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American Morning

Race Tightening In Iowa; Fair Weather Voters?; Senator Lugar To GOP: Better Back Me!; Many Unhappy Returns; Five Churches Bombed In Nigeria; Deadly Car Bombing Rattles Iraq; Five Killed in Connecticut House Fire; Seven Dead In Northwest Dallas Shooting; Hackers Target Global Think Tank; Pope Benedict Delivers Christmas Message; Deadly Car Bombing Rattles Iraq; Obama Celebrates Christmas in Hawaii; London "Tube" Strike on Boxing Day; Opposition in Syria Reports Continued Bloody Crackdown

Aired December 26, 2011 - 06:00   ET


ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Countdown to the Iowa caucuses and with eight days to go, the race is too close to call. Three GOP candidates separated by just two percentage points with a long shot now on top.

ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Christmas day carnage. Five Christian churches bombed in Nigeria. Dozens of worshippers killed. The international community calling for peace and justice.

VELSHI: And city under siege in Syria. A bloody Christmas Sunday as Arab League observers go in and try to end the deadly crackdown.

CHO: And it's like Christmas part two. Stores bracing for returns and slashing prices hoping it will be a Christmas black morning on this AMERICAN MORNING.

VELSHI: Good morning. It is Monday, December 26th. This is AMERICAN MORNING. Merry Christmas to all of you. I hope it was great for all of you and I kind of hope a lot of our viewers are watching us from home.

CHO: That's right.

VELSHI: In bed today. I know some of you --

CHO: Did you get back from Toronto last night?

VELSHI: I did.

CHO: He did.

VELSHI: Nice relaxing weekend.

CHO: For our Canadian viewers, by the way, happy Boxing Day.

VELSHI: Boxing Day, that is right.

CHO: It's like the Black Friday of Canada.

VELSHI: Yes, that's right. That's right. There will be some good shopping up today, but we got a lot of news right now.

CHO: That's right. Up first, three Republican hopefuls running neck and neck in Iowa and with just eight days to go before the caucuses kick off, anybody's guess who might come out on top.

CNN's political editor, Paul Steinhauser tracking every trend for us. He is live in Des Moines, Iowa this morning. Hi, Paul. Good morning.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Good morning, Alina. It was quiet over the weekend obviously for the Christmas holiday and no candidates campaigning. But things pick up again today and especially tomorrow with one week to go until those Iowa caucuses.

Of course, the first contest in the primary caucus calendar. You and I, we were just talking about those numbers. Take a look at this. This is a poll by American Research Group. It came out on Friday afternoon. It's the most recent poll here.

Among people are likely to go to the Iowa GOP caucuses, look at this, three-way traffic jam at the top there. Ron Paul, the Texas congressman at 21 percent. Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor at 20 percent. Newt Gingrich at 19 percent.

Well within the sampling error. Basically it's up for grabs here in Iowa with just over one week to go. And here's a little taste of wire. Remember it wasn't that long ago that Newt Gingrich was the frontrunner in Iowa, the polls at least. But take a listen to some of the ads played on Iowa TV here.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): If you really want to know how a person will operate, look at how they've lived their life, and I think that's why it's so important to understand the character of a person. To me, that make as huge difference. M aybe some voters it doesn't, but for me it make as huge difference.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm Anita Perry. When Rick served as a captain in the Air Force ended, he returned home to farm with his dad and asked me to marry him. We grew up in small towns raised with Christian values. Values we still believe in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know what makes Barack Obama happy? Newt Gingrich's baggage. He has more baggage than the airlines.


STEINHAUSER: There you go. You had Ann Romney and Anita Perry, the wives of the candidates there, telling about their husband's social values and stuff like that. Maybe a slight dig at Newt Gingrich, who's been married three times now.

The last ad find independent group backing Mitt Romney really taking on Newt Gingrich. That's one of the reasons we've seen Gingrich come down in the polls. He's getting hammered, at least on the airwaves -- Alina.

CHO: Those negative ads are working. It's so exciting to watch this race in Iowa. Paul, you know, Mike Huckabee who won the Iowa caucuses back in 2008 says, of course, that the weather could influence who wins. Here's what he said, watch.


MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: If the weather is good, Mitt Romney is in better shape. If the weather is bad and it's real tough to get out, Ron Paul will win.


