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Obama, Boehner Together at White House Today; Jenni Rivera Missing; $500,000 Bail for Dallas Cowboys' Brent; First Same-Sex Marriages in Washington State; Chess Champion, the Ultimate Underdog

Aired December 9, 2012 - 17:00   ET


ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR: You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Alison Kosik, in today for Fredricka Whitfield.

Some possible movement today, the end of crisis over the impending fiscal cliff, the White House revealed that House Speaker John Boehner met with the president today to discuss the issue. No official details were released. We are just 23 days before Congress and the White House have to have to hammer out a deal or everyone's going to suffer the consequences.

CNN's Emily Schmidt joins us now from our Washington Bureau. Emily, what have you learned about today's meeting?

EMILY SCHMIDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alison, we know that today's meeting was not on the White House schedule today. And there was certainly reporters in the room who were watching President Obama and Speaker Boehner sit down together. So that means we have to rely on the word from the White House deputy press secretary and a congressional staffer which happens to be the exact same words.

Listen to this. They released two separate statements, both identical and this is the statement. It says this afternoon the president and Speaker Boehner met at the White House to discuss efforts to resolve the fiscal cliff. We're not reading out details of the conversation, but the lines of communication remain.

Now, this is their first face to face meeting on the fiscal cliff in weeks. On Wednesday, you'll remember a source familiar with the conversation said they did speak by phone. At that point it was the first time in a week they had done so. No reported breakthrough then.

And then on Monday, the president and speaker were at the same event together. It was a black tie Congressional Ball at the White House. But Republican and Democratic sources said the two didn't talk there either. You'll remember John Boehner also said on Friday the White House had wasted another week in potential compromise.

So Alison, at this point we don't know what caused this movement today. Just that for the first time in a while, the two sides are agreeing on something and wording their statements about the meeting. We don't know if that means they're agreeing on the much more critical spending and revenue issues -- Alison.

KOSIK: OK. Emily Schmidt, thanks. And we are going to be talking a lot more about the fiscal cliff in the coming hour.

Three CNN iReporters are going to be joining me to talk about their real concerns about this and we got some answers from our business expert from questions that were sent by you that you tweeted to us. So, we are going to get those on. That's going to be coming up in about 15 minutes.

Bail was set at a half million dollars today for Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Josh Brent. He has been charged with intoxication manslaughter for a crash early Saturday that killed his teammate. Police say Brent was pulling linebacker Jerry Brown from the firing wreck when they arrived. Brown later pronounced dead. According to police, Brent's Mercedes went 900 feet after striking a curve at high speed and it flipped and caused fire.

Dallas coach Jason Garrett talked about his players just a few minutes ago in Cincinnati.


JASON GARRETT, DALLAS COWBOYS COACH: I told our team that this is unchartered territory. And obviously a very difficult situation, a tragedy occurred to our football team in the last couple of days. And we lost Jerry Brown, practiced roster player for us who we picked up earlier in the year. And it's been really emotion for everybody. And as the head coach of the team, I have to talk to the team and I have to inform them what happened, give them the news and also try to offer some perspective. And you know, I talked a lot got the value of a teammate. Fortunately, I've been on a lot of teams in my life and I think that word teammate is really, really special. And Jerry's one of our teammates.


KOSIK: Brent who pleaded guilty to DUI in 2009 did not enter a plea during today's arraignment.

In California, campus police shot and killed a graduate student at California State University in San Bernardino. Police office responded to a disturbance call at an off campus student dormitory. Police say the student was shot and killed after he became aggressive and got into an altercation with officers in the hall way of the dorm.

Also in California, a shooting on the Tule Indian reservation leaves three people dead and four others injured. Police say the suspect Hector Salea shot and killed three people before taking off in a car with his two young daughters. The police caught up with Salea and exchanged gunfire with him before taking him into custody. Salea and one of his daughters are being treated for life-threatening injury.

A search is underway now for popular Mexican-American singer Jenni Rivera. Mexican Transportation Authority suspect the plane she was flying in crashed. She boarded the plane after performing at a concert last night in Monterrey, Mexico. "People in Espanol" named Rivera one of its top 25 Most Powerful Women this year. We are going to have a live report on the search for her after the half hour. Here in Atlanta, two parents were charged after encouraging their daughter to fight another girl at a bus stop.


