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American Morning

Countdown to Iowa Caucuses; Refunds For Buyers!; Safe Skies; North Korea Holds Funeral Services for Kim Jong-il; A Connecticut Homes Burns with Three Children Inside; Arab League Observers Enter Syria; New Details in Christmas Day Tragedy; Syrian Forces Fire on Protesters; Mubarak Trial Resumes in Egypt; Kim Jong Il Funeral; Occupy Des Moines Protests Planned; Newt Gingrich's Health Care Reversal

Aired December 28, 2011 - 07:59   ET


ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Overwhelming grief on display on the streets of North Korea. I'm Alina Cho. Funeral services for the so-called Dear Leader, Kim Jong-Il. Power on display as the West looks for signs of stability.

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Newt Gingrich going negative. I'm Ali Velshi. The former speaker swore he would stay on the high road, but with his numbers slipping in Iowa, he's kicking it into attack mode -- on this AMERICAN MORNING.

CHO: Good morning, it's Wednesday, December 28th. Welcome to AMERICAN MORNING. We hope you're getting up, maybe heading to work today after a longer Christmas holiday.

VELSHI: I've been talking to a lot of people who have not been getting up and going to work at all this week.


We're here for you either way.

CHO: That's right.

VELSHI: Up first, they were told he was god-like, and this morning North Koreans are saying good-bye to their Dear Leader, Kim Jong-Il. It was more than a farewell. It was also an introduction to their new supreme leader. Kim Jong-Il's son and successor, Kim Jong- Un, walking alongside the hearse carrying his father's body. Sobbing mourners lined the 25-mile route to pay their respects. Some of them cried so hard they were barely able to stand.

CHO: North Korea is trying to paint a picture of power and stability with this morning's ceremonies. Thousands of troops marching in step behind Kim Jong-Un. But Victor Cha, a go-to source on North Korean affairs, said, like so many other things in North Korea, this, too, may just be a facade.


VICTOR CHA, NORTH KOREAN EXPERT: What we see here is a real effort to put Kim Jong-Un and Chon Chung Teck (ph) right up front very early on to show that there isn't the power vacuum. I think that's more a manifestation of how they're not really prepared for this transition rather than them being prepared.


CHO: Memorial services for Kim Jong-Il are expected to go on for a full two days.

VELSHI: Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is on a gurney and in a cage this morning in court. His trial is resuming after a three-month delay. He's charged with ordering the killing hundreds of protesters to squash the revolt that ultimately ended his 30-year reign.

CHO: The bloody crackdown in Syria continues this morning apparently right under the noses of Arab League monitors who are now inside the country. They will visit two new towns at the center of the uprising today.

An opposition group says another 39 people were killed yesterday, including two children. Fourteen of them in the city of Homs as thousands filled the streets to protest the al-Assad regime. A human rights group is also accusing the Syrian government of hiding hundreds of political detainees from the Arab League observers and military sites.

VELSHI: All right. New video in to CNN showing Occupy Des Moines protesters meeting last night in Iowa. They're vowing to stage protests against the Republican candidates at their events and at their individual headquarters. Hundreds of activists from at least 10 states are reportedly on hand.

CHO: Rick Perry is revising his position on abortion now. The Texas governor telling an audience in Iowa last night that he now opposes all abortions, even in cases of rape or incest. Now, Perry says his feelings were transformed after meeting a woman whose mother had been raped.


GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She said, "I am the product of a rape." She said, "My life is worth it." It was a powerful moment for me.


CHO: There are a lot of evangelical voters in Iowa. So, we'll have to see how that plays out. Perry, by the way, has signed a Personhood USA pledge which states abortion and the intentional killing of an innocent human being are always wrong and should be prohibited. Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have also signed that pledge.

VELSHI: Mitt Romney plans to spend the rest of the week on a bus tour of Iowa. And while he's not predicting victory in the Hawkeye State next Tuesday, he's showing a little swagger, taking shots at President Obama by using the words of the vice president.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You frankly have to feel sorry for Joe Biden. I mean, four years ago he warned us about Barack Obama. It turns out he was right.


VELSHI: In a 2007 debate, Biden said he didn't think that then- Senator Barack Obama was ready for the presidency. At the time, you'll recall, Biden was running against Obama for the Democratic nomination.

CHO: How about a Newt Gingrich/Condoleezza Rice Republican ticket? Don't rule it out. The former House speaker was talking to voters at a pizza shop in Iowa yesterday when a woman said she'd like to see the former secretary of state in a debate against Vice President Biden.

Gingrich seemed tickled by the idea. He called Rice a terrifically smart person and even speculated that President Obama might choose a different running mate in 2012.

VELSHI: Now with the Iowa caucuses just six days away, Newt Gingrich has decided to abandon the high road and kick his campaign into attack mode.

Joe Johns is live in Des Moines with us this morning.

