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Pope Attacked During Mass; Santa Visits Chimps; AM Original Series: Richard Branson; Lighthouse Church Gives Money

Aired December 25, 2009 - 08:00   ET


ROB MARCIANO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We're also tracking some breaking news internationally out of Afghanistan this morning. The Taliban releasing a video they say shows a U.S. soldier who is captured over five months ago. The identification of the man in the video has not been confirmed but he calls himself Private First Class Bow Bergdahl. He also says he's been treated humanely. The Taliban says they want to trade the prisoner for several of their own prisoners.

And authorities in Pakistan say they're pursuing terrorism charges against five Americans being held there. The five young men, all Muslims and from the Washington, D.C. area were arrested earlier this month but have not been formally charged. They're suspected of traveling to Pakistan to join with terrorist forces and fight in Afghanistan.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. commander of U.S. forces in Iraq has formally rescinded a controversial policy regarding pregnancy in a war zone. The policy calls for pregnant soldiers and their sexual partners to be punished, including a possible court martial. General Ray Odierno these guidelines will be lifted as of January 1st.

A U.S. air strike may have killed a radical Muslim cleric who's been linked to the gunman accused in the Fort Hood massacre. Officials in Yemen say at least 30 militants were killed in an attack of suspected al Qaeda hideouts there. And they believe this man was among them. The cleric was a spiritual advisor to Army Major Nidal Hasan who's charged with murdering 13 fellow shoulders at Fort Hood last month.

MARCIANO: Also new this morning, crews are cleaning up an oil spill on the same reef where the Exxon Valdez about 20 years ago. The Coast Guard says a tugboat put in service to help prevent another oil disaster was headed back to port when it ran a ground, damaging a 33,000-gallon fuel tank. Officials aren't sure how much oil has spilled, but they say that there is a fuel sheen that's about three miles long and 30 yards wide.

COSTELLO: A team of investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board in Jamaica this morning to help figure out what happened with American Airlines Flight 331. On Tuesday, the Boeing 737 carrying 156 people overran a runway near Kingston and slammed into a fence, sending nearly 100 people to the hospital. Investigators are trying to retrieve a second recorder.

MARCIANO: And in the Philippines, about 47,000 people forced out of their homes. There is concern the Mayon Volcano will erupt. But records show it's never happened at Christmas.

So, have no fear. Santa came. Kids in evacuation center, open presents and clowns were there to entertain. Folks celebrated mass as well.

COSTELLO: Some scary weather outside. We want to check it with Bonnie Schneider in Atlanta. She's tracking a big storm in the Midwest.

Good morning, Bonnie.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Carol. You're right, a big storm. Christmas Day, a lot of people may be where they want to be already, but if you are traveling, you need to know that we have a whiteout situation for many places like Kansas City.

I want to show you the latest right now and what you'll find is definitely some heavy snow for that region. Wind gusts could get up to 50 miles per hour. That makes visibility -- well, limited down to zero.

Also, Minneapolis, we had some blizzard conditions to the north of the city. We'll still see more snow out there for today. Just a few more inches as it continues to snow, as you can see, on the map.

We're also watching for heavy rain to work its way through Wisconsin, into cities like Chicago as well. That will change over to freezing rain tonight.

And finally, the threat for tornadic activity also continues for the southeast. Now, this advisory should be lifted in the next couple hours, but just be prepared if you are in coastal sections of Carolinas, particularly South Carolina, and southern Georgia, northern Florida, you run the risk of some very damaging winds with severe thunderstorms breaking out in the southeast. We also have some very rain associated with the systems.

And to the north, I can happily report at least it stopped raining in Little Rock. They had almost 10 inches of rain on the ground there.

For those of you that are traveling, let's take a quick look at flight explorer right now. At this very hour, we have over 1,200 in the air. But luckily, no delays. So that's some good news. We are watching for that.

And we are expecting, though, to see anticipated airport delays for some cities like Kansas City. Perhaps the Washington, D.C. area. Charlotte, due to some winds. Also, Atlanta, Memphis, St. Louis, low clouds, wind and rain. It rained pretty hard here this morning in Atlanta. And in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, watch out for low clouds, rain and wind.

I think the good thing today, Carol and Rob, is that a lot of people are already at their destination, but later tonight, maybe they'll hit the road. So, you can hold off for, you know, until the snow stops in the Midwest, I think you'll be in much better shape.

COSTELLO: That's true. Better to stay safe. Thank you, Bonnie.

MARCIANO: Thanks, Bonnie.


MARCIANO: Well, you heard about Christmas light displays that have set to music. You've seen them. Well, this one, a whole new twist. A house turned into a giant video game.