KOSIK: The fight was recorded and posted on You Tube while the father allegedly warned everyone not to interfere. The mother of the girl who was the target spoke with our affiliate WSB.


QUATEKA DURDEN, MOTHER: The father is there, saying nobody touch my child, but my child was on the ground, pleading for someone to get her off of her. My child could have died, she could have hit that concrete the wrong way, their child could have died and then who's charged with the murder?


KOSIK: The father of the girl who started the fight claimed his daughter was being bullied. A hearing at the school is set for tomorrow.

Now to the tragedy that devastated the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs. A new video released by police showed Chief linebacker Jovan Belcher hours before he killed his girlfriend and then himself. The first dash cam video that you see here shows police talking to Belcher after they found him apparently sleeping in his car. Hewas not arrested here. And Belcher told police he was going to an apartment to see a woman.

Listen to what police told him in this video released by Kansas City police.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE OFFICER: You live right here? (INAUDIBLE). Then you need to go upstairs. That's going to be your best bet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE OFFICER: OK. That's going to be your best bet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE OFFICER: We are trying to cut you a break here.


KOSIK: Now, I want you to look at the second dash cam video from just five hours later. And officers here are responding to a second Belcher 911 call and at this moment, Belcher had apparently already killed the mother of his girlfriend and shot himself at the Chiefs Kansas City practice facility right in front of his coaches. Listen now to the officers learning who would behind the violence.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE OFFICER: We have a confirmed shooting and it is, I believe, Belcher, played with the Chiefs, we have confirmed that. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: A dispatcher says Belcher was outside of the players' entrance.

This week, the political power of America's labor movement may take a major hit. Look what's been happening at the Michigan state capitol.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell me what democracy looks like.

CROWD: This is what democracy looks like.


KOSIK: Union workers are rallying against Republicans who have pushed a right to work bill. Experts say it would be a massive symbolic blow to the labor movement.

Susan Candiotti is covering this story. Susan, this would allow workers to enjoy the benefits of union negotiated contracts. But no longer, it would force them to be members of the union. So what would this do for the unions and what kind of political tactic in wind up caring?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is the question, isn't it? Politically, of course, this could be a major blow to unions in Michigan. Last month, their voters rejected a referendum that would have made this law unconstitutional. Passage could also make unions in the private sector obsolete. If that right to work law passes, union supporters are convinced pay and benefit could take a major dive.

The latest Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2011 put the median salary for full-time union workers at about $940 week compared to about $730 a week for nonunion workers. The head of the united auto workers, not happy.


BOB KING, UAW PRESIDENT: The data and all the facts show that right to work is the right to work for less.


CANDIOTTI: Now, in Michigan, 17.5 percent of the workforce is unionized, one of the highest of any state - Alison.

KOSIK: Susan, supporters including Republicans led by GOP governor Rick Snyder maintain that this bill will wind up boosting the economy and not hurting it, and that is the point of it, right?

CANDIOTTI: That's right, Alison. You know, the governor and others insist the right to work laws will save jobs and in fact, bring more work in Michigan and even increase salaries by not forcing union dues on workers.

Here's Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.


GOV. RICK SNYDER (R), MICHIGAN: To be pro-worker, to give freedom of choice to our workplace and that legislator's move promptly and efficiently in moving it through the legislature and when it arrives on my desk, I plan on signing it.


KOSIK: So Susan, are we going to see more of the same this week? You know, what kind of turnout are you expecting to see at Michigan's capitol when lawmakers are expected to vote?

CANDIOTTI: Alison, a huge turnout is expected. Some people are predicting 7,000 demonstrators last week when supporters and opponents jammed the capitol. State police locked the doors, they said for safety reasons. And union rep got a court order to make them re-open the halls.

If the bill is passed, some people are talking about recall campaigns just like we saw in Wisconsin or even legal challenges, so we'll see what comes up.

KOSIK: And we will. Thanks, Susan Candiotti.

In Washington state, same-sex marriage is now legal and at the stroke of midnight couples started to getting married. After 11 years together, Sarah and Emily Cofer became the first same same-sex couples to tie the knot in Washington. They have a baby girl named Carter this year and they say times are changing for the better for them and for their daughter in the years to come.


SARAH COFER, JUST MARRIED: It's kind of crazy and wonderful to think that the next generation, this won't be an issue. You know, that no matter who Carter ends up loving, she won't have those barriers that we had. She will be able to marry them and go through that process which is really powerful.


