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NRA Reacts to Criticism; Still No Deal; Public Outrage over Gang Rape in India; Syrian Warplanes Bomb Bakery; Polls Show Fiscal Cliff Concerns; Court: OK to Fire "Irresistible" Worker; Gifts to Remember; A Celtic Christmas

Aired December 23, 2012 - 14:30   ET


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Miguel Marquez, in for Fredricka Whitfield. Here are today's top stories.

The National Rifle Association is standing tough on its opposition to new gun laws in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre. The group's CEO went on TV today to defend his calls for armed guards in every U.S. school.

CNN's Barbara Starr is on the story for us today. Barbara, the NRA has been criticized for not talking about any limitations on guns instead calling for armed guards in schools and also for not taking questions from reporters.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Miguel, all of that and they seem to pretty much be sticking to their line. You know, on the Sunday talk shows, Wayne Lapierre, the chief executive officer, the public face of the National Rifle Association, made clear on NBC's "Meet The Press."

His organization will continue to oppose legislation adding new restrictions to sale of weapons or those high-capacity ammunition magazines. Mr. Lapierre had a very definite view about where he thinks responsibility for some of these issues lie. Have a listen.


WAYNE LAPIERRE, CEO, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: Look, I know there's a media machine in this country that wants to blame guns every time something happens. I know there's an anti-second amendment industry in this town. I know there are political leads that for 20 years, always try to say it's because American-owned guns.

I'm telling you what I think will make people safe and what every mom and dad will make them feel better. When they drop their kid off in school in January is if we have a police officer in that school, a good guy, that if some horrible monster tries to do something they'll be there to protect them.


STARR: And as the last of the Newtown massacre victims have been laid to rest now, the NRA is taking this position that armed security officers in schools are a major, if not the only part of their solution. And of course, not everyone agrees. Have a listen to Senator Joe Lieberman.


SENATOR JOE LIEBERMANN (I), CONNECTICUT: I have found the statements by the NRA over the last couple of days to be really disheartening because the statements seem to not reflect any understanding about the slaughter of children that happened in Newtown, Connecticut. Here's what bothered me. They were, the NRA spokespeople have been willing to deal with every possible cause of gun violence except guns.


STARR: The notion, the whole idea of putting armed personnel in schools is not new. School districts across the country continue to grapple with this question of security on their school grounds.

But advocates of more gun laws, the opposite of the NRA, they offer this, a reminder that there was an armed secured officer at the Columbine High School in Colorado. The day of that 1999 massacre and they say, controlling gun violence requires a package of solutions well beyond the schoolhouse door -- Miguel.

MARQUEZ: So very many opinions on this. Let's look at a couple of the interesting front pages out there what they said about Wayne Lapierre. One called him a gun nut. That was from the "New York Post," a conservative publication.

And "The New York Daily News" headlined Lapierre, the "craziest man on earth." Barbara, you know your way around Washington, you know the political landscape there. How did what could only be described as a rant go over in your fair city?

STARR: Well, I think one of the big questions right now and I think for the whole country, tragically, unbelievably, this Newtown massacre, was this in fact the 9/11 moment, if you will for the issue of gun violence? Has it fundamentally changed the American fabric of society that is concerned about this issue? Will that be enough to push the political landscape?

Senator Dianne Feinstein, of course, Democrat of California, very powerful within the Democratic Party and the Senate, she says she is going to introduce legislation when the Congress comes back in January on controlling the sale of assault weapons again.

Big question, will that ban on the sale of assault weapons be reinstated? It's all a question I think of how much political muscle is behind each side and how much Mr. Lapierre may, may have damaged the NRA's case by virtue of how that Friday press conference went over -- Miguel.

MARQUEZ: Barbara Starr, thank you very, very much in Washington.

And now, to the fiscal cliff, and we are just about to go over the edge. Congress has left for the holidays. If they don't get a deal done soon, tax increases and budget cuts will hit after the first of the year. Earlier today on "STATE OF THE UNION," Republican Congressman Steve Latourette said the president has been too focused on tax cuts for the rich. But he did leave the door open a little.


