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Security Failings; New Year's Eve Security in NYC; Corporate Big Spenders of 2009; Goodbye 2009, Hello 2010

Aired December 31, 2009 - 09:00   ET


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Heidi.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, good morning, guys. And good morning to you, everybody. Here's what's happening in the CNN NEWSROOM today.

Terror onboard Flight 253. What went wrong? Well, hopefully today the president will be getting answers to those questions.

And Americans on edge. Well, in danger, possibly, too. Everyone seems to be thinking about it now. A warning is sent out to citizens who are living abroad and that home security gets very, very tight for New Year's Eve celebrations, as you might imagine.

And also Rush Limbaugh wakes up in a Honolulu hospital. We'll tell you why and have the very latest on his conditions.

Good morning, everybody. I'm Heidi Collins. Today is Thursday, December 31st, and you are in the CNN NEWSROOM.

It's an e-mail none of us would ever want to open. The message? Beware of a possible terrorists attack tonight. This morning Americans on Indonesia's resort island of Bali are waking up to that warning.

The U.S. embassy in Jakarta says there is an indication of a terror strike. Over the last several years, Islamic militants have carried out a number of attacks in Bali and elsewhere in Indonesia.

No official word yet this morning, but it is believed the eight Americans killed in yesterday's suicide bombing are CIA employees. It happened at a U.S. base in eastern Afghanistan.

The bomber walked into a gym at a fort operating base named Chapman before detonating the suicide vest he was wearing. At least six other Americans were wounded in the blast.

The Taliban have claimed responsibility. We, of course, will have much more on this attack coming up at the bottom of the hour.

Want to turn our attention now to the latest on CNN "Security Watch." Today President Obama gets answers. Where did the intelligence community fail in preventing the bombing of Flight 253?

Well, meanwhile, there are new details about clues that were apparently missed or even ignored. As early as August U.S. intelligence learned extremists in Yemen were discussing operations. The collected information even had the partial name Umar Farouk.

Also today, the suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is the focus of a new question. Dutch investigators want to know whether the explosive material was brought into Amsterdam's airport by someone else.

So how come security measures that were supposed to work didn't? And information that should have been shared wasn't?

Our foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty has been working on that angle from Washington and joins us now.

Jill, good morning to you. What is the State Department saying so far?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's take the first moment when the State Department really gets involved in this. And that is when the father of the suspect in Nigeria goes to the embassy and says, I am worried about my son, he is under the influence, I think, of religious extremists, and he is in Yemen. I need to find him. I am very, very worried.

It appears now that the embassy took that information but was treating it, as they've said over and over again, almost as a missing persons report rather than a red flag. That there was actually, you know, a influence -- let's say, influence by religious extremist, son is in Africa, son is in Yemen, which has problems in that category.


DOUGHERTY: So they immediately -- a red flag really doesn't go up. That's part number one.

COLLINS: Well, and then that information, of course, is sent on to Washington, and do they then see any problems?

DOUGHERTY: Yes, and then it goes into what's called the Visas Viper Cable. That's sent off from the embassy into Washington. Now that cable -- and they're looking at this right now. Those cables are written in a very kind of stripped down short form.

They gave his kind of name, rank and serial number that the father provided. His passport number, date of birth, name, et cetera.


DOUGHERTY: But the description of what the father said apparently was very short and maybe not, again, a red flag goes up at this point. Why not explain more? Why not say in more detail? And that is what the State Department is talking about doing.

Another thing is, when that information gets to Washington, why wasn't he put on a no-fly list? In other words, at each moment they could have taken a more aggressive stance, but they didn't. COLLINS: Yes.

DOUGHERTY: They simply pushed the information on, didn't put it together with other information, and took a very -- you'd have to say, as one official told us, passive approach. And crucially, Heidi, there was apparently no check on his visa status, even though everybody who had access to information could have gone in and seen that he had an active visa to the United States.

COLLINS: Yes, it's really incredible. Obviously we'll be waiting to hear more about what the preliminary report ultimately says.

So Jill Dougherty, sure do appreciate it, thanks.

