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Fiscal Cliff Looming; Russia Bans American Adoptions; Congress Avoiding Ethics Investigations?

Aired December 28, 2012 - 22:00   ET


RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: It's 10:00 p.m. here on the East Coast.

We begin tonight with breaking news about your paycheck, your unemployment check, your defense job, the entire economy, you name it. All of it is at stake if the country goes over the fiscal cliff.

It's a cliff that lawmakers built. They set the Tuesday deadline. They have known it was coming for more than a year. But until now, even now, they have done precious little to agree on a package of tax increases and spending cuts by that time.

"Keeping Them Honest," the people in this building have known what's coming on Tuesday, yet they're only returning to this building to get back to work just now. Senators came back yesterday. House members, well, they won't be back until Sunday.

This afternoon, House and Senate leaders met with President Obama at the White House. They talked for about an hour. Afterwards, President Obama said he was modestly optimistic.

Bypassing House Speaker John Boehner, who has had trouble getting his fellow Republicans to agree to anything, the president called on Senate majority and minority leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell to work out a deal, then present it to the House.

He also laid out a scaled-down mini-deal if they can't manage it.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we don't see an agreement between the two leaders in the Senate, I expect a bill to go on the floor, and I have asked Senator Reid to do this. Put a bill on the floor that makes sure that taxes on middle-class families don't go up, that unemployment insurance is still available for two million people, and that lays the groundwork, then, for additional deficit reduction and economic growth steps that we can take in the new year.

But let's not miss this deadline.


KAYE: As for the two Senate leaders, they spoke shortly after the meeting and they sounded a bit more hopeful than the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I think it was a very positive meeting. There was not a lot of hilarity in the meeting. Everyone knows how important it is. It was a very serious meeting and it took an extended period of time, as you all know, waiting for us.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: Mr. President, I would just add I share the view of the majority leader. We had a good meeting down at the White House. We are engaged in discussions, the majority leader and myself and the White House, in the hopes that we can come forward as early as Sunday and have a recommendation that I can make to my conference and the majority leader can make to his conference.

And so we will be working hard to try to see if we can get there in the next 24 hours. So I'm hopeful and optimistic.


KAYE: Sounds good, but also sounds familiar. Right? Senator Reid says a vote could happen on Monday, but people have heard so much talk about the crisis, but seen precious little action. The president tonight echoing that frustration.


OBAMA: The American people are watching what we do here. Obviously, their patience is already thin. This is deja vu all over again.

America wonders why it is that in this town for some reason you can't get stuff done in an organized timetable, why everything always has to wait until the last minute. Well, we're now at the last minute. And the American people are not going to have any patience for a politically self-inflicted wound to our economy.


KAYE: But it remains to be seen whether lawmakers on both sides of the aisle get it. Some even sounded miffed to have to work over the holiday. Democratic Senator Charles Schumer telling "The New York Times" -- quote -- "I didn't realize how much I didn't want to be here until I got here."

And Republican Senator Rand Paul saying he would rather be playing soccer with his kids and telling "The Times" -- quote -- "This is no way to run things."

And Wall Street agrees, the Dow industrials losing more than 150 points, ending a fifth straight day on the downside.

Joining us now with the very latest, chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin.

Jessica, was any progress really made today? Was there any movement at all, besides this being dropped in the Senate's lap? JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, by Washington standards, that is progress. And I know it's hard to believe, but the fact that all these leaders left this meeting in agreement about the next step is a hopeful sign.

The good news here is that this could have been much worse. They could have come out of the meeting saying it's impossible to reach an agreement. We cannot even begin negotiations. There will be no deal.

That did not happen. So the fact that they have a game plan for the weekend and for the next step, it's better than a lot of people hoped for. Now everyone is holding their breath.

KAYE: Yes. I guess we have to be thankful for the little things.

YELLIN: That's right.

KAYE: But how did we get here? We heard the president say today he's mildly optimistic. Why?

YELLIN: Well, that optimism has to do with the fact that it could have been worse, that all the parties in there did want to get to a deal, that they would rather find a way out of this, instead of going over the cliff.

But the bigger picture is what you said, how did we get here? The problem is what they're fighting over, while it seems silly and petty right now, is about the fundamental difference between the Democrat and the Republican parties. It's about the role of government in Americans' lives. Lower taxes vs. more of a social safety net. And every time they come close to a deal, it falls apart because they have this fundamental disagreement about ideas.

That's how we got here. They cannot agree on this basic negotiation over this ideological divide in America, Randi.