REPRESENTATIVE STEVEN LATOURETTE (R), OHIO: I'm OK to say, President, you won. You can tax these rich people you seemed to dislike so much. But you know what? Come up with some spending cuts, we're borrowing $1 trillion a year and he has not.


MARQUEZ: Independent Senator Joe Lieberman said he's now more pessimistic than he's ever been that a deal will get done.


LIEBERMANN: In the aftermath of the House Republicans rejecting Speaker Boehner's so-called Plan B, it's the first time that I feel that it's more likely that we will go over the cliff than not and that, if we allow that to happen, it will be the most colossal consequential act of congressional irresponsibility in a long time, maybe ever in American history.


MARQUEZ: Leaders from both sides are expected back in Washington on Thursday.

In India, growing demonstrations after a 23-year-old woman was gang- raped on a bus. The protesters are growing angrier over the number of rapes in the capital and the inadequate police response.

Authorities have tried to ban protests in New Delhi, that ban has calmed nothing public outrage over the violent rape last Sunday has only grown this from our sister network, CNN-IBN.


PARIKSHIT LUTHRA, CNN-IBN REPORTER (via telephone): There have been protests all over the country as well. Indiagate right in the center of Delhi, it's not very far off from the Indian parliament and the president's house, it is a very high security area and the police have been giving warnings to people all day.

And finally the evening, they approached the crowds and started targeted them with water cannons, asking them to clearly get out of this place. That is the central part taken over by the police right now.


MARQUEZ: The victim has been in intensive care, has given the police a statement. Six suspects have been arrested in connection with the case. Some lawmaker the wanting rape to be treated as a capital crime.

A scene of chaos, after Syrian war planes bombed a bakery in Hama Province, hundreds had been waiting in line for bread when it happened. Officers say more than 100 people were killed and many more wounded.

Congress and the president kick back for the holidays the country teetering on the brink of the fiscal cliff. We'll meet some small business owners who say they're already struggling to stay afloat and this uncertainty could push them over the edge.

And an Iowa dental assistant fired for being too good-looking. She's sues but does she win. We'll hear from her.


MARQUEZ: Republicans and Democrats have all left town for the holidays. If they also leave us to go over the fiscal cliff who will Americans blame? CNN's Paul Steinhauser takes a look at the latest polls.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Hi, Miguel. First things first, Americans are worried about the tax increases and spending cuts that would kick in if the nation falls off the fiscal cliff at the end of the year.

Check this out, seven of ten questioned in our CNN/ORC national poll said they there would be major problems or a crisis in the country if that happens.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Part of what voters were looking for, is some compromise up here. That's what, that's what folks want.


STEINHAUSER: And our poll indicates more Americans want the Republicans rather than the Democrats could compromise more to reach bipartisan solutions.


REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: The Democrat- controlled Senate and White House have no plan and have offer nod plan all year to deal with these looming cuts.


STEINHAUSER: But the public doesn't seem to agree. And more people would blame Republicans in Congress rather than the president if no deal is reached. One reason why? More people see the views and policies of the GOP rather than the Democratic Party as too extreme. That wasn't the case two years ago. If there's any good news in the poll for the Republicans, it's this -- a small majority say it's good for the country that the GOP controls the House, which suggests a public doesn't want the Democrats controlling everything here in Washington -- Miguel.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: That was CNN political editor, Paul Steinhauser. The recession has already been tough on a lot of small business owners. Some are saying the uncertainty about the fiscal cliff is more than they can handle. Emily Schmidt explains.


EMILY SCHMIDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There are people who make overcoming obstacles, even those towering 40 very vertical feet high, look easy. These rock climbers are the heart of Lillian Chao- Quinlan's climbing center business.

LILLIAN CHAO-QUINLAN, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER: I think with climbing you have to trust your partner and you have to know that they're holding your rope.

SCHMIDT: This takes teamwork, which is why Chao-Quinlan is frustrated by all the talk of another cliff looming in Washington.

CHAO-QUINLAN: There's so much uncertainty. Not just for me as a business owner, but for our members, for our clientele.