Joe, the former speaker promised to keep things positive. But that didn't last that long.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: That's true, Ali. And this is the example of the speaker of the House, the former speaker of the House, trying to have it both ways, if you will. On the one hand saying he's not going to go negative; on the other hand, lashing out at his opponents, a really good example of that, the back-and-forth between him and Mitt Romney here on the campaign trail.



NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mitt Romney is the guy running the most ads attacking me and he's doing it through this disingenuous, oh, gee, I don't control all of my former staff and all of my millionaire friends. It's baloney.

If he wants to defend his negativity, show up in Iowa, 90 minutes, face-to-face. Let the people decide whether or not, in fact, he'll back up what he's been saying and let him back up his moderate record, not conservative record as governor. I don't think he'll do it.

ROMNEY: He's running against the campaign the way he thinks best. Obviously, the Virginia setting was not the best of his campaign. I think it's more like Lucille Ball at the chocolate factory. So, I mean, you know, you've got to get it organized.


JOHNS: Now, he has always said he was going to respond to distortions of his record and that's what Newt Gingrich sees himself as doing.

However, the other point that I think you have to make here on the campaign trail right now is the fact that Newt Gingrich has not had a lot of money to spend on campaign ads, as some of the other contenders in this Republican (AUDIO BREAK) on earned media as they call it, that's free interviews on television, on radio, to try to make his case. And doing that, he's actually launched a number of bombs, including some just yesterday at candidate Ron Paul. Listen to this.


GINGRICH: You look at his news letters, and then you look at his ads. His ads are about as accurate as his news letters.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Now, if he were to get the Republican nomination --

GINGRICH: He won't.

BLITZER: Let's say he were. Could you vote for him?



JOHNS: Well, there you go, saying essentially it's kind of tough for him, Newt Gingrich, to say he would actually vote for Ron Paul, were he the nominee.

That's it on the campaign trail. We've got just a few days out now from the Iowa caucuses and we think it's going to be a pretty exciting race to the finish as a number of contenders still appearing in a very close race for first place. Back to you, Ali.

CHO: It is. And, you know, and, Joe, it's Alina here. You know, you touched on those campaign ads and all of the candidates going negative most notably Mitt Romney and, really hitting on Newt Gingrich's three marriages, his infidelities over the years. So, it's a bit curious to me.

Newt Gingrich's wife, Callista, is going to be sort of heading out on the campaign trail, right?

JOHNS: Absolutely. We just got a rare glimpse of her actually saying something on the campaign trail, too. She's been very quiet, unlike some of the other wives of the Republican contenders.

We actually picked up, I think, a little bit of sound, don't we have, of Callista Gingrich introducing her husband at an event. Oh, just video, I'm sorry, at an event in Decorah, Iowa.

So, she's been pretty quiet through and through throughout this campaign, just saying a little bit there so people could see her and hear what she has to say. Be nice to sit down with Callista Gingrich and do a little interview and find out what she thinks of all the attacks on her husband, Newt Gingrich.

CHO: If anybody can get her, you can, Joe Johns. Thank you so much.

VELSHI: Things have taken a decidedly negative turn in Iowa, but no one has been able to land a telling blow, with less than three in 10 Iowans saying they've made their final choice already. Awful lots of hearts and minds still to be won in the Hawkeye State.

Joining us live from Washington to break down the GOP race and the week ahead in Iowa: conservative commentator Tara Wall, and Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Maria Cardona.

Welcome to both of you. Thank you so much for joining us this morning.


VELSHI: Tara, let's start with you. I don't know. I'm just going to pull back a little from this. We're all very excited and taken by the fact that Newt Gingrich said he was going to be on the high road and now he's turned negative.

Did he have any other choice and is this a good strategy?

TARA WALL, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: I mean, not really. That was only going to last for so long.

VELSHI: Right.

WALL: I think that, look, Mitt Romney knows that he's got a challenge ahead of him, obviously. I think that he would have not taken the gloves off had he not realized the fact that, you know, Newt Gingrich, in most polls right now, is still leading.

So, I think that, you know, look, this is how you do battle. This is the way the game is played. This is the way it's waged. I think that he probably didn't have to anticipate he was going to have to get negative so early on.

But it's part of the process.


WALL: And I think at a certain point, though, Iowans will tune out all of that negativity and start focusing on exactly what the candidates themselves have to offer.

VELSHI: He has this very interesting thing in this early part of the campaign. And that unlike Rick Perry who feels uncomfortable in debates and others who maybe stumble, Newt likes them and continues to challenge. I mean, he told -- he told Mitt Romney, anywhere, any time, 90 minutes, no moderator, bring it.

So, it's interesting. He's got a very interesting challenge because Americans seem to like debaters and people who can debate.

Maria, let me ask you this. Mitt Romney used the analogy of the Lucille Ball, that famous clip where she's in the chocolate factory trying to keep up with what's going on. He sort of saying that that's what Gingrich is like. He's like Lucille Ball struggling to keep up.

