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Federal Unemployment Extension Expires Tomorrow; Many Americans Still Pessimistic About Economy; Delay in Rescuing Russian Ship Trapped in Antarctic; Glitch Causes Cheap Airline Tickets; Recreational Weed Legal in Colorado on New Year's Day; Sentenced Overturned for Monsignor Lynn

Aired December 27, 2013 - 11:00   ET


PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: ... holiday for more than 1 million long- term unemployed Americans. Their jobless benefits are set to expire tomorrow.

And Rocky Mountain high, starting New Year's Day, weed for recreational use will be legal in Colorado.

Hello, everyone. Great to have you with us on this Friday. I'm Pamela Brown in today for Ashleigh Banfield. Welcome to LEGAL VIEW. Great to have you here with us.

And very soon, 1.3 Americans who've spent most of this year, if not longer, unemployed and looking for work will lose their only source of income. Their federally funded emergency unemployment benefits run out by tomorrow.

That bipartisan budget plan Congress managed to pass and President Obama signed yesterday does nothing to extend them.

My colleague, Tom Foreman, is following this story out of Washington. Hi, Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Pam. How are you doing?

BROWN: Good.

So, tell me, the president is calling on Congress to keep those benefits coming, Harry Reid promising it will be the first vote the Senate takes in the new year.

So, is that it? Problem solved?

FOREMAN: No. In a word, no. This was one of the sticking points during this latest budget negotiation, of course. Many Democrats feel that this is something that is absolutely essential.

These extensions of the emergency unemployment benefits started in 2008. Let me give you just a little sense of this.

If you become unemployed today, you will still get unemployment benefits for 26 weeks. That's what will happen in the states out there, and there are different formulas in different states, but as an average, and about $300, $350 per week in aid for that 26 weeks.

So, there's this additional period, though, in which you talk about this additional aid. The additional aid's about $350 per week, and that has been going on since 2008.

Congress has renewed it almost a dozen times, saying, basically, the economic times are so tough we have to help people out with this additional aid.

Essentially what Republicans are saying is let's go back to what was normal before. You got unemployment aid to a point and then you had to find work.

Democrats are saying it's still so hard to find a job, we need to continue extending the aid to help people out there who are struggling, because many, as you know, Pam, are still struggling very, very much.

BROWN: Absolutely.

And obviously Congress isn't coming back until next month. These benefits run out this weekend. So, regardless, people will be suffering, Tom.

FOREMAN: Oh, there's going to be a change immediately, yeah.

If you're a person out there counting on that $300, $350 a week, yeah, it's going to make a big difference to those people, yeah.

Now, there is an interesting political dynamic when they come back in January as to whether or not this gets approved again.

Democrats, of course, want it because they want to say, look, we're caring about these people out there who are suffering.

The backside of that sword for Democrats is Republicans can point out through that that this economic recovery that the White House and Democrats have bragged about a great deal has not been robust enough to really help these people who are long-term unemployed.

Flipside of that, Republicans are enjoying some support for being fiscally responsible right now. The polls show the Republicans are being more fiscally responsible.

But they also get hit quite often for being heartless in a sense, the notion that they don't care about people who are struggling.

So, it will be interesting to watch both parties struggle with this debate, saying how do we come together and produce some kind of a deal that each party might benefit from.

And, of course, all those people out there without jobs who need the benefits that they might benefit from.

Pam, we'll see what happens.

BROWN: No doubt this debate will continue when Congress comes back into session next month.

Thank you so much, Tom Foreman.

And while we're talking about the economy there with Tom, you know, by most standards, you look at the numbers, the economy is in pretty good shape here.

Let's take a look. Stocks are up almost 30 percent for the year, and we're not just talking blue chips either. This is the S&P 500. GDP surged four percent last quarter. Employers added more than 200,000 jobs in November. And U.S. auto sales are up for the fifth straight year.

And yet, despite that, our brand-new CNN poll shows not even a third of Americans describes the economy as "good." Almost seven Americans in 10 describe it as "poor," even.

