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American Morning

Egyptian Calls for "Million Woman March"; Interview with GOP Presidential Candidate and Texas Representative Ron Paul; RPT.: Google To Invest In Solar Farms; Apple Ruling Hits Android; Interview with Actor Jeremy Irvine; Rolling with Zach; Tony Bennett Funds Arts Education

Aired December 20, 2011 - 07:59   ET


ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Blizzard-like conditions and dangerous ice. I'm Alina Cho. A major storm blasts parts of the west and Midwest causing chaos on the roads.

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Ron Paul spikes in the polls. But can he take Iowa? I'm Ali Velshi. The GOP presidential hopeful joins us live in just a few minutes on this AMERICAN MORNING.

CHO: Good morning, everybody. It's Tuesday, December 20th.

Five more shopping days until Christmas, Ali.


Welcome to AMERICAN MORNING. I'm Alina Cho, along with Ali Velshi.

VELSHI: And for some of you, those shopping days are going to get a little more complicated. A snow storm is crippling parts of the west and Midwest right now. Blizzard-like conditions with heavy snow, frigid temperatures and winds hitting 70 miles per hour in some areas. The roads icing over and they're wreaking havoc among drivers. Some major interstates, like I-40 and I-25, shut down. Now, blizzard warnings are still in effect for Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

KAOT Reporter Christy Alito is in News Mexico where Interstate 40 shut down all the way to the Texas border.

CHRISTIE ALITO, KAOT REPORTER: We're going on 13 hours. 13 hours that I-40 eastbound has been closed. Now, police and the department of Transportation here in News Mexico made the decision to close down the eastbound lanes in through our Taharris Canon (ph) all the way to the Texas state line because of the icy, snow-packed conditions. You can see that the on-ramp to I-40 eastbound on tramway (ph), just until you get into the mountains, is closed this morning. That means that truckers who use I-40 to get from state to state across the country have either been stranded, have had to find alternative routes, or even just sitting, waiting in nearby shopping center parking lots until this closure is lifted.

That also means that for morning commuters, they're going to have a very tough time trying to get into the city, especially if they live in the East Mountains. We do know that there are some side roads that are open, but very slick and slippery. We've been seeing DOT out all morning long treating the roads, salting and sanding them.

The westbound lanes are open this morning, but you've got to drive carefully because we've already been told of several fatalities that have happened because of this winter storm that has really crippled Albuquerque, New Mexico. You have to keep in mind that this is a city that sees 300 days of sunlight. It's very difficult when we get these types of elements, this weather conditions, for people to drive in because they're just not familiar with these types of elements.

So, again, people are really being urged to drive cautiously this morning because the roads are very dangerous.

Reporting live in Albuquerque, Christie Ileto.

CHO: All right. Rob Marciano in the extreme weather center with a look at the forecast there.

Hey, Rob. Good morning.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Impressive storm, no doubt about that. You see the effects on the road, northeast of New Mexico, western Kansas, eastern Colorado, many of those interstates or at least state highways shut down. Two feet of snow in some of the cases, northern parts of New Mexico and 10 inches in Kenton, Oklahoma.

And the wind is the other thing. Even when it's not snowing, when you get the winds blowing over 40 miles an hour. We got them up to 72 in some spots in New Mexico, that is going to create whiteout conditions and that's where you get your blizzard and that's what we have still going on in some parts of the panhandle of Texas, Oklahoma and western Kansas still under the influence of a blizzard warning. It's been dropped in Colorado now and New Mexico this thing starts to pull out, but still treacherous conditions across these states.

Where is it going to go next? Who's next on the docket? Well, it's stretching out and it's getting into some mild air.

So places like Chicago, St. Louis, you don't have to worry too much about seeing wintry precipitation. All on the back side of this thing. So, mostly rain into these areas. Maybe a little snow or sleet mixing in at times from Chicago over towards Pittsburgh where some of this moisture is beginning to stretch eastward, into the mild air.

So, the storm track stays west of the coastline. That's the key in this type of scenario that keeps the temperatures above the freezing mark in places like Chicago, in places like D.C. and New York City. So, this go around when the moisture gets to New York, it will be in the form of rain tomorrow.

There's another system coming in in a couple of days that will mostly be in the form of rain across New York, but more of the rain/snow line gets a little bit closer to the city and then Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, maybe a few flakes flying. But no big problems expected at this point.

We do have a ground stop at Philly if you're traveling right now and some of the other airports that will see some delays with this particular system. Blizzard warnings still up, guys. The good news is that the biggest cities off to the east won't be affected all that much.