Yemeni forces carried out a raid on a suspected al Qaeda stronghold, arresting at least one militant. It happened in the western part of the country. The al Qaeda group in Yemen claimed responsibility, as you know, for the failed terror attack in Detroit.

A top Yemeni official says forces will continue strikes against al Qaeda targets or -- until that terror group is completely eliminated.

Security will, of course, be a top priority tonight as millions of people gather in New York's Times Square to ring in 2010.

CNN senior correspondent Allan Chernoff has more on those preparations.


ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From the perspective of the New York Police Department every reveler tonight in Times Square is a potential terror threat. That's why the NYPD will essentially lock down the square.

RAY KELLY, NEW YORK POLICE COMMISSIONER: We want people to have a happy experience, but we're also concerned about a terrorist event. We have to do that after 9/11.

CHERNOFF: Security sweeps begin well in advance of New Year's Eve. Detectives gained intelligence from local hotel and restaurant personnel, on the lookout for suspicious activity.

Police search garages and subway tunnels for bombs, remove trash cans, seal mailboxes and manhole covers. A search on Wednesday of a suspicious van led to a partial evacuation of Times Square, although the van turned out to pose no threat.

Beginning at 3:00 on New Year's Eve, traffic is banned and all streets leading into Times Square are blocked off. Police sample the air for biological agents. They wear radiation detectors and dogs sniff for bombs.

As the crowd gathers, thousands of police, uniformed and undercover, converge on Times Square, from the ground and air, the NYPD watches Times Square like a chess poured.

(On camera): Times Square is essentially now the safest place in the world on New Year's Eve.

KELLY: Yes. That's right. Yes, absolutely. It's a very, very safe place.

CHERNOFF (voice-over): It wasn't always this way. Twenty years ago before terrorism was such a concern, this center of the world on New Year's Eve was a dangerous place.

(On camera): Time Square used to be a mad house?

KELLY: True. True. It was somewhat rowdy and disorderly. You would see a lot of drinking that started early on. So by the time midnight rolled around, a lot of people are feeling no pain.

CHERNOFF: People were rolling around.

KELLY: People were rolling around, right. And doing some strange things.

CHERNOFF (voice-over): The NYPD began placing the crowd into pence, pence stand by interlocking barriers in the late '90s, which brought order to what had been the world's biggest mush pit.

Today, alcohol and backpacks are banned and the crowd is generally orderly and well-behaved. Still, Commissioner Kelly is ready to toast the New Year only after the party is over.

KELLY: When the ball drops, it's a certain feeling of relief. And we've made it through another year.

CHERNOFF (on camera): A sigh of relief.

KELLY: Right. Right.

CHERNOFF: It's a lot of stress on the police department.

KELLY: There is some stress, no question about it. But that's -- you know, that's all part of the business.


COLLINS: Allan Chernoff is joining us now live from Times Square where, oh, it's already snowing. It looks beautiful but I imagine, Allan, it's kind of cold out there. Regardless of the weather situation, it's going to be quite a challenge for the New York Police Department to keep the party safe, I imagine, as it always is.

CHERNOFF: Exactly. It always is, and what happened last week in that airplane over Detroit really doesn't have that much bearing because the NYPD assumes that this is a target, and that's why they take all those precautions that we had discussed -- Heidi.

COLLINS: What are we going to be seeing that is so different, though, this year? I mean we talked about those pence that we have seen around the city for a long time, as you have said. Will there be anything more specific that they're going to do or just more people out there watching for any sort of danger signs?

CHERNOFF: I mean they're going to be taking all of those steps. And, you know, they're always trying to improve upon their security. Intelligence checks. They've been talking with business people in this area, making sure they have the intelligence that they feel they need to insure that this is a very safe place.

They've got the bomb-sniffing dogs out. They also will have the radiation detectors. They even will have boats in the Hudson River in the East River to sample the air and to make sure that New York is as safe as it possibly can be. Heidi?

COLLINS: And probably some measures that we are unaware of in order to make sure of that very thing. We sure do appreciate it, Allan Chernoff. Live from Times Square this morning.

The big spenders of 2009. They are top corporate execs who paid themselves well despite a global financial crisis. We'll have some names coming up.