And they don't have high hopes for 2014, either. Only 44 percent say they expect to have good economic conditions a year from now. A solid majority don't.

So, why this disconnect? That is the big question here, putting that question to CNN political commentators, Marc Lamont Hill in Philadelphia, and joining me here in New York, Reihan Salam. Thank you all for being here with us. We appreciate it.

First off, you know, you heard the first part of this, GDP up, home values growing, stock market up.

But then you see the numbers in those polls. Marc, why is there a big disconnect? I guess it seems people have different opinions, whether you're on Wall Street or Main Street, right?

MARC LAMONT HILL, HOST, HUFFPOST LIVE: No, that's absolutely true.

Sometimes the polls are exactly in lockstep with what's happening. For example, yesterday, we talked about a poll where the American people thought that Congress was ineffective, and guess what? They are.

But then there are moments like today where the American people think it's not growing despite the fact that NASDAQ is up 40 percent, as you said.

Housing market is up for the fifth straight year. Gas prices down. Most -- many of the indices of success are there.

And I think it's for two reasons. I think, one, the Obama administration and other people on the left haven't done a good enough job of playing offense instead of defense and really trumpeting the growth of this economy, and it, indeed, has grown.

The other thing is that there's this big elephant in the room, and that is the 1.3 million people whose unemployment benefits are going to be cut off tomorrow. We're talking about people who are still jobless. In addition to that, there are a lot of economic factors that simply aren't indicating success and the American people simply aren't optimistic the way they were 20, 30, or 40 years ago.

BROWN: Which is troubling, Marc.

I want to go turn to you, Reihan Salam, because it is troubling. You talk about the optimism and you look at the numbers from this poll.

People are cutting back on those big-ticket items, furniture, appliances, cutting back on buying clothes, even slightly on food and medicine.

What does this tell you?

REIHAN SALAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Part of what it tells us is there's more than one American economy.

There's one American economy that's tied to the well-being of home prices and that's tied to the stock market.

When you're looking at college-educated Americans, the unemployment rate is only 3.4 percent.

If you look at high school dropouts on the other side of the spectrum, the unemployment rate is over 10 percent, still, and this is several years into what should be a recovery.

And I think that there are a couple of ways of looking at these economic problems. One way of looking at them is that this is just a temporary thing that's been around for, let's say, 40 years.

Another way of looking at it is that we have deep, underlying, structural problems that have made economic life much more difficult for people with limited skills, limited education.

And those are people who really flourish when, for example, construction employment was growing, and that's a place where we really haven't seen a recovery even now, despite the fact that you see some signs of life.

So, I think that that's the way we need to think about it. There's been a bifurcation in the economy, and we need to do things to restore employment opportunities for those Americans who have been stuck not just for the last few years but for a very long time.

BROWN: And, Marc, I just want to wrap up with you quickly. How do Americans' attitudes reflected in this poll, what does that sort of foreshadow for the year ahead, because obviously that's going to affect their spending habits?

HILL: No, absolutely.

I think that, again, you're going to see people investing in some of those big -- I shouldn't use the term invest -- spending on some of those big ticket items. You worry about people who won't invest their money properly. You'll see small businesses not expand.

One of the interesting things about the poll that came out today was that Americans said -- people polled -- the Americans that were polled said that they didn't think that good economic news was coming out, that all the economic news they've heard is bad news.

So, in their mind, they're not even getting access to this great information about the economy expanding.

So I think one thing you'll see, I hope, is our politicians really trumpeting the successes and expansion of the American economy as a way of incentivizing everyday people to buy, to spend, and to invest.

BROWN: One America, two economies, it seems.

Thank you so much, Marc Lamont Hill and Reihan Salam. Thank you.

And checking some other stories that we are following at this hour. We want to start with a report just in from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It says there has been widespread influenza growth across the U.S. Alabama, Massachusetts, New York, and Texas are among the 10 states hit the hardest.

