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Congress Avoids Fiscal Cliff With Last Minute Deal; Brazilian Teenager Auctions Virginity To Help Ailing Mother; Denver Nuggets Break L.A. Clippers Franchise Record Winning Streak; A Look At Syrian Conflict In 2013

Aired January 2, 2013 - 08:00:00   ET


KRISTIE LU STOUT, HOST: I'm Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong. And welcome to News Stream where news and technology meet. And we begin in the U.S. where there is relief after the House approved a bill on the fiscal cliff. Now President Obama now needs to sign it into law.

Also ahead, rare images reveal North Korea's leader celebrating the New Year. Is it a sign of a changing mood in Pyongyang?

And the rise of the machines. With technology becoming more and more sophisticated. Are we likely to see robots replace us in the work place?

The U.S. may have officially gone over the fiscal cliff, but on Tuesday congress managed to hang on to the ledge and pull the country back to safety -- for now at least. Now a raft of tax hikes and spending cuts has been averted after the House of Representatives approved a compromise passed by the Senate. But there was a stark warning from President Barack Obama that congress must raise the U.S. debt ceiling to avoid more fiscal turbulence. Now this battle is over, but America's economic war may have just begun.

After that all important yes vote, the president returned to his vacation home in Hawaii. He had cut his trip short to deal with the crisis. And before leaving Washington, Mr. Obama thanked congressional Democrats and Republicans for getting the job done. But warned that he wanted less drama next time.

Elizabeth Corridon has the details of the deal.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Yays are 257, the nays are 167. The motion is adopted.

ELIZABETH CORRIDON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The House approved the plan to fix the fiscal cliff, preventing middle class taxes from going up.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The sum total of all the budget agreements we've reached so far proves that there is a path forward, that it is possible if we focus not on our politics, but what's -- but on what's right for the country.

CORRIDON: Throughout the day the House weighed the bill passed by the Senate in the early morning hours. Under the Senate's terms, individuals earning $400,000 a year or more and Households earning $450,000 or more will see their taxes return to Clinton era levels. The deal also extends unemployment benefits, decisions on the controversial spending cuts are put on hold for two months.

Some argued the bill did not go far enough.

REP. DARRELL ISSA, (R) CALIFORNIA: The Senate and the president and the vice president failed to meet their obligation, their own stated obligation which was to bring us a balanced bill, one that had tax adjustment, yes, but also had spending cuts. This one fails at that and fails badly.

CORRIDON: But supporters argued the country could not afford not to pass it.

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SHULTZ, (D) FLORIDA: This is a bill that prevent 98 percent of Americans from having their taxes go up.

CORRIDON: Even those who voted in favor admit it's not a perfect or permanent fix.

REP. LOUISE SLAUGHTER, (D) NEW YORK: It's only a partial answer to a much larger problem and it sets the nation up for another fiscal showdown in mere months.

OBAMA: We're going to have a lot of work to do in 2013.

CORRIDON: Meaning when the new congress is sworn in on Thursday there won't be any time to waste in tackling some of the nation's still pressing fiscal issues.

I'm Elizabeth Corridon reporting.


LU STOUT: Now some European countries are also bracing for financial fights in the new year. In Portugal, the 2013 budget lifts taxes by some 30 percent, but the president has sent it to Portugal's highest court saying it could be unfair.

And in Greece, public sector workers are on strike over wage cuts in effect as of January 1.

And German Chancellor Angela Merkel predicts that Europe's economic environment will be even tougher in 2013 saying the European debt crisis is far from over.

And for more on this, let's go straight to CNN's Richard Quest. He joins us from his studios in London. And Richard, the fiscal cliff averted for now over in the U.S., but Europe is preparing for some pretty tough times. And Portugal is already in a fiscal fight.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. The European countries basically have to now -- those that are in programs with the IMF and the EU have to continue the grinding austerity that has caused so many problems, such high unemployment. That includes Greece, it includes Ireland, it includes Portugal. And of course people will be watching to see after elections in 2013 whether or not Spain also decides that it needs some form of help beyond the bank out.

Now why is this significant? Because obviously Europe is going to be stagnant this year in economic growth terms. In fact, it could even be in a year of recession according to the IMF and the OECD. In that scenario, it's rather depressing that the best that can be hoped for for many countries in Europe is more of the same and similar.

On the positive note -- I don't want to start the new year being too much of a downer as they say -- looking down at the charts, all the major markets are much higher today. The London FTSE is up some 2.2 percent. Germany is up 2.25 percent. France is up 2.5 percent. And the reason is pleasure at the fiscal cliff and risk is now back on the table.

LU STOUT: You know, there's a bit of a fiscal cliff relief rally this day across Europe. As you mentioned, your outlook for the entire EuroZone 2013 stagnant. Can we go micro a bit and focus on Greece. We know that there has been this New Year's Day strike there. Tell us what's happening in Greece.