He didn't get on the Virginia ballot. His Iowa tour is shrunk from 44 stop to 22 stops. He's got about 25 people working for -- you know, working for him in Iowa. Mitt Romney has 200. He's got a weak ground operation.

What's the point here? What's Mitt Romney trying to do? He's trying to suggest that this guy, he could overplay his hand and tell everybody that Newt Gingrich is the underdog.

CARDONA: Well, I think what he's trying to do is point out something that Newt Gingrich has made very obvious, which is, for somebody who got into this race so early on and for somebody who had been talked about, a presidential -- being a presidential candidate for so long, he is drastically ill-prepared to run a competitive presidential campaign. I mean, his not being able to get on the Virginia ballot is astounding to me.

And I think that that is sort of what started in Mitt Romney's mind as something that I think is absolutely fair to point out, which is that this is not somebody who is ready to compete. If he's not ready to run a competitive presidential campaign, how can voters think that he's ready to run a country?

But what's interesting about Gingrich is that he should have never have said that he's not going negative because now he looks like a total hypocrite. I think he should have just said that he's going to always compare and contrast the records. He is right in pointing out Mitt Romney's hypocrisy on his, quote-unquote, "conservative principles." Mitt Romney is somebody who has flip-flopped so many times, more than the International House of Pancakes.

Gingrich should just never have said that and should have just gone to continue to making the contrast between him and Romney.

VELSHI: So, Gingrich is in this interesting position where he's up at the top of this race against Ron Paul, who doesn't really take socially conservative positions on things as a libertarian and Mitt Romney who he argues is a moderate and not conservative. Gingrich also lives in the middle of the other race, which has got Santorum in it and Michele Bachmann fighting -- and Rick Perry -- fighting for the hearts and minds of conservatives.

Let's talk about Santorum for a second. He says that if he doesn't -- if he comes out in the distant back of the pack in Iowa, he's out of the race. Now, he's probably betting on the fact that he will come out of Jon Huntsman, so he won't be at the back of the pack.

But listen to how he said it.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, you know, if I finish dead last way behind the pack, you know I'm going to pack up and go home. But I don't think that's going to happen. I think we're going to be very much in the mix, and I feel very good that we're going to surprise a lot of people on how we finish.


VELSHI: All right. So, we know that Jon Huntsman has put everything into New Hampshire. So, he is going to go on. He's not going to close up shop no matter what happens in Iowa.

Tara, do you think anybody closes up shop after Iowa?

WALL: Well, you know, I don't -- I don't really like predictions. I will say, first of all, let me just say, again, backing up on Newt -- I don't feel at this point he thought like he had to defend himself and he's had to defend himself. And I think that's one reasons of why he's starting to get feisty. So -- and I think that's legitimate. I think that Romney was not -- he didn't expect Romney to come out hitting so hard.

But I do think, look, Huntsman has all but, you know, given up on Iowa. I think, if anything, he'd probably be the one that comes in dead last. From what I understand, Michele Bachmann has not been doing very well in Iowa. I wouldn't be surprised to see her come in last.

And I think that Santorum probably and rightfully predicts that he's not going to come in dead last. He's actually starting to get a little bit more support. He's starting to see a slight bit of a bump of a surge.

Remember, these are more conservative voters in Iowa. These are more conservative Republicans. So, they're going to tend to lean to some of some candidates that are more socially conservative like Santorum, like Rick Perry and, of course, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney and that's why they're going to be battling out positioning wise in that top four tier.

But I don't think anyone thinks that Santorum is going to come in dead last and he doesn't either.

VELSHI: All right. The undecideds, Maria. The undecided. I mean, not everybody in Iowa is that conservative. There are Republicans in Iowa who are still trying to choose and a lot of them.

Who do you think those votes go to?

CARDONA: Well, that's -- that's the point that is so interesting about this whole process, Ali. And I think what it points to is the complete lack of enthusiasm that GOP voters have in general for this crop of presidential candidates on the GOP side is just so interesting because, clearly, no one likes anyone as the perfect candidate. And that's why you have seen this back and forth of this candidate surging and then dropping and then that candidate surging and then dropping.

And this race, I think more than any other time in presidential history, at least recently, is so wide open going into the first caucuses into Iowa. When you have more of the majority of Iowa voters who are undecided and even those who are decided have said that they could change their minds I think points to the complete lack of confidence in any of these candidates to be the standard bearer for the GOP. And I think that's a big problem for the party.


WALL: If nothing else, Republican voters don't like and present more than anything else is for the establishment or the media to tell them who to vote for. I think at the end of the day, they're going to listen with open ears and bated breath to hear first hand from these candidates and that's what the caucuses are all about. I think, obviously, two clear kind of frontrunners that remain at this point, but it is anybody's ball game and that's why you have these caucuses and that's why you hear from the candidates.

VELSHI: I think you're right. They're certainly not listening to the media or the establishment at this point. People are going to do their own thing and that's the beautiful part about democracy in America.

Tara Wall is a conservative commentator and Maria Cardona is a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist -- thank you to both of you.