CHO: I mean, it does makes sense particularly because Ron Paul has such a strong ground game in Iowa. What are smart minds saying about that, Paul?

STEINHAUSER: He does have a very strong ground. He had probably the biggest organization here in the hawk eye state and his followers, his supporters are very devoted, very energetic, and very enthusiastic.

These are the people who will go to straw poll after straw poll across the country. They'll come out on a cold night and a snowy night. But I'll tell you right now, the forecast for Iowa, pretty warm.

There's no snow here at all. Eight days to go until the caucuses. You notice this is a big deal, Alina. You know why? We've brought the CNN Election Express. It's a big deal when you bring the bus.

CHO: It sure is. I know that. You know, Ali Velshi has spent some time on the bus, by the way. You know, just a week after Iowa is the New Hampshire primary, of course. Who's on top of the latest poll there?

STEINHAUSER: New poll out yesterday, on Christmas Day, from "The Boston Globe." Take a look at this. It is still Mitt Romney's state to lose, I guess you could say. He is still the frontrunner there for about two years.

Remember, he is the former Massachusetts governor from the neighboring state. Look at these numbers. He's at 39 percent, far ahead of Gingrich and Paul. There's Jon Huntsman down there in the lower double digits. He's placing all his money on New Hampshire -- Alina.

CHO: All right, Paul Steinhauser, watching it all for us from Des Moines. Paul, thank you very much.

And if Republicans hope to gain control of the Senate in 2012, they better support Indiana's Dick Lugar for a seventh term. Who says that? Dick Lugar. The 79-year-old senator is facing a primary challenge from a Tea Party-backed treasurer in his state.

Senator Lugar telling CNN's Candy Crowley that he believes a Tea Party win in the primary could set the Republican Party back in a big way.


SENATOR DICK LUGAR (R), INDIANA: The Republicans who are running for re-election ought to be supported by people who want to see that majority. So I think to the majority of Tea Party, you can understand that, too.

CANDY CROWLEY, HOST, CNN'S "STATE OF THE UNION": So I know what you mean is, you think that you have the best chance of keeping this seat Republican? That's what you're arguing?

LUGAR: Yes. No doubt from all of our polling and understanding, that that is the case, and as a matter of fact, if I was not nominee, it might be lost.


VELSHI: All right. On to other things, remember it's the thought that counts. Millions of people are heading back to the stores this morning to make some returns and exchanges and to unload those gift cards.

Analysts say the Monday after Christmas may also be the third biggest shopping day of the year because of those gift cards, especially as stores start slashing prices big time.

Alison Kosik is live outside Macy's Herald Square in New York City, possibly, possibly one of the busiest places in the city today. Good morning, Alison. How's it looking?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Ali, it's not looking busy right now. Yes, behind me the streets are bare, but you bet you, it's going to get really, really busy once the sun comes up and people get out of their houses and bring those gifts back.

You know, what's interesting. You mentioned a good point. You know, it's really been a pretty darn good shopping season for retailers. The momentum we really saw on Black Friday.

You know, sales were up extraordinarily and then that momentum kind of fell off a little bit. You know, the losing kind of that sales momentum, and retailers picked up on that. So what they've had to do is chop prices even more, offer deeper discounts.

You know what? Consumers have caught on to that and they are keeping that in mind as they come back to the stores today to return their gifts. In fact, some people are noticing that the prices are falling. So many will actually come back, return the gifts and re-buy it for anywhere from 30 percent to 40 percent off.

Others think, OK, you know what? I've overspent. I'm going to go ahead and sent back these gifts. You know, just when you think retailers think that it's a bad thing on this return day, it's really not because the National Retail Federation says, you know what?

They think at least 10 percent of all sales actually come back to the store, but the good thing about everybody walking back in to return these gifts is that they're most likely to buy something else.

The National Retail Federation says 70 percent of people who are actually returning gifts today, Ali, will walk out with bags of other things, because, you know what? They don't want to leave empty- handed -- Ali.

VELSHI: Yes, and they are -- they are continuing to be good salesmen because of what you said. These retailers stuck with a little more inventory than they had last year. You know, it's always hard for them to gauge how good it's going to be.

So there are still things to be had. If it didn't all show up under the Christmas tree today, it might be the day to get it. But it will be interesting. It will be interesting to see how many people are coming back to return stuff.

