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American Morning

Crunch Time in Iowa; Cosmetic Surgery New Year's Rush; Stratfor Website Hacked; Arab League Monitors Arrive in Syria; Woman Suing Honda for False Advertising; Heather Vs. Honda; Memorial for Kim Jong Il; Violence Greets Observers in Syria; U.S. Responds to Iran Oil Threat; Santorum Surging in Iowa; Atlanta Hostage Situation

Aired December 29, 2011 - 07:59   ET


ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: The race in Iowa suddenly taking on a new dimension. I'm Alina Cho. A new CNN-TIME-ORC poll showing Newt Gingrich slipping and Rick Santorum surging.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN ANCHOR: Disneyland overloaded. That's right. I'm Deb Feyerick. Tens of thousands of holiday vacationers crammed into the park hitting maximum capacity, and they couldn't get in, on this AMERICAN MORNING.

CHO: Good morning. It's Thursday, December 29th. Welcome to AMERICAN MORNING. I'm Alina Cho.

You're so far away, Deb. Come closer.

FEYERICK: I am. So sorry. I'm still learning my marks here.

CHO: That's OK.

Welcome to AMERICAN MORNING, everybody. It's 8:00 in the East, 5:00 a.m. in the West, and you got a lot to get to, including politics.

FEYERICK: Well, that's right. And there's a lot of that.

There's been a major shift in the political landscape in Iowa with five days to go before the caucuses. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum suddenly surging and former House speaker, Newt Gingrich, well, he's plunging.

Here's the brand-new CNN/"TIME"/ORC poll that's shaking up the Republican race. Mitt Romney at the top, three points ahead of Ron Paul, with Santorum leapfrogging Gingrich into third place, just nine points out of the lead.

CHO: In fact, the latest numbers leaving analyst wondering if Gingrich, well, peaked too soon. The former speaker was the clear frontrunner in Iowa earlier this month. In just a few short weeks, he has dropped 19 points in the polls.

FEYERICK: And Mitt Romney showing a little swagger now that he's leading the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire. The former Massachusetts governor sitting down with CNN's Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM," sounding confident about his chances, even complimenting the president, even though he's eager to take him on.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Tell me one thing you like about President Obama. What has he done right?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's been a good model of a husband and a father. I think that's important in our country today. I think some of the things that he said on education about bringing more accountability into the classroom, I support that. I'm glad that he ordered the killing of Osama bin Laden.

So, some of the things he's done, I would certainly recognize as having been properly done.

BLITZER: You're ready to go head-to-head in the debate with him?

ROMNEY: I can't wait to go head-to-head in a debate with President Obama. He has failed the American people. He has failed to get this economy going. He's failed the middle class of America.

He's trying to change America in ways we wouldn't recognize. He's trying to make us more like Europe. I want to make us more like America, the America in the vision of the founders, which is a land of liberty, freedom, a land of opportunity where people are free to pursue their dreams.


CHO: Well, it's crunch time in Iowa. The candidates are canvassing the state for votes and the people are locking in their picks, or are they?

Our Joe Johns live in Des Moines for us this morning.

Hey, Joe, good morning.

FEYERICK: Good morning, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Alina. This is the time -- go ahead.

FEYERICK: Go ahead. We're hearing the Republican Party of Iowa has some security concerns, actually?

JOHNS: Well, yes. OK, we'll start with that. The security concerns are pretty simple. You know, the Occupy protesters have started becoming a factor here in the state of Iowa and as we get closer to the caucuses, they're probably going to be even more so.

So, every four years, generally, the tabulation of votes on caucus night is held at party headquarters. We are told that is going to be changed now out of security concerns. They're not confirming this is because of Occupy protesters, but we do know they are a potential factor and we're being told, yes, they're going to move all of this to a secret location. Generally, it's been in Des Moines before, well, frankly, right now, we don't know where it is.

CHO: Well, Joe, let's talk about --

JOHNS: Meanwhile, here's another -- go ahead.

CHO: Yes, let's talk about the polls because that's the big news here, which is that in just 20 days, Gingrich has fallen 19 points, and Santorum -- which is surprising to a lot of people -- now number three in the Iowa poll. I mean, what's going on here?

JOHNS: Well, a lot of people have said Rick Santorum, quite frankly, may have been under-polling here in Iowa. He's one of the candidates who spent a lot of time here. In fact, he spent more time here in Iowa than any other candidates. He's been to every single county, sometimes more than once.

And now, we're looking at a situation where Rick Santorum has gone in the polls from polling around 5 percent, all the way up to 16 percent, putting him in third place in the latest CNN/"TIME"/ORC poll.

