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World Markets Tumble; Black Friday Bargains; Airline Perks for Congressmen; Danger at Newark Airport

Aired November 27, 2009 - 08:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. It's Friday, November 27th. I'm Christine Romans in for Kiran Chetry.

JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Joe Johns in for John Roberts.

And if you're a lot of people, you probably were up very early this morning, hitting the malls, almost ready to go home by now, right?

Well, here are the big stories we'll tell you about in the next 15 minutes.

The day after Thanksgiving, you can expect two things - leftovers and long lines. This morning, the holiday shopping rush is on. Retailers are hoping huge discounts and extended hours will set cash registers ringing after a tough year. We're live braving the crowds.

ROMANS: Wall Street kicking off the trading day in about 90 minutes, and it's shaping up to be a - a rough ride today, folks. We'll tell you what it could mean for your investments.

JOHNS: And air travel perks for politicians. Members of Congress parking for free at airports, paying no fees for checking bags, some of them even permitted to double book seats on multiple flights while only paying for the ones they use.


KATE HANNI, FLYERSRIGHTS.ORG: There's almost no seats available on planes right now because the airlines keep cutting back the number of seats that are actually available for you to sit in so they can make money on their flights.

So when they double book a seat, they're actually taking up one available seat that the flying public could have.

LESLIE PAIGE, CITIZENS AGAINST GOVERNMENT WASTE: You've only earned those miles because we've paid you to fly back and forth as part of your job. I think they should be - they shouldn't be allowed to keep them.

I mean, I think the overall problem with perks is that so much of them are decided by the Congressmen themselves.


JOHNS: In a moment, we'll talk about how our elected officials get freebies from an industry they also happen to regulate.

But first, door-busters. Super sales, midnight madness - it can only mean one thing. It's Black Friday!


JOHNS: Frenzied shoppers were poised to attack this morning when Macy's here in New York City opened its doors at 5:00 a.m. Eastern. Retailers are really counting on today to try to ease the pain of the recession, somewhat.

Our Sean Callebs is live at the Wal-Mart in Marietta, Georgia.

And, Sean, homeboy, show us around. How is it? How busy is it right now, buddy?

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A little slice -- a little slice of heaven, Joe. A little slice of heaven.

Actually, it's not that busy now. It was chaos early in the morning.

Now, what happened, they had sales that began at 5:00 Eastern. Now, normally this is a Wal-Mart store that opens around 5:00, but we all know what happened last year, Long Island when doors opened early in the morning, everyone went in, a crush of humanity descended on the place. Well, Wal-Mart worked with stores that weren't open 24 hours, so they got those stores to be able to be open for 24 hours so people could be in line.

So, we're here in the electronics section. Not very many people here right now. This morning this place was crazy. There were people waiting for flat screen TVs. They're waiting for Playstations, Wii -- just about everything you could think of.

But this is the way it is now, Joe. Things have really calmed down to a significant degree here. And that's good.

But the store managers tell us that -- look, this morning, things got off great. Everything went as planned. And another thing, to keep things as calm as can be, if you look in the background, you can see two uniformed officers. And they were hired by Wal-Mart to make sure that things did not get out of hand.

Everybody was very calm. They came in for the sales early in the morning. But now, people are going through that Black Friday drag, where they just pound the pavement, trying to find something to take home for the kids or something to stick under the tree.

But, Joe, it is -- you know...


CALLEBS: First, I'll be honest with you, I'll be glad when this day is over. JOHNS: Yes, I bet you will. Hey, so, looking around out there, have you been able to sort of ascertain what the hot gift is, at least from where you're standing right now?

CALLEBS: Yes, spin back around and I'll show you what the hot gift is. These flat screen TVs, because they were so expensive years ago, but now, you could buy a 32-inch one here for under $300 or 290- some bucks.


CALLEBS: So, people are waiting in line. But there were only 50 of them.

I'll also tell you the weirdest thing I've ever saw -- at 5:15, this place is jammed and one guy's pushing a cart with a crock-pot. Who comes in to say, I've got to have the crock-pot at 5:15 in the morning?


JOHNS: It seems like he's at least a day late, given the fact that yesterday was Thanksgiving. All right.

CALLEBS: I'm having meat and potatoes tonight.

JOHNS: Yes, that fantastic. All right. Thanks so much, Sean Callebs.

And stay with us. In about 10 minutes, we'll break down where you can find the best deals and when you should hit the stores. We'll talk to retail wizard, Marshal Cohen.

ROMANS: Joe, life is not complete unless you have a $4 crock- pot.


ROMANS: OK. We're also following breaking news regarding your money. Financial nerves rattled this morning after news that what is essentially the financial arm of Dubai may possibly have to default on billions in debt.

Our Stephanie Elam is "Minding Your Business" here.

They've asked for a re-freeze. They've asked for six months to figure out how to pay their debt obligations.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And it's something that has spooked out investors across the globe here, because -- Dubai, when people think of Dubai, they think of excess. They think of tons of money, money everywhere, building beaches in the desert, that kind of thing.

