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NRA Breaks Silence on Newtown; Ten Days to Reach a Deal; American on Trial in Mexico

Aired December 22, 2012 - 17:00   ET

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


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Don Lemon, you're in the CNN NEWSROOM. The last of the victims of the Connecticut mass shooting are being laid to rest. Funerals for three little girls were held today. But as families say their final goodbyes, the debate over gun control is just heating up. On Friday, the National Rifle Association weighed in, making it clear that the organization would not budge an inch on gun control. More on that conversation here on CNN in just a moment.

The fiscal cliff just 10 days away with no deal insight. President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner are now thousands of miles away from each other. Both men left Washington for the holidays. President Obama and family are in his native Hawaii for a short Christmas break. We'll have a live report from Hawaii and the latest on the fiscal cliff talks just a few minutes as well.

It's official. BP Oil Company will pay up to the tune of $7.8 billion. That is a class action settlement amount they agreed to pay, about 100,000 businesses and individuals hurt by the biggest oil spill in American history. A federal judge formalizes the settlement yesterday. A lot of Gulf Coast residents opted out of the class action suit and are pursuing lawsuits on their own.

In Egypt today, more effects of a brand-new government's growing pains. The vice president is out. He is stepping down there. This man, Mahmoud Mekki announced today that political life does not agree with him, and he'll go back to being a judge. It's the same day the Egyptian people are voting for a second straight weekend on proposed changes to the country's new Islamist backed constitution. It's just erupted last month when Egypt's new president gave himself near absolute power.

A former U.S. Marine who spent more than four months in a Mexican prison is free today and heading home to Florida. Jon Hammer was locked up in August on weapons charges. His family says, he was physically abused in custody, threatened, chained to a bed and never saw a judge. U.S. lawmakers and diplomats got involved on Hammer's behalf and convinced Mexican authorities to release him.

(BELL TOLLING)

America is pausing to remember the Newtown shooting victims. Church bells rang out Friday exactly one week after the tragedy. Flags remained at half staff. Many websites even went dark. People all over the country observed a moment of silence for the 20 children and six educators. Today, there is a walk for peace in Newtown, and three more children will be laid to rest. Ana Grace Marquez-Greene, who love to count and sing.

Josephine Grace Gay, who had just celebrated her 7th birthday. And Emilie Alice Parker who was bright, creative and very loving.

Meantime, lots of backlash for the NRA for their statement Friday. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' husband astronaut Mark Kelly posted on his Facebook page, "Gabby and I are extremely disappointed by the NRA's defiant and delayed response. The NRA could have chosen to be a voice for the vast majority of its own members who want common sense, reasonable safeguards on deadly firearms. But instead it chose to defend extreme pro gun positions that aren't even popular among the law-abiding gun owners it represents." The National Rifle Association is finally speaking out on the massacre in Newtown, saying the answer is to deploy armed guards at schools. And they're not the only ones joining the debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Columbine.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Virginia tech.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Tucson.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Aurora.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Fort Hood.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Oak Creek.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Newtown.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Newtown.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Newtown.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Newtown.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: How many more?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: How many more?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: How many more colleges?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: How many more classrooms?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: How many more movie theatres?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: How many more houses of faith?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: How many more shopping malls?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: How many more street corners?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: How many more?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: How many more?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Enough.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Enough.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Enough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Well, this group of artists joined mayors against illegal guns in a demand a planned campaign. It was started by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino in 2006 but it's gaining momentum in the wake of Sunday Hook.

Our national correspondent Susan Candiotti joins me now from New York. Susan, as sit here and I read about all these funerals and the children, the details is just still overwhelming. And that press conference yesterday, it was the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen from anyone, including especially the NRA. Is your plan to focus on gun control and move -- is it a move to help safety in school? What's going ON HERE?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, we'll have to find out, I guess. In the wake of the tragedy of Sandy Hook elementary in Connecticut, the NRA, a lot of people thought, would offer some concessions and maybe depart from its hard line stance against gun control. But that didn't happen. NRA leadership made no mention of a proposed assault weapon ban or tougher background checks or restricting the size of high-capacity magazines. Instead saying the best way to protect children is to put armed police officers at every school.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, NRA: The only way to stop a monster from killing our kids is to be personally involved and invested in a plan of absolute protection. The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Would you rather have your 911 call bring a good guy with a gun from a mile away or from a minute away?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: Now, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut says, armed guards are not the answer, and will not protect children.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: The NRA statement today is sadly and shamefully inadequate, calling for more guns and rejecting real action against gun violence. At a defining, historic moment for our nation, demanding courageous leadership, the NRA has declined to step forward as a credible and constructive partner.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: Now, after making a lengthy statement attacking the media, violent video games and music videos, the NRA did not take any questions from reporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: NRA, stop killing our children. It's the NRA --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: And as you can see, twice protesters interrupted the statement. Heavy emotions about the Newtown massacre are spilling over.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

