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Scrambling to Avoid Fiscal Cliff; Ambush Gunman's Neighbor Arrested; NYC Subway Victim Identified; Dies; Syrian Conflict Turning Sectarian; Outrage Grows over Adoption Ban; Top Legal Cases of 2012

Aired December 29, 2012 - 12:00   ET


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Alison, very much.

Welcome to the CNN "NEWSROOM." I'm Martin Savidge in this week for Fredricka Whitfield. Here are the top stories we are following right now.

That fiscal cliff, we are at the very edge. Senate leaders are working through the weekend trying to reach a debt deal before the deadline. Today, President Obama called on lawmakers to meet their deadlines and responsibilities.

And forge a compromise to avoid massive automatic tax hikes and spending cuts from taking effect. Lisa Desjardins is live on Capitol Hill. Lisa, what's going on right now?

LISA DESJARDINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right now, it's all behind closed doors, Martin. What we just have learned in the last hour, in fact, what reporters have seen here, a surprise. House Speaker John Boehner was here at the capitol. We're still trying to sort out exactly why he was here, but he wasn't here for a very long it seems.

He left in the last hour. Also, we were able to see some of Senator McConnell's staffers. I was able to speak to one of them coming in and out of these kinds of closed-door planning meetings. He said they've been here since 9:00 a.m. They plan to work all day and we may see his boss, Senator McConnell, later today.

That shows us kind of where things stand. I wanted to break this down simply because there's so much that complicates the story. Let's look really quickly at a graphic of the basics, what's happening right now. Here's where we stand with the fiscal cliff.

First of all, who's doing the negotiating? It's the top two senators, Senator Reid for the Democrats, Senator McConnell for the Republicans, and it is their staff who are working out details right now. What are they talking about?

Mainly they are talking about trying to find a way to avoid those tax hikes for most Americans. That deal could also include an extension of unemployment benefits. What we don't know about that deal?

What is unclear is whether other things such as budget cuts eliminating that sequester that's coming up or other things will be in that deal. When will all of this happen? Well, the soon, Martin, they could vote is tomorrow, but leadership tells us that they are just hoping to get the outlines of a deal to their members tomorrow so a vote also possible Monday.

That's when Senator Reid has said he wants the vote to happen. And again, just to be clear, we don't think anything on "The Sequester" will be in this deal at this point or the debt ceiling. Those are other issues floating around.

Right now this deal seems more focused and small. Let's listen to what the two senators were saying last night, sounding more optimistic.


SENATOR HARRY REID (D), MAJORITY LEADER: It was a very positive meeting. There was not a lot of hilarity in the meeting. Everyone knows how important it is. It was a very serious meeting and it took an extended period of time, as you all know, waiting for us.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: Mr. President, I would just add -- I share the view of the majority leader. We had a good meeting at the White House. We are engaged in discussions, the majority leader and myself and the White House.

In the hopes that we can come forward as early as Sunday and have a recommendation that I can make to my conference and the majority leader can make to his conference. So we'll be working hard to try to see if we can get there in the next 24 hours and so I'm hopeful and optimistic.


DESJARDINS: And that hard work is happening now, Martin. You heard those words, hopeful, even hilarity, a real change of tone in Washington. Even the air seems different here, Martin. We had a beautiful snowfall all this morning.

The capital is mostly filled right now with tourists and deep in the hall ways, of course, just those few staffers trying to save those tourists from hitting a big tax hike in a few days -- Martin.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: Lisa, we'll have to wait and see. Thank you.

Meanwhile, police have arrested a woman in connection with that ambush in Webster, New York. Remember Christmas Eve, two firefighters were shot and killed, two others wounded when they arrived to put out a fire at William Spangler's house.

Police say this woman, Dawn Wen, the gunman's neighbor, illegally bought those guns used in that ambush, that according to the U.S. attorney.


WILLIAM HOCHUL, U.S. ATTORNEY: The precise charge against Dawn Wynn has to do with lying during her purchase of these two weapons. According to the publicly filed complaint, Dawn Wynn told the seller of these guns, Gander Mountain, located in Henrietta, New York, that she was to be the true owner and buyer of the guns instead of William Spangler. It is absolutely against federal law to provide any materially false information relating to the acquisition of firearms.


SAVIDGE: The assault rifle and the shotgun that were found with Spangler, he committed suicide.

This, meanwhile, is the sketch of a suspect in Thursday's subway killing in New York City. The woman is said to be heavy set and in her 20s. Witnesses say that she pushed 46-year-old Sonando Sen to his death as they are trying to approach the station in Queens. Security cameras caught the woman fleeing the scene. It is the second subway murder this month in New York City.

