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Last-Minute Fiscal Negotiations; Giving Back the Guns; Nearly 400 Syrians Killed Saturday

Aired December 30, 2012 - 08:00   ET



ALISON KOSIK, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): From CNN world headquarters in Atlanta, this is CNN SUNDAY MORNING.

Less than 48 hours until the day of reckoning -- so what do you want on to tell Congress about the fiscal cliff? We have your video messages.

The woman accused of pushing a man in front of a moving subway is now being charged with a hate crime. Now, she's saying why she did it.

In the top things we learned in 2012, trust us, you will be impressed.


KOSIK: Good morning. I'm Alison Kosik, in for Randi Kaye. It's 8:00. Thanks for starting your morning with you.

We begin this morning in Washington, and the focus is on Capitol Hill as lawmakers try to work out and vote on a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff. Both houses of Congress are meeting in a rather Sunday session. The Senate convenes at 1:00 Eastern, and the House an hour later at 2:00.

Our chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin with the look at the chances for a deal and what's on the table.


JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Alison, here in Washington, there is still hope a deal can be cut in time to avert the fiscal cliff. On Saturday, the president was at work here in the White House, but all eyes were on the Senate where negotiators were trading deal points and revenue figures to try to reach an agreement all sides can stomach.

The baseline for the president, any bipartisan bill has to extend unemployment insurance that would affect some 2 million Americans, and increase taxes for the highest income earners.

But negotiators can still work out exactly where that tax increase would hit and whether they would halt an increase in the estate tax. In case those discussions break down, the president has asked Democratic Leader Harry Reid to prepare a separate bill to put on the floor of the Senate that would raise taxes on households that earn $250,000 or more. That's really a Democratic proposal, and you can expect Republicans to block it.

So, rather than thinking of that as a stopgap measure, you should probably think of it as a political measure to shift the responsibility for failure onto Republicans just before the nation hits the hour of reckoning -- Alison.


KOSIK: Thanks, Jessica.

And with everyone from the president to Republican leaders expressing hope for a deal by tomorrow night, at least one congressman says the chances look slim to none.

Listen to Virginia Democrat Jim Moran as he describes why he'll likely vote against a deal.


REP. JIM MORAN (D), VIRGINIA: My congressional district would be the hardest-hit if we go over the fiscal cliff. I have tens of thousands of federal employees and a great deal of defense spending would be at risk. So if we don't suspend the sequester and it looks like this very small deal may not even achieve that, then I'd have to be a no vote.

So if I had to guess right now, I don't think we're going to be able to reach a deal no matter how small it might be.


KOSIK: A vote could take place later today, and you can watch coverage right here on CNN.

The president will continue to plead his case for a deal today. He's making his first appearance on a Sunday talk show in more than three years. He'll be on NBC's "Meet the Press." Mr. Obama is expected to call for an immediate vote by Congress on a scaled-back plan that would only extend middle class tax breaks and unemployment benefits if the congressional negotiations fail.

Fears over the fiscal cliff are weighing heavily on U.S. stocks, which posted five straight days of losses. The Dow had a triple-digit loss on Friday. The NASDAQ and S&P 500 also ended the day and week in the red.

I spoke with one Wall Street trader about how a deal could help the markets get back in the green.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KENNY POLCARI, INDEPENDENT NYSE TRADER: Well, listen, if we get a deal and we get a deal that's really substantive and realistic and that the market believes, I think absolutely the market will rally back. I think it will certainly rally back to the 1425, 1440 level. I don't think now you've got a chance of the markets going back to 1475 unless, of course, they pull the complete rabbit out of the hat and say, look, all along, we had this deal, we were just keeping it in secret for everyone. I don't think that's going to happen.

But the market will certainly rally. You can feel it. That's why every time one of them comes out and is optimistic, you see the market try to take back some of the losses because it wants a settlement. It wants a resolution.

The fact is it's not getting it. The market will vote with its feet, which is what you saw happened, you know, this past week.


KOSIK: And in addition to the fiscal cliff, investors will also have their eye on the jobs market. The latest unemployment report from the government is expected to be released Friday.

And the New Year means new members of Congress will officially get to work this week. One of the first duties of the 113th Congress? Elect party leaders.

House Speaker John Boehner could face a challenge, thanks to struggles with fellow Republicans over the fiscal cliff. Also on the agenda, changes in committee assignments and possible revisions to House and Senate rules.

To Massachusetts now where heavy snow is pounding the state and bringing with it freezing temperatures. Boston could see up to eight inches of snow today. The city's mayor has already declared a snow emergency.

A top priority there is getting the roads cleared for public safety.


