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CNN NEWSROOM

Fiscal Cliff Meeting at the White House Today; Chemical-Filled Bombs in Syria; Marijuana Goes Legal; Decades Old Mystery Surfaces; Coding as the New Thing; Dogs As Drivers

Aired December 9, 2012 - 19:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: The 2012 Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded to an unusual recipient this year -- the European Union. Norwegian Nobel Committee is -- said it made its decision based on the work that the EU has done promoting peace since the end of World War II. But the choice is causing some controversy. The award comes as the EU is mired in the worst economic crisis since its founding.

Tomorrow's ceremony will be the biggest gathering of international leaders that Norway has ever seen.

The next hour of the CNN NEWSROOM begins right now.

Top of the hour. I'm Don Lemon.

Well, we're going to begin with some breaking news right now on the fiscal cliff talks. President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner met face-to-face at the White House today to try to prevent the fiscal cliff now just 23 days away. We don't have any details on their conversations, but reps for both sides say the lines of communication remain open.

Meanwhile, at least four Republican senators now support a tax hike on wealthy Americans. Here is Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: The fact is we're spending money that we don't have on things we don't absolutely need, and there is no grown-ups in Washington that will say time-out, stop the politics, let's have a compromise rather than continue to play the game through the press and hurt the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: More on this story in just a few minutes with our senior political analyst, David Gergen.

A half million dollars, that is the bond set today by a judge near -- near Dallas for Cowboys nose tackle Josh Brent. He was behind the wheel in a car accident this weekend that killed teammate Jerry Brown, Jr. Police believe Brent was drunk when he flipped his Mercedes yesterday morning. And we have an update to last week's tragedy in Kansas City. New video released by police show -- shows Chiefs -- Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher hours before he killed his girlfriend and then himself. The police dash cam video shows officers talking to Belcher after they found him apparently sleeping in his car.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you live right here? Then you just need to go upstairs, dude.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're trying to cut you a break here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Belcher told police he was going to a nearby apartment to see a woman.

Just after midnight gay couples living in Washington State made history joining in the first legal same-sex marriage -- marriages in the state. Sarah and Emily Cofer were the first to get married at the King County Courthouse in Seattle.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH COFER, SAME-SEX MARRIAGE PARTNER: We're totally in love with each other and we support each other through good times and tough times just like any other marriage and so it's really important to us that we can honor that love with each other through marriage.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Governor Chris Gregoire signed the voter approved referendum into law on Wednesday.

Those of you in Minnesota and the Great Lakes area, I don't have to tell you that you're getting slammed right now by a major winter storm. It's the most snow in the Minneapolis area so far this season, and we're still a week and a half away from the start of winter, eight inches of snow right now in the twin cities. A few more inches will accumulate there tonight. That storm will bring rain to New England tomorrow.

We have more now on those fiscal cliff talks today between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner. Our Emily Schmidt is in Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EMILY SCHMIDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This was a bit of a surprise meeting. It certainly took place behind closed doors, and all that we are being told resulted from it came from two separate statements, one came from the White House, one from a congressional staffer and the statements' wording is identical. This is it, "This afternoon this 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 open." This meeting was not on the official White House schedule today.

Wednesday a source familiar with the conversation said the two actually spoke by phone. That was the first time in a week they had done so, certainly no reported break-through then. Back on Monday the President and the Speaker were at the same event together, a holiday party at the White House. Republican and Democratic sources said the two didn't even talk there. John Boehner said on Friday the White House had wasted another week in potential compromise.

At this point we don't know what caused today's movement, just that for the first time in a while the two sides are agreeing on something, even if it's just the wording of their statements about the meeting.

LEMON: All right, Emily, thank you.

CNN's senior political analyst David Gergen joins me now from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. David, you're in front of the camera. Yay, I'm so excited now.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. I can see your snappy tie.

LEMON: Thank you, thank you. I'm getting a lot of love and hate on social media.

GERGEN: OK.

LEMON: But whatever, we'll move on. Is this the sign of a deal that they may be getting closer to a deal?

GERGEN: It's a sign they may be getting closer. I wouldn't go beyond that. It's encouraging because it clearly indicates that both sides do want to talk. They recognize that the deadlines are coming at them very fast now that -- that this week is a crucial week and seeing if they can get a breakthrough and the fact that they are willing to sit down. They did it in private instead of all the kind of political theater we've been seeing over the last couple of weeks. I think that's encouraging.