Now to India and a young woman who was gang-raped on a New Delhi bus. She has now died. Doctors say she died peacefully at the Singapore hospital where she had been treated. Authorities plan to add murder charges now against the six suspects arrested in her rape.

The charges will be filed next Thursday. Angry protesters have been demanding justice and more protection for women, and police expect more demonstrations in the days to come.

CNN International anchor, Jim Clancy, joins me now. Jim, you know, New Delhi is well-known to be unsafe for women and this is certainly not the first time there has been a rain in the capital. So why has this triggered so much emotion and anger?

JIM CLANCY, ANCHOR, CNN INTERNATIOANAL: Because society is fed up. They're looking at a situation that's been repeated. It was just a few days ago that a young woman committed suicide because police refused to take -- well, they took details.

They humiliated her getting the details of the case. But then they didn't take any action, make any arrests, against the two suspects that she named in her rape. There's a sense in this society that something is wrong, 1.2 billion people and yet, you know, from the womb until the grave, women are second-class citizens, the victims of infanticide.

Parents put a higher value on male heirs. That's the beginning of the problem. But society at large is not addressing the issue of women as human beings and as equals to men. And this is being reflected in a number of areas.

They know the changing society could take years if not generations, but at the same time they know today the police and the government could be doing a lot more, Martin, in order to protect the women of India.

SAVIDGE: Yes. If not changing society, how about changing the laws? What are lawmakers talking about doing in this particular case to protect women and also what about the issue of capital punishment applying in this case?

CLANCY: Well, capital punishment perhaps off the table just in terms of looking at this. That's not necessarily the answer that everybody wants. Right now, there's a lot of anger and that is reflected in calls for capital punishment.

The signs that say, you know, hang the murders, things like this, in New Delhi today. But I think moreover they're saying why don't we prosecute these people? Why when it's a lower caste woman are they sometimes -- their crimes, their accusations are just brushed under the carpet?

Police are not paying attention. In some cases the victims are being made to marry their rapists. This isn't a solution for society. This is the ongoing problem that India faces. And all those people and some moving candlelight vigils and in their sometimes violent protests are demanding that things change from the top down.

SAVIDGE: No doubt. It's a horrendous case, Jim, and goes well beyond India. Thank you very much for bringing it to us.

The deadly violence goes on in Syria. And today Bashar Al Assad's forces are claiming they attacked several rebel operations in the eastern city of Aszohr. Meanwhile, Russia's top diplomat and international envoy to Syria met in Moscow and they are calling for a Syrian-led political transition. They warn the conflict is becoming more militarized and sectarian.


LAKHDAR BRAHIMI, U.N./ARAB LEAGUE PEACE ENVOY: The conflict is not only more and more militarized. It is also more and more sectarian. And if we are not careful, if the Syrians themselves are not careful, it will be a mainly sectarian conflict with really dire consequences for the people of Syria.


SAVIDGE: The meeting appears to signal a shift in position by Russia. So far Moscow has opposed efforts by the U.N. Security Council to oust Syrian president who has been a long time ally.

Meanwhile, a member of Russia's parliament is trying to reverse part of a controversial law banning all adoptions by Americans. The state- run news agency says the lawmaker is submitting an amendment that would allow Americans to adopt children with disabilities.

But the U.S. is hoping for a total reversal and so are hundreds of Americans waiting to adopt Russian orphans. Lisa Sylvester has more.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Lee Allen and his wife had planned on adopting only one baby from Russia, but they couldn't bear to leave behind a second baby who shared the same crib. LEE ALLEN, FATHER: The boys had already made a home in my heart, and all I wanted to do was go across the ocean, go over to Russia, scoop them up and bring them home. And I counted the days. I counted the hours until I could do that.

SYLVESTER: Today the two boys, Jason and John Christian, are 13 years old, and this is how they describe their lives.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I can't believe that I'm here with a family. It's lovely being here.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I love the family. I'm happy.

SYLVESTER: But their adoptions almost didn't happen. About the time Lee Allen was going to adopt them in 1999, a newly appointed President Vladimir Putin imposed a ban on adoptions. But that was lifted six months later.

Once again, Russia has placed a ban on adoptions by Americans. The issue hasn't gone unnoticed by the State Department.

PATRICK VENTRELL, DEPUTY SPOKESPERSON, STATE DEPARTMENT: American families have welcomed more than 60,000 Russian children into American homes over the past 20 years. Just last month, we implemented a bilateral adoptions agreement with Russia to improve safeguards for adopted children and their families.