KOSIK: Let me just say that they are the first couple to get married, the first same-sex couples to get married in King County. The Cofers and others are taking advantage of the new law approved by voters in November. The issue of same-sex marriage is getting renewed attention now that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases next year.

Coalition forces had rescued an American doctor in Afghanistan. He was working for a nonprofit agency when he and two colleagues were abducted. They were returning from a health clinic near Kabul. Dilip Joseph's two colleagues were released. There are conflicting reports about the identity of their captors. Coalition forces say they're Taliban insurgents while two Afghan officials say they're smugglers.

Going off the fiscal cliff, I know you're wondering what that means for you. And we are going to be answering your tweets.

And a private phone call between two Australian deejays goes apparently wrong. We are going to take a look on why the nurse took that call may have committed suicide.


KOSIK: Checking come international stories this hour. Former South African president Nelson Mandela has spent a second day in the hospital. South African president Jacob Zuma visited him and says he is comfortable. The 94-year-old was rushed to the hospital in Pretoria for tests.

Venezuelan Hugo Chavez's health is in the spotlight again. Lawmakers have approved the 58-year-old leader's request to travel to Cuba for cancer surgery. Chavez's supporters are expressing solidarity with him, but opponents are questioning whether he is still fit to govern.

In Egypt, opposition groups are calling for mass protests against the vote against the country's new proposed constitution. The vote is scheduled for December 15.

Now to that disturbing story out of Britain where a prank phone call has resulted in some very tragic consequences. The investigation continues since the apparent suicide of a nurse at the hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge was being treated. She took a call from a pair of Australian radio deejays looking for information on the duchess's condition. But why would that lead her to take her own life?

CNN international anchor Ralitsa Vassileva joins me now. Ralitsa, you know, did anybody have a clue what happened here?

RALITSA VASSILEVA, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We may never know why she apparently committed suicide, we're saying apparently because police are still treating this as an unexplained death. By this time we might know a little bit more next week when there's a post mortem, but her family is shock today just that they can't understand that.

KOSIK: You know, if there is a quick reminder that even public personalities, they've got these private lives and that the media, you know, should respect it. And it was the paparazzi, you know, you remember what happened to Princess Diana with her tragic death. I mean, is this - this all sort of just comes back, doesn't it?

VASSILEVA: Absolutely. The memories of Prince William's mother dying in 1997, she was chased by paparazzi as you remember and that contributed to this deadly accident in which he lost mother. He has been very protected of his wife. And here we have these pranksters who were trying to get more information about her.

KOSIK: What's been the public reaction to this apparent suicide? VASSILEVA: It's been absolute outrage. Even the two deejays twitter account had to be taken down because of abusive comments. People are writing posts like you have blood on your hands, this death should be on your conscience, so the public has been very much outraged. The royal family says it is deeply distressed by this. The hospital says that she was an excellent nurse. They do not understand how that was possible. They didn't discipline her also. So, it really is a mystery and it has caused a lot of outrage.

KOSIK: Maybe it will make others think twice if they want to do this again. This is going to be a long process. She's going to be pregnant, you know, so hopefully people think twice.

VASSILEVA: Yes, we will see.

KOSIK: Yes. OK, Ralitsa. Thank you.

Twenty three days to go before we reach the edge of the fiscal cliff and we're going to tell you how that looming deadline is affecting major life decisions of average Americans.


KOSIK: Tick tock, in 23 day, we're going to hit that fiscal cliff we have been talking so, so much about. A little later this afternoon, the president and House Speaker John Boehner met at the White House to try to discuss efforts to resolve this crisis. And if it is not solved, every Americans' taxes, all of your taxes are going to go up. A lot of programs - a lot of federal programs are going to be cut including unemployment benefits.

So, I wanted to bring in some of our iReporters to talk about the real impact of this.

Valerie Stayskal is a small business owner joining us Chicago; Mary Hall is the mayor of Opal, Wyoming, and a small business owner herself; Richard Huffman is a retired Michigan police officer joining us from South Bend, Indiana; and Todd Schoenberger, he is the managing partner of LandColt Capital and joins us from New York.

Thanks for joining us, everybody.

And Valerie, I'm going to start with you. You say hey, let's go ahead. Let's go off the fiscal cliff. And you say it's a lot like the time when you were a broke single mom and you had to learn to live within your means. So, why do you think it's better for us to take this huge hit in our pocket books?