It's six minutes after the hour.


AARON ALLAN (ph), U.S. ARMY: My name is Specialist Aaron Allan from Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. I'd like to wish my wife and baby, "Happy Holidays." My wife Barbie, baby Violet, and also my family back home in Seattle, Washington. Happy Holidays!




COSTELLO: (INAUDIBLE) you can't ask for much more than that on Christmas morning.

MARCIANO: Santa, the Yule log. I mean, we're all in the spirit. Hope you're enjoying this Friday morning. It is -- it is Christmas. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. It is nine minutes after the hour -- and that means it's time for an A.M. original.

But first, here's what's new this morning. A lot of new video of this thing.

COSTELLO: Actually, we found video that game fans are going to love. It's set to the "Guitar Hero" or "Rock Band" -- oh, wait a second, what are we doing exactly? Christmas lights.

MARCIANO: We're doing Christmas lights. All right. So, we'll get to the news later.

COSTELLO: We are doing it right now. OK.

MARCIANO: All right. So you've heard of, you know, stuff being set to music, Christmas displays. This Burbank family took the idea from their TV and wanted to put the Christmas lights on their house. So, they shot a video, of course, it's gone viral with nearly 2 million hits on YouTube.

COSTELLO: That's pretty cool.

MARCIANO: "Rock Band," "Guitar Hero."

COSTELLO: So, actually, what you're looking at is a Nintendo Wii linked to a Christmas display, controlled with the wireless guitar. But the guy behind this says he's not bothering. He's saying that the music is actually broadcast over FM radio, so people passing by in the cars can hear the music.

And if you are wondering what the song is that they synched the lights to, it's "Cliffs of Dover" by Eric Johnson.

Let's listen for a second.


COSTELLO: OK. We found another one. That's enough for that one. And we found another one, too. Not a Christmas video, but you have to see it.

MARCIANO: Yes. A group of musicians actually turned the sounds of a Jeep Cherokee into a techno truck that's -- well, iPod worthy. The video is at quite a few tech blogs on the Internet. So, you want to check this out. It's -- well, just check it out. Do we have it? Yes? No?

COSTELLO: This segment has been a terrible failure, hasn't it?

MARCIANO: And it's so great on paper. I mean, we saw these great videos people getting crazy with their lights, you know? Just making their electric meters spin around and round.

And now, finally, here we are. Hitting the post, this is why I'm not a deejay.

COSTELLO: Wasn't this worth waiting for?

MARCIANO: All right. Let's listen.





MARCIANO: Ratings are moving the meteorite there, baby, on Christmas morning.


COSTELLO: You know, humans, they were the only primates enjoying this Christmas season, Santa visited some very special chimpanzees early this month.

MARCIANO: But these chimps got a little bit more than just presents. Our John Zarrella has a story Fort Pierce, Florida.


JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Don't rub your eyes. You are not seeing things. Yes, that is Arnulfo, the chimpanzee. And yes, he is making off with Christmas presents. And he's not alone.

Now, before I get too far, let's rewind a bit. Let me explain.

It was the week before Christmas and all through the preserve, chimps were getting everything that they deserve.

The tree was planted in the ground with great care. Presents placed around it, soon the chimps would be there.

OK, enough of that. This is the Save the Chimps sanctuary in Fort Pierce, Florida. One hundred and sixty-eight chimpanzees rescued from medical research facilities are living out the rest of their life here, a secluded 158-acre chimp paradise. Until they're rescued, nearly all of them lived 20 or 30 or 40 years in tiny cages.

JEN FEUERSTEIN, SANCTUARY DIRECTOR: They spend all of their lives in steel and concrete cages. So, I think they do know that life is much better for them now, and these are -- these are the special joys that they get and they deserve.

ZARRELLA: The special joy, a "Chimpmas" party. Every year, staff and volunteers wrap donated gifts, dolls and stuffed animals, of course.

A chimp favorite? Apples. First, their cord and then strung together. When everything is ready, it's off to one of the 12 great apes islands (ph) here. This island is home to Rufus and 26 other chimps.

With the chimps locked in their nighttime enclosure, the workers decorate the island with streamers, stocking, apples, presents and treats. When they're done, the island is cleared of humans and the chimps released.

The race is on. Spudnut is the first to the Christmas tree, fishing out apples, as many as he can carry. Arnulfo is making off with more presents. Baby Leo just as soon played with a Dr. Pepper box. Another chimp shot-put his present. Bret got a cookie monster hand puppet.

(on camera): How does it make you feel when you see the way they react out here, when you do something like this for them?