Back up to you.

CHO: All right. Rob, thank you very much.

MARCIANO: You bet.

CHO: A young girl is safe this morning after police say she was kidnapped overnight. This is a bizarre story.

The suspect led police on a slow speed chase near Los Angeles before pulling over and stepping outside of his car with the 4-year- old. That's when police snatched the child and wrestled the man to the ground. He was arrested. The young girl was taken to the hospital with minor injuries. No word on a motive.

VELSHI: Protesters in Egypt calling for a million woman march this morning. They are angry about some of the violent and humiliating scenes we saw over the weekend of Egyptian soldiers stripping, beating, stopping and dragging some female protesters through the streets.

Mohammed Jamjoom is live for us in Cairo.

Mohammed, what's the story?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ali, one video in particular has really inflamed the situation here. It shows a woman who was veiled, who was engulfed by security forces.

They started to beat her. They started to kick her down on the ground, and then they dragged her, and then they pulled some of her clothing away. You saw her bare midriff and you saw her blue bra.

And then you saw a riot policeman actually lift up his foot and stomp on her abdomen. This is something that has caused outrage both inside and outside Egypt. But you can imagine in a country, an Islamic country known for conservatism, a woman who is veiled, who is expected to remain modest, to be treated in this way, not just being brutalized, not just being beaten, but also suffering this further indignity and being stomped on like that.

It's ready just inflamed an already a very intense, very volatile situation.

There are other videos that have emerged showing similar scenes. But this one has really caught the world's attention in a way that others haven't. Because of that, and because of other videos that have emerged in the past few days, there are calls for a million women march today in Tahrir Square.

You see Tahrir Square behind me. Right now, it is quiet. But there are people that are supposed to assemble, that are supposed to start gathering within the next hour. We'll be following developments and reporting on them as they happen -- Ali.

VELSHI: Mohammed, thank you for that. Mohammed Jamjoom in Cairo for us.

CHO: Syria says it will execute anyone who participates in terrorist acts or distributes weapons. The announcement was made on state television just this morning. The government has been blasted with numerous protests since the start of the so-called Arab Spring. The United Nations estimates about 5,000 demonstrators have been killed in those uprisings. Just yesterday, 70 defectors in the Syrian army were gunned down as they ran from their posts.

VELSHI: North Korea's so-called "dear leader" on display. The body of long-time dictator Kim Jong Il laid out in a glass coffin as weeping mourners filed by. Kim Jong Un, Kim's third son and successor, also visited the coffin along with military officials. North Korea says Kim Jong Il died of a massive heart attack during a train ride over the weekend.

CHO: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton carefully offered her condolences not to any regime or family or political party, but to the North Korean people, saying, quote, "It is our hope that the new leadership of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea will choose to guide their nation on to the path of peace by honoring North Korea's commitments, improving relations with its neighbors and respecting the rights of its people."

Former President Bill Clinton was president when Kim Jong Il came to power in 1994. Here's what he had to say.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: What we want is stability. What we want is peace. What we want is for all the children to grow up and do well. And then we need to go back to work and try to reach an understanding with him.

And I think it can be done. I've always thought so. But we had to recognize the way the system works over there and try to figure out how they can change it and open up without being concern by transition (ph).


CHO: President Clinton, you may recall, posed for this photo-op with Kim Jong Il when he traveled to North Korea two years ago to bring back American journalist Laura Ling and Euna Lee.

VELSHI: A warrant issued for the arrest of the vice president of Iraq. Tareq al-Hashemi is accused of running a death squad. Security guards for the vice president have confessed on camera to assassinating several government officials. But the Sunni Muslim V.P. says those confessions are false and may have coerced by the Shiite- controlled government.

CHO: CNN's Piers Morgan will testify at an inquiry into the "News of the World" phone-hacking scandal. His appearance before the British high court will be via video link. Morgan is the former "Daily Mirror" and "News of the World" editor. He has said he never hacked a phone, told anyone to hack a phone or, to his knowledge, published a story obtained from the hacking of a phone.

VELSHI: Well, just when a breakthrough seemed possible, the Senate and the House are back on a collision course over this payroll tax cut. Critical House vote on a two-month extension passed by the Senate over the weekend was delayed after Republicans scrapped it in the middle of the night.

Many of those House Republicans, including Jeb Hensarling of Texas, say they won't accept a short-term fix. He joined us earlier on AMERICAN MORNING.