VALERIE STAYSKAL, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER: Well, Alison, I think we need a balanced approach and I don't disagree that we need a revenue increase. I am not necessarily in favor of a tax rate increase, however whatever it takes to get there, I think that along with cutting spending is really important and if you look at it as a household budget, you take a look at what you spend, you take a look at what you need to live on and you cut back. And you cut back within your means and you live within your means. And I learned that lesson a long time ago from a friend that actually taught me budgeting.

KOSIK: And you say take one for the team. That's a very interesting point.

And Richard, you would actually, say you would like to re-enter the workforce, but you are worried that if taxes go up, that it won't be worth it so that's why you're in favor of a tax cut for the rich that the president is pushing for?

RICHARD HUFFMAN, RETIRED MICHIGAN POLICE OFFICER: That's right and I also feel that President Obama was re-elected for a reason. And most of the people in this country go along with his idea that the wealthy need to pay their fair share. I think that it would be totally irresponsible on his part and the Republicans if they don't come to a decision on this before the first of the year, and get something ironed out.

KOSIK: So, Richard, what do you think? Should we go off the cliff? Should we just see where the chips fall?

HUFFMAN: No, I do not agree with going off the cliff. We should come to something, some type of an agreement here. But the wealthy should pay their fair share. I do believe in that.

KOSIK: OK. Mayor Hall, your town relies on federal funds to keep your water drinkable at the local treatment plant. So, how would going off the cliff affect your city budget?

MAYOR MARY HALL (R), OPAL, WYOMING: Well, you know, any time that you're dealing with funds that the tax payers money is involved in, you basically have got to look at the checks and balances and if they cut spending, there is a possibility that that will be cut and our resources will go down the drain literally and we'll be looking for something else. You know, that definitely has an impact on these smaller towns. Any time the federal government cuts, the states cut too. And the majority of our incomes do come from the state. We don't rely on a lot of federal funds. But, as far as our drinking water is concerned, we are definitely working for federal funds to fix the problem.

KOSIK: OK. So, I want to ask the question of the mayor and for Valerie. You are both small business owners. How much do you believe that a tax increase really winds up penalizing you for being successful in business that you know, you have to shell out all this money, is it really worth that you take the hit?

Valerie, go ahead.

STAYSKAL: OK. We do take the hit because in our case, my husband and I own a company and it's an s-corp. So that revenue flows into our personal income and we will take a hit and we are just middle income citizens. So in fact it will affect us greatly.

KOSIK: Yes Todd, you wanted to say something, I mean how much is it that, hey, I'm successful, I'm making a lot of money, and look at this, all of the money's going to go away, it's like I'm being penalized here.

TODD SCHOENBERGER, MARKET ANALYST: That is right because the tax increase actually goes to the small business owner, because most small business owners actually report their revenue receipt with their personal income tax. So they have less money because they're paying more out in taxes, that's less money that they can go out and hire to expand their own operation.

KOSIK: Mayor, how much does that affect how much you want to stay in business, grow your business?

HALL: Well, you know, we have talked over the last, I would say, six months or so cutting back some of over services just to limit our tax liability. You know, we passed that $65,000 threshold last year on a sole pr proprietorship. And with that, of course, we pay it an increase of taxes.

With the fiscal cliff looming, it's definitely going to affect us. So, you have to kind of gauge whether or not it's worth being in business to do this, you know. We love to provide the service for our customers, but nonetheless, you know, if we're just going to be making more money to where, if all the profit is going towards taxes, it doesn't make much sense.

KOSIK: So Todd, let me ask to give you some advice here, Todd. Mayor Hall had contacted a broker to consider selling the business because what she hates is half is makes the profit just not worth it. But, what is your advice to Mary and to other small businesses owners out there who are in similar situation?

SCHOENBERGER: Well, with Mary, I definitely say not to take any type of immediate reactions, because for one thing, just what we have with the breaking news today, we did hear that Boehner and President Obama were meeting. So, we hope there will be a resolution by the end of the year. And even then, when we do have that resolution because eventually something needs to happen, we still don't know what the ramifications what the impact is going to be to that small business owner.

So, I would recommend actually wait and see approach, just to see what happens with Washington. But eventually though, moving forward, I mean, it is going to hit everybody. I can definitely sense some frustration from everybody on the screen today. And I mean, we really hope that there is resolution, hopefully Washington is listening.