JOANNE MASSARO, COMMISSIONER, BOSTON'S PUBLIC WORKS DEPT.: My guys live for this, so they're at their best when this kind of weather comes along. So, they're all geared up. They can't wait to get going. It's like Christmas morning for them.


KOSIK: Their neighbors to the south in Rhode Island are also breaking out the shovels this morning. We're going to show you that video. About a foot of snow has already fallen in some parts of the state. I know it's wintertime, it's supposed to snow. But these are the big snows so it's always interesting and kind of fun if you're not in it to look at the video. And CNN iReporters have been busy sending in photos. These are from Mark Ivy from Farmersburg, Indiana. Lots of now filing up in the last week of the year. So, keep those pictures coming. Just head to

Fiscal cliff, debt, and egos. How much of what is going on in Washington is about what's right versus who's right? One doctor has some suggestions for the decision-makers.


KOSIK: Good morning, Washington.

The focus is on you today as you reconvene talking, of course, about the fiscal cliff, and a cold wind is blowing there today not just outside but I assume inside that Capitol building as well. But, outside, 40 degrees and windy as everyone waits to see what, if anything, is going to come out of the nation's capitol today in the way of a deal on the fiscal cliff.

And as we come dangerously close to the edge of the fiscal cliff, we are pushed along with partisan politics, debt decisions and some would say lots of ego, too. Yes, ego.

CNN's Nadia Bilchik spoke with Dr. Cleve Stevens. His author of "The Best In Us: People, Profit, and the Remaking of Modern Leadership." He has a take on how leaders can put aside their differences and get the job done.


NADIA BILCHIK, CNN EDITORIAL PRODUCER: In your book, you contend that the best leaders are more conscious leaders. You say less driven by normal, irrational behaviors. Can you explain what that means, and how would that make the fiscal cliff negotiations different?

DR. CLEVE STEVENS, AUTHOR, "THE BEST IN US": Yes. The vast majority of our decision-making happens at an automatic, unconscious level. And the challenge and the problem -- I'm talking about most of our thinking. The challenge we have in that regard is the fact that most of the filtering system that we have that makes those decisions was put in place for us when we were small children.

As a result, really smart people can make really dumb decisions, or grown-ups can behave childishly. If a leader is more conscious of those patterns, they can cut them off and maintain a great degree of consciousness and therefore maturity in making their decisions and acting on those.

BILCHIK: But we see both sides really dug in. We now seem to be in an impasse. Are you saying that there's childish behavior? I mean, we talk about transformative leadership perspective. How do you advocate and advise, let's say, Speaker Boehner and President Obama? How do we move past that?

STEVENS: Well, you know, one of the fundamental problems we run into when we think about the unconscious is the fact we're driven by the need to be right or the need to look good. And one of the things that I would advise and encourage Speaker Boehner and President Obama to consider is the extent to which some of their behavior is driven more by the need to be right, the need to look good than it is about what really is in the best interest.

It seems like a simple thing, but when people can become aware of some of these deeper patterns, they can shift off of them and they can be more adult and make better decisions.

So my advice would be become more effectively aware of those things that are driving them.

BILCHIK: Now, do you think there's either one more at fault than the other?

STEVENS: You know, they probably at this point, Speaker Boehner simply because he's more backed into the corner. President Obama has the better hand, and everybody knows that. As a function of that, Boehner has to consider what are his options? His options are conscripted. When things are conscripted, people begin to act more unconsciously. People go back to old patterns.

So, the advice would serve Boehner a little more than Obama, but don't -- let's not be fooled here. Even when things are in our favor, we still are seduced into this kind of behavior.

BILCHIK: We hope that some of the powers that be have been watching this, and we do hope we get past this.

Thank you so much for joining us.

STEVENS: My pleasure. Thank you, Nadia.


BILCHIK: As the year draws to a close, the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, have sparked a national debate about gun control, and it's also motivating gun buy-backs in cities across the country.

Some gun owners say they just don't want to keep their weapons in the wake of the deaths of 20 children in Newtown.

CNN's David Ariosto reports from Bridgeport, Connecticut, which is holding the biggest gun buy-back in its history.


DAVID ARIOSTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): William Porter says he is done with guns. The elementary school shooting in nearby Newtown, Connecticut, struck a nerve.

WILLIAM PORTER, BRIDGEPORT RESIDENT: My wife cried. I was shopping, and we heard it while we were in the store. And she cried. You know, it's wrong. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, how are you doing?

PORTER: I'm good.

ARIOSTO: Porter is turning over his handgun to police in Connecticut's most populous city, part of Bridgeport's largest gun buyback ever. And with well over $100,000 in private donations, police are taking the guns, no questions asked.

