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CNN NEWSROOM

"Anonymous" Hacks DOJ Site; Gun Control March Today in D.C.; Winter Weather Wreaks Havoc; Lawyer: Armstrong Says No To USADA; Hillary Clinton's Next Move; Size Matters; Lance Armstrong Sued; 30 People Killed In Egypt Protests

Aired January 26, 2013 - 12:00   ET

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


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it's 12:00 p.m. in the East. It's 9:00 a.m. on the West Coast. I'm Miguel Marquez in for Fredricka Whitfield. If you're just tuning in, thank you for joining us. These are the top stories we're following right now in the "CNN NEWSROOM."

The secretive group "Anonymous" has fired a very public and embarrassing shot across the bow of the Justice Department. The group hacked into one of DOJ's sites belonging to the U.S. Sentencing Commission. There it posted a threat to release sensitive materials about the justice department if prosecutors don't stop going after hackers.

CNN's Nick Valencia is covering this for us in the NEWSROOM. Nick, this is a poke in the eye to the Justice Department. What does the FBI have to say about it?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Miguel. This is a poke in the eye of the Justice Department and a slap in the face really to the U.S. government. The hacker group "Anonymous" chose this U.S. federal sentencing website. They said it was a symbolic move by them.

They believe that the U.S. Department of Justice is in clear violation of the eighth amendment, cruel and unusual punishment they're calling it. Our Washington bureau reached out to the FBI earlier today, Miguel, and our Carol Krati obtained this statement from the FBI's Richard McFilley. He is the assistant director of Criminal Cyber Response and Services Branch.

He had to tell us this. He said, "We are aware as soon as it happened and we are handling it as a criminal investigation. We are always concerned when someone illegally accesses another person or government agency's network." The FBI saying they're well aware of this incident which happened a little after midnight. We've been following it all morning -- Miguel.

MARQUEZ: Yes. What does "Anonymous" hope to gain from this? It sounds like they're going only bring war down upon themselves and the government.

VALENCIA: Yes. We've tried to reach out to other hacker groups as well other hackers to sort of get their take, but in the statement, I was poring over the statement earlier this morning, they bring up Aaron Schwartz. If you remember him, 26 years old, a couple weeks ago he was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment after suicide.

They're saying that high-profile hackers like Aaron Schwartz are unfairly targeted with draconian charges and overzealous charges by the U.S. Department of Justice, essentially, Miguel, they're looking for a reformation in the legal proceedings and the charges that come forward against high-profile hackers.

They go on to say in this statement that this is not anything up for negotiation. This is an ultimatum. They want the reform now or they said that they'll continue on with this "Operation Last Resort they're calling it.

They said they have virtual warheads at the ready and syndicates of "Anonymous" around the world ready to launch these virtual warheads against other government web sites.

MARQUEZ: The government does so much to keep and spends so much to keep this from happening. Has the commission of recovery controlled its web site at the moment?

VALENCIA: Yes, Miguel, that's a good question. It's gone up and down all day. Just a short time ago I was on the ussc.gov web site and it seemed to be back to normal except on the lower right-hand corner it had a virus-looking chat message board that didn't seem to be there before the this hacking attempt happened earlier this morning. So it looks like the web site is back up and running but I don't know if it's fully functional -- Miguel.

MARQUEZ: Nick Valencia, thank you very much.

Now to Washington where a rally is under way on the National Mall in support of gun control, organizers were motivated to speak out after the Newtown massacre. CNN's Emily Schmidt is there -- Emily.

EMILY SCHMIDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miguel, we have moved about a mile down Pennsylvania Avenue and Constitution Avenue since we last talked with you. Now we are near the Washington Monument where people have marched to talk about gun control.

They marched in what was a silent march. No chants, just holding the names of people who have died as victims of gun violence. Now that they are here at the Washington Monument they're just wrapping up a prayer.

They just prayed to the president of the United States and to members of Congress, and we see though in this debate there is so much emotion sparked by Newtown not just for gun-control advocates but gun-rights advocates demonstrating across the street. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LORI BENNETT, GUN CONTROL ADVOCATE: Older children are aware of what's going on. I said I'm going down there for you, for us, and to make a difference without sounding corny, but it's just piggybacking on the sentiment of the politicians that are in favor of all this change, that people as a country, like, we can't keep waiting for all the politicians to make the move. We need to be heard. We do.