REP. JEB HENSARLING (R), TEXAS: Here's where the debate is. The Senate wants to punt the ball. They want to do a 60-day extension. House Republicans, frankly, this is one of the few times we agree with the president. We want to extend it for a full year. That's what the American people ask, that's what the president agreed for.


VELSHI: Now, the payroll tax cut save the average American family $1,000 in take-home pay in 2011.

CHO: The momentum has shifted, yet again, in the GOP presidential race. Mitt Romney is now pulling even with Newt Gingrich. That's according to a new CNN/ORC international poll. Romney and Gingrich now tied as the Republicans' choice for presidential nominee at 28 percent.

Ron Paul also surging with 14 percent and something he might be able to pull off an upset. Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman all in the single digit.

VELSHI: All right. Some interesting map why you think somebody at 14 percent could pull off an upset, got to do with organization and turnout. We're talking to somebody who has run some numbers who predicts that Ron Paul could win this.

Coming up next, he's going to join us live, Ron Paul, that is. He's surging in the polls, but can he win it? What will it take? What happens if he does?

CHO: Well, also stopping by our studio, is the star of the movie "War Horse," Jeremy Irvine. I have not seen it but you're telling me, too.

VELSHI: And you have not probably seen this guy because he's not really famous. Jeremy Irvine hasn't done anything big.

CHO: Just 20 years old. His last role was as a tree on stage. We're getting major Oscar buzz for this movie and Jeremy Irvine will join us live.

VELSHI: It's going to be great interview.

And the lights go out during Monday night's 49ers and Steelers game. Police go out in force looking for a bomb.

It's all ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. Nine minutes after the hour.


VELSHI: Good morning, Washington, D.C. It is 48 degrees and cloudy. You'll get some showers later on and go up to a balmy 49 degrees. You have work to do, so get out of bed.

Welcome back.

The Iowa caucuses are two weeks away and now we're seeing the rise of Ron Paul. The GOP presidential hopeful is surging in the latest polls, this as the frontrunner Newt Gingrich is losing his lead.

We're joined now by Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul. He's live in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Congressman Paul, good to see you. Thank you for being with us.

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you for having me.

VELSHI: You know, Nate Silver at "New York Times" ran the poll numbers through a formula that he used and designed to predict a winner in Iowa. And according to his numbers, you're looking pretty good.

Take a look a this -- it's 538, what they called 538 Iowa projections show you at 52 percent chance of winning, Mitt Romney at 28 percent, Rick Perry at 7 percent.

You think you have a chance of winning in Iowa?

PAUL: The odds sound pretty good. I guess we certainly do have a chance. But I think we have a little bit of work to do. We still have a couple weeks.

And, so, I think we're in a good position and I'm really enjoying it because I think the American people have come around to believing that government is not our answer and my offer of the freedom philosophy is something that is very attractive.

VELSHI: You actually want to close a lot of federal agencies. And there is an interesting poll in the "Des Moines Register" that I want to show our viewers, about the number of people who agreed with you.

Sixty percent of respondents agree with closing the Department of Housing and Urban Development, 57 percent with the Environmental Protection Agency, 54 percent with the Department of Education, 45 percent with the Department of Energy, 42 percent with the TSA -- well, we can discuss what you do with that, to get rid of the TSA -- 36 percent with the Federal Reserve.

Here's the issue. Places like the EPA have 17,000 employees. HUD says that they've got 8,900 employees.

What do you do in a tough economy like this when the employment rate where it is, job creation not where it is, and you're advocating a whole lot of people losing their jobs?

PAUL: Well, you go through attrition and you let them go and you reduce the number of people who are working for the government because many of us who see government as the problem as people working for the government as being nonproductive, it takes money out of the private economy, puts it in the government and then the bureaucrats, they do damage to the economy.

So, you lose twice. But it's not like putting him on a street the first day. But there is an attrition and they go back in the workforce.

But we've gone through periods like this. And the example I use frequently is after World War II, 10 million people came home and we don't have a work program, and all of a sudden had jobs again because the government got out of the way.

VELSHI: Where do you think those jobs are coming from? If the government got out of the way in the way you discuss, because I think that's the answer we're all looking for. Where would jobs come from?

PAUL: Well, you can't predict because the market makes these decisions. If you get out of the way and invite capital back and you restore sound money, I mean, all kinds of places. Maybe we could get our industrial base back again, but you can't tell. If you're an economic planner and think that you know that you want to stimulate things and you pump money into Solyndra and do these different things, that's a negative.

You have to allow the market to make the decision, but you have to get the tax code change, the regulatory change, the monetary change. You have to reduce the deficits, and then, the environment is different and the people make the choices. It's sort of like saying, how should the people spend their money if they're working?