SYLVESTER: That agreement comes after a 2010 incident that sparked global outrage when a Tennessee woman put her adopted son back on a plane to Russia, claiming the boy who was 7 at the time had violent episodes.

But Russia still remains a popular choice for American couples looking to adopt. These are photos of children and their new American families. Christian Services Adoption Agency says if the ban is implemented hospitals in Russia will be overwhelmed with orphaned children.

GALINA SIGAYEVA, CHRISTIAN SERVICES ADOPTION AGENCY (through translator): I think it's very sad. It's no secret that most children are adopted by people in the United States, children who will otherwise remain here. I can't even imagine who will take them. I think it will lead to a systemic crisis.

SYLVESTER: But politics aside, it's hard to capture the emotions for the hundreds of U.S. families seeking adoptions and the children who have already met their prospective parents.

ALLEN: They start to dream. They dream of a family. They dream of a home. They dream of a mom and a dad and a brother and a sister. And then I can't even imagine -- I can't even imagine telling a child that they need to -- they need to stop that dream, you know, they need to wake up from that dream because it may not happen.


SAVIDGE: That was CNN's Lisa Sylvester. There are, by the way, 650,000 children in Russian orphanages.

Well, while politicians argue about that fiscal cliff, it's your money that's at stake. And who better to sort it all out than CNN's Ali Velshi? He's got the cliff notes. Get it?

And from same-sex marriage to Obama care, 2012 was year full of legal issues. And we've got the top ten cases.



REID: I've had my confidence destroyed on other occasions, so I hope it's not on this occasion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How about time?

REID: Well, typing is -- we're out of time. We've got to do it now. That's why I said the next 24 hours will be very important.


SAVIDGE: Two things are for certain when it comes to the fiscal cliff -- the stakes are high and the time is short. And so far there has been no deal reached between the lawmakers and President Obama to try to avoid going over the fiscal cliff that comes on New Year's Day. But after a meeting at the White House, the president said he is hopeful.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I just had a good and constructive discussion at the White House with Senate and House leadership about how to prevent this tax hike on the middle class.

And I'm optimistic we may still be able to reach an agreement that can pass both houses in time. Senators Reid and McConnell are working on such an agreement as we speak.


SAVIDGE: All right, CNN's chief business correspondent Ali Velshi joins us from New York with some very good insight. Ali, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said if they don't reach something by Monday that he will bring forward a bill to help out the middle class for an up-and-down vote.


SAVIDGE: And I think we know where this is going. Basically put everybody on the record, but especially Republicans. Isn't that the tactic?

VELSHI: That's exactly right. So the step before that is that Harry Reid right now, we understand, is working on some bill that actually might get bipartisan support in the Senate. President Obama in that meeting apparently told them try and work something out.

And Reid left and made a statement last night, as did McConnell, that they're going to try and work something out. Now the best-case scenario is that sometime tomorrow they are able to put it to the Senate and then it goes to the House, and then there's a real bill that sounds like a compromise.

It's not the grand bargain, Martin, that we were all looking for. It will be some kind of deal to stop going over the cliff. Option two is what we're talking about here, that those two can't get a deal and they put something forward.

And everybody in the Senate and subsequently hopefully in the House gets to say yea or nay to it. You're on the record. If you go over the cliff, everybody knows where is you stood in trying to prevent that from happening.

SAVIDGE: Do you think that the average American, all of us, makes heads or tails --


SAVIDGE: -- out of what this impact will be on our wallets?

VELSHI: No. First of all, it's stupid. It's stupid that we're here. There's been nothing that has happened economically that we've been able to anticipate more than this. The whole mess came out in August of 2011 so we should have been able to deal with it.

But no, we were all too busy campaigning and politicking and carrying on. It's very hard to actually make sense of it. There's the part of it you can, and that is, Martin, that the average person is going to pay more in taxes if we go over the fiscal cliff, somewhere between 2,500 and 3,500 bucks per household depending on much you make and various things.

That part we can calculate that. Here's what you can't calculate, Martin, all those companies that are going to lay people off, consumer confidence, which took a dive in the last month after doing so well for so many months because consumers don't know what's going to go on.

That is going to lead to layoffs in January. Those holiday sales not as strong as we hoped they would be. So that's all the stuff you can't measure. That's the stuff that takes this plodding economy into possibly an economy that's doing quite badly.

In a world, Martin, where China is doing not as well, Brazil is not doing as well. India is not doing as well, Europe's at a standstill. We can't really afford this. It's that intangible that's more serious than how much you pay in taxes in 2013.

SAVIDGE: Real quick before you go, how do you think the markets would react say if there's a stopgap measure? Are they going to fear that more than if there was a permanent deal?