And 2010 is already here in some parts of the world, of course. Fireworks blazed from the sky tower in Auckland, New Zealand just hours ago. In other parts of the country, there were more fireworks displays. Plus celebrations at dance parties and live band performances.

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, just moments ago we saw at Times Square, we have a little bit of light snowfall, but the question is will it going to last through the New Year's festivities? I'll let you know coming up in just a few moments. Yes, happy new year.


COLLINS: Despite the global economic meltdown, some top corporations and executives didn't exactly tighten their belts.

Our Stephanie Elam knows who they are and joins us live now from New York with a list of the worse offenders.

Good morning to you, Stephanie.


It's kind of crazy to think that when everyone else is trying to hunker down and make it through, those people out there spending just enormous amounts of money. So we have -- NPI Financial about this list of some of the people who just spent way too much money over the year.

We're going to take a look at a few of them. Let's start off with John Thane who spent $1.2 million to redecorate his office. This is after he became the CEO of Merrill Lynch. He went ahead and hired the Obama's decorating team as well.

This all go down at the same time that Merrill Lynch reported a $15.4 billion fourth quarter loss that forced Bank of America, which took over Merrill Lynch last fall, to ask for more money from the government.

He was ousted in January of this year after that -- that news came out, it just didn't go over too well, as you might expect, Heidi.

Let's a look also at an AIG executive, an unnamed one at that, getting 4.1 -- well, we can go ahead and take a look at this. $210 million from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, this is a different one here. But it was granted by a pay czar, Kenneth Feinberg. If you take a look at this, it is altogether looking at $182 billion in loans altogether for that company there.

But the number there, $4.3 million, not $210 million. $4.3 million for this unnamed exec. Kenneth Feinberg saying that this person is too important to the company. They want to make sure that AIG is able to continue on.

Now the other one we want to look at is $210 million. That's Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac getting retention bonuses. That pooled money for 7600 top execs for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac there over 18 months. They started on late '08 and will go through early 2010. This all despite posting a $108 billion in combined losses in 2008.

So it does seem a little excessive for some of these companies, Heidi.

COLLINS: So what are some of the good ways to cut costs? And some of them trying to pay back the government from what they were paid before anyway, too. Right?

ELAM: Right. Some of them still have some money to pay back. That's true. Some of them are still getting, as you -- you know, the GMAC story we're hearing about today getting more money. But if you take a look at some of the ideas that are coming from NPI Financial that could help these companies, here's three quick ones for you.

You could go ahead and consolidate vendors. These companies could get rid of redundancies. So if you've got different people you're working with, cut out some of them and streamline that. Also put your contracts up for re-bidding because you could find that the prices go much lower because people really want to keep your business or gain your business.

And then for everyone, this one actually makes sense to everybody, if you ask me, Heidi. Check for billing errors. As your bills come in, invoices going in and out, make sure that you're not getting overcharged for things because all of that is just excessive waste. That's just a good rule if anyone is looking for a new resolution for 2010 for anyone out there -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Yes, yes. Very good idea. We always get the bills and go over them three times. ELAM: That's good.

COLLINS: Try to make sure we're not getting ripped off.


COLLINS: Stephanie, thank you.

ELAM: Happy new year.

COLLINS: You, too.

All right, Reynolds Wolf standing by in the weather center. Hopefully not going to have to -- I guess I do. I should have called it the Severe Weather Center. But everybody wants to have a nice night for New Year's Eve, and there are definitely some trouble spots out there, huh?

WOLF: Of course. There always is going to be one place that's going to have a little but more of, I guess, less pleasant weather than other spots. But I think in Times Square, don't we want to have some snowflakes. I mean it's one of those...

COLLINS: Totally.


COLLINS: All right, very good. Thank you, Reynolds.

WOLF: You bet.

COLLINS: Here in the United States we are counting down the last hours of 2009, of course, but in other countries, they're already celebrating 2010. More fireworks coming up right here in the NEWS ROOM.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, I'm Chief Petty Officer Flakes from Charlie 401st Company here in (INAUDIBLE), Iraq. And I'd like to wish my family and friends back in Greta, Honolulu, Hawaii, a happy holiday and a happy New Year's. (INAUDIBLE), America.