Well, this has freaked out a lot of people, especially in Asia. Take a look at what happened to the Asian markets when this story broke. So, you've got the Nikkei in Japan losing 3 percent -- more than that; the Hang Seng in Hong Kong off 4.8 percent; South Korea's KOPSI off 4.7 percent. Obviously, the markets are close here in the United States, so we didn't feel that pain.

So, right now, you take a look the futures for the U.S. markets and we're looking for a rough day, but not as rough as we were expecting earlier this morning. So, things are calming down. Also, the European markets, lower but not staggering losses, just fractionally lower.

So, it seems people are kind of calming down as this news gets here.

But let's break it down and tell you about Dubai World. They're the state financial arm of Dubai. They're owned by the government. This is a government company here.

And basically what they're saying is, "Hey, we've got this $59 billion in debt. We'd like to not make any payments on it for six months. Is that cool with you, everybody? Cool, happy? Oh, that's a problem for you? Oh, OK."

So, the banks didn't really like that idea, apparently. Also, I have to point out that this is during the Eid holiday, which is a massive holiday in the Middle East. So, there's not a lot people who are in the office, combined with not a lot of people being in the office here because of Thanksgiving.

So, a lot of the weight of the story we'll probably will feel next week. But there's sort of a panic button reaction. But we need to see how much of the American banks have exposure to this. The overall feeling right now is probably not that much. But that's what we're going to be keeping our eyes on as the story continues to go here.

Also, I can tell you that Dubai has said in several published reports that this was a sensible business decision, but we should be looking for more information next week.

JOHNS: The one thing that I've been wondering about since I first started hearing about this is, was this -- you know, on a scale of one to 10, a huge surprise, or were there some indications, perhaps? And either one of you can tell me...

ELAM: I think that the idea -- there's an issue about transparency when it comes to how things are done in Dubai, and that is the biggest takeaway from this story, is we need to know more about what's going on. You can have billions and billions and trillions of dollars, but we need to see that you know what you're doing with it.

ROMANS: Right.

ELAM: We need to know what's going on.


ROMANS: There are several different ones and these secretive funds.

JOHNS: Right.

ROMANS: And you can't really see very well what is happening.

ELAM: And that's the issue here and this is why it's become such a big issue. Now, if you're going to compare this, though, to, like, last fall, this is nothing like that. We don't have to worry about this story having that much of a major impact on the global markets as we saw last fall.


ELAM: So, just to kind of put it into perspective, we need to keep our eyes on it.

JOHNS: Sure. So, in the United States, it's more like, you'd kind of see the indicators of something coming down the road before it hits you in the face because of all the things to go public.


ROMANS: In a perfectly healthy world, a deal, something of this size, may not have the impact, but this just shows you fragile the financial system is. And the credit crunch we thought was gone a year ago -- there are still signs of it around the world.

ELAM: And how interconnected we were.


ELAM: At this point, it's a different game.



ROMANS: We're not all healthy out there yet.

JOHNS: You bet. All right.

ROMANS: Stephanie -- thanks, Stephanie.

JOHNS: Thanks so much.

And we're finding a lot more out about the couple from Virginia that crashed Tuesday night's White House state dinner. When they're not slipping past security check points to rub elbows with Washington's elite, they're spending a lot of time in court. Tareq and Michaele Salahi are named in 16 lawsuits, some as dependants, some as plaintiffs, and filed for Chapter VII bankruptcy back in February.

A spokesman for the couple says they'll be taking their story public on a media junket next week -- surprise, surprise.

ROMANS: And on the day the Salahis crashed the White House, they were being followed around by a reality TV crew.

JOHNS: Another surprise.

ROMANS: The Bravo Network confirming Michaele Salahi is being considered for a role in their upcoming "Real Housewives of D.C." show. A spokeswoman for Bravo says the company told them they were invited guests at the state dinner.

JOHNS: Talk about some top shop material for talk show hosts and comedians, the dinner-crashing White House couple is providing plenty of ammo for funny men like Jay Leno.


JAY LENO, TV TALK SHOW HOST: A couple snuck into the state dinner at the White House the other night. They just snuck in. What gave them away was their son, balloon boy was hiding in the Lincoln dinner.


LENO: No, I mean, the last time someone who got into the White House that didn't belong there, God, they stayed eight years. Remember?


JOHNS: Did he use the name of who was he thought wasn't supposed to be there?

ROMANS: He didn't mention. He didn't mention exactly who he was talking about. I think it was Barney.

JOHNS: Yes, oh, yes.

ROMANS: That was the name of the dog, right?

JOHNS: Barney, that's pretty good. Yes.

ROMANS: Oh, I know.


JOHNS: No, I thought you were talking about the dinosaur...

ROMANS: No, wasn't the dog named Barney?