FEUERSTEIN: It really just fills my heart with joy. It's such a pleasure to see them out here enjoying their island -- especially when you know where they came from and what their life was before.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): For the staff and volunteers, it's all about giving, not receiving. Okay, Spudnut, that's not apples.

John Zarrella, CNN, Fort Pierce, Florida.


COSTELLO: It's amazing. He could stuff that many apples in his mouth.

MARCIANO: You know, chimps deserve Christmas as well. Maybe Santa is thinking, you know, some day, millions of years down the road, those chimps maybe be little boys and girls doing nice things and deserving of presents as well. That's my geek Darwinism in me. All right, guys.

COSTELLO: Now, we got to a church story.


COSTELLO: You know, many pastors around the country are trying to get people to go to church. Well, one pastor has a -- has an interesting idea to get people in the pews. He's actually giving money away if you attend mass. We'll tell you more about it.

It's 15 minutes past the hour.


MARCIANO: Christmas as well. Maybe Santa is thinking, you know, some day millions of years down the road those chimps may be little boys and girls, being doing nice things, very nice presents as well. That's my geek Darwinism in me. All right guys.

COSTELLO: Now, we'll go to a church story, you know many pastors around the country are trying to get people to go to church. Well one pastor has an interesting idea to get people in the pews. He is actually giving money away if you attend mass.


COSTELLO: Yes, tell you more about it. 15 minutes past the hour.


COSTELLO: A perfect segway into our next story, what were they thinking, two donkeys were part of a living nativity scene at a church in Vail Colorado just walked off the job.

The church pastor said they were being held append before the event when the pushed the fence and escaped. Police followed their tracks in the snow to find them. They had wondered near some railroad tracks. But police were able to find them in time. They are A okay and back at the nativity scene.

MARCIANO: You don't know at the time Christmas playlist would be complete without Dominique the Donkey. I just wanted to be on the record to say that. Go to church. Win cash prizes. It is one way fire up attendance in the trouble and economic times.

COSTELLO: That right Christine Romans takes us to one house of worship where the "Price Is Right" meets the pulpit.


UNIDENFIED MALE: All right, partner. You get it all, it all belongs to you. All is yours now in Jesus' name. Wow, let's go.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): At the lighthouse church of all nations in suburban Chicago, parishioners are lining up every week hoping to receive more than just the Sunday sermon. Church pastor Dan Willis also recently began giving away money. With the congregation hit hard by the economic downturn, Willis finishes every service with a cash prize, giving away $1,000 every week.

PASTOR DAN WILLIS: If you are in seat number -- 365, you just won $500 --

Due to the economic recession, I wanted to teach on the parallel between faith and finances.

500. How are you feeling right about now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am happy. Thank you so much.

ROMANS: Willis does not call the prize a lottery, instead referring to it as a love gift, a chance to bless a lucky few while also helping to fill his pews. He says church attendance has grown from 1600 to 2500 in just a few weeks.

WILLIS: Debt is not a financial condition. Debt is a spiritual condition.

ROMANS: Recent winners say the money could not come at a better time.

FRANK CRUZ, PARISHIONER WINNER: I went down to Red Lobster and celebrated with my wife and kids, and then I paid a couple bills and bought groceries.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As I drove out my gas tank was on E so I drove straight to the gas station.

WILLIS: Could you imagine what would happen, and I get passionate about this part, if every church did something like this?

ROMANS: That's exactly why some others in the religious community are concerned.

WILLIAM SCHWEIKER, THEOLOGICAL ETHIEIST, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO: The whole point of the Christian life is to care for others, to love others, to give, and yet this could set up a mindset where the purpose to going to church is to acquire for oneself. Which is what Christians usually call sin.

WILLIS: We love you and there's nothing you can do about it.

ROMANS: Still Willis says it's not just the love that he hopes will continue to grow at the light house church, but also a parking lot. He plans to building an additional lot to handle the hundreds more people coming to church every week. Praying for the chance to win some cold hard cash.

WILLIS: Sweet high, you just won a $100, Christine Romans, CNN.


MARCIANO: Don't forget your 10 percent tithing.

COSTELLO: Unbelievable.

MARCIANO: After you get your gift from the church.

COSTELLO: Hopefully still -

MARCIANO: You want to give back a little bit.

COSTELLO: It's something.

MARCIANO: All right, you may be going to church, you may be going to the movies, we're going to tell you what to see and what to skip, it's 21 minutes after the hour.


THOMAS KNEW, PRIVATE FIRST CLASS: This is private first class Thomas Knew. I am here in Afghanistan. Want to say hi, I love you and miss you to my wife and kids in Kansas. I want to say happy holidays and can't wait to come back home.