COLLINS: Time now for a look at some of the top stories we're following this morning.

Rush Limbaugh is in the hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii, this morning. Limbaugh's radio show chief of staff says the popular conservative host was rushed there after suffering chest pains but is now resting comfortably.

Interesting. We have the president, Limbaugh, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi all vacationing in the Aloha state at the same time.

Police in Finland are searching for this man who they say opened fire inside a crowded mall. They say at least four people were killed and a fifth victim was found in a nearby apartment. It happened in Espoo, Finland just outside Helsinki. Police have not spoken about a possible motive for the attack.

New Year's celebrations under way. This is the annual fireworks show in Sidney, Australia. And many places, in fact, across Asia are using fireworks to ring in the new year. But officials in the Philippines say hundreds of people have been injured in fireworks mishaps already, as beautiful as they are.

Well, that brings us to today's blog question. What was the most memorable news story of 2009 for you? And what news story do you really hope to forget from the year? Just go to and post your comments there. I'll read some of them coming up in the next hour.


COLLINS: Well, less than 15 hours to go before we here on the East Coast ring in the new year. But they are already celebrating half the world away. And our Josh Levs really wishes that he was there with them.

Hey, Josh.

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, every December I wish I was in Sidney.

COLLINS: I know.

LEVS: Long days. It's summer, it's so beautiful. You totally got my number there.

COLLINS: Yes. Definitely.

LEVS: And they're declaring themselves the fireworks -- New Year's fireworks capital of the world.

COLLINS: Really?

LEVS: And you can see why. Yes, you have to see the Web site open on the screen behind me when they talk about New Year's Eve. But let's just do this. Let's go straight to the amazing video coming from Sidney. And I'm going to tell you about the New Year's celebration going on right there.

Let's listen in.

You are looking at the Sidney Harbor Bridge there. And the way to set this up, you can see how far out they go. I'll give you some stats in a second. But this is designed so that people all over Sidney have vantage points all over the city. You don't just need to come to one area in order to see it. And that bridge there, the Sidney Harbor Bridge, a lot of people remember it from the Olympics. That's where they set up these rings there. Actually, it was allowed to climb the very top of the bridge, right where you're seeing those fireworks there. An hour (INAUDIBLE) another part way out.

Let me give you some numbers here. 11,000 shells, 25,000 shooting comets, a total of 100,000 individual pyrotechnic effects. All poured into this. It takes 15 months to prepare. Sidney goes all out for New Year's as you can tell there. And not only do they have more than a million people watching in Sidney, but then on top of that, they get people like us, and we're showing it to people all over the world, watching online all over the world today, Heidi.

And not to give a short trip, we also want to remind you that it's not the only place that has so far. Here's some video from Auckland, New Zealand. No, as huge a country, not as huge a display, but it is nice as well. It's nice to take a look at there. And we're just reading about how the streets around there came to a standstill as people were taking a look at this from Auckland's sky tower.

One thing I love to do when I'm seeing fireworks, people make fun of me for it. But I love looking around and seeing all the people who are just standing still looking at the heavens. It's such a cool sight.

Before I go, though, I want to say one more thing. Let's zoom in on this screen here. We have a whole special section for you, it's the end of the year, 2009n Year in Review. I suggest you take a look. You can't miss it. It's up with right now.

We'll get all of the top things of the year we're talking with you about, top business stories, top stories, top videos, best dresses of the decade. Folks at have gone all out with this massive special section celebrating the end of the decade and the beginning of 2010.

We're hearing from you all day. Here's how you can get in touch with me especially with the blog, Also Facebook and Twitter, Joshlevscnn. Let us know your favorite New Year sites all over the world and what you're doing for New Year's.

So, Heidi, what do you think? Does Sidney deserve the title New Year's capital of the world?

COLLINS: Well, I don't know about that. But I do have some still photos of beautiful fireworks for you from Fourth of July that I can send your way.

LEVS: Send them. Hey.

COLLINS: I know you love them.

LEVS: I will love (INAUDIBLE).

COLLINS: All right, very good, Josh. Thank you. LEVS: I'll see you in a bit.