SCHMIDT: With negotiations stalled on the way to avert the fiscal cliff, Chao-Quinlan has put plans to expand her business on hold. She's worried because going over the cliff will cost middle class families an estimated $2,000 a year. Money people won't have to spend here.

CHAO-QUINLAN: It's always challenging when you're in a recreational type of environment. Because that's sometimes the first thing that people consider you know when they're evaluating their finances and what am I going to spend my money on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The fear that I have is that we're going to lose some customers, we're going to lose our shoppers and we've been here for ten years.

SCHMIDT: For clothing store owner Lindsay Buscher. It's been a rough few years since the recession. Now she says she's terrified we're on the verge of tumbling back in.

LINDSAY BUSCHER, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER: I think the effects of them not coming up with a plan is going to be devastating and I see a huge, a bigger recession.

SCHMIDT: The prospect of higher taxes next year means Buscher is cutting back now. Trimming staff for January and February, only buying clothing she's sure will sell, her goal, just to keep her business afloat.

BUSCHER: My biggest fear is that my 7-year-old will never really get a chance to see what I've built.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now the fun part is untying.

SCHMIDT: Back at the climbing center, Lillian Chao-Quinlan says there are lessons Washington negotiators could stand to learn.

CHAO-QUINLAN: Every move is going to dictate the next move. But that doesn't mean that you're locked into that move, that doesn't mean you can't try something else.

SCHMIDT: Unlike climbing, she says, fiscal cliff hanging shouldn't be an option because so much is on the line. Emily Schmidt, CNN, Washington.


MARQUEZ: Now firing an employee because she's too attractive may not be fair, but in Iowa, it's legal. The state Supreme Court just ruled in favor of dentist James Knight saying his irresistible attraction to one of his dental assistants justified firing her.

The court said Melissa Nelson wasn't fired because of her gender, but because her boss felt she threatened his marriage by being attractive. Nelson worked for Knight for more than 10 years.

But near the end of her employment, she said Knight told her that her clothing was tight and distracting then he fired her saying she was a perceived threat to his marriage so she sued.

She talked to our CNN's Don Lemon about how she feels now that the court has ruled against her.


MELISSA NELSON, FIRED FOR BEING TOO "IRRESISTIBLE" (via telephone): I don't think it's fair. I don't think it's right. The last couple of days have just been an emotional roller coaster. I'm trying to stay strong, tough.

I do hope that if something positive doesn't come out of this for me. That it will for somebody else. I hope that nobody else has to experience or go through and live what I've had to live with.


MARQUEZ: Now, Nelson's attorney says she is appalled by the ruling and by the court's failure to understand the nature of gender bias.

Tired of giving someone the same old gift for Christmas? How about giving the gift of memories, like hanging out with Olympic medalists or touring Paris? We'll show you some experiences your loved ones won't forget.


MARQUEZ: Big trend this holiday season, giving the gift of a memorable experience, everything from cooking classes, hiking trips or even Egyptian pyramid tours for your loved ones.

Our CNN Money's Laurie Segall is here to show us some companies that offer these unique experiences. Laurie, what have you got for us?

LAURIE SEGALL, CNNMONEY TECH REPORTER: Yes, we're seeing this so much this holiday season. People are tired of giving these physical gifts. They want to share a memory or an experience.

So there are a couple of companies doing this. The first one I want to tell about, Miguel, is called "Side Tour." Now "Side Tour" is New York-based, they're all around the country. They're expanding pretty rapidly.

The kinds of experiences are about $55 that's on average. You can do everything from have dinner with a banker turned monk to go and hang out with a graffiti artist. Let me actually pull up some of the different experiences they have on "Side Tour."

You can go as I said explore the epicenter of graffiti culture. You can meet a former Rolling Stones photographer and you can have dinner with a banker turned monk. Miguel, I actually did this and he was fascinating.

You can also race down an ice luge with an Olympic medalist. So what we're seeing is people are buying these kinds of experiences for their loved ones and family members. It's offering up a whole different type of gift than they would have before -- Miguel.