COSTELLO: It's 24 minutes past the hour and that means it's time for an A.M. original, something you will only see on "American Morning." this week we are profiling celebrities who are giving back not just now during the holiday season, but all year long.

MARCIANO: And this morning we focus on the man behind the Virgin brand Sir Richard Branson. Alino Cho is here with us with the fifth and final installment of her series, "Big Stars, Big Giving."


MARCIANO: Hey, Alina.

CHO: Good morning, good morning guys. You know there is no question that Richard Branson is a mogul. He is the man behind the Virgin brand. A man with a ton of money, he could easily write a check and be done with it, but he is actually out there doing the hard work. And his philosophy is simple. Treat philanthropy like a business.


How are you, good to see you. I'm glad -

CHO: Spend the day with Richard Branson and you quickly learn it's hard to keep up. This adventure capitalist never sits still, and it shows. Virgin the mega brand he created 39 years ago includes more than 200 companies, a $17 billion empire. Business pays the bills, but philanthropy rocks his world.

RICHARD BRANSON, OWNER VIRGIN: One of my faults in life is that I can never say no. And so you know people are always coming to us with, you know, wonderful projects.

CHO: How do you choose?

BRANSON: Yes, choosing is -- it's difficult.

CHO: Then the next question is how do you manage it all?

BRANSON: And how you mange it is find wonderful people. And they're running it in the exact same way we run a business.

CHO: Branson's style? Visionary.

BRANSON: For instance, there are lots of organizations in Africa that are trying to tackle diseases, but there is no center for disease control to try and coordinating the attack. So we are setting up a center for disease control.

CHO: Disease, conflict, global warming, just some of the causes that Branson's philanthropic arm Virgin Unite supports. And because he is a business rock star, he is able to wrangle the help of real ones. He called on Grammy award winning singer, Estell to travel with him to South Africa. To see the Richard Branson school of entrepreneurship.

ESTELLE, GRAMMY AWARD WINNER: I was felt honored. I was kind of like, Richard Branson knows who I am? Hang on a minute, you know this guy --

CHO(on camera): You know you talk about changing the world, he's really out there trying to do.

ESTELL: He is physically doing it. That's the difference.

CHO (voice over): Branson's passion nurturing the next generation of entrepreneurs. So here in Florida, he is multitasking. As he launches new service on Virgin America, he is also meeting right on the tarmac with teens who need and want his help.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's awesome to meet somebody like him. And if he's just like me - if he started where I started then I can do what he is doing now.

CHO: Not bad for a high school dropout that skill scribbles notes on his hand, can barely work a computer, and has never held a board meeting.

BRANSON: When you are on your death bed, you know, having created 500 businesses instead of 300 businesses, you know, that's an achievement, but having really try to make a difference in other peoples' lives is a bigger achievement.

CHO: Pushing the boundaries of business and philanthropy with this motto. You can do it.

BRANSON: You know, give it ago, just try things. And --

CHO (on camera): No risk, no reward?

BRANSON: No risk, no reward. Yes. Screw it, let's do it, whatever.


CHO: He does have a way with words, doesn't he? Part of the reason he is so successful both in philanthropy and in business is that he sees no boundaries. No is not part of his vocabulary. And like others in his position he also feels with great success comes great responsibility that money and celebrity can be used to make a difference. And good for him and you see the people and how they respond to him, and you can see why he is so successful in both worlds, really.

MARCIANO: Seems pretty down to earth.

CHO: Oh very much so and very charming.

COSTELLO: Yes very charming. You think you've talked to all of these amazing people this week, Madonna, Martha Stewart, and Richard Branson. So was there a common theme among your interviews?

CHO: You know what I have to say, you know, part of the reason why these people are so successful is their tenacity. Right, I mean they just really go out there and they do it, and they don't take no for an answer.

And I think it's part of the reason why they are so successful in philanthropy as well. Is they really go out there, they see a problem and they say, you know what, why can't we solve this? I'm going to try to solve this, whether it is building a girls' school in Malawi like Madonna is doing. Or whether it's tackling AIDS like Richard Branson or Elton John, those sirs are by the way are doing. Or whether you know, it's trying to get all aging Americans to age gracefully like Martha Stewart. I would think that that is one of the common threads in all of this. But it's just a thrill for me to talk to all of these people, just you know. They don't sit down often and so to have some moments with them really was a thrill for me.

COSTELLO: Well very great stories. Thank you, Alina, we really appreciate it.

MARCIANO: Merry Christmas.

CHO: Merry Christmas.

MARCIANO: All right, if you want more on Alina's interview with Sir Richard Branson, head to the American Morning Web site, that's at It's our AM web extra today, content you won't see on air or anywhere else.