So, big changes here and a lot of people say Rick Santorum is the kind of guy who fits very well, if you will, with the beliefs of evangelical and social conservative voters here in Iowa. He speaks their language. And, so, now, it's not that surprising to see him doing much better in the polls than he has been before.

Perhaps many other candidates, we do know, have gotten their day in the sun. This may be Rick Santorum's time, coming just in time for the caucuses, by the way.

CHO: And Newt Gingrich?

JOHNS: Well, Newt Gingrich just hasn't been doing so well and a lot of people have said, even Newt Gingrich himself has said this is a reflection of a guy going to the top of the polls then getting hit with a lot of negative advertising from a variety of different people. You know, Mitt Romney has gone after him, Ron Paul's gone after him and he has a long history there. So, he's sort of a ripe target, if you will.

CHO: All right. Joe Johns, live in Des Moines for us. Joe, thank you very much.

Five days and counting until the caucuses begin -- doesn't seem like much time. But in Iowa politics, it can be an eternity and a lot can happen between now and Tuesday night.

So, let's talk about the final push for votes and the latest polls with Democratic strategist Kiki McLean. She's live in Washington.

Hey, Kiki. Good morning.

And CNN contributor and former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum joining us from sunny Miami Beach this morning.

How you got there, we're not going to talk about that.

But, meanwhile, David, Kiki, good morning to you.

David, I want to bring -- start with you because in just about 20 days, we have seen Gingrich fall 19 points in the polls from 33 percent of the vote to fourth place with 14 percent of the vote in Iowa. You know, Gingrich is quick to say that all those negative ads finally got to him, but what he doesn't say is that he didn't have much of a ground game. He tried to stay positive while everyone is going negative and he is heading into 2012 in debt.

So, was it the perfect storm here, David?

DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think all we're seeing is stop the presses in Iowa, money counts and organization counts. Ron Paul has organization. Mitt Romney has money. And so, of course, Mitt Romney was able to unleash negative advertising on Newt Gingrich. That's what you do with money when you have a lot of it.

Newt Gingrich happened to present the target-rich environment for Mitt Romney's money.

Ron Paul's surge, I think, is a reflection of this ability to organize and attack enthusiasm. He has this strange coalition of college students who like the drug legalization and anti-war message, but this terrible history of having spent most of the past 10, 20 years actually appealing to some of the racially exclusive far right elements of American life.

I don't think that is a very stable coalition and I think he will -- he will pay a price for it later on.

CHO: Yes, a lot of people wondering if he has the stamina to hold on in those later contests. Meanwhile, you talk about organization, David.

Kiki, I want to talk about someone else who has great organization in the state of Iowa. That's Rick Santorum. That was reflected in the polls yesterday and he just skyrocketed. I think it's one of the most amazing things about that poll. He's now third overall in Iowa.

He told our Wolf Blitzer yesterday that hard work just pays off. You know, what's interesting, he's first among evangelical voters who make up 60 percent of the Iowa vote, 60 percent of the vote in South Carolina later on.

You know, is this a one-time surge or is this a real surge here?

KIKI MCLEAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, it's a real surge in Iowa for the caucuses. Rick Santorum has an audience, and as other candidates begin to fall away, they want to go somewhere.

You have to remember little bit of Iowa history. Remember when the Iowa caucuses first became well known to people outside of Iowa and that was a guy named Jimmy Carter who actually was spending the night in people's homes.

He was such a down ballot kind of candidate that he didn't stay in hotels. There wasn't the budget. He was driving across the state of Iowa. And remember, that's when Iowa caucuses became famous around the rest of the country.

Rick Santorum has been doing a little bit of that. But here's what it also demonstrates -- it also demonstrates that Mitt Romney hits the ceiling at 25 because he continues to give unsatisfactory answers to Republican primary voters.

And that's important in two ways. Number one, he gives unsatisfactory answers to base voters on issues like whether he's going to put out his taxes, what he's going to do to actually create jobs and sort of his track record at Bain Capital. And number two, it's important because he's not giving a satisfactory answer to independents --

CHO: But, Kiki, he's moving up in the polls.

MCLEAN: Well, he's moved up, but he holds at 25. And as you said, you see the real surge coming from somebody like a Santorum, and it's actually Santorum that's getting all the news coverage out of CNN's programs today.

CHO: So, David, I want to talk a little bit more about Romney because, you know, as we saw in the poll, he now has a three-point lead in Iowa. He has a commanding 27-point lead in New Hampshire.

You know, in the last hour, I was talking about that sort of turtle/hare comparison, where that slow but steady approach appears to be paying off. Is that what we're seeing here?

