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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Christmas Storm Watch; Firefighters Ambushed; 'Twas A Week Before The Fiscal Cliff; Hollywood Mourns Jack Klugman; Newtown Celebrates Christmas Holiday; Pope's Message: Make Room For God; Targeting Syria's Hungry; Christmas Storm Threatens Holiday Travel; Facing the Fiscal Cliff; Top 10 Science Stories of the Year

Aired December 25, 2012 - 06:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: White Christmas, some in America getting their wish right now. Others may get much more than they bargained for with dangerous tornado threats on Christmas day.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: And one week to go, with the fiscal cliff in sight, both sides are silent about any talks.

CHO: Triumphant return, NFL Coach Chuck Pagano who is trying to beat cancer now back with the Colts in time for the playoffs.

And good morning. Merry Christmas. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Alina Cho in New York. Merry Christmas, Dana Bash.

BASH: You, too, Alina. I am Dana Bash in D.C. It is 6 a.m. in the east. Let's get started. Up first, be careful what you wish for. Those dreaming of a white Christmas could be in for a whiteout.

Extreme weather is on the way Christmas Day. It's already here for many. Millions could be in store for a foot of snow or more. It could be even a rare white Christmas down south along with a threat of tornadoes.

Bonnie Schneider is tracking the holiday storm and all the delays. Good morning. Merry Christmas.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Merry Christmas.

BASH: Give us the good, the bad and the ugly.

SCHNEIDER: Unfortunately, for travelers, you know, yesterday was pretty bad, but today could be worse because we have dangerous lightning that's flaring up even at this early hour across Louisiana and Arkansas and behind it the snow is building in starting off as a mixture of sleet and freezing rain in places like Oklahoma City and Little Rock, Arkansas.

But it's the lightning that is moving into Dallas and San Antonio at this hour, so the severe weather threats in terms of tornadoes exist today across a good portion of the gulf coast and the south, including Jackson, Mississippi all the way down to Hattiesburg, New Orleans and Pensacola, Florida. And then as far to the west as Beaumont, Texas so this is a large widespread area where we're looking not only damaging winds, but possible tornadoes and this will impact travel in a huge way with a lot of airport delays I'm anticipating.

We don't have any right now, but we are looking at a long list potentially. So here's the snow, and we're expecting it to get worse today. Believe it or not, and our computer models are predicting heavy snow for places like Paducah, Kentucky, with this system going from today into tomorrow, actually get worse tomorrow.

You can 6 to 10 inches in the forecast for Southern Kentucky and even parts of Southeast Missouri like Cape Gerardo. We'll see heavy snow, Memphis and forecast for snow as well, but it will start west to east. So we'll see the snow building in later this afternoon and tonight for many locations.

If it's not all, for those of you that are traveling today, we're also watching out for very, very thick fog. It's happening right now in Atlanta where visibility is less than half a mile. Three-quarters of a mile in Macon, Georgia, and notice the fog stretches all the way to New Orleans in Gulf Port.

This will actually make the severe weather that is happening in Louisiana worse, because if it's so foggy out, you can't see any incoming areas of dangerous weather. Just to note, temperatures are also bitterly cold in the northern plains.

That cold air will slide in as we work through this week, but we are watching very carefully today for the severe weather threat along the areas of the south and gulf coast. Back to you.

CHO: All right, I'll take it, Bonnie. Thank you very much. A grim Christmas morning in upstate New York, four firefighters shot, two fatally, and police say they were lured into a sniper's trap.

This is the man who allegedly set fire to a house near Rochester, New York on Christmas Eve morning. He is 62-year-old William Spangler, an ex-con who spent 17 years in prison for beating to death his 92-year- old grandmother with a hammer back in 1980.