COLLINS: Well, for many of you it's your last chance to text and drive or smoke in a restaurant. Those habits will have to change for a lot of people in the new year. In fact, Illinois, New Hampshire and Oregon have new laws going into effect tomorrow that ban texting and driving.

In Illinois, you also won't be able to talk on your cell phone while driving in a school zone. North Carolina then becomes the latest state to ban smoking in restaurants. It's going to be pretty tough for some people to pick certainly along Tobacco Road.

Also on the books, the ban on novelty lighters in Nevada and Louisiana. And if you are a teenager you will now need to take an adult with you when you go to the tanning salon in Texas.

Security concerns now to talk about in Afghanistan. A suicide bomber makes his way on to a U.S. base. The explosion kills a number of Americans believed to be working for the CIA.


COLLINS: Well, it's the final session of what's been a banner year for Wall Street, but can the major averages end these last few hours of trading with a bang?

Alison Kosik joining us now from New York with a preview of the market, actually, as we hear that opening bell.

Yes, a banner year, but you've got to remember where we started from because we've certainly seen higher numbers in other years.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. Historically it's been really rough, but we have come a long ways. So, you know, don't break out those noise makers quite yet, Heidi, despite the huge gains that we've seen over the last 12 months. This morning, we are expecting just a modest advance on Wall Street. And that's really been the case all week as many traders, they've already closed their books on '09.

And it's been a great year for all three of the major averages, if you look at it. The Dow and the S&P 500, they've jump by about 20 percent and 25 percent respectively. While the NASDAQ, that's been the real star. It soared by almost 45 percent. But all three are still far from the record high set earlier this decade.

A slew of formerly struggling industries from autos to financial firms. They saw big balances in their stock prices over the past years. Ford shares have more than quadrupled in value. American Express has more than double. And shares of newspaper publisher, Gannett, they've just almost 90 percent.

But, you know, we can't forget it's still really rough out there despite the improvement in stock prices. The jobs market, it's continued to struggle with unemployment hitting 10.2 percent this year.

This morning, though, we did get some upbeat figures on jobless claims. The initial claims fell by 2200 last week to their lowest level since July of last year. However, I have to note that the numbers, they may be skewed a bit, as government offices, they were closed for the Christmas holiday.

All right, let's take a look at the early numbers on this New Year's Eve. The Dow Industrials right now up just a fraction, same with the NASDAQ.

I predict, Heidi, it's going to be a really quiet day on Wall Street.

COLLINS: Yes. Yes, it usually is, I guess.

All right, Alison, thank you.


COLLINS: A suicide bomber on a U.S. base. Eight Americans are dead in Afghanistan. It happened at a Forward Operating Base in the Khost Province in eastern Afghanistan, not far from the Pakistani border.

In fact, CNN's Atia Abawi is joining us live from Kabul, Afghanistan with more on this.

Atia, good morning.

What's the latest that you are hearing?

ATIA ABAWI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Heidi. What we do know right now is that a suicide bomber entered Forward Operating Base Chatman in Khost Province in eastern Afghanistan. He detonated his vest inside of the gymnasium on base. You know that eight American were killed believed to be employees of the CIA. Six civilians were also injured in that attack. The Taliban are claiming responsibility for this attack stating that it was actually an Afghan soldier that they persuaded to join their side. He was able to infiltrate that base and blow himself up.

Their stating, the Taliban are claiming that they killed 20, but the Taliban have exaggerated figures in all of their attacks. But they are also claiming on their Web site that they will have more of these types of attack even the day before they have claimed responsibility for an Afghan soldier who shot and killed a U.S. soldier in western Afghanistan. Also shooting and injuring two Italian soldiers -- Heidi?

COLLINS: Yes, it's always scary. I should say, even scarier to hear that an Afghan soldier could infiltrate and wear a explosive vest, and go in and pull something like this off.

What's the bigger picture here? What can we expect? ABAWI: Heidi, it is very scary when it comes to the military and when it comes to the Taliban possibly infiltrating the Afghan force as the Afghan forces -- that the (INAUDIBLE) forces are trying to train. Trying to train them to protect their own land.