QUEST: Greece has to continue -- well, we know it's had the budgetary, the latest troika report of approval from both the troika and the IMF. Now Greece has to then go further back and actually go back and work out how it's going to balance the books in 2013. That will be more troika reports. It will be further questions of austerity. And this -- this mind numbingly high level of youth unemployment at over 50 percent.

However -- however, here's the positive side on that one. The general feeling of Grexit, Greece leaving the European -- the EuroZone, that has now pulled back quite a long way. And even Citibank, which had said it was a 90 percent likelihood of Greece leaving the EuroZone now has that number nearly 50-50.

LU STOUT: All right, Richard Quest with the view on Europe and 2013, thank you very much indeed for that.

Now, in an American sense, the fiscal cliff compromise may be good for the middle class, Medicare doctors and the unemployed, among others, but it won't benefit the U.S. economy long-term. Now congress has not solved the worst of the country's problems, it has simply deferred them.

On Monday, the U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said that America had hit its debt ceiling, that is the amount of money it can legally borrow. Now federal debt now stands at almost $16.4 trillion. And Geithner can tap into a further $200 billion or so citing extraordinary measures. But that won't last more than a couple of months.

Now at exactly the same time, lawmakers have another chunk of money to think about -- $1.2 trillion in spending cuts were set to kick in this Wednesday designed to reduce the deficit over the coming years. Now these cuts, known as the sequester, have been put off for two months. The congress must agree on where they will be coming from.

And just weeks later, lawmakers will have to work out their wider spending plans for the months ahead, but this budget hinges on the two matters you've just mentioned. If it is not agreed upon, aspects of the U.S. government could cease to function. So you can say it's just the calm before the next storm in the U.S. capital.

Now Brianna Keilar joins us now live from Washington with more. And Brianna, U.S. President Barack Obama, he has said that he wants less drama for the next round of fiscal negotiations. But politically, just how likely is that?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is very unlikely. I think the expectation of anyone here in Washington who has covered this fiscal cliff drama sees the likelihood of drama about as likely as we saw it throughout this whole process. I think it's going to happen.

And the issue is that there are some things that congress absolutely has to deal with. The spending cuts that you mention, Kristie, that kick in here in a couple of months, congress is going to have to figure out some way to avert that. And then also more importantly, and this is the real hard and fast deadline, the debt ceiling. Technically the U.S. has already hit this ceiling for how much it can borrow to pay off its debts, but the U.S. Treasury Department is moving money around so that its order -- so -- in order to actually pay its debts. It will lose that ability late February, early March. And if congress does not increase the debt ceiling, we'll be back where we were last year talking about the possibility of the U.S. defaulting on its loan obligations.

Now, these hard and fast deadlines will be attached to the things that weren't dealt with in the fiscal cliff that were supposed to be, but weren't -- entitlement reform, reforming perhaps social security, but Medicare, government provided health care for seniors which over time are going to -- it's going to cost a lot of money to try to bring down the cost there and also tax reform, a very complicated tax code here in the U.S., certain people get benefits, certain people don't. And a lot of people said it gets in the way of business certainty and that really needs to be reformed.

So those tax reform and entitlement reform will be attached to these other things that are the hard and fast deadline.

LU STOUT: Yeah, a lot of unfinished business and more fiscal bumps ahead. And Brianna, back to the fiscal cliff deal as it stands today, what is the real impact on Americans? Who stands to benefit the most and the least from it?

KEILAR: Well, everyone in a way may see some sort of impact, or at least can sort of wipe their brow and say, OK, I'm not going to get hit. There are some people that you could sort of say, they're the losers in this. People who as a couple make $450,000 or more per year, $400,000 or more as an individual, will see their taxes take a hit because they're not going to have that Bush era tax cut extended for them. Everyone else below that, they can breathe a sign of relief they're not going to be hit.

Also, itemized deductions, which is a way that a lot of people -- pardon me -- bring down their taxes, are going to be capped. They will be capped sort of phased in for people making $300,000 or more as a couple, or $250,000 or more as an individual, so those people will see their taxes impacted.

The winners here, and some that you may not even know about, are for instance milk, sugar, and peanut producers. They had a tax break. It is preserved in this deal. Unemployed, long-term unemployed Americans will see their benefits extended. That was very important to Democrats. And also doctors who were set to see -- take a pay cut, essentially, for the Medicare payments they receive for patients, are not going to see that.

And then lastly, Kristie, there is a tax called the alternative minimum tax, which was to make sure that wealthy Americans paid taxes and weren't able to skirt it with some of those rules in the tax code, it wasn't indexed for inflation when it was put in, so as people start making more money, even thought they really don't have more earning power, middle class Americans were being hit with it. Every year we would watch Congress -- or frequently we would watch Congress have to deal with what we called the AMT fix. They don't have to anymore, because they actually did fix it, indexed for inflation. So, Americans, middle class Americans, can breathe a sigh of relief.

And reporters like myself won't be talking about it anymore.