How many people are coming to use those gift cards and how many people are just coming out because it's a good shopping day? You'll be out there a few hours I guess?

KOSIK: I will. Yes, I will and would be watching it all do a little shopping and a little people watching too in between these stories.

VELSHI: Right, reconnaissance. That's your work. That's research, reporter research.

KOSIK: Yes, exactly. That's fine.

VELSHI: Alison, good to see you as always. Stay warm. Alison Kosik outside of Macy's.

CHO: You know that's my favorite kind of research.

VELSHI: Totally right. It's necessary. You have to do it.

CHO: That's right, the day after Christmas.

All right, also new this morning, terrorists bomb five Christian churches in Nigeria right in the middle of Christmas services. At least 25 people were killed. Dozens more injured.

Locals are blaming a radical Islamic group suspected of having ties to al Qaeda. Both the White House and the United Nations have condemned the attacks. A similar string of bombings happened in Nigeria last Christmas season.

VELSHI: More worries about Iraq's future this morning after yet another deadly car bombing. Police say a suicide car bomber struck a security checkpoint right outside Iraq's Interior Ministry compound, killing at least two people. Dozens died in bombing since the last U.S. troops left Iraq, which is only a week ago. CHO: The three young daughters and parents of a successful advertising executive killed in a house fire on Christmas morning. It happened in Stanford, Connecticut. The executive named, Madonna Badger, managed to escape the house along with a family friend.

VELSHI: And a bloody Christmas morning northwest of Dallas. Seven people found shot to death inside an apartment in Grapevine, Texas about 25 miles northwest of Dallas.

Police say it appears all of the victims, four women and three men, were related. Police say all of them were shot while in the process of opening Christmas gifts or they just doing so. The suspect shooter is one of the seven fatalities.

CHO: A global think tank based in the U.S. was targeted by an activist hacking group loosely affiliated with "Anonymous." In a posting, (inaudible) says it crashed Stratfor web site, stole confidential client list and released credit card information for 4,000 subscribers among Stratfor's list of clients, Bank of America, Lockheed Martin and the Defense Department.

VELSHI: Thousands poured into St. Peter's Square to hear the pope's annual Christmas message. The celebration started off with the unveiling of a larger than life nativity scene. Pope Benedict prayed for world peace and end of violence in Syria and comfort in the flood stricken Philippines.

CHO: And the NBA back in action on Christmas Day. The Dallas Mavericks raising their championship banner then falling to Lebron James and the Miami Heat 105-94. The king leading the way with 37 points.

Back in Los Angeles, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers squared off against MVP Derek Rose and the Chicago Bulls. Rose hit the winning shot with under 6 seconds to play. The bulls won that game 88-87.

And the Knicks knocked off the Boston Celtics. Carmelo Anthony with 37 points leading New York to a 106-104 victory. The Knicks winning, how about that?

VELSHI: All right, still ahead, an Arab League mission to Syria as the bloody crackdown continues. Observers told to go right to a town under siege to prevent a larger civilian massacre.

CHO: And the makers of Enfamil baby formula run new tests for a killer bacteria. Stores hold the formula after an infant death, but the company says the product is safe.

VELSHI: And how President Obama is mixing work with pleasure in Hawaii this holiday season. You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. It is 12 minutes after the hour.


VELSHI: Welcome back. New this morning, the makers of Enfamil baby formula says, the product is safe, following a massive recall of their premium newborn formula. The company conducted a second round of testing on the same batch of formula consumed by a Missouri infant who died from a bacterial infection. They say the new tests show that the formula is free of the bacteria. Investigators are still trying to find out, maybe it was something in the environment or in the water mixed into it, but this 10-month-old baby died after having some of this formula.

CHO: That's right. It's still a mystery. We'll be watching that story.

And meanwhile, arson blamed for a Christmas fire that burned a post office in Nevada. Investigators found anti-government graffiti and bullet holes in the building. The blaze began outside but firefighters sprayed water into the mailboxes and that soaked the mail inside. About 800 people use that post office, by the way. Officials are working to restore the wet mail and deliver to customers.

A delegation of South Korea citizens crossing the demilitarized zone, heading into North Korea to mourn the loss of Kim Jong-il. The group is led by a former South Korean first lady. Her husband former South Korean president Kim Dae-jung, won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to reach peace on the peninsula. Seoul has approved the civilian group's visit but did not send an official delegation.