CNN is the place to be for the best political coverage on television. This afternoon in THE SITUATION ROOM, at 4:00 p.m. Eastern, Wolf Blitzer sits down with Mitt Romney. You'll only see that on CNN.

And, of course, next Tuesday night, the Iowa caucuses. CNN's special live America's Choice 2012 coverage begins Tuesday night, January 3rd, at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. We will break it all down for you and bring in the results as they come in to us.

CHO: Just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING, a messy end to one of the wildest years of weather ever. Heavy rain, howling winds and snow -- will it mess with your New Year's Eve plans?

VELSHI: And, no, that isn't a float, a Florida family's Christmas surprise. Python in the pool.

CHO: I guess this always happens.

VELSHI: Yes, yes.

CHO: What was the top song of 2011?

VELSHI: I love this. I only found this out last night.

CHO: Yes, some people might think it's the Biebs, right?

VELSHI: I was going to say an Adele. I can't really identify Adele's song. I heard everybody talks about it. Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, no.

CHO: We're told we're going to give you -- well, we're going to give more guesses. Keep guessing. We're going to tell you the answer.

VELSHI: Don't Google it. Wait, come back and listen to us on it. We'll tell you what it is. Yes.

CHO: We're back after this.


CHO: Who needs sleep is right? Wake up! Isn't that what you were saying earlier?

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Come on! It's Wednesday now already. Monday and Tuesday is fine, take a long weekend. Take another long weekend, Thursday and Friday. It is Wednesday, you need to do some work this week.

CHO: Just today.

VELSHI: Just today.

CHO: You're looking at Boston, Massachusetts. Well, they say it's a little cloudy and 46 degrees going up to a windy high of 51.

VELSHI: That's just us being amateurs at the weather. We're just, we're newbies. Baby steps. You want the real weather? Rob Marciano.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: But you're listening now, and that's your first step to getting up here, because, really, we're just point at stuff and remind of stuff.


VELSHI: I mean, people were mocking me all day yesterday saying, don't you work in the news? How is it you're soaking wet?


MARCIANO: It happens to the best of us, even down here in the weather center. Good morning, guys. No rain in the forecast for the northeast today. So, if you forgot the Gore-Tex gear or the umbrella, you're fine. There may be some flurries and some snow showers across parts of upstate New York.

The rain from yesterday, some of it was torrential, some of it put cities like Cincinnati -- Cincinnati was already gone, but Burlington, Vermont, over the top. (INAUDIBLE) already been over the top as far as record rainfall for the year. These pictures just northwest of Philadelphia and king of Prussia, Pennsylvania, where the rain was coming down in sheets and buckets, and it was filling up some of the roadways there pretty badly.

All right. Wind is going to be an issue today. The cold air beginning to filter in four to five inches of snow across parts of upstate New York and the lake-effect snow favored spots, but relatively speaking, that's still pretty light. The winds will slow down. If you travel New York metros, Philadelphia, Boston, D.C. and Seattle where a string of storms is lining up for the pacific northwest.

Finally, they also had a very quiet start to the winter in December, but tremendous amount of rainfall setting up here and some wind, especially at the high elevations could see winds gusting over 70 miles per hour in some spots and replenishing that snow pack that got off to a pretty slow start this year.

Significant snow is expected, especially in the northern cascades and parts of the Sawtooth of Idaho. In between, we're looking fairly mild. The northeast will stay fairly chilly, I think, through the next several days, but nothing outrageous as far as cold temperatures go. Forty-two degrees in dropping (ph) throughout the day today.

Warm temperatures in South Florida. Check out this big old snake in your pool just outside of Miami. Yes. A 13-foot Burmese python, (INAUDIBLE) by the way that we report on a few months back, well, they're over the place, especially near the Everglades, but this one decided to take a dip in a residential pool --


CHO: Oh, man!

MARCIANO: And, obviously, authorities know how to handle such beasts.

VELSHI: That dude does not look big enough to be dealing with this.

MARCIANO: Now, listen up, Ali.


CHO: That's a woman.

VELSHI: That's a woman. I'm sorry about that.


VELSHI: That woman certainly doesn't look big enough. MARCIANO: You just have to know where to grab it. Right behind the head. Obviously, that one didn't work out too well. I would never be grabbing a Burmese python by myself.

VELSHI: Oh, look, now they brought six strong men in to help her out. It looks like you needed all those six people to start with. Wow.

MARCIANO: Anyway, little Christmas surprise.

VELSHI: No kidding.

CHO: Thank you.

VELSHI: Good to see you, Rob. Thank you.

When you think back to the top song of 2011, you probably think it would something by Adele or Pitbull or Justin Bieber or one of these Lady Gaga or Katy Perry, no.

CHO: No.

VELSHI: The most popular song of the year could be one you've never heard before. The official video for it and the song is called "Why This Kolaveri Di," a song written for the upcoming Tamil language film, which the name of the film is "3" was posted on YouTube on November 16th and exploded on the web. Listen to it.