LU STOUT: A number of so-called winners on this list.

Now, as you're reporting from inside the Beltway, I have to ask you about the political temperature there amidst all this. The Democrats and Republicans, they managed to -- at the very last minute -- come together for this deal. But just how far apart are these two sides, especially during this critical time with a lot of unfinished business ahead?

KEILAR: They are very far apart. And this isn't the only issue. I mean, you look at this long-term -- dealing with the long-term fiscal health of the U.S. is very difficult, because it gets to the fundamental differences, especially right now, of being a democrat or being a Republican. They feel that they have very different prescriptions for how you would deal with entitlement reform and tax reform. And the atmosphere is not so great. They are just very far apart. And they don't like each other, for lack of a better description of it.

This isn't the only issue, Kristie as you know, the congress needs to deal with. The president has said he wants immigration reform to be a priority. And following the shooting at the elementary school in Connecticut he's also said that he wants them to tackle a comprehensive solution -- read complicated, read difficult -- to gun violence in the country. All of these things on their plate.

I've seen things, perhaps, worse, I think you could say, but they're not so great right now in terms of relations between congress and the White House.

LU STOUT: Yeah, pretty polarized there.

Brianna Keilar joining us live from Washington. Thank you so much for that.

And for a full roundup of the fiscal cliff deal as well as live reaction from the U.S. markets, stick around for World Business Today, that starts in around 40 minutes right here on CNN.

Now domestic policy may have occupied the U.S. president over the new year, but could an oversees thorn in his side be softening his stance in 2013? We'll bring you details of an unusual new year's speech from North Korean leader Kim Jong un.

Now desperate times have meant desperate measures for this Brazilian teenager. Find out what she is selling to save her sick mother and drive herself out of poverty.

And 2012 saw tens of thousands of deaths in Syria. We have predictions for the coming year from the CNN reporters who have seen the war firsthand.


LU STOUT: Now in North Korea, state run media say leader Kim Jong un rang in the new year with his wife and many guests, including foreign ambassadors. They say that Mr. Kim delivered toasts to his visitors as fireworks went off. Now state media released these rare pictures of the couple attending a concert afterward. Now the event was called, quote, "following the party to the end."

And on Tuesday morning, Kim Jong un surprised many by making his first New Year's Day address. Brian Todd has more.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Happy New Year from a novice young dictator.

After a year in power, Kim Jong un is showing a style of his own, playing the man of the people, with public appearances and speeches like this one to ring in 2013. A stark change from his father, who never once made a televised speech, just issued a written statement for new years.

Kim Jong un struck a more conciliatory tone toward archenemy South Korea, calling for an end to confrontation. He also made no mention on nuclear weapons and focused on economic progress. But he did vow to strengthen North Korea's military and praised the country's controversial long range rocket launch last month.

MARCUS NOLAND, PETERSON INST. FOR INTERNATIONAL ECONOMICS: Nothing about actually systemically reforming the economy or opening up. The other thing is it really praises the military. And it's hard to have a reformed economy, more resources going into the military and better relations with South Korea. That trifecta just doesn't add up.

TODD: Over the past year, the young leader has worked to build his popular appeal with the public and behind the scenes to strengthen his hand with the military.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has purged a number of officials, perhaps 200, including the very senior most military officials. Unclear whether that means it's a weak and embattled Kim Jong un lashing out against potential challengers, or a very confident, firmly in control Kim Jong un who can remove even the most senior generals from power.

TODD: An undertone to Kim's speech is the personal history between his family and the family of South Korea's incoming president Park Guen- hye. It's a history of tension, Cold War conflict, and even assassination attempts which makes Kim Jong un's lastest gesture all the more bizarre.

Ms. Park, the daughter of the late South Korean president Park Chung- hee, won South Korea's election promising to reach out to North Korea and pursue better relations, that's despite the fact that North Korea, under Kim Jong un's grandfather, attempted to assassinate her father twice, one of those attempts killing her mother.

NOLAND: There's a complicated history between these two individuals and two generations of their respective families. But President-elect Park is a pragmatist. And I believe that she will get on with improving relations with North Korea.

TODD: Of course the North Koreans were calling her a fascist throughout her campaign, but baby steps here are better than no steps at all.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


LU STOUT: Now still ahead on News Stream, at 18 years of age, she is taking a very adult decision to sell something that is only hers to give. Find out what that something is and the dire circumstances around it.


LU STOUT: Broadcasting live from Hong Kong, you are back watching News Stream.

Now let's a get check of the global weather forecast, including some very cold temperatures here in China and in East Asia. Now Mari Ramos joins us from the World Weather Center -- Mari.

MARI RAMOS, CNN WEATHER CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Kristie. Yeah, you know, save your winter wardrobe for tomorrow and maybe the next day, even for you there in Hong Kong. It has been not too bad in the last couple of days, but I think by Friday, by Thursday, Friday, you'll begin to see your high temperature in Hong Kong only about 14 degrees. So your low maybe you're closer to 10. So I know that's pretty chilly for you guys. Now at Hanoi right now, only 15.