VELSHI: Martin, markets hate uncertainty. So that's the one thing. If we've got a stopgap measure, do we have a sense of when it will be resolved? There are some traders who say let's go over the cliff, let's see what that looks like. I'd be worried.

We had a big sell-off on markets on Friday. That's not all to do with the fiscal cliff. That's got to do with markets -- investors not wanting to be uncertain going into Monday morning.

But I would -- I'm going to keep my eye very closely at tune to markets both on Sunday night as Asian markets open and then on Monday morning because we have a shortened trading day. If Washington doesn't get its act together, the investors may send a very, very strong message to Washington to do something -- Martin.

SAVIDGE: Yes, I'm afraid they will. Ali Velshi, as always we appreciate the insight. Thank you.

Well, you can learn a lot more about the fiscal cliff and other issues that are affecting your money coming at 1:00. Ali Velshi will be back with a live edition of "YOUR MONEY." That's right here on CNN. I'll say one more time, 1:00 p.m. Eastern.

Jerry Sandusky says that he is gearing up to appeal his child sex abuse conviction and he's sharing his thoughts about his life in prison. Our legal guys will tell us what they think about this case and the other big cases of the year.

Plus, you could save hundreds of dollars every month on your mortgage. I'll tell you how.


SAVIDGE: We're about to say goodbye to 2012, but not before talking about some of the top legal cases of the year. For that we bring in the legal guys. Avery Friedman, a civil rights attorney and law professor is in my hometown, Cleveland, and Richard Herman, a New York criminal defense attorney and law professor who joins us from Las Vegas. Hello, happy holidays to both of you guys.

AVERY FRIEDMAN, CIVIL RIGHT ATTORNEY: Same to you, Marty, all the best.

SAVIDGE: You, too. All right, well, let's talk first Jerry Sandusky, a few things to bring up here. As we all remember, Sandusky was the Penn State assistant football coach convicted in June on 45 counts of child sex abuse. He's now serving 30 to 60 years in prison.

Jerry Sandusky says that he has now focused or he is focused on his appeal. He's got a hearing that I believe is set for January 10th on his pre-trial motions. Guys, there's a newspaper in north eastern Pennsylvania that says Sandusky sent a handwritten note saying he is trying to endure.

And there was a lot more to it than that, but I'll leave it at that, and learn from his circumstances but had this to say about his trial, quote, "Nobody who covered the case or reported it had the time or took the time study the allegations, the accusers, the inconsistency, and the method. Justice and fairness were not a focus."

OK, Avery and Richard, let me just ask you your response. Avery, I'll begin with you. Do you think he might have a point that this was such a heinous crime to be charged with that people did not focus on fact?

FRIEDMAN: Well, I think Jerry Sandusky is no less unrepentant and delusional as he was for actually going on 15 years at this point. Look, there may be errors that will be identified in the court of appeals, Marty, but the question is are the errors harmless or are they prejudicial to the extent that that verdict's going to be reversed, not in a million years.

The fact is the evidence was solid. One of the heroes, Mike McQueary, who is on staff, was solid in his testimony. He reported it. The big missing link I think is in Pennsylvania to strengthen the mandatory reporting law, so you don't go to the boss when you see something, you go to the cops.

And I think that was a major part of what this case is. I think the court of appeals has no choice and should affirm those convictions.

SAVIDGE: Richard, same thing. What do you think of the process of appeal here?

RICHARD HERMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Marty, you know, when you go to the doctor for a physical and they check the reflex in your knee, that's what happens in these cases when you get convicted. I'm going to take an appeal. It's like a reflex.

You cannot appeal the facts of the case. This is no appeal here for Sandusky. Ineffective assistance of counsel will be the lead grounds. Other than that, that's not going to fly. He is going to die, rightfully so, in prison where he belongs.

The big story is not that McQueary was a hero because he was not a hero. He observed a young boy being anally raped and did nothing to stop it. The big problem here is Joe Paterno.

Marty, it all goes back to Joe Paterno, law and order, Mr. Integrity, 1998, he knew there were allegations of Sandusky and 2002 he was told of a precise incident and he allowed Sandusky on campus in the athletic facilities around young boys.

FRIEDMAN: That's right.

HERMAN: And did nothing about it.


FRIEDMAN: That's right.

SAVIDGE: One of the many shocking aspects to this case. Move on to another one, George Zimmerman and the case of Trayvon Martin. This was a case that became -- and still is in many ways a national sensation. It's a 17-year-old youth, African-American who was shot by a man who was a security guard in a neighborhood, self-proclaimed security guard. That's George Zimmerman. Why do you think this story got so much attention? Richard, let's start with you.