But Don, we should be patient here. We won't know probably until tomorrow whether they made any progress or not. There will be leaks soon, I'm sure. But there are -- there are two big issues here. There's a near-term issue of whether they can avoid a fiscal cliff right at the end of the year, just 23 days away and this suggests maybe they will find a way to do that, but there's even a bigger long- term issue and that is whether the kind of agreement they could reach now will lead to a grand bargain or whether it's going to lead to a mouse instead of an elephant.

And we don't know that yet. We'll have to wait and see how this, what they can craft this week and see, indeed, if they can get past the fiscal cliff. That's -- that's point one. But the grand bargain is really important, too.

LEMON: Yes. Hey, when we talked last hour, you said, what did you say, the President wanted $1.6 trillion, right, in taxes.

GERGEN: Right.

LEMON: And then Tom Coburn was talking about the tax rate. And what did you -- what did you say? Where -- where do you think that's they're going to end up possibly meeting in the middle here?

GERGEN: Well the conventional wisdom has been that the Republicans are talking about an $800 billion tax package. The President is talking about a $1.6 billion and that they might wind up so splitting the difference at $1.2 billion. That's been sort of between the lines. That's what people in Washington think.

But you know, so much depends upon the spirit that goes into the short-term agreement now. If John Boehner says, look, Mr. President, if you're going to force us to take the tax rates up, that's something we don't want to do, we'll go to $800 billion, but that's it. We're not going to go beyond that, and you can't -- you can't expect anything from us on a grand bargain beyond $800. That would really reduce the size of any kind of grand bargain.

So in some ways, Don, what -- what's at stake here is whether they can craft a deal that's win/win.

LEMON: Yes.

GERGEN: That each side can walk away from something in the short term saying we're encouraged. This gives us greater reason to go on and engage in the grand bargain next year.

LEMON: OK. You know, as Republicans start to talk about maybe giving, you know, something on this tax hike for the wealthy is this a white flag? I'm sure some will see it as a waving of a white flag, no?

GERGEN: Oh there are going to be a lot of Democrats who will think it's a white flag and they're going to say, Mr. President, this is exactly what we said. You hang tough with those guys and in the end they will cave and there will be some justification for that.

But you know again, if the -- if the -- if this is a deal that in effect forces the Republicans to cave and the Republicans get nothing from it, it could be what they call a (INAUDIBLE) victory. And that is that the Democrats win something now but in terms of what the nation needs, which is a grand bargain, in which requires a lot of compromise on both sides before this is over, you know, if they -- if they do it in such a way that the Republicans grumble all the way to caving in and they don't get anything for it, you're not going to be able to see much next year. I think the chance of getting a big deal next year do go down.

So this is -- this is a moment, Don, when it's -- a lot of things are hanging in the balance. If they're -- having them actually sit down today is encouraging because it really means they don't want to take us all the way to the 11th hour and the 59th minute. They really want to see if they can get a break-through now. That's encouraging. But whether they can actually get, you know, to a bigger bargain I think is very, very much still in question.

LEMON: Now that I can see you, your tie is not so bad either.

GERGEN: We're both in the holiday season.

LEMON: Thank you, David -- always a pleasure.

GERGEN: OK. Thank you.

LEMON: The future of Syria was the main item on the agenda when US and Russian officials met in Geneva today with the UN Peace envoy. Reports say after 21 months of relentless bloodshed, they agreed it was still possible to find a political solution to the crisis. But Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov insisted the meeting did not mean Moscow's support for Syrian President Bashar al Assad is weakening. Fierce fighting now threatens to engulf the city of Damascus.

As that battle for the capital intensifies, the stakes are getting even higher in Syria and the regime is getting even more desperate. The Pentagon believes government troops have loaded bombs with Serin gas in what they may -- and what may be the last-ditch attempt for President Assad to hold onto power.

But as Barbara Starr reports now, a U.S. military strike on Syria is not without risk.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the U.S. now believing the Syrian government has chemical-filled bombs, CNN has learned the Pentagon is secretly updating military strike options for President Obama in the event he orders action. A senior U.S. official tells CNN a strike could be carried out with the ships and aircraft already stationed in the region.