FRUM: Well, I think we're seeing this. Throughout this race, it's been apparent I think to anyone who's been watching television that when you look at the Republican debates, you see one president on that stage -- one person who actually could do the job. Maybe you see a second in Jon Huntsman, but he's just not connected with Republican voters.

The rest of these people, they are talk show hosts. They are book sellers. They are motivation speakers. They're not presidents. And the American process is designed to find the president and eliminate the non-president.

So, if -- the interesting news here may be that the process that we thought may be long may turn out to be very quick. If Mitt Romney wins Iowa, then that just removes the oxygen from everybody who is not --

CHO: You think so?

FRUM: -- the Iowa's place, where all the non-Mitt Romneys are supposed to do well.

CHO: Do you think that if -- David, do you think if he wins Iowa and goes on to win New Hampshire, which he is expected to, that it could be game over for a lot of people? Maybe he could lock it up after that?

FRUM: At that point, somebody would have to run. Somebody who is not Mitt Romney would have to run a very ugly campaign in South Carolina, coalesce every opponent for Mitt Romney for every reason, including people who oppose him on religious grounds behind one person.

Now, who could that candidate be? The person most likely to do -- to have the resources and the chances to do it is Ron Paul, who is so radically unacceptable to the party and the country that he is going to be any kind -- Ron Paul is going to be bumping along in the single digits or low double digits through his race.

CHO: All right. Kiki, I want to talk about the undecided here.


CHO: Because our CNN/"TIME"/ORC poll also found while 54 percent are definitely set on the candidate, 43 percent say they still might change their mind. That's still nearly half -- five days to go before the Iowa caucuses and still nearly half of the voters are undecided.

Who do you think is going to benefit from that?

MCLEAN: Well, that depends on what happens in the next four or five days. I suspect Santorum will get some of them now because of the amount of press he's getting from this. You know, I have a joke in my 25 years in politics, I had the good fortune to work for President Gephardt who win the Iowa caucuses for Democrats in 1988, and I know there are other people who experience working for President Buchanan who won New Hampshire.

And so, you have to remember that --

CHO: Don't forget Huckabee.

MCLEAN: And Huckabee -- President Huckabee. That's just how fluid this race.

And those undecideds also represent something else. That is a lack of intensity. You know, last summer before the debt ceiling debacle, you heard was well, the Republicans have that intensity. The Republicans are going to be there. Obama's team and his supporters don't have intensity.

I think what these undecideds demonstrate is a lack of intensity -- and I had a Republican operative e-mail me yesterday that nobody is talking about those changing rules of the primaries through the rest of the Republican process where delegates are going to be awarded differently and it's going to be more dragged out, even if Romney does have two wins in a row and that's really going to continue to push the intensity level down.

The one thing President Obama had going for him in 2008 was growing intensity all along through those primaries and bringing new participants to the process. That many undecideds doesn't represent the likelihood of a lot of new participants in the Republican caucuses next week.

CHO: Kiki McLean, David Frum, always great to talk to you. I'm sure we'll see more of you in the coming days and weeks. Thanks so much.

This Tuesday night, of course, the country's first real votes and the candidate's first true test. Special live America's Choice 2012 coverage of the Iowa caucuses begins at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time right here on CNN.

FEYERICK: And ahead on AMERICAN MORNING, just imagine the line for space mountain. Families told that Disneyland is full. People turned away after the park reaches maximum capacity. What could be the busiest day ever at the happiest place on earth?

CHO: One unhappy hybrid owner suing Honda, claiming she was taken for a ride over gas mileage claims. She's here to tell her story and why she's so mad about this.

FEYERICK: And a cranky crocodile versus a lawn mower. Whose teeth are tougher? We are going to be show you. Don't want to mess with that.

It is 14 minutes past the hour.


FEYERICK: And this just in to CNN. I-95 northbound in Volusia County, Florida is now reopened this morning. Earlier, the road was shutdown in both directions after a crash involving several tractor trailers and at one car. "The Orlando Sentinel" says one person is dead and four others injured. CNN is working to confirm that report, but, again, I-95 in that area now reopened.

CHO: What a mess.

Meanwhile, wouldn't be the last week of the year if we didn't show you great animal video every single day as a week, and this is our latest one.


CHO (voice-over): This lawn mower never had a chance. Check it out. Meet Elvis, the crankiest croc at an Australian zoo. He decided to sink his teeth into a mower, drag it into his pool. We are sad to report that the lawn mower did drown. Engine died under water. Elvis, by the way, he didn't get out of it without a little damage, as well. He lost three giant teeth in the battle.

FEYERICK (voice-over): I wouldn't want to be his dentist.

CHO: You don't want to do battle with the crocodile.


