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Millions of Last-Minute Shoppers Scurrying to Stores; Fiscal Cliff Negotiations Stalled; The Politics of Gun Control; 2012's Most Intriguing People

Aired December 24, 2012 - 09:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now in the NEWSROOM, it was the day before Christmas, and malls around the country are expected to be packed, millions of last-minute shoppers scurrying to stores to finish their shopping list. Are you one of them? Plus this.


MEDEA BENJAMIN, PROTESTER: Shame on the NRA! Ban assault weapons now!


COSTELLO: Remember her? She disrupted a live statement by the National Rifle Association. So how did she sneak past that big sign -- how did she sneak that big sign past all that security? We'll ask her live.

Politicians, dignitaries, and even a musician. CNN tallies your votes for our most intriguing person of the year and counts them down for you.

And a small kid making a big difference. This little girl wins a trip of a lifetime to Paris, and her actions after that get support from the whole community.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dear Santa, I'm Gabriela (ph), the one with the tumor. This is my motto, and I think you should use it too. You might have a bad day today, but there's always a bright star to look forward to tomorrow.


COSTELLO: Hear what she did to help dozens of other children fulfill their wishes. "NEWSROOM" starts now.

Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for being with me.

Christians around the world are getting ready to celebrate Christmas, which marks the birth of their lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Here's a live look from Bethlehem, where people are beginning to gather for midnight mass at the Church of the Holy Nativity. It's only 4 p.m. there, so they still have about 8 hours to go. Bethlehem is described in the Bible as the birthplace of Jesus. About 2 million people make the pilgrimage to the church in Bethlehem each and every year.

Pope Benedict XVI also preparing to deliver his Christmas eve mass in just a few hours at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. He has a new book out debunking what he calls several myths about now the nativity unfolded. The pontiff says, for one thing, the accepted date of Jesus' birth is several years off. He points to a blunder by a 6th century monk for the mix-up.

Here in the United States, Americans are rushing to the malls and the stores this morning for another Christmas tradition -- that would be last-minute shopping. About 17 million people are expected to pack the stores today. That's according to a poll by "Consumer Reports." Many of them might find some really good bargains, too. Alison Kosik is in New York. You know, you probably get the best price on things today.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you would think so. And if you ever had any doubts that we're not a nation of procrastinators, think again. Yes, 17 million people out in the stores just today. Believe it or not, it's not as many as the number of people who hit the stores on black Friday weekend. Still, "Consumer Reports" put out a survey that they conducted from December 10th through 17th, and look at what they found. 67 percent of shoppers, they're not done yet shopping. 14 percent, they haven't even begun. So today is the first day they're starting their Christmas shopping, with hours to go.

And as you said, Carol, you're probably going to find a lot of bargains out there for toys, winter clothes, and other items that retailers want off their shelves by January.

But that's not what last-minute shoppers are likely looking for, surprisingly. Well over half told "Consumer Reports," they'll just grab a gift card at this point. Wine and liquor, they're also popular last-minute choices. 27 percent, Carol, said they'll just give out cash. And 4 percent said, they'll just give you an IOU, I owe you a gift.

COSTELLO: Oh, come on.

KOSIK: Yes, they do. There are 4 percent who say, oops, I owe you one.

But you know what, there are a lot of cyber shoppers out there too, Carol. Comscore says online shopping is up 16 percent last -- 16 percent this year, because last week alone we spent almost $4 billion just online. That's up 53 percent from 2011. So you know what, by most measures, it's really been just a huge, a huge year for online retailers, Carol.

COSTELLO: Let's talk about the weather, because we must. It must be affecting deliveries to some Midwest states hit by the snowstorm, right, in the last couple of days, and they're expecting another storm soon. KOSIK: Exactly. It is affecting things. It's not a huge concern. But you know, there may be some delays for packages looking to make it on time to their destination in time for Christmas. FedEx put out a service advisory saying it expects some delivery issues in seven states, including Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Nebraska. But it also says contingency plans are in place.

We didn't see any service advisories on UPS's website or even on the Postal Service website. But you know, what's adding to this is really that surge in online shopping that I just told you about. It's got a direct impact on the shipping business. These shippers, they just had a huge increase in volume this holiday season, and some of their biggest single days ever. Listen to this. UPS says it made 28 million deliveries just last Thursday. FedEx says it moved 19 million packages on its busiest day. Even the Postal Service says it moved a whopping 658 million pieces of mail on December 17th. So yes, the weather is complicating the issues, so your packages may arrive late in some of those places. Carol?