This is my NRA club card. I want to show you my tribute and how outraged I am at the loss of life in Newtown, Connecticut. This is what I'm going to do with this card. That's it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: Now, while many gun owners agree with the NRA stance that retired police officer from Michigan that you saw sent CNN a video he made where he cuts up his NRA card -- Don.

LEMON: Listen, about putting armed guards in school. That has been proposed before. So it's nothing new. And it's good at least they tried to do something. But they took no personal responsibility. And no introspects and self reflection at all in that press conference. And it was disgusting to most Americans. Is there any evidence at all that putting armed guards in school will protect children?

CANDIOTTI: I mean, there just doesn't seem to be any evidence of it. Certainly Senator Blumenthal doesn't think so and we didn't get a chance to ask questions of the NRA, because they didn't take any questions from reporters as we said. But plenty of parents certainly would not be comfortable with certainly having more guns in schools. Now, for example, in the shooting at Columbine High in 1999, Don, you'll remember, there wasn't armed guard at the school, and 13 people died. Now, still, there are plenty of gun rights supporters who think the NRA's proposal will make schools safer and that gun control is not the answer.

LEMON: Susan Candiotti, thank you very much.

Lots more on gun control. And that topic tonight at 10:00, I'm going to talk with a gun range owner. Also, this provocative question for you. Are you ready? Should white men be profiled? It's a conversation you won't want to miss coming up tonight at 10:00.

Tomorrow, Senator Joe Lieberman joins our Candy Crowley to talk about the culture of violence in America. And she'll also be joined by the head of the NRA's National School Shield Program at State of the Union, Sunday 9:00 a.m. Eastern and noon again Eastern as well. All right. So how far are we from a fiscal cliff deal? President Obama says, he and House Speaker John Boehner talked yesterday, it was their first conversation since Monday when the two sides offered up concessions on tax hikes for the wealthy. Boehner offered lower tax rates for people earning up to $1 million a year. The President offered lower tax rates for people earning up to $400,000 a year, plus tweaks for computing entitlement benefits, OK? Well, today Boehner was very firm. His message for President Obama, the ball is in your court.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE SPEAKER: The President and Senate Democrats have vowed to reject and veto all of our proposals while failing to offer responsible solutions of their own. What the President has offered so far simply won't do anything to solve our spending problem, and begin to address our nation's crippling debt. And he refuses to challenge the members of his party to deal honestly with the entitlement reform and the big issues that facing our nation. That's why we find ourselves here today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: President Obama did not mention fiscal cliff talks in his weekly address. The President's Christmas break in Hawaii may be quick. He is planning to return to Washington right after Christmas.

CNN's Brianna Keilar live now in Honolulu. Brianna, what happens now is this fiscal standoff or is it at a standoff or are the lines of communication open during the holidays?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, the lines of communication are open, certainly between President Obama and the White House. And not necessarily Speaker Boehner, although there is some sort of lines of communication. But really, the ball is not in Boehner's court anymore. It is President Obama talking to the Senate.

He's talking to the Senate democratic leader, Harry Reid, trying to move forward with some sort of smaller package to avert those tax hikes that are set to kick in. And obviously there's going to need to be some buy-in from the Senate minority leader, republican Mitch McConnell. So that's where things stand. And President Obama is actually hopeful that something could still be pulled off. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: Nobody can get 100 percent of what they want. And this is not simply a contest between parties in terms of who looks good and who doesn't. Call me a hopeless optimist. But I actually still think we can get it done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Now, of course, if the Senate were to pass something and they reconvene on December 27th, Don, it would also then need to pass the House. But the expectation is that whatever would be worked out in the Senate, if it is, would pass the House hopefully not just with republican support, but it would need democratic support, as well. And just to be clear, the thing that President Obama and Speaker Boehner were working towards was a much bigger package, trying to deal with deficit reduction that would have dealt with these tax hikes, spending cuts, trying to work out a plan for entitlement reform and tax reform.