CHO (on-camera): Meanwhile, Reynolds Wolf in the Extreme Weather Center with a look at the forecast for the day. Hey, Reynolds.

REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I think that's probably not covered under warranty.

CHO: Probably not.

FEYERICK: Definitely not covered under warranty. That's exactly right.

WOLF: Exactly. The salt water crocodile gets the --

FEYERICK: And that's what you get when you don't put your things away. That's what they learned over there.

WOLF: Isn't that the truth? Hey, keeping with the love with the animal stuff. Let's go ahead and show you some incredible video that was just came out yesterday. We're going to show you (INAUDIBLE) this beautiful polar bear cub in Denmark. This bear has a Facebook page. It's over 20,000 people following it at this time.

What a beautiful little guy. You see him roll around. You know, in the wild, polar bear cubs will nourish for the first two years, but eventually, a male polar bear, like this, will grow to be that ten feet in height, will weigh around 1,500 pounds, and can rip your face off. For the time being, it's a beautiful little animal. So, let's enjoy him while we can.

CHO: He's a tiny little thing, Reynolds.

WOLF: Spectacular. Spectacular.


WOLF: Hey, we're going to make a shift from polar bear to polar air that's moving into parts of the northeast in New York and Boston. The wind is going to be strong making some delays there too. In Chicago, mainly the rain, in Detroit, it's the snow showers. You might want to (ph) throw in a little bit of rain that might get mixed in with temperatures just a little above the freezing point.

In Seattle, temps go low clouds is the problem, and in Denver, it's going to be an issue with the wind, but let's talk more about the northeast. The cold temperatures you're going to get today. Highs only going to 32 in Albany, 32 in Syracuse, 17 in Montpellier, but when you have that wind, hey, we're talking about single digits and subzero in Montpellier, so cool times for you.

That cold air is going to remain locked in place for much of the weekend. Farther on to the Western Great Lakes is combination of the rain and sleet and Chicago back up into Wisconsin, and farther north you go, the colder air is going to be and that's where you can see the snow stack up and some snow back up towards the Rockies may get especially heavy, especially Northern Rockies well over a foot there and even into the cascades.

Plenty of sunshine much into the four corners into the desert southwest and back into South Texas, it's going to be great for you. Going to 67 degrees for your high in Dallas, 70 in Houston. No major delays expected there for today. Fifty-seven in Kansas City, 46 in Chicago, 58 back in Atlanta. So, that's a quick snapshot of your forecast. We got it all in. Your weather, your travel and the animals.

FEYERICK: All right. That's right. And you can't get any better than those little animals. That little bear looks more like a baby than a bear.

WOLF: Absolutely.

FEYERICK: Anyway, that's right. OK. Thanks, Reynolds Wolf.

Well, Disneyland at its max. Tens of thousands of holiday travelers flooded the California theme park yesterday. It became so crowded the park had to stop selling tickets. KCAL, Jay Jackson reports.


JAY JACKSON, KCAL REPORTER (voice-over): They came by the tens of thousands. Guests of Disneyland long need to board the world famous thrill rides. Eventually, they did get to the rides, but only after a long, long wait.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For Space Mountain, it's about two hours.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pirates of the Caribbean, that was pretty rough, about an hour, I'd say.

JACKSON: Because so many people came to the park, Disneyland actually stopped selling tickets between 4:30 and 6:30 in the evening forcing guests to hang out at nearby California adventures. With untold numbers of vacationers flooding Anaheim and tens of thousands of people in town for the Rose Bowl, this shut down is becoming an annual occurrence.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a little frustrating to pay, you know, $300 for three people to go into the park and only get to ride three rides. It's $100 per ride almost, you know. So, I would say it wasn't worth it, definitely.

JACKSON: On the website, where people can post real time comments about amusement park lines, there were these comments. "Disneyland is not crowded, it's overcrowded. I can't believe they would let that many people into the park." And here's another one. "Been at Disneyland since 1:00, and we've only gone on five rides. It's one packed day."

Still, guests like Cindy Mindo (ph) was all smiles at the end of the day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's worth it for us living in Sacramento and coming over here. This is our third day, so it's worth it. It's still long, but it's worth the wait.

JACKSON (on-camera): So, how many people does it take to shut down Disneyland? Park officials say that's confidential, but sources tell us the park can hold up to 85,000 people.

From Anaheim, Jay Jackson, KCAL 9 News.


FEYERICK: You know the thing is, you have to get there early. If you don't get there by eight o'clock in the morning, then you're really just bringing it on yourself. No, you really are. You really. You have to wait on the lines that are endless. You go early and you leave at a nice time.

CHO: 85,000 people sounds like a lot of people, but apparently, not enough.