JOHNS: Yes, the dog was named Barney.

ROMANS: Yes, OK. Thank you.

All right. So, where -- let's move off of this subject quickly, please. Where were the shopping deals today? Where are they? When should you go hunting, what should you expect? And is it worth it?

We'll have that after the break. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: Black Friday in the Bay Area. Sun's not even up yet. There you go, San Francisco, California -- forecast calls for it to be cloudy, 56 degrees, showers, going up to about 57. Not real warm out there today, but looking good so far.

Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

If there's any debate over what was the hottest season's toy, or what is the season's hottest toy, shoppers in New York seem to have settled it. Hundreds lined up at the Toys "R" Us in Times Square before midnight just to get their hands on Zhu Zhu. That is a motorized hamster that usually sells for around $7. I think you saw it here on AMERICAN MORNING just yesterday. But on eBay, they're selling it for $30 and more.

ROMANS: That's kind of a recession-friendly little thing. Not a big, expensive TV. Just a little tiny toy -- not bad

As you saw with Toys "R" Us, Black Friday getting upstaged this year by Thanksgiving. A number of big stores opened their doors on the holiday, hoping shoppers would have the energy to start tackling their family's "wish list" before the turkey.

But where are the deals and when should you go hunting? Here to help us break it down, our retail wizard, Marshal Cohen. He's an analyst with the NPD Group, a market research firm.

Thanks for coming in here. Are there going to be some decent deals for people out there if you're patient and you know where to go hunting?

MARSHAL COHEN, RETAIL WIZARD: You know, this year, the deals are going to be plentiful, every week from here on in, the weekend...


ROMANS: Oh, it's not just today.

COHEN: It's not just today. You know, the retailers have groomed us to really believe that Black Friday was the day. But as you've seen -- I call it the graying of Black Friday -- what we're actually seeing is are the deals have already started on Wednesday online, on Thursday, stores were open on Thursday, and today, the big day, you know, they really are out there to shop.

But the good news for the retailer is that the consumers that are going out and getting in line, they really do want to spend money. And the good news for the consumer is these deals aren't over. They're going to continue on throughout the holiday season.

ROMANS: I love you call it the graying of Black Friday. I think a lot of people don't know what the Black Friday comes from. Black Friday, traditionally, when the retailers -- they knew that a good day, the day after Thanksgiving, and they were going to make money for Christmas. It was pure profit from there on out. But today, you've got people -- a lot of consumers worried about their own being in the black for the year.

How much pressure does that put on retailers to get real creative and try to get people in there with good bargains? Because a lot of -- frankly, a lot of people are using debit cards now. They can't -- they can't finance their purchases like they used to. That something we definitely saw last year, too.

COHEN: A couple of things that have happened this year. The retailer has actually matured the holiday. It's almost like, I call it a new tradition is beginning, where the retailers are communicating with consumers on a constant basis. Whether it's through social media or whether it's through direct e-mail campaigns or even through word of mouth of friends -- helping people share the news about where all the good deals are, consumers are coming into the stores.

I've been in stores since 3:00 this morning, and they all are coming in with flyers or downloads from online, finding things that they're looking for.

So, it's a more organized, chaotic situation. Last year, it was a feeding frenzy of trying to find the deals. This year, it's a little bit more organized, a little bit better.

ROMANS: Do you think consumers have been holding back this year? I saw a consumer reports survey that said that 66 percent of consumers were shopping for themselves, because it's been a rough year and a half.

Do you think that people are buying gifts? Or do you think people are buying after being out in the desert for a while?

COHEN: The love the question because it's really true. I can't tell you how many people over the last three days have literally told me that they are just now, for the first time this year, shopping for themselves. They're seeing these really good deals and they're taking advantage of it, buying a great sweater for a loved one on the list, and buying another for themselves.

So, in many cases, people are actually, for the first time, reaching out and spending on themselves. Pent-up demand, as well as what I call frugal fatigue are starting to kick in. People are actually tired of spending the last year living in this recession...

ROMANS: Right.

COHEN: ... and not spending any money.

ROMANS: With frugal fatigue come frugalistas, the people who are -- all right, I'm going to go out there, I'm going to spend my money. But you, Mr. Retailer, or Ms. Retailer, have to make worth my while. It can't just be 20 percent off. Because I get these e-mails all the time saying 25 percent off and free shipping. So, now, what are you going to do about it?

They have to really ramp up the game.

COHEN: Yes, the real price point this year seems to be 40 percent off. Remember, last year, we -- you know, consumers were given the ultimate gift of 75 percent of storewide sales, because the retailers were just trying to manage inventory down, they had so much of it.

ROMANS: Right.

COHEN: This year, it's really about 40 percent off items only, and it's not storewide sales, it's selected items. So, really, the consumer this year needs to take advantage of. When you find a good item on sale, buy it.

ROMANS: What about inventory though? Because I've heard some tell us, they think, if you really want it, it might not be there. Because it's not like their warehouse is full of stuff. They're careful about stocking too much stuff in case the economy remains weak.