KOSIK: OK, Todd. So, everybody out there's been tweeting their questions to me. What's your question about the fiscal cliff, if you want to go ahead us, me @alisonkosik. Todd Schoenberger is going to be sticking around to answer them. You can ask the expert about the fiscal cliff. That is coming up right now right after this in the NEWSROOM.


KOSIK: The fiscal cliff, the fiscal cliff, just 23 days away and if we go over it, automatic spending cuts will take effect, all at once, bam. Todd Schoenberger, he is the managing partner of LandColt Capital. He is back with me again from New York.

All right. So, Todd, we spent some time taking questions from viewers who want to know how the fiscal cliff will affect them. But first, I want to - why won't you give us an overview if what would happen if we go over the cliff? What does it mean beneath the headlines of taxes going and cuts taking place?

SCHOENBERGER: Bottom line is this, is that is if nothing is resolved right now, we are looking at a 20 percent increase across the board for tax revenue for Washington. And you hear a lot about these spending cuts but realistically, we won't see a whole lot of spending cuts, because this way this was actually created, it was created last year when we raised the debt ceiling, we would actually would only see spending cuts of one quarter of one percent. So, the balk of this to meet of it is all in tax increases.

KOSIK: OK. So, let me go right to the questions that were tweeted, one coming from Edgar. He says I'm not confused about the fiscal cliff, what I'm confused about is what taxes will be raised?

SCHOENBERGER: That's right. Well the payroll tax holiday, it was created in 2010. It had a two-year tax extension. It expires on December 31st. This is a two percent payroll tax that all Americans were enjoying. If nothing is resolved, your first paycheck in January is going to be two percent lighter. So, that may not mean a lot. But, let's say you take an average American is making $50,000 per year, it's add to about $1,700 a year, a married couple making $80,000, about $3,600 per year. So, it is a real money if you added up overtime.

KOSIK: What are the chances that would be extended, the payroll tax holiday?

SCHOENBERGER: Yes, great question. Because I'm going to guess that even if we do leap off the cliff, we'll have some type of a resolution, some type of a deal that will be retroactive back to January 1st. But why play with poison like that? I mean, right now, you have to suspect. You want that deal done now. So, at least Americans have more take home pays.

KOSIK: OK. This question from Carlo, on Twitter. What are the consequences for the military personnel?

SCHOENBERGER: Yes. Well, first of all, there is nothing that is going to happen to military pay and pensions. So, that is great news. However, just when the defense sector alone, you're looking at $55 billion in cuts just to the defense budget. So, you have to look at the ancillary part of this. You look at maybe, real estate holdings, homes that are have a close proximity to defense. For example, the Washington D.C.s suburbs, you can only suspect that some of those counties in Maryland, Fair Fox County in Virginia, would be hit with house value.

KOSIK: OK, moving on. Final question for you, Todd, a major confusion going on here, it's about this so-called $250,000 there are hold for households. So, does this mean that all of the first $250,000 that you make is taxed at a higher rate, or just the money above that $250,000? Explain.

SCHOENBERGER: Well, it is the money above it, but it's actually your taxable income. So, what happens -- according to IRS data, you actually will see that people that are earning $250,000 actually are itemizing up to $20,000. So in other words, it's your net amount after those tax deductions. So, once you start getting into more tax deductions, once you figure you are earning more, you have to suspect that the number would actually go higher than 250,000. Some Wall Street economists are predicting the number is going to be north of $300,000. So in other words, if you're making up to $300,000 and below, there's a solid shot that none of these is going to impact you with higher taxes.

KOSIK: OK, Todd Schoenberger, explaining the old fiscal cliff. Thanks so much.

SCHOENBERGER: Thank you, Alison.

KOSIK: A popular Mexican-American singer is missing. She just performed at a concert in Mexico last night, what happened after she boarded a plane.


KOSIK: Checking today's top stories, a fierce labor battle going on right now in Michigan. The state is on the verge of passing a right to work law, allowing workers that unionize companies to skip paying dues to the union and sending protesters out into the street. They say, the law will be a huge blow to unions because it will severely cut their funding. The legislation could be signed into law this week.

As of today, same-sex marriage is now legal in Washington State. And at the stroke of midnight, dozens of couples started getting married. A few hundred people waited outside city hall to cheer on the couples. Maine and Maryland also passed laws legalizing same-sex marriage last month.