SCHMIDT: Did Newtown change the way you think at all?

DICK HELLER, GUN RIGHTS ADVOCATE: Yes. I could not figure out why government employees have armed guards, banks have armed guards to protect the money, but the government for some reason thought we don't need armed guards to protect our children.

Maybe they're less worthy. I don't know. I don't know what their thinking was. All I can't understand is why didn't they protect their children like the government protects itself?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHMIDT: Taking the stage right now, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. He is talking about why gun control is important to him. He is among the people who walked the many blocks from near the capitol to here to be a part of this today. This was a movement started on Facebook and it has turned into this behind me -- Miguel.

MARQUEZ: Emily, what's the energy like? I don't sense there's a lot of energy that that crowd there, but how big is it? What's the energy like? Are they really sort of, you know, getting after this?

SCHMIDT: I think one of the things that people here talk about is the fact that this started with social media. This was the brainchild of two people who said right in the hours after Newtown we've got to do something. What can we do?

They decided to organize this march. So it's only been a few weeks in the making. So a lot of p people who are marching feel that this many people have gathered from across the country as a result of social media. They feel that is good.

However, they're very realistic knowing that the legislation that they are pushing for and hoping that Congress will pass, things like reinstating the assault weapons ban, that that faces an uphill battle and they know this is at the very least only a beginning start -- Miguel.

MARQUEZ: Emily Schmidt, thank you very much.

A bitter arctic storm is unleashing misery across much of the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and northeast. Temperatures are so low, the National Weather Service is warning of bitter conditions late into the weekend.

One of the biggest dangers is ice on the roads. Late last night, ice is believed to have triggered a ten-car pileup south of Louisville, Kentucky, forcing the closure of Interstate 65.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We spent almost three hours in traffic and didn't go nowhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All we can do, just try to be safe and not wreck. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUEZ: This is what it looked like near Norfolk, Virginia. Ice and snow caused hundreds of wrecks in the mid-Atlantic yesterday and forced 100 flight cancellations in Charlotte, North Carolina, alone.

How long is this arctic weather going to stick around and is another big storm brewing in the Midwest? Let's go to meteorologist Alexandra Steele, who is dressed in winter white. Alexandra, how are you?

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi. Good afternoon to you, Miguel. You know, we are going to see another storm in the Midwest, but unlike a typical January, February snow in Chicago, it won't be that of snow. It's going to be a freezing rain event.

So an ice storm is brewing similar to what we saw in Kentucky and Tennessee yesterday. Let me show you why. Here's the forecast radar. So this is today. A piece of this energy that we're seeing developing tonight in the Colorado Rockies will move out, and then what's going to happen is here's Chicago.

We do have in Chicago a winter storm watch posted for tomorrow morning through Monday morning. And why it's freezing rain and not snow is they are right at the surface is below freezing but higher up in the atmosphere it's liquid. It's coming down as liquid and freezing when it gets to that colder air.

So for Sunday night, and again that watch is for tomorrow morning through Monday morning so Sunday into Sunday night is when that freezing rain is, and Monday we'll watch that freezing rain and snow move east in toward upstate New York and the northeast.

On the other note in terms of the temperatures, we'll see a warm-up on the way finally. A ridge of high pressure is moving in kind of moving away that arctic air and misplacing it, temperatures, Miguel, 20 degrees warmer than where they've been.

So in the southeast, where we've had the ice and snow we'll be flirting with 60s and 70s Tuesday and Wednesday.

MARQUEZ: Thank you, Alexandra. It sounds good.

Disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong is ready to cooperate with the international agency digging into doping, but not the U.S. Anti-Doping body. The USADA has given Armstrong until February 6th to talk to them in an interview to be broadcast on Sunday on CBS' "60 Minutes." USADA Chief Travis Tigert blasted claims by Armstrong that he did not cheat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRAVIS TYGART, CEO, UNITED STATES ANTI-DOPING AGENCY: It is amazing. I mean, this guy, you could go to almost any kindergarten in this country or frankly around the world and find kids playing tag or four- square and ask them what cheating is. And every one of them will tell you it's breaking the rules of the game. No real athlete has to look up the definition of cheating and it's offensive to clean athletes who are out there working hard to play by the rules.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUEZ: Armstrong's lawyer says conflicting schedule conflicts is preventing his client from talking to the USADA before that February 6th deadline. We'll have more on the story from our legal guys later in this hour.