VELSHI (voice-over): So, the song roughly translates to why this murderous rage. It tells a story of a boy rejected by his girlfriend. It was recorded in Tamil and English, which has made it popular among speakers of both languages. And when you want to know how popular? Since it was posted last month, last month, this video has racked up 28 million -- that was as of last night.

CHO (voice-over): I never heard it.


VELSHI (on-camera): No. But this is -- I mean, it's kind of telling, right? The songs that are other languages and English, you multiply the number of people who'd be listening to it.

CHO: That's right. No surprise here. The song has spawned hundreds of imitations and parities, including those performed by fans and, of course, the chipmunks. The song's popularity doesn't seem to be waning either. Just last week, a flash mob danced to the song at a mall in Auckland, New Zealand.

VELSHI: Wow! I heard that in some places in India, the song means why this murderous rage, they sort of made it to an anti-road rage campaign. This thing is becoming very popular. You'll probably hear it soon enough.

A check of the early morning markets is next.

Plus, how safe are the skies? Why this year is breaking airline records. It's 23 minutes after the hour.


VELSHI: It's 27 minutes after the hour. "Minding Your Business" this morning.

We could see a bounce at the opening bell. Right now, the Dow, Nasdaq, and S&P 500 futures are all up suggesting a higher open for the third to last trading session of the year.

Oil prices are back up. The price of a barrel of light Swede crude oil is just above $10 a barrel. That's in electronic trading overseas this morning. Prices shot up more than two percent yesterday after Iran threatened to choke of oil supplies flowing through the Strait Of Hormuz.

If you bought a flat screen LCD TV or computer between 1999 and 2006, you might be entitled to a partial refund. Hitachi, Sharp, and Samsung have agreed to a $538 million settlement after being charged with LCD panel price fixing. Qualifying buyers in 24 states and Washington, D.C. are supposed to be notified at a later date of how to get some of their money back.

For the first time ever, the average price you'll pay for a 47- inch flat panel TV has fallen below $1,000. Good for consumers and bad for struggling TV makers and the companies that supply them.

2011 is shaping up to be the safest year ever for commercial airliners despite a sharp rise in the number of flights and passengers. According to a London consulting firm that track safety statistics, the airline industry suffered just one passenger death for every 7.1 million travelers worldwide. That would easily eclipse the record low rate of passenger fatalities that was set in 2004.

AMERICAN MORNING back right after a break.





VELSHI: Under fire in Syria. Protesters saying Arab League observers are being kept away from the slaughter that is happening only blocks away from where they are, and they need real help on this AMERICAN MORNING.

Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. Time now for your top stories. Funeral services for former North Korea leader Kim Jong-il, memorial services are going on right now. His son and successor Kim Jong-un was at the hearse's side as thousands of mourners screamed out in agony.

CHO: Argentine president Christina Fernandez has thyroid cancer. A presidential spokesman says that doctors detected the cancer during a Medical examination on Thursday. She will undergo surgery next week. The doctors also suggested her chances of a full recovery are strong.

VELSHI: Yemen's embattled president will be allowed to come to the United States for medical treatment in New York. That's according to a senior White House official. The Obama administration is hoping the move will ease tensions in Yemen, but some analysts say it could trigger more violence while weakening America's standing in the Middle East and empower Al Qaeda. Ali Abdullah Saleh was badly injured in an attack on his palace in June.

CHO: Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak on a gurney and in a cage in court this morning. His trial is resuming after a three- month delay. Mubarak is charged with ordering the killing of hundreds of protesters to squash the revolt that ultimately ended his 30-year reign.

VELSHI: The bloody crackdown in Syria continues this morning, apparently right under the noses of Arab League monitors now in the country. Mohammed Jamjoom is monitoring developments live from Cairo this morning. Now Mohammed, we're hearing reports of new violence breaking out today.

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Ali. We've heard reports of violence in different cities in Syria today. We also heard a report that we're told the Arab League observers will be going, but we heard earlier this morning activists say, in fact, rebel forces there ambushed Syrian security forces and four security sources were killed as well.

The Arab League observers we're told still in the flash point city of Homs, still investigating there, trying to carry out their monitoring mission. We're also told that they're fanning out across to other cities including cities like Hama, as well. The concern by the activists on the ground that we're speaking with is that the Arab league observers aren't getting the unfettered access that they need. The Arab League observers we've talked to say they're optimistic and able to carry out their mission. They say they are being escorted by security forces for their safety to the entrances of these cities and they're able to go in and talk to people that they want to, that they have free access that they need.

But opposition actors are saying this mission is so small as it is, right now about 50 people on the ground, maybe 10 or 11. How are they going to effectively going to be able to carry out such a huge mission that is needed to happen?