COSTELLO: You're right about that, because I mailed some packages last Thursday, and UPS told me I had a 50-50 chance of them getting there by Christmas day. So I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

KOSIK: Fingers crossed.

COSTELLO: Alison Kosik, thank you.

Oh, we have to talk politics now. With the president and Congress spending Christmas away from Washington, prospects seem bleak for a deal before the fiscal cliff deadline on December 31st. Retiring Senator Joe Lieberman puts the potential failure in historic perspective.


SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN, I-CONNECTICUT: I feel 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.

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO, R-WYOMING: When I listen to the president, I think the president is eager to go over the cliff for political purposes. I think he sees a political victory at the bottom of the cliff. He gets all this additional tax revenue for new programs. He gets to cut the military, which Democrats have been calling for, for years, and he gets to blame Republicans for it.


COSTELLO: So, hey, merry Christmas. Our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is traveling with the president. She is in Honolulu. So, Brianna, are the White House and Republicans even talking?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No. They're not, Carol. There's no substantive discussions going on between the White House and Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans and House Republicans. And this is key, because in order for the cliff to be averted, there will need to be something passed through Congress in both the Senate and the House that would require the support of both Democrats and Republicans.

So that is obviously very much an issue, as all attention now turns towards the Senate, which will reconvene on Thursday. A lot of focus there. That's where things are expected to start.

Right now the White House is still saying that they want a plan to avert tax hikes for folks making $250,000 or less. It's sort of unlikely, it seems, that Republicans would support that, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has to figure out a way to cobble something together that will be able to get some Republican support in both the Senate and the House. But things are very uncertain at this point, Carol. There is a significant chance -- and this is the truth -- that we're hearing both publicly and privately from Democrats and Republicans, that we could go over the fiscal cliff.

COSTELLO: Well, enjoy the beach there, then. I mean, what do you say at this point? You've just got to keep your fingers crossed and your toes and everything else. Brianna Keilar reporting live from Honolulu this morning.

Let's talk about the gun control debate, because it's intensifying following the Connecticut school shooting massacre. The NRA's executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, went on NBC's "Meet the Press" this weekend, saying just call him crazy for wanting to put armed security officers in schools. He doesn't mind. NRA President David Keene told CBS' "Face the Nation," a ban on assault weapons will not stop mass killings.


DAVID KEENE, NRA PRESIDENT: We're willing to debate the whole question of these semi-automatic so-called assault weapons. We debated it before. We had an assault weapon, so-called assault weapons ban for 10 years. We had what Senator Feinstein is suggesting. It was allowed to expire. The FBI, the Justice Department, and others who studied it said it made no difference.

WAYNE LAPIERRE, CEO, NRA: If it's crazy to call for putting police and armed security in our school to protect our children, then call me crazy.


COSTELLO: Despite the National Rifle Association's opposition to any new gun laws, President Obama insists inaction is not an option when it comes to protecting children. And while Democrats and Republicans are upset over the massacre in Newtown, the country remains polarized on the issue of gun control. CNN's senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash is in Washington.

So we know that some lawmakers came forward and expressed interest in introducing legislation about gun control, but I guess the question is will they really in the new year? DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really -- the reaction, especially and even among Republicans to the NRA idea is sort of muted at best. There is not a lot of enthusiasm on Capitol Hill for the idea of the federal government stepping in and endorsing the idea of all schools having armed police officers, never mind funding it. Listen to a couple of senators, starting with a Republican.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-SOUTH CAROLINA: We had an armed guard in Columbine. We had an assault ban. Neither one of them worked. We're talking about preventing mass murder by nontraditional criminals. People who are not traditionally criminals, who are not wired right for some reason.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER, D-NEW YORK: Well, the amount of gun violence since we passed the assault weapons ban and the Brady law, is down considerably. Is it as good as it should be? Absolutely not. But we have to keep working on this. And there are lots of different solutions.


BASH: Now, I should say, just because the Republicans may not be running to this idea that the NRA put forward does not mean that they are going to support the first piece of legislation we're going to see in the new Congress on this issue, which is a bill to reinstate the assault weapons ban.

And most importantly, Carol, you and I have talked about this all last week, it's not just Republicans who might be skittish on that. It's also a fair number of moderate Democrats who are up for re-election in the next cycle, 2014, who are from red states, who simply will not even talk to reporters about the idea, much less endorse the idea of supporting any kind of new gun control measures yet.

