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Fiscal Cliff Deadline Fast Approaching; Chicago Becomes Crime Capital of America; Two Missing Boys Found

Aired December 29, 2012 - 22:00   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Don Lemon.

The stories you are talking about just a moment. But first, let's get you up to speed on the day's headlines.

I want you to watch this amazing new video that we just got in. Do you see that? That is dash cam video as a Russian plane exploded and flaming parts landed on a highway near Moscow. Four of the eight crew members on board were killed. No one on the highway, though, was hurt. There were no other passengers on the plane, similar in size to a 757. The plane broke into three pieces as it overshot the runway today. The TU204 airliner was running from the Czech Republic. Amazing video.

Also tonight on CNN, new video of a Bronx woman who faces a second-degree murder charge in what police call the hate crime death of a man who was shoved onto subway tracks. Prosecutors say 31-year- old Erika Menendez confessed to the crime saying she quote "hates Hindus and Muslims." 46-year-old Sunando Sen was pushed on to the tracks in New York, Thursday night, as an 11-car train entered into the station.


LEMON: A serenade from the Oak Ridge boys. The group sang "Amazing Grace" over a speaker phone to former President George H. W. Bush. He's still in a Houston hospital but has been moved from intensive care back to a regular room. 88-year-old Bush, has been fighting a fever and has been in the hospital since November 23rd.

There's nothing Washington loves like a deadline. And it's got a big one three days from now. That's when we go over the fiscal cliff. And possibly back into a recession.

CNN's Lisa Desjardins has the latest on negotiations from Capitol Hill.

LISA DESJARDINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Don, the stakes are very high. And I think leaders are paying close attention to that. That may be why we're hearing a change of mood in the capitol right now. Even the weather was different. Look at this. Beautiful snowfall hit the weather this morning. That's what the weather was like as senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell came to work today to try to reach a deal. Now, if he can't forge a deal with Democrats, here's what's at stake. Let's look, first of all, at what's involved in talks. At the top of that list, tax rates. If we go over the fiscal cliff, tax rates will go up nine percent to 33 percent for most all Americans. Now, that would also mean havoc for payroll companies and the IRS that would have to struggle with how to handle withholding starting on January 1st.

Also, in talks right now, unemployment benefits, those actually ran out today. That's something that Republicans and Democrats, we understand, are talking about right now. So, what else is at stake in the fiscal cliff?

Let's look at some other issues, things that we're not sure will be in a deal that comes out this week. At the top of that list, government spending cuts. That's about eight to 10 percent in cuts to most every federal agency.

Also, a pay cut for Medicare doctors of 27 percent that would hit after January 1st.

Finally, Don, there are a slew of other tax hikes. The alternative minimum tax is one that people talk about, the estate tax. These are all things that would affect average Americans and which would hit on January 1st. So the fiscal cliff, it might be even bigger than people realize - Don.

LEMON: Lisa, thank you very much.

We've got a lot more planned for you this Saturday night. Here's what else is ahead.


LEMON: As our lawmakers wrestle with U.S. gun violence, Chicago hits an awful milestone. 500 murders this year and counting. What's to blame? A former gang member and Chicago's police superintendent join me live.

Plus, President Obama could tap this Republican to lead the defense department. But not everyone wants to see a secretary Hagel. Why some of the loudest voices with coming from his own party.

And 2012 is almost history. But what's the takeaway? Comedian Dean Obeidallah schools us with his top 12 lessons for 2012.


LEMON: And also this hour some good news to tell you about a story we have been reporting on tonight. Two missing Georgia boys, Ben and Henry Cleary (ph) have been found safe in Austin, Texas. Their father, the man who allegedly kidnapped them has been taken into custody. Austin police tell CNN that someone at a hotel recognized the boys from the amber alert and contacted police. We have much, much more in 30 minutes on their story. Also spoke with their mom before she headed off to go pick up her two sons. You will hear what she told me by phone.

Gangs and guns, a deadly mix in Chicago that's getting more dire by the day. A mix that help marked a grim milestone for the city this week, 500 murders so far this year.

It was a shooting on the city's west side Thursday that pushed the number to 500. Police say a 40-year-old man was shot in the head outside a convenience store.

Another troubling number, 270, that's the number of children who have been killed by guns in Chicago in the last five years.

Back to this year's 500 homicides. That's up 50 percent from last year. It is the highest the murder rate has been in the city since 2008. It was 512 then.

So, what's going on here? Some say it's a police problem, that Chicago police are simply outnumbered and outgunned. Unable to handle the influx of kids who want to kill kids to make some cash or to climb the social ladder in Chicago gang life or is it a gun problem?