KAYE: What happens next then? How likely it is we will go over the fiscal cliff. I'm curious what the mood is like in Washington right now.

YELLIN: There's an infinitesimal improvement in Washington because of the mood out of that meeting today, but I still would say the odds -- the people who are placing bets in this town still expect that the nation will go over the fiscal cliff.

Still a little bit more hope than when we woke up this morning, but no one is counting on being off on New Year's Eve -- Randi.

KAYE: Jessica, thanks.

More now on the "Raw Politics" with "New York Times" columnist Ross Douthat and Democratic strategist Cornell Belcher.

Good to see you both.

Cornell, let me start with you here.

The president said he wanted to see a straight up-or-down vote. As we mentioned, that will happen on Monday in the Senate. He could lose that up-or-down vote.

CORNELL BELCHER, FORMER OBAMA CAMPAIGN POLLSTER: I think what you're likely to see is you're going to see something come out of the Senate, because you have to pay attention, especially on the Senate side, to tone.

And what Minority Leader McConnell was saying today, the tone was right on. I think you will see something come out of the Senate on even an up-or-down vote which they will let go rules to allow happen, but I think the problem comes on the House side, whether or not in fact Speaker Boehner is going to allow what the Senate sends their way to go out on an up-or-down vote without having a majority of the majority.

KAYE: Ross, this is what Speaker Boehner said he wanted, to push this off to the Senate, but nothing we saw today helps us answer the big question, can the speaker bring his conference on board? Could House Republicans now be ready to accept a compromise even if they don't like what's in it?

ROSS DOUTHAT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I think a lot depends on what the Democrats are willing to give at this point.

The Democrats sort of have an interesting dilemma, where it's the sort of bird in hand issue. Right? I think if you have something come out of the Senate where the tax threshold goes up to $400,000, rather than $250,000, where there's some kind of concession to Republicans and frankly to some Democrats from upper-income states who would like that to go up as well, then I think there would be a lot of pressure on Boehner to bring it to a vote and to have it pass.

Again, it probably wouldn't pass with a majority of the majority. It would end up passing with a chunk of Republicans and a lot of Democrats. But if the Democrats just want to push things and say, no, you know, it's $250,000, I mean, that might not get out of the Senate. If it gets out of the Senate, I don't think it gets through the House.

KAYE: Cornell, let's back up for just a moment here. Not going over the cliff isn't actually much of an achievement, is it? It's just avoiding the worst. That's the least both sides can do, right?

BELCHER: I think long term, it is more problematic than that, because what you see right now is you have one side of Congress that is completely dysfunctional. One side of your Congress, the House of Representatives, is not functional.

And I think what we're seeing is we're in the midst of a civil war on the Republican side. I mean, when the speaker of the House puts out his own -- puts out his bill and just moments later has to pull his bill back because his caucus is in full revolt, that says something. I think we're in the midst of a civil war that is going on, and unfortunately, I think the American public is going to be much of the collateral damage to what -- the civil war that is going on, on the Republican side.

I think we're looking at this problem sort of on down the road until Republicans and the speaker get its act together, if he remains speaker, if in fact he has an up-or-down vote without a majority of the majority.

KAYE: Ross, speaking of the American public, even if they manage to avoid the worst here, the way this process has played out before us probably won't fill Americans with a whole lot of hope for the next two years, will it?

DOUTHAT: No, although in a sense, you could argue if they did actually pass something in the next 48 hours, which seems a little more likely right now than it did a day ago, if that happens, then you could argue, well, the cliff worked as designed, right, because as people have been saying on CNN for days, right, this was something designed by Congress to force Congress' own hand.

So if something passes at the last minute, it's a case of sort of at least that part of the system working out. Congress sort of doing what it forced itself to do. I would also add, I think Cornell is right about the problems facing Republicans right now, which is that the incentives for each individual member of the House of Republicans, every Republican member, are in a sense to oppose President Obama as strongly as possible, because the incentive, because most of them represent safe seats, where the biggest danger is a primary challenge from the right.

But the incentive for the party as a whole is, you know, look, the legislative landscape is tilted very strongly against Republicans right now. Taxes are going to go up in some sense no matter what. For the long-term future of the party, it's probably better to sort of retreat and find new ground to fight on.

You have those sort of dueling imperatives at work.

KAYE: Ross Douthat, Cornell Belcher, thank you both, and we will see what happens on Monday.