MARQUEZ: What did the banker monk make for you?

SEGALL: You know, I don't even think I can pronounce what he made for us. It was a little, I looked at it and I was thinking to myself, I can't believe I'm going to eat this. But the experience was so lovely we did another story on him because he is such a fascinating story.

MARQUEZ: Well, there you go. Interesting. Overseas companies as well, yes?

SEGALL: Sure, "Side Tour" is really kind of experiencing your local community. There's one called "Viable." Now "Viable" is another type of experience giving type start-up. They've got different experiences in over 600 cities around the world.

Let me pull up some of the experiences they have on "Viable" because those are really, really cool. Again, you've got to pay for the plane ticket to get there. But "Viable" experiences you can go fish with a king in Fiji on a private island for $250.

You can take an underground food tour in New York City. Trek through the Himalayas for $400. Explore the secret gardens of Greece. I should mention, Miguel, these are all with locals.

What these companies are doing, they're enabling people who have jobs that they love and they have different hobbies to actually make money by showing this to other people. So, you know, I spoke with all the entrepreneurs that started these companies and they kept saying happiness is about the memories, something can you give on the holidays.

MARQUEZ: Anything involving food is OK with me. Thank you very much, Laurie.

SEGALL: Thanks, Miguel.

MARQUEZ: You've probably been hearing Christmas music for a few weeks now, but you probably haven't heard this. The beautiful sounds of "Celtic Woman." These singers have something special. I've got that for you. Stay right here.


MARQUEZ: The band, "Celtic Woman" performed what was supposed to be a one-time show way back in 2004. Eight years and several multiplatinum albums later, "Celtic Woman" is releasing its second Christmas album called "Home for Christmas."

CNN producer, Jessica Dunn caught up with the women during their performance with the Atlanta symphony orchestra.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's exciting to get to feel the power that you have at the start of the show when the music starts and it takes everybody on the journey.

SUSAN MCFADDEN, SINGER, "CELTIC WOMAN": I think all over the world, I think there is that sort of common thread of Christmas being with your family and celebrating, being together.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would be happy to sing Christmas music every month of every year. I love it's just fantastic. It's very special when you get the opportunity to go into studio and record these amazing songs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel a bit spoiled actually getting to every day since the 28th of November, getting to perform Christmas music. I don't think I could feel any more festive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's an honor bringing our brand Celtic music, which is a mix of contemporary Celtic, traditional and classical to everybody.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you draw inspiration from fiddlers in other genres?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely. I think we all draw inspiration from so many vocalists and musicians and I myself love the Cajun music. Certainly in the beginning of the reel, there's a very Cajun start to it there.

The Irish are fantastic story tellers and I think that always helps bringing something to the table is the approach you take with telling the story and if you get behind the words and tell the story. I think it makes it feel real and fresh and new.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If people can come in, leave their worries and trouble at the door and escape from it all for two hours, we all need that. To escape from the madness, that can be our day-to-day lives now. And lose yourself in music that is from the heart, from the heart, from the soul and if people can leave feeling better than when they came in, our job is done.


MARQUEZ: "Celtic Woman" is planning another U.S. tour this February.

As we hurtle towards Christmas Eve, we'll show you how you can track Santa's progress around the world.


MARQUEZ: Here's what's trending right now on the web. The American doctor rescued by SEALs in Afghanistan is thanking those who risked their lives to save his. The doctor says he's especially grateful to the SEAL team member who died on the mission.

Prince William will celebrate the holidays with his wife's family, the Middletons. The royal couple turned down a chance to celebrate Christmas with the queen at her very exclusive party at the royal estate in Sandringham.

And now there's competition in the business of tracking Santa on his Christmas Eve rounds. NORAD has a new tracking service. It dropped Google Maps in favor of Microsoft's Bing Maps. No problem Google says. It's going ahead with its own Santa tracking system.

I'll be back in one hour. We'll talk to the one, the only, the legendary, Barry Manilow about his newest and fourth Christmas album. Stay with CNN. "YOUR MONEY" starts right now.