Well, they decide how to spend their money. Businessman have to make those decisions, as well. VELSHI: Well, let me ask you this. You have long not liked a lot of what the Federal Reserve does, but you've been swimming upstream, not just here in the United States, but around the world. I mean, every country has gone to a central banking system. They're a little bit different in different places. Do you really believe that the Federal Reserve is one of the major problems that we've got in our economy?

PAUL: Oh, absolutely, central banking. I mean, how can you deny it when you look at the world crisis? I mean, we're in the worst financial crisis in all of history, and we think right now, our government is on the verge. They plan to bailout Europe with more dollars, and the dollars already been downgraded once.

It's getting ready to be downgraded to defend central banking and not ignore the fact that central banking has brought us to this crisis. I think where there people are living with blind folders on, and this doesn't --


VELSHI: Let me ask you this. What would happen if you didn't have the central banks putting money into the system, which has the effect of keeping interest rates low which are supposed to be stimulative to the economy? I know I hear from a lot of people who say, I didn't do anything wrong. I can't get money on my savings.

PAUL: Right.

VELSHI: There's no interest rate. What would be the outcome of letting interest rates do what they do, not having the central bank keep interest rates low to stimulate the economy or to try to?

PAUL: Well, we'd get rid of price fixing, and that's what the fed does. They price fix interest rates, and that's why the economy gets distorted. You restore the economy, but you would get the correction. When the government, I mean, when the Federal Reserve and Congress distorts the economy and they get overbuilding like they did in the housing bubble --

VELSHI: Right.

PAUL: -- you would correct that, but what did they do, with the housing bubble, they cropped (ph) it up and all the bad debt. The taxpayers ended up with it. So, what you do is you want the correction to occur. You want to eliminate the debt in the malinvestment so we can get growth again.

So, everything we've done so far has been exactly opposite, but why should we believe in socialism for money and price fixing --


VELSHI: Correcting prices, in this case, would mean housing prices going down further, right? PAUL: Well, who knows? They may be at bottom finally by now. But, yes, you get to the point where we have done this four years ago. The prices would have been gone, maybe, sharper and maybe more quickly, but the investors and people who did save money. Maybe people would have saved money if they could have earned six percent on the CDs.


PAUL: But no, the government does it on purpose so they take it down and they give the money to the banks from free, and they take the interest from the savers. So, we encourage this idea of spending money rather than saving money so you can buy when the prices go down.

VELSHI: Congressman, as you are sort of breaking through some barriers in the polls, some other things are happening. There's been some talk again, resurfaced talk, about some things that were written in a newsletter under your name.

I know you started to address this, but in 2008, the New Republic, James Kirchick, attributed some comments to you in newsletters where you refer the disturbances in Washington as Adams Morgan as animals taking over the D.C, zoo referring to African- Americans. You said that Martin Luther King seduced underage girls and boys.

You talked about Ronald Reagan proclaiming Annual Hate Whitey Day with Martin Luther King Day, and you advocated prohibiting AIDS patients from eating in restaurants. These things were published under your name.

PAUL: Yes, but I didn't write them, and I disavowed them.

VELSHI: But you're a presidential candidate. That's tough, right? I mean, it kind of comes back to bite you that you made money off of things that were under your name that were hateful and racist.

PAUL: Yes, but this has been addressed for 20 years, and nobody accuses me of that type of beliefs or language. I'm a true civil libertarian, and I think people dig these up when people think that, oh, his economic policies are winning, his foreign policies are winning, his monetary policies are winning. So, they have to dig these things up, which they really can't pin on me, because they've been disavowed and they're rolled.

They're been rehashed. Let's go back and read all the articles and all the explanations. So, yes, it wasn't good. But I didn't write them and those aren't my beliefs. So, I sleep well.

VELSHI: Are you comfortable in telling us who did write them? You haven't been able to sort of tell us specifically who wrote them.

PAUL: I don't -- I really don't know. Twenty years ago, I had six or eight people helping me with this letter, and I was practicing medicine, to tell you the truth.

VELSHI: Right.

PAUL: And, so, I do not know.

VELSHI: Well, we could find out because you have six or eight people, I guess, one of those six or eight people.

PAUL: Well, possibly, I could, but --

VELSHI: I guess, I guess, as you get closer to being president of the United States, folks want to know that you don't really dislike Black people and people with AIDS and things like that. I get what you're saying, that you're going up in the polls.

PAUL: Excuse me. Why don't they concentrate on every word I've ever said, every speech I have ever given, every conference I've ever gone to.