More breaking news coming up. A rare case of lawmakers over on the Senate side actually getting something done, something that the hard-hit survivors of Hurricane Sandy are counting on.

Also, we will tell you about people who have got the job of going after unethical lawmakers and bipartisan efforts by lawmakers to eliminate those watchdogs, "Keeping Them Honest."


KAYE: More breaking news now, the Senate late tonight approving a $60.4 billion package to rebuild from superstorm Sandy. Democrats beating back GOP efforts to trim the price tag somewhat. Now it goes to the House, but if both chambers fail to agree on a package before the current congressional term expires, then everyone will have to start again from scratch. "Keeping Them Honest," this has been the least productive Congress in modern history, at last count, a little more than 200 bills enacted. By comparison, the 80th Congress, which then President Harry Truman called the do-nothing Congress, it managed to pass 906 bills into law. Think about that as you watch the next report about one of the few things lawmakers seem to agree on, dismantling a little-known office that's designed for one simple thing, keeping them honest.


MELANIE SLOAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CITIZENS FOR RESPONSIBILITY AND ETHICS IN WASHINGTON: What is outrageous about it is that you see members of Congress on both sides saying they have zero tolerance for unethical conduct, but then behind closed doors, they're quietly trying to kill the one body in Congress that is trying to seriously go after unethical members.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Melanie Sloan is director of CREW, or Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. She's talking about the Office of Congressional Ethics, or the OCE, the only government body that is outside of the Congress whose sole mandate is to formally investigate members inside Congress, but many of those same members of Congress simply want the OCE gone.

SLOAN: The OCE has forced members of Congress to take ethics more seriously. It has forced the Ethics Committee to act and it has let all members of Congress know that they're not going to just be able to skate by like they have for so many years with unethical conduct just going on.

JOHNS: CREW is considered by some to be left-leaning and liberal, but they're not the only ones worried about the OCE.

(on camera): One of your counterparts told us members of Congress publicly will go out and say they support the OCE, they support cracking down on ethics, while privately they're trying to kill it. Do you think that's true?



BOEHM: No, that is true.

JOHNS (voice-over): Ken Boehm is chairman of the conservative right-leaning National Legal and Policy Center.

JOHNS (on camera): If OCE goes away, if the members are not named, if it's not reauthorized, what message does that send to the public?

BOEHM: It sends a message to the public that not only is the system broken, the ethics system broken, but it doesn't even exist anymore. JOHNS: The OCE was formed just four years ago after scandals and corruption had grown so bad, the House had to clean up its act. Speaker Nancy Pelosi helped create the OCE as a solution. In just four years, the OCE has done more than 100 investigations of lawmakers, raising serious questions about possible congressional misdeeds. In 37 of those investigations, the OCE referred them on to the actual House Ethics Committee for further review, meaning that, in those 37 cases, the OCE found reason to believe that House ethics and sometimes federal laws were likely violated.

(voice-over): So why exactly does Congress want to kill it? Well, actually, that's hard to say. Folks like these who have in the past voted to cut the OCE budget or to limit its powers refused to talk to us. For those who would talk, opinions were mixed.

REP. BRAD MILLER (D), NORTH CAROLINA: I think it's important that there be some way for the public, for someone outside of Congress to raise issues about the conduct of members of Congress. One of the things that OCE, OCE has sent to the Ethics Committee was actually pretty flimsy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I supported it the first time. I will support it again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think it's working well.

JOHNS (on camera): Is there anything OCE has done specifically that might have rubbed the Congress the wrong way to the point where they wouldn't want to get it going again?

SLOAN: Well, in fact, nearly everything the OCE does has rubbed the entire Congress the wrong way. And in large part, that's because Congress doesn't want to hold anybody accountable for ethics violations.

JOHNS (voice-over): Former Congressman Lee Hamilton is a respected member from Indiana who served more than 30 years and helped chair the famous 9/11 Commission. He says getting the new OCE board members appointed is crucial to having ethics enforced in Congress.

LEE HAMILTON, FORMER CO-CHAIRMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION: Whether or not you appoint the new members the OCE is a critical point.

JOHNS: Congressman Hamilton is now the director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University.

HAMILTON: And it is going to tell us whether the leaders of the Congress are serious or whether they're not serious about the enforcement of the standards of conduct within the institution. This is a critical test.


KAYE: So, Joe, who exactly needs to do something to keep the OCE going? JOHNS: Well, let's see, the Republican House speaker, John Boehner, the Democratic minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, have to nominate new board members and then approve one another's selections.