CHO: One activist says snipers are shooting at anything and everything. The slaughter continues in Syria this morning as Arab League observers arrive to try to end the bloodshed. Mohammed Jamjoom has new developments for us this morning.


MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As the Syrian government crackdown intensifies, the first of a small group of outside observers is beginning to arrive in Damascus. We have no idea if the Arab League observers will be able to get close to the scenes of violence that continue to forge out of Syria.

Here a tank rolls down a street in a neighborhood in a flashpoint city. Activists say thousands of Syrian troops have recently surrounded it and are shelling it almost daily. CNN can't verify many of the videos posted from Syria, but one Homs resident describes the carnage he's witnessed, explaining how everyone has become a target.

ABU OMAR, HOMS RESIDENT: In last two days there is a lot of injury, 100, 200 injury. In the last three days, they've secluded literature because they shout against Assad. They bomb one house, a civilian house.

JAMJOOM: In the past week, the Syrian government's bombardment has escalated. The same day a protocol was signed allowing those Arab League observers into Syria. Activists say the Syrian army stormed a town. This video reports to show family members mourning of loved ones who have died. Residents of Syria have become accustomed to the violence. Many even fear to bury their dead in public cemeteries.

In this video taken in November, some buried this loved ones near a deserted road. At a hospital, one demonstrator lays in his bed and tells of the horrors he's seen. "I've seen wounded people taken by security people with their oxygen masks still on," he says. Another man described a crackdown he experienced. "I was injured by gunfire in a protest," he says. "Security forces fired on us and injured many youth, and one was killed. I went to a hospital and was treated."

With many Syrian neighborhoods deserted and besieged, many people are now questioning how effective the Arab league mission will be.


CHO: Mohammed Jamjoom joins us by phone from Cairo. Mohammed, good morning. We're hearing of fresh violence coming out of Syria. What's the latest from there? Mohammed?

JAMJOOM (via telephone): Alina, we're hearing reports of more carnage going on in Homs in Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Right, an opposition group. Told us that 13 people have been killed and dozens wounded today during shelling attacks by Syrian security forces. They say that a neighborhood has been particularly hit, and this is on the same day that dozens of Arab league observers, about 50, are planning to arrive in order to try to help end the violence there.

Now, for the past few days opposition and activist groups in Syria have been calling on the Arab League to go directly to this city when they arrive so they can stop what is being feared a genocide, a continuing massacre. A member of the Arab league spokes to us earlier today and he said the Arab League plans to go tomorrow. But it's still unclear where exactly they can go, what the parameters of the mission is, but one member of the Arab League does tell us the observers who have been going in are planning to move ahead to the city of Homs. Alina?

CHO: Mohammed Jamjoom joining us live by phone from Cairo, thank you very much.


CHO: It's the day after Christmas for us. It's Boxing Day for the rest of the world. It's the rest of the world's black Friday, actually. But there could be a monumental holdup in London as shoppers rush to the stores for boxing day bargains. We'll tell what you that is.

VELSHI: Does the nose know? Should the evidence hold up or put away a suspect for life when a dog sniffs it out? A very interesting story we'll tell you about, but you have to remain watching the show. It's 23 minutes after the hour.


VELSHI: It's 26 minutes after the hour. "Minding your Business" this morning, markets in the U.S. and Europe are closed for Christmas today. They will be open tomorrow. As of Friday, the S&P 500 is back in positive territory for 2011. The DOW is up six percent for the year. Here's a public service announcement on the day after Christmas -- use your gift cards. The national retail federation says since 2005, $41 billion in gift cards have gone unused. If you use the cards try not to go over the value of the card. Retail analysts estimate more than a third of gift card purchases wind up being more than the value of the card.

Holiday shopping is over, so it's the season for returns. Retailers are estimating a record $46.3 billion in returns this year. The national retail federation says stores may be more flexible with rules on receipt requirements, restocking fees, and timeframes for returning. But experts say don't wait too long. Some stores have shortened returns times for electronic items to as little as 14 days.

Eight states are raising the minimum wage in 2012. The nation's lowest paid workers will see their hourly rates go up between 28 cents and 37 cents in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. Colorado is getting the smallest increase, $7.64 an hour, and Washington will have the largest at $9.04 an hour.

