Right. OK, Katie. Thanks for that. Appreciate that.

Katie Markus is going to be getting home to Illinois a little later than planned. I actually loaned her my phone so she could call her dad and say don't come to the airport, I'm going to be a bit late. But, yes, a lot of messed up people. Even if this strike does not go ahead as it appears now, there's a lot of plans that have been thrown into disarray and money that's been spent to double book basically -- Tony.

HARRIS: Yes, absolutely. Michael, appreciate it.

Hey, Jim, can you still hear me? I know we were having a bit of an IFB issue with you. Can you hear me OK, because I've got one more question for you. I'm going to go ahead assuming you can.

So the court has ruled. Do we know why the court ruled the way it did?

BOULDEN: Well, very clearly British Airways was claiming that there was a problem with the union allowing people in the cabin crew to vote for the strike, even if they had already decided to leave British Airways.

So November and December, more than 800 members and staff who had taken what they call voluntary redundancy, they had taken the package, the buyout that British Airways offered them but they still voted. And British Airways said, hey, you can't vote for a strike if you're not actually going to be an employee when the strike takes place. The judge agreed.

HARRIS: OK. Jim, appreciate it. Michael Holmes, appreciate it.

Thank you both.

HARRIS: Are you on the computer while you're watching me? How do I look on the computer? Better? Less bald? Are you waiting for your lunch break to get online? OK, our Josh Levs shows you what to click on. That's next.


HARRIS: Let's check our top stories right now.

President Obama leaves for Copenhagen this evening to join other world leaders at the Climate Summit. Rich, important nations remain dead locked over emissions cuts and aid. The U.S. now vowing to help wealthy countries raise $100 billion for climate funding.

A Florida man in prison for more than three decades now a free man, thanks to DNA testing that cleared him of a child rape that he was convicted of but did not commit. James Bain was 19 when he went to prison, now he is 54 years old.

Sean Goldman may finally be coming home. A Brazilian court ruled that custody of the nine year-old should go to his father, David Goldman, of New Jersey. Goldman has been fighting for custody since his wife took the boy to Brazil in 1994.

I got to tell you, thousands of prisoners are being let out of jail early. The head of a drug cartel has been killed and scientists have discovered a planet that they're comparing to Earth. These are some of the most popular stories right now on and our Josh Levs is here to show us.

Good to see you, josh.

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good to see you too, Tony.

Yes, this is a great chance for me to zoom in on the screen -- we're going to do that now -- and show you some of the major stories that people are taking a look at. Some of the most popular stories throughout the day.

We're going to start off with this one here, it's very interesting. It's about the economy and having an effect on prisons throughout the country. As a result of this economy a lot of prisons around the country have started to let prisoners out early, in some cases tens of thousands, even beyond what the law allowed traditionally allowed in emergency situations. As a rule it's not the most violent people but in some cases there are some previously violent offenders who are showing overall good behavior and being allowed to go.

Something else I also want to show you now. We had a popular story here about a drug cartel leader who was killed. And this is one of the things I love about dot-com. I can take you over to this interactive here. We're been talking to you about him this week. And this is a drug cartel leader, right here, who was killed. Arturo Beltran Leyva. This is him fighting with the navy in Mexico.

HARRIS: That's right.

LEVS: And we have this interactive that traces you through all these major cartel players in Mexico. You can actually see who they are. You can even sort them by the various names of their cartels and you can find out if they have been arrested, how many are still alive, what roles they play. All right there at

All right. I got two fun stories for you.


LEVS: There's been a lot of traffic today. You just mentioned it, super Earth. Take a look at this. This is so interesting. Let's zoom back in. The scientists spotted this thing. It's a water-rich relatively nearby planet that's similar in size to Earth. They're calling it a super Earth because between one and 10 times as big as earth. And scientists have only known about this whole concept of a super Earth for just a couple of years. So they're really excited about this. I think it's interesting.

And finally, Tony, we're going to have fun with this.


LEVS: The 10 worst phrases to use at the office. Have you seen this yet?

HARRIS: No, no. We were talking about it a bit this morning in our meeting. Yes, this is pretty good.

LEVS: All right. So they have named -- this is, which hooks up with -- they've named the most annoying phrases that people keep using at your office and you want to get them to stop. I'm just going to show you three here, we have some graphics that they've chosen.

"Pick your brain." They say they get sick of that. And if you think about it too much it becomes gross.