What's now being worked out is just to avert those tax hikes. As President Obama wants it, he wants it up to folks earning $250,000, and he also wants to deal with unemployment insurance getting that extended for unemployed Americans but all that bigger stuff, that gets kicked down the road.

LEMON: So, Brianna, will Americans actually see their paychecks affected on January 1st without a deal?

KEILAR: If no deal, that is not expected. Technically, the tax hikes would go into effect then, Don. But there would be a whole lot of pressure on Washington to act, even if we were to go over the fiscal cliff. And because of that, payroll processors would wait to use the new math, if you will. And a lot of people wouldn't see an increase in the taxes taken out of their paychecks until late January or early February when it was clear that the fiscal cliff was here to stay.

LEMON: Brianna, I am not by nature a jealous person at all. But are you in Waikiki? Is that Waikiki? Because I was just there for thanksgiving.

KEILAR: Waikiki. Not too bad, huh?

LEMON: Oh, God, I'm hating so much right now. Congratulations on that assignment.

All right. Brianna Keilar. Protests in the streets. Police turned water cannons on men, women and even children outraged over a brutal attack. And a former U.S. marine has been set free in Mexico. But an American businessman has been held for over a year, charged with ties to organized crime. He says his life is on the line.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Another weekend of violence and explosions and death in Syria. This is Damascus. At least five people were killed today when a powerful car bomb blew up in this residential neighborhood. It tore apart apartment buildings and filled the streets with debris. Government blames rebel fighters for setting off the bomb. At least 30 people died in attacks across Syria today. Half of them in Damascus.

This is New Delhi, India. Riot police blasting protesters with high- pressure water hoses trying to break up a massive angry rally against the government. People are furious after a woman was reportedly gang raped and beaten on a moving city vast last weekend. Protesters are -- changes to India's laws regarding rape and say, women are not safe in New Delhi and other cities in India. It's one of our top stories this hour on CNN. A former U.S. marine and war veteran is released from a Mexican prison. He spent more than four months there without a trial on a questionable gun charge. He describes conditions there and his treatment as deplorable.

Meantime, another American family is desperately trying to bring home Steeven Knight, an American who has been in a Mexican prison more than a year.

CNN's Rafael Romo has his story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RAFAEL ROMO, SENIOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR (voice-over): This is what Steeven Knight looked like in October of last year. The American entrepreneur says, he has since lost 60 pounds and suffers from health problems. He contacted CNN by phone from the Mexican prison where he is being held.

STEEVEN KNIGHT, ARRESTED IN MEXICO (voice-over): Living conditions -- basically five people. We shower, we eat and live in -- at 12.

ROMO: Mexican federal police arrested Knight as he was trying to fly back to the United States with $950,000 did you in cash. He is being tried for money laundering and organized crime. But Knight says, the cash was legitimate.

KNIGHT: It's preposterous. I basically sold a vessel, which they're fully aware of. They seized the vessel, declared customs, the customs counted the funds, stamped my papers.

ROMO: Knight says, the yacht's buyer paid the first half of the transaction with a check. For the second and final payment, the buyer chose cash. Knight was arrested, along with Walter Stephens, his friend and boat captain. They say, they're both being held in the same cell with three other people.

WALTER STEPHENS, ARRESTED IN MEXICO (VOICE-OVER): It's horrible, it's living in hell every day. In the U.S., we treat our dogs better than we're treated here.

ROMO: Knight's attorney says, his client complied with regulations by disclosing to Mexican customs the fact he was carrying large amount of cash. Mexican court documents provided to CNN by Knight's attorney appear to confirm that was the case.

DANIEL BARKS, STEEVEN KNIGHT'S ATTORNEY: I'm not sure, with all due respect, that the Mexican government has a case. They were in the midst of a transaction. And they broke the transaction into two parts. Complied with all laws and regulations, including those of the United States.

ROMO: Meanwhile, in the United States, Knight's family is desperately trying to bring him home.

(on camera): What would you say to those who doubt that your brother is innocent?