She's been the first lady, a U.S. senator, and now she's taking her bow as secretary of state. Have you heard what Hillary Clinton wants to do next?

Customers say Subway is coming up short with their foot-long claim. Do they have a case for damages? Our lawyers are going to give it a chew.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARQUEZ: Hillary Clinton will soon relinquish her post as secretary of state after the acrimony of the 2008 primaries, many people didn't think she would accept the post or stay this long.

But any tensions between Clinton and President Obama seem to be ancient history at this point as the two sat down for a side-by-side interview with CBS' "60 Minutes." Obama had nothing but high praise for Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why did you want to do this together, a joint interview?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Well, the main thing is I just wanted to have a chance to publicly say thank you, because I think Hillary will go down as one of the finest secretaries of state we've had.

It has been a great collaboration over the last four years. I'm going to miss her. Wish she was sticking around, but she has logged in so many miles I can't begrudge her to take it easy for a little bit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUEZ: Hillary Clinton wraps up her tour of duty as secretary of state next week. She's been praised and admired around the world for most of her tenure. She's leaving under some controversial circumstances after questions about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Aaron David Miller has advised several secretaries of state and is a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center. He joins me from Washington. Well, the killing of Ambassador Stephens and the attack on the consulate be the lasting memory of Hillary Clinton's tenure?

AARON DAVID MILLER, DISTINGUISHED SCHOLAR, WOODROW WILSON CENTER: No, I don't think so. It's an emotional trauma for a secretary of state whose job and performance, frankly, has been pretty flawless over the course of the last four years.

But, look, Chris Stephens and the others were extraordinary Americans and had to preside over the destruction of a consulate and the death of the first city ambassador since 1988 is traumatic. And I think it showed up this previous week in some of her responses to the questions in the hearings.

MARQUEZ: Yes. And on that, I mean, the fact that she said, you know, it doesn't matter whether it was just some guys out to kill Americans or if it was al Qaeda at work or there was a protest. Will that come back to haunt her as things get more political if she does run for office?

MILLER: It was a strong emotional response, which is completely understandable, particularly in a very partisan Washington. But, look, the reality is it does matter, it does matter whether or not the consulate was attacked in response to a spontaneous protest or a preconceived, well-planned terrorist attack, because then it becomes an intelligence and policy accountability.

So, yes, I suppose if she runs or when she runs presumably it will appear, I'm sure, in more than one of the campaign ads of her challengers. But it's not going to keep her out of the White House should she seek the presidency.

MARQUEZ: Yes. That intelligence piece of Benghazi is huge. You hear a lot of talk about the Hillary doctrine and that she really sort of laid out a very clear American foreign policy. But what are the high points? What can she point to say I did that during tenure as secretary of state?

MILLER: Well, the reality is she was trapped in a way, caught between an a cruel and unforgiving world which is not terribly hospitable to big successes, and she didn't have any. On the other hand, she was caught with a foreign policy president, Barack Obama, who's the most withholding and controlling since Richard Nixon.

He wasn't going to delegate many of the big-ticket items. I think she made it out of necessity. She identified her own issues. I call them planetary humanism -- women's issues, gender issues, social networking, internet freedoms, and press freedoms.

They're all very important, 21st Century issues, but they're not the kind of issues, Miguel, that get you into the secretary of state hall of fame, a very fine secretary of state nonetheless.

MARQUEZ: Yes. And the low point is the Benghazi, Libya, situation that will follow her, yes?

MILLER: Absolutely. MARQUEZ: Yes. Polls show she is one of the most admired women if not the most admired woman in the world. Is she the frontrunner for the White House in 2016 if she wants it?

MILLER: You know, I mean, I can't figure out what I'm doing next Tuesday. Four years is a long time from now, but the reality is, yes, because she is a star. She has the intuition, the political experience, she has Bill Clinton. She has 18 million voters from the post primary period that will vote for her again.

And one more thing, she has and it's not pretty, face it, in a leadership vacuum of galactic proportions. We just don't have many political figures who have the kind of star quality experience and smarts as she does. So I suspect, yes, if she wants it, I think she can have it.

MARQUEZ: All right, the wise words of Aaron David Miller. Thank you very much. Enjoy cold Washington.

MILLER: Thank you.

MARQUEZ: The Lance Armstrong story is headed to court. Find out who's suing the disgraced cycling star now.