The planning is being driven by the latest intelligence which U.S. officials say shows sarin gas has been loaded into aerial bombs in at least two locations near airfields. Syria seems to have crossed the line drawn by the President last August.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized.

STARR: This week that line seems to have shifted with warnings from the President, Secretary of Defense Panetta and others focusing on what happens if Assad uses the weapons.

JEFF WHITE, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: And you see these lines become sort of pink lines. You know, they're not drawn with, you know, a fine pencil. And they move around a little. STARR: Military options for striking Syria spell out the case for why an attack might be called for. U.S. officials say there are multiple reports, more than just satellite imagery, confirming the aerial bombs. The regime is getting more desperate in recent days as fighting has raged around Damascus leading to worries al Assad could order a deadly strike that could kill thousands. And unlike Iraq before the U.S. war, Syria's chemical weapons program is openly acknowledged by that government.

JIHAD MAKDISSI, FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN: These weapons are meant to be used only and strictly in the event of external aggression against the Syrian Arab republic.

STARR: But the President will also be warned of the risks. Civilians could be killed by a deadly release of gas if the Serin isn't all destroyed. Syrian air defenses could bring down U.S. pilots if fighter jets are used. The regime could move its chemical weapons even minutes before an attack.

(on camera): And if the weapons start moving around, that poses another dire consideration. Officials worry that terrorists could then move in and try to seize control of this deadly arsenal.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: Thanks Barbara.

Earlier I spoke with a reporter from Amsterdam, and he talked about how marijuana affected that city. Next, we're going to have a Seattle city leader listen to what he said to us. And is his city -- well, is his city ready for pot being legal? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Marijuana has gone legit. As of Thursday recreational use is legal in Washington State. And that set off plenty of celebrating and lighting up in Seattle.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three, two, one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Really? They did a countdown. Voters approved legalization on Election Day and it took effect Thursday. So people headed to the Space Needle and staged what must have been a very laid-back party.

I want to bring in now Sally Clark. She's the president of the City Council there. She does have a sense of humor about this, but I'm sure she's a little bit worried because she doesn't know. Sally, welcome. Thanks for coming on.

SALLY CLARK, CITY COUNCIL, SEATTLE: Thanks, Don. Thanks for having me.

LEMON: I'd like to you listen to a journalist from the Netherlands that we spoke with last night. And I asked him about Amsterdam's famously liberal drug policies and if your city should fear an increase of crime now that pot is legal. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They don't have to fear any increase -- that's my experience here in Amsterdam, because what I told you, there's a nice atmosphere, a lot of foreigners are coming to buy their soft drugs. It's not heroin or cocaine. It's soft drugs, cannabis, marijuana, and there's strong regulations.

People who are under 18 can't buy it. The mayor checks every coffee shops several times a year, the police is checking it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: It's a little hard to understand but he says people come to buy soft drugs. He said, you now, it's not cocaine or heroin, it's marijuana. So, Miss Clark, is that your view, that people have nothing to fear from legalized pot in Washington State and Seattle?

CLARK: I don't know if I'd go quite that far. I mean we are in the beginning of what's going to be I think a really long experiment period. And for Washington this is something we've been moving towards probably for longer than even some other states. Colorado had a similar vote to ours.

We've got a year from November 6th to now go through rulemaking. You have got the philosophy of people getting out and voting and saying, hey, I want to see a different approach to marijuana. I want to see a different approach to the dollars that are spent on law enforcement. That's the philosophy that the people vote on, and now we have to engage in the practical rulemaking in order to put that philosophy into practice.

And that's where some of the more difficult questions get answered about how do you put in place a legal system that provides for legal, licensed production, processing, and sale for personal consumption? And so if people are saying, hey, this is big open season, you know, don't book your flights. This is not open season. We've got a lot to go through here in Washington.

LEMON: Yes. That's what I -- that leads me to my next question. So then what's your reaction to the crowd of pot smokers under the Space Needle that we just showed? Is that the image you want that Seattle is going to have?