HERMAN: Well, they labeled Zimmerman from the beginning a white Hispanic, so it kind of sets it up right there for you, Marty. You know, this was a racially charged news story that they made it racially charged. I don't think it was.

I don't think per se Zimmerman is a racist. I think that it's an unfortunate set of circumstances. It's a tragedy the young man is killed. But I will tell you this, Marty, this is a classic self- defense case.

This is not a stand-your-ground case because Zimmerman was actually chasing Trayvon Martin by his own words, so the question is during the course of the altercation and the beating that Zimmerman was taking and the evidence clearly shows that, he shot to prevent the beating to continue.

SAVIDGE: Wait a minute here. The attorney that represents Trayvon Martin has come forward and said, look, had George Zimmerman just stayed in his car after he called the police, none of this would have happened.

HERMAN: That's right.

SAVIDGE: Avery, do you agree with that?

FRIEDMAN: Well, I agree with that, but the reason that this case is one of the top ten cases of the year, Marty, is that it took 47 days to arrest this man. I mean, how in the world anyone can make a judgment of whether or not he's racist isn't the issue here.

The issue is a white guy shot a black guy and took 47 days to charge him. That's what the issue is here. Believe me if it were a black guy shooting a white guy, you really think it would take 47 days?

This case drips on issues of race, whether or not there's conviction in 10 20 13 I think has very much to do with the fact of this racial disparity when it came to the arrest.

Whether or not George Zimmerman is guilty, Marty, is the secondary question of -- to the way the case was handled, 47 days is what makes this one of the top ten cases of the year. No doubt about it.

SAVIDGE: Richard, this is going to have a hearing on stand your ground before it actually goes to trial. What do you think the outcome of that hearing is likely to be?

HERMAN: Yes, Marty, I do not think they'll be successful on stand your ground. Again, I've read some lead cases in Florida, and here the mere fact, I believe, that Zimmerman claims he was actually chasing Trayvon Martin takes away that fear within him --

FRIEDMAN: To stand your ground.

HERMAN: -- that he had the right to stand your ground. I don't think it will fly. It's a self-defense case, Marty. I really believe that. I think the delay in pressing charges -- by the way, the charges they've brought are absolutely insane.

And the prosecutor should be investigated for bringing charges the way they brought them, directing -- changing prosecutors and say, OK, now charge him. Next day he gets charged, first-degree murder.

SAVIDGE: First-degree murder is now I believe --

HERMAN: Second-degree. It's terrible.

FRIEDMAN: Second-degree.

SAVIDGE: We are going to of course be following this one when it goes to trial. It's going to be a huge case. But in the meantime, you both will be back in about 20 minutes and we'll talk about some of the outrageous cases this year including the one about real-life ghostbusters. So we'll look forward to that. Thank you both, gentlemen. See you in a bit.

Meanwhile, the White House and Congress, they are down to the wire, working through the weekend to avoid that looming fiscal cliff.

And at 70 years old he is out to do something few have ever done. He is doing it while battling cancer.


SAVIDGE: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Martin Savidge. Let's have a check now of today's top stories.

Senate leaders are working through the weekend trying to reach a bipartisan deal to avoid that fiscal cliff. We are, of course, just three days away from falling over the edge and seeing massive tax hikes and spending cuts that would go into effect. Today, President Obama called on Congress to agree on a compromise plan to protect the middle class.

The woman who went to prison for murdering the Scarsdale diet doctor in 1990 has herself died. Jean Harris died in her sleep at home yesterday. She was 89. Harris was the Dr. Herman (inaudible) long time lover. He developed the famous fad, the diet in the 1980s. And Harris said she found him treated on her and tried to commit suicide in front of him. They wrestled over a gun and he was shot.

Former President George H.W. Bush is getting better. He is reportedly singing with doctors and nurses in the Houston hospital where he is at, although he is still in the intensive care unit. The senior Bush has been in the hospital now for more than a month, but his family says that they are confident that he'll be out or released soon.

A cancer diagnosis didn't stop one man. In fact, at 79, it is spurring him on to achieve new goal as a marathon runner. Plus, no more nudity in San Francisco, at least not in public. It is one of the most outrageous lawsuits of the year and of course our legal guys will weigh in.


SAVIDGE: If you ear on the east coast, get ready for more snow. New York is going to probably get a couple of inches today while parts of Connecticut and eastern Massachusetts, they could see more snow by tonight.

Our Bonnie Schneider was monitoring the weather for us today. Bonnie, how much snow is the northeast expecting and where is it heading?

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, right now, Martin, it's just begun to snow in New York City. Want to show you what it looks like. I'm smiling because I grew up in New York and I love when it snows there.