COSTELLO: It's now 29 minutes past the hour, here's your top story: A blizzard dumping snow across the Midwest this Christmas morning from the Dakotas to Northern Texas. There is dangerously strong winds and near whiteout snowfall. As the storm pushes east it's expected to drop freezing rain across the eastern portion of the country. The officials say so far the storm is being blamed for 18 deaths.

MARCIANO: And the Vatican says the woman who jumped the barricade at a Christmas Eve mass and pulled the pope to the ground was taken to the clinic. Church officials says the woman has phsychiatric problems. And is the same exact woman who charged at the pulpit last year's Christmas Eve's mass. The pope was not hurt but a Cardinal from France broke a bone in his leg.

COSTELLO: And while the first family celebrates Christmas in Hawaii, President Obama is sending holiday wishes to members of the U.S. military. With the first lady by his side, the president saluted the selfless spirit of our troops.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: All our men and women in uniforms spending the holidays away from home, whether it's at a base here in the states, a mess hall in Iraq, or a remote outpost in Afghanistan, know that you are in our thoughts and in our prayers.

And this holiday season and every holiday season, know that we are doing everything in our power to make sure you can succeed in your missions and come home safe to your families.


COSTELLO: The president also urged Americans to help support military families this holiday season.

MARCIANO: So after the presents are opened and you are stuffed with Christmas dinner, it's sometimes a good idea to go to the movies. From a famous sleuth, a glitzy show-stopper, and a divorced couple with issues, there's a lot hitting the theaters today.

COSTELLO: Something for everybody, even three little chipmunks who you have probably heard before.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No problem. Watch and learn, my friends.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it looks like it's time to play my favorite second game, hide the broken TV from Dave. You want to play?


COSTELLO: It kind of looks funny, kind of. Is it worth seeing, should you skip that movie? For some honest reviews, let's bring in our Tom O'Neil, senior editor for "In Touch Weekly." Good morning.

TOM O'NEIL, SENIOR EDITOR, "IN TOUCH WEEKLY": Good morning, merry Christmas to you guys.

MARCIANO: Lots of stuff -- I guess a wide variety. You have "Nine" "Avatar," "Chipmunks," "Sherlock Holmes." What is top on your list?

O'NEIL: "Avatar." I don't care what you want for Christmas, this movie has everything. You can fly on the back of dragons. You save the world. It has a love story, and these gorgeous blue naked people in it.

COSTELLO: There is nothing like a good blue naked person.

O'NEIL: They are called blue monkeys in the movie. The movie is very erotic, and it's a great love story. Have you guys seen it? It's fantastic.

MARCIANO: Not yet. But I hear there is a significant plot as well.

O'NEIL: Yes, and what is interesting about the plot, it is tied into environmental themes and to political themes, so it's really relevant today in every way.

MARCIANO: Love that, but it costs a bunch of money. I don't know what the estimates are now. I think it's up to $1 billion, or maybe a $1 trillion.


O'NEIL: It's dazzling to see.

COSTELLO: So what if you want to see like the more traditional type of movie? What is out there that is great?

O'NEIL: I love "It's Complicated." This is with Meryl Streep with Alec Baldwin. They play exes who hall in love again. They resort to a second adolescence. They are smoking pot and drinking booze. They are misbehaving worse than their kids.

But it's mature a comedy. It also start Steve Martin. It's delightful.

COSTELLO: It got mixed reviews, though. Some people don't like this. They say it's like a sitcom. But you don't think so, huh?

O'NEIL: I love it. Alec Baldwin spends a little too much time naked in the movie.

MARCIANO: That may not be a good thing.

COSTELLO: He has to go against "Avatar" with all the blue naked people.


O'NEIL: Yes, exactly. If you like firm bodied blue people, see Avatar. If you like fleshy older people, see "It's Complicated."

COSTELLO: That's not a great way to sell the movie, Tom.


MARCIANO: So if you don't like blue people and you don't necessarily like to see Alec Baldwin naked, the three furry chipmunks are back on the scene. What is it called, first thing? They are calling it not a sequel, but a --

COSTELLO: A "sqequel."

MARCIANO: A sqequel.

O'NEIL: And the squeak you hear is the box office saying "I want my money back."


O'NEIL: This is terrible. This is a case where Hollywood thought the first "Alvin and the Chipmunks" in 2007 made $350 million, so we'll have a sequel, but we will take the concept of "High School Musical" and mix it with these furry creatures, and it's more like road kill.

There is nothing out there for kids in terms of new movies, but "Princess and the Frog" is still at the theaters. Go see that this Christmas.

COSTELLO: I hope parents are listening to you and take your advice, because there is nothing more agonizing than sitting through a kid's movie that is actually bad as an adult.