CLARK: No, not so much really. And certainly there's a huge amount of enthusiasm. There were a lot of folks who have worked towards a more rational approach to marijuana for a very long period of time. The initiative that Washington voters approved on November 6th is very clear. This is about for basically private personal consumptions. You are not supposed to be lighting up out on the street. You are not supposed to be consuming openly in public places. Anyplace where you can't already smoke a cigarette, you cannot light up a joint.

So I get that there's a great deal of enthusiasm on December 6th, but that's not going to be the reality in the streets in Seattle.

LEMON: Yes.

Let's talk about the economics of it because, you know, a lot of people are considering this now. I mean they're more open to it because they're trying to close budget gaps in their cities, towns, municipalities, states or what have you. That journalist I spoke to mentioned outsiders coming in to buy drugs. That could be a money maker for Washington State. But do you think there could be problems with that as well or do you agree that it could help you economically?

CLARK: I think it is a long ways towards that kind of market development. And again, this will be an odd thing. If, as some people say, we really are at the beginning of the end of prohibition, that's not a short trek and so if people think, hey, I'm going to go to Washington from my state and I'm going to take something home, that's not going to go over well in the state they're from. I don't think the feds are going to look upon that positively.

LEMON: It's not legal.

CLARK: It's not legal.

LEMON: It's not legal.

CLARK: Let's remember, at the federal level this is still a Schedule One drug, and we are in -- Washington is in an interesting dance with the federal officials right now.

LEMON: I want to ask you something because heed this reporter and many other people make the same point. Listen, it may be legal now in Washington State, but, I mean, Seattle has sort of had similar rules when it comes to being -- having relaxed rules on marijuana as Amsterdam. I mean you said you have been dealing with this longer than anyone else.

He seems to and a lot of people who know, you know, the pharmacology of the drug say it's not a violent drug. People become more violent with alcohol. They have more trouble with police and people getting rowdy on the streets with alcohol than they do with marijuana users.

CLARK: Yes. You know, I have heard some of these arguments as well.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: Have you seen that where you are from people who -- because it's not the first time people will be using marijuana in Seattle.

CLARK: Well, depends on the person, but, you know, I think the point that I see in terms of crime patterns is really more related to the fact that this has up until now been an illegal market, and so when I look at the police blotter and I see that there is a strong armed theft in a home in north Seattle, I am not surprised when I learn that there was a marijuana grow operation in the home.

The black market leads to this kind of activity and to other folks preying on the activity. I am hoping that we're on a journey here to change, and this will take a while, to change what is an illegal system that really lends itself to people preying on other people in order to maximize the money or take the product into something that is a more legal, open, above-board and regulated system. Having one state do that is not going to be the shift though -- this is a long time.

LEMON: Well, as you said, you're on the forefront and you have a long way to go. Thank you for coming on. I really appreciate talking to you -- enjoyed it, as a matter of fact.

CLARK: Thank you, Don. It was a pleasure.

LEMON: All right.

A decades old mystery, and soon we may have some answers. What happened to the boys that ended up in this cemetery on the grounds of a Florida reform school? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: It is a decades' old reform school mystery that still haunts its students -- stories about boys who were brutally beaten to death by guards and boys who suddenly disappeared. CNN's Ed Lavandera visited the former school in Marianna, Florida.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A mystery haunts the grounds of this now-defunct reform school for boys in the Florida panhandle town of Marianna involving teenage boys sent here decades ago, some never seen again.

In recent years former students now in their twilight years have come forward with horrific stories of punishing abuse doled out by school leaders and of friends who vanished, stories told by CNN. They accused former school leaders of beatings, sexual abuse, and even murder. Which brings us to this cemetery on the school grounds -- the bodies of 31 boys are buried here. Florida authorities claim they know how al the boys died. Some killed in a fire, others in a flu epidemic, nothing criminal.

But new research shows other bodies could be buried in this area, too. And dozens of former students and families say that's proof of a more sinister story hidden in these woods.

(on camera): Back in the early 1960s, the leaders of the boys' reform school had a local boy scout troop come in here and clean up the cemetery. They put up these 31 crosses. But now, a team of anthropologists over the last year has been going through all of this area, cleared out all the woods around here, and they're finding the possibility of many more grave shafts, which is only leading to the mystery of what happened here in Marianna. (on camera): Untangling the story may be lost to time. The school closed last year. These events happened from the 1940s to 1960s. Most of the school leaders from then have died.