The city has some of the toughest laws on the books. But the Chicago police department says 87 percent of the homicides this year are a result of gun violence.

So let's talk. Joining me tonight for this conversation, Tio Hardiman, the director of nonprofit group Ceasefire Illinois. We have spoken lots before in the past. And also, we have spoken with Harold Pollack as well, co-director of University of Chicago crime lab.

Welcome, gentlemen.

First to you Mr. Pollack. What is the problem? Is it guns, gang, both? What is it?

HAROLD POLLACK, CO-DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO CRIME LAB: Well, I think that everything you mentioned is a problem. But I think that the immediate problem is getting a better handle on illegal guns. Many of the murders that take place involve 18-year-old kids dealing with each other, having normal 18-year-old conflicts. And then you introduce a gun to that and someone ends up dead.

And so, I think that helping kids deal with those conflicts more productively but also just doing everything we can to deal with those illegal guns, you know, is critical to bringing the homicide rate down.

LEMON: Tio, this is exactly what Ceasefire deals with, especially the gang issue. And you know from experience, you know this well. Hey Tio, before I talk to you, do you remember back in 2009 in the summer, this was right after 2008 when it was high? You and I went and walked around all these really terrible neighborhoods. At one point, someone pulled a gun on us. You remember that?

TIO HARDIMAN, DIRECTOR, CEASEFIRE ILLINOIS: Yes, I remember it pretty clearly, Don. Somebody pulled a gun out and told us to leave the neighborhood. And we had to get the guy to put his gun down.

LEMON: Yes. And then we interviewed a gang member, a self- professed gang member in silhouette. And here's how he talked about the problem.

Tio, you and I will talk after we watch this footage.


LEMON: What's the violence for? What's the whole reason for shooting? Why do so many people get shot?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Traffic flows my way. All about the mighty dollar.

LEMON: So if you kill somebody, you get rid of them, that's more money for you? I don't mean you specifically --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not me specifically. But some people.

LEMON: Explain it to me. What do you mean by that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (bleep) They just cut the middle man out. Some people (bleep) in the way. Some people got to die for the next man to get them to get on top.


LEMON: Quite honestly, and again, I was asking honest question, if these guys are killing each other, we know that innocent people are getting away with a lot of this. There are people who even now on social media, Tio, are saying, if these people are killing themselves, why should we care about it?

HARDIMAN: Well, we should really care because what's going on in Chicago, Don, is that -- three times are happening. One is that you have more internal fighting this year compared to a few years in the past. And what I mean by internal fighting, with the same street organizations. The internal fighting has intensified.

Number two, you have this social media frenzy taking place with facebook, twitter and you tube where you have (INAUDIBLE) conflict. But outside of (INAUDIBLE), both of those guys represent different groups throughout Chicago land. So what's happening on the silver screen and as far as what's happening on the streets, there's a direct relationship there because guys are getting killed. About two or three days ago, a guy was shot and killed because he was an aspiring rapper as well.

And last but not least, these young guys are growing up in a culture of violence. They see violence when they're growing up and feel that it's acceptable behavior. And we have to do more to change the norms and the mindsets because Chicago is a war zone in some of these communities. OK?

LEMON: I didn't know about the little jo-jo thing. I mean, that's something that you know. So, before we talk solutions, I want to play something to you that a very prominent columnist from Chicago -- do we have time, producers? Go for it. Let's listen to John Kass. I interviewed him yesterday. Here's what he said.


JOHN KASS, COLUMNIST, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: There had been people who are papering over and smooching up and making things look nice when they weren't nice. The city is broke. We're 1,000 police officers down at least, right? And now the city is creating this news flap, a public relations issue saying now we're going to take one off the 500 and make it 499.

You're right, Don, the kids are killing each other to climb up to make a few bucks. What's the answer? I don't know. Do you have an answer?


KASS: I don't. We make the sandy hook which was a tragedy a big deal. Why don't the politicians come to the funerals of the dead African-American and Latino kids who get killed by the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds, the media's ghetto-ized these children, these homicide victims, push them to the side. I'm not diminishing the others. I'm saying, President Obama, show up at a funeral here in Chicago once in a while, too.


LEMON: Are these people being ghetto-ized? Is it time for Washington to act, even the president? Tio Hardiman, Harold Pollack will answer that next.




KASS: We make the Sandy Hook which was a tragedy a big deal. Why don't the politicians come to the funerals of the dead African- American and Latino kids who get killed by the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds? The media's ghetto-ized these children, these homicide victims, pushed them to the side. I'm not diminishing the others. I'm just saying, president Obama, show up at a funeral here in Chicago once in a while, too.