JEFFREY KNIGHT, BROTHER: Well, the bottom line is that he had no -- he had no reason to do -- to do that. You know, he has -- had a successful career, he's got a great home. Everything was going well. All he had is a boat that he wanted to sell. And that's exactly the transaction.

ROMO: After arresting Knight in October of last year, the Mexican federal police issued a statement, saying in addition to being a money laundering suspect, he has a criminal record for drug trafficking in the United States. Knight admits he served time in prison for selling marijuana. But that was more than 30 years ago.

KNIGHT: I was a young man and I made a mistake and I paid my dues and came out and became a member of society and I worked. And I built companies sometimes employing 200 people.

ROMO (voice-over): Knight's attorney says, using cash for such a large transaction was probably a mistake. But certainly not a crime.

BARKS: Was cash really the best way to do it, would it have been better to wire transfer? In hindsight, I think you and I would sit here and say probably so. But that doesn't make it illegal.

ROMO: Multiple calls and an e-mail to the Mexican federal prosecutor's office for a comment about Knight's case have not been returned. The trial has dragged on for several months. And Knight fears his health will worsen if he doesn't return home soon. Rafael Romo, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: The family of a young girl who was killed in the Newtown massacre asked people to honor her by wearing pink today. Her favorite color. Around the world, people did. We're going to talk about why people are so touched by events hundreds of even thousands miles away. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: As you learned about the shooting last Friday in Newtown, Connecticut, then the subsequent memorials and funerals, the tributes, the outpouring of grief, but also support. It is clear the effects of one town's tragedy, it has radiated across the country, if not the world. And the effects of one day may last months, if not years to come.

Joining me now from New York is clinical psychologist Jeff Gardere. Great to have you back. Someone said that about Newtown, it is a town with PTSD.

JEFF GARDERE, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: Yes.

LEMON: I said, we're a country right now with PTSD.

GARDERE: Absolutely. Everyone is feeling this. When you look at Hurricane Sandy and what happened in Newtown, these were the Grinches that stole Christmas. A lot of people don't even realize that Christmas is on Tuesday. They're just oblivious. We don't see a lot of decorations. People really are grieving, Don.

LEMON: I also said a moment ago that this is having a broader effect. How significant are those effects? I mean, you told us earlier about a group of parents in New York that you spoke to who were just weeping over this.

GARDERE: Absolutely. Everyone I know has been affected. They still have not been able to come back from it. And they're still processing because they don't know what happened. And with this shooter taking his life and taking his mom's life, they feel that they've been cheated out of any kind of justice or understanding what happened.

LEMON: One of the young girls who died in Newtown is Emilie Parker. Her family invited people to wear pink today. This is her favorite color. And we're told around the world people did exactly that today in her honor. What is it about this moment, a moment like this, that people are compelled to participate like this?

GARDERE: It's extremely cathartic. It allows people to grieve and be empowered to do so, instead of sitting and internalizing a lot of their feelings. It shows sympathy, it shows empathy. It shows the people who suffered directly that we suffer with them. And that we are their brothers and sisters, their mothers and fathers, their friends. We feel for them.

LEMON: So, I have to just, you know -- I'm always transparent. I didn't even put up a tree this year after this. The last Christmas thing I did was the White House, which was the day this happened. And then went to Connecticut. And I just don't feel like celebrating. And I'm sure a lot of people are feeling that. People all over the country have been hit hard by this, they're upset, they're crying. Maybe they should be seeking out moments like the tribute to Emilie Parker to help them through those painful emotions.

GARDERE: That is a very positive thing to do. Because if nothing else, it enables us to be able to talk and express that grief. And like you, Don, I haven't put up a tree. And my kids said to me today, my four children, dad, when are you going to do this? When are you going to put up a tree, when are we going to try to enjoy this holiday? And I had to break down and actually do that, go out and get the tree, start playing the Christmas music. And I think that's what we all need to do. We need to start celebrating the holidays, but certainly doing it as a tribute to those who are no longer with us. And we need to celebrate their wonderful, their beautiful lives, and certainly cherish the memories we have of them, especially the family who are very close to them.

LEMON: And with that, with those words, thank you, Jeff Gardere.

GARDERE: Sure, Don.