Both have said they're going to do it, but so far, there's been little movement on either side, Randi.

KAYE: And when does the reauthorization and the appointment of the new board members actually need to get done?

JOHNS: The terms of the outgoing board members expire on December 31. For the OCE to keep going, people need to be in place by the end of the year, which means Congress needs to get going in the current lame-duck session.

KAYE: So in terms of how this works, though, the OCE refers its investigations to the House Ethics Committee, right? Some critics say the OCE is an us necessary duplicate body, really. Are they right?

JOHNS: That's exactly right. OCE is an outside nonpartisan group that investigates ethics allegations and then reports those findings to the Ethics Committee, usually recommending either to look into the matter further or just drop the case.

The reasons Nancy Pelosi pushed for it and the House voted to start it in 2008 was a feeling that Congress essentially was not doing an effective job investigating itself. So, in that sense, the OCE serves an important function, but the OCE doesn't have subpoena power, for example.

And the Congressional Ethics Committee doesn't need to act on its recommendations, which means investigations can often go nowhere, so when the House Ethics Committee doesn't follow up on OCE investigations, some members of Congress argue they have been unfairly targeted, their name is dragged through the mud, turning the OCE into a villain.

KAYE: Yes, and what about the criticism that some members criticize the OCE for unfairly targeting African-Americans? Are they right?

JOHNS: That is something that has been talked about again and again. And a lot of people have said the reason why so many African- Americans' names get in the mix, because they're in such safe districts, so that it's not about race, it's more about the fact that they're in safe districts.

Still, that's the kind of story that deserves a complete treatment and we would just like to revisit all of that and air all the questions in another report.

KAYE: Joe Johns, thank you very much.

JOHNS: Thank you.

KAYE: The video is unforgettable, a tornado tearing through a Walgreens store in Alabama. Tonight, we have new information from the National Weather Service about the Christmas Day twister outbreak, as many as 30 tornadoes reported from Texas to Alabama.


KAYE: We want to make sure the world does not forget about someone who for more than a year has repeatedly risked his life by talking with us.

Tonight, he needs all of our good wishes. Zaidoun Al-Zoabi, our voice of the Syrian revolution, hasn't been seen since December 15. That's when his family says the feared secret police came to his home and arrested him. They believe Zaidoun and his brother, Sohaib, are being held at the notorious Building 215, a facility in Damascus notorious for torture and abuse.

All they know is that someone in the same prison saw Zaidoun and told them that he's OK. They got that word several days ago. It's not a lot, but it's something to hold on to. Zaidoun's cousin has created a Facebook page to demand Zaidoun and Sohaib's brother's release, in the hope that someone inside the Syrian regime will listen.

Zaidoun risked his life more than a dozen times by calling us for interviews, always using his real name, to expose the brutality of Bashar al-Assad's regime. We want to make sure his voice is still being heard.

Here's one of the many times he explained to Anderson why he was willing to die for the revolution.


ZAIDOUN AL-ZOABI, SYRIAN ACTIVIST: We are getting killed every moment. We are not able even just to get some basic medicine to injured people. Children are really hungry.

Isn't it enough? You think we can stop, we will go back, we will stop this revolution? If you want to stop this revolution, they're going to have to kill three, four million people.

We might just face our death tomorrow morning or even after a half-hour or get arrested and die under torture. But this doesn't mean we are going to retreat. This doesn't mean we're going to give up. We will stay, even if it takes us just another 10,000 people killed or 100,000 people killed. We will not stop.


KAYE: Zaidoun's mother, sisters, two daughters, and his wife are all in Syria right now. We hope they're safe tonight, and we will keep in touch as best we can.


KAYE: Coming up: A New Jersey couple is supposed to pick up a child in Russia in just a few weeks.

But a new law banning adoption of Russian children by American parents has them wondering if they will ever get to bring home the little boy they already consider their son. I speak with them next.


KAYE: A new Russian law has left some families in the United States devastated, wondering if they'll ever again see the children they've been working to adopt and bring home.

Russian President Vladimir Putin today signed a controversial law that bans U.S. families from adopting Russian children. The law goes into effect January 1 and is seen as retaliation for a law that President Obama signed earlier this month, imposing restrictions on human rights abusers in Russia.

In a statement, the State Department says, quote, "The Russian government's politically motivated decision will reduce adoption possibilities for children who are now under institutional care. We are further concerned about statements that adoptions already under way would be stopped and hope that the Russian government would allow those children who have already met and bonded with their future parents to finish the necessary legal procedures so that they can join their families."