CHIEF JOSEPH GAUDETT, JR., BRIDGEPORT, CONNECTICUT: I know that every gun we take in is one less gun that has a potential to kill our children.

ARIOSTO: More than 100 guns have been collected in each of the first two days and are expected to be melted down. But with millions more scattered across the U.S., can buybacks like this one make a dent?

MAYOR BILL FITCH, BRIDGEPORT, CONNECTICUT: These guns could've created victims. And we know that if we can reduce the number of weapons that are available through breaking into people's houses and grabbing guns, we are a safer society.

ARIOSTO: Bridgeport's police chief says an attempt to organize a similar gun buyback failed last year due to a lack of funding, but not this time.

GAUDETT: We've seen an outpouring from the community since Sandy Hook, in all manners. From, you know, from teddy bears to cash. And I think this -- this is part of it. I think people want to feel safe.

ARIOSTO: For Porter, a gun locked safely in his home ended up in the hands of his foster child who he says then handed it over to a gang member.

PORTER: If that person would've did something to somebody else with that gun, it would fall back on me. And I don't have -- I'm 52 years old. I haven't had a criminal record all my life.

ARIOSTO: Police say that's how even legal guns can pose a danger.

GAUDETT: I don't know we're ever going to be able to disarm every bad guy here. But what we're doing is taking away the possibility. We're taking away the chance for a bad guy to get another gun.

ARIOSTO: Porter says he got lucky.

PORTER: It did go into the wrong hands, but I got it back and it's getting destroyed now.

ARIOSTO: And now he has more cash in his pocket.


PORTER: All right. Thank you.


KOSIK: That was David Ariosto with that report.

The terrifying moment of impact caught on tape. A passenger airline hurdles to the ground in Russia and sends debris onto a busy highway right in the path of oncoming cars.


KOSIK: Syria has seen 21 months of war. But this weekend may be its worst yet. Opposition activists say almost 400 people were killed yesterday alone. That's the highest toll since the devastating civil war erupted.

CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom is in Beirut, Lebanon.

Mohammed, this is a grim milestone, that Saturday could be the deadliest day yet in Syria's civil war?


The numbers from activists are staggering even by standards that we've grown accustomed to in Syria where we routinely these days hear of death tolls over 100 a day, especially in the past week. We're talking about at least 397 people reported dead throughout Syria yesterday as a result of the violence there, this unabating civil war raging for so long.

We're told by opposition activists that at least 200 of these people were killed in Deir Balbah, that's in Homs province. They say after the Syrian regime recaptured the town from Syrian rebels, that they took dozens, hundreds of people away and that they executed them, summarily executed them.

Activists that we spoke with say that they got a lot of the intelligence they've gathered so from a captured Syrian soldier who told them about the massacre. And one doctor in the area said he had examined bodies who had been killed by stabbing, had been killed by shooting. And it is said that there was the stench of a lot of bodies burned as well.

Very gruesome, very grisly reports emerging from the town today. We are expecting to hear more in the hours to come -- Alison.

KOSIK: Mohammed, why has the fighting intensified despite the fact there'd been calls for peace?

JAMJOOM: What's happening in Syria right now is that the rebels seem to be gaining momentum. They're capturing more territories, especially in the northern part of Syria. They've also gotten a foothold in a lot of parts of Damascus that's very worrying to the regime. But the fact of the matter is that the Syrian regime still has air power. They still have helicopters. They have gunships and war planes. And so, typically, when the rebel Free Syria Army is able to seize a town or a territory, it's not that far after that then the warplanes will come in and start to bomb.

So, it really just grinds on it. It's a war of attrition, and it's this seesaw battle that keeps going and going and going. And even though there's so much diplomatic flurry of activity to try to end the stalemate there with some sort of political solution, it just doesn't seem to make an impact on the ground -- Alison.

KOSIK: The U.N.-Arab League envoy for Syria is in Cairo. Does he have a proposal to end the conflict at this point?

JAMJOOM: He's had a proposal for a while now actually. And what we've seen in the past week is him going to several places. He went to Syria to meet with Bashar al-Assad. He then went to Moscow to meet with the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. They urged all parties in Syria to come together to negotiate some sort of political solution, some sort of transitional government.

Today, Lakhdar Brahimi, who is the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy, is in Cairo. He's meeting with the Arab League secretary general, Nabil Elaraby, to report on his trips these past several days, to tell him about the progress. He had a press conference a little while ago in which he talked about just how dire the situation is in Syria.

Take a listen to some of what he had to say.