COHEN: Retailers have done a very good job this year of keeping inventories in control, which is why we've already seen the sales not have to reach the levels that we saw last year. Now, are you worried about stuff not being in stores? I'm not that concerned about it. You know, you can find plenty of things that no one really wants to give as a Christmas gift everywhere. So without really many hot items with the exception of a hot toy here and there and a hot electronic item here and there, there really isn't that much hot product out there that everybody is so desiring. In fact, consumers are not even aware of what they even want to get for Christmas, let alone what they're going to give. So, retailers have plenty of merchandise to go around. If you don't find it in one store, you can find it in another. If you can't find it in the stores, you can certainly find it online.

ROMANS: No need to pay full price for anything. And today's not just the day. It's going to keep happening. All right. Marshal Cohen, NPD group. Thanks for joining us.

And a reminder, that Marshall has a book coming out soon, "Buy Me!", him, the book, the whole thing. Keep an eye out for that.

JOHNS: And Christine, coming up shortly after the break, we'll talk about Congressional travel perks when the people you send to Capitol Hill actually get the red carpet treatment from the airline industry.


ROMANS: Okay, so the weather officially says it's mostly cloudy in D.C., but that looks kind of like a bright - I don't know, it looks really bright to me, a bright, bright look at the Capitol Building. It's 43 degrees in the nation's capitol. Later today, partly cloudy, 49 in D.C. not bad.

JOHNS: A little chilly, though. ROMANS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Did you happen to fly this holiday weekend? You know it's getting more and more expensive.

JOHNS: Thirty bucks a day to park your car at the airport.

ROMANS: Check.

JOHNS: Let's see, charge to book the flight.

ROMANS: Check.

JOHNS: More fees for your bags.

ROMANS: Check.

JOHNS: It's really going to add up, obviously. Unless you happen to be an elected official in Washington, D.C.


JOHNS (voice-over): This holiday season, as you sit packed into economy class paying those extra fees, enduring canceled flights, getting bumped from your seat, consider this. The people you send to Washington who regulate the airlines, are receiving travel perks from the industry and it's perfectly legal.

Kate Hanni is with the consumer advocacy group.

KATE HANNI, FLYERSRIGHTS.ORG: There's an absolute conflict of interest between members of Congress who should be writing laws to protect airline passengers and them taking perks from the airlines.

JOHNS: Case in point, while most of us have to pay for reservations when we make them, some airlines allow members of Congress to double-book seats on multiple flights. But unlike the average Joe traveler, members of Congress only pay for the flights they take, even as airlines often overbook flights.

HANNI: There's almost no seats available on planes right now, because the airlines keep cutting back the number of seats that are actually available for you to sit in, so they can make money on their flights. So when they double-book a seat, they're actually taking up one available seat that the flying public could have.

JOHNS: Another perk, free parking members of Congress get, including here at Washington's Reagan National Airport.

PETE SEPP, TAXPAYERS UNION: They pay absolutely nothing for the privilege of parking here. In fact, the revenues could easily amount to $1 million or more.

JOHNS (on camera): And even though taxpayers are paying the freight, members of the house can use their frequent flier miles for personal travel, which irks some watchdog groups, because if they used the miles only for business travel, they could save the taxpayers' money.

LESLIE PAIGE, CITIZENS AGAINST GOVERNMENT WASTE: You've only earned those miles because we've paid you to fly back and forth as part of your job. I think they should be, they should not be allowed to keep them. I mean, I think the overall problem with perks is that so much of them are decided by the Congressmen themselves.

JOHNS: Defenders say lawmakers are reasonably entitled to these perks.

(on-camera): And why do members of Congress need so much special treatment from the air travel industry? Some will tell you it's because their jobs are so demanding and unpredictable, that they need special treatment in order to cope with Congressional schedules. Votes can occur late at night, early in the morning, even on weekends.

But it's also true that members of Congress are some of the most important customers the airlines serve, because they are among the people who make the rules for the industry.

(voice-over): Which is why some are upset.

HANNI: There is no separation between Congress and the airlines. When the airlines are allowed to offer our good senators and Congressmen perks whenever they fly. They are never going to legislate a meaningful airline passenger bill of rights in the face of losing those perks.

JOHNS: And while a passenger bill of rights has been put together by the senate, it hasn't yet been passed. Several airlines we contacted said offering such perks is legal and cited the difficult schedules of members of Congress as the main reason why they do it. Although it may be little consolation the next time you're struggling to get through America's air travel gauntlet.


ROMANS: Unbelievable. It just doesn't change. Just doesn't...

JOHNS: Nope. Wait, I've done this story in varying forms, talking about the perks, over the course of my career, about three or four times. There have been attempts to change it, attempts to cut it out, but it just keeps going.