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

Plus, what was the most pirated movie of 2011? We'll tell you. It's 22 minutes after the hour.


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

Two trading sessions to go before the end of the year. Right now, things are looking up on Wall Street. The Dow, NASDAQ, and S&P 500 futures all pointing higher this morning after two straight days of selloffs this week.

A rebound in the auto industry, according to Close to 13 million cars, trucks and SUVs were sold in 2011. That's the best performance since 2008. And analysts say next year is looking even better.

New Year, new you. The "Wall Street Journal" says the end of December is the busiest time of year for many plastic surgeons and doctors who perform weight loss surgeries like gastric bypass. The New Year isn't the only reason. Many patients say they also choose this time of year because they have the days off from work to recover.

The Google Plus social network has topped 60 million users, and some analysts say that number could hit 400 million by the end of 2012. Right now, Facebook has 800 million active users.

Eight million apologies from the "New York Times." That's how many people received an e-mail that was sent by a mistake informing them they would no longer be receiving home delivery of the newspaper. I got it, too. The "Times" says it was an employee error.

The global intelligence firm, Stratfor, is delaying the launch of its website after it was hacked. The breach resulted in the release of subscriber credit card information. Stratfor is now working with the FBI and says it will provide its subscribers with a year of free identity protection monitoring.

And "Fast Five" was the most pirated movie of 2011. The action flick was downloaded -- get this -- 9.3 million times through the file sharing program, victorin (ph). "Hangover 2" was second on the list with 8.8 million downloads. This could be looked at as a victory for Hollywood since movie piracy was down from last year. It could also mean that the movies just weren't as good.

We're not sure whether the time circuit still work, but the DeLorean, that Marty McFly drove "Back to the Future," has just sold for $541,000 at auction. It's one of the actual cars used in all three of the "Back to the Future" movies.

Still ahead is just incredible. A marine shot three times in a robbery pulls out the bullets with his own hands and tells the story from his hospital bed. That's next. AMERICAN MORNING is back after this.


FEYERICK: Syrian cities become war zones, government forces being ambushed, the military firing back at protesters. The presence of Arab League monitors only making the situation more ugly, on this AMERICAN MORNING.

CHO: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. Your top stories now. A national memorial service for the late Korean -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il today. Thousands gathered in Pyongyang mourning the dictator that died earlier this month. Official using artillery fire and horns to honor Kim Jong-il and the regime declaring his son Kim Jong-un the supreme leader. This is the second and final day of ceremonies.

FEYERICK: And the U.S. Navy warning Iran not to make good on a threat to block the Strait of Hormuz, the most important oil shipping artery in the world. Iran said it would shut down the strait if the U.S. imposes sanctions on Iranian oil exports over Iran's nuclear program. Experts say a block aid could double the price of oil overnight.

CHO: BP may soon be hit with criminal charges for the Gulf oil spill last April, that's according to "Wall Street Journal." Prosecutors are apparently considering charging several BP employees for allegedly providing false information to regulators about drilling risks. Felony charges could be announced in the coming months. The oil spill considered the worst in U.S. history. Eleven workers died in that accident. No comment yet from BP or the Department of Justice.

FEYERICK: And Rick Santorum is surging five days before the Iowa caucuses. According to a brand-new CNN-TIME-ORC poll, the former Pennsylvania senator has jump under to third place in the Iowa race ahead of the sagging Newt Gingrich, within nine points of the frontrunner, Mitt Romney.

CHO: Violence is erupting in another Syrian city with peace monitors hitting the ground. Critics are now slamming the Arab League mission, those monitors, for not doing anything as people continue to die. Our crew spoke to a Syrian activist who tried to lead observers to the real story. Our Mohammed Jamjoom is live in Cairo watching all of that for us. Mohammed, good morning.

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alina. If I could direct our viewers' attention to this new, remarkable video that is posted online. We can't verify its authenticity but purports to show a Syrian activist yesterday walking alongside the head of the mission of the Arab league, the observers. Now, this is supposed to be in Homs where there has been so much violence the past few days, and you hear the activist really railing against how the Arab League hasn't been effective in doing what it needs to be doing so far. Here's more of that scene that was captured on videotape.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via translator): Let me tell you the situation, just so you know how to work. The problem is not with you as individuals. The problem is with the mission as a whole. You came here on a mission to monitor all aspects of the crackdown. The first aspect should be the end of the killing. When you're here in Homs and 15 people were killed by the regime, I gained nothing from the observers. Yesterday 100,000 people came out to the demonstration in the streets. How can I reach a dialogue when there's still blood on the ground?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via translator): I arrived yesterday. How can he expect on what has happened over several months will be solved in one day. Give us your patience, please. We will work until we reach a dialogue.