But a research project led by university of south Florida anthropologist Erin Kimmerle turned up evidence of additional grave sites during months of searching the school grounds. Kimmerle said as many as 18 more bodies could be buried here and that the research team believes a second cemetery could be hidden on the school grounds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got something right there.

DR. ERIN KIMMERLE, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA: We've found burials within the marked -- current marked cemetery and then we found burials that extend beyond that.

LAVANDERA: Kimmerle has traveled the world investigating war crimes for the United Nations, searching for mass graves in places like Yugoslavia and Peru.

(on camera): Have you done just this area or has all --

KIMMERLE: All of it.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Her team used high-tech equipment to scan into the ground. All the red you see suggests the location of possible grave sites, but we won't know for sure unless exhumations are ordered. Florida state officials won't comment until they can review Kimmerle's findings.

KIMMERLE: These are children who came here and died for one reason or another, and quite literally have just been lost in the woods. And it's about restoring dignity and helping -- if not putting a name to them, at least marking them and acknowledging that they're here.

LAVANDERA: The anthropologist also studied historic documents and public records and discovered a disturbing discrepancy -- boys unaccounted for.

OVELL KRELL, BROTHER ATTENDED SCHOOL: This was long -- about the last pictures we had of him.

LAVANDERA: Ovell Krell's brother was sent here in 1940. She says Owen Smith dreamed of playing guitar at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. The 14-year-old has a musician's vagabond soul. He was shipped to reform school for stealing a car. Ovell says she never saw him again. Her family was told Owen had run away. She still has a letter sent by the school superintendent more than 70 years ago.

(on camera): "We have been unable to get any information concerning his whereabouts. We will appreciate you're notifying us immediately if you receive any word from or concerning him."

(voice-over): But Ovell Smith believes her brother was already dead. A few weeks later his family was told his decomposed body was found under a house near the school. KRELL: They think he crawled under there, tried to keep warm, and that he got pneumonia and died, and that was their official cause of death was death from pneumonia and exposure.

LAVANDERA (on camera): But was that based on anything scientific or any kind of autopsy?

(voice-over): Ovell says another student told them a far different story.

KRELL: He looked back, and my brother was running out across a field, an open field, and there was three men shooting at him with rifles. I believe until this day that they shot my brother that night. And I think they probably killed him, and they brought him back to the school and buried him.

LAVANDERA: Against the family's wishes, Owen Smith was buried on the school grounds. She's never figured out exactly where. No one was ever charged in his death back in 1941, but because of that case, along with other accounts of alleged abuse, beatings, and killings the Florida state law enforcement agency launched an investigation in 2008.

Its report concluded there was no evidence to suggest that any of the deceased died as a result of criminal conduct. The agency also said it couldn't find evidence to prove claims of physical or sexual abuse at the school. But many former students like Robert Straley say that report is a whitewashed cover-up. State officials say they stand by their report's findings.

ROBERT STRALEY: I'm mad at the state, yes. I'm angry at the state because they let this go on for 68 years and did nothing about it.

LAVANDERA: Straley says he was beaten with a leather strap and that some school leaders killed young boys and made them disappear.

STRALEY: It is important to find all of the boys that were buried there. I mean they're practically crawling out of their graves crying out, "Help, remember me."

LAVANDERA: To Robert Straley and others, the Florida reform school for boys is still hiding an evil untold past.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, Marianna, Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: Official findings from a recent state investigation are set to be released tomorrow.

So we keep on hearing about the fiscal cliff, but if it does happen, what might that actually mean to you and your family? We're going to take a look at some hard numbers next.

You don't have to be in front of a television to watch CNN. You can do what I do, you can stay connected, you can do it on your cell phone or you can do it from your computer at work. Just go to cnn.com/tv.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Half past the hour. Look at your headlines right now. Breaking news on the fiscal cliff talks.

President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner met face-to-face at the White House today to try to prevent the fiscal cliff. Now just 23 days away. We don't have any details on their conversations, but reps for both sides say the lines of communication remain open. At least four Republican senators now support a tax hike on wealthy Americans. Here's Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: What we have done is spent ourselves into a hole and we're not going to raise taxes and borrow money and get out of it. So will I accept a tax increase as a part of a deal to actually solve our problems? Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: President Obama wants Republicans to agree to the wealthy tax hike before any negotiations about spending cuts begin.