The State Department says there are 46 children in Russia whose adoptions by American parents are almost complete, and those adoptions now could be in jeopardy, but the impact could be even greater than that. Hundreds of families are believed to be working with adoption agencies in Russia.

Robert and Kim Summers of New Jersey were supposed to pick up a child in Russia in just a few weeks. They've already bonded with their son, Preston, filled their house with toys and clothes for him, and already consider him their son. I spoke with them a short time ago.


KAYE: So, Kim, you've actually been to Russia twice to visit Preston. Tell me what it was like the first time you met him and what he's like.

KIM SUMMERS, HOPES TO ADOPT RUSSIA CHILD: I can't even begin to describe it. All I -- all I can say is, and all I kept saying was, I know how birth mothers feel when they first take that first look at their -- at their new baby. And that's exactly how I can compare it.

And it was -- it was the most joyful day in my life since my wedding. And I knew the second I laid eyes on him that this was the baby I was meant to parent.

KAYE: And Robert, you have been unable to have children of your own together. How long has this process, this adoption process, been going on for you? ROBERT SUMMERS, HOPES TO ADOPT RUSSIAN CHILD: It's been going on for a little over two years. It was -- it was meant -- it was met by a long time of waiting, and we -- my wife and I had some infertility issues, and we weren't able to have children of our own. And this is what led up to our adoption of Preston.

KAYE: And Kim, you were so confident that you would be bringing Preston home that you actually have already bought plane tickets to pick him up next month, right?

K. SUMMERS: We are told. And this is a normal process. There's this 30-day wait.

KAYE: You never imagined anything like this would come in the middle.

K. SUMMERS: So much so that we stay with a host family when we're in Russia. And we were staying with Mila (ph), and we call her babushka, which is grandma in Russian. And we say, "Babushka, can we leave the diaper bag here, since we'll be back in four weeks?"

And Preston's little outfit -- I bought him a ski sweater and a turtleneck onesie to wear home. And she said, "Of course, you'll be back in four weeks."

KAYE: And Robert, did he understand? I mean, were you able to tell him that you were going to be his parents, that he would be coming home to you?

R. SUMMERS: Yes, and it was quite evident, because the last trip that we made to Russia, right after the court date, we looked at him and said, "We are taking you to the United States of America." And...

K. SUMMERS: We're going to be a forever family.

R. SUMMERS: And I have to tell you, his eyes lit up, our eyes lit up. And we hugged him and we kissed him and told him how much we loved him. But he is such a wonderful young boy, and to see him and to just feel him and to hold him and smell him, he's...

K. SUMMERS: Smell him, that's all I kept saying on the trip back to see him again. And adopt him officially, I kept saying to Robert, "All I want to do is smell him and touch his skin."

KAYE: So you had this call with the State Department today with many of these other families who are in the same predicament now that you are. Is there any hope at all? Can they help?

K. SUMMERS: Well, we can't lose hope. We have to believe. And...

KAYE: What do they say?

K. SUMMERS: Unfortunately, at the moment, there are 46 families at different stages of the process. There's 500 to 1,000 families right now that are in the Russian programs of adoption. But 46 of our families have gotten to the point of the adoption as we have.

Right now, there are some families that are in the country that have already -- they have their children's passports and visas in their hands, and they need to leave the country before January 1.

So the State Department obviously is most concerned, if you will, for those people, getting them out of the country with their children.

KAYE: I can't imagine how difficult this must be for you. I mean, having him coming so close to now. You probably have prepared at home and...

K. SUMMERS: His stroller is in our dining room.

KAYE: Is there a room set up?

K. SUMMERS: Yes, there is. His crib is next to our bed. We wanted him that close, because we knew we'd be dealing with some bonding issues.

KAYE: Sure.

K. SUMMERS: And we want him that close.

KAYE: Are you at all worried that he will think that you forgot about him?

R. SUMMERS: Yes. I do believe that. And if I have to spend the rest of my life to bring him home, I will do so. And I will keep -- keep fighting the fight. I will walk the walk. And we won't stop until he comes home to us.

K. SUMMERS: No matter how long it takes.

R. SUMMERS: No matter how long.

K. SUMMERS: Absolutely. We promised him we were going to be his mommy and daddy.

R. SUMMERS: We promised him a life of love and trust.

K. SUMMERS: And we're older parents, and we know that, and we're established. And we have a beautiful home. His college is already saved for him.