LEMON: Chicago columnist John Kass there. Tonight, we're talking about the milestone reached in the city of Chicago that nobody is proud of, 500 murders in one year, this year. We're talking about blame. We're talking about guns. We're talking about kids killing kids in the projects. With me now, Tio Hardiman, the director of the nonprofit group Ceasefire Illinois and Harold Pollack, co-director of the University of Chicago crime lab. OK. You heard the man, Mr. Pollack. What do you think?

POLLACK: Well, I certainly think that we need to have a sense of urgency. And I think the part of Mr. Kass' comment that I agreed with was hey, this is a really serious problem. I listened to your earlier problem on a fiscal cliff which is really an artificial crisis created by dysfunction in Washington. And I'm thinking, I wish we had the same urgency in Washington about bringing resources to places like Chicago to help deal with these problems we see in some other areas that are no more important.

I do think listening to your report, it's important to know that there's lots of things we can do. With two local nonprofit partners, we did a randomized trial in 16 schools in Chicago of an intervention that helped kids basically with their social and emotional skills. And we found a really strong reduction in violent arrests among the kids that participated in that intervention. There's a lot of good ideas for dealing with guns.

I think you can listen to these reports and get a sense, hey, it's just so bad, there's nothing we can do. And that's not true at all. There's a lot of good ideas out there that we need to be methodically doing on the street every day.

LEMON: And Tio, hard facts here, Chicago's murder rate is higher than New York'. It is higher than Los Angeles. Your mayor, Rahm Emanuel, said this week he wants assault weapons banned. Is that really the answer? Are assault weapons a problem in Chicago?

HARDIMAN: Well, a lot of the students have - that occurred in Chicago, people are being shot by guys carrying assault weapons for sure. But however, Don, we have to continue to work on changing behaviors. See, the police cannot do it themselves. We need the community to step-up. African-American fathers and mothers, brothers and uncles, because it's incumbent upon the entire community and all the existing organization to collaborate so we can help get the homicide rate back down because we can't point fingers because the culture of violence has been around for a long time. If you've got guys growing up in these households where everybody's saying it's acceptable behavior, you're going to have problems time and time again.

On behalf of cease-fire right now, we're working with 1,173 high risk individuals throughout the city of Chicago and we spent 20,000 men. I was with these young men helping them, you know, get on the right track in other words and change behaviors and helping them become productive members of society.

So, it takes all hands on deck right now from the president all across the United States. But we need to really focus here in Chicago and work with these young men. Because a lot of these guys, if they get the right information, they may go in another direction. It's our job to help them make the right choices.

LEMON: I want to ask you and I asked this last time to all the officials, all the people we had on, and probably you, Tio, and Harold as well. What is -- this will go to Harold. What is different about Chicago than any other city? What is so different that makes the murder rate so high in Chicago?

POLLACK: Well, we're not worse than many cities. In fact, our homicide rate is lower than it was ten years ago. We do have a more serious gun problem than many other cities. Per capita, the Chicago police capture about six times as many guns as they do in New York City. So we have some specific problems with guns. And I think our gang problem as well. I don't want to make Chicago seem like more of an outlier than it actually it is. And in fact, a lot of the things we're talking about tonight, if we had 400 or 300 murders in Chicago, we should be having exactly the same conversation which is how to really execute better, how can we get more cops on the street, how can we create the kind of partnerships that Tio is mentioning. If you look at Milwaukee, Detroit, many cities of the United States, Baltimore, have actually higher homicide rates than Chicago. But ours is certainly high enough. And I think the gun issue is certainly one area where we have to do so much better.

LEMON: Harold Pollack, Tio, I'm sorry. I don't have time to get you in. I have to get to a break. You know we'll have you back. Thank you guys for coming on. We really appreciate it.

And I want to tell the audience, we're sticking with this important story. Next, we're looking for answers from Chicago's top cop live.


LEMON: All right, have a seat. Important conversation, all right? We're focusing on Chicago tonight. From street crime and gun violence perspective, the city of Chicago had a miserable year from January to now, 500 people murdered in Chicago, 500. Overwhelmingly, those people killed were gang members. They were young, they were black and they were killed with a gun.

I want to talk with the top law enforcement official in the city of Chicago right now, police superintendent Garry McCarthy.

Welcome, superintendent. Thank you for coming on a Saturday night to talk about this.

GARRY MCCARTHY, CHICAGO POLICE SUPERINTENDENT: Thanks, Don. My pleasure. It's really important that we do.