And even yesterday in the city of Homs where so much violence has happened this past week, even while Arab League observers were there, we were getting reports from activists on the ground that groups of protesters that were gathered in different parts of the city were coming under attack and being shot at, being shot at with bullets and with tear gas. So the situation is still very tenuous and the activists we speak with say they're concerned that the tours that are being given to these Arab League observers are really just a sham orchestrated by the Syrian government. Ali?

CHO: So remarkable to see so many people in the streets there. You wonder if the tide will turn at any point soon. But Mohammed Jamjoom, we know you're watching that situation very closely. Thank you very much.

Meanwhile, we're also watching this memorial service now under way for former North Korea dictator Kim Jong-il. At his funeral earlier this morning thousands of weeping and screaming mourners lined the streets. His hand-picked successor up front and center, Kim Jong- un, as the world looks for signs of stability. CNN's Paula Hancocks is live in Seoul, South Korea, watching it all for us. Paula, Good morning.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alina. It was a very choreographed event. Want the North Koreans wanted to show was that the succession is going ahead just as Kim Jong-il had planned. As we saw the first footage from North Korean television, of course that's the only way we can access these pictures of the funeral, we did see Kim Jong-un standing to the front and the right of the hearse walking alongside as it was driving just outside the memorial palace. Behind him was his uncle. We were expecting to be his mentor and his regent over the next couple of years. On the left-hand side was the military leadership. So it really was very well choreographed.

The North Korean authorities wanted to show that Kim Jong-un even though he's not 30 and has no military or political experience does have the military backing. This is the public face of what we see in North Korea. It's impossible to know what's going on behind the scenes.

But that procession did go for about three hours almost through the streets of Pyongyang and very snow laden. In Pyongyang, tens of thousands of mourners lined those streets. Many people were weeping and wailing, beating their chests as the coffins went by. At one point there was also a rush towards the procession for people to try and get closer, and they were then pushed back. So there was a lot of emotion shown on the street, exactly what we would have expected, exactly what we saw at Kim Il-sung's funeral just 17 years ago back in '94.

But there was slightly more of a military feel to this funeral as expected, as well, because Kim Jong-il really was the architect of this military first policy and really had pushed the military within North Korea. So, as I say, a very choreographed event and one that North Korea wanted the rest of the world to see.

CHO: They are experts at propaganda. Paula Hancocks live for us in Seoul, South Korea, thank you. VELSHI: We are seeing the images taken on North Korean TV and Paula was saying in the images closest to the front, people seemed more distraught, and as you got further away, people seemed more like the onlookers.

CHO: It's what North Korea wants the western world to see. Of course. Of course, this funeral is closed off to the rest of the world, but it is fascinating to watch.

Well, one fatal mistake turns a Connecticut home into a deathtrap. Coming up, what sparked the Christmas day fire that killed three little girls and their grandparents.

And a major malfunction on a Southwest flight. We'll tell you why a plane headed to Seattle was abruptly grounded and evacuated.

It's 38 minutes after the hour.


VELSHI: It looks beautiful in Atlanta. Wake up, Atlanta. It's 36 degrees and get to a high of 52 and sunny.

CHO: That's very cold for Atlanta.

VELSHI: But there's still a good reason to live in Atlanta, because it's not 52 and sunny anywhere else except in the south. Good morning to you all and we have lots of news for you.

CHO: That's right. We want to tell you about trouble on the tarmac. It happened in Sacramento. Southwest Airlines flight headed to Seattle was apparently grounded after its main gear tires blew out on the runway. You can see what happened there. Emergency crews rushed on to the scene as a precaution. All 130 passengers were taken off the plane, shaken up, but otherwise OK.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It felt like he blew a tire on the freeway doing 80. Just shook real bad and they just stopped the plane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Big bang, thump, thump, thump, the plane was coming and lifting to the left a little bit, but they brought it to a gentle stop. And, you know, the main problem is they didn't have the PA system turned up loud enough for anybody to hear.


CHO: Amazingly, no one was hurt and they're still trying to figure out what caused the tire blowout.

VELSHI: Some terrifying moments in New Mexico. A police squad car crashes into a crowded restaurant. The officer lost control of the car after he was clipped by another car on the highway. The cruiser stopped in front of one of the restaurant's fire pits right near tanks of propane and kerosene, and, as you can see here, this forced the restaurant to evacuate everyone. Amazingly here, no one was hurt either.

CHO: This is something you don't see often. Rising water washed up several coffins at a cemetery in Louisiana. Most of the caskets were contained in concrete, so they didn't get too far. But one coffin floated outside of the cemetery. Local prison inmates were actually working to return the coffins to their correct burial plots. That's just unusual.

VELSHI: That's an unusual story.

New details today in the Christmas Day tragedy in Connecticut. One fatal mistake turned a home into a deathtrap, taking the lives of three little girls and their grandparents as their house went up in flames. CNN's Deb Feyerick joins us now with the latest. Deb?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And that fatal mistake involved a yule log and ashes that were improperly discarded just before the mom and her friend, who was actually helping renovate the house, went asleep. Now, of the seven people in the home, they were the only two survivors. But it appears both tried desperately to save the children and grandparents inside.