The CDC also says that H1N1 is the most dominant strain right now, but taking the current vaccine will protect you against it.

And a setback in an attempt to rescue 74 people on board a Russian ship trapped in the Antarctic ice ever since Christmas Eve.

The captain of a Chinese ice breaker says his ship is about seven miles from the stranded vessel, but due to the blizzard, it may take another 24 hours before it arrives.

All onboard the Russian ship are said to be in good health and spirits, incredibly.

Some travelers got a pretty awesome Christmas present, I think you could say here. An online glitch yesterday gave some lucky customers shopping for Delta tickets a chance to snag ultra-cheap, cheap tickets.

How cheap? About 13 bucks for round trip, first class, from Oklahoma City to St. Louis. Not bad, huh?

Take a look at this, Boston to Honolulu for $68? Wow.

Delta doesn't yet know how many tickets were sold at this incorrect price, but get this. They're promising to honor those cheap tickets.

If only I had been shopping online for tickets when that was happening. In just five days from now, business could be buzzing in Colorado. That's because the sale of recreational weed is about to be legal there.

Retailers can sell it, businesses can grow it and consumers can buy it. But as it turns out, it's not all as simple as it sounds of. Of course it's not.

We're going to break it down for you, right after this break.


BROWN: Over to Colorado now where it will be legal to buy pot for recreational use in the new year as long as you're 21-years-old.

But not all marijuana stores are ready for business yet. Our Ana Cabrera has the details.


ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The "Green Rush" here in Colorado is about to get even bigger. This week state licenses went out to local businesses giving them the green light to start selling recreational marijuana.

TONI FOX, MARIJUANA RETAILER: And money does grow on trees and it's called the cannabis plant.

CABRERA: January 1st recreational pot sales will be legal and heavily regulated by both state and local authorities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want (inaudible)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me get some (inaudible).

CABRERA: Anyone over the age of 21 will soon be able to buy marijuana. One-hundred-thirty-six medical marijuana dispensaries now have state licenses to sell it, and 178 businesses can grow it for recreational use.

MORGAN IWERSEN, OWNER, CANYON CULTIVATION: I kind of say we're sort of like the United States' Amsterdam.

CABRERA: Morgan Iwersen runs Canyon Cultivation. They make marijuana edibles, drops and candies.

She expects business to at least double in the new year.

IWERSEN: I really hope that people are responsible with it and they don't mess it up for the rest of us.

CABRERA: But Canyon Cultivation, like most companies here, won't be ready just yet on January 1st. Retail outlets had major hurdles to get state approvals, fingerprint-based background checks, financial checks and fees up to $15,000. Toni Fox said she has more than a million dollars invested in her medical marijuana facility, 3D Cannabis Center. Her store is only one of a handful expected to be ready for business on that first day.

FOX: A year ago I would have said, I wish I hadn't done it. Now I'm very excited that I've done it and I'm looking forward to the future.

CABRERA: A future she and the state hope will pay off that massive investment.

Ana Cabrera, CNN, Denver.


BROWN: And thank you to, Ana.

Let's bring in CNN legal analyst Paul Callan and Harvard Law School Alan Dershowitz to take a look at this, Dershowitz also the author of the new book, "Taking the Stand -- My Life in the Law." Thank you both for being here with us.

Paul, I want to start with you. Now that it's going to be legal in Colorado, it's not like everyone will start growing pot, selling it. It's not easy as it sounds.

Break down the legal hurdles for us, if you would.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's not as easy as it sounds, but I've got to say, it's pretty easy. You're allowed to grow your own in Colorado. As a matter of fact, people are learning now how to plant it in their basement and grow it. They can't sell it though, they can only use it.

On the other hand, stores can be licensed, and they're being licensed all over the state to sell it, not for medical use, for recreational use. So anyone can walk into the functional equivalent of a 7-Eleven and buy marijuana cookies, smoke-able weed. It will be a brave new world in Colorado and a strange ski vacation for me later on in the year, I think.

BROWN: Strange ski -- okay, Paul.