Police say after torching the home, he perched himself on a nearby berm with a firearm and began picking off volunteer firefighters as they entered his kill zone. Listen to firefighters calling to help from the scene.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Multiple firemen down, multiple firemen shot. I am shot. The fire is on the south side of the road. He's shooting from the north side with what I believe was an assault rifle or hunting rifle. I am struck in the back and the lower leg so I need EMS.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: Killed by sniper fire, Officer Thomas Kachufca, a 911 dispatcher who was just 19 years old and Lieutenant Michael Chiparini, a 43-year- old volunteer firefighter who was also an officer with the Webster, New York Police Department, both men died at the scene.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GERALD PICKERING, WEBSTER POLICE CHIEF: You know, these people get up in the middle of the night to go put out fires. They don't expect to be shot and killed. So it's a very difficult situation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: Especially coming on Christmas Eve. The suspect eventually killed himself. The two wounded firefighters have been identified as Theodore Scardino and Joseph Hofstetter, they are listed and guarded to stable condition this morning. They are recovering from gunshot wounds and there is no word yet of a possible motive.

BASH: An awful story. Well, it was the week before the fiscal cliff, that's right. We're just one week from tax hikes for all Americans and spending cuts that could cripple your family budget and a drag that could pull the economy back into recession. Ho, ho, ho.

That certainly makes everybody happy on Christmas morning. Well, President Obama, he spent Christmas Eve playing a round of golf with friends and right now the Democratic-led Senate looks like it may be the only hope for averting the fiscal cliff since the House is deadlock after Republicans crushed their own speaker's bill to raise taxes on millionaires last week.

Our White House correspondent Brianna Keilar is traveling with the first family in Honolulu. So, Bri, we have maybe with a little bit of news, which is I think maybe pathetic because it's talks within the Democratic Party, but at least they are talking.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Is it really news that Democrats are talking? That's all the news we have to report as of today. I know I feel a little bit like a Grinch reporting this, but the White House is in talks with Senate Democrats.

That's not really surprising as we look to the Senate to be the next -- really the next ones to act on this when they reconvene on the 27th. So right now, it's really up to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to try to cobble something together that can get some Republican support in the Senate and the House to avoid the fiscal cliff.

We are one week away from it, as you mentioned, and Republicans are not even part of the discussions, both in the Senate and in the House, and at this point they are certainly maybe having a working Christmas. Senate Democrats and Republicans, but I think it's interesting just to kind of recap what's going on here.

Before President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner were working on a much bigger package obviously, not just to avoid the fiscal cliff, but to try and tackle the long-term fiscal health of the country, trying to overall it was expected to raise some taxes. Try to deal with entitlement reform and tax reform, those other big things like entitlement reform and tax reform get kicked into the New Year, Dana, so maybe it's, I guess, the gift that keeps on giving on this cliff -- cliffmas, I guess, you could say.

BASH: We're taking this pretty far, aren't we, Bri? But, you know, one of the questions is, one of the key questions is whether or not the Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid will be able to get enough Republicans just to start in the Senate to vote on anything that will keep taxes low and maybe cut some spending.

Is the White House, you know, optimistic enough that the president might come back early to -- maybe he thinks he might have something to sign?

KEILAR: I think it is expected that the president will come back early. Probably whether or not he has something to sign because -- because obviously he's going to have to even maybe be twisting arms and lobbying some senators in his own party.

The big question right now is what is this measure that he will push? What will it even look like? Right now, the White House wants the threshold for those tax hikes to be at a quarter million dollars. That's what they are saying publicly.

Is that what it's going to look like? We just don't know. The details still have to be worked out, and that's what we're looking for here in the coming days as we do expect President Obama to head back to D.C. and cut his vacation here short.

KEILAR: Brianna, thank you. You are the happiest Grinch I've ever seen, I'll give you that.

CHO: All right, Hollywood is mourning the death of actor, Jack Klugman, this morning. Klugman, adored by millions of television viewers over the years, younger fans will remember him as a crime- fighting coroner in the hit TV show "Quincy."

But he's best remembered for his role as the sloppy cigar-champing sports writer Oscar Madison in the TV sitcom "The Odd Couple," a show that never really caught on with audiences until years after it ended in reruns and on "Nick at Night." Here he is with Larry King back in 1984.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACK KLUGMAN, ACTOR: We were never below off 45, and Tony was so worried, and I said listen to the audience, how they were laughing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You were never a hit?