VELSHI: Right.

PAUL: And maybe, maybe that's where, maybe my beliefs are more important than, you know, stirring this up. So, my beliefs, actually, a true civil libertarian is a strong defense of individual liberties, and nobody's accused me of lacking a libertarian spirit of defending individuals. So these, these charges are total contradiction to everything I've said and everything I believe.

VELSHI: Do you think the media establishment has been fair to you or unfair?

PAUL: Oh, you mean, whether so bias, I don't know if you use fair or unfair.

VELSHI: OK. You think they're biased against you?

PAUL: Well, I mean, why don't you go look at Jon Stewart's reports when he defends me on the bias and stuff in media. I mean, he mocked the media for the way they've treated me during the campaign and reported, but I don't get upset about that. That's just the way you guys work. It's no big deal to me. That's just the way.

The more progress I make in challenging the status quo, challenge the bankers and challenging the bailouts, challenging this wicked foreign policy of war forever and the military industrial complex, the stronger they will emphasize picking this and ignoring the important issues of what freedom is all about and what civil liberty is all about and why, why don't you go look at why I make, you know, a lot of comments about the war on drugs and how racist the enforcement of drug laws are. I mean --


PAUL: You know, you don't, you don't. You're concentrating on something else, so somebody some day ought to look at the whole picture rather than picking out something. I didn't write and I have disavowed and that's been done --


PAUL: Go back and read the record.

VELSHI: That's the cost of surging in the polls where people are paying a lot more attention to you. They're going to start paying attention to all of these details. But as you know, congressman, you and I have talked many, many times. We have talked about a broad range of the things that you've written about.

So, I think, we appreciate you coming on to have this discussion with us, and we continue to invite you to be on to have these discussions, the broad range of discussions of things that you care about, so we do appreciate that. Congressman Ron Paul, Republican presidential candidate and congressman from Texas.

CHO: Support him or not, the one thing you have to respect Ron Paul for is he does always speak his mind.

VELSHI: Absolutely does, and he does come on to talk about these issues.

CHO: That's right. That's right.

Coming up a check of the early morning markets is next.

Plus, a victory for Apple in the Smartphone war or shall we say another victory? That means one cell phone maker may have to pull some of its phones. We'll explain. It's 24 minutes after the hour.


CHO: Twenty-six minutes after the hour. "Minding Your Business" this morning.

U.S. stock futures are trading higher after a bit of a selloff yesterday. Traders remain cautious as they wait for more news out of Europe about plans to fix its debt crisis.

Bank of America's stock is back above the $5 mark in premarket trading. Shares closed at $4.99 yesterday. That's the lowest level since the worst of the financial crisis back in March of 2009.

Eurozone ministers agreed overnight to lend the International Monetary Fund $195 billion. The money will be used to help the 17- nation zone with its ongoing debt crisis.

Google expected to announce today that it's teaming up with a private equity firm to become majority owners of four solar farms in California. Google has become a significant investor in renewable energy.

Apple claiming a minor victory in its battle against Google's android operating system. The U.S. International Trade Commission ruling the technology behind such features like being able to tap a phone number in a text and have it automatically dial belongs to Apple. That means phone maker, HTC, may have to pull some of its phones starting in April.

If you're looking for that last-minute gift, you're in luck. Starting today, Toys "R" Us will stay open around the clock until 10:00 p.m. Christmas Eve. I said around the clock. This is the second year in a row the toy chain has remained open all night in the days leading up to Christmas.

That's a look at the headlines. AMERICAN MORNING is back after this.


CHO: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. It's 31 minutes after the hour. Time for this morning's top stories.

The body of North Korea's long-time dictator Kim Jong-il laid out in a glass coffin in a mausoleum in Pyongyang. Kim Jong-un, Kim's third son and successor, also visited the coffin along with top military officials. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered her condolences to the North Korean people with a message of hope that they can now have a more peaceful future.

VELSHI: Protesters in Egypt calling for a million women march this morning. They're angry about the violent and humiliating scenes we've seen over the weekend of an Egyptian soldier stripping, beating, stomping, and dragging some female protesters through the streets. These new protests coming in the middle of new elections, but the opposition wants military rulers out right now.

CHO: A state of national calamity declared in the Philippines after tropical storm Washi kills nearly 1,000 people. The storm swept through over the weekend, destroying property and leaving tens of thousands people homeless. President Obama has offered deep condolences and has pledged humanitarian support.