We actually went out with Afghan recruiters here in Kabul looking for new members of the Afghan army. And I will tell you right now, Heidi, what it looked like was the fact that it was more about quantity than quality. They do have a time limit right now to bring up those Afghan forces. And with this new Obama strategy as well. They want to bring up these forces very drastically, by October of 2010. So it's really about quantity at the moment. And the Taliban have this opportunity, and possibly an easy opportunity to infiltrate the Afghan National Army.


COLLINS: All right. Atia Abawi reporting live for us this morning.

Sure do appreciate. Thanks, Atia.

Road-side bomb attack in southern Afghanistan kills four Canadian soldiers and a journalist. The soldiers were on a routine security patrol. The death raised Canada's toll in Afghanistan now to 138 soldiers. That is the third most behind the U.S. and Britain.

Michelle Lang becomes the first Canadian journalists killed while covering operations in Afghanistan. The 34-year-old reporter was working there for the "Calgary Herald Newspaper."

It's been nearly a week since the failed Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Flight 253. And as evidence mounts that the terror suspects received his training in Yemen, U.S. military and intelligence officials are looking for possible targets there. But it is worth noting such direct retaliation hasn't always worked.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr explains.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yemeni forces earlier this month on a raid against Al Qaeda just north of the capital of Sana'a. The military shouts, "Come out. It is better for you. Do not be afraid." Shots are fired, several suspects are finally captured.

This was one of Yemen's efforts to hit back at Al Qaeda. U.S. assistance with several recent strikes that may have killed some of these men is now openly acknowledged.

ABU BAKR AL-QIRBI, YEMENI FOREIGN MINISTER: These are Yemeni armed forces attacks. They were of course supported by American intelligence and by the training of the Yemeni forces.

STARR: What's next? The U.S. military and the intelligence community are looking at everything they've got on Al Qaeda in Yemen. Strikes are expected to continue and could involve U.S. missiles or aircraft sources say. The U.S. and Yemen are looking for targets linked to the attack of U.S. flight 253.

But direct retaliation hasn't always worked.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our target was terror. Our mission was clear. There will be no sanctuary for terrorists.

STARR: In 1998 after Al Qaeda attacked U.S. embassies in east Africa, President Clinton ordered cruise missile attacks against targets in Afghanistan. But Al Qaeda was untouched. Key operatives had long fled the area.

U.S. retaliation that worked, it happened in Yemen in 2002. A U.S. drone fired a missile. One of the dead was an Al Qaeda operative believed to have been behind the October, 2000 attack on the Navy war ship Cole in Yemen that killed 17 sailors.

(on camera): Even now, the U.S. is continuing to provide weapons, training, and intelligence to the Yemeni military. But if president Obama decides to strike back in retaliation for the botched attack on the Northwest Airlines flight, there will be a target list for him to approve.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


COLLINS: Terrorism in Yemen, one expert says the threat is much greater than we think. He was there just a few months ago. Next hour, he will share those experiences with us.


COLLINS: Checking some of our top stories. Former hostage, Peter Moore, is enjoying his first day of freedom in two and a half years. The British computer expert released yesterday. He is said to be in good health and ready to go home. He and his four bodyguards were captured by Shiite Muslim insurgents in May of 2007.

If you plan to fly next year be prepared to get a full body scan at security check points. After last week's terror scare, transportation security administration plans to install 150 more scanners in airports across the country. Right now they are used in airports in about 20 U.S. cities.

One year after being named Big XII Coach of the Year, Mike Leach is fired by Texas Tech. University trustee say it's over more than one incident. The father of receiver, Adam James, recently alleged the coach had mistreated his son who had suffered a concussion. In a statement, Leach said his firing was based on lies. His attorney says expect a lawsuit.

Reynolds Wolf standing by now to talk a little bit more about New Year's Eve weather. That's what everybody wants to know.

Hey, there, Reynolds.


COLLINS: All right, very good. Reynolds, thank you.


COLLINS: All day today, people scrambling to make their New Year's resolutions for 2010. And saving money probably going to be at the top of many people's list.

Here to help you figure out how to cut cost, CNN's personal finance editor and the New Year's resolution queen -- did you know who had that title -- Gerri Willis.