So we're seeing this cooler air continuing to filter down farther and farther to the south, but the really cold stuff is here as we head to the north. Beijing right now at minus 10. You've been minus 16 right now in Seoul. And that's the actual air temperature. You've got to remember once you factor in the wind it's going to feel even worse than that.

Tokyo is still not doing too bad at 10, but even you will begin to notice a dip in temperatures over the next few days.

Just to kind of give you an example, let's go ahead and roll those pictures that we have from China. This is just in southern Shanxi Province. It looks really pretty, right? Those are actually almost like ice sculptures, but from mother nature. This is in an area that -- a lake that has a very high salt content. So in order for this kind of rind to actually form you've got to have the air temperature at about minus 10 Celsius and the water temperature well below freezing because of the high density of the water there, because of all that salt so the actual air temperature has to be down to about, maybe what, minus 5 Celsius easily, so that's the kind of weather that they've been having. And also very dry conditions which has continued to be a problem across those areas. We're going to stay with those very cold temperatures.

Let me give you another example of what we're dealing with across here -- across interior parts of Russia through Siberia and all the way down even into central parts of Asia temperatures have been eight and in some cases up to 10 degrees below the average. The farther south you go not as extreme, but it has been so persistent, and this is the average as we head into December. And this kind of push of cold air will be reinforced as we head through the next few days tomorrow -- today and tomorrow, actually the warmer days, it's going to get colder as we head into the later part of the week across much of these areas. And that will continue to be a concern.

The other thing I want to talk to you about is this area of low pressure right here close to the Philippines. A lot of you very concerned about this. It is not a typhoon. It is not even a tropical storm. And you can see it right here continuing to approach the central and southern Philippines. But it will cause some heavy rain across these areas. And we could see the potential for flooding and even mudslides.

And I'm very concerned, of course, about Davao in particular, these areas hard hit by the storm at the end of last month, because that will -- you know, those people are still recovering from that very harsh conditions that they had to endure.

The other concern that we've had is the fog across south Asia. I want to show you a picture -- let me see if I can do this -- let's go to Google Earth. Here's that Delhi right over here. And you're looking at northern parts of India. Here's a look now. What you've had some very cold temperatures in the last few days. All of this is actually smog. And this white stuff here, that's actually fog. The fog has been extremely thick across these areas, Kristie. We're expecting that to continue over this region over the next two or three days, actually. Neighboring Pakistan also exhibiting similar conditions, so be extra careful. And yes, expect the travel delays. Back to you.

LU STOUT: Yeah, that was an incredible visual there of the smog in the subcontinent. Mari Ramos there, thank you.

Now, a young Brazilian woman, she sparked outrage when she posted a video on YouTube offering her virginity to the highest bidder. But when the people in her small town stepped back and started thinking about some of the reasons why she might do so, much of their anger turned to sympathy. Shasta Darlington has her story.


SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Rebecca Bernardo (ph) gets a lot of stares when she pedals around town on her red bicycle. Ever since the Brazilian high school student posted a video on YouTube last month.

"My name is Rebecca (ph)," she says. "I'm here to auction off my virginity."

She says she was motivated by desperation, but inspired by another Brazilian, Katerina Mireralini (ph) who has offered to sell her virginity through an Australian website got widespread publicity and modeling contracts.

We visited Rebecca (ph) in her remote farming town to ask why she made the video that set off a firestorm in Sapiasu (ph) and echoed around the country.

"I made up my mind right after my 18th birthday," she says. "That's when my mother suffered a stroke."

The stroke left her bed ridden, unable to feed herself or go to the bathroom alone. Rebecca (ph) says she tried selling cosmetics and worked as a waitress, but the money just barely covered the salary of a caretaker for her mother.

"There comes a time when you have to make decisions to get what you want," she says. "You have to be strong."

The first day, her video got 3,000 hits. The reaction in her hometown was swift and hostile.

"When she started the auction, people in the street through coins at her," says a local mechanic. "But I never looked at her differently."

Attitudes now have started to shift.

This is a very small town, everybody knows everybody. But what's really surprised us is just that most of the people we've talked to are sympathetic with Rebecca's (ph) desperate situation.

Neighbors remind us that Rebecca's (ph) sister died years ago and she never knew her father.

"She has no one to go to, no one to help. So this is the only solution she found," they say.

But Rebecca's mother is devastated.

What do you think she should do, I ask?

"She should look for work," she says. "She shouldn't prostitute herself."

Rebecca (ph) says she's received three bids, the highest for $35,000.

A Brazilian TV network offered to pay medical expenses if she called off the auction. But now her desperation has turned to dreams. She wants enough money to care for her mother and start a new life in a different town, but wouldn't say how much is needed.

The TV deal fell through and the auction is back on.