LAKHDAR BRAHIMI, U.N./ARAB LEAGUE ENVOY (through translator): The situation in Syria is really bad, and it is only rapidly deteriorating. Therefore, if nearly 50,000 people have been killed in about two years, do not expect just 25,000 people to die next year. Maybe 100,000 will die. The situation is deteriorating rapidly.


JAMJOOM: That's shocking to hear from the peace envoy saying that possibly by next year, if this continues, you could see as many as 100,000 people dead in Syria as a result of the fighting there.

He also said that as far as he saw it, the Syrian people had two choices. They can either come together -- the conflicting parties there -- and come to some sort of political agreement, or he said, it will be hell for the Syrians. He said he heard of plans to try to split the country up into different territories. He doesn't think that will work. He thinks that will lead to it becoming like Somalia -- Alison.

KOSIK: All right. Mohammed Jamjoom, live for us in Beirut this morning, thanks.

Her brutal attack and death have sparked protests in India. Now the body of a young Indian woman beaten and gang raped has been cremated at a private ceremony in New Delhi. The 23-year-old victim died in Singapore where she had been taken for treatment after the attack. The medical student had planned to marry her boyfriend in February. Six suspects are charged with murder.

An injured Pakistani soldier has narrowly escaped an apparent mass execution of his colleagues. He's hospitalized as Pakistani officials say they found the bodies of 21 tribal police officers in a remote, mountainous region. They apparently were killed by Taliban militants who abducted them during an attack on their military post on Thursday.

Now, we want to show you dramatic video. It captures the moment when a Russian passenger plane hurdled to the ground and sent debris onto a highway in Moscow, a tire, luggage, and pieces of the airport smashed onto the ground and road, hitting a passing car yesterday. Another driver captured the scene on his car's dashboard camera. No one on the ground was hurt, but four crew members on the plane were killed, four others were injured.


ELENA SMIRNYKH, SPOKESWOMAN, RUSSIAN EMERGENCY MINISTRY (through translator): A TU-204 passenger plane during landing at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport overshot the runway. As a result, the plane was partially destroyed and its right engine caught fire. Rescue workers and firefighters responded in a speedy manner and were able to put out the fire quickly.


KOSIK: The cause of the crash is under investigation.

And it's the last days on the newsstand for a magazine icon. "Newsweek's" final cover hits the stands tomorrow. We're going to take a look at it.


KOSIK: And welcome back to CNN SUNDAY MORNING. I'm Alison Kosik, in for Randi Kaye.

Bottom of the hour now. Here are some of the stories we're keeping an eye on this hour.

It's down to the wire in Washington and turning into quite a nail biter. Less than 48 hours left for Congress to make a deal and avoid the fiscal cliff, leaders from both political parties have expressed hope that a deal can be reached.

In the Senate, negotiators worked late into the night, trying to put together a plan, and the whole Senate will come together in a few hours from now for a rare Sunday session beginning at 1:00. An hour later, the House will meet.

But in a world far away from the Capitol, everyday Americans are growing frustrated with political leaders and their lack of action when so much is at stake. We asked or CNN iReporters to send us their messages for Washington and we got a ton of responses.

Listen to Vernon Hill (ph) with a bit of advice for politicians.


CNN IREPORTER: My New Year's message to Washington is to grow up, act like adults, do your jobs or resign immediately. We are tired of you being useless and refusing to do your jobs.


KOSIK: Here's one from Missy Laflare (ph) with her take on the men and women in Congress.


CNN IREPORTER: This whole fiscal cliff mess shows how incredibly out of touch you are with the way people really live in this country. You are off in la-la land and everyone is saying how you're acting like a bunch of spoiled brats who are more interested in being right than in doing the right thing and actually representing the people who elected you.


KOSIK: And look what Alberto really sent in, a reminder that lawmakers are there to serve everyone and can be voted out if they don't.


CNN IREPORTER: My New year's message to Washington is this: there are not enough wealthy people and corporations to keep you in office. In that light, please simply grow up, govern, but most importantly, support middle class policies.


KOSIK: It's the site of the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Now, more than two years later, we're getting an up close look at wreckage of the Deepwater Horizon rig. The U.S. Coast Guard released these images following a survey of the rig and the BP Macondo well this month.

There had been reports of a recurring oil sheen in the area, but the Coast Guard says no sources of leaking oil were found. The Macondo well was closed and cemented in September of 2010.

Other news now -- second-degree murder as a hate crime that's the charge facing Erica Menendez.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Erica, why did you do it? Erica -- (END VIDEO CLIP)

KOSIK: She's the woman accused of shoving a man to his death in front of a New York subway train on Thursday. Police say Menendez told them she pushed the victim because, quote, "I hate Hindus and Muslims". Menendez says it's a feeling she's had since the September 11th attacks. It was the second time this month someone had been pushed to death from a New York subway platform.