LEMON: You're relatively new to Chicago, since last year, a. You have worked in other cities. You brought down murder rates in other cities. What is it about Chicago that makes this awful figure possible, 500 murders in one year?

MCCARTHY: Well, there's a number of things. First of all, as is rightly identified, it's about the gang conflicts. And the second thing that really is overwhelming is the number of firearms in this city. As Mr. Pollack just said, last time I checked, that number was nine guns for every one that New York city took off the street. But the fact that -- we took nine for every one that New York city took off the street. And the fact is while people talk about strict gun laws in the state of Illinois, I don't believe that to be the case. I think New York has a three-year mandatory minimum for possession of a firearm. Look at an example like Plaxico Burress, he got two years in jail for shooting himself. Those are not the type of sentences we see here in the state of Illinois, certainly not in the city of Chicago. And we have to do better with that.

LEMON: Right. So, when you hear people say, no, we don't need to examine our gun laws. It's our second amendment right. Everything -- people should be able to have as many guns as they want and automatic rifles and assault rifles, what do you say to that?

MCCARTHY: Well, I don't believe that that's the case. You know, the second amendment says we have the right to bear arms. But, you know, a practical person, arms could be hand grenades, it could be mortars, it could be rocket-propelled grenades, which I believe the LAPD just seized two rocket launchers during a gun buyback program.

We don't have to sell people on the fact that you shouldn't have cannons and artillery. I think the question is, what's practical? And, you know, in this case, I don't think we need assault weapons with high capacity magazines that are military-style weapons that are used in combat because they end up on the streets killing people.

The fact is, there's some reasonable things that we could do. I believe there's only seven states in the country that require the reporting of the loss, theft or transfer of a firearm, which is crazy. That's what fuels the illegal gun market in our urban centers across this country. And the city of Chicago is experiencing gun violence, every other urban center in this country is.

But you know, if I could just say one thing, I think it's important to realize that early in the year, we had a 66 percent increase in murders in our first quarter. We put some things in place. And I think we've got solutions that are working at this point because the trend line has been going completely in the other direction and it's really not getting out there. It's not resonating that, you know, here we are in the fourth quarter, we've got two days left in the year, and in the fourth quarter, we're down 18 percent in murders, which is about an 85 percent swing. So there's things that we can do about it. There's things we are doing about it. But we need infrastructure, like reasonable gun laws that are going to back us up.

LEMON: Are you outgunned? Your officers are outgunned that the people on the street have bigger and more powerful weapons than you have?

MCCARTHY: No, I don't think so. Actually, the administration previous to us did something that I think was unfortunately necessary. And we armed our officers, at least a lot of them, with m-4s. So, we have the same type of weaponry they have. Unfortunately, we don't use them. We don't get to use them frequently. Our officers are very well-trained. We engage in gun battles with bad guys on a very regular basis. Knock on wood, you know, we've won the vast majority of them. We have well-trained, great, hard-working people. LEMON: I don't want to cut you off, but there are so many things I want to get to because I think it's important here. And out time is limited.


LEMON: You blame gangs. But not the traditional Chicago gangs, a new type of gang. What's the new gang? What are you talking about?

MCCARTHY: Well, the fracturing of the bigger gangs, for instance, you know, there's these big gangs that existed going back decades in this city. The gang violence has generally been wrapped around that, as you guys pointed out. We're at about half of what we were 20 years ago in this city, as far as the murder rate is concerned. And people refer to that as the good old days of gangs.

What we have today are smaller gangs, they're fractions that break off from these larger groups. And as a result, what happens is there's more gangs to be in conflict with each other. So if you have 100 gangs and they splinter into 200 gangs, you just increased the number of conflicts that you have at any given time. So, that's causing a lot of the violence, as you rightfully point out, some of the rapper stuff is influencing. But at the heart of it, that's gang violence and it's being facilitated through the rapping and it's also being facilitated through the social media.

LEMON: Superintendent McCarthy, I want to come to Chicago and I want to go and ride around with you. Can we do that?

MCCARTHY: I'd love to have you, yes, because I do it frequently. As a matter of fact, I'm all set up for New Year's Eve. I'm going to be out on the west side with our cops. Like I said, these folks are doing a great job. And while we're enjoying the lowest crime rate in the city that we've had in 30-plus years, the fact is, we're making progress on the gun violence on the west and the south side. And it's really because of the efforts of those men and women who I can't say enough about. And I'd love to have you out there with me watching what they day.

LEMON: Police superintendent Garry McCarthy of Chicago, thank you, sir.

MCCARTHY: Thank you, Don.