"It's a lot of responsibility to face alone," she says. "I'm not really prepared."

In this town, there's wide understanding the family needs help. But so far, at least, the help has not been forthcoming.

Shasta Darlington, CNN, Sapiasu (ph), Brazil.


LU STOUT: A tough situation there.

And you're watching News Stream. And still ahead, witnesses to Syria's civil war, our correspondents look back at a bloody year and share their thoughts about what's ahead.

Plus, we examine the future of your job. Could your co-worker be a robot? Stay with us.


LU STOUT: I'm Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong. You're watching News Stream. And these are your world headlines. Now stock markets around the world have gained ground this Wednesday after U.S. lawmakers approved a deal to avert the affects of the fiscal cliff. Now Hong Kong's Shenzhen was Asia's biggest gainer while exporters in South Korea helped to lift the Kospi. Currently, European markets, they are firmly in positive territory. As you can see, the Dax up 2.15 percent, the FTSE 100 gaining about two- and-a-third.

Now in Venezuela, the vice president says Hugo Chavez's health remains, quote, "delicate." Now President Chavez who is 58-years-old is undergoing treatment for Cancer in Cuba. Now last Sunday, his deputy announced that Mr. Chavez is suffering from new complications. But more recently, he said the president's health had slightly improved.

Now Ivory Coast is observing three days of mourning after 60 people were killed in the stampede on News Year's Eve. 26 children, 28 women and six men died when crowds tried to go home after a fireworks display in Abidjan. Now the country's president has promised a speedy investigation into this tragedy.

Iran says it has successfully tested a new version of optimized missiles. Also, state run press TV reports the defense minister has just unveiled a new generation of combat helicopters. The military is now in its sixth and final day of naval exercises in the Strait of Hormuz. Now Tehran had threatened to close that strategic waterway if sanctions against its nuclear program continue.

And turning now to Syria. It is a new year, but its 21 month long civil war shows no signs of stopping. Now opposition activists report a Syrian government air raid on a petrol station in Damascus has left dozens of people killed and wounded.

Now Mohammed Jamjoom has been following developments from neighboring Lebanon. He joins us now live from CNN Beirut. And Mohammed, a lot to get to. What are you hearing about the situation in Damascus as well as the fighting in Idlib?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kristie, details just now starting to emerge. We're hearing from the opposition local coordination committees of Syria. They are reporting that there has been an air raid on a petrol station in a suburb of Damascus. And that because of that, possibly dozens have been killed.

The information that we have so far is scarce, but the opposition group says that there are many mutilated and disfigured bodies there at the scene, that it's particularly bloody, but that because it's so bloody and because the bodies are in such horrible shape, that they're not able to count the number of dead just yet. They expect it to be quite a high death toll by the end of the day. That's just in Damascus.

Throughout the morning and the afternoon, we've been hearing about particularly fierce fighting going on in the northern part of Syria, in Idlib Province. We're hearing about an assault by rebel brigades, rebel fighters on a military air base in Taftanaz. And we're seeing amateur video, we can't authenticate that video, independently verify it, but it's purporting to show the fighting that's going on.

This piece of video you're watching right now, showing what we're told are rebel soldiers as they are assaulting this air base, trying to take it over. We heard from an opposition media group, the media arm of an opposition group in Binish (ph), told us that this assault was going on, that this is a strategic base that the opposition is trying to take over, because this is an airbase from which the al-Assad regime launches horrific attacks by airplanes where they are able to lift off and then bomb the area with barrel bombs. So they say that they really want to overtake this air base.

We're also seeing video that purports to show the aftermath of the fierce clashes that are ongoing throughout the day. One particular video from a camera man who filmed this in Binish (ph) shows columns of smoke all throughout the skyline there as he's panning across. You see several columns of smoke. And the activists that we've spoken with say that this is a result not only of the shelling by regime forces, but also the attack by rebel forces there in trying to overtake this strategic air base where there's so much fierce fighting going on around all throughout today -- Kristie.

LU STOUT: So reports of some gruesome violence in the Syrian capital Damascus and fierce fighting at air bases in Syria. Mohammed, we know that in recent months the rebels have attacked a number of military installations. Is it your feeling that the rebels are gaining some momentum in this conflict?

JAMJOOM: Well, Kristie, the opposition activists we speak with and the Rebel Free Syrian Army soldiers say, yes, they are gaining ground. And it does appear that they have momentum right now, that they are overtaking more territory in the northern part of the country, that they are overtaking more territory -- they claim to be taking over territory in and around the capital. That they're really targeting strategic military bases, trying to take over those bases, so that they have can have access to more weaponry, more regime weaponry, and then use them against the regime.

So it looks right now as though the rebels do have momentum, that they are seizing control of more territory. But it does still seem to be a stalemate at the end of the day because the Syrian regime has the air power. And oftentimes what we see is even if rebels are able to overtake parts of the country or parts of a particular city or air bases, then the Syrian regime sends out its air force. They are able to bomb those parts of the country and rout out the rebels once more.