So the New Year is just days away and with the change of the calendar year comes lots of changes in state laws. Here's a look at what will be legal and illegal in the year 2013.

STACEY COHAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Alison, some local laws already made headlines this year. Gay marriage was passed in Maryland and in Maine and the recreational use of marijuana that was also passed in Colorado and in Washington states. But wait, there's more, much more. Let's start with the laws that take effect on January 1st.

So in Illinois and California employers may no longer force their employees to provide the passwords to their social media accounts, and the same is true if you are applying for a job in either one of those state. And speaking of job secrets, let's check out Oregon. Employers are not allowed to advertise a job listing in that state unless they are willing to hire the unemployed.

And in Maryland arsenic is banned in chicken feed. Why? Well it's aimed to protect in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay from any toxins.

And in California this one made headlines, too. That state is now banning the treatment aimed at changing the sexual orientation of anyone under the age of 18.

And on the lighter side if you're a fan of sharks, you're going to like this one. There's a new law in Illinois aimed at helping protect this species. The possession, sale or trade of shark fins is now illegal in Illinois. And in Florida if you own a swamp buggy, you do not have to register it as a motor vehicle. It's no longer classified as such in the state of Florida.

And in Kentucky here's one. It is illegal to release a wild hog into the wild. Yes, that is what the new law says we're told.

In 2013 some folks also may see a little bump in their paychecks. Great news in ten states they decided to raise the minimum wage. Alison -- back to you.

KOSIK: And that was Stacy Cohan.

And some good news this morning about former President George H.W. Bush; we're told he's improving. He's been moved out of the Intensive Care Unit of the Houston hospital where he was being treated for an elevated fever. The 41st president was even given an extra boost over the phone by one of his favorite country groups the Oak Ridge Boys. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Amazing grace how sweet the sound --


KOSIK: It was former First Lady Barbara Bush who called the band Friday to request the special performance.

And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton she's also feeling better. Her spokesman says she'll be back at work this week after spending the past three weeks fighting off what the State Department said was a stomach flu and a concussion brought on by a fainting spell. Doctors grounded her from overseas travel for a few more weeks. Her return means she may soon testify before Congress about the attack on the U.S. diplomatic office in Benghazi.

I love YouTube. It can also be thought as a huge time waster you can get a good laugh from some of the videos there. But did you know you can also get a job interview from -- from that site? CNN's David Ariosto with the story of the football kicker who got noticed by the NFL.


DAVID ARIOSTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It may be the latest YouTube sensation. A 28-year-old Norwegian, named Havard Rugland. He and his now famous left foot have been viewed nearly two million times.

HAVARD RUGLAND, NORWEGIAN KICKER: I got tips and things started to calm down a little bit and maybe a week or so after I got an e-mail from the New York Jets.

ARIOSTO: That's the NFL's New York Jets.

RUGLAND: The e-mail asked me -- they told me that they liked what they were seeing and I should contact them if I would be interested in a tryout with the New York Jets. I, of course, thought this was some of my friends joking around.

ARIOSTO: It was no joke and so the Norwegian youth counselor made the trek from a small town in Norway to the U.S. for a Jets tryout just before Christmas.

RUGLAND: It went very well from -- they -- they liked what they saw.

ARIOSTO: So do viewers on YouTube and while some of the tricks took more than one try, he insists that nothing there is phony.

RUGLAND: I'm not a computer guy.

ARIOSTO: As for football, he may be modeling his game after another left foot at European Oakland Raider Sebastian Janikowski. But the so-called Polish Cannon was already accustomed to American football before making the leap to the pros after playing big time college bowler at Florida State. Rugland, not so much.

(on camera): Have you ever kicked with a line of angry guys running towards you?


ARIOSTO: Are you worried about that?

RUGLAND: No, not very. So I'm good. I kicked a lot in soccer when people try to take me out, so I think I'd do pretty good.

ARIOSTO: They're a little bit bigger here, though.

RUGLAND: Yes, but they aren't -- they aren't that close. So I think I will be able to handle it.

ARIOSTO (voice-over): Rugland concedes that he'll need to get his kicks off a bit quicker.

RUGLAND: I'll be back in New York to see if the Jets think I'm good enough. I'll do my best.

ARIOSTO: David Ariosto, CNN, New York.


KOSIK: Grab a Kleenex and say good-bye to thumbing through copies of "Newsweek" at your doctor's office. After 80 years in the biz the magazine will be going all digital in the New Year which means you'll only be able to download copies after December 31st. "Newsweek's" editor-in-chief said the growing use of tablet computers by readers combined with continued weakness in print advertising forced the decision.