LEMON: The men and women we elect to serve us in Washington can't seem to agree on anything. And now another divisive issue coming to Capitol Hill. The story from Washington, straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Half past the hour. A look at your headlines here on CNN. The fiscal cliff just ten days away, with no deal in sight, as we look at its live pictures of the capitol in Washington. President Barack Obama, House Speaker John Boehner are now thousands of miles away from each other. Boehner is back home in Ohio. The president and his family are in his native Hawaii. He is planning to return to Washington after Christmas.

It's official. B.P. Oil Company will pay up to the tune of $7.8 billion. That's a class-action settlement amount. They agreed to pay to about 100,000 businesses and individuals for the biggest oil spill in American history. A federal judge formalized the settlement yesterday. A lot of gulf coast residents opted out of the class- action suit and are pursuing lawsuits of their own.

A former Marine who spent more than four months in a Mexican prison is free today and heading home to Florida. Jon Hammar was locked up in August on weapons charges. His family says he was physically abused in custody, threatened, and chained to a bed and never saw a judge. U.S. lawmakers and diplomats got involved on Hammar's behalf and convinced Mexican authorities to release him.

The last victims of the Connecticut mass shooting are being laid to rest. Funerals for three little girls were held today. But as families said their final goodness, the debate over gun control heating up. On Friday, the National Rifle Association weighed in, making it clear that the organization would not budge an inch on gun control.

And we're learning some more details about yesterday's shooting spree in central Pennsylvania. Yes, another shooting spree. This one left two men and one woman dead. Police found the three victims at three separate places after the alleged gunman was killed in a shootout with state troopers. Officials are still trying to learn the relationships between the gunman and the victims. They don't believe they were relatives.

And while shootings like the one in Newtown and, of course, that one in Newtown, Connecticut, are universally condemned as tragedies, there is no universally accepted solution on how to prevent them.

But as Emily Schmidt explains, several lawmakers have their own strong feelings about what the shrugs should be -- Emily?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BELL RINGING)

EMILY SCHMIDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For a few moments after the Newtown shooting, words weren't need.

(BELL RINGING)

SCHMIDT: Earlier in the week, President Obama warning words weren't enough.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This time, the words need to lead to action.

SCHMIDT: He put Vice President Joe Biden in charge of a task force to look at issues repeatedly connected with mass shootings. The White House supports reinstating the weapons assault ban that expired in 2004, limiting high-capacity magazines and implementing universal background checks.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D), CALIFORNIA: There is no more uphill fight than this. The question is, do we fight or do we knuckle under? We're not knuckle-unders. We're just not going to knuckle under.

SCHMIDT: Senator Diane Feinstein says in January she will push for the ban.

Even a Senator who has earned the highest rating from the NRA has said it's time to reexamine some gun control laws.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN, (D), WEST VIRGINIA: As a proud defender of this Second Amendment, as a proud member of the NRA, you know, we should question and look and see if there is a better way to do this.

SCHMIDT: Add that political shift to new polls showing more public support for gun control, and it sounds like an equation for change, right?

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: That's not how laws are passed in the United States. We have a bicameral system that slows down the process. That's the way it was designed, and it does a very good job of it.

SCHMIDT: And political observer, Larry Sabato, says, when it comes to understanding the process, the National Rifle Association with its 4.3 million members, does it well.

SABATO: They're active in all 50 states. That's what makes a difference in the end. And that's why it's going to be difficult to get anything through.

WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

SCHMIDT: The NRA ended a week of virtual silence Friday by announcing it's creating a program to get more armed guards into schools, and calling on Congress to provide funding for that security at every school.

LAPIERRE: Why is the idea of a gun good when it's used to protect the president of our country, or our police, but bad when it's used to protect our children in our schools?

SCHMIDT: The NRA did not talk about gun control, which sparked more debate. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHMIDT: People on both sides say their differences couldn't be greater. Any new law would mean bridging that divide, which no mass shooting up to this point has been able to do -- Don?

LEMON: Emily, thank you very much.

Tomorrow, Senator Joe Lieberman joins our Candy Crowley to talk about the culture of violence in America. She will also be joined by former Congressman, Asa Hutchinson, head of the NRA's National School Shield Program. That's "State of the Union," Sunday, 9:00 and noon eastern here on CNN.

Listen to this. A woman fired because her boss found her attractive and irresistible, and the highest court in one state says it was not discrimination. We're going to talk about it with our resident lawyer.