So it really just does seem to be this see-saw battle continuing even now when the rebels do appear to be having momentum at the wind at their backs more than they have before -- Kristie.

LU STOUT: We have this violent day of fighting today. Mohammed Jamjoom reporting live for us, thank you.

And as the violence in Syria continues into the new year, opposition activists say nearly 40,000 people died in 2012 alone. UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi says 2013 could be much worse. He told reporters on Sunday that, quote, "the pace is increasing. And many more people will die."

Both Nick Paton-Walsh and Nic Robertson have covered the story extensively, even from inside the war torn country. And here are some of their thoughts on what's to come.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDNET: Will the rebels defeat the regime? I think there's very little doubt that will happen. It's not going to be one day in which there's a decisive changing of the flags over a building in Damascus and then the whole country turns 180 degrees in terms of its government, but there have been weeks now of consistent bad news for the regime.

For a week, regime air bases and military outposts have fallen daily. Rebels now focusing on besieging the bases from where the regime projects its brutal force.

And that affects not only how people feel inside the regime's inner circle, it affects how their sponsors feel and of course it boosts morale for the rebels as well. So that real sense of momentum has been in place now for months is beginning to nip around the capital. And I don't think any observer at this point thinks that the Assad government really has a chance in terms of retaining the long-term power over the country.

As the rebels increasingly make more military gains, the question is beginning to be asked, "will Assad stay and fight to the end as he has said, or will he go?"

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We may have a scenario where there is a rump regime, where the sort of Alawite enclaves in the country along the coast have become the places that are holding out against the rebels. The rebels have said that they won't rest until Assad is completely gone. They won't negotiate with him, but he's showing no signs of leaving whatsoever.

Perhaps there are early indications that Assad does realize that he cannot hold on to complete power as he has in the past. So perhaps what we're seeing is the regime entering a new phase now where rather than fighting to hold on to everything, they're fighting to have a better negotiating position in the future.

The question really is how messy is that final stand of Assad actually going to be?

So you'll see pockets of these regime forces, particularly in the north being left to their own devices once the capital and the regime can no longer supply them, perhaps trying to retreat to the capital as well, but the real problem, of course, is going to be how does the rebel militia, how do these disparate groups, deal with these Alawi military prisoners once they've actually taken them into their custody.

PATON WALSH: It feels like things are getting back to normal a bit here, but everyone we talk to is still very cautious, they don't want to say who is responsible -- was it the government or the rebels?

ROBERTSON: For those people who feel close to the government like the Christians of Malula (ph), they are going to be sort of more trapped in enclaves than they were in 2012. They're going to be afraid of what's coming around the corner, they really feel that the barbarians, the Free Syrian Army in their eyes, are at the gates and their lives are in danger.

PATON WALSH: There will be a period of definitely chaos, warlordism perhaps, and a sort of a vacuum whilst the armed groups who won the rebellion I think struggle to some degree of control over territory. I don't really agree with the more dramatic visions of a nightmare future in Syria that's something between Mad Max and the Taliban. I think it's going to be a much more watered down version of that. I think there's an optimism perhaps amongst many Syrians that they are educated, moderate in terms of their Islamic values they have. And remember also, this wasn't really a rebellion started over Islamic principles, it's not Iran or Afghanistan, this was about trying to reject what they saw as a corrupt and repressive regime.

ROBERTSON: These men capturing another base too close to its center for regime comfort. After months of stalemate, the narrative of this war finally changing.

PATON WALSH: Syrians are already very frustrated at the lack of attention their plight is getting while this war is raging on and hundreds of people are dying every day. It's classic in these situations for once the major battle is finished, world attention to radically drift elsewhere onto the next crisis, but that will be the moment when Syria needs help at its most. It will be the moment where the Syrians finally expect the west to actually step in now the complicated issue of who is arming who and who is fighting who has been put aside. And it's also classically if you look at how the west has handled so many of these conflict where they singularly failed to step in and don't actually manage to provide the resources required.

ROBERTSON: In (inaudible) neither regime nor rebels could land a knockout punch. The cycle of rebellion and reprisal far from over. For now, they rebuild.

The economy in Syria is completely destroyed. And it's going to take years to rebuild. So any notion that there can be a quick turnaround in 2013 of the situation in Syria is fiction.

What we're going to see in 2013 are large numbers of displaced people, millions internally inside the country, thousands, tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of people without shelter. Their homes have been destroyed. Large areas of Damascus, Homs, Hamaa, Aleppo have been destroyed, people without homes. And they're going to be desperate for food.

PATON WALSH: I think once the majority of the violence ends, once the nuts and bolts of the civil war are behind them, then food, utilities will come back reasonably quickly, because of the nature of where Syria is and who it's bordered by. The real question, though, is how do you rebuild a country which so many districts of so many of its cities have already been flattened in many ways. I mean, only two or three months ago Aleppo was in pieces really struggling to keep anything going.