VELSHI: A snow storm slamming through the west and Midwest this morning. The storm bringing heavy snow and fierce winds. Frigid temperatures are turning roads into sheets of ice. Blizzard warnings stretching from Texas to Kansas this morning. The driving conditions so dangerous that several major roads like Interstate 40 in New Mexico are closed.


VELSHI: Over $15 million just to talk. The Texas Rangers paid $1.7 million for the negotiating rights to Japanese pitching phenom Yu Darvish. They still have to actually sign him. Reports say Darvish could still demand as much as $15 million per year to actually pitch in the majors. Under the current system Major League teams have to pay a posting fee to teams in Japan just for the right to negotiate with one of their players.

CHO: That's a lot of cash.

VELSHI: I don't know who negotiated that one, but it's a good one. CHO: Candlestick blowout, the lights went out not once, but twice during Monday night football at Candlestick Park. A transformer blew out on the left side of the screen there. And then the huge stadium went dark. You could see it all from the view from the blimp. The first blackout delayed the start of the game by a couple minutes, but then happened again in the second quarter. Pittsburgh Steelers also suffered a power outage, by the way.

VELSHI: Of a different sort.

CHO: Yes, exactly. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger played hurt and the 49ers won the game, 20-3.

VELSHI: Coming up next, the movie "War Horse" comes out on Christmas. It's an emotional new drama directed by Steven Spielberg. It's winning major critical praise and Oscar buzz this morning. It was a Broadway show that they took to the silver screen, and it is fantastic.

CHO: That's right.

And we have the star of the movie, 20-year-old Jeremy Irvine live in the studios with us. That's next. 36 minutes after the hour.


CHO: New York City, it is sunny and 45 degrees.

VELSHI: Balmy.

CHO: It's going up to a high of 46. We're going to go up one degree.

VELSHI: New York has been spectacular the past few days. Sun, it was perfectly clear skies.

Wake up, all you people in New York. Welcome back. We're about to show ask you a sneak peek of one of the most anticipated new movies of the season. First, a surprising fact of the film's star as 20- year-old Jeremy Irvine plays the lead role in the new Steven Spielberg epic "War Horse."

CHO: And get this, it is his very first feature film, and he was handpicked by Steven Spielberg himself. So is this young actor any good? Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's your name, lad?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How old are you?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, sir. But I look like 19 and I'm bigger than most 19 and I'm strong, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The law was very clear about the proper age for soldiering.


CHO: We are joined now by Jeremy Irvine. So great to see you. You're just 20 years old. Congratulations, by the way. I mean, to work with Steven Spielberg. Is this true that your last part was playing a tree with no lines on stage?

JEREMY IRVINE, STARS IN "WAR HORSE": Yes. I was walking the streets of going from there and having no lines to suddenly --

CHO: So, how did it happen? How did you get the part?

IRVINE: As I said, my best friend is a cameraman and we filmed a show reel which I was told is professional work. But, hey, it worked. I got an agent, whatever. You know, the second audition and two months later --

VELSHI: So, this role is remarkable. It came off of a stage show which used puppets as horses, telling the story of really World War One and a young boy and his horse and how he enlists in the war to find his horse after his father sold the horse to the army. It's a complex story that doesn't sound off the top of it, like, oh, that makes sense.

IRVINE: It came from a kid's book which, you know, back home is incredibly popular. I was reading it when I was eight or nine and I think most kids have. It was for families that writes for kids. And I think what he does so well is, you know, in his stories everything is very relatable. We can all relate to the idea of having a best childhood friend or brother and sister and what that's like taken away from you.

CHO: It took about three months to shoot the film, which is remarkable for a big budget film like this. It's a Spielberg film, I guess everybody wants to know what was it like working with him. You're a new actor. He wanted a fresh face and, boy, he got one. So, what was it like?

IRVINE: I mean, you know, it should have been the most overwhelming, terrifying experience ever. But what Steven Spielberg, when you meet him and when you're in front of the camera with him and this sort of very intimate, calm working environment, you actually feel very comfortable. And it's one of his greatest skills and putting actors very much at ease and you're not afraid of making mistakes and hopefully you do your best work.

CHO: Oh, that first day must have been nerve wracking, though.

IRVINE: Yes, terrified. But I turn up and hundreds of trailers and all the machinery that goes into making a big movie like this. When you're in front of the camera, it's just you and Steven Spielberg and the horse.

VELSHI: If somebody says, why should I see "War Horse?" How do you characterize it?

IRVINE: I didn't watch any of it while we were shooting. When I watched it for the first time, what struck me is the epic way it is kind of filmed. It's this beautiful, old-fashioned style of filmmaking that goes back to the golden age of Hollywood. It's ambitious. I don't know if many other people apart from Steven Spielberg and the world class crew that he has could pull this off. It's a big, ambitious movie.