And President Obama has word for the nation's LGBT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARQUEZ: When a company builds a big ad campaign around its foot-long sandwiches, how much are the customers damaged if their sub comes up short? Let's bring in our legal guys, Avery Friedman, a civil rights attorney and law professor is in Cleveland.

And Richard Herman, a New York criminal defense attorney and law professor joins us from Miami this week. Let's start with the class action lawsuits being filed against the Subway restaurant chain.

This is an I-Report photo of one of the many that turned up around the world in the internet showing Subway sandwiches that don't measure up to the company's foot-long claim.

Subway won't comment on pending legal action but did release this statement -- "for 47 years customer satisfaction has been our top priority. We regret any instance where we did not full fully deliver on our promise to customers." Richard, how big a deal is this?

RICHARD HERMAN, NEW YORK CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Miguel, does size really matter? Does it really matter? Does that half an inch or an inch really matter?

MARQUEZ: Well, apparently it matters to somebody, attorneys out there.

HERMAN: To somebody, that's right. It seems to matter. That foot- long, all those commercials with the song, well, they're not a foot long. They're 11 inches long or 11 1/2 inches long. It's not like McDonald's who says, look, I got a quarter pounder. It's precooked at a quarter pound. When you get it, it's less.

Here, they don't say that, Subway so this is a fraudulent misrepresentation by Subway. Now, the question is what are the damages? Are there any damages here? Are people really damaged, getting short changed with half an inch or an inch?

The attorneys for the plaintiffs say, yes, we paid for a foot long and didn't get it. So the courts, jurors will have to determine this. In the end, I don't think size is going to matter.

MARQUEZ: Avery, is this fraudulent?

AVERY FRIEDMAN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Well, that's exactly the issue. I see it as are we being hyperliteral, if so, it's not really a frivolous caser or are consumers being cheated, Miguel? That's the question the case presents.

You've got $2.8 billion a year Subway makes, 25 percent of it comes from footlongs, which means you've got about $142 million on the line divided by 6 million people eating it. So that's really the question.

You know what, if you lost your ruler and you're putting up wallpaper and you reach for the Subway to measure, you're going to have a problem here. But I wonder if it's merely hype, if it's merely, you know, ultra-hyper reading of 12 inches or is it mere description.

That's what a federal district judge and some of the state court judges will have to decide. And so that's the question, is it fraud or is it merely, you know, hyper reality of this. And I really think this is the kind of matter that's ultimately going to go away.

MARQUEZ: Well, clearly the company has heard something because --

FRIEDMAN: By the way, more PR the legal. More PR --

MARQUEZ: Well, clearly they've heard it the PR because I've brought our yardstick and a 12-inch Subway sandwich and guess what, it is exactly --

HERMAN: Let's see it.

MARQUEZ: Exactly on the nose 12 inches, amazing.

FRIEDMAN: Look at that, all right.

HERMAN: Fixed the problem already.

FRIEDMAN: Well, that's the end of the lawsuit, Miguel. I guess that wraps it up.

MARQUEZ: But is there anything that customers will get from this anything?

HERMAN: You know, I don't think so, Miguel. Nothing and Avery is right. And Subway has issued a statement saying, look, this is an ad campaign. It's merely descriptive in nature. It's not meant for you to take a ruler out and measure 12 inches, but let's be real and --

FRIEDMAN: Who runs around with a ruler anyhow?

HERMAN: Miguel has one.

MARQUEZ: Apparently I do.

FRIEDMAN: I'm not going to answer that question.

MARQUEZ: Dear. All right, let's change topics. In a case similar to Subway, some book buyers say they didn't get what they paid for when they bought Lance Armstrong's book "It's Not About the Bike."

Of course, we reported earlier about Armstrong's latest battle with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. In the case of the book, Rob Stutzman said he bought it and recommended it to others now wants his money back.

Stutzman and others who have joined a class action lawsuit say they were inspired by Armstrong's book, but now say it's a fraud because he lied about using banned subs during his cycling career.

Avery, this feels like just the beginning of many lawsuits to come against Armstrong he may face. How good of a case do the book customers have?

FRIEDMAN: I'm horrified by the case, Miguel. I think this has profound first amendment implications. You buy a book, you're entertained by it and find out later that maybe some of the information -- there's no duty on the part of a publisher to ensure the veracity of what someone's writing about.