ROBERTSON: The distrust is in endemic region wide, the distrust of the United States and Europe is deep rooted in the culture in Syria already from 40 years of Assad rule, from watching what's happened in other Arab countries, from hearing what radical Islamists say about what the west is trying to do to Islam, all these things have been fomenting in the background and now you have a scenario where the west hasn't come to the aid of the Syrians. And so people -- people are deeply angry. So I don't think we're going to find friends quickly in Syria. We're certainly not going to win trust there quickly. And that's going to make whatever we want to see, the international community wants to see happen in Syria, that's going to make it much, much harder to achieve.

PATON WALSH: How will the world respond or help or engage with the new Syria. I think in many ways the process of that is underway with the U.S. trying to influence their government in exile. Many opposition figures gathering in Doha or Turkey to try and work out how that government would look like. But the problem is that may not relate to the daily struggles people are facing on the ground inside Syria or after what would be a two year long war. And bridging that gulf between the men in suits in five star hotels who have been talking about the millions of aid they'd like to receive and people on the ground who may be starving, or missing the roof of their house from shelling, is going to be the enormous challenge.

ROBERTSON: You have this whole opposition that hasn't even engaged yet with the opposition outside of the country and the opposition that's fighting there. So to see how they're going to get together and govern together is very difficult. And the indication is, at the moment, that any sort of sense of -- that these parties, these opposition groups, are coming and want to coalesce around sort of democracy, that's not -- those are not the indications we have at the moment. They're talking about we will -- we won't stop until we get rid of Assad. These are not people who are showing a great ability to compromise so far.

PATON WALSH: Once its over, is the world attention going to drift to something else? Are they going to leave the Syrian people at a time they need assistance most? And is that going to be the window in which more radical elements gain some sort of traction inside the country, or is it a time when Syria will simply be left to deal with its own problem and slowly dissolve or break up as a nation?


LU STOUT: Some powerful insight there from CNN's Nick Paton Walsh and Nic Robertson.

Now still to come here on News Stream, an interesting question, "could a robot do your job better than you? And should you be worried?" Up next, we explore a future some say is inevitable and fully automated.


LU STOUT: Welcome back.

OK, so will a robot take your job? It's a question being raised in a popular Wire magazine article out this week. In "Better Than Human," Kevin Kelly writes that by the end of this century 70 percent of today's occupations will be replaced by automation. And to put that into perspective, more than 1.1 million industrial robots are working across the world, that's nearly one robot for every 6,000 people. In his article, Kelly insists that there's no reason to worry as a raft of new jobs will be created for us humans.

Let's check in with Nick Thompson, our regular contributor of editor at, on this story. And Nick, it's a good one. I mean, we know that robots have already taken over many factory jobs, millions of them, but will they take over white collar jobs like doctor, lawyer, or hitting it really close to home for you and me, journalists?

NICK THOMPSON, NEWYORKER.COM: Well, they are actually, all three of those professions. It's funny you should mention those three. So doctors, there is robot surgery. There's different kinds of surgery that robots are performing.

So lawyers, there's been a real transformation. And that is a lot of document discovery where, you know, teams of paralegals used to go through thousands of pages of documents, that's now done by smart machines, you know, not what we think as a robot, but by computers and robots.

And then, journalists, there is a company called Narratively, where it will take data and write stories about it. So a little league baseball game, all the data will come in, and it'll write a little story for you. And that's just the beginning of what they are able to do. Eventually they hope to be able to transform data into narratives.

So, yes, it's happening in all of these professions. Different ones at different paces obviously.

LU STOUT: It's incredible, white collar robot replacement is already happening.

Now, back to this Wired article, Kevin Kelly, he takes a view that we should be happy about it. We should welcome our new robot overlords, because they're going to create new jobs. Do you buy that?

THOMPSON: No. I mean, yes -- absolutely they are going to create new jobs. There will be jobs created because of robots that didn't exist today. You know, obviously we'll have to manage the robots. They will create new fields where we will be able to do things, right. We made a transition from horses to cars 120 years ago and it put a lot of, you know, horse drivers out of work, but it created a whole lot of new jobs and professions from truck drivers to taxi drivers to all the sorts of things that came about because of transportation.

Similar things will happen as robots change professions, but -- I mean, the Kelly article was kind of ridiculous, there's going to be -- or the optimism I think is over wrought. There is a lot to worry about, there are a lot of the -- a lot of professions that are turned upside down and there will be a lot of societal transformation.

LU STOUT: Jobs will be created, but a lot of jobs will be lost. Tell us more about the economic impact of the so-called work bots? I mean, what impact is it going to have on the job market, on productivity, on a nation's economic standing?