So what movie is out there that we should avoid this holiday season? O'NEIL: Don't see "Nine." You know, you think, how could a movie with all of these stars -- you have got Penelope Cruz and Nicole Kidman and Daniel Day-Lewis and a Tony Award winning Broadway musical directed by Rob Marshall who gave us "Chicago," how could it miss? "Nine" means "no" in German. If somebody suggests you see this movie, say no.

MARCIANO: You see the trailers and promotions all over TV. Their trailers are singlehandedly keeping CNN in business the last month. Is that why, because they don't have the confidence with this film?

O'NEIL: I think so. This is my theory -- to be very cruel here on Christmas Day, I think that this never worked as a musical on Broadway. This beat "Dreamgirls" for the Tony award, and I still have not forgiven "Nine" for doing that. I think it was just a great jiggle show on Broadway with a lot of skimpily dressed dancers.

COSTELLO: That's what I was going to say, because some people described the nine women doing a strip tease for the one guy, that's the movie.

O'NEIL: Yes, it really is. And he is not charming. He is scowling and chain-smoking and nasty, so he's not even a heroic figure.

MARCIANO: Well, the trailer is great, and they want to continue playing it on CNN, we certainly will take it and play it over and over again and appreciate it.


COSTELLO: Tom O'Neil, thanks for joining us on this Christmas morning. Merry Christmas to you.

O'NEIL: You too, Carol. Thanks.

MARCIANO: Thank you, Tom.

President Obama is in Hawaii for his vacation again this holiday season. So is our Ed Henry. He covers the president, and this go around he is doing it from the beach.

It's 36 minutes after the hour.


MARCIANO: How many Yule-log fires are going on in Hawaii right now do you think?

COSTELLO: Not many.

MARCIANO: The first family is in Oahu again. They got there yesterday for a 10-day vacation. And a White House spokesman says there are no public events scheduled during this trip. COSTELLO: Despite that, where the president so goes our own Ed Henry. And many know it's a rough life being a White House correspondent. You're away on Christmas. Let's see how poor Ed is holding up.


ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Rob, Carol, merry Christmas from Honolulu, where I have to tell you the water is just a little chilly, and I don't mean to rub it in. I'm sure it's a lot colder there in New York City. I have to spend two whole weeks here covering the president on Waikiki beach.

And the way I like to tell it to people is I never pick sides between Democrats or Republicans, but after spending many holiday and vacations in Crawford, Texas, Honolulu is change I can believe in.

And so before he left D.C. the president hailed his health care victory in the Senate, but he was also very clear about how there's a lot more work to be done in 2010. Aides say he'll be working the phones in January trying to push this through.

For now the president is on the north side of Oahu in a very remote area with his family, planning a very quite Christmas. I'm going to do the same. I have some suntan lotion here on my towel, and I have this local delicacy, spammed sushi. I will have to have some of this for breakfast. It's a little bit salty. But I even have a Christmas cap.

So from Waikiki Beach, merry Christmas, Rob, Carol.


MARCIANO: Merry Christmas to you, Ed.

COSTELLO: Before the show we were watching this video of that and we were all complaining because we did not get that assignment. But we could not help but notice the people behind Ed that Ed probably did not notice in the taped piece. For example...

MARCIANO: Yes, for example, let's zoom into this guy. A middle- aged man with a straw hat wearing short shorts.

COSTELLO: And the circle is crossing out what was showing as the man passed Ed on the beach.

MARCIANO: I did not catch that part.

COSTELLO: I could not miss it.

MARCIANO: He walked in front of Ed when Ed was doing this thing. But apparently Ed did not notice because Ed is a pro.

COSTELLO: And then as Ed was sitting on the beach eating the disgusting sushi sandwich, the kid behind him starts flexing and muscle-man posing. MARCIANO: You have to make a splash, and this kid obviously needs to hit the gym a little bit more as he gets older. Stay off the juice.

Brittany, Phil, posing. Look out Mr. and Mrs. America. Looking good, guys.

Ed, this is live. We can't control this. Ed, you could have re- taped that. I know you have the time here. Don't tell me you're busy.

COSTELLO: Actually, this is Ed from last year. He did the same sort of thing last Christmas, except he had a fancier hat. We only show this to embarrass Ed Henry as much as we possibly can.

MARCIANO: Because we are insanely jealous of where he is and what he has to do for work the next two weeks.

COSTELLO: Yes, especially people in the Midwest, because they are suffering through a blizzard on this Christmas morning. And hopefully if you are going there, you are already there, if that makes sense.