Bail was set at $500,000 for Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Josh Brent. He's been charged with intoxication manslaughter for a crash early Saturday that claimed the life to teammate. Jerry Brown. Police in Irving, Texas, say line backer Jerry Brown was a passenger in French Mercedes when it hit a curve at high speed flipped caused fire. Brown who played in the Dallas was later pronounced dead.

A quick look at the story trending online right now, boxer Manny Pacquiao lost a nontitle bout to Juan Manuel Marquez last night in Las Vegas. He was knocked down in his sixth round.

Three women at a Casino in Stockton, California, were shocked. They identified on their restaurant bill as fat girls. The manager apologized blaming it on a new employee.

If you think the ban on using electronic devices on plane is stupid, the FCC agrees saying there is no evidence such gadgets interfere with airline communications. A search is under way now for a popular Mexican American singer Jenni Rivera. Mexican transportation authority suspect the plane she was in, crashed. She boarded the plane after performing at a concert last night in Monterrey, Mexico. People in Espanol named Rivera one of its top 25 most powerful women this year. The singer also had a reality show that aired on a Telemundo network.

So, I want to bring in Nick Valencia. Nick, you know, this is certainly a shock, I'm sure, to all her fans, you know. What can you tell us about the search that is going on?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a suspected crash right now, Alison. That's coming to us from Mexico's transportation ministry. We also heard from the civil protection agency, I spoke to them. They say they have two helicopters in the region. And what we know about the region where this plane lost contact with air craft controllers, it was very mountainous region, Alison. Very cloudy conditions last night at the time of takeoff, she was in Monterrey last to perform in front of about 15,000 people at a concert in Monterrey.

KOSIK: She had quite a life though, hasn't she? He's no stranger to controversy, is he?

VALENCIA: Yes, some of our audience may not be as familiar with her as others. She is really popular in the Latino community as well in Mexico and the United States. Some would say that her life -- she was just as famous for her music as she was for the drama in her life. A lot of people compare her life to a novella like a Spanish soap opera. She had gone through some recent high profile, a case of divorce actually, it's rumored that her husband had cheated on her with her biological daughter, if you can believe that.

Also a recent concert, in North Carolina, a fan accused of throwing a can at her during that concert. But, not all of her life was bad, Alison. There was a lot of good that she did, a lot of good in the community that she did. She was very involved especially with victims at domestic violence and empowered women to pursue their dreams. And as you mentioned in the lead in to this story, people in Espanol named her one of the most top 25 most powerful women.

KOSIK: So, I'm sure a lot of fans are mourning tonight.

VALENCIA: Yes. There are a lot of fans. And we are expecting and sanding by actually for a press conference. We are on standby. We heard that the press conference from local authorities in Mexico is going to happen around 6:00 p.m. That conference has been pushed back so, we will give you the latest once we find out more.

KOSIK: And idea what kind of plane, she was in? Who was with her maybe?

VALENCIA: Yes. It was leer jet plane. It took off at about 3:15. No names listed on this manifesto other Jenni Rivera. There are reports that she was on board with her makeup artist. CNN has been unable to independently verify that. But, we know two pilots, Jenni Rivera as well as four other passengers.

KOSIK: It would be interesting to see what comes out of that news conference.

VALENCIA: Absolutely.

KOSIK: Nick Valencia, thank you.

VALENCIA: Thank you.

KOSIK: A girl from one of the poorest places on earth has emerged as one of the best chess players in the world. Her story, coming up next.


KOSIK: All right, this you're going to want to watch because this is about an amazing girl who is -- that's been called the ultimate underdog. Josh, tell me about it.

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: She is absolutely incredible. I'm so glad that we can bring you all the stories. It's the story of a girl in one of the poorest spots on earth, a slum in Uganda. One day scrounging for food, she goes in to a chess program that was created by a missionary and it turns out she's amazing at chess. She ends up traveling the world, inspiring people, becoming the subject of a viral news article. This book right here, "The Queen of Katwe", and a brief documentary on You Tube, and now on top of all that, Disney is working on a movie about her.

I got to speak with 16-year-old Phiona Mutesi. Her chess coach Robert Katende and the author of this book, Tim Crothers. And I started by asking Phiona what her life like before chess.