LEMON: Next on CNN --


LEMON: President Obama could tap this Republican to lead the defense department. But not everyone wants to see a secretary Hagel. Why some of the loudest voices are coming from his own party?



LEMON: Up to speed on the day's headlines right now.

Can you imagine dash cam video as a Russian plane exploded and flaming parts landed on a highway near Moscow? Four of the eight crew members on board were killed. Amazingly no one on the highway was hurt. There were no other passengers on the plane, similar in size to a 757. The plane broke into three pieces as it overshot the runway today. The TU204 airliner was returning from the Czech Republic.

Tomorrow could be a day of reckoning on capitol hill. Lawmakers are facing -- racing to find a way to avoid the fiscal cliff. So, the eight straight of proposals today. But, it is unclear if any can get enough votes to pass conference. President Obama says he's optimistic a compromise can be found.

Across India today, a nationwide protest took a new heartbreaking direction. People across the country were already out in angry droves calling for justice in the wake of a brutal gang rape. Then word today began to spread that the victim, a 23-year-old woman, died in the hospital. Six men were already held on rape charges. Now they're charged with murder.

Chuck Hagel's name has been floated as President Obama's potential choice for the next defense secretary. But some don't want to see the former Republican senator and Vietnam war vet get the position. Some from his own party.

This ad is in "The New York Times" right here. And it says, Hagel is wrong on gay rights, wrong on Iran, wrong on Israel. And the ad was placed by the law of cabin Republicans, a group that represents gay Republicans.

Clarke Cooper is executive director.

Thanks for joining me, Clarke. Here's that ad. This ad speaks volumes. Wouldn't your party be happy to have a fellow Republican, Hagel, in the Obama administration?

CLARKE COOPER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, LOG CABIN REPUBLICAN: Not necessarily. So, Don, you mentioned the three things that are concerned to log cabin Republicans. Battle of gay rights. This is a guy, a sec dept who's going to be in charge of ensuring open implementation vote when service takes place. He's has a very negative record on that. And I'm not just talking about one comment you made for former appointee or former nominee, ambassador Hormel (ph).

And when it comes to Iran, very weak, actually left of President Obama when it comes to economic sanctions or imposing sanctions on Tehran to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons. And then finally our bilateral relationship with Israel, not strong on that.

So, regardless of where you lie, you know, pick your poison, it's a perfect storm for why he should not be sec-dept. To use an army colloquialism, he's a no-go. LEMON: I'm going to get to - if this is a turning point for the Republican party. We will get to that in the second. But I want to ask you before we talk about that. Have you been getting pushback from your party about the ad?

COOPER: No, not at all. I remember, you know, the party is a broad spectrum. So, I would say, you know, there are folks that we work with on the nonproliferation issue regarding Iran. I mean, we were longtime supporters of legislation that was advocated by leadership in our party. Congressman (INAUDIBLE) choose chairman of the House foreign affairs committee was a big proponent of economic sanctions. Other coalition groups.

Also, as far as our stance with our ally relationship, our bilateral, state-to-state relationship with Israel, those are things that are corollary. So, you know, pick a brother/sister group by Republican Jewish coalition. You name it. Republicans abroad. No, there's no surprise. There's been no pushback within the party on this.

LEMON: All right Clarke, I have a bunch of questions for you, OK. So, let's move on now.

COOPER: Sure. All right.

LEMON: Chuck Hagel recently apologized for remarks he made in 1998 at the time questioning whether in his words an openly aggressively gay nominee could be an effective U.S. ambassador. Do you question the sincerity of that apology?

COOPER: Of course we do. We just happen to be one of the organizations that's questioning that sincerity publicly. I actually was at an event earlier this week where there were a number of civilian and uniform personnel there who were saying for different reasons why they didn't want him to be sec-def. But because they're active duty, can't say anything.

And one of the things being discussed, regardless of orientation was, you know, how sincere is this apology? For heaven's sakes, you know, you may be a cabinet secretary. Of course you're going to sit before the Senate arms services committee and put your hand up and say, I'm really sorry about what I said 15-plus years ago about a particular nominee. I really mean it, trust me. So, yes, the sincerity question, absolutely.

LEMON: OK. So, here we go. This is a question I want to ask. This past week, congressman Charles Bassett, he supported repealing the defense of marriage act DOMA. That's the third GOP House members to do that. Some see a shift within the Republican party toward greater acceptance of the LGBT community? Have you seen that trend and what was the turning point?