And then two that are just all about redundancy. The next one, "I personally."

HARRIS: Oh, boy.

LEVS: And we got one more. "Past history"

They're saying you don't need to say "past" and "history." Apparently some people are really bugged by redundancy.

All of that going on today, Tony, It's a busy day at the web site.

HARRIS: Yes, it really is. And thanks very much, Josh, for doing your due diligence on this for us. Appreciate it.

That's also on the list, isn't it. I best it is.

LEVS: Due diligence. I love it.

HARRIS: Yes. Just ahead. Boy, another custody case is getting international exposure now. A boy pleading not to go with his dad.


HARRIS: Boy, another wrenching custody fight to tell you about. This one playing out in Texas. A little boy is dragged off a school bus by authorities and it is all caught on tape. He is given to a father now accused of kidnapping him.

How could this have happened?

Here's CNN's David Mattingly.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's an ugly child custody fight caught on tape with a very frightened little boy caught in the middle.

JEAN PAUL LACOMBE DIAZ, BOY KIDNAPPED BY FATHER: Please help me. He's not my dad, he's not my dad. I don't want to live with him.

CONSTABLE: Come on. You're going to have to get off the bus.

LACOMB DIAZ: No, I don't want to leave with him. MATTINGLY: With his own father standing outside his school bus, listen as 10-year-old Jean Paul Lacombe Diaz pleads with Texas constables for help, begging to stay with his mother.

CONSTABLE: We're not going to let him do anything to you.

LACOMBE DIAZ: I want to stay with my mother!

CONSTABLE: We're not going to let him do anything to you.

LACOMBE DIAZ: No, please! No, no, no, no, no.

Someone help me, please! Someone help me, please! Someone help me, please!

MATTINGLY: His mother says it should have never been allowed to happen.

BERENICE DIAZ, JEAN PAUL'S MOTHER: Take him to a place where he's going to be safe, not just given to him. If the kid was shouting, just please don't give my body to him, please put me in a safe place. He was pleading for that.

MATTINGLY: But Texas constables had a court order and turned him over to his father on the spot. Jean Philippe Lacombe told a Texas judge he had legal custody of his son in Mexico. He did not.

(on camera): All this happened two months ago. Texas authorities have since discovered that Lacombe actually lost custody and visitation rights after he took his son away to France to 2005. His mother had to fight two years to get him back. She moved to the United States, thinking that here they would be protected.

(voice-over): So where did everything go wrong? The judge says he acted properly, based on the documents he was presented.

JUDGE SOL CASSEB III, BEXAR COUNTY, TEXAS: You've got lawyers who are officers of the court telling you here's the order, here's my client swearing to that something's going to happen to the child. You have to understand in this case these people were making allegations, they were swearing to me.

MATTINGLY: But listen to what the child says here.

CONSTABLE: Why is he not your dad?

LACOMBE DIAZ: Because he hits me a lot of times. I don't want to live with him. I want to live with my mother.

MATTINGLY: The district attorney says the child's claims of abuse still have not been investigated, but just the allegations alone at the time she says should have been enough for officers to act at the scene.

SUSAN REED, BEXAR COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: The officers are initially under responsibility to report any form of child abuse that they are aware. You have a child who is out crying. Common sense would be that the officers call Child Protective Services. And they didn't do that.

MATTINGLY: The father and the child have not been heard from since. Calls to his attorneys by CNN were not returned. John Philippe Lacombe is now wanted for kidnapping and accused of lying to the judge.

David Mattingly, CNN, Atlanta.


HARRIS: Berenice Diaz will be in the NEWSROOM later today. We'll get to that in a moment. But the boy's mom, Berenice Diaz, told CNN's Anderson Cooper, who she blames for losing her son.


DIAZ: You know, first of all, I blame his lawyers (INAUDIBLE) because I suspect, you know, they are involved in this conspiracy. Second I blame the judge because he should have been more precautious at giving these order. And, third, I blame the police because they didn't hear the begs of my child, saying that he's mistreated by his father, saying that he didn't want to go with him. So, I blame them all, you know?


HARRIS: OK. Got the information I was looking for a moment ago. Berenice Diaz will be in the NEWSROOM this afternoon.