We are looking at snow across Columbus Circle, that's in New York City, actually that's one of the places we'll see less snow. I think we'll see a little more further west and north of the city. We will see higher accumulations.

The reason we're getting the snow now is the cold air is coming in, the storm is moving in and as they mix together we'll see more of the wrap-around effect from the storm system. Washington, D.C., has been changing over from snow to rain at times.

We saw some big fluffy flakes in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore around 10:00 or 11:00 this morning. But look at the rain/snow line, kind of stretches across central New Jersey. We're also going to see this storm grow and intensify tonight.

Now this is going to be a big snowmaker for coastal New England. In fact, you can see three to five inches for Pennsylvania, upstate New York, parts of Virginia, Western Maryland.

But watch what happened as we zoom in, the winter weather advisory calls for 1 to 3 inches in New York City, upstate heavier amounts but Boston, Providence, areas of Southeast Connecticut, you could see 4 to 8 inches.

And in some locations, don't be surprised if you get higher than 8 inches with this coastal storm. And this is new. We have a brand-new advisory for coastal New Hampshire and Maine where we could see a foot of snow from this storm system.

So this low is really going to energize later on tonight and ramp up. As that occurs you can see once it's off and south of the coast of Boston, you saw that blast of rain change over to snow, the cold air comes in.

And if the storm gets strong enough we're not only going to see some fierce amounts of snow but also a whipping wind. So now we have areas of wind advisories posted for the cape and the islands. So watch out for really blustery conditions with the potential for coastal beach erosion for tonight and tomorrow across New England.

Travel will be treacherous in this region. Pretty in Newark where you're only getting an inch or two, but up towards northern New England and coastal areas this will be the type of snow you'll be shovelling out and plowing out tomorrow morning -- Martin.

SAVIDGE: This proves the weather is an equal-opportunity annoyer. I guess, the west coast also too is going to get some bad weather.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. It's raining right now in Los Angeles and we are expecting measurable amounts of rain there. That will cause travel slowdowns I believe with the low clouds and rain on the west coast. Coast to coast we are facing some travel troubles for today.

SAVIDGE: OK, not good for folks wanting to come home. Bonnie, thanks very much.

Members of Congress in a last-minute scram to believe try to avoid a fiscal cliff and save millions of Americans thousands of dollars a year.

Plus, who are you going to call? One New Jersey couple said their home was haunted. So they called in the real-life ghostbusters.


SAVIDGE: Don Wright isn't going to let a little thing like cancer keep him from his goal. That's running a marathon in every state. He's well on his way. He's an unusual patient in another way, experimenting with a new approach to his disease. Here's Dr. Sanjay Gupta with today's "Human Factor."


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Don Wright's career spanned engineering, being a company vice president, and the law. And at age 62, he discovered a new passion -- marathons. Eight years ago, just days after running his first 26-mile race, though, he got some devastating news.

DON WRIGHT, MARATHON RUNNER: I'd gone to the doctor a couple times for pain in my back. It was multiple myeloma.

GUPTA: This is a cancer of the blood where the white blood cells invade the bone marrow causing pain, usually in the back or the rib, and patients are rarely cured. But Wright refused to let that slow him down, even qualifying for the Boston marathon.

WRIGHT: I got this devastating diagnosis and we just -- my family and I, we just kept on going. You know, there wasn't any reason to stop and be sorry, you know. We kept running marathons.

GUPTA: Incredibly now in the last eight years, Wright, who's now 70, has run 60 marathons in 41 states and his wife and daughter have been by his side for most of them. His goal is to run a marathon in every state. WRIGHT: Finally after Boston we started to pick off states never imaging -- well, imagining it, yes, but never expecting to be able to finish all 50. Now I'm really hoping for it.

GUPTA: Never expected that he could fulfill his dream because the median survival for his cancer is just five years. He's had a number of treatments that failed, but for the last three years Wright's taken an experimental drug. It's just one pill at night and it's kept the cancer at bay.

WRIGHT: And it doesn't cure the cancer, but it keeps it stable so it's not hurting me, and I can still run. And I can still enjoy life, and I'm riding that for all it's worth.

GUPTA: He has advice to others facing what seemed like insurmountable odds. Take charge of your own destiny and never give up hope.


SAVIDGE: Thank you, Sanjay. Great story.

Well, they say their home is haunted so they called in the ghostbusters. The landlord says they just wanted out of their lease. This case went straight to the people's court.

Plus, it's official. In San Francisco, keep your clothes on in public. The legal guys are back with some of those crazy cases of 2012.