But first, this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At 24, Greta Russler has her bachelor's degree. Figuring out how to pay for it wasn't easy.

GRETA RUSSLER, CURBING COLLEGE COSTS: I only applied to two schools, both in state, because those were the only ones that were really going to be a reality.

ROMANS: She chose Georgia State University, where a four-year degree costs just over $21,000. She earned a scholarship to cover tuition. Loans and a part-time job paid for living expenses and study abroad.

RUSSLER: I ate a lot more Ramen that I am proud to admit. I had a mattress on my bedroom floor. My clothes were kept in boxes on a bookshelf in my closet.

(LAUGHTER)

I was living the college life.

ROMANS: Russler graduated last year with $7,000 in loans, well below the national average of nearly $24,000.

(on camera): She did all the right things. You have to keep the debt down in the first place. Scour for grants and scholarships. Remember, it's cheaper to save for college than to borrow. That $25,000 loan will likely set you back $35,000 with interest later. And get a head start earning college credit so you can graduate in three years. But make sure the school you want to attend will accept those credits.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your total education debt at graduation should be less than your annual starting salary. ROMANS (voice-over): And now some colleges are trying to make education more accessible. Belmont Abby lowered tuition by 33 percent. And Florida's governor is pushing community colleges to offer a $10,000 bachelor's degree.

For "Smart is the New Rich," I'm Christine Romans.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Therapy aimed at turning gay minors straight. In California, for the first time a law was designed to stop the practice. The ban on so-called conversion therapy would go into effect January 1. But a federal appeals court has put the brakes on the ban. The emergency injunction means the therapy can continue for now.

OK, I have a question for you. Can a boss fire an employee he finds attractive because he and his wife sees her as a threat to their marriage? Yes, according to the Iowa Supreme Court. The case centers around Melissa Nelson and her employment as a dental assistant. Nelson worked for dentist, James Knight, for more than 10 years. But near the end of her employment, she was told her clothing was too tight, and it was distracting. So Melissa Nelson joins us live at 7: 00 p.m. in our next hour here on CNN. I want to tell you that.

But, this hour, Holly Hughes joins us. She's a criminal defense attorney.

The court called her, Holly, irresistible attraction.

(LAUGHTER)

HOLLY HUGHES, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY & FORMER PROSECUTOR: Well, let's just start with that, OK?

LEMON: How does this come into the decision? Her attractiveness was irresistible?

HUGHES: That's what this dentist claimed when he fired her. And he said the reason I fired her was because my wife was getting jealous. And we didn't do anything. But I thought she was so attractive, I thought I might do something in the future if she continued to work with me. My wife thought the same thing, so I fired her.

Your gut reaction as a human being, Don. I saw that headline, and I was like, what, are you kidding? Your gut reaction is that is ridiculous. I read the decision of the Iowa Supreme Court. And basically, what they're saying is, look, you weren't fired because you were a woman. You were fired because you're a good-looking woman. And that's a difference. That's not gender discrimination. That's like pretty discrimination.

LEMON: That's hating.

(LAUGHTER) HUGHES: So that's OK. Right, right, exactly.

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: All right. So let's look at her. Everyone is like -- all right. So we've held the audience in expense long enough. Where is this picture?

HUGHES: OK. She's a pretty lady.

(CROSSTALK)

She's a pretty lady. But here's the thing.

LEMON: And she gave us this picture. I think she is a very attractive woman.

HUGHES: She is.

LEMON: Beautiful kid, of course, but --

HUGHES: But she worked there for 10 years. And all of a sudden now the wife is getting -- and mind you, there is no -- neither side says there is a relationship. There has been no flirting, there has been no nothing. Every once in a while, they would send each other texts.

LEMON: She didn't go into work like vavavoom, right?

HUGHES: That's right. And once or twice -- the parties agree, once or twice, he said to her, gee, that's an awful tight blouse, put a lab coat on, which she immediately did. Put the lab coat on, she said, OK, I covered up. I'm not wearing something --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: This court, all-male court, upheld --

(CROSSTALK)

LEMON: -- the lower court's decision, does she have any recourse?