Certainly, they put it as nonfiction, but I think it has a profound chilling effect, and I think the case is going nowhere, I think it's appalling when it comes to freedom of speech, freedom of press, and the first amendment, terrible, terrible case as far as I'm concerned.

MARQUEZ: Richard, this seems like just the beginning for Mr. Armstrong. What else might he be facing given his interview and all these different agencies that want to talk to him?

HERMAN: You tell me, Miguel. I'll give you a quick definition of fraud -- material misrepresentations with the intent to deceive, reasonably relied upon, creating damages. That's fraud. That's what Lance Armstrong has done predominantly all his life.

So, yes, he's going to be sued by people for his books. He's going to be sued by donors for his charities. He's going to be sued by anybody and everybody who touched this narcissistic punk. That's what's going to happen here with Lance Armstrong.

And, you know, many times I kind of disagree with Jeff Toobin on issues, but he mentioned and made a comment why did he do it, and I don't know why he did this. I don't know why he decided to step up. I don't know why he -- everybody seems to go to Oprah when they want to come clean on something. FRIEDMAN: You're right.

HERMAN: Why did he do it? What's the benefit? He just opened Pandora's Box. He may be prosecuted for perjury because he's signed sworn affidavits. The worldwide anti-doping agency wants him. Everybody wants a piece of him right now. And, you know, he deserves it so good riddance.

MARQUEZ: Gentlemen, thank you very much. It's a very big can with a whole heck of a lot of worms. We'll be back to talk to you guys in about 20 minutes to find out if your pet dies, how much might it be worth?

And the next "Star Wars" film will have a new director. We'll tell you who it is in a moment and the president made history this inauguration when he talked about gay rights. Now a leader in the community will tell us how she felt when she heard those words.

If you have to go out today, just a reminder, you can continue watching CNN from your mobile phone and also live from your laptop. Just go to cnn.com/tv.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARQUEZ: Welcome back. I'm Miguel Marquez in for Fredricka Whitfield. If you're just tuning in, thank you for joining us. These are the top stories we are following right now in the CNN NEWSROOM.

A march in Washington to support tougher gun-control measures, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray was among those motivated by the Newtown massacre to speak out. Many protesters say they want Congress to reinstate a ban on assault weapons and require background checks on gun buyers. A counterdemonstration by gun rights advocates is also taking place nearby.

In Egypt, 30 people are dead after protesters broke out -- protests broke out in the city of Port Saed. The demonstrations began after 21 people were sentenced to death for their role in a deadly riot at a football game last year. The death sentences will be reviewed by Egypt's highest religious authority by March 9th.

Now looking at some stories trending on the internet today, it's official. J.J. Abrams will direct the next "Star Wars" film. It will be the first "Star Wars" movie since Disney agreed to acquire Lucas film. Abrams is no stranger to blockbuster franchises. He directed the 2009 "Star Trek" movie and produced "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol."

Sarah Palin and Fox News have parted ways. The former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential candidate has been a paid contributor with the network, but turned down a recent offer to renew her contract.

And President Barack Obama addressed the 25th National Conference on LGBT equality via video message. He thanked the community for, quote, "helping to lead the way to a future where everyone is treated with dignity and respect no matter who they love or where they came from." He is the first president so send a video message to the conference.

President Obama made history in his inauguration speech when he talked about gay rights and the history of civil rights in America.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths, that all of us are created equal, is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our fore bearers through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUEZ: This week, Atlanta is hosting the Creating Change Conference. It brings together 3,000 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocates from across the country.

Stacey Long is director of Public Policy at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. You heard what the president had to say in his address. How did you react to it?

STACEY LONG, DIRECTOR, PUBLIC POLICY, NATIONAL GAY AND LESBIAN TASK FORCE: Absolutely. It was just heart warming, incredibly heart warming, and it was a poignant moment in history.

This was a president who has been by all accounts the most pro LGBT supportive president in the history of our country. And so to have him stand on that international stage and talk about the situation with our community in terms of our movement for equality and justice and situated squarely alongside Seneca Falls and Selma, was just remarkable, incredible.

MARQUEZ: Same-sex marriage now across the country still being debated in statehouses, DOMA federally still in effect. Where is it and where does it go from here?

LONG: Right. We have worked extensively on marriage equality issues. Our organization, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has been responsible for creating leadership in activists across the country.