JAMJOOM: Now, we spoke to this activist who appears on this video by phone. He said that was him in the video. When we asked him about what was going on there in the Arab League mission, the people of Homs simply have no faith in the Arab League mission and those monitors that are there and that the people of Homs really believe that the Bashar al Assad regime in Syria only let this mission in as a stalling tactic, as a ploy. Alina?

CHO: Mohammed Jamjoom live in Cairo, thank you very much.

We want to also bring you this incredible story. A lot of people are talking about it on twitter. It proves that yet again the few, the proud, the marines really are a rare breed. Once a marine, always a marine is what they say, right? This marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan recovering this morning in south Florida. He was robbed and shot three times by men who responded to a Craigslist ad about his fiance's gold chain. They were selling. Police say Lieutenant Colonel Karl Trenker was chasing down the thieves when one of them opened fire and hit him several times in the chest. He actually pulled the bullets out with his own hands, then he called home. Here's how he tells the story.


LT. COL. KARL TRENKER, U.S. MARINES, SHOT SEVERAL TIMES IN ROBBERY: I go to Iraq and Afghanistan multiple times and I haven't been shot or blown up. And I'm here at home in Florida and here I am riding away in an ambulance with a bunch of gunshot wounds. He hit me five times. I have three good punctures. I was pointing out the karat marks on the necklace to him, and he picked up and put it in his hands and said "That feels real" and just took off running.

I also dialed my phone and talked to my fiance and said, listen, I have been shot I think three times.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean, it's amazing to me how this guy had been shot this many times. I mean, he's superman, you know. He's talking to me just as calmly as I'm sitting here talking to you now. "I've been shot three times and my fingers are in the bullet holes and the police are going to take care of the kids."


CHO: Just incredible. We should mention that Colonel Karl Trenker and his fiance will join us tomorrow from the hospital with more on that incredible story. Can't wait for that.

FEYERICK: That's right. Hopefully, they'll get those guys. It's really outrages. You have to wonder why he was selling the piece of jewelry, the fact that he got shot over it. Anyway, you have to be careful what you do on Craigslist.

Still to come on AMERICAN MORNING, one determined woman going up against a giant automaker in a lawsuit over gas mileage. Heather Peters versus Honda straight ahead. It is now 38 minutes after the hour.


FEYERICK: Well, you're looking there at a live picture of Los Angeles. The sun still has to come up. A couple of clouds, 47 degrees. But it is going up to a high of 73 degrees, a lot warmer there than it is here.

Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. I'm Deb Feyerick. Well, talk about David taking on goliath. Heather Peters is suing Honda. The California woman is seeking $10,000 from the auto giant in small claims court because ever since she bought her 2006 Honda Civic hybrid she says she's been spending a lot more on gasoline than she expected.

Now, Heather joins us live from our Los Angeles bureau this morning. And before we begin, Heather, we do want to mention that we did reach out to Honda for a comment, but they refused because of this pending litigation. What is so interesting, Heather, is you bought this car, you expected to get 50 miles per the gallon, and then what happened?

HEATHER PETERS, SUING HONDA: Well, you know, they always say mileage may vary, and of course you expect that. But when I bought the car, I never got more than 40 miles per gallon, and I just sort of accepted that. It was a 20 percent variance, and that was a big deal to me, but I wasn't going to go out and sue over it. But as the time went by it got worse and worse and worse, and they did a software update that made it even worse. And now I get 28, 29, max.

FEYERICK: The software update was to extend the battery life but it was also improve the gas mileage, and that's not what you found. In essence by changing the brain of the car, you now have a different car. Is that fair?

PETERS: Yes. The dealership will back me up on that at trial. They will testify that this was designed solely to change the way the car used the battery, to use the battery less, extend the battery life, and they did not disclose that it would be a drain on gas mileage.

FEYERICK: So, on some levels, do you feel it was a bait and switch right in the middle, that you bought one car, you got another car. Why not just try to return the car?

PETERS: Well, I have. I have, actually. I wrote Honda a letter and I explained that this was a problem for me, and I offered to do any one of three things. They can give me some money for it. They could trade my car for a good old-fashioned manual transmission, or they could buy the car back. They never responded. To this day I have never, ever heard from someone from Honda. I got one call from one attorney and that was it, and he didn't offer me anything.

FEYERICK: Now, Heather, there is, you're not the only person. There is a class action lawsuit that is going on right now. You decided to go out on your own. How come?

PETERS: Yes, there are actually five class action lawsuits going on, and they've all been consolidated. I was in touch with the class action lawyers, and they said, well, wait and see. We think we're going to settle. I waited. And the settlement came out and they're basically offering me $100 to $200 and a coupon towards my next Honda. But, thank you, I really don't want another Honda.