The latest "Mission Impossible" cruises to the top of the box office with movie sales overall not looking so hot this holiday season. Studio execs hoped 2011 to finish with a bang, but with just a week left ticket sales are running $500 million behind last year.

AMERICAN MORNING is back right after this break.


CHO: Good morning. Welcome back.

It's 31 minutes after the hour, time for this morning's top stories.

A tight three-way race is unfolding eight days before the Iowa caucuses. According to the latest American Research Group poll, Ron Paul topped the GOP field with 21 percent of vote, followed by Mitt Romney with 20 percent and then Newt Gingrich with 19 percent.

VELSHI: Deadly Christmas morning in Grapevine, Texas. Seven people aged 18 to 60 found shot to death inside an apartment about 25 miles northwest of Dallas.

According to police, all of the victims, four women and three men were apparently related and all shot while opening Christmas gifts or cleaning up holiday wrapping paper. Police say the suspected shooter is among the seven dead.

CHO: And it's the biggest shopping day in much of the western world, Boxing Day. But shoppers London may be derailed because of a subway worker strike, planned when it could hurt receipts the most.

VELSHI: More worries about Iraq's future this morning after yet another deadly car bombing. Police say a suicide car bomber struck a security checkpoint right outside Iraq's interior ministry security compound killing a dozen people. Dozens have died in bombings since the last U.S. troops Iraq only a week ago. Arwa Damon live in Baghdad for us this morning.

Arwa, what is the situation now?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's especially disturbing about this, Ali, that that suicide car bomber would have had to, according to a source in the Ministry of Interior, get through a number of checkpoints. And officials at the Ministry of Interior said that they believe that the suicide car bomber actually drove in from outside of Baghdad. And that means he would have had to at least six points.

So, not only is it a severe lapse in security, but it is raising an incredible amount of question, because following the attacks that took place on Thursday, the Iraqi security forces had beefed up their presence in the streets. There were additional checkpoints. Their searches were supposed to be more stringent.

So, this most certainty is sending a chilly message to the population when a suicide car bomber blows up in front of the Ministry of Interior, one of the very institutions that is meant to be providing security for the people.

VELSHI: Arwa, let's -- so, there's this situation and then there's a parallel political situation. And I'm not sure how they're connected, but there's an arrest warrant out for the vice president. He's accused of running a hit squad.

And he is responding by saying this is sectarian. This is the government trying to make things difficult for Sunnis. What's the relationship between these two things?

DAMON: Well, the vice president is part of the Iraqiya bloc, and that is a Sunni-backed bloc. He himself is a Sunni.

And this action by the Iraqi government, that of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, a Shia, is very much being viewed as Shia-dominated government trying to take out its Sunni opponents. These two instances, though perhaps not directly related, are intertwined in the since that when it comes to Iraq, political instability create as vacuum. And more often than not, that vacuum allows for these acts of violence.

And many times, you have extremists on both sides of the spectrum, Sunni and Shia, who use these opportunities to justify their logic, that political negotiation is not the way to gain power. Violence is.

And that's why so many Iraqis are so concerned the longer this political uncertainty continues, the more violence they're going to be seeing on the streets.

VELSHI: Got it. OK. Arwa, thanks very much. Appreciate it. Arwa Damon live for us in Baghdad.

CHO: You know, second-guessing on the decision to invade Iraq from former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. But on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION," she said some things could have been done differently.


CONDOEEZZA RICE, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: On Iraq, I would like to look differently of how we rebuilt the country. I think the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was done brilliantly. But, frankly, looking back, I don't think we thought enough about how to build the provinces and use the tribal network --

CANDY CROWLEY, HOST, CNN'S "STATE OF THE UNION": Once Saddam Hussein was gone.

RICE: -- once Saddam Hussein was gone.

CROWLEY: You didn't think there were enough troops there?

RICE: And ultimately, there weren't enough troops there, which is why the surge was important. If Iran were moving towards its nuclear weapon and Saddam Hussein, with all that infrastructure in place and his insatiable desire to have weapons of mass destruction, I think we would be talking about a very different situation.


VELSHI: President Obama is celebrating Christmas in Hawaii with the first family after winning a bruising battle in Washington over the payroll tax cut extension.