CALLAN: Only the danger of other people bumping into me on the slopes.

BROWN: Of course. It's all the other people, not you.


BROWN: And I actually want to go to Alan on this because, Alan, I can imagine other states are going to be on the sidelines to see how this is going to shake out in Colorado and perhaps could we see the dominos fall after this with other states legalizing it, do you think?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, AUTHOR, TAKING THE STAND: MY LIFE IN THE LAW: I can tell you, I don't agree with the prior analysis. I don't think anything is going to change. In Massachusetts they legalized marijuana and nobody noticed. Nobody noticed. There was marijuana before, there was marijuana after. There's just fewer policemen arresting Harvard kids and other kids for using marijuana.

It's had no real change on the use of marijuana widely in the society, and I think one major improvement is it got rid of the hypocrisy of medicalized marijuana. That was always a phony hypocritical approach that encouraged people to lie, make up illness, get doctors involved. People were using marijuana for recreational purposes pretending it was for medical purposes. There were a few people who really needed it for medical purposes and they should have always had it, but this is long overdue. It eliminates hypocrisy. It allows law enforcement to focus on real crimes. It gets people hopefully not to have to go to jail for enjoying themselves. I think this will be a ho-hum. By the end of 2014, 2015, we'll look back and say did they ever really make marijuana use illegal? It's like what happened after liquor use was made legal. Nothing really will change.

CALLAN: I think the real issue that states will be looking at is whether they can raise revenue by selling marijuana. The truth is you had an illegal underground market and there's been huge use all along as Professor Dershowitz says, but if Colorado makes a lot of money and it's able to help the Colorado budget, then you'll see other states looking at this for a revenue raising mechanism.


BROWN: It seems like it's become -- more of a states rights issue. It's still illegal on the federal level. Let's not forget about this. Alan, how can someone in Colorado make sure that when they buy the pot they're not breaking the law? Because I think for some people this is confusing, that it's legal on the state level but not the federal level.

DERSHOWITZ: They should be confused, and the federal government still takes the position technically that you're violating federal law if you're complying with the state law. But the Obama administration I believe has recently has taken a turn on its approach to drug enforcement. The pardons, even though are only a handful, the statutory change involving crack cocaine and powder cocaine, I think mark the beginning of the end of the, quote, "war against drugs," particularly recreational drugs as opposed distinguished from criminogenic (ph) drugs, drugs that actually cause people to commit crimes. And so I think the federal government will have to play catch- up, and will have to saying, look, if it's legal in this state, we're not going to come in and tell the states what to do.

BROWN: Interesting to see how this all plays out. Thank you so much to both of you. Stick around. We have more analysis coming up in this show. Many more legal topics to cover today.

He was sent to prison for covering up a Catholic Church sex abuse scandal, for protecting predatory priests he supervised. But now Monsignor William Lynn will soon be a free man because his conviction's been thrown out. That story and more right after this break.


BROWN: The Philadelphia D.A. who sent a Catholic priest to prison in a first of its kind child sex abuse case says he'll probably appeal a higher court's decision to throw that conviction out. Monsignor William Lynn could go free as soon as today in light of a three-judge panel's decision that the law he was convicted of violating didn't apply in his case. CNN's Miguel Marquez has the details.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Monsignor William Lynn's child endangerment conviction overturned late Thursday. This morning, his attorneys are calling for his immediate release. Lynn spent the last 18 months behind bars for the way in which he handled sexual abuse complaints. As a high- ranking official in the archdiocese of Philadelphia, he was assigned to investigate reports of abuse.

During his June 2012 trial prosecutors argued he covered up abuse inside the Catholic Church and allowed a known predator to stay in the ministry. He was sentenced to serve three to six years.

Thursday, a three-panel judge unanimously rejected arguments made at the time of the trial that Monsignor Lynn was legally responsible for the welfare of an abused boy in 1998. An argument Lynn's attorneys have always countered saying that Pennsylvania's child endangerment law only applies to parents and caregivers.