Oh January, the month when millions of Americans vow to hit the gym, lose weight as they begin the New Year and the gym parking lot is crowded. But one Rabbi says you're best resolution may be to get your spirit in shape. He's going to join me to explain.


KOSIK: And the countdown to 2013 is on. And from ball drops to champagne toasts, millions around the world are set to ring in the New Year. But there's one more tradition that many of us observe, making resolutions. In today's "Faces of Faith," my next guest says your faith should be a key part of those goals. Joining me now is Rabbi Josh Lesser of Congregation Bet Haverin here in Atlanta. Welcome Rabbi. The top resolution --


KOSIK: Happy New Year to you. The top resolution is usually to get out there and exercise and lose weight and even get control of your finances. And you say that while we live in an external world, we really need to make internal changes. What do you exactly mean by that? LESSER: You know I'm actually someone who goes to the gym a great bit, so I think that's a really important part.

KOSIK: Good for you.

LESSER: But I think that's -- a lot of our goals are external goals, but it really, for me, matters how we feel about our lives, if our lives are going in a particular direction. And for us to just be driven by external things about our appearance or about our finances only gets half the picture. And really the -- our body, our mind, our spirits are all connected and we need to attend to them. And the New Year is a great time to check in.

KOSIK: And so going to houses of worship is that way to check in I'm assuming?

LESSER: You know I think that there are lots of ways. There are certainly one I think that's -- any opportunity for some reflection -- one of the things that I know from my tradition at the Jewish New Year which is in the fall a lot of it is about turning to attention towards our relationships. How are we feeling about our loved ones? Are there ways that we can make amends to folks? Are there ways that we need to forgive ourselves?

And I think that's for our secular New Year to be able to do some of those same things is incredibly important. Going to a place of worship can uplift spirits, can help us find community. But I think that there are lots of other ways as well.

KOSIK: Often it's hard for people to stop in their busy lives and actually take stock on what else is going on in their lives besides the material things. You know how do you get people just to stop? I mean it's all fine and well to say you're going to do it, but to really find that time to reflect --



KOSIK: -- it's really hard to fit that in. Because it's more than just hey five minutes later on this afternoon, right?

LESSER: Yes you know absolutely and I -- and I think that's in part we are allowing technology to drive us. And you know -- I know for me my friends would criticize me for how connected I am to my phone sometimes, but I think that we have to see that it's incredibly important as someone who has pick up a meditation practice to really set aside that time to be as disciplined about that as we are about other things.

I think can really connect and uplift all the other activities that we do, even if it's ten minutes a day to be able to set aside some quiet time and reflection. Maybe it's the first thing in the morning. Maybe it's ten minutes before going to bed. But we really need to take better jobs at taking stock of our lives so that we have a little bit more control and not let things run us. KOSIK: How about other -- other things as you let's say like spending time in nature, volunteering. How can you know those activities maybe help us restore our faith?

LESSER: Yes you know absolutely. I think that you know part of what we want to do as human beings is to connect to the adventure of living. We want to be able to experience the wonder of the world and sometimes it is about connecting with something larger like nature and feeling a transcendent power of the beauty of an amazing sky at being you know out in the woods. It's cold right now, so maybe the time is to get out of ourselves by volunteering.

I had a really difficult year last year, personally and one of the best things that I did for myself it was almost my resolution, was to volunteer. And -- it really helped me kind of get out of my own sob stories and recognize that I have had something to contribute, and I also were able to hear other people's stories. I felt like my lot was thrown in with other people and that we were trying to uplift each other. And that's really an awesome way to begin the year.

KOSISK: All right, Rabbi Josh Lesser, thank you. This has been interesting. And for more stories on faith, be sure to check out our widely popular belief blog at

And we want to say a big good morning to you, New York City. You've got a high of about 31 degrees there today -- cold. Not warm at all. But that's not going to stop the thousands of people who will head to Times Square for the New Year's countdown happening tomorrow.

And making sure that it is a festive time, the airworthiness of the confetti was tested yesterday. And yes there it goes, oh plenty to go around and of course the cleanup afterwards. I'll see you down on the streets when I get back and leading our coverage from Times Square on New Year's Eve, Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin. The two will host as the New Year is welcomed around the world.

CNN's "NEW YEAR'S EVE COUNTDOWN" it begins at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time tomorrow night.

And from New York City to Washington, D.C., the nation's capital is going to be just as busy today however with a little less fanfare and lots of fiscal decisions being made there today. We're going to check in after the break.