COOPER: Well, the turning point elections have consequences. I'm going to quote a paraphrase, former chairman of the RNC, Haley Barbour, the governor of Mississippi right now and he said, purity is the enemy of victory. And what Haley was getting at is something that a lot at cabinet Republicans has been saying for quite a while. Let's win on the corollaries that we agree upon. We agree upon economic freedom. We agree upon economic strong national security. We agree upon the core conservative tenets of individual liberty and individual responsibility. Let's not isolate or separate fellow Americans because of something like their sexual orientation.

LEMON: OK. Let me ask you this, then --


LEMON: Why not do the right thing? When does winning an election supersede doing the right thing? Why didn't just doing the right thing have more important than winning elections?

COOPER: Well, it's principle and pragmatism. It's a combination of the two. So, let's start with principle. The first three Republicans on the RMA that Billy mentioned, the respect for marriage act which is a Philidelma (ph). Chairman (INAUDIBLE) was the first. The second, of course, was Richard Hanna of New York. And then, you just mentioned Charlie Bassett.

Those three members gave their word, made their commitment to law Republicans that they have been co-sponsors. Well, long story short is that it's OK, the water's fine, come on in. Stand on your principle because I know there's a number of house and Senate members that should be on this bill that are not on this bill yet.

LEMON: Yes. You're stepping down. I saw it cross the wires today.

COOPER: Yes. Good time, good tour. And I'm proud of the service working with our staff and our chapter leaders throughout the country and our allies and liberty.

LEMON: You're done is what you're saying?


LEMON: You've had enough.

COOPER: No, there's more to do within the GOP.

LEMON: Like having a family and kids and all that. Isn't that funny, gay men have to worry about that now?

COOPER: Yes. You sound like my mom, Don. You sound like my mom on thanksgiving.

LEMON: I'm so over it. Used to be cool to be gay. Didn't have to worry about any of that stuff. Now there's baby strollers everywhere.

COOPER: There you go. Yes.

LEMON: Thank you. Good luck to you. Talk to you soon.

COOPER: All right, Don.

LEMON: Some good news for a change. Shortly after their mother came on the air with us, these two missing boys, her sons, were found. They were safe. Their father, the man police say abducted them, has been taken into custody. This incredible story is next.


LEMON: This story makes me really happy, really happy. For six days, Theresa Nash had no idea where her two sons were, Ben and Henry Cleary were on a trip with their father in Tennessee. They were supposed to return December 24th. But they never came back. Earlier tonight, their mother made a desperate plea on our show.


THERESA NASH, MOTHER OF BEN AND HENRY CLEARY: Children, please call mommy. You know my phone number. I've taught you how to do it. If daddy doesn't have a phone, ask anybody you see, everybody you see has a phone. You can ask anybody. Remember my number and call mommy's number. You can ask people at stores. You can ask people at the gas station. You can ask people anywhere you see. You need to call mommy. And have a phone. They will help you. Anybody will help you. Call mommy.


LEMON: Just minutes after that interview tonight, the boys called their mother. Told her they were safe and that they were in Austin, Texas. Police there tell CNN that someone at a hotel recognized the boys from the amber alert on our program. And contacted police. Here's Austin police just moments ago.


WUTHIPONG TANTAKSINANUKU, PIO, AUSTIN POLICE DEPARTMENT: The law enforcement community nationwide, we take these amber alerts seriously when it deals with kids, with children. This is one of those cases that it was activated and it worked. We're thankful for that. The other thing, component to this, we had a citizen that paid attention to this, actually saw it on CNN News, recognized the kids on there, recognized the kids here at the location. And in turn, called 911 and that is what prompted our response out here.


LEMON: I spoke to Theresa just a short time ago as she was about to board a plane to Texas. She tells me she's ecstatic, she's in shock, she calls it amazing and credits so much of this to the media. Attorney Holly Hughes is joining me by phone. Holly, you helped make this happen.

HOLLY HUGHES, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY (via phone): Well, Don, you know what, I am not even in this picture. I am so thrilled that this mama is getting her babies back. And let's remember that today is little Henry's eighth birthday. So you know what, Don? Happy birthday, Henry, and happy birthday, Theresa. I am so thrilled that we were able to give her a platform. And someone paid attention, Don. This is such a great story for all of our viewers. Just look, open your eyes, pay attention. And now we have this wonderful homecoming and such a great outcome.

LEMON: We got the police from our affiliate KVUE, that's where we got that from.

Holly, I do have to say. You were instrumental in helping and guiding us through this story as a defense attorney. You said you don't want to -- tell us, you said you don't want to use certain language. You don't want to make the dad feel threatened or trapped.