HUGHES: Sure. You can always appeal. This is the Iowa State Supreme Court. So what she can do is take it up, because it is a federal issue. She can appeal to a higher court. Not sure she is going to have much luck. I read the decision of the Iowa Supreme Court and the way they based it was, hey, so any time you fire a female who is the least bit attractive, she can make this claim and that's a slippery slope, and we don't want to go there.

It is one of those places, Don, where the law and common sense just don't meet up. A lot of times, you just look at it and go, is it fair, is it not fair? And the law is usually on the right side. Here, not on the right side.

LEMON: Most people will say, if people wear inappropriate clothing to work, skirt too short -- (CROSSTALK)

HUGHES: Sure.

(CROSSTALK)

HUGHES: But that's not the case here. Right.

LEMON: It makes people uncomfortable.

HUGHES: Absolutely. But that's not the case.

LEMON: And that's not the case. But no one, for being attractive -- she's an attractive woman. God gave her that. What do you do?

HUGHES: Exactly right. And because he's having a problem with it, he fires her. Just doesn't seem fair, does it?

LEMON: Is it because he's the boss, maybe? No?

HUGHES: No, it's because his wife said get rid of her. So who is the boss?

LEMON: Listen, don't go to work if you're pretty.

(LAUGHTER)

HUGHES: And you've got a male boss and a jealous wife.

LEMON: She is going to join us at 7:00. She is going to talk to us about it. I can't wait to hear what she has to say.

HUGHES: That's going to be a great interview. Fascinating.

LEMON: That's going to be a great interview.

All right, thank you, Holly.

HUGHES: Absolutely.

LEMON: Hero cop. Incredible story. A police officer leaps into frigid water to try and save a woman from drowning.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: All right. A white Christmas is in the forecast for much of the country with snowy scenes spreading across the country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(WIND BLOWING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: It started with a blizzard in Iowa, and more than a foot of snow in Wisconsin. Now the system that brought misery to the Midwest, moving east. It is bringing lots of snow to western Pennsylvania and upstate New York. Many folks are used to maneuvering around snow drifts, but the weather just before the holidays is threatening a lot of travel plans.

Meteorologist Alexandra Steele in our Weather Center with more -- Alexandra?

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, Don, a lot of happy kids around. Take a look at where we're going to see a white Christmas around the country. Meteorologically, a white Christmas is having an inch of snow on the ground Christmas morning. And with all the snow we've had, we're certainly going to see that.

But where will we see the snow or rain falling Christmas? Here's the forecast for the northeast Tuesday. Believe it or not, New York and Boston with temperatures in the 30s may see some snow showers. But on the whole in the northeast, we'll see dry, partly sunny conditions. In the southeast, it looks more rain than snow. Some rain in New Orleans and Nashville and Atlanta. Temperatures just a teeny bit below average. But around the balance of the country, very cold temperatures. Five in Fargo, dry skies. Minneapolis, as well. Rain, Seattle to Portland, down to Medford. And believe it or not, even San Francisco finally sees a dry day on Tuesday. But then more rain comes in.

Why? What we're looking at is this area of low pressure. You're going to see -- this is Sunday. So for tomorrow, wet weather comes down to San Francisco once again. And then on Monday, into Tuesday, an area of low pressure develops here in the southeast. So rain and Christmas in the southeast. But, Don, what we could see is this climb to the north Wednesday and Thursday, and potentially in the northeast, bringing another snowstorm. We'll have to watch that.

LEMON: Thank you, Alexandra.

And look at this. Ah! Let's just look at this for a moment. Waikiki. You see Diamond Head in the background. Look at those paddle boarders. That was me less than a month ago for Thanksgiving. Yes, I'm jealous and I'm hating it -- Brianna Keilar's assignment. Imagine that. What do you think the temperature is there? 80- something degrees? That is paradise. Meantime, blizzards back here. The lower 48. OK.

So it's cold out there. Real cold. And this time of the year, the one place you definitely don't want to be is in Boston Harbor. So watch this. That man you see there is a police officer. His name is Edward Norton. This was captured on a cell phone, jumping into a freezing Ft. Point Channel and torrential downpours there, to rescue a woman who had fallen in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OFC. EDWARD NORTON, BOSTON POLICE DEPARTMENT: One of the other officers had been given the life preserver from some one else. I think it came from the Tea Party museum. So that actually helped a lot. I was able to hold on to that while she was holding on to the life preserver, while holding myself up with the raft that was out there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Good for you, Officer. No one was seriously hurt. And Officer Norton says it was all in a day's work.