KOSIK: Ok everybody, time to get ready for the week ahead. Tomorrow is Monday; we could see a vote on the fiscal cliff. We can only hope, of course. But without a deal, about 90 percent of all U.S. households, they're going to have to shell out more faxes on average about $3,500 more a year.

Also on Monday Happy New Year -- come on, screen. There we go -- Happy New Year. It's going to be New Year's Eve. Catch live celebrations from around the world right here on CNN. Our very own Anderson Cooper and comedian Kathy Griffin are going to be live in Times Square.

Tuesday, it's 2013. Sleep late, why don't you, because Wednesday could wind up being a pretty big day. We'll see what's going to happen with the fiscal cliff because if we go off the cliff, $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts, they could go into effect. And if there's one part of the fiscal cliff that everybody agrees on, it's trying it to avoid this.

It's also going to be an interesting day in the markets. We're going to see how the markets open on Wednesday because if there's a fiscal cliff deal, you could see the markets rally.

And on Tuesday John Boehner, the 113th Congress is going to be sworn in and John Boehner is expected to be elected to his second term as House Speaker by a vote in the house. We're just going to have to wait and see if everybody can plays nice in the sandbox and work together to solve the country's problems in the year 2013.

And if you're just sitting down to breakfast, think about this. That bowl of cereal, you know the milk in it -- that can get a whole lot more expensive if a fiscal cliff deal is not reached. That gallon of milk might cost you as much as $7.

CNN's Candy Crowley spoke with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. And Candy -- $7 milk -- this is known as the dairy cliff, right?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN HOST: Yes, it is. And sort of we've been so focused on other kinds of cliffs, but in fact, because there is no farm bill, they revert back to some laws that were enacted in the 1940s. And it would cause -- because milk won't be, if you will, propped up, it would cause milk prices to almost double, at least according to the Agriculture Secretary.

Now look, they're working on a fix, something like that which hits consumers so hard. I mean they'll notice that immediately is likely to be something that Congress does do something about. My guess is they will just extend the farm bill for another year, which will in some ways hurt farmers, but in other ways it gets the job done in the whole of it and gets an agriculture bill at least for another year while they work out whatever their problems were this year.

And I mean they pretty much knew for a year that this agriculture -- the farm bill was going to expire. But they haven't gotten around to it.

KOSIK: Yes, exactly. When something that just about everybody in the country can relate to, higher milk prices, you know, why do they wait until the last-minute? We ask that about everything.

CROWLEY: Exactly. It's just how they work. But this has real -- you know real consequences. I mean if you walk into the grocery store in two weeks and find milk prices have doubled, Congress will hear about it. So that's why I think they'll do something in a flurry of activity. There are just some things that hit that are not going to sit well with Americans, and I think they will do something sort of minimalistic to get it done at least for a year, just an extension.

KOSIK: Ok. But the big focus is on the tax hikes and spending cuts, the fiscal cliff. What do you have on the latest there?

CROWLEY: Yes. I'm not sure about what's going to happen there as is I think everybody. Listen, what is currently passing for hope is that on Saturday we saw Senate aides walking back and forth between the offices of the Republican leader and the Democratic leader holding a piece of paper. And we think that they are talking big numbers.

But in essence, we haven't heard a word on what's being done or what they're working on. In a lot of ways that's good. When leaders come to the microphone, it generally means one of two things. One is if they come together, they have a deal. If they come separately, they can't get anywhere. Silence might be ok for now, but time is running out, as you know.

They expect -- the Senate has to be in session today, and I think the plan was for the Senate to pass something and then give the House tomorrow to deliberate about it. We'll see if that happens.

KOSIK: All right. Let's switch gears here. I know our team was very impressed with an interview that you conducted this week. Look at this.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Yes. I don't know if you know this story, Candy. I lent -- Kathy Griffin went to ask to come to my house in Long Island. And like a nice guy I sent her a key because she wanted to go there a day in advance. That night --

KATHY GRIFFIN, COMEDIAN: To clean up the place.

COOPER: No, no. Just to go -- first of all, she arrived and she was terribly disappointed. I think she thought it was going to be like in a house in on Downton Abbey. There's no staff, it's a small house.

GRIFFIN: The chef was late. The chef actually never arrived.

COOPER: There is no chef. And anyway, so she arrives and while I'm on the news that night during commercial breaks I'm receive tweets -- not even tweets actually, text messages from her.

GRIFFIN: Sexts. Sexts.

COOPER: Naked pictures -- she's sending me naked pictures of herself sprawled out on my couch, draped over the kitchen counter --

GRIFFIN: Excuse me. I think Candy has done that on a daily basis.