COSTELLO: Even now. I mean, you would -- well, I'm being naive, I know. But if you have strong feelings about it, after what Newtown happened, don't constituents want to know what their legislators think? Why not just embrace what you think, even if you are going to say, well, I don't believe that gun control laws should be put into place in America?

BASH: Well, if I told you it was tough politics, would you be shocked? That's the reason why. But in all fairness, I think that the political realities and the fact that it is politically tough, despite what happened in Newtown, for a lot of politicians to do anything to anger the gun rights enthusiasts. And we're talking about, as you reported, a 4 million member organization -- it's tough for them to do that.

But I think also, everybody is just trying to kind of work through what could be possible legislatively, and for those who are in politically perilous situations, there's no benefit in them jumping on a piece of legislation before they really take the time and see what they may or may not have to vote on. COSTELLO: Dana Bash reporting live from Washington.

If you were watching the NRA's announcement on Friday, you could not help but see this.


BENJAMIN: The NRA has blood on its hands. Shame on the NRA. Ban assault weapons now.


COSTELLO: That was Medea Benjamin. She was the second protester to disrupt the meeting. She's co-director of the peace group, Code Pink. Does this sort of stuff make any difference at all? She'll join us live in just a few minutes to answer that question. We also asked you to pick the most intriguing people of the year. Who's your No. 1? We'll show you, along with the rest of the top ten.


COSTELLO: It is 15 minutes past the hour. Time to check our top stories. There is some great Christmas news. After months in a Mexican prison, a former U.S. Marine reunites with his family. Jon Hammar, on his way to a surfing vacation in Costa Rica in August. He was arrested by Mexican authorities on a questionable gun charge. U.S. lawmakers stepped in on Hammar's behalf, helping secure his release.

In money news, got milk? It may cost a lot more to say yes next year. If the new agriculture bill supporting dairy farmers is not passed by Congress, the government would be forced under a 1949 statute to buy milk at twice today's price. That could push the price of milk up to more than $7 -- you imagine paying $7 a gallon for milk? Wow.

Visible from the space station? Maybe. It's really bright and attracts visitors from far and wide. It's the home of Jan Stewart. For the second straight year, she's covered the house with more than 65,000 Christmas lights. She says she does it in memory of her late husband. Some of her neighbors say it's -- well, it's more appropriate for the Vegas Strip.

You helped us pick the most intriguing people of 2012. The results are now in. They include headliners from politics, sports, business, and entertainment.

Here's Brooke Baldwin with the top ten.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Earlier this month, readers cast ballots from our list, narrowing it down to 10. Ready for the results? Here we go.

The top 10 most intriguing people of 2012:

Number 10: Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The United States Supreme Court in a major decision, a 5-4 decision, upholds the president's health care reform law.

BALDWIN: You could have imagined the deciding vote was cast by the chief justice himself. Conservatives stunned. Liberals perplexed but thrilled. Forging ahead, the Roberts court takes on same-sex marriage.

Number nine: Yahoo! CEO Marissa Meyer. At 37, head of a major tech company, a CEO in a male-dominated field, pregnant. It's the baby part that became problematic, shall we say, when Meyer decided to take just a couple of weeks for maternity leave. The mommy blogosphere went nuts. Sure, she could be woman in charge, but what message was she sending by not staying home longer with her baby?

Number eight: South Korean rapper Psy.


BALDWIN: Say what you want, his lasso inspired dance style first discovered on Youtube had everyone going Gangnam. And we mean everyone.

ALAN SIMPSON (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: The lasso again and then the horseback.

BALDWIN: Psy was riding high in 2012, star performer in the most watched YouTube video of all time.


BALDWIN: Number seven: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This election is over, but our principles endure.

BALDWIN: Romney ran on his impressive business credentials, but it was his multiple gaffes during the campaign that analysts say helped seal his fate. Remember the 47 percent comments?

ROMNEY: The 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent on government --

BALDWIN: Oh. And this one.

ROMNEY: Binders full of women.

BALDWIN: Number six: ex-CIA director, General David Petraeus.

Have some breaking news now. Coming in regarding the chief of the CIA, General David Petraeus.

REPORTER: General Petraeus, can you talk with us, please? BALDWIN: The news was unexpected. The reason, shocking. Petraeus, a retired four-star general, quit had his CIA post and admitted he had cheated on his wife.

Petraeus' mistress was also his biographer, Paula Broadwell, an embarrassing exit from the public stage by one of the most respected public servants of his time.

Number five: super jumper Felix Baumgartner. Let's face it -- he did what no human has ever done, diving 24 miles from the edge of space, breaking the sound barrier along the way.