So, I decided that I was going to go it on my own. And small claims court is very easy to do and I started a Web site, www.don', to show people across the country it's easy to do, and at least in California you don't do it without lawyers. So they can't bring in their high-price lawyers to drag it out. It's all done within probably 60 days.

FEYERICK: And so just very quickly, how much do you expect to get? What is it you want Honda to do for you? PETERS: Well, I'd like them to pick up the phone and call me for first. They have this ostrich approach to the thing. And in my opinion, you know, when your best defense is to absolutely ignore someone, you have got a real problem.

FEYERICK: All right, have they, have they responded at all about the other litigation that's out there or, no, just basically left you out hanging?

PETERS: Oh, yes, they've defended the five-class actions for many, many, many years. And, you know, as a matter of fact, they were actually sued by another person before I bought my car for the same thing, for claiming 50 miles a gallon in the brochure and yet they never changed the brochure. When they sold my car, they gave me another brochure that I still kept that has 50 miles per gallon city and highway.

FEYERICK: All right, Heather Peters, thank you so much, we really appreciate it. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, especially since the hybrid is such a new car and everybody has to see exactly how it's going to age over time.

Heather Peters is suing Honda. We appreciate it. And again, we do want to mention that we did reach out to Honda they did not respond to our calls. Thanks, Heather.

CHO: Coming up, your morning headlines are next. Plus, lessons about a long ignored slice of American culture or teaching hate. A ruling in Arizona that could mean the end of Mexican studies in schools. So, why is this happening? We'll tell you.

Forty-five minutes after the hour.


CHO: Its 47 minutes after the hour.

Here are your "Morning Headlines". We have this just in to CNN. First time unemployment claims jumping by 15,000 in the last week to 381,000. That's according to the Labor Department.

Have to see how the markets react. They open in about 45 minutes. Right now the DOW and NASDAQ and S&P 500 futures all pointing to a higher opening this morning. It could see a bounce at the opening bell.

Prosecutors may be getting ready for criminal charges for BP employees following the 2010 Gulf oil spill. This is according to the "Wall Street Journal." Prosecutors say some workers may have provided false information about drilling risks. Eleven people died during the accident.

North Korea mourning its late leader Kim Jong-Il. It's the second and final day of memorial ceremonies in Pyongyang. The regime used artillery fire and horns to honor the dictator; thousands came out. Kim Jong-Il died nearly two ago from an apparent heart attack. Violence erupting in another Syrian city this morning as peace monitors arrived there. Syrian forces reportedly firing on protesters in the city of Duma. Critics are now questioning the credibility of those Arab League monitors on the ground there because the violence has been surging.

New this half hour, the war of words escalating further between the U.S. and Iran. A senior White House official is blaming Iran for the saber rattling. And is telling CNN that the U.S. will quote, "Do what we must to ensure the Strait of Hormuz remains open." It's the most important oil shipping artery in the world. Iran said earlier it would shut it down if the U.S. imposes new sanctions on Iranian oil exports.

Politics now, Rick Santorum suddenly surging five days before the Iowa caucuses. According to a brand-new CNN/Time/ORC poll the former Pennsylvania senator has jumped into third place in the Iowa race; that's ahead of Newt Gingrich and within nine points for the frontrunner, Mitt Romney.

President Obama's approval ratings maybe lagging, but he's got plenty of support from Latino voters; that's according to the new survey from the Pew Hispanic Centers. Latinos strongly favor the President over any Republican candidate with the President topping his closest rivals, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry by a margin of better than 2-1.

Disneyland is turning away hundreds of holiday visitors in California yesterday. The park actually had to stop selling tickets after it hit its maximum capacity. This happened last year, too. And some estimate the park can hold 85,000 guests apparently not enough.

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


FEYERICK: And a live shot there of Atlanta, Georgia. It is clear, 31 degrees, sunny. It's going up later to a high of 57 degrees.

CHO: As Ali Velshi likes to say, if you're not up, you better get up. It's almost 9:00 in the morning on the East Coast. Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING, everybody. It's about nine minutes before the top of the hour.

A massive recall of a popular teddy bear to tell you about. The Build-A-Bear Workshop Company is recalling nearly 300,000 "Colorful Hearts" teddy bears. The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commissions says the bear's eyes could loosen and fall out and become a choking hazard for kids.

So far there have been no injuries reported. The Chinese-made toys were sold in the U.S. and also in Canada.