MARCIANO: Hopefully. If not, Bonnie Schneider will give us a little bit of insight as to where the trouble spots are. It's a big one. We'll be right back.


MARCIANO: Midtown Atlanta, Wham in the background.

COSTELLO: Who knew Wham did a Christmas song? He's amazing.

MARCIANO: We're learning also to sing in the last couple of days. Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING on this Christmas morning.

It's 46 minutes after the hour, 48 degrees or so in the ATL.

COSTELLO: Let's head over to Bonnie Schneider...

MARCIANO: Yes, she's down there.

COSTELLO: ... and she on the ATL and she's going to tell, so what do we have to look out for if we have to be traveling this Christmas Day?

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, Carol and Rob watch out for snow. You know, here in Atlanta we had torrential downpours around 3:00 a.m. I'm glad to see that it's just cloudy for those that are just heading out in Atlanta. But so much worst on the northern plains; 8 to 12 more inches on top of the blinding snow that's been falling over the past few days.

Records have been shattered the snow fall total in Oklahoma City, 14.1 inches. Well, that's the most snow that city have ever seen in one day's one time. It got so bad that the airport shut down. It is back open but most flights are cancelled so I'd pull ahead if you had to travel since that involve Oklahoma City.

Also heavy snow for Minnesota and Texas, Dallas got three inches of snow. Well, what it look like, let's show you. We had some rain that changed over to snow in the Dallas Ft. Worth area making for some tough travel. We also had a lot of wind out there blowing about the snow.

Outside right now in Chicago rain is coming in kind of in advance of the system but look how far the snow is going southward into Kansas City where we have a blizzard warning in effect straight into the evening hours.

We're also tracking tornadoes; the threat of them, anyway, for watches into parts of Florida up into Georgia and South Carolina.

These advisories will expire shortly within the next few hours. It's not going to be an all day event. But what is going to be problematic all day is the rain in the southeast and the snow in the plains. Treacherous travel across much of the Midwest as well -- Carol, Rob.

MARCIANO: Bonnie, thanks so much for working this morning. Happy holidays.

SCHNEIDER: You, too.

COSTELLO: Coming up next, you know, we talk a lot about health care because the senate passed health care reform yesterday and people are wondering well, what does it mean to me and what's the next step?

MARCIANO: Well, we've got the Gupta and he's going to break it down next for us. That's next.

It's 48 minutes after the hour.


MARCIANO: Welcome back to "The Most News in the Morning." On this first day of Christmas, I hope you're starting it well.

COSTELLO: I get it. We've got 12 days of Christmas.

MARCIANO: It is well, 12 until January 6th.

COSTELLO: I get it now.

MARCIANO: And it's Mardi Gras, they're not at Mardi Gras but they're definitely on vacation that's Congress. They're on holiday recess. But when lawmakers return they're going to start reconciling or marrying the House and Senate, their versions of the health care bill.

COSTELLO: They are but what you probably really want to know is how the bill will affect you particularly if you're covered under Medicare? We're paging Dr. Gupta this morning, CNN's chief medical correspondent. He's looking at what's in the bill now and what comes next?


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we're taking a look at where health care has been and where it's going certainly over the next several months. Take a look at the time line.

And important landmarks here, the bill obviously passed the House and now it has passed the Senate. The next step in all of this is what's called the reconciliation or conference, trying to merge these two bills. About three quarters of that will be done by the staffers of the Senate.

But there's going to be some big issues, that still need to be resolved and one of them, there was talk about so much of this idea of a public option. That is something that was passed in the House but not in the Senate and also with regard to abortion funding. Can federal dollars be used to pay for abortions? How exactly will that be reconciled? Again, the big issues that still need to be worked out.

If that happens and it gets passed it will go to the president's desk after which point it may get approved. Now, this is all obviously hypothetical. And it's important to keep in mind as well that final benchmark, which is that a lot of the things that we've been talking about so much over the pass days and weeks and months. Well, it will take effect until January of 2014?

This is a process, a long one at that. You guys have a lot of questions about it. Let's take one here. We have a question about Medicare specifically. It says how does the bill affect a senior on Medicare? This has been a very important question, a common question, too.

One thing to point out right away is that to pay for all of this, one of the things that's been proposed is some dramatic cuts to Medicare. Almost $500 billion over ten years, are the seniors wondering where that money is going to come from specifically.

If we dissected down the language and looking at this entire bill, we find a lot of it comes from what is known as provider rate cuts, cutting down the reimbursement to hospitals and providers for specific care. People worried could that possibly lead to some of those increased costs being passed on to patients. That's a little bit hard to know and to see.