SAVIDGE: And the breaking news now involves Thursday's subway killing in New York City. David Ariosto is in New York and he has the very latest for us -- David.

DAVID ARIOSTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we just received a statement from police saying that they have a woman in custody who made statements implicating herself. Now, it's not clear exactly what that means. We hope to get more information about what those statements are and who this woman is, but this is a case that has certainly rocked New York City.

This is the second time within the -- just within a short period of time in which a person was pushed to their death on a subway platform. So many people here in New York and particularly in Queens where this took place were wanting to know who this person was.

Now, security video showed this woman fleeing the scene. We're not sure it's the same woman that they have in custody, but this security video showed this person fleeing the scene and again a woman is now in custody with the death of this man.

SAVIDGE: All right, David, thank you very much for the update. We'll continue to be in touch for further developments.

Time to bring back the legal guys, Avery Friedman in Cleveland and Richard Herman in Las Vegas. Now, we're going to talk about the stories that were a little more -- not a little more -- a lot more on the outrageous side of things.

HERMAN: A lot more.

SAVIDGE: Let's start with this one because it's a personal favorite, a New Jersey couple says that the house they rented is haunted so they sued to get out of the lease. They even hired a team of local ghostbusters to try and rid them of what they said was paranormal activity.

The home's owner countersued saying they just wanted to get out of their lease. You can guess where this whole thing ended up, yes, "the people's court." So I'm not a psychic, but let's talk about how the court would have ruled. I'm not saying I don't or do believe them. I do find it very interesting. Avery, what's your take on this?

FRIEDMAN: Really, really? You know what? I love this case because it's so incredibly silly. I mean, the tenant, Mr. Chinchilla, claimed that a hand came in and was invisible. It was the hand of the landlord looking for the rent. That's what was going on here.

The bottom line is the tenant wanted the security deposit back because he hadn't paid rent. Landlord brought suit to get the entire balance of the lease. I would expect to see even if it's a made-up defense it's the same issue. That's junk science, not admissible. I think judgment for the landlord in this case.

SAVIDGE: Richard, I mean, do you think there is any way that you can use the paranormal as a reason to get out of your lease?

HERMAN: Marty, so many of the cases that we've done this year and Avery and I for the past 11-plus year deal with people who have diminished mental states. These people are nuts. This case is going nowhere. It's ridiculous. It's absurd.

If Dan Akroyd can't help them, nobody can help them. They've got to pay the landlord or break the lease and let the landlord re let it to someone else. That invisible hand was the hand trying to regulate market conditions. I guess it got lost in New Jersey there touching these people.

FRIEDMAN: The only haunt is the judgment.

SAVIDGE: Do you think someone's going to rework the fine print and say also this includes ghosts, paranormal activity, or anything that goes bump in the night?

FRIEDMAN: No they'll do it on your lease, Marty.

SAVIDGE: All right, let's move on to another one, which is public nudity, which is always a favorite subject for just about anybody. Of all places in San Francisco because we look at San Francisco I think as the home of the whole flower child movement.

And the board of supervisors there voted to ban nudity. A city supervisor introduced the ordinance because he said residents and business owners were complaining about people walking around naked.

And under the new policy you have to keep your clothes on in restaurants, public transportation, streets and sidewalks. So this seems pretty reasonable. And I'm just wondering, you know, is this a San Francisco thing?

And didn't we already have laws that ban public nudity? Why is this different? And Richard, go ahead. Take a swipe at it.

HERMAN: You know, that theme of the mental capacity, it just --

SAVIDGE: Applies to everything now.

FRIEDMAN: No, no. They're sincere.

HERMAN: Marty, you say prevalent. I think this is the only place this is prevalent in San Francisco, Haight-Ashbury, flower power. You don't want to go to a restaurant with your family and have some naked people sitting next to you. You just don't want to do that.

Now, they made exceptions for certain parades and other event where these people can go around nude if that's what they want to do but no. Come on. This is just common sense and it's absurd.

SAVIDGE: How is this different than public indecency?

FRIEDMAN: Well, the issue in San Francisco is whether or not the first amendment protects you --

HERMAN: Please.

FRIEDMAN: -- protects the right to run around without any pants on I agree. If somebody sits down next to you, squish. That's the whole reason they pass this law 6-5. It's in front of a federal district judge, Marty, and he has until the 31st of January to decide whether or not off right to run around without any pants on, I guess.

And San Francisco 6-5 says we don't think you do, it's essentially -- let's keep our pants on in public. I think that law -- I think that law is constitutional and it will be defeated under the first amendment. Not going to happen.

SAVIDGE: I mean, is the debate here that there is certain times, certain circumstances where public nudity is allowed as a freedom of speech and you have to delineate which those times are?