The judge asked me -- before she granted us the adoption, she asked me, "Mrs. Summers," through a translator, "what are your dreams for your child?"

And I said, "My dream is that he will be a wonderfully established, well-adjusted, loving human being, and also cure cancer or perhaps play the cello, graduate from Julliard School of Music."

And the translator was translating this, and the judge looked at me with tears in her eyes and she said, "Mrs. Summers, we all wish for that for our children." KAYE: We are so sorry for the two of you, and so many other families are looking through this. We hope you one day do get to bring Preston home to your home.

R. SUMMERS: Thank you.

K. SUMMERS: Thank you.


KAYE: Dr. Jane Aronson is a pediatrician and international adoption specialist. She is the founder and CEO of Worldwide Orphans Foundation. And Jane Aronson joins me now.

Tough interview, certainly for these families to see what they're going through. I see you're even emotional, having watched that just now. What do you make of what's going on here? What do you make of this bill, and what do you think is the motivation behind it?

DR. JANE ARONSON, INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION SPECIALIST: I think it's very simple. This is a retaliation; it's a political maneuver. The Russian and American relationships, the relationship between America and Russia is in a disaster relationship at this point, but what's really important is first to focus on what we can do to advocate for the families because there are hundreds of families involved, and this is something that has been part of Russian adoptions for 25 years.

And as long as Russian adoption has been around, it's been a problem, you know, that at any one point, there have been moratoria, repeatedly. Nine years of doing adoptions, you know, there were weeks, months and sometimes even more at one time where there was an unpredictable path for families, and lots of families lost their children. And...

KAYE: This isn't the first time, but do you think this is about this law that our administration here, the Obama administration, signed in?

ARONSON: I think it's not just that. I mean, I think it's an acute moment, you know. This is where they're going to just make a stand. A long time in coming.

But what's interesting is that, if you look in the last seven weeks, the bilateral agreement for international adoption between Russia and the United States was signed on November 1.

KAYE: Now that's null and void.

ARONSON: So it's clear that, in the last seven weeks, this has to do with a political situation.

KAYE: You would think, though, that given the horrible conditions there in the orphanages and the numbers of orphans who need homes, that this is something Russia would want, that they would welcome Americans to come in and adopt, no? ARONSON: No.

KAYE: Why not?

ARONSON: It's a great comment you're making. Because this is something that I think that no one pays attention to. This is not just about Russia. This is about the orphan crisis.

This is about 153 million children who live in terrible conditions in many countries and where, you know, governments really do not stop and sit at a table and think strategically about what to do with hundreds of millions of children. They're too busy taking care of other things like conflict and war.

So this is a moment where I feel it's really important for people to understand clearly that no one sits and thinks about orphans in the long-range scheme of things. And so, you know, to talk about the bad conditions, well, bad conditions are everywhere.

I mean, I traveled to Romania, Russia, Bulgaria. I spent the last God knows how many years working in orphanages to try to help support kids in their communities, and the conditions the kids live in is just intolerable, and it doesn't change. Russia is horrific. It is the worst kind of conditions you can possibly imagine.

KAYE: So as you mentioned, American families have been stopped before from trying to adopt Russian children.

ARONSON: Many times.

KAYE: Are you hopeful that this will turn around?

ARONSON: You know, I'm always hopeful, and I think that the Summers are such beautiful people. There is never a reason to give up hope. There are families who are still parenting their children from a distance from many countries, whether it's Guatemala, Tibet, Colombia, whatever country, China, Vietnam, Cambodia. If you look back in the history, as I said, I've been involved in this for decades, you will see many families never give up on their children, even if they're held hostage by the sending country.

KAYE: Well, that's what Robert said, that he will not -- he will not give up.

ARONSON: He's not alone.

KAYE: What do they see, when these families go? I mean, obviously, it strikes a chord with them. They see how these children are living. You say terrible, but tell us exactly.


KAYE: Take us inside and tell us what they see.

ARONSON: The first thing you do -- I mean, I have my eyes closed, and I can go back to any orphanage, whether it's Romania or Russia or any place in the world, and you just experience the silence. There's this deafening silence, and there are these bad smells.

And then there's just these empty -- these empty rooms filled with cribs with silent children. Kids who lie for hours, languishing.

KAYE: Alone.

ARONSON: Alone, untouched, fed by bottle propping. Often speed fed so they choke. They lie in their own feces and urine. They stink. They're untouchable.