PHIONA MUTESI, CHESS CHAMPION: Before I discovered chess, I was living and we have life way I was sleeping on the streets and who couldn't have anything to eat at the streets. So, that is when I decided for my brother to get a couple (INAUDIBLE) and when I that was when I told my brother to get a porridge, that's when I started learning chess.

LEVS: Because there was an area in which if you went and learned chess, you could get a bowl of porridge, right? And that would help feed you and your brother. So you go into this place, you see people playing chess. Had you ever seen it before? Did you know what it was?

MUTESI: No, I had never seen chess, so it was my first time to play chess.

LEVS: So Robert, let me ask you, what is it about Phiona that makes her -- is she a prodigy? You said you discovered something in her about your chess skills that you hadn't seen before. ROBERT KATENDE, PHIONA MUTESI COACH: Actually, I personally kind of come to believe that she has an extra natural talent, which is extraordinary. We have been able to go to the high profile kind of tournament, like for the Olympians, which I never thought of even being at.

MUTESI: I sit playing against girls and boys, then, I started beating the boys. When I play chess, I'm not afraid. They know that I can win.

LEVS: What happened after you started to show your ability for chess? How did your life change?

MUTESI: I thought that the life that I was living in, that everyone was living in that life. But now, I have seen many people living in different lives so I think chess has led me to that and it has given me an opportunity to go back to school. Chess gave me hope, and now I have a hope of becoming a doctor and I'm having the hope of becoming a grand master.

LEVS: Chess made you want to become a doctor.

Tim, let me bring you in here. You have described Phiona as the ultimate underdog, what are the many factors making her the ultimate underdog?

TIM CROTHERS, WRITER: First of all, that she is from Africa sort of makes her an underdog in the world. The fact that she's from Uganda, makes her an underdog in Africa because it's one of the poorer countries in Africa. The fact that she's in Katwe, makes her an underdog in Uganda because Katwe's the most impoverished slum in the entire country. And then to be a girl in Katwe, girls are not treated as equals to the boys. So basically every hurdle that the world can place in front of her, it has placed in front of her.

LEVS: Phiona, I know you lost your father from aids when you were young, but the other parts of your family, how do they feel about what's happening to you in chess?

MUTESI: They cried. Some of them cried, because years back, we didn't (INAUDIBLE). We didn't have something like that that's -- one day it can happen. So they are very excited.

LEVS: Robert, does Phiona's story show that chess can help lift kids out of slums all over the world?

KATENDE: Absolutely. Because it teaches you on how to assess, on how to make decisions, obstructive thinking, forecasts, endurance, problem solving and looking at the challenges, as an opportunity in all cases, and possibly not giving up the discipline, the passions. Everything, talk about anything to do with life, you can get it in that game.

MUTESI: God had given me a gift of playing chess and I play chess to please him.

LEVS: By the way, what's it like to be in America? To be in New York? How's the trip?

MUTESI: I don't like New York, because there's too much noise.



LEVS: She is so lovable.

KOSIK: I agree with her.

LEVS: Yes. I know.

Two more things that you have know about her. One is that she's 16 years old. She doesn't definitively know her own birthday. This is the poverty in Uganda. The people with her believed she is 16. She might still be 15, depending on her birthday is.

The other thing I find so interesting, I have given her the name of Edie Amin. It means nothing to her. She has never heard of the so- called butcher of Uganda who ran that country through the '70s. And that is the extent of the poverty we are talking about. Kids in this country cannot go to school in many cases. They spend the day searching for food. They don't know basics of their own country, Alison. She does, however, know the name of Joseph Coney, this Uganda warlord who we talked about during the year, the subject about. It shows the kind of life that she's rising above through discovering chess.

KOSIK: You know, it is amazing. You mentioned all those obstacles in her way, every obstacle imaginable. And then the game of chess itself, I mean, she never had seen it before and she picks it up and she immediately - it is amazing at it. She's a prodigy. I mean, what really is in here that's really driving her?

LEVS: It's some kind of incredible natural talent. I mean, think about this. She couldn't read or write, but she saw chess and she started to understand it. There is something intrinsic about what the strategy was when she goes into chess that just fit for her. And now, she has becoming the face of the nation. People all over the world getting to know her, she is inspiring girls, women, everywhere.

KOSIK: And me. What a great story.

LEVS: Yes, all of us.

KOSIK: Thanks, Josh Levs.

LEVS: You bet, thank you.