FELIX BAUMGARTNER, STRATOSPHERE JUMPER: I'm still the same guy, but as soon as you start traveling, people do recognize my face.

I was scared.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You were scared?

BAUMGARTNER: I was a little bit scared.

BALDWIN: Number four: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

GOV. CHIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: The shore and the boardwalk in Seaside Heights of my childhood no longer exist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for everything.

BALDWIN: The rough and tumble governor took charge when a super storm named Sandy ravaged his state days before the presidential election. A Romney backer, suddenly Christie was standing arm in arm with the president, praising Mr. Obama's leadership as they toured Sandy's wrath.

CHRISTIE: When you know you have responsibility for those folks, you could give a damn about the politics of things. I could care less today.

BALDWIN: Number three: Olympian Gabby Douglas.

ANNOUNCER: Gabby Douglas!

BALDWIN: One of the fab five of the London Games, she captured our hearts, becoming the first African-American gymnast to win gold in both the individual all around and team competitions at the same Olympics.

GABBY DOUGLAS, U.S. OLYMPIC CHAMPION: I wanted to inspire a nation, and the whole point about this is inspire a generation, and I love that.

BALDWIN: She did just that.

Number two: school age activist Malala Yousafzai. Malala rose to fame blogging about the brutality of her life in Pakistan under Taliban rule. Not yet a teenager, she dared to suggest girls not only deserve but have a right to an education.

MALALA YOUSAFZAI, PAKISTANI TEEN ACTIVIST: I will get my education if it is in home, school or any place.

BALDWIN: The Taliban retaliated, hunting her down, shooting her in the neck and back. The attack outraged even hardened Pakistanis, and all around the world Malala quickly became an international symbol of good against evil. Today she is recovering in England.

Number one: President Barack Obama.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tonight, you voted for action. Not politics as usual.

BALDWIN: After a long -- and we mean long and bitter campaign -- President Obama won re-election. In 2012, the president also won the Supreme Court's stamp of approval for his health care reform program and made history with this statement.

OBAMA: I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.

BALDWIN: As 2012 comes to a close, the president joined in grief with a community shocked by senseless violence.

OBAMA: These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.

BALDWIN: Brooke Baldwin, CNN, Atlanta.


COSTELLO: OK. Let's talk about another intriguing person. That would be Santa Claus because, as you might imagine, he's very busy already. NORAD, as usual, is tracking him this holiday season. We just got video in -- yes, video in of Santa.

He is now in Japan and also in Korea because Santa can do anything. It's magic. He's delivering it in those countries. Then, of course, he'll make his way closer to the United States around midnight or so and eat the cookies left by kids around the country and deliver presents to all the good children in America.

We'll continue to track Santa. We'll be right back.


COSTELLO: Now is your chance to talk back on one of the big stories of the day. The question for you this morning, should Hollywood rethink violent movies?

This Christmas Eve, the stars unite for gun control in this public service announcement.
















COSTELLO: This plead to get guns off our streets includes Jamie Foxx, who stars in the new Quentin Tarantino movie "Django Unchained," a violent spaghetti Western which opens on Christmas Day. After the Sandy Hook shooting, Foxx says he thought this of his own children.


JAMIE FOXX, ACTOR, "DJANGO UNCHAINED": It tears you up. And we have to do something. And I think -- I think now I feel that everyone is really pulling together, and we have to make some serious change.


COSTELLO: That something may or may not include a serious discussion of violence in movies. Foxx told "Monsters and Critics", quote, "We cannot turn our back and say that violence in films or anything that we do doesn't have a sort of influence. It does."

But Foxx's co-star Samuel L. Jackson doesn't see it that way.


SAMUEL L. JACKSON, ACTOR, "DJANGO UNCHAINED": I don't think one has anything to do with the other. This is a Western, and it's a period piece about slavery. America has a violent past. One thing has nothing to do with the other. I don't think -- that's definitely not life imitating art.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COSTELLO: It's art imitating life, although we tend not to glorify murder or make clever jokes about it in real life.

Following Sandy Hook, Hollywood delayed or limited screenings of "Django Unchained" and other violent movies out of respect. But to help stop gun violence, is postponing a movie that, let's face it, glorifies violence enough?

Talk back today: Should Hollywood rethink violent movies?, Your comments later this hour.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He has blood on his hands. Shame on the NRA.


COSTELLO: One of the protesters led away after disrupting the NRA speech, calling for armed guards in schools, says the group has too much influence over elected officials, and that's not all she's saying. She'll join us live.