And parents, another warning: a third baby has been reportedly sickened by a rare bacteria that can come from powdered formula. The infant from Oklahoma is recovering. Bacteria also sickened an Illinois infant and killed a Missouri boy earlier this month. He was fed Enfamil formula but this latest case has not been linked to that brand.

CHO: An update to a big story we told you about over the past several months, a Massachusetts town is now paying nearly a $250,000 to the parent of a teenage bullying victim who was drive to suicide. The parents of Phoebe Prince have received $225,000 in a settlement with the town of South Hadley; 15-year-old Phoebe Prince committed suicide last year after being relentlessly bullied by her classmates.

FEYERICK: And an Arizona judge has ruled that a Mexican American Studies Program in Tucson City High School is illegal. The classes were challenged based on a new state law barring courses that promote racial resentment. But critics say that the people who wanted the classes gone are the real racists.

CNN's Rafael Romo is live in Atlanta with this very racially charged debate -- Rafael?

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN SENIOR LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS EDITOR: Deb, Alina, good morning. The bottom line question is this. Is the Mexican-American Studies Program in Tucson, Arizona teaching kids valuable history and cultural lesson -- lessons or is it inciting hatred and division. Differences of opinion on this issue have been behind heated protests at meetings of the Tucson Unified School District.

In upholding a previous ruling by state officials, a local judge calls the program quote, "Biased, political and emotionally charged." The ruling means in the judge's opinion that the program violates a law approved last year but what does the program teach that is so controversial? It teaches a part of American culture that proponents say it has been neglected namely Chicano perspectives on social justice, history and literature.

But critics say that promotes hatred among students. In a written state, John Huppenthal the current school superintendent for the State of Arizona said, "In the end I made a decision based on the totality of the information and facts gathered during my investigation, a decision that I felt was best for all students in the Tucson Unified School District."

The Tucson Unified School District had appealed the decision by the laws principal backer, former state school superintendent Tom Horn (ph) to shut down the program. Board members remain deeply divided on the issue. Some say the law is discriminating against Hispanic students who want to learn more about their origins.


MIGUEL CUEVAS: At this point, we will review the direction of the administrative law judge and -- and we believe that we are in compliance of this law. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would like to start over with a program that serves more of the 30,000 Latino students we have in the district and more than 30,000. This has always been a boutique program that's held a very small number of students.


ROMO: Under the law, the state can withhold 10 percent of its funding for the school district, which is about $15 million a year until the district changes. Of course, Tucson superintendent John Pedicone said the school board's lawyers are reviewing the ruling and board members will discuss it at a meeting next week -- Deb and Alina.

FEYERICK: Rafael, thanks so much. And that is an awful lot of money. The state is playing hardball with Tucson in order to make them change this particular program. Thanks so much, appreciate it.

CHO: Coming up, breaking into CNN, we have a hostage situation going on in the Atlanta area. We'll tell you about that.

Plus the island of Samoa is going to jump ahead to the future. What is that about? We'll tell you.

It's 55 minutes after the hour.


CHO: Just before the top of the hour. We have some breaking news out of Atlanta that we want to tell you about. We're looking at a possible hostage situation there. It's in the Buckhead area of Atlanta. A SWAT team apparently is on the ground. More than two dozen police officers, some armed with assault rifles and wearing body armor reported to be at the scene.

Officers say they received a 911 call saying the 19-year- old woman is being held against her will by armed males. Right now we're told that officers are trying to make contact with the people inside the home. We are watching this breaking story out of Atlanta. We'll bring you more on it as more details come in.

FEYERICK: Yes. Absolutely.

Before we go, we want to remind everyone that New Year's Eve is just around the corner and later today organizers are going to conduct the annual airworthiness test of the confetti because you certainly want it to fall, not just blow into the wind. That's going to be used at Times Square on Saturday night. One ton of confetti ready to go for the big event.

And why not party with us this Saturday night right here on CNN. Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin will again co-host CNN's New Year's Eve celebration live from New York City's Times Square. So get ready, put on your coats or just turn on the television. CNN correspondents will provide reports from celebrations across the country and around the world. The party starts Saturday at 11:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. CHO: And I'll be speaking to Anderson a little bit later on about why he chooses to work on New Year's Eve and what his favorite moments are. We'll bring those to you tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the island of Samoa is about to find out what a difference a day makes, literally . The Pacific island is jumping from today December 29th to Saturday, New Year's Eve. They're skipping Friday completely to accommodate its move to the west side of the International Dateline.

So, if tomorrow is your birthday and you live in Samoa, we're sorry about that. The Samoan government approved the switch so it would be closer in time to its closest trading partners New Zealand, Australia and China.

FEYERICK: All right. Well, thanks so much for joining us. "CNN NEWSROOM" with Hala Gorani starts right now.