Richard Lui is in for Kyra Phillips, and this conversation will take place at the top of the 1:00 p.m. hour. I'm sure you won't want to miss it. So, right at the top of the 1:00 p.m. hour of CNN NEWSROOM. This conversation between Berenice Diaz and our Richard Lui coming up in the next hour of CNN NEWSROOM.

Did Iraqi insurgents know where unmanned U.S. planes were headed? We will get the latest from Pentagon correspondent Elaine Quijano of reports of U.S. predator drones being hacked.

And Ali Velshi introduces us to a woman laid off from her job and has made a business out of clipping coupons. We're back in a moment.


HARRIS: In Iraq, an increasingly common trend -- the kidnapping of young children for ransom. One top police official says some of the money paid to kidnappers is going to terrorist groups.

Our Isha Sesay reports on one of these heartbreaking cases.


ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Overwhelmed by grief and struggling to come to terms with their loss, these parents repeatedly asked the same question, why was their beautiful nine year-old son Alawi (ph) taken from them? The child's father tells me he disappeared on Friday, November the 6th, 2009. That day Alawi had gone to the corner shop just a few yards away to run an errand for his mother, something he'd done many times before.

MUTHANA AZIZ, SON KIDNAPPED AND KILLED (through translator): The first 30 minutes when Alawi went missing, we immediately understood that he was kidnapped, because I know my children. They are never late.

SESAY: Longtime residents of this neighborhood in northwestern Baghdad, Muthana Aziz works for the Minister of Industry and owns a small store close by. His wife Eman Hussein is a teacher. They say until now their only focus had been bringing up their three young children, Zara, Mustafa and Alawi.

EMAN HUSSEIN, SON KIDNAPPED AND KILLED (through translator): I don't have any enemies at all. We are a peaceful family, and we don't have any problem with anyone. Why they kidnap my son?

SESAY: After searching their neighborhood for several hours, the family called in the Iraqi army, which combed nearby streets but failed to find the child. The kidnappers contacted the family a day later, demanding $10,000.

AZIZ: I told them I would do anything, just please take care of Alawi, he is such a good kid.

SESAY: He says arrangements were made to hand over the money and assurances given that Alawi would be unharmed. After delivering the cash, Muthana says he was told to wait for his son to be dropped off at a neighborhood restaurant. That never happened.

AZIA: I went there, but my son was not there. I tried to call them, but the phones were switched off.

SESAY: At this point the family turned to the Iraqi security forces who raided the houses close by. Muthana says they found his $10,000 in the house of a longtime friend who lived right next door. Alawi's body was discovered by another neighbor, four days after he went missing. The child had been wrapped in a blanket and dumped just yards away from his home. His father tells me his son was strangled.

AZIA: Alawi was killed on the first day because he knew the kidnappers, and they did not want to keep him alive for that.

SESAY: Alawi's funeral was a neighborhood affair. Their parents tell me there was a great deal of public anger surrounding what happened to their child.

Now, police have charged two men with kidnapping and murder. Both of whom were well known to Aziz family. The houses of the accused stand empty after their own families fled. Muthana and his wife are demanding they be executed.

AZIZ: I asked Prime Minister al-Maliki, the government and the human rights groups to carry out the execution on them because they are criminals and if they killed one, they can kill others.

SESAY: But this is now a broken family. They've already sent their other children to temporarily live elsewhere out of fears for their safety. They're now in the process of packing up all their belongings and plan to leave Baghdad shortly. They both say they cannot bear to be in this house full of memories of Alawi.

(on camera): Unfortunately Alawi's story is becoming increasingly common in Iraq. According to a minister of Interior officials we spoke to, since mid-2008, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of kids kidnapped. At one point, between eight to 10 kids a week were being snatched. The same official also believes these crimes are about more than just easy money. He says, some of the ransom is being used to fund terrorist activities by groups such as al-Qaeda.

(voice-over): Meanwhile, the head of Baghdad's emergency police department says there are clear procedures in place to deal with reports of kidnapped children.

COL. ADNAN ARDAYEF, BAGHDAD EMERGENCY POLICE (through translator): We send emergency police patrol to the location of the incident and inform all the patrols in the neighborhood to take the needed measures that could lead us to arrest the kidnappers.

SESAY: Measures were unable to save young Alawi Aziz. Today as Iraq struggles to remain intact and avoid the descent into all-out chaos, it is children like him that are in the crosshairs, innocent victims of a brutal war.

Isha Sesay, CNN, Baghdad, Iraq.


HARRIS: Oh, boy.