ROMANS: All right. We're going to talk more about a travel situation that you might be very concerned -- a very serious situation at one of the major airports in this country. A potential runway danger. And what's being done and hasn't been done to try to address it. That's coming up with Allan Chernoff next.


ROMANS: All right. 46 and cloudy in the big apple. There she is, Lady Liberty right there in New York Harbor. We're going to go up to 48 today and showers in the big apple after a really beautiful day yesterday for the parade. Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. This is a busy time for airports, millions of Americans preparing to fly home after the thanksgiving holiday.

JOHNS: And now comes word of serious safety concerns at one of the busiest airports in the nation. Allan Chernoff here with an A.M. original. What we're talking about here, "Close Calls at the runway at Newark".

ALLAN CHERNOFF, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. These are runways that actually intersect at Newark and sometimes they're used at the same time. And now federal officials have concluded that the landing procedures at Newark sometimes have allowed planes to come much too close to each other.


CHERNOFF (voice-over): A potential danger to the flying public. That's how federal investigators are describing the simultaneous use of intersecting runways at Newark Liberty International Airport, one of the busiest in the nation. Newark air traffic controller Ray Adams raised the issue after witnessing too many close calls from the control tower. On January 16th of last year, he saw two continental planes miss each other by only 600 feet.

RAY ADAMS, AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER: That was very scary. I was there for that one personally in the control tower and it scared the heck out of everybody up there.

CHERNOFF: Potential danger arises when approaching planes need to abort their landings, which happens about every 700 flights, according to an FAA analysis.

(on camera): Any plane aborting a landing along runway 11, which runs west to east here at Newark, has to make a sharp right turn, taking it into the path of two intersecting runways.

(voice-over): In what the FAA calls go-arounds, the diverted plane has to avoid planes landing and taking off from the intersecting runway. There's little margin for error. Four times last year and another four times this year, Newark air traffic control allowed planes to come too close together.

ADAMS: There was a distinct possibility that we could have had a collision with these operations the way they were run previously.

CHERNOFF: Adams raised the safety issue to the FAA, but it went nowhere. He says his managers maintained there was no problem. Yet Adams persisted, taking his complaint to Congress. In response, he says, he was punished, put on paid leave for 11 months, then leave without pay for a month.

The FAA says the disciplinary actions had nothing to do with Adams' safety concerns. Adams filed a whistle-blower complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Council, which led Department of Transportation Inspector General Calvin Scovell to investigate. He found merit in Adams' concerns. Concluding two months ago, questions about the safety of the runway 22L-11 approach configuration at Newark persists.

ADAMS: I've been vindicated at least on the safety concerns, now I would like to see some accountability on the part of the FAA.

CHERNOFF: In response, the FAA promised to utilize a computer program that helps air traffic controllers stagger aircraft to ensure proper spacing. On November 5th, the Department of Transportation, which oversees FAA, told the Office of Special Council, the computer system had been put to use. FAA implemented converging runway display aid technology at Newark on October 26th. The very next day, the U.S. Office of Special Council learned that in fact the technology was no longer in use at Newark.

REP. DONALD PAYNE (D), NEW JERSEY: I am outraged. When you put the jeopardy of human lives at risk, it can't get any more serious than that.

CHERNOFF: FAA says there was no intent to deceive anyone about what we were doing. FAA safety officers wanted to make absolutely sure employees were fully trained on the equipment. Last week, the Office of Special Council raised the matter with President Obama, writing, we found a substantial likelihood that FAA officials were engaging in conduct that constitutes gross mismanagement and a substantial and specific danger to public safety.

The FAA says it plans to have the computer system fully operational at Newark by mid-December. Meanwhile, after a year out of the control tower, Ray Adams returned to his regular job on Wednesday.

JOHNS: Gross mismanagement, that's pretty serious stuff.

CHERNOFF: The office of special council is perturbed, to say the least. Just imagine -- they received this announcement, this letter from the Department of Transportation saying it's all in place. And then all of a sudden, they learn it's not. So that led to this very, very strong letter to the president.

ROMANS: And they explain why it's not in place, because there are some issues with training and the like, but it raises the question, if you've got this means, this software to help the air traffic controllers with this problem, why wouldn't you be using it and have everyone trained and aggressively trying to get this?

CHERNOFF: And this is actually software that they've had for quite some time. So clearly, it's something that could help. And at least now, it's going to be implemented. It is going to happen.

ROMANS: Allan Chernoff, you can read more about Allan's story on runway dangers at Newark airport, go to our blog at

JOHNS: It is now 31 minutes after the hour. Checking our top stories.

Ready, set, spend. Shoppers across the country are rolling out of bed early to find the gloomy economy and celebrating Black Friday. Right now retailers are trying to make you an offer you can't refuse to help beat the recession. Experts say crowds this year should be a little heavier than usual.

ROMANS: We're watching your money this morning. Market overseas in negative territory over fears over a debt situation, a credit situation in Bubai. Japan's Nikkei closed down more than three percent, Hong Kong's Hang Seng down by almost five percent. And right now the DOW futures are also sharply lower.