But more specifically than that, there is something known as Medicare Part C or the advantage plan, this may be something that affects consumers directly. Take a look, this is the plan that typically covers all sorts of things, but also has enhanced benefits like vision and dental.

And there are some concerns that if you're starting to cut Medicare dramatically on some of those enhanced benefits will be as available or even available at all.

It is worth pointing out that when you're trying to project the future and trying to estimate costs usually we're way off. Let's take a look at some numbers there. What Medicare was supposed to cost in 1990, the projected cost of it was $9 billion. What the actual cost was $67 billion; those numbers coming from the CATO Institute, a conservative think tank but some of those numbers being borne out elsewhere.

The point is that it's very hard to project a lot of these numbers. So what the impact will have -- be on seniors, we don't know yet. But I think that the $500 billion in cuts people will notice that that's at least as part of both these bills a way to pay, probably (INAUDIBLE) we're talking about. Back to you for now.

COSTELLO: Thank you Sanjay.

It is 54 minutes past the hour.

We're going to wrap our show with Santa...

MARCIANO: Of course.

COSTELLO: He's the kind of Santa, though, that you probably -- well, you wouldn't want to really get too close to. Jeanne Moos has an interesting take on sitting on the lap of Santa when we come back.


MARCIANO: There is the sweater vest; there it is, Joe. He looks good, doesn't he?

COSTELLO: Still looks good in that. He got that for Christmas last year, from I bet his grandma. I could be wrong.

MARCIANO: Either way, he is sporting it well. The antlers going down over there, Phil (INAUDIBLE) and on to story telling of Page Six in the "Post", doing well. And be careful guys, it looks warm by that really big, big fire.

COSTELLO: Yes, some big fire. Welcome back to The Most News in the Morning. It's just about 9:00 a.m. Eastern time.

That means it's time for "The Moost News in the Morning". Not every child relishes their Christmas lap time with Santa. For many it's down right scary.

MARCIANO: Well, old St. Nick in the shopping mall isn't always so jolly. And there is a new Web site devoted to some of the sketchiest Santa photo-ops.

Here is Jeanne Moos.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Bo, it's Santa. JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When the first dog, Bo, was barking at him...

OBAMA: He hasn't seen Santa before.

MOOS: When bank robbers are dressing up like him...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He took his little red sock and pulled out a gun and told everybody to be still.

MOOS: It makes you wonder -- yes, but how do you know if he has been bad or good, naughty or nice or maybe just sketchy, the kind to end of a new Sketchy Santas Web site.

WILL ZWEIGART, CREATOR, SKETCHYSANTAS.COM: On the site We really like to celebrate a lot of the more retro Santa photos because those are really the funniest. And part of the reason why is I think the standard for who can be a Santa was lower back then.

MOOS: Would Santas like this make it into a modern mall in this age of background checks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can we both sit with Santa Claus?

MOOS: How would she have react to a one-eyed Santa or a masked Santa?

ZWEIGART: Pretty scary right?

MOOS: And why, someone wondered, is Santa wearing a woman's watch.

ZWEIGART: Everyone can relate to that first time being pushed on to a scary stranger's lab in the mall.

MOOS: Will Zweigart started sketchy Santas and encourages photo submissions.

ZWEIGART: By far the most popular picture on the site is actually a grown man sitting on Santa's lap wearing a Speedo and a saxophone.

MOOS: Santa's not the sketchy one in this picture.

Movies like "Bad Santa" in which he smokes, drinks and carouses don't help St. Nick's image. And forget visions of sugar plums when your Santa comes from the crypt.

The guy who robbed a Nashville bank Tuesday was definitely naughty.

But even this Santa gone bad managed to stay in character.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And he explained that he was robbing the bank because Santa had to pay his elves. MOOS: And it's not just Santa. Police in Florida arrested Merry Christmas earlier this month. Merry allegedly got belligerent and the arresting office that had to put her in a bent arm take down.

And what's your take on this sketchy Santa posted one wit, "so that's how elves are made?" No wonder Bo was barking.

OBAMA: His eyes how they twinkle. His dimples how merry.

MOOS: Did she say Merry or scary?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't drink and drive. You might spill it.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


MARCIANO: Do not listen to that Santa, kids. Don't take his advice. That's just all in good fun on this Christmas morning. Hope you enjoyed being with us. It has been my pleasure. A Merry Christmas to everybody. Good to work with you again, Carol.

COSTELLO: I know. Nice working with you, too. Merry Christmas. Have a safe -- your parents are here. You aren't actually going anywhere.

MARCIANO: You're traveling. Have safe travels.

COSTELLO: I will be home soon, Mom. Don't worry.

Let's head to Atlanta right now.

Merry Christmas, Fredricka Whitfield.