So we were involved in the developments in Maine, Minnesota, Washington State, and Maryland, and it's thrilling. One of the most incredible aspects of this change is that it's an opportunity for the country, for everyday Americans to have conversations about our lives.

And I believe that marriage is a starting point. It's incredibly symbolic. It's an opportunity for us to talk about our everyday lives, our everyday struggles, our everyday challenges.

And we as a task force intend to expand that dialogue to include not only marriage but also health care issues, public safety, employment protections, a whole range of issues, and we're just thrilled that this momentum, this incredible momentum, is under way.

MARQUEZ: We've seen this before. Given the way these things play out, given the credence the president gave it in his inaugural, all these things are happening at statehouses, do you expect a backlash? Is that going to be there?

LONG: You know, that is always a risk in this work as we are well aware. What we're doing is working smarter. We are actually paying close attention to what messages really resonate with the American public. And we're also using personal stories to be able to really paint a picture for the average person to understand exactly what's at stake.

MARQUEZ: One of the difficult things for gay rights movements and the African community here is the African community has not wanted to embrace the gay community as much. Do you see differences or changes in that?

LONG: Absolutely. And I would say that there have been significant strides in that direction helped tremendously by the president's endorsement of marriage equality, clearly to have our first African- American president endorse marriage equality and actually evolve before our very eyes in terms of where his position was originally and where it is today.

It created a conversation opener for people in their churches, in their synagogues, in their mosques across the country. People of faith are now having to talk about this issue.

MARQUEZ: Thank you very much.

LONG: Thank you.

MARQUEZ: Take care.

New home sales are up. We'll tell you that what that means for the housing market. And treasured memories from the Kennedy White House years -- for years are heading for auction. We'll take a look at what's going up on the block.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARQUEZ: If you've dreamed of owning a piece of Camelot, now's your chance. Hundreds of artifacts that encompassed the history of John F. Kennedy and his family will be auctioned off.

The treasure trove of items is from the estate of a long time friend and special assistant to President Kennedy. For a better look at the items, go to mcinnisauctions.com. The auction is set for February 17th.

New homes are just a small sliver of the overall housing market, but recent buyer interest may indicate a positive trend desspite a dip in December, last year was the best year for new home sales since 2009. Christine Romans shows us what the housing recovery looks like.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Last month, David and Grace Chu got married. Now they're about to close on their dream home, a brand-new four-bedroom, five-bath center hall colonial.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We really were looking for a new home.

ROMANS: This house was on the market for just two weeks before the seller accepted their offer. That's a good sign. More than 30 percent of all homes sold in December were on the market for less than a month. The average time on the market for all homes, 73 days.

SUZANNE SUMMERS, SALES ASSOCIATE, COLDWELL BANKER: I try to tell my clients if they really love the home, you know, be ready, be ready for bidding war. Don't be afraid of it.

ROMANS: Here are the numbers. Existing home sales are at five-year highs, up more than 12 percent from this time last year and new home sales with up 8.8 percent despite a drop last month. At the same time, rents are rising.

DAVID CHU, HOME BUYER: Our rent has literally gone up 40 percent over the past two years, so I think that has really pushed us in particular to look for a home.

ROMANS: The Chus new house moves more money through the economy than the sale of an existing home.

MICHELLE GIRARD, SENIOR ECONOMIST, RBS: Building new homes creates jobs in the construction sector. Furnishing a new home with new appliances I mean starting from scratch, obviously means that it feeds through the improvement in home sales on the new home sale side in particular feeds through more broadly to the economy.

ROMANS: It sounds like the Chus are just beginning.

GRACE CHU, HOME BUYER: The interest rates happen to be quite low so, it's really great timing.

ROMANS: Christine Romans, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: SO how do you pass the time when it's freezing out? We'll show you some of the wackier things people are doing.

Plus, are you looking for a winter escape? The locals understand your every need and the beaches are perfect. Find out where to go.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARQUEZ: Well, when the mercury dips this low, local reporters will do just about anything to answer the question, how cold is it? In Fargo, North Dakota, where zero is considered balmy, it was cold enough to freeze a banana. The fruit turned hard enough to pound a nail into wood. And of course this perennial favorite, tossing a cup of hot water into subzero air instantly turns it into frozen mist, very cool.

Ready to get away from the cold? A trip to Belize offers sandy beaches, great diving and not much hassle. Holly Firfer shows us why so many Americans are taking advantage of this tropical escape.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOLLY FIRFER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tourism is up more than 10 percent in the Central American country of Belize according to the tourism board, and for good reason.