FEYERICK: As fire raced through the Victorian home just before dawn, Christmas morning, neighbors frantically called 911.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's the emergency?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A huge fire at the house next door. The whole house is on fire.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is the address, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're at 2241 Shippan Avenue. It's the house next door. There are three kids and a woman.

FEYERICK: Trapped inside the Stamford, Connecticut home, two grandparents and their three granddaughters --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're calling about a major fire with people in the house.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have a fire crew on the way, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please, come quickly.

FEYERICK: The house was under renovation. It appears fireplace embers placed in an outdoor trash enclosure near the home ignited the blaze. The mom, Madonna Badger, managed to climb out onto scaffolding frantically directing firefighters to the third floor, where she said her children were sleeping.

ACTING CHIEF ANTONIO CONTE, STAMFORD FIRE DEPARTMENT: The crew pushed through two rooms unable to find the children. They were pushed back by intense heat and flames. FEYERICK: Grabbing two of the frightened girls, family friend Michael seen here on his Facebook page, reached the second floor.

CONTE: The heat drove them to get separated. It looks like one went back upstairs and another was found with the grandmother.

FEYERICK: The grandfather, Lomer Johnson, had spent Christmas Eve playing Santa at Manhattan's Saks Fifth Avenue. He managed to lead one of his granddaughters to the back of the house and climbed on to a roof then died before he could pull her to safety.

CONTE: Just inside the window that he came out of, we found one of the young children. I guess there were a pile of books, it looks like she was placed on the books.

FEYERICK: The mother, a successful marketing executive, is said to be in shock. She was taken from the scene sobbing "My whole life is in that house."

CONTE: When you don't make that rescue that you failed, and I don't think anybody wants to fail.


FEYERICK: Seventy firefighters responded; all received grief counseling. One Captain suffered second degree burns to his face. Intensity of the fire was so strong, it weakened the home. The home has already been torn down for safety reasons and, yes, there are questions about fire alarms and smoke detectors. They were not in the house, but they were not required to be in the house.

The real question however is, how does a mom and dad who lives in Manhattan, how do both those parents survive this kind of loss?


CHO: It's just unbelievable.

VELSHI: And you don't -- I mean, I just don't -- if somebody told me about fires that are started by embers from a fireplace I don't say that really doesn't happen that much anymore, but you really have to be careful. What is the thing you're supposed to do?

FEYERICK: You have to be very, very careful. And the interesting thing is they were clearly trying to be careful.


VELSHI: Sure they were yes.

FEYERICK: Because -- because the friend had gathered up the ashes and put them in a bag and put them outside. What he should have done is put them in a tin container and doused them and then put a lid on that container. But they were hot and it just appears that they sort of hit the side of the house and the fire chief described it as this, almost swirl of fire that went up the stairs. VELSHI: And they were I mean, they were trying to do the right thing. They were -- they were thinking let's get the ashes out of the house.

FEYERICK: Yes, yes.

VELSHI: What a tragedy.

FEYERICK: Yes absolutely.

VELSHI: All right Deb, thank you.

CHO: All right. Your "Morning Headlines" are next. Its 47 minutes after the hour. We're back after this.


CHO: Forty-eight minutes after the hour. Here you're "Morning Headlines".

Markets open in less than 45 minutes and things are looking up for the third to the last trading session of the year. The Dow, Nasdaq and S&P 500 futures all pointing to a higher open this morning.

Syrian forces accused of hiding tanks and detainees from Arab League monitors. The military fired on protestors yesterday despite the presence of monitors in the country. An opposition group says another 39 people were killed yesterday including two children.

The trial of former Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak resuming in Egypt after a three-month delay. Mubarak in court on a stretcher charged with ordering the killing of hundreds of protesters to squash the revolt that ultimately ended his 30-year reign.

Funeral services for former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, his son and successor Kim Jong-Un at the side of the hearse. Memorial services are expected to last for two days.

"Occupy Des Moines" protesters are vowing to stage protests against the Republican candidates in Iowa this week at their events and their individual headquarters. Hundreds of activists from at least ten states are reportedly on hand and they met last night to pick their targets.

Just six days to go. Next Tuesday night the candidates' first true test at the Iowa caucuses CNN Special live "AMERICA'S CHOICE 2012" coverage begins Tuesday night January 3rd at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time. CNN the place to be for the best political coverage on television.

Today in "The Situation Room" at 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, our Wolf Blitzer sits down with Mitt Romney, that's only on CNN.

And that's the news you need to know to start your day. AMERICAN MORNING is back after this.


VELSHI: Good news in Washington is that it's fair and 45. The bad news is you just hit your high for the day. It's clinging at 40, it's going to get windier all along the northeast.

CHO: And go down, too.

VELSHI: Oh it's going to be down, it's going to be 43. But, still, it's beautiful, beautiful day in Washington, D.C.