Worse apocalypse ever, or not. Somebody has some serious explaining to do.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: You may have noticed that we're all here. The December 21st, 2012 "Apocalypse Now" turned out to be "apocalypse no." Leave off the deadly. Leave off the deadly. No.

And while people argued about the significance of the so-called end of the Mayan Calendar, others waited for a terrifying cataclysmic event, like a giant fireball or for the magnetic poles to reverse or for "Jersey Shore" to get renewed for another season. Thank goodness that did not happen, but obviously none of these things didn't happen. OK?

But how can that be?

(LAUGHTER)

Some people were so convinced the apocalypse would arrive yesterday.

Josh Levs has some explaining to do.

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, man.

LEMON: Because Josh, you told me the Mayan calendar was right, and we would not be here and I should go out and party last night. And look what happened. I'm hung over.

LEVS: Of course, we have never had a conversation --

(LAUGHTER)

-- about the Mayan calendar.

By the way, this is not what the whole world looks like right now. The whole world is not even on fire. We weren't smashed.

LEMON: You're not even here, Josh. It's just an illusion.

LEVS: Maybe we were sucked into a black hole and we only think we're here.

(LAUGHTER)

Maybe that's all we are in the first place.

You know what happened over this? David Letterman, take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN: Mayan word for apocalypse, very similar to Mayan word for "apple crisp."

(LAUGHTER)

Number four, didn't the world end when Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez broke up?

(LAUGHTER)

Just trying to get out of Christmas with the in-laws. There you go.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEVS: There you go. Best part of the top-10 last night.

So I want you to know how many people believe this. The survey by the Public Religion Research Institute that found 2 percent of Americans said they believed the world would end based on a prediction by Mayans.

But NASA explains that the Mayans never actually said that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: None of the thousands of ruins, tablets and standing stones that archeologists have examined, foretell an end of the world?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEVS: This was a misinterpretation of the way the Mayan calendar worked. And NASA uses this cool animation here to explain. Take a look. It's an odometer. "The way a car resets to zero on the odometer, the Mayan calendar was to reset on or around December 21st, 2012. The world was not going to go anywhere, even according to their predictions. There just would have been a new calendar."

And I'll tell you, this is just one of many apocalyptic scenarios that NASA has had to fight off.

Another one is this. Some people believe that a planet is on a collision course with the earth. NASA says, no, it is not.

And then there's this cool video. This is called a gamma ray burst, when a star collapses, it creates this black hole. Some incredibly powerful rays break off. NASA is telling people there's no sign that this or something similar, a super nova, will happen any time soon in a way it would affect earth, even thought lots of people continue to believe it will

I'll show you, here on CNN.com, we actually have a spread of doomsday scenarios, going all the way back to Biblical times.

(MUSIC)

I'm surprised your producers aren't already playing that, actually.

Tom, who wrote that song?

(SINGING)

(LAUGHTER)

LEVS: Oh, man

It didn't happen. And you know what?

LEMON: What?

LEVS: Here is the thing. This is why this is not going anywhere.

LEMON: Why?

LEVS: One-third of Americans, polled by the Public Religion Research Institute, believes the natural disasters are a sign of the Bible end times. And 15 percent believe tell world is going to end in their lifetime.

So, Don, the many conspiracy theories and the apocalypse theories are already beginning. I am getting calls, they're saying, no, it is really going to be next week or January or February, so get ready.

LEMON: Mayans have hired the same numbers people as Karl Rove.

LEVS: Whoa.

LEMON: Thank you.

LEVS: I get that.

LEMON: What is next on the apocalyptic calendar? I'll talk to someone tonight at 10:30.

I'll talk to some people who are preparing for another doomsday scenario, global economic collapse.

Aside from the fiscal cliff, the battle in Washington could hit you and your refrigerator. The price of milk could get higher. We'll explain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: 7 bucks for a gallon of milk. That is what you might be paying in the New Year. The reason Congress is trying to spend most of its time averting the fiscal cliff, leading lots of other work unattended. Like an agriculture bill. A dairy subsidy expires January. And milk prices could double if Congress doesn't pass the agriculture bill before then. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack talks about the milk cliff on "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley tomorrow night.