HUGHES: Right. You need to look at the facts and circumstances of every case. And every case is individual. And what we did not want was another tragedy like we saw in the Powell case. And it was clear for me looking at these events and looking at the reports, this was a father who loves his children. And I sat down with Theresa and I spoke with her. I sat right next to her earlier today in the studio and I said, tell me about the boys.

Daniel is a good father so you don't want to paint him as some crazy man. He's not wanting to harm his children. This was a father who just felt desperate and did something that is illegal. I'm not encouraging anybody to overstep their bounds. What he did was illegal. And there will be consequences.

But as a defense attorney, I was a prosecutor. Now I'm a defense attorney. I look at both sides. And what I saw here was a father who didn't need to be painted as a crazy madman running around with a gun. We don't want to put a target on his back because that endangers the children.

And in speaking with Theresa, the little boys' mom, she told me, she said, look, I spoke with Daniel's mother, her ex-husband's mother. And they are as worried about him as their son as I am about my son. So she was able to tell him that. She was able to say, Daniel, your mother is as worried about you as I am about our boys, our little boys. And to be able to make it a safe opportunity for him to do the right thing, don, bring the boys home.

LEMON: And Holly, I want to say that I spoke to her -- as she was boarding that plane. She said, you know, it was great. As she said didn't believe it when she got the phone call. She said, we're planning -- I'm ecstatic, I'm in shock. We're planning Henry's birthday. Henry says he is kicking Ben's butt on the ipad. And that makes me happy. She said, I told them I got them an x-box for Christmas. And they were all full of joy.

HUGHES: Wonderful.

LEMON: Police say they told them that everyone in the country was looking for you. She said, it's amazing. I have lost hope. I credit so much of this to the media. I'm eternally grateful. And she says, I'm asking people to stay away from our home for a couple of days because we need to normalize our lives. HUGHES: Absolutely. I told her.

LEMON: And I just want to say this one thing that she said. She said that daddy had been telling them that mommy was in the hospital and that the phone, they were bad receptions that is why he couldn't get mommy on the phone.

HUGHES: Right. Right.

LEMON: So there you go.

HUGHES: Yes. But I told her we were going to have a Christmas miracle, Don, and we got one.

LEMON: Thank you, Holly. We're so happy for her. We are so happy. Wish we could all end that way.

Our thanks to Holly Hughes and congratulations to the family. Now it is a great holiday season for them.

New research points to a strong link between environmental changes and how the human brain, our minds, evolve. The big events from 2012 that may have affected how we think. That is next.


LEMON: New research points to how much tragedy and trauma can affect the way the human mind evolves. Earlier I asked human behavioral expert Wendy Walsh to explain.


WENDY WALSH, HUMAN BEHAVIOR SPECIALIST: The big, sweeping changes that happen in our culture will force change in individuals or groups. We don't know if that change is going to be -- which direction the change is going to be, good, bad or neutral. So for instance, a giant hurricane, like hurricane Sandy, is this going to make people take a harder look at climate change or is it just going to make them by more homeowner's insurance. Or a tragedy like Sandy Hook, is it going to make people take up more arms or fewer?

We don't know which direction things will change, but we can say that there are some big things that happened in the last year that I think have the potential to cause a lot of change in people.

LEMON: OK. So, then let's talk about that. Of big stories this past year, which do you think have the greatest potential to cause a major change in our thinking -- would Newtown be one of them?

WALSH: Newtown would certainly be one of them. I think we're going to -- many people are calling this rock bottom. It's making us really take a look at if our laws really are preserving our freedoms or taking away our freedoms, our freedom to be safe on the streets. And so that's the way people are starting to challenge the ideology.

But look at Penn State and the tragedy and the conviction of Jerry Sandusky. I think already people are understanding how sexual abuse in children can be very, very damaging and they're taking greater lengths to protect children. I think that is another one.

Also, all the various uprisings in the Middle East from Egypt to the tragedy still going on in Syria, I think we're at a new place in the Middle East where we have a younger generation that's using a new tool in the environment, technology -- during Egypt's uprising, for instance, I was getting tweets and facebook posts from various people try to even get to meet. So I can imagine you, Don, being an actual CNN employee, getting all these -- trying to get to the American media to spread the word.

So, I think that the path we're on now, while it's still bloody and tragic might be a better path towards eventual peace in the Middle East. So, I mean, I'm not predicting it here for 2013, but I think that's a big story.

And the last one I think is the gay marriage story. I think we're finally understanding you can't legislate love. But you can support love when it's there. And I think people are growing and progressing. And I think ultimately that's a big story for this year as far as evolution is concerned.


LEMON: Thank you, Wendy.