His trial, the first in the U.S. of such a senior official in the church and it was considered an historic moment for survivors of abuse. Now the decision to overturn his conviction has survivors outraged.

PAUL LAURICELLA, ATTORNEY FOR ABUSE VICTIMS: It really does not exonerate the monsignor at all. All the court is saying the statute is so narrowly defined that it does not encompass the acts that are alleged to have been committed by Monsignor Lynn.

MARQUEZ: Pennsylvania district attorney Seth Williams released a statement expressing disappointment with the ruling saying, "while we are deciding what our next course of action will be, we most likely will be appealing this decision."


BROWN: All right. Now I want to bring in my lawyers. CNN legal analyst, defense attorney and former New York prosecutor, Paul Callan. Joining us again from Miami, attorney , author, and Harvard law professor, Alan Dershowitz. Good to see you both again. All right, Allan, I want to go straight to you. Did the Philly D.A. overreach here?

DERSHOWITZ: It was the right decision. It shouldn't even be a close case. He was convicted of doing nothing, that is, he was convicted of failing to take action, and before you can be convicted of doing nothing you have to have a clear, specific, statutory defined duty, and this idea of child endangerment applying to anybody who could have conceivably done something to prevent it, simply is not the law.

If they wanted to pass a statute to making it a crime for a person in the hierarchy not to do anything, they can make that a crime, but to use child endangerment which was clearly designed for parents and people who are in direct charge of children as a statutory cover for going after people who they think did the wrong thing, but didn't commit any specific crime, that's not the job of the criminal law. So this was the right decision. The appeal will be lost. This person should not be going to jail. He should be set free.

BROWN: Okay. Well, Paul, I'm going to go to you for this. We heard in Miguel's story, you know we had the attorney for abuse victims saying that he's not exonerated. That basically he was let go on a technicality in this law. He didn't fit under the limited, narrow statute. What do you think about that?

CALLAN: Well, the criminal law is all about technicalities, frankly, because the Constitution says basically you have to define what a criminal offense is so that people are on notice. With respect to these child abuse cases, and they're horrible, tragic cases, this was seen as a big case because for the first time somebody in the hierarchy of the church, one of the people in control of where people are assigned, was charged for the first time instead of just the under underlings. They came up with this theory that Monsignor Lynn should have known and done things that he didn't do. It's simply not in the criminal law.

BROWN: Really quickly, I want to go to you quickly, Alan because this law was actually brought in in 2007 to include employers whose employees harm children. So if the D.A. does appeal, Alan, do you think that he'll be retried? What do you think will happen then?

DERSHOWITZ: I don't think so. I think you have to have a much more specific statute, otherwise, where does it stop? How far up the hierarchy does it go? Where do you draw the line? These are tragic cases. The Catholic Church is taking responsibility now. I think it's doing a good job in doing what it didn't do for years, but it's essentially a church problem, and the criminal law, if it's going to apply to these actions, has to be precise and specific. These are not legal technicalities alone. These are constitutional protections and we have to make sure the criminal law is precise and defines exactly so that a person who can look at the criminal law can say this is covered. You can't just be creative because you don't like what somebody did.

BROWN: And understandably though, victims and victims' families are upset about this. Can you sympathize with them?

CALLAN: They are. Pennsylvania has changed its law repeatedly to hold more people responsible in the chain of command. In the future, I think you're going to see the hierarchy of Catholic Church, of universities, of big business organizations all being super careful that children are protected. That's where we want to be.

BROWN: Certainly hope so. That's for sure.

Paul and Alan, thank you so much. Stay with us. We have more legal topics to discuss with you a little bit later in the hour. Thank you.

The holiday season has been pretty much miserable for many people in the northeast. Thousands there still without power after days in the dark in frigid temperatures, and get this, things could get even worse.

Plus, a setback in the bid to rescue 74 people on a ship trapped in ice in the Antarctic. We'll tell you what's holding up a Chinese ice breaker right after this break.