HERMAN: Exactly, Marty.

FRIEDMAN: Which the law does.

HERMAN: Avery's expression of squish was way TMI. We didn't need that right now, Avery. Come on.

FRIEDMAN: Pardon me. I didn't want to offend Richard with that, of course.

SAVIDGE: Even on radio I think we got that one.

HERMAN: Marty, you did a phenomenal job in Costa Rica, excellent coverage on McAfee.

FRIEDMAN: And you did a phenomenal job in Cleveland covering the wiener schnitzel too.

HERMAN: Don't tell me that's the place to go.

SAVIDGE: You know, it's a shame we're out of time because I could listen to both of you all day long. It's very kind. Thank you both. Great to see you both.

FRIEDMAN: Happy New Year, pal.

SAVIDGE: Happy New Year to both of you.

FRIEDMAN: We miss you, Fred.

SAVIDGE: We'll see her soon. All right, thanks, guys.

And the legal guys are here, of course, every Saturday at this same time to give us their take on the most intriguing legal cases of the day. It's always insightful.

Moving on, if you are a home owner you could be saving hundreds on your mortgage and getting that discount is as simple as getting your credit checked. Christine Romans explains.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Same condo, same owner, three different interest rates in just three years.

SHAWN BRECK, REAL STATE AGENT: November 2009, 5.125 percent. November 2010, refinanced and it was 4.25 percent, now 3.6 percent.

ROMANS: Sinking mortgage rates save him $750 a month. Rates have fallen from almost 4 percent to around 3.3 percent this year alone. Just a couple years ago 6 percent was considered super low and once in a lifetime.

(on camera): If you're sitting on a mortgage right now that is 5.25 percent or 6 percent, what should you be doing?

BOB MOULTON, PRESIDENT, AMERICANS MORTGAGE GROUP: You should be calling a loan officer.

ROMANS: You should not be above 4.5 percent?

MOULTON: You should not be about 4.5 percent right now.

ROMANS (voice-over): But lenders aren't passing the cheap money around like they were at the peak of the housing bubble.

(on camera): Who should be refinancing? MOULTON: Anyone who has equity in the house, who is working, can show a good credit score, and has money in the bank.

BRECK: If you can save -- I mean, if you can save even $100 to $150 a month, it seems worth it.

ROMANS: For "Smart is the New Rich," I'm Christine Romans.


SAVIDGE: That fiscal cliff, it's looming. Ali Velshi is here next with a special live edition of "YOUR MONEY." He will talk to the president and founder of "Americans for Tax Reform," Grover Norquist.


SAVIDGE: Checking stories that are trending this hour, how about taking a look at this snake? It is a python, 17 feet long. Wandered, I like that word, into a Florida everglades picnic area. It was shot and killed by a park ranger.


UNIDENTIFIED PILOT: We just made your day a very exciting one. We just taxied off the taxiway into the grass here right off sierra right before alpha. And we are going to have to deplane the people and get something up here to tow the aircraft back on the pavement.


SAVIDGE: You know that that was one message that pilot didn't want to make. One wrong turn resulted in a plane in New York sliding off the runway. The pilot and the crew kept everybody calm as emergency crews rushed to the scene. Fortunately, nobody was hurt.

And then there was this. A thief in Missouri who thought he was about to get away didn't know who he was dealing with. Mixed martial arts veteran Jesse Finney saw him arguing with the store clerk and stepped in to prevent him from getting away with a few bottles of alcohol.

Now let's bring you up to date on the latest of our top stories. Looking at those headlines, it is crunch time especially on Capitol Hill. Senate leaders are trying to work out a deal to avoid falling off that fiscal cliff. The deadline's Tuesday. If the deal isn't reached, taxes will go up on just about everybody and massive spending cuts will kick in.

In India, the young woman gang-raped on a New Delhi bus is dead. Doctors say she died peacefully at that Singapore hospital where she was being treated. Authorities plan to add murder charges against the six suspects arrested in that rape. The charges will be filed Thursday. Angry protesters have been demanding justice and more protection for women and police expect more demonstrations in the days to come.

Four people are dead after a plane crashed at the Moscow airport. Four others were injured. Eight people were on board, all of them crew members when the plane overshot the runway.

Don't go away. At 2:00 p.m. Eastern, the top stories of the day including that growing outrage over Russia's adoption ban. Hundreds of Americans are frantic after being told their adoptions are not going to go through.

We'll also take a look back at the year in politics and the fierce battles the unexpected alliances and of course, the best moments of the presidential campaign.

Plus, the most intriguing people of 2012, find out who they are and why they landed --