JOHNS: And Iranian authorities have seized the Noble Peace Prize won by human rights attorney Shirin Ebadi. She became the first Iranian and first Muslim woman to receive the Nobel back in 2003. She won it for promoting democracy in Iran.

Ebadi says Iran's Revolutionary Court authorities ordered taking the medal from her safe deposit box in Iran earlier this month. The confiscation is actually a first in the 108-year history of the prize.

And he's a young man but already making an extraordinary difference for kids half his age. Efren Penaflorida was named CNN's 2009 hero of the year.

ROMANS: And what he did, he created a classroom on wheels to give kids at risk in the Philippines an alternative to gangs. Recently, I had a chance to speak with Efren and ask him how it felt to win the award.


EFREN PENAFLORIDA, FOUNDER, DYNAMIC TEEN COMPANY: It's overwhelming, and it's unbelievable. So I cannot believe that this thing is happening to us.

ROMANS: Could you ever imagine international recognition for your program? Did you ever think that so many people would know and say, look, you're our hero?

PENAFLORIDA: No. We never expected to be in this situation. It's really god's blessing to us.

ROMANS: Let's talk about the push cart classrooms. You saw a need in your country. You saw a need for children to have the opportunity to learn. Tell me a little bit about your program and what you bring and provide to those children.

PENAFLORIDA: Yes, a lot of kids are -- don't have opportunity to go school. So what we do is we bring the school to them. So we use a push cart. The push cart has a built-in blackboard shelf. We bring books and learning materials.

And we have also a place where children can play for a certain period of time. We also have a clinic where we bring medicine for -- a first aid kit, where we treat their wounds and some hygiene programs as well. So that's what with we do the whole day.

ROMANS: Some of these children who you used to tutor are former gang members, drug addicts, who are now working alongside you. How does that feel to see that you are making this difference in these kids' lives and giving them a chance to escape the grip of poverty and crime?

PENAFLORIDA: It's really fulfilling. Just to see these kids learning how to read and write and these kids joining us instead of joining gangs and being productive, it's really fulfilling on our part.

ROMANS: It must be amazing to see, you know, every child no matter where they live or what their circumstances, Efren, every child has it in them to learn and take their young life and have a chance to grow it and do something with it. And you've given them that little bit of a help, that little bit of a thing. How do they respond?

PENAFLORIDA: Before -- at first, some of them are interested, because instead of joining us, they want to scavenge and to play in streets and to beg. But actually our mentors told us, advised us to bring food. So that's the main motivation then. If you're not going to give something to them, then they will not listen to you.

So what we did, we bring bags of foods. And then before we give the food to them, we first teach them.

So now a lot of children are interested. They are very excited. They are motivated, aside from the food that they are getting, it's the love for learning we were able to develop in their hearts.

ROMANS: All right, Efren Penaflorida, CNN hero of the year. Thank you so much, sir. Congratulations.

PENAFLORIDA: Thank you very much.


ROMANS: Proof positive that every person can make a difference with a push cart and a blackboard and a bag of food.

JOHNS: Just amazing.

And another amazing story coming up straight away, a story that a lot of kids are just going to love to hear -- a fraternity of Santas and what they ask for, coming up next.



CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": Now, the Macy's parade, it was a big success today, apparently. People were particularly excited, they unveiled a brand-new parade balloon. And they're already calling it an instant classic. People went crazy for it. Take a look. There it is.


Everyone was excited -- apparently, yes.


ROMANS: That's pretty funny. Welcome back to the most news in the morning.

JOHNS: Sorry, I'm choking. That was really a surprise.

ROMANS: To millions he goes by just one name, Santa. He is a familiar face, especially this time of year.

JOHNS: And this morning, our Ted Rowlands introduces us to five big bearded friends making a difference on the holiday.


TED ROWLANDS: These are five Santas with some incredible stories. Bob Gerardi is a realtor. Bob Beals is a retired deputy sheriff. Eloy Ray is a retired train conductor who now drives this Santa convertible. Dave Strom is retired from the phone company, now a gun smith. And Art Brown is a politician. They've each had thousands of kids sit on their laps.

BOB BEALS, SANTA/RETIRED SHERIFF'S DEPUTY: Most of us have gotten a beard full of whatever the child is eating at the moment. Here, Santa, have a bite.


ROWLANDS: They also have stories about children with nothing asking for things for their parents and heartbreaking requests from kids asking Santa for a miracle, like bringing loved ones come back from the dead.

DAVID STROM, SANTA/FORMER PHONE LINESMAN: I've been asked to have mom or dad to come back. I've been asked for a liver transplant or a kidney transplant for one of the parents. Those are very difficult.

ART BROWN, SANTA/MAYOR PRO TEM. BUENA PARK: I had one where the one kids says, all I want is a new diaper bag for my new baby for my mother. They don't have anything, but they're thinking of other people.