And the people who work there are not professionally developed or trained, and so they don't want to be near these kids. A lot of kids have congenital underlying medical conditions -- cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus -- and there are no physicians who come in and qualify or quantify what their issues are, so they don't get that kind of medical intervention.

And we go by a rule of thumb. And that is three months in an orphanage, you lose a month of development. You end up with organic brain injury, you end up with malnutrition, growth stunting, and you end up with attachment issues.

KAYE: So sad. Horrible for a child.

ARONSON: It's tragic.

KAYE: And to not get any love and any affection.

ARONSON: It's tragic.

KAYE: So what is your advice, then, to American families who might already be in the process, might already have their children identified, might already be there in Russia?

ARONSON: You can't give up hope. That's all it is. It's very simple. You cannot give up hope, and you have to advocate. What's going on now on the Listservs, parents are gathering together, signing petitions. That's what you have to do. You cannot let them.

KAYE: Jane Aronson, so nice to see you.

ARONSON: Thank you.

KAYE: Up next, new details on the new winter storm expected to hit just in time for the holiday weekend.


ISHA SESAY, HLN ANCHOR: I'm Isha Sesay with a "360 Bulletin."

More winter weather on the way. Forecasters say today snow in the south will hit the northeast tomorrow, and a fresh snow storm is expected to push into the Ohio valley. Freezing rain is threatening parts of Texas, Missouri, and Tennessee, and ice could bring down power lines in Oklahoma and Arkansas. Authorities say this week's nasty weather has killed ten people. Leaders in many religious faiths joined with residents of Newtown, Connecticut, for the interfaith vigil today. Two weeks after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, they gathered outside in the cold to pray for hope, peace, and healing for the families and friends of the victims.

New York state police arrested a former neighbor of William Spengler, the man who ambushed and killed two firefighters, as they battled a blaze he's suspected of setting. Authorities traced the serial numbers of two guns found at the scene to Dawn Nguyen, who is now in federal custody.

And a frigid rescue on Michigan's Lake Erie. An 11-year-old dog wandered off during a walk and fell through the ice. Rescue crews responded. The dog, whose name is Bart, was cold, but animal control workers said he didn't appear seriously hurt -- Randi.

KAYE: Well, Isha, you're going to want to stick around for this, because I know that you're going to be with Anderson and Kathy Griffin in Times Square on New Year's Eve.


KAYE: I hope you're ready.

SESAY: I'm ready.

KAYE: They're teaming up for their sixth year running, as you know, and I think we can all agree they have a special chemistry. Here's a preview.

SESAY: You could say that.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I said to CNN months ago, I said, look, I want the most famous woman from Bravo. And I was referring to Camille Grammer.


COOPER: But they thought I was referring to you.

GRIFFIN: You can't beat her rate. Nobody can beat her rate.

Now is there anything -- can I just say, this is what I love about our broadcast.


GRIFFIN: Apparently, you're proud of it. I love that this year you guys aren't even trying. You're not even trying.

COOPER: What do you mean?

GRIFFIN: Ryan Seacrest has every big star in the world. Like, we're going to Nashville or something. Who cares about Nashville on New Year's Eve?

COOPER: First of all, we have Honey Boo-Boo. Honey Boo-Boo is joining us. She's staying up late.

GRIFFIN: What a coup! Score. How did you get her?

You know what? Honestly, you couldn't get my mom, and you got Honey Boo-Boo. And is she going to be on a teleprompter acting like she can read? What's happened to you? Get me Amanpour.

Now, would you like to tell the viewers some of the incredibly exciting locations we're going to. I think we're going to what, Tokyo, Sydney, London.

COOPER: We're going to show -- we're going to show New Year's Eve celebrations from around the world. We're going to show New Orleans. We're going to show down in Florida, Nashville, Key West, Maine.

GRIFFIN: What's the matter? You couldn't get Tulsa? New Orleans, Nashville, and Maine. That's where we're going?

COOPER: But we -- a reflection of the United States but also all around the world: London and Moscow and Tokyo and all those places. We'll show Rio.

GRIFFIN: We don't even have people in London and Rio. We just kind of, like, steal footage.

COOPER: No, no, no. We have people, but it happens so many hours before us, we have them record something, and then we just put it in our show.

GRIFFIN: If you could, would you prerecord this whole show and then just go home early?

COOPER: Yes, if I could, I would.

GRIFFIN: I knew it.

COOPER: If I could record it in a sound booth, you know, and you be in another sound booth not actually able to touch me, that would be OK.

GRIFFIN: Oh, because you can talk more?