THOMPSON: I mean, those are huge questions. We had a writer, Gary Marcus, on who addressed some of these in the Kevin Kelly piece. And he made some very good points. One of which is that we have had this automation. And we have had this transition to robots going on for awhile. You can't really pull out exactly what it's done or what it hasn't done, but during the period while this has been going on, we have had rising income inequality and we have had job market stagnation where, you know, in the western developed world there has not been great growth in employment.

Now, why is that? Lots of reasons, but you can also see how robots, right, the people who have robots first, who are able to take advantage of this, will gain a lot. The people who aren't able to take advantage of robots and bring robots into their companies, or you know further down the road have personal work bots, are going to be at a real competitive disadvantage.

So you can see it contributing to rising inequality. And then you can also see lots of people being put of work. So, we had this transition from horses to cars. We're now going to make a transition in the next, I don't know, say 20 years, to some of our cars being driven by robots. So that's going to affect taxi drivers, it's going to affect truck drivers, people will be out of work and then society will have to figure out how to deal with the transition.

So it's exciting. It's a big change coming. It's a big change we're in the midst of, but it's also -- it's also frightening.

LU STOUT: A big change is coming. You and I are kind of -- especially you -- future thinking parents, so what should our kids do? I mean, what do you think are going to be the jobs of the future that only a human can do?

THOMPSON: Well, the first thing is to be comfortable with technology. Technology is going to become a bigger part of our lives and understanding how to deal with it, how to work it, that's going to be important. But the other thing I think that is important is that what robots aren't good and what computers aren't good at is actual creativity, coming up with ideas. They're very good at data sets. They're very good at analysis. They're very good at fast processing, but when it comes to writing music -- or think about the book industry, right, robots will be able to stack the shelves. They will be able to -- maybe they'll be able to copy edit -- but they won't be able to come up with the ideas for the books. They won't be able to write the books themselves, at least for a very long time.

So the more that one can foster creativity in children, the more educational systems can be set that way, the better.

LU STOUT: I'm imagining a generation of parents listening to this and encouraging their children to become artists. Great stuff.

Nick Thompson of Thank you so much. We'll talk again soon.

You're watching News Stream. And still ahead, raising the Red Devils. Alex Ferguson's team, they strike back in Wigan with a 4-0 victory. Sports after the break.


LU STOUT: Welcome back.

Now they have been in record breaking form this NBA season, but 2013 was not a happy new year for the L.A. Clippers. Let's join Alex Thomas to get more on that and the other top sports stories -- Alex.

ALEX THOMAS, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Kristie, after 36 days and 17 games, the longest winning streak in this season's NBA has been broken after the Los Angeles Clippers were soundly beaten in Denver. The run of victories for Blake Griffin and Co have been the best in the franchise's history, but the Clippers were outdone by the Nuggets. Danilo Gallinardi starring for the Denver team with a game high 17 points as the home side took a five point lead at half-time.

L.A.'s big names tried to get them back in contention. Chris Paul with 10 points on the night. But the Nuggets increased their lead in the third. JaVale McGee contributing with an alley-oop dunk. And he added three more to his 11 point haul with a buzzer-beating shot. The Clippers just unable to close the gap in the final quarter.

Take a look at Andre Iguodala spinning past Paul for a huge slam as the Nuggets close out a 92-78 win that ends that Clippers winning streak.

In football, Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson agrees with his opposite number at Manchester City that Robin Van Persie has been a big difference between the sides. The Dutch striker proving his worth again as United maintain their lead in England's title race. Van Persie is top of the Premier League's goal scoring charts after claiming two of United's goals in a 4-0 win away to Wigan on News Year's Day.

Mexican International Javier Hernandez also grabbed a brace. But it was his Dutch teammate who stole the headlines, not for the first time, since his summer transfer from Arsenal.

Although City won as well, a late injury to Sergio Aguero, one of the goal scorers, spoiled their mood. They're still seven points adrift of their Manchester rivals at the top of the table. Chelsea, could regain third spot as long as they avoid defeat against QPR later.

And you can see more in world sport in just over three hour's time, Kristie. Back to you in Hong Kong.

LU STOUT: All right. Alex Thomas there, thank you, and take care.

Now, it is safe to say that things are looking pretty rosy for this man. Muhammad Nazir is an internet sensation thanks to his song One Pound Fish. And he received this welcome when he returned to Pakistan.

If you're not familiar with the story, Nazir spent the last eight months selling fish in East London. And his tune to lure in customers hooked him a record deal. One is with Warner Music Group. It's a sister company of CNN.

This video has been watched on YouTube more than 11 million times. But we should point out that YouTube has been blocked in Pakistan since mid-September.

Now you're looking at Google's transparency report here which clearly shows a steep drop in traffic. Now the government blocked YouTube after an offensive anti-Islamic film was posted on the site. Now on Friday, Pakistan's interior minister tweeted that access would be restored, but it was only available for a few hours on Saturday.

And this is the message our producer in Islamabad received earlier. It seems that the software to block blasphemous material did not work, so the government completely cut off the site once again.

And that is News Stream. World Business Today is next.