Brianna Keilar is traveling with the president.



President Obama left Washington Friday shortly after signing the payroll tax cut extension into law and because this is the biggest part of his jobs plan, he came here to Hawaii with a political victory very much under his belt and now he's expected to spend his time here resting and relaxing not far from where he grew up.

On Christmas Eve, he did something he frequently does, something he loves to do. He played a round of golf. And then made calls to servicemen and women serving overseas and had dinner with his family.

And on Christmas, the first family went to church on a Marine base not far from the house they're staying out in Kailua. All of the Obama women donning sleeveless dresses because the weather here is just beautiful; and then the first family also greeted military men and women there at that Marine base later on Christmas.

Now, at this point there's no public events on the president's schedule. We're expecting him to do a number of other kind of typical Hawaiian vacation activities with his family -- maybe some more golf. But he will, of course, be receiving his daily national security briefing as he always does, because this is always a working vacation for President Obama -- Ali and Alina.


VELSHI: Aloha back to you, Brianna.

I liked that sound track that was going on.

CHO: It was nice.


CHO: It's very festive.

VELSHI: We should all do that whenever we do reports.

CHO: Yes, we'll work on that.

But someone in Maryland, get this, is sitting on a power ball ticket worth $125 million. Lottery officials say they still haven't heard from the winner. The lucky ticket was sold at a liquor store in Elkton and the owner says the winner called to verify the numbers and promised to stop by in the next couple of days.


CHO: I wonder what the holdup is.

VELSHI: Yes. I hope they don't come out and say how they're going to change. I win $125 million, things are going to change, you know? You might need to come in tomorrow without me, which would be fine.

CHO: Maybe. Maybe not. I'd miss you.

VELSHI: All right. Do you hate your Christmas gifts? You're not alone. According to a new survey, one in five Americans complained they got crummy gifts.

Who's to blame? Apparently your in-laws. "Consumer Reports" says mother and father-in-laws give the worst gifts.

So, what do you think happens to those bad gifts? The same surveys 18 percent of people donate unwanted gifts and 15 percent re-gift -- which I think is fantastic. A whole bunch of other people are getting gifts.

CHO: That's right. The donation part is nice.

VELSHI: You interviewed somebody last week I think, who said it's not -- for many people who received gifts, it's not the thought. They want what they want.

CHO: That's right.

VELSHI: They want the stuff on their list, they don't really care what you were thinking.

CHO: Exactly. That's right. Just tell me what I want. Make it easy. VELSHI: So, give lots of hints -- give lots of hints what you like.

CHO: Still ahead, bracing -- speaking of shopping and gifts, bracing for Boxing Day gridlock. It's the rest of the world's Black Friday. But there could be big holdup in London as shoppers rush to the stores. Why the tube will be at a standstill?

VELSHI: And talk about secret Santas -- a total stranger spreading holiday spirit by walking in the stores, walking up to the counters and paying off layoff plans. More on this spontaneous wave of generosity that has spread across the country.

CHO: And does the nose know? Dogs sniffing out crime. Should the evidence hold up or even put away a suspect for life?

We're going to take a look at how they're trained and how reliable that snout really is.

It's 39 minutes after the hour. We'll be back after this.


VELSHI: Welcome back.

In places like Canada and the United Kingdom, this is their Black Friday, it's the day of big sales. They're getting ready for a very hectic what's called Boxing Day in London.

But the underground may be shut down. The "Tube" as they call it, is expected to be at a standstill. Workers going on strike today.

CNN Erin McLaughlin is live in London for us.

Erin, what is the situation there? This is the big day. This is the day where they wait for the sales. It's hectic, it's crazy. Is this going to happen?

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is, Ali. I'm located on the end of Carnaby Street, located in the heart of really one of the premiere shopping districts in the world. Retailers expect some 700,000 shoppers to take to the street looking for the all-important bargains, Salfages (ph), which a luxury good retail store here in London opened early, as per usual, as per tradition dictates. Earlier this morning, there was an absolute crush of shoppers into the store looking for those luxury bargains.

We managed to speak with a couple of them. This is what they had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Came around, but it's kind of avoided this. That was handy, but I did see quite a bit of crush going on at the beginning, at the middle of the store. And the reason why it's become slightly traditional to come out, Boxing Day, and pick up the bargains (INAUDIBLE). UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've been doing it since the '70s. So we love the tradition, more or less. The sales are just there and especially the handbags, very good value.