WENDY PERRIN, CONDE NAST TRAVELER: Your dollar can stretch farther than in more developed Caribbean countries, and English is the language. So it's a relatively easy place to travel in.

FIRFER: Just a two-hour flight from Miami is Belize City, which is also the port of call for cruise ships. But you may want to get out of the city to really experience the best of Belize.

PERRIN: There is a crime problem in Belize City, so you really don't want to stay there any longer than you need to.

FIRFER: Belize is about the size of Massachusetts. You can take in rain forests, relax on Caribbean beach, and dive the longest barrier reef in the western hemisphere.

PERRIN: There are Marine reserves you don't want to miss. There's Shark Ray Alley, where you can go snorkelling or diving with safe nurse sharks and huge stingrays.

FIRFER: And Mayan mystery is everywhere.

PERRIN: The Mayan ruins aren't tourist traps. You can climb all over them with a surprising amount of freedom. You can pretend you're Indiana Jones discovering an ancient Mayan city for yourself.

FIRFER: Holly Firfer, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUEZ: Should gunmakers be held to the same standard as drugmakers when it comes to lawsuits? That's just one of the cases our attorneys will debate here in the NEWSROOM.

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MARQUEZ: Our legal guys are back, Avery Friedman in Cleveland and Richard Herman in Miami. We've heard about the proposed ban on assault weapons announced this week. Another bill has been introduced that could really hurt gun manufacturers in the pocketbook.

California Democrat Adam Schiff has introduced legislation in Congress that would roll back legal immunity for gunmakers. A 2005 law gave gunmareks, gun dealers and trade groups' immunity from most product liability lawsuits.

Congressman Schiff told NPR that, quote, "Good gun companies don't need special protection from the law. Bad companies don't deserve it." The NRA has said the immunity provided by the 2005 law is vitally important and expected to strongly oppose Schiff's bill. Avery, how unique is the present immunity that gun industry enjoys?

FRIEDMAN: It's unbelievable. I think most Americans would be shocked, Miguel, to know that in 2005 Congress passed a law that said when it came to liability, when it came to negligence, when it came to products liability, the gun industry is absolutely immune.

Not only can you not bring a suit, you're not even allowed to do discovery. Actually, this proposal is really an explosive way of addressing the issue of gun violence. So the question really becomes not legal but rather political.

Is there any possibility that the House of Representatives is going to go along with Representative Schiff's proposal, and I think the proposal gets blown up like a tick on Dracula. I just don't think it has a chance.

MARQUEZ: Richard, if this immunity is taken away, what kind of lawsuits could gun manufacturers face?

HERMAN: Well, it's simple, Miguel. For instance, if you went to buy a handgun or even some sort of rifle in a gun store and they do a background check on you and the check comes back saying that you have some sort of violent felony past and they still sell you the gun, now that seller can be sued if that gun is used to commit a crime.

So that's going to open up a floodgate of lawsuits in the event these people who buy these guns legitimately and get past the background check fraudulently, yeah, they got to get past it.

But another instance is a straw man is used to buy guns for people, in other words, you get a friend to buy you a gun and you commit a crime with that gun, the friend and you are going to face probably prison.

FRIEDMAN: That's right.

MARQUEZ: So that's one example. What other sort of lawsuits would we be looking at for this? Sounds like everything under the sun could be sued, then.

HERMAN: Well, to begin with it's insane. I don't know. Avery --

FRIEDMAN: It's the influence of the NRA. The reason there's immunity is the NRA's influence over the Congress. That's what the battle is about whether or not the NRA can block this is the political issue, not legal one. I think they will. I don't think it will ever get out of committee unfortunately.

MARQUEZ: Richard, I take it you agree with that or think it has a snowball's chance?

HERMAN: Yes. I think the NRA lobby is extremely powerful. Look how -- they got this passed in 2005, Miguel, so very powerful. It makes no sense to me at all. Yet, look, this is how it goes, it's all politics.

MARQUEZ: So it would certainly be good for you lawyers if it passed. You guys would have never-ending work, it seems.

FRIEDMAN: Against the bad guys.

MARQUEZ: Of course, against the bad guy. Let's switch gears and talk about a dog named Avery, no, not the lawyer, Avery. Avery is a spotted mixed breed who escaped from his owners and ended up in the animal shelter. Workers there promised to hold him until his owners could pick him up.