VELSHI: I think a lot of people don't realize that you had to go through extensive training for this movie. Talk about that.

IRVINE: I've never been on a horse. That was a slight issue with this one.


VELSHI: But you can act.

IRVINE: Well, you know, I've been saying that. I look back, matter of fact, but that kind of paled in significance when I was thinking about just to act for movie, I never acted for camera and getting used to having hundreds of people around you when you're doing a close, intimate scene but a camera just in front of your face and people playing with your hair and makeup and things. It's a very different world from theater, which is what I was kind of more used to.

VELSHI: This was interesting because it was a show that was adapted from a book to theater to the movies, and your character need youth and naivete. You really developed this relationship with this horse mat your father accidentally bought and now you're being separated from. It's more than your pet or best friend --

IRVINE: It's his brother. What I defined it is this innocence and naivete that you don't really see any more. This is somebody, this is a 15-year-old but he hasn't been exposed and very isolated community. He probably hasn't really seen many people outside this little village and probably hasn't been much outside this little village.

VELSHI: We can't let you go before asking you about your other projects, because this role obviously got you noticed. And you just wrapped another big film, haven't you?

IRVINE: Yes. It's nice it be able to get work now. I just finished "Great Expectations" with Ralph Fiennes, and that's I'm really excited about.

VELSHI: Oh, my goodness.

IRVINE: Next year, you know, we have a great movie next year called the railway man. One of the best scripts I ever read.

CHO: Your problem is too much work.

VELSHI: Not bad for a guy who played a tree with no lines.


VELSHI: Well, congratulations. The movie is excellent and comes out on Christmas Day. Jeremy Irvine is the star of "War Horse." We wish you continued success and once you're big and famous you will still remember us.

IRVINE: Thanks so much.

CHO: Nice to meet you.

VELSHI: Morning headlines are coming up next. It's 45 minutes after the hour.


VELSHI: Its 47 minutes after the hour. Here are your "Morning Headlines".

Markets open in 45 minutes and right now markets are poised to open higher. The DOW, NASDAQ and S&P 500 futures are all trading about one percent higher right now.

House Republicans set to block a two-month extension of the payroll tax holiday. A critical vote now scheduled for today after lawmakers scrapped one in the middle of the night.

Newt Gingrich's lead is gone; a new CNN/ORC international poll shows Gingrich and Mitt Romney now tied nationally at 28 percent nationally as the Republicans' choice for presidential nominee.

The body of North Korea's long time dictator Kim Jong-Il laid out in a glass coffin as weeping mourners filed by. Kim Jong Un, Kim's third son and successor also visited the coffin along with top military officials.

Right now blizzard warnings are in effect for parts of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. The storm unleashing snow and strong winds; dangerous ice is causing major highways like Interstate 40 in New Mexico to be shut down.

Tonight, a special lighting ceremony planned for the National Hanukkah Menorah near the White House. It marks the first night of the eight-day Jewish holiday. Happy Hanukkah.

That's the news you need to start your day. AMERICAN MORNING back right after the break.


VELSHI: A little gloomy in Atlanta this morning. CHO: You're right but much warmer than New York. It is cloudy and 51 degrees going up to a high of 60. They might get some showers there in Atlanta.

VELSHI: Yes it doesn't matter you've got to go to work. Who cares if it's going to rain for the day.

Welcome back. Humans are not the only ones, believe it or not, who suffer through the flu season. I did not know this.


CHO: I did as a matter of fact.

VELSHI: I found this quite interesting. Man's best friend can also come down with the flu. In fact, a highly contagious strain has turned up in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Colorado and Texas. There are also investigations into reports of the virus in California.

Now vets suggest that you give your dog a flu shot if you plan on boarding it or taking it to the groomers in the next few months.

CHO: I can't even get a flu shot.

VELSHI: Right.

CHO: You know you get worried about your dog getting a flu shot now. All right, Seattle now the latest city to ban plastic grocery bags. The new ordinance which takes effect next July also includes a 5-cent fee for paper bags. City officials are hoping that the ban will of course reduce pollution, free up landfill space and improve the environment.

VELSHI: Well he's quickly becoming one of the most memorable TV personalities out there. His name is Zach Anner. He has his own show on Oprah's network and in this week's "Human Factor" Dr. Sanjay Gupta introduces us to this remarkable young man.