MCLAUGHLIN: Now, Ali, as you mentioned, there is that 'Tube" strike today. That is London's underground subway system that many Londoners rely on to get around the city. I know my morning commute was disrupted this morning by that limited service.

The question will be, how will that affect shopping? Retail spokesperson I spoke to this morning says he actually expects it to have a minimal impact. The exact same "Tube" strike last year on the exact same day. Shoppers still found a way to make it out to the bargains whether by foot or bus. There's about 200 buses expected in London today.

The question being, will that repeat this year?

VELSHI: All right. Well, shoppers are determined, a determined breed of people. So, they'll probably get it done. It's always a fun day.

Erin, we'll check in with you later, you'll tell us how things are going. Erin McLaughlin for us in London.

CHO: I love this story coming up here. You know, how's this for the gift of giving?

Good Samaritans across have actually been walking into stores and paying off layaway balances for total strangers.

CNN's Alison Kosik with the story of these anonymous angels. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This K-Mart in Queens, New York, has unofficially become Santa's workshop, a place of little miracles over the last couple of weeks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In this anonymous owner, I cam out maybe angel has paid it off for you.




KOSIK: Janelle Hughes came in to this K-Mart to pay for toys she put on layaway for her five children, but to her surprise, an anonymous donor paid off her $200 balance.

JANELLE HUGHES, SHOPPER: I was going to cancel my layaway, because I didn't have enough to get it off. So, it's so great. Thank you so much. KOSIK: One more example of a phenomenon sweeping the country this Christmas season called Layaway Angels. Anonymous donors have been pouring into stores like K-Mart, Wal-Mart, and Toys "R" Us asking to pay the remaining balances for customers who put their children's toys on layaway.

K-Mart stores report that Layaway Angels have some paid thousands of layaway contracts for customers and their children across the country. The largest single donation was for more than $20,000 in Baltimore, Maryland.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One of our K-Mart Layaway Angels has paid off your layaway in full.

KOSIK: And in the past week, almost a half a million dollars had been contributed by strangers for layaway.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The kindness has kind of spread this holiday season. I think it's a really, really great thing.

KOSIK: It started with a woman in Michigan who paid off three charges at a K-Mart there a few weeks ago. From there, angels have been popping up in Ohio, Maryland, North Carolina, Florida, and California.


KOSIK: CNN was there when Anna Rodriguez got her gift from a Layaway Angel.

ANNA RODRIGUEZ, SHOPPER: I received a call last night from a K-Mart representative, and I was told that an angel came to K-Mart and paid for my layaway. Isn't that great? I got very, very emotional. I was very happy. It means a lot because I'm poor, you know? That's why I put two layaways. I could (INAUDIBLE). So, it really helps.

KOSIK: Even during this tough economic times, kindness can be contagious.


KOSIK: Alison Kosik, CNN, New York.


CHO: Such a great story.

Still ahead, dogs sniffing out crime. Should the evidence hold up or even put away suspects for life? We're going to take a closer look at how these dogs are trained and how reliable their sense of smell really is. Forty-seven minutes after the hour.


CHO: Forty-nine minutes past the hour. Here's what you need to know to start your day.


CHO (voice-over): Iowa is up for grabs. With eight days to go before the Iowa caucuses, the latest American Research Group Poll has Ron Paul on top with 21 percent of the vote followed by Mitt Romney with 20 percent, and Newt Gingrich with 19 percent.

Syria accused of intensifying a bloody government crackdown even as Arab League observers head to the country today. The opposition says 13 more people have died. One activist in the city of Homs says attacks by government forces have continued nonstop for more than three days.

Christmas day church bombings kill at least 25 people in Nigeria. Terrorists struck five Christian churches in the middle of holiday services. Locals are blaming a radical Islamic group with suspected ties to al Qaeda. The White House and the United Nations have condemned the attacks.

Tragedy in Connecticut. A fire tore through the home an advertising executive killing her three children and both of her parents on Christmas morning. She made it out alive and so did a male acquaintance. They were taken to a local hospital and later released.