KOSIK: A flash in the sky over Houston, it sparks more reports of UFO sightings. In time, I'm going to tell you what the scientists think it is in a moment.

(CROSSTALK) KOSIK: All right, I want to show you something. Does this look like a UFO to you? It appeared in the sky above the Houston area early Friday morning. Plenty of people reported seeing what they called a flash in the sky just as the sun came up. A local astronomer told our affiliate KTRK, eh, it was probably just a meteor.

The National Menorah in Washington has been lit. The annual ceremony near the White House happen just a short time ago. It marks the eight-day Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, which began last night. The menorah is called the world's largest. The lighting celebration started under Jimmy Carter in 1979 at the Hanukkah.

All right, CNN NEWSROOM with Don Lemon, coming up in just a few minutes. What you got?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: I'm a little late. I forgot to do my menorah lighting. I do it every year. Bu, I've been a little busy.

Well, you know, you've been talking about -- you're the financial person. You are always on Wall Street. We are going to be, of course, updating you on the fiscal cliff. The face to face talk really at the White House between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, the deadline is rooming. Are they closer or further apart on resolving anything? We are getting update from our Washington - our folks on Washington including Jessica Yellin saying, the fact that they're not releasing any details and they're on the same message is potentially an encouraging sign. So, we will see.

Plus, a good way to describe this next story is chilling. CNN has been reporting on the dozens and dozens of graves found at a former boys' reform school in the Florida panhandle, where students who attended the school in the '50s and '60s say they were subjected to physical abuse and some fellow students died from the abuse. Monday, Alison, a team of University the of South Florida anthropologists plan on releasing the findings of what they found in those graves and that they possibly found more graves. So, we will be talking about that.

KOSIK: That's incredible.

LEMON: Yes. And then the 7:00 p.m. hour in the NEWSROOM, we are going to be talking about pot, marijuana, reefer, ganja, whatever you want to call it. Because some people in Washington State, Alison, you know, they're worried about what the new legal pot laws will do to the state. So we're going to go to a place, Amsterdam, of course, where the rules similar, to find out if legal pot, where the rules are relaxed, if it's riskier than legal alcohol.


EDWIN VAN DEN BERG, AMSTERDAM JOURNALIST: People are using alcohol on the street, those people gave a lot of trouble and get noisy and get trouble to other people on the street. And most foreigners are tourists who smoke a joint on the street are, yes, well, they are quiet.


LEMON: Mayor of Seattle joins us.

KOSIK: Some quite a show coming up.

LEMON: We got quite a show, all that the next two hours on CNN. It's always good to see you in person.

KOSIK: Same her, Don.

LEMON: Thank you.

KOSIK: OK. I want to give you a programming note. Soledad O'Brien examines questions about skin color, discrimination and race. "WHO IS BLACK IN AMERICA?" -- the documentary premieres tonight at 8:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. Eastern only on CNN.

Nobel prizes, Golden Globe announcements, a lot to tell you about and your week ahead including when the Pope will send his very first tweet.


KOSIK: Now, a look ahead at what's happening this week.

Preparations are under way in Sweden for the Nobel Prize ceremonies tomorrow. Winners range from a French physicist to an American economist. If you get CNN international, tune in tomorrow morning for special coverage.

If you wanted more of the Spice Girls after they rock the stage during the summer Olympics, you got it. "Viva Forever, The Musical" opens at Piccadilly Theater, Tuesday in London's West End. The music was inspired by the Spice Girls.

And when you go on Twitter Wednesday, be on the lookout for the Pope's first tweet. He will tweet from his new personal twitter handle "@pontifex." Yes, the laugh.

The Pope has managed to get almost 600,000 followers in less than a week. And we will find out who will be nominated for a Golden Globe on Thursday. Announcements for the 70th annual awards ceremony start at 8:00 a.m. This year's hosts are two funny women, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.

And Friday is the last day for states to decide whether they want to establish their own health insurance exchanges under the new health care law. It's the second time the deadline has been extended.

All right, so that will do it for me. Let's bring in Don Lemon with NEWSROOM. Have a great week.

LEMON: Divine twittervention, is what out floor director. I stole that from someone. That is really good. That is really good.

KOSIK: Have a good show. LEMON: Thank you. Good to see you.

KOSIK: Thank you.

LEMON: Everyone, almost top of the hour. Almost top of the hour. I'm Don Lemon. Thank you so much for joining us here in the CNN NEWSROOM.