KOSIK: All right. How comfortable did you feel in that interview, Candy?

CROWLEY: Let's see. Not at all -- is that a good enough answer? Here is how when you get those two together, you do an interview. So let me give you the floor for five minutes, because that's what happens anyway. You ask a question and they're off and running. And everybody gets a chance to do that on New Year's Eve. They will be off and running.

KOSIK: It will be fun. I'm certainly going to I'll watch. Thank you, Candy.

CROWLEY: Sure, thanks.

KOSIK: And keep it here for "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley. It starts in just a little bit at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time, 6:00 a.m. Pacific right here on CNN.

And the year is almost history, but what's the take away? Comedian Dean is up with us with "Top 12 Lessons of 2012".


KOSIK: All right. You've got to look at this -- one of the sweetest videos that we saw this weekend. He can't talk yet, but he's already turning heads on the slopes in Quebec. Meet 18-month-old (inaudible). He's blazing a trail on his snowboard and bringing his pacifier along for the ride (inaudible). There it is.

And it's not just him. His 3-year-old sister Abigail is also on the hill. Both are following in the footsteps of their dad who is a big fan of the sport.

We're about to leave 2012 behind, but are you smarter than you were a year ago? Our friend, comedian Dean Obeidallah says we all are -- so, Dean, hello.


KOSIK: Good morning. You wrote an op-ed for with a list of 12 things you say America learned this year. You say we all picked up a new language this year. What are you talking about?

OBEIDALLAH: I think we are a little smarter than we were. We all know a little more than we did 365 days ago. Like it or not, it's drilled into our head.

One is Korean, thanks to the hit song by Psy "Gangnam Style". The number video in all of YouTube -- over one billion views and Gangnam means south of the river in Korean. So there you go -- I don't know how you use it in conversation but we all know a little bit more Korean. It's cheaper than Rosetta Stone. And if you watch the video, you want to do the horse dance which I really can't do but it involves your hands going like this and you're like you're riding a horse.

KOSIK: Yes, it does. OBEIDALLAH: So we learned two things there -- a dance and a Korean word.

KOSIK: You say that we learned some people just don't like silver?

OBEIDALLAH: Some people -- no. McKayla Maroney -- the U.S. Olympian at the London Olympics this summer got a silver medal and had the famous look "I'm not impressed". And it went viral. I myself, you give me free silver, I'm very happy. I smile. I say thank you. But when you're in her case, she worked for years to get a gold medal, and I can understand why she wasn't impressed.

KOSIK: You know what; the election this year definitely took center stage. Politics has taken center stage, even though they're controlling our lives at this point. How can we laugh at this?

OBEIDALLAH: I think you have to laugh at it or you'll lose your mind. We learned a lot of lessons this year from politics -- some serious and some funny.

I think one of the biggest lessons is from Clint Eastwood. He taught us you can have a conversation with your furniture on national TV and it's ok. He's inspired me to speak to my couch on occasion. Me and my couch are getting along much better than we used to. So I have to thank Clint Eastwood for teaching me that one.

KOSIK: Fantastic. What about poultry? That's a political tool I hear.

OBEIDALLAH: Well, poultry went from something you eat to actually political statement thanks to Chick-Fil-A and the whole idea of marriage equality. Again, (inaudible) the head of Chick-Fil-A said he was against marriage equality and he got co-opted in terms of a big political tool. Chick-Fil-A appreciation day; people against gay marriage went. And then a couple of days later a kiss-in -- people in favor of gay marriage.

So it's not just chicken anymore. This is how hyperpartisan our country has become, even poultry is a political statement.

KOSIK: But do you believe that America is the best democracy money can buy?

OBEIDALLAH: America is the best democracy, absolutely. As I write in my article. In this last presidential cycle we spent over $2 billion, Obama, Romney, the PACs, Super PACs, RNC, DNC -- that is literally more than the GDP -- annual GDP of over than 30 countries in the world that we spent on this election.

So talk about wasting money. I mean this is money that we can use in the country for better things. And I think it's a shocking thing.

KOSIK: I understand porn is part of something of the year as well that you want to talk about, porn? OBEIDALLAH: We learned something. Women like to read porn. I'm not sure about watching but read it thanks to "50 Shades of Gray. It sold off the book shelves and coined the term "mommy porn" as mostly it was women who are married with children reading this for a little release to have a little fun. And it's going to turn into a movie soon. Men were more traditional; I think we would rather see it than read about it.

KOSIK: All right. Dean Obeidallah, thanks very much.

OBEIDALLAH: Thanks Alison.

KOSIK: Don't forget. You can check out Dean's op-ed on

Thanks for watching today. "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley starts now.