Just after midnight gay couples living in Washington state made history joining in the first legal same-sex marriages in the state. Governor Chris Gregoire signed the voter approved referendum into law on Wednesday.

Mexican authorities say they have found the wreckage of a small plane believed carrying Mexican-American singer Jenni Rivera and six others. The plane had been missing since early this morning. Reportedly lost contact with air-traffic controllers after taking off from Monterey, Mexico. Authorities believe no one on board survived the crash. Rivera is the mother of five children.

The National Menorah in front of the White House was illuminated tonight, marking the start of the eight-day Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

LEMON: Of course, no Hanukkah celebration would be complete without a spinning dreidel. This one danced to music performed by the U.S. Navy band.

All the talk about the fiscal cliff, the fiscal cliff may seem like a far off debate over politics in Washington, but the reality is that if lawmakers and the president don't cut a deal by the end of the month, every American will feel the effects. Here is CNN's Lisa Sylvester.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over) At the Whitlow's on Wilson Restaurant in Arlington, Virginia, plenty of food and drink, but there's something else cooking up. Worry. Co-owner Jonathan Williams concern about the pending government fiscal cliff.

JONATHAN WILLIAMS, PARTNERS, WHITLOWS ON WILSON: There's a real simple correlation, people have jobs they spend money. If people are worried about losing their jobs, or don't have a job, they're not going to go out that much, they're going to cook at home or stay home.

SYLVESTER: Just a couple miles from the Pentagon, many of the patrons here work directly or indirectly for the Defense Department and it's contractors. The defense industry is facing $55 billion in discretionary spending cuts next year unless Congress acts to avert this so-called fiscal cliff.

In addition several key tax benefits are scheduled to expire at the end of the year that will have a direct impact on the pocket books of many Americans. Take a couple with one child living in New York or earning $100,000. Their tax rate jumps from 25 percent to 28 percent. They could be hit by the alternative minimum tax. The child tax credit drops from $1,000 to $500 and payroll taxes could be $2,000 more next year.

For a single 25-year-old in Michigan who works full-time earning $30,000 a year going to school part-time, his tax rate would stay the same at 15 percent. But he would lose the American education tax credit and have to pay more than $600 in payroll taxes. And even though it's weeks before the changes would take effect the impact is already being felt because of uncertainty. 401(k) plans are taking a hit. Several companies have put a freeze on hiring.

And the next thing to watch for, the retail sector which makes most of its money in the final weeks of the year. Black Friday is over and retailers are just hoping it doesn't turn into bleak Friday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm shortening down the list a lot, you know, just doing the essentials taking care of the priorities and then trying to be, you know, penny wise and not dollar stupid.

SYLVESTER (on camera): The National Retail Federation did a survey that 64 percent of Americans are watching closely the negotiations in Washington over the fiscal cliff and that a lot of consumers are taking a wait and see approach, reluctant to go on a spending spree.

Lisa Sylvester, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: All right, Lisa.

A mystery in Texas. Reports of strange lights in the sky. Some think it may have something to do with the Mayan prediction, an end of the world. You decide for yourself, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: The president visits union-heavy Michigan tomorrow, a state he won easily last month, and now the center of new labor protests. Michigan legislature is close to passing a right to work law and that is not sitting well with workers in the state where organized labor was born. One of the biggest labor unions in the country, United Autoworkers, is firmly against the law which limits the union's power. Michigan's Republican Governor says he'll sign the bill if it hits his desk this week.

You know, it's been dubbed the fireball over Texas. A bright light was seen streaking across the Houston sky Friday morning and for a few hours it was the talk of the town. Debra Wrigley of our affiliate, KTRK, has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEBRA WRIGLEY, KTRK REPORTER (voice-over): From a NASA camera, it looked like a bright light above the earth. That's the view from space. These are from eyewitness viewers around the Houston area. Just as day was breaking a bright flash of light that some people first thought was lightning.

ASHLEY GRAHAM, SAW FLASH OF LIGHT: I was like I guess it's going to rain.