ROWLANDS: Sometimes the Santas can help, like Dave's story, on getting a family's power turned back on.

STROM: Having worked for a utility company, I had a little insight on how we can do that. And we got their power turned back on.

ROWLANDS: As a rule, the Santas never promise everything, though kids definitely ask.

ELOY RAY, SANTA/RET. TRAIN CONDUCTOR: As they're facing me and telling me what they want, I can see the parents in the background --

ROWLANDS: How do you handle that? RAY: I tell them, I'm sure you'll love what Santa will bring you.

ROWLANDS: These Santas are members of the Fraternal Order of Real Bearded Santas. Bob and Eloy need to get their beards colored. The group gets together throughout the year for Santa pool parties and dinners. They recently went to see the movie "A Christmas Carol."

BEALS: I've never seen the movie "Bad Santa," by the way. I refuse to see it.

ROWLANDS: They also say they've refused to be a bad Santa, which they've been asked to do.

BEALS: I don't mind a cute young lady sitting on my lap and a kiss on the cheek or something of that nature, but she's going to be fully clothed. That's just where I draw the line.

ROWLANDS: They say they're recognized all year by children and are always ready to answer the question, like are you the real Santa?

BOB GERARDI, SANTA/REALTOR: We have the best way of getting around that -- Santa has lots of helpers, but there's only one Santa. It's for you to decide which one is the real Santa.

ROWLANDS: The pay isn't great. In fact a lot of Santa work is volunteer. The smiles they get is enough, they say, like the one Bob says he got from a disabled girl he saw who had pneumonia.

GARARDI: This little girl had a smile on her face from ear to ear that wouldn't stop, and broke my heart. I was just sitting there looking at -- she was obviously just overjoyed to be there.

ROWLANDS: The next time you see a smiling child on Santa's lap, know that the man behind the beard is probably smiling too.

Ted Rowlands, CNN, Los Angeles.


ROMANS: Those guys are cool, very cool.

JOHNS: That's fantastic.

ROMANS: It really is.

And Santas of all people really know a thing or two about bad weather. And we're getting a nice preview here today. Storms in the northeast bringing some snow.

JOHNS: What are we talking about here? We're talking about West Virginia -- well, Jacqui Jeras will tell us the whole story.

ROMANS: She's actually qualified to read that map and tell us what it means.

JOHNS: I don't have a clue. What's the blue stuff?

ROMANS: Freeze warnings in the south. We'll have a whole rundown for your traveling pleasure after this.


JOHNS: Oh, look at that right now. What a shot. That is Boston, Massachusetts. See a little bit of fog there up in the sky and just a taste of the road. Not much.

All right. So what are we looking at for the weather there? Light rain, 45 degrees later today going all the way up to 46.

Here in the northeast, we're going to see some problems, actually.

ROMANS: Yes we are; we really are.

JOHNS: And we need to get to Jacqui now, because we were looking at your map, we were not able to decipher it.


ROMANS: All right, Jacqui Jeras, thank you, Jacqui.

You know, the governor of Colorado woke up to a beautiful white lawn this morning. One problem -- it wasn't snow. Someone tee-peed (ph) the governor's mansion.

JOHNS: Whoa.

ROMANS: Take a look.

JOHNS: Well, that's...

ROMANS: The toilet -- that's a squirrel and toilet paper everywhere. Colorado's First Lady was philosophical about it. She said, at least it's better than getting egged. And at least it's not raining.


ROMANS: When it's raining and you've been tee-peed -- it's not good.

JOHNS: I would love to know who did that, huh? All right.

ROMANS: Yes, I could think the person who's the guard probably got laid off with state budget cuts. And so now you can tee-pee the governor's mansion.

JOHNS: All right and also Jeanne Moos is going to have a piece on a reality show new to cable that's causing quite a bit of controversy. The question is whether Italian-Americans are being portrayed as bimbos and buffoons.


ROMANS: Oh, my family in Chicago had Thanksgiving yesterday at Pat and Archie's house -- Chicago, Illinois, where it's partly cloudy, 31 degrees. You give a shout-out to your kids in Florida...


ROMANS: I give a shout out to Pat and Archie.

JOHNS: Absolutely.

ROMANS: Cloudy and 42 later today.

Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

Let's fast forward through the stories we'll be covering on CNN today.

At 9:44 Eastern, Space Shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to land at Kennedy Space Center, weather permitting. Yesterday we told you the astronauts were not having Thanksgiving dinner in space, but it turns out the crew of the International Space Station snuck turkey dinners on to the shuttle before it undocked; a little holiday turkey surprise.

JOHNS: And at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, U.S. markets close early. It is likely to be a pretty rough day out there. Asian stock markets hit the skids this morning after Dubai attempted to reschedule its $60 billion debt and the dollar hit a 14-year low against the yen.