All right, look, let's cut to the chase. No, no, we're not done. Is Nancy Grace going to come this year or not?

COOPER: I don't know. She's probably busy with the twins.

GRIFFIN: I love the twins. John David and Lucy. All right, let's call Nancy. Let's call JVM, Jane Velez-Mitchell.

COOPER: Yes. GRIFFIN: I don't know if you know this, but she's in rehab, or rather, she's recovered and a lesbian. She hasn't mentioned it for about five minutes.


GRIFFIN: And Nancy Grace has a very fanciful barrette. I mean, let's face it: HLN is where it's all happening. Dr. Drew could maybe fix you.

COOPER: A very fanciful what? Nancy Grace has a fanciful what? Barrette?

GRIFFIN: She has a very fanciful barrette, yes, for her hair. She has a new hairdo. She's rocking a new look.

COOPER: I didn't know that.

GRIFFIN: Yes! How could you not know about Nancy Grace's barrette? Everybody is talking about it. If we're going to do a countdown, that's my No. 1 story of the year, easily.

COOPER: OK. Kathy Griffin, I will see you starting Monday night, starting at 10 p.m. We're starting an hour earlier this year, 10 p.m. all the way to 12:30.

GRIFFIN: All right. And then you -- how many days are we going to rehearse before that?

COOPER: That would be zero. The magic, it's just all about the magic of that moment. It's live TV.

GRIFFIN: Remember, you don't need to know everything.

COOPER: OK. Thanks, Kathy.



KAYE: And there will be plenty more of that magic on Monday. CNN's New Year's Eve live with Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin starts at 10 p.m. Eastern this year from Times Square.

We've been counting down your ten favorite RidicuLists of the year. And tonight, we're unwrapping No. 6. It is a festive holiday story featuring -- what else? -- a strip club. Anderson's take on the Toys for Tatas program coming up next.


KAYE: We have been counting down the top ten "RidicuLists" of the year based on your votes. And tonight, we're at No. 6. This was from just a few weeks ago when Anderson told us about a rather unique approach to a holiday toy drive. Take a look.


COOPER: Time now for "The RidicuList." And tonight, don't you just love this time of year: the lights, the trees, the music, the parties? But I have to say, nothing really says "happy holidays" quite as much as a strip club in Arkansas.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're having a campaign for the month of December called Toys for Tatas. You come in and you bring a toy to donate for a little toy drive we're having. Then we're going to give you two-for-one lap dances for as many toys as you bring.


COOPER: Isn't that sweet? The fine folks at the Platinum Cabaret in Fayetteville are putting the pole back in the north pole this Christmas. Ho, ho, ho, everybody. It's a two-for-one lap dance.

Now I'll never think of Dancer or Prancer and Vixen quite the same way again. Thank you, Platinum Cabaret.

Now don't get me wrong, this is for a great cause, Toys for Tots, which collects gifts for underprivileged kids. Although the local coordinator of that very worthy organization says the strip club didn't exactly run the idea by him.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've heard nothing about it. It's certainly not something that we have been made aware of or certainly not something we would have endorsed. As long as it's done in a legal manner and as long as people are bringing us new, unwrapped toys, we don't get into how they were gathered and what the process was.


COOPER: What the process was.

So we did a little checking. Believe it or not, the concept of Toys for Tatas not confined to the greater Fayetteville area. Oh, no. There's a Toys for Tatas event in Scottsdale, Arizona, where they're also apparently giving away breast augmentation, because there's really nothing like free surgery to really get you in the festive holiday mood.

And at Rick's Cabaret in Minneapolis, they just had their 13th annual Toys for Tatas event, complete with complimentary buffet. Mmm. Yum. Who doesn't love a buffet?

If you want to get into the spirit, and strip clubs really aren't your thing, fear not. There's a way to celebrate the season right from the comfort of your home. It's the Christmas Boobsie. Oh, goodness. It's a beer coosy [SIC] with breasts. A concept that debuted at the holiday wonderland that is Hooters and is available at, if you're looking for an appropriate gift for your boss, or I don't know, maybe your child's teacher this year. No need to thank me. I'm here to help. It's part of my mission.

So when you gather with your family and your friends this holiday season, remember to appreciate what you have and give to those less fortunate, because every time a bell rings, a stripper gets her wings. It is, indeed, a wonderful life on the "RidicuList."


KAYE: Tune in next week to see your picks for the top five "RidicuLists" of the year.

That does it for this edition of 360. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.