WRIGLEY: It wasn't the weather and it was spotted all around Texas. This map just a sampling of sightings in the Houston area, and these are some of the pictures sent to abc13.com showing a small area of colored light. Others showing a trail behind it. And people have been talking about it all day.

STEPHANIE SOTO, FRIEND SAW FLASH OF LIGHT: Like a UFO, taking a picture of the sky like a big flash.

TANYA, MISSED THE SHOW: My co-workers who are talking about did you hear about the flash this morning? I'm like flash? Should I be concerned?

WRIGLEY: At the Houston Museum of Natural Science, not concern, but a lot of curiosity.

CAROLYN SUMMERS, HOUSTON MUSEUM OF NATURAL SCIENCE: It's going so fast it actually gets through the atmosphere that makes the glow.

WRIGLEY: The museum's astronomer suspects it's a meteorite, a small piece of rock burning through space. If it meets the criteria.

SUMMERS: Did it make a trail, did it actually move, did it change color, did it move from east to west?

WRIGLEY: A lot of scientists searching for an explanation of what's called the fireball over Texas. A lot of people who aren't scientists as well.

GRAHAM: But I have heard different things about 2012, so it's kind of scary because it's getting closer to that day.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LEMON: That was Debra Wrigley reporting. NASA has since cleared up the confusion. The flash was a meteor. Coincidentally a meteor shower is expected to begin later this week.

Are you on a job hunt or maybe you know someone who is? What if you could train on the job right from home? That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: "WHO IS BLACK IN AMERICA?" It's a provocative question and Soledad O'Brien explores it in a CNN special coming up at the top of the hour. Here's a quick preview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR (on camera): In our conversations it seems like there are black people who are saying you're not black.

TIM WISE, AUTHOR/HISTORIAN: Right.

O'BRIEN: And certainly that's been my experience.

WISE: Well, I think it's not at all surprising that when a community has been targeted for oppression for hundreds of years, a lot of the internalization of that oppression will happen. If you have an entire group of folks, in this case people of African descent, who were told the darker you are, the worse you are, that the lighter you are, the better you are, is that going to affect the mentality of black people themselves and cause at least in some cases certain folks in that community to perhaps turn against others in the community or to sort of play this game of, well, you're not really in the club? Of course.

But I think it's important that we never forget where that comes from. Colorism within the black community was not created by black people. It was not developed by black peopled. It was created by a system of white supremacy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: Provocative questions about skin color, discrimination, and race. "WHO IS BLACK IN AMERICA?" hosted by Soledad O'Brien coming up at 8:00 p.m. Eastern right after this show, right at the top of the hour. Of course, right here on CNN.

What if you could get text messages without looking at your phone sent directly to your eyes? Next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: All right. It doesn't get much easier than this. You could learn a cutting edge job skill in the comfort of your own home for free. Here's our Laurie Segall.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAURIE SEGALL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (VOICE-OVER): "The Social Network," Hollywood's take on the founding of Facebook. It showed Mark Zuckerberg working around the clock as he wrote software code to build the website that would attract millions of users.

But you don't have to be Mark Zuckerberg to learn how to code. Enter Codecademy, a new start-up that teaches people basic computer programming skills. Here's how it works. If you go to Codecademy's site, you're immediately prompted to start a lesson. The lesson begins with the basics and gets progressively more involved. All of the lessons are free.

ZACH SIMS, CO-FOUNDER, CODECADEMY: You know, generally when you have to learn to code, you download a bunch of applications like text editor in order to push your code places and write your code. Whereas we do it all on the internet. It's all interactive so it's never reading a book and then doing something else. You're interacting with the terminal or with the program itself that you're building it at the same time.

SEGALL: Behind every app, website and computer program lies lines and lines of code. And 21-year-old founder Zach Sims is betting that learning to write those lines will be essential for the next generation of workers.

SIMS: Coding is going to be the literacy of the 21st century, we think. In the same way, there are architects and then there are construction workers. We need a lot of construction workers who are sort of making software real as opposed to designing the software.

SEGALL: Codecademy was launched earlier this year. But it already has nearly one million users and $2.5 million in funding from top investors. Sims says the site is working to develop more advanced courses and partner with online job sites to get users from the classroom to the cubicle. Those partnerships may be a way for the company to earn revenue.