ROMANS: All right, so let's check on the markets now. Stephanie Elam here is minding your business. We know the futures are expected to be lower. People were concerned about just what this Dubai situation means for the rest of the world. Where do we stand?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Right and you know, we're going to see a lot of volatility today, mainly because most people are still recovering from all that turkey they ate yesterday. So not a lot of people are going to be in, trading today not just here but also in the Middle East because of the Eidh (ph) holiday there.

So volatility all abounds, simply because there's just not that many traders. What I can tell you is that the Asian markets really took it on the chin because of what's going on in Dubai: Nikkei losing nearly three percent and the Hang Seng, off nearly five percent; same story for the South Korean exchange there.

We are seeing now though, that the FTSE in London is now positive. So things are temporarily coming back before they were down. Our futures are coming back a bit, but still looking down about 200 points, 199 points.

So we are probably going to have a rough day here, but mainly, what you need to know about the story, Dubai World, which is the financial arm of the Dubai government, is saying that they would like to not pay back any money on their debt -- which is about $59 billion -- for six months.

This news came out, it spooked investors and they went ahead and went to safe haven. So we'll have to see how this all plays out but for now, this is nothing like last year, but it just shows you that investors are still really skittish about this market.

ROMANS: A reminder, it's not all rainbows and unicorns out there until we see how it...

ELAM: No fairy dust.

ROMANS: Right. And see how it factors out with the America's markets.

JOHNS: It's not?


ROMANS: All right, Stephanie Elam, thanks.

ELAM: Sure.

ROMANS: All its -- I guess it's not rainbows and unicorns on the "Jersey Shore" where MTV is doing this reality show that has really angered Italian-Americans who say that it's just unfairly portraying Italian-Americans as bimbos and buffoons. We're going to have that next.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I like those Italian boys and muscles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They keep their hair high.



JOHNS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

First, it was "The Sopranos", many Italian-Americans a little uneasy with that stereotyping that comes with a character like Tony Soprano.

ROMANS: Now there's a new reality show called "Jersey Shore". And before the first episode has even aired, Italian-Americans are angry again. They feel they're being portrayed as bimbos and buffoons.

Here's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just what new jersey needs, another slap.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: TV's new series, "Jersey Shore."

MOOS: But what's creating waves is the way Italians come across in this reality series.



ANDRE DIMINO, PRESIDENT, UNICO: Full of the hottest, tannest, craziest Guidos.

MOOS: Guido. The G word really grates on Andre Dimino. He's president of UNICO, an Italian-American organization that would love "Jersey Shore" to be canceled.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I like tan Italian boys and muscles.

MOOS: Even though it hasn't yet aired.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It takes me about 25 minutes to do my hair.

A. DIMINO: They're going to the lowest common denominator. It's just a bunch of pumped up young bimbos and buffoons acting on the beach with their spiked up hair.

MOOS (on camera): You have nice hair.

A. DIMINO: Thank you.

MOOS: But it's not spiked up.

A. DIMINO: No, it's not.

MOOS: It's up though.

A. DIMINO: That's right.

MOOS (voice-over): The reality show gets hairy. It's about a group of 20-somethings who share a summer rental in Seaside Heights New Jersey.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a good-looking, well-groomed Italian who's very, very good with the ladies.

A. DIMINO: They show them being arrested, fighting, you know, hitting a girl, a girl kissing a girl, it's just trash. It's just trash.

MOOS (on camera): But isn't this normal reality show fare?

A. DIMINO: What's the insult on injury is that they connected it so closely to being Italian-Americans.

MOOS (voice-over): The last show UNICO protested was "The Sopranos."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you crying about? HMO, you're covered.

MOOS: The cast of "Jersey Shore" makes Tony Soprano seem modest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can hate on me, but what can you say to somebody that looks like Rambo pretty much with his shirt off.

MOOS: MTV released a statement saying, "The show continues MTV's history of documenting various subcultures and the way they self- identify." But Dimino's not buying the anthropological explanation of MTV. He says...

A. DIMINO: The MT stands for Empty. It's really an empty network now.

MOOS: His wife, Jenny, agrees.

JENNY DIMINO, WIFE OF ANDRE DIMINO: It looks like "Girls Gone Wild." It reminds me of that show, "Girls Gone Wild".

A. DIMINO: They call the girls the guidettes.

J. DIMINO: I don't think I'm a Guidette.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You never know on the "Jersey Shore" what's going to go down.

MOOS: Not their hair.

Jeanne Moos...

(on camera): Has he ever had gel in his hair?

J. DIMINO: Never.

MOOS (voice-over): ... CNN, New York.


ROMANS: All right. You can...

JOHNS: I never had gel in mine.

ROMANS: You can continue the conversation on -- I'd like to see you down there partying -- continue the conversation on today's stories. You can go to our blog at

That's it for us. I'm Christine Romans in for Kiran Chetry.

JOHNS: And now it's time to peek in on Fredricka Whitfield in the "NEWSROOM".