Next on CNN --


LEMON: 2012 is almost history. But what's the takeaway? Comedian Dean Obeidallah schools us with his top ten lessons of 2012.



LEMON: The end is nigh. Nigh? We're about to leave 2012 behind.

But before we do, our friend, I don't know about that, comedian, not sure about that either, Dean Obeidallah, that is his name, brings us the 12 lessons of 2012.

So, we're going to pick out a couple here. I'm in a really good mood tonight because those kids -- I'm so happy about those kids.

DEAN OBEIDALLAH, POLITICAL COMEDIAN: You found children. Who does that? You're not just an anchor. You're a superhero. You're a Cory Booker of this world. Cory Booker went into a house that's on fire. You're the equivalent of that. I mean, I don't - Bill O'Reilly is never going to do it. Shawn Henry is not going to find children. Don Lemon finds children.

LEMON: That's pretty awesome. You know what? We're having a little fun and it's good because the kids are found. But it's the power of the medium.

OBEIDALLAH: Absolutely.

LEMON: So, it's respectable to have that power. It's amazing. Anyway, that's good.

OBEIDALLAH: And it's a responsibility.

LEMON: Let's talk about the stories. The lesson, America is best democracy money can buy. Explain that.

OBEIDALLAH: Sure. Well, it is on my article on, America is the best democracy money can buy. This presidential election, 2012 broke a record. We spent over $2 billion. Obama, Romney, PACs, super PACs, DNC, RNC, $2 billion. To put it in perspective, that is literally more than the annual GDP of almost 30 countries in the world. We spent that on one election cycle. People in Belize and Liberia are shocked by this. The Americans have used these money. So right there, $2 billion. And let's be honest, how many individual people are turned off from politics by those kind of numbers? I feel powerless.

LEMON: All right, some people talk to chairs.

OBEIDALLAH: Some people -- Clint Eastwood, Republican convention, made it OK to talk to your furniture. So, you said, I've spoken to my couch on occasion, my end table. I clearly need to have some friends besides coming on TV at 11:00 at night on Saturday. But still, I think we made it cool to have fun with your ferns and plants and furniture around the house.

LEMON: Women love to read porn.

OBEIDALLAH: Yes, they do. They love to read porn. I'm talking about "Fifty Shades of Grey" which we talked about. It sold over 40 million books. Mostly women over 30 who like to read these sexually provocative books. We, of course, men are waiting for the movie because we are more traditional and the way we like our porn, we like a visual. Women, internal. They read it and can picture things. I can't picture anything unless I can see it in front of me.

What about you, Don? Nothing. Nothing to say? You leave me out here talking about porn, like I'm the weirdo.

LEMON: I have no idea what you're talking about. I have to look up what that word means. I heard it has something to do with --

OBEIDALLAH: They call it mommy porn, "Fifty Shades of Grey." That's what it's called mommy porn. I'm talking about that kind, not the real --.

LEMON: Fiscal cliff, you were talking about it in an article. As a comedian in the clubs, which you just came from tonight in New York, are people freaked out? They just go, whatever, this is crazy, right? OBEIDALLAH: People are so freaked out. They don't even know what the fiscal cliff is. No one is paying attention but us in the media and political people. I'm not kidding you. This is the same old B.S. They've seen year in and year out (INAUDIBLE). And they ignore Congress or hate congress. That's why they have a nine percent approval rating. We re-elected 91 percent of the people running for reelection last year because we reelected. Because we're like the person in a bad relationship with low self-esteem. We have to shake ourselves out of this.

LEMON: Yes. We live in a vacuum. It's like an echo chamber like everyone. I leave here sometimes and I go for friends and have drinks and dinner and I'm like, did you hear about -- and I'm like, what? What are you talking about?

OBEIDALLAH: Believe me. I bring it up in the clubs, the last three nights (INAUDIBLE). One person knew what the fiscal cliff was. The rest was like -no, they are not paying attention to this. it means nothing to their lives.

LEMON: Thank you. Happy new year.

OBEIDALLAH: Happy new year, Don.

LEMON: This week's moment next.


LEMON: And for a very nice change, we get to end tonight on a good note.

For six grueling days, Theresa Nash had no idea where her sons were. They'd been on a trip with their father but didn't come home Christmas eve. Police said their dad had them but no one knew where he'd taken them. She came here to this show to ask you for help. And you did that.

She's clutching her teddy bears in tears, their teddy bears. Because you paid attention, she's on her way right now to reunion with her boys, Ben and Henry. Congratulations.

Thank you, audience. You did good stuff tonight.

From the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta, thank you for watching so much. I'm Don Lemon. Have a great night.