Unfortunately, he was put to death instead. Avery's owners Jeremy and Katherine Medellin sued the shelter employee who ordered their pet killed. Texas law awards damages for the market value of a lost pet.

The question here can dog lovers be compensated for the sentimental value of their loved one. Richard, do the owners have a case?

HERMAN: The state court threw the case out. They took an appeal. Unbelievably the appellate court reinstated the case. So the question is sentimental value has been used like my grandma's ring, we lost the ring, there's a sentimental value, personal property. Now they're trying to carry that over for pets and dogs. It could go to cats and fish and everything under the sun. So I don't know.

MARQUEZ: Fish?

HERMAN: I mean, the great state of Texas, who puts to death more people than any other state in the country has a sentimental value statute and now they're going to try to bring this on for dogs. There are a lot of dog lovers out there. Someone on that appellate bench is a dog lover. I think this thing's going to stay for a while.

MARQUEZ: Avery, if the court rules for the Medellins, what other kind of cases does this open up the legal system to?

FRIEDMAN: Well, they won't. It's not going to happen.

MARQUEZ: Not going to happen, all right.

FRIEDMAN: The court of appeals indeed said that you can recover sentimental value. You know, if I love my dog and I think it's a million dollars. I'm entitled to it. The American Veterinary Medical Association, listen to, this joined in the Texas Supreme Court.

There were arguments this week, and said, look, the sentimental value thing has to be out and even the chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court said this week, you know what, costs are going to skyrocket if you use sentimental value.

Bottom line, will it go back to market value, yes? Sentimental value count? The answer is no.

MARQUEZ: I'm guessing both of you -- let me make the bad pun -- you're saying this dog won't hunt. That was really bad, sorry.

FRIEDMAN: Not bad.

HERMAN: Get rid of that ruler, Miguel.

MARQUEZ: And I take it both of you are cat people. Is that correct?

HERMAN: Not a chance.

MARQUEZ: I have a Maltese. The legal guys are here every Saturday at this time to give us their take on the most intriguing legal cases of the day.

Casey Anthony may be feeling a tiny bit vindicated this weekend. An appeals court has tossed out two of four misdemeanor convictions against her, although acquitted of murdering her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, the jury did find her guilty of four counts of lying to investigators. Anthony is now aggressively trying to get them al overturned in an effort to clear her name.

Legendary actor Burt Reynolds is in the hospital in intensive care. We'll update his condition.

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MARQUEZ: Checking top stories, the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, inspired this march in Washington today for tougher gun control. Many demonstrators, about a thousand, showed up saying they want Congress to reinstate a ban on assault weapons, limit the size of ammunition magazines, and require background checks on gun buyers. A counterdemonstration of gun rights advocates, a handful of them, is taking place nearby.

Three people are feared dead after their plane went down in Antarctica. Searchers in New Zealand tracked the wreckage and a helicopter team found a debris field earlier today. They say it appeared no one survived. The plane went missing on Wednesday.

Actor Burt Reynolds is said to be doing better after being hospitalized for the flu. A representative for the 76-year-old actor says Reynolds was dehydrated and placed in intensive care in a Florida hospital. He's expected to move to a regular room soon.

There's a new push in several states to change the way we count votes in presidential elections. The states in green are considering using electoral votes tied to individual congressional districts. Right now, they just use popular vote to decide the entire state.

Virginia is one of those states where is the Republican-led legislature pushed ahead with the electoral plan, but now Governor Bob McDonnell says he won't support it. Two other Virginia legislators who originally supported the plan are also saying they won't pass it.

We have so much ahead this afternoon, including the latest breaking headlines, an interview with "Star Trek" legend and virtual king of the internet George Takei. Jane Velez-Mitchell will take us inside the latest on the Jodie Arias murder case that captured the nation's imagination.

And Dr. Sanjay Gupta has all you need to know about a new virus that could threaten your family.

If you like to eat cheesecake at the Cheesecake Factory, Johnny Rockets or iHop or some of those chain restaurants, you may be startled by some of the pounds your favorite dishes are packing. We have the details.

I'll see you again at 2:00 p.m. But up next, are Republicans set to strike a budget deal with President Obama and the Democrats? House Majority Eric Cantor sits down with Ali Velshi on a special edition of "YOUR MONEY" and it starts right now.