SIMS: We will be pairing people up with jobs based on the skills they get. So as people progress through a curriculum, they'll have some sort of online profile that they can use to apply the jobs with. (INAUDIBLE) right now is finding incredibly talented developers and designers to work with.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: All right. There's Laurie. She joins us now from New York. So, Laurie, how hard it is really to learn how to code? It seems a bit intimidating to many people, I'm sure.

SEGALL: Very intimidating. I actually tried it. These basic programming skills actually not that difficult. You can go on the site and try it out. I mean, were you going to be able to learn to code like Mark Zuckerberg in a couple months? I don't think so. But really some of these basic programs are not that difficult. You should try it. Just give it a shot.

LEMON: OK. So let's go on. Let's talk - let's move to the next topic. Most of us take our cell phones everywhere. I had mine right here even on the set. But soon we may not even need to text messages. They'll just come directly to our eyes through contact lenses? What is that?

SEGALL: Welcome to the future. The future is now, Don. I mean, essentially Belgian researchers have been developing this technology. And it's an embeddable LCD display that would go inside your contact lens. It would enable you to essentially project text messages from your phone to your eyes. I mean imagine that. You're going to have no excuse for saying "Oh, I didn't get your text because it's coming and it's going to be in your line of vision." And they're saying the future is going to be really interesting.

Can you do this with directions? You could do this -- you know, directions projected. So you could just open your eyes and they're there. You know, medical uses. Change the iris colors. So I think, you know, they're saying this technology is going to be available in the next five years. It's a really interesting one and it will put it in direct competition with some other ones.

LEMON: Do you know how many people I see driving and texting or just walking and texting and bumping into stuff. Last thing we need right in front of your eyes.

SEGALL: It could solve the problem.

LEMON: Oh, no. I don't know. You'd be distracted. You'll be talking to someone and think they're talking but they're actually texting somebody.

SEGALL: Well, in the future, you're just going to be blinking. It's going to be very strange. But I mean a lot of people are developing this kind of technology. I can only imagine what five, 10 years down the road is going to look like.

LEMON: Yes, why do we even need other people? You just need a device and yourself. Thank you, Laurie. Appreciate it.

SEGALL: Thank you.

LEMON: All right. What if the next time you had to go somewhere you didn't have to do the driving? I would love that. Details next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Lot of holiday partying coming up. You may need a backup designated driver. CNN's Jeanne Moos has a good solution for you.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sniff this, dogs giving up the backseat for the driver's seat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just when you thought you'd seen it all.

MOOS: And soon, we've all seen it, video of three dogs at a SPCA branch in New Zealand being taught to shift gears.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good.

MOOS: And steer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good boy.

MOOS: First on carts, then on actual cars with the controls modified for doggy legs. A is the command for accelerate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good boy. Turn.

MOOS: Next week after two months of training, Porter will attempt to drive a Mini Cooper alone on an empty track live on New Zealand television. Just months ago the idea of a dog driving was considered a joke. A gag Subaru used to advertise cars.

And remember those old "SNL" bits? Let's hope the New Zealand dogs do better than the two driving car did. The motorist mutts were celebrated by Gawker with the headline, "Dog Drives Man." Buzz feed noted, finally, dogs who chase cars will have something to do once they catch them. And David Letterman didn't even need to make a joke to get a laugh.

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST: Honest to god. Isn't that -

MOOS: He nevertheless did the top 10 signs your dog is a bad driver.

LETTERMAN: Crosses four lanes of traffic to go after a squirrel. Oh no.

MOOS: Online posters imagine the future. I see dogs and cars cutting me off and then flipping me the paw.

(on camera): Look, I know you have a dog license, but do you have a learner's permit? Do any of you have learner's permits?

(voice-over): Now where were we with the top 10 signs your dog is a bad driver?

LETTERMAN: You use your car to mount a Nissan Sentra. The number one sign that your dog is a bad driver, always taking eyes off the road to lick himself.

MOOS: Being trained to drive with treats is sure to have dogs heading for the closest drive through.

(on camera): Do you want to be the designated driver? Who wants to be the designated driver tonight?

(voice-over): Definitely not Napoleon. Driving is his waterloo.

Jeanne Moos, CNN.

(on camera): I said hit the brake, not eat the cake.

(voice-over): New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: New meaning there for rough ride.