Let's do this by starting with your cell phones, because it seems like everybody has them and I know that people need to be checking their bills even closer than they usually do.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: That's right, Heidi. You know, we're wasting a lot of money. Wasting money that you could actually have in your pocket and use for something you want. Cell phones, the average monthly cost is 65 bucks. The annual $780. And get this, according to consumer reports, two-thirds of people used less than half of the minutes they are allotted. You're overpaying for your service. The thing to do is review your uses. Check out these Web sites to help you figure out how to get a cheaper plan. and

Now, look, if you are expecting maybe a new baby or maybe you had some illness in the family and your cell phone usage is up or it's spiking for a short period of time, call your carrier and ask for a higher minute plan temporarily, and then they can put you back on your old plan -- Heidi?

COLLINS: Well, that's pretty cool.

All right, car insurance, a huge drain on the wallets.

WILLIS: Another waste there. Yes, $1,800 every year, right? And you may or may not take advantage of it. OK, whittle the bill with discounts available to safe driver. Look, even long-term employment -- get this, if you have a job consistently for a year, you can save $750. Isn't that great?


WILLIS: Low mileage, $100 a year. A good student discount. Maybe you are paying for your child's auto insurance, $300 a year, raising the deductible $200 to $400 a year. Early shopping for that insurance policy, $250 a year. And there are all kinds of ways to save here on auto insurance, which is never fun to pay, is it? Don't you just hate stroking that check?

COLLINS: Yes, yes. But then God forbid something should happen, so obviously, you got to do it.

But you mention fun. How do you save on the fun stuff? Certainly a lot more fun to talk about.

WILLIS: Well, you may notice that, you know, your house is full of books and CDs and DVDs that you don't even use, well, you can trade them in for new stuff. Go to, Zebratickets is a great place to go; a Web site that will give you tickets for less to major events.

And I want to remind you sometimes you have something in your pocket that you don't know can save you money. If you have a Triple A membership for example, you can get discounts to Sears and Target. So keep thinking savings, and save that money, you will have a little more dough in your wallet come next year -- Heidi.

COLLINS: All right. Gerri, great advice. Thank you and happy new year.

WILLIS: Happy new year to you.

COLINS: The year in politics. What a year it was from a historic inauguration to a resurgence by Republicans. The winners and losers got equal time in the spot light whether they wanted it or not.


LT. HUDSON, SOLDIER: I'm Lt. Hudson here in combat in Iraq. I would like to wish my family and friend back in (INAUDIBLE) Virginia a happy holidays and a happy new year. Go Oakies (ph).


COLLINS: 2009 was a wild ride especially in politics. A real rollercoaster for some people while others rose to new prominence.

CNN's senior political correspondent Candy Crowley takes us through the lows and the highs.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It was the moment of 2009, literally changing the face of the American presidency.

BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear...

CROWLEY: The new president, Barack Obama, began with a 75 percent approval rating; considerable capital that he spent to create more history.

OBAMA: We have begun the essential work of keeping the American dream alive in our time.

CROWLEY: It was one for the books, a massive $787 billion stimulus plan to fuel a failed economy; a huge victory for the neophyte president and the flashpoint for an emerging political voice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Obama, can you hear us now?

CROWLEY: The TEA Party people were first out in force on tax day. An umbrella group of furious fiscal conservatives, they protested big government spending and by August, Big Brother overreached; the Tea Party at town halls.


CROWLEY: They were as effective as they were loud. The right left for dead at the side of the 2008 campaign trail stirred, sometimes a bit too vocally.


CROWLEY: It was that kind of year; bare-knuckles politics, nation-defining moments.

JUSTICE SONIA SOTOMAYOR, U.S. SUPREME COURT: I am an ordinary person who has been blessed with extraordinary opportunities and experiences.

CROWLEY: The president wrote more history with the nomination of the Supreme Court's first Latina justice.

And he saluted history after the death of Senator Ted Kennedy, a political Tour De Force, one of the most accomplished lawmakers of the 20th century.

SEN. TED KENNEDY: The work goes on. The cause endures. The hope still lives. And the dream shall never die.

CROWLEY: Beyond history, there were the politics of the moment. The president made nice at a beer summit with a Harvard professor and the Cambridge cop. And he won a Nobel Peace Prize even he didn't think he'd earned.