CHO: It is.

Welcome back, a new medical study is challenging the FDA on its warning for the popular anti-clotting drug, Plavix; 40 million Americans use it. The FDA had slapped Plavix with its highest possible black box warning. It says patients with a certain gene type may experience more serious side effects, but new research suggests that may not be true. Columbia University cardiologist Ajay Kirtane stopped by earlier to explain.


DR. AJAY KIRTANE, CARDIOLOGIST, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Basically when looked at over 32 studies, 40,00 patients while the gene actually affected the response of the drug, when you look at the things that Plavix really prevent and has been shown to prevent, such as heart attacks, strokes and other events. It didn't really matter whether you had a lot of the gene or a little bit of the gene, the effects seem to be the same.


CHO: As we mentioned, this is widely used. Some 40 million Americans are prescribed Plavix to prevent heart attacks and strokes.

VELSHI: All right, breastfeeding moms are expected to store more than 100 Target stores in 35 states to take part in a public nurse-in. The protest organized on Facebook after a Texas Target employee was accused of harassing a woman for breastfeeding her child in public and allegedly told her to go into the room. The group even has a logo, a strategically place Target which is the company's logo.

CHO: New problems for Newt Gingrich. The former Speaker fighting back against new revelations that he flip-flopped on so- called Romney care.

CNN's Mary Snow has more.


MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The 2006 signing of Massachusetts health care law is a moment Republican presidential hopefuls won't let rival Mitt Romney forget. Some equate it with what they call Obama care.

But five years ago Newt Gingrich in a news letter called it quote, "Exciting development." Saying, "The health bill that Governor Romney signed into law this month has tremendous potential to affect major change in the American health system.

"The Wall Street Journal" dug up the 2006 newsletter from Gingrich's organization, "The Center for Health Transformation". The Newt note does raise concerns about the Massachusetts plan, but goes on to say, "We agree entirely that Governor Romney and Massachusetts legislatures that our goal should be 100 percent insurance coverage for all Americans".

Fast forward to 2011. Here's Gingrich taking aim at Romney's health care plan at a CNN debate in October.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Your plan, essentially, is one more big government, bureaucratic, high-cost system which candidly could not have been done by any other state because no other state had a Medicaid program as lavish as yours no other state got as much money from the federal government under the Bush administration for this experiment.

SNOW: Gingrich has said he supported a mandate for health insurance in the past and changed his mind. Here's what he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer about his earlier praise of the Romney health plan.

GINGRICH: Where Romney and I are different is, I concluded it doesn't work. He still defends it.

SNOW: Just this May, here's what Gingrich had to say about mandates on NBC's "Meet the Press".

GINGRICH: I said consistently, we ought to have some requirements. You either have health insurance or you post a bond or in some way you indicate you are going to be held accountable.

DAVID GREGORY, HOST, NBC NEWS: But that is the individual mandate, is it not?

GINGRICH: It's a variation.

SNOW: With the Gingrich memo in the headlines, Mitt Romney took the chance to weigh in.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm familiar with the fact that he supported the individual mandates in the past and was supportive generally of the plan we had in Massachusetts. And he's changed his view in the election year.

SNOW: The barbs are traded as team Gingrich turns up the heat on Romney, questioning his conservative credentials.

Mary Snow, CNN, New York.


VELSHI: President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voted America's most admired man and woman, again. Secretary Clinton tops the annual "USA Today" Gallup poll for the 16th year in a row. President Obama has been the most admired man since 2008. Also on the list, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. He shares the number five spot with Donald Trump and he's the only 2012 GOP candidate to make the cut.

CHO: Fifty-six minutes after the hour. We're back after this.


CHO: It is time to wake up, New York City. Sunny and 42 degrees. 0 We've hit the high in New York, as well.

VELSHI: You're wasting your breath. If it's 9:00 and they're still in bed --

CHO: What?

VELSHI: -- it's over. They'll just stay in bed for the rest of their -- forget it. Forget it. Stay in bed.

All right. Just a few blocks away in New York's Times Square. A few blocks away from what we were looking at -- Columbus Circle behind us. Our own Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin will co-host CNN's New Year's Eve celebration. Ring in the year with us this Saturday, 11:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

CHO: You never know what's going to happen.

VELSHI: You never know with Anderson and Kathy.

CHO: And meanwhile, we want you to check your lotto tickets because one lucky person has won the $206 million jackpot in last night's mega-millions lottery drawing and CNN has just confirmed where the winning ticket was bought.

Listen up. If you've been recently shopping at a King Collins Store on Long Island, New York, you could be the winner. We want to show you the winning numbers, just in case you haven't checked your tickets. 23, 32, 33, 39, 43. The mega ball number there is 8.

VELSHI: Sweet. Maybe it's somebody we know. Long Island is just across the river.

CHO: It's just a stone's throw away.

VELSHI: That's it for us and we're going to hand it over to Hala Gorani now in the "CNN NEWSROOM" -- Hala.