The NBA back in action. LeBron James and the Miami Heat off to a hot start. The King scoring 37 points on Christmas day to help knock off the defending champion, Dallas Mavericks, 105-94.

And sequels top the box office this Christmas weekend. " Mission Impossible 4" cruises to number one, raking in $26.5 million, in second, the latest "Sherlock Homes" film, and "Alvin and the Chipmunks" rounds out the top three.


CHO (on-camera): That's the news you need to know to start your day. AMERICAN MORNING is back after this.


ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. Police dogs have long been used to sniff out suspects and look for clues, but lately, more and more evidence found by these canines is being used to actually convict criminals.

CHO: That's right, how reliable are they really? Our Tom Foreman takes a looks at how police dogs work.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Across the country in places like Vincent, Alabama, dogs like these are being trained to help investigate crimes. They are energetic, smart, and one of them could put you into jail. Just ask Professor Larry Myers of Auburn University. He spent a lifetime studying their abilities, and he says they can even identify murder suspects.

(on-camera) So, they're fully capable of doing this?

DR. LAWRENCE MYERS, AUBURN UNIVERSITY: Yes. Oh, yes. If trained properly. And if they're in good health. Yes. Yes. Capable.

FOREMAN: Sound farfetched? Not in Coldspring, Texas after a few years back a school janitor named Murray Burr (ph) was murdered, stabbed dozens of times in his home, and this young woman, Megan Winfrey, was convicted of the killing in part because a dog, by scent alone, put her at the murder scene. Now she's in prison serving a life sentence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That dog scent thing, that's the biggest joke there ever was.

FOREMAN: Her father, Richard, was stunned that the evidence stood up. After all, he and Megan's brother were also identified as suspects by that dog, but the courts dropped the charges after deciding the dog evidence was fatally flawed.

RICHARD WINFREY, SR. MEGAN WINFREY'S FATHER: I just can't believe that that's even thought of, that they can take somebody's life away for over a dog.

FOREMAN: So, how are dogs trained for so-called scent lineups? Professional trainer and police officer, David Latimer, gave us a demonstration with some unused pizza boxes. Targets in this case, vials of bedbugs, but in a crime, maybe bits of clothing from the suspects and others, would be placed where a dog could only smell them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to close the box so that there's no visual cue.

FOREMAN: The dog would then be given a scent from, say, the crime scene and brought in to sniff around. If he sits in front of a sample, he's matched a suspect to the crime.


FOREMAN: But here's the problem, if the handler know what's investigators want, with a slight nod, pause or even a blink, he can send a signal.

(on-camera) So, there are many, many different ways in which you could accidentally tell the dog where the target was?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. And to be fair, it's usually unintentional.

FOREMAN (voice-over): The trainer whose dog helped convict Megan Winfrey is involved in a lawsuit on another case and doesn't want to talk about Winfreys, but Professor Myers who's taken part in hundreds of cases including hers says the dog handling there was abysmal. He has complete faith in scent lineups since the dogs are well trained and guidelines followed, but that rarely happens.

(on-camera) Is this more science or art?

MYERS: It is an art, mostly, that needs to become science if it's going to be used in a court of law or for other critical issues.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Authorities in Texas found no DNA linking Megan to the murder. They did, however, find people who testified that she talked about the crime. Still, even the prosecutors are cautious about dog evidence.

RICHARD COUNTISS, SAN JACINTO COUNTY DISTRCT ATTORNEY: It should be corroborated. It should not be -- a person should not be convicted solely on a dog scent.

FOREMAN: Megan is waiting on her latest appeal, and her letters home seem optimistic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've never been this hopeful.

FOREMAN: Then again, her family never thought she'd wind up in jail, in large parts on the word of a dog.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Vincent, Alabama.


VELSHI: Interesting story.

CHO: Yes, really.

VELSHI: I'm not sure where I stand on that. That's kind of interesting.

CHO: It is interesting. I mean, they are very sensitive, you know?

VELSHI: Yes. Tom did a nice job of giving us both sides on that one.

CHO: He did.

Still to come, we are live in Des Moines where the race for Iowa is tightening up. Three candidates now in a virtual dead heat which is eight days to go before the caucuses.

VELSHI: And why would someone get that for me? Shoppers mobbing the mall today with unwanted gifts and more cash to spend. We're live in the biggest store in the country where it could be Christmas all over again.