It wasn't always about the president.

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE: Only dead fish go with the flow.

CROWLEY: Who could quit their job as colorfully as Sarah Palin, who left the governor's office in Alaska 18 months short of her first term?

PALIN: Thank you so much for being here.

CROWLEY: She promptly wrote a best seller, slammed McCain aides for bungling the 2008 campaign and laughed all the way to the bank.

Not laughing...

GOV. MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I won't begin in any particular spot. CROWLEY: Two family value conservative Republicans, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and Nevada Senator John Ensign. They looked like presidential material in January and toast by December; "cherchez la femme."

SEN. JOHN ENSIGN (R), NEVADA: Last year, I had an affair. I violated the vows of my marriage.

SANFORD: I have been unfaithful to my wife.

CROWLEY: Despite diminished numbers and some boys behaving badly, it turns out the Republican Party did not die this year. The GOP won governor seats in Virginia and New Jersey. And the president who enjoyed in February the approval of three out of four Americans had dropped by more than 20 points in December.

So ring out the old, ring in the new and strap yourself in. 2010 is an election year.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.


COLLINS: As always, a lot going on this final morning of 2009 and our crews are all in place as you see there to bring the information to you.

Let's start with Allan Chernoff in Times Square. I think there's something going on there tonight, Allan.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Certainly is. As a result there's very, very tight security for the world's biggest New Year's Eve party. I'll have details coming up for you in the next hour.

REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: As you can see we've got scattered snow showers in Times Square. Coming up we're going to let you know if that's going to last through the New Year's celebration and what you can expect weather-wise for your own festivities. That's moments away.

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We've got brand new video from a big New Year's celebration. They're not inside the United States. You'll see where it's coming from. It's pretty impressive.

Plus how you can tell us about your entire year in 30 seconds. All that coming up at the top of the hour -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Wow, that's quite a feat. All right, guys, thanks so much.

Also, how tough is the terrorism fight in Yemen? A closer look from someone who recently spent time there, the author of "Far Enemy Why Jihad Went Global".

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COLLINS: Time is running out on 2009 so we're taking a look back at the year that was. We asked our correspondents to weigh in with their favorite stories of 2009.


SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: One of the most memorable stories of the year happened right here on this trading floor. Just when you thought the economy and the stock market were lost causes with job losses and foreclosures on the rise, stocks started to crawl out of a bear market. Since March 9th, we've witnessed one of the most extraordinary rallies in stock market history.

The market did what it is supposed to do. It saw the light at the end of the tunnel before everyone else. The Dow, the Nasdaq and S&P 500 are all up at least 50 percent from their lows in March. But even this historic rally isn't enough to undo the damage from this decade with two recessions and several bubbles. The three major averages are all well below where they stood December 31st, 1999.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm John Vause. In a poor neighborhood here in Beijing in one story that seemed to get very little attention this year was the report done by the United Nations analyzing how much money rich nations had spent bailing out the banks and other institutions, a total of $18 trillion. Then they compared that with how much financial assistance poor countries had received over almost 50 years, and that total, $2 trillion in all those years.

It was a staggering contrast, especially considering those poor countries did not cause the global financial crisis but were now paying the highest price. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, more than a billion people are now on the brink of starvation.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I'm Dan Lothian at the White House where it's been a busy year 2009 covering the president not only domestically but all around the world. I personally followed him to 12 different countries, but the story that really stands out to me is when the president delivered his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, Egypt.

During the speech I broke out of the bubble for the first half of the speech, went to a local cafe where there were some English- speaking residents. They gave instant feedback to the president's remarks and then I left, went down the street and with the help of a translator went to a local grocery store and watched the remainder of the president's speech on an old black and white television set. And there again, got that instant feedback, some of it positive, some of it negative, but it was an interesting trip, something I will never forget.


COLLINS: And speaking of the end of 2009, the beginning of 2010, we are looking at some pictures coming in live from Seoul, South Korea, getting ready there to ring in the New Year. It looks like they're going to be ringing the traditional bell that they ring every year.

So we are watching for New Year's to be rung in all over the world. We'll continue to do so right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.