ZACH ANNER, OWN HOST, "ROLLING WITH ZACH": I'm Zach Anner and getting my own travel show is a dream come true for me.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Growing up, Zach Anner always knew he wanted to work in film.

ANNER: It was always like, whatever you want to do, we can find a way to do it.

GUPTA: Nowadays he lives in Austin and spends his days writing and editing and brainstorming with his production and support team, his friends. The rest of the country didn't know who Zach was and then he decided to enter a contest to become Oprah Winfrey's next TV talk show star.

OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: How old were you when you figured out that you were different than the other kids?

ANNER: I knew that I had a wheelchair obviously.


ANNER: They didn't shield that from me. But --

GUPTA: As a result of the contest Oprah gave Zach his own travel show, airing on the OWN Network. It's called "Rolling with Zach."

ANNER: And now I'm exploring the country, taking you along for the ride.

GUPTA: And rolling with life's obstacles is just what Zach does.

ANNER: Taking life as it comes and whatever you run into you just learn to roll with it.

GUPTA: Zach has cerebral palsy. It's a neurological disease that affects the brain's ability to control body movements. But his disease never stopped him from doing what he wants to do.

ANNER: Everybody has problems is what I always say, and like mine are no bigger than anyone else's and I think that's the message that I want to get across.

What I've got to deal with is really small in the scheme of things.

GUPTA: Zach gives his family a lot of credit for not dwelling on his disability. And his TV show doesn't either. He hopes someday to be an inspiration to others.

ANNER: So I would say to anybody who -- who feels really like they're bogged down by their obstacles, just really think of who you are without those. And imagine yourself doing what you love to do, because that will drive you to do things you never thought you were capable of.

I'm getting really soaked.

GUPTA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.


CHO: Up next, who's better than Tony Bennett? The age-defying 85-year-old crooner sits down with me for an interview about connecting with young audiences today and how he's giving back. He also gives me a very special holiday gift I'll never forget.

VELSHI: I want to see that.

CHO: It's 54 minutes after the hour. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) VELSHI: Welcome back. In a career spanning more than half a century, Tony Bennett is not only one of the most famous performers in the world, he's an international treasure and an American classic.

CHO: That's right. 50 millions sold, 15 Grammys, a Kennedy Center honor. Bennett says he's endured because he focuses on quality, never singing a bad song. And he's giving back by teaching others to follow his lead.


CHO (voice-over): At 85, Tony Bennett is just getting started.

TONY BENNETT, SINGER: When my friends say at 85 going to number one on Billboard will never happen again. But it's fantastic. You know.

CHO: "Duets 2", featuring Lady Gaga and the late Amy Winehouse has been nominated for three Grammys.

BENNETT: They said why don't you do disco and why don't you do rap and you're not following where the music is going. I said, well, I just want to stay with quality.

CHO: It's not about instant fame, but developing something, a real skill.

BENNETT: Even if they don't become artists later on, you'll get an idea of the difference between a piece of junk or something that will last forever.

CHO: That idea inspired Bennett and his wife, Susan Benedetto create Exploring the Arts, a non-profit aimed at teaching arts education at a time when many arts programs are being cut. The centerpiece is this state of the art high school in Astoria, Queens, Bennett's birthplace.

(on camera): How does that make you feel?

BENNETT: It's the greatest fan club in the world.

CHO (voice-over): In addition to academics, majors include dance, drama, fine art.

BENNETT: Beautiful. Did you do this?


BENNETT: How wonderful.

CHO: And don't forget Bennett's specialty, singing.

BENNETT: So, this is real music.

CHO (on camera): And it stays here, doesn't it?

It does. Here and here.

Oh, the voice. It's his gift to the world and his holiday gift to me.



CHO: I mean, can you imagine?

VELSHI: That is excellent. That is something everybody doesn't get.

CHO: You know, he sang that song in the Tony Bennett Auditorium and then the school is named for Frank Sinatra because he said Frank Sinatra gave an interview years ago in Life magazine and said, for my money, Tony Bennett has the best voice in the business and he never forgot it.

Yes, it's great.

Tomorrow I sit down with former President Bill Clinton and don't miss my special, "BIG STARS BIG GIVING" airs at December 24th at 2:00 p.m. and again on Christmas day at 4:00 p.m. Eastern.

VELSHI: Excellent. We look forward to it. Great to see you again today.

CHO: Great to see you.

VELSHI: That's it for us. Kyra Phillips takes over in the "CNN NEWSROOM" right now. Good morning Kyra.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": I thought it was cool when Julio Iglesias kissed my hand. You know what, Alina just topped that.