KLUGMAN: Never, never.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: Klugman, once a five-pack-a-day smoker eventually lost a vocal cord and his voice to throat cancer in the 1980s, but he taught himself how to speak again as you saw there. His son said he died with his wife by his side on Christmas Eve. Klugman was 90 years old.

BASH: All day, all night this Christmas, people in Newtown, Connecticut are paying tribute to Sandy Hook Elementary School's victims. A candle is being lit for each person killed there, 20 children and six adults.

And organizers of the 24-hour vigil are asking volunteers to take half hour shifts to make sure that candles keep burning. People in Newtown helping each other get through their first Christmas after that horrible rampage.

One mother saying, quote, "It's all about the kids and being with family. And Newtown's police officers who've worked such long hours received a rare gift, the entire force got the holiday off thanks to officers from other communities who are pitching in for them.

CHO: Well, you're looking there at live pictures of Pope Benedict at the Vatican giving his Christmas message as we speak, and this year, he says we need to make room for God.

During midnight mass at St. Peter's Basilica, he said the faster we can move the more efficient our time-saving appliances become, the less time we have. He said we're so full of ourselves that we don't make room for God, for others, for children, for the poor, for strangers. Pope Benedict also called for peace in the Middle East and an end to the violence in Syria.

Dana, his team stood with him as he battled cancer, now Coach Chuck Pagano will once again stand with his team on the sidelines. We're going to have more on that inspiring story about the coach's cancer fight coming up.

BASH: It certainly is inspiring, and as we go to break, we'll look at Christmas in flip-flops. Wow, that looks great. How they are spending the holidays in the breezy Bondi Beach, Australia.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHO: Welcome back to EARLY START. It's 14 minutes after the hour. Two vicious attacks on hungry Syrian people simply waiting in line for bread. In the span of two days, the latest' tack happened yesterday, at least 15 people killed by an air assault in Homs Province.

Then there is the intense graphic video that some of you may find very tough to watch. More than 100 people killed Sunday at a bakery in Hama Province. CNN cannot independently confirm the authenticity of the video we should mention.

Our Mohamed Jamjoon is following all of the developments from Beirut in Lebanon. Mohamed, good morning to you. Set the scene for us. What's the latest from there?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alina. Well, it was two days ago that this horrific attack happened in Halfaya, that's in Hama province. We heard from opposition activists and eyewitnesses and residents there who told us that there were hundreds of people waiting in a bread line. That it was the first time that that bakery there had been opened in over a week. There was only a few weeks before that that rebel soldiers had moved in and taken that town away from regime solders who had been there.

And they say that because of that, that that town, that that area was specifically targeted. That's what the opposition activists tell us.

Now, the Syrian government has a very different version of events. They say it was armed terrorists in the town that carried out this attack. "Armed terrorists" is the terminology they use when describing rebel and opposition fighters. The Syrian government say that the residents of that town called for the military to intervene, to go in there and help them and help them secure the area.

But there's been so much international condemnation about the attack that killed at least 100 people, many say a lot more than that.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement yesterday strongly condemning the Syrian government for it. That statement went on to say, "Brutal attacks such as these show that this regime has no future in Syria. Those that commit atrocities will be held accountable. The United States calls on all parties that continue to assist regime in executing its war against the Syrian people to end their support.

And it was just the next day, just yesterday, that we started hearing about another horrific attack, this time in Homs, in the town of Talbisi (ph). We started seeing amateur video posting online showing a horrific scene, the aftermath of what activists say was an air raid. They say another bakery was targeted, that there were women and children standing in line to get bread in areas where there's food shortage.

You see in these videos the shock and the grief of the immediate aftermath, even though we can independently verify the videos. But you see the emotion. You see people becoming enraged with the government calling on the world to intervene, to stop the suffering of the Syrian people. A really horrific scene and all the activists that we've been speaking with the past few days worry that this is just going to continue and only get worse over the course of the next few days, weeks and months -- Alina.

CHO: Mohammed, you talk about those calls for the world to intervene. Well, a U.N. peace envoy, as you know, met with Syria's president, Bashar al Assad, yesterday. Any news to come of that, anything significant?

JAMJOOM: Really not a lot of concrete details. You know, we've seen time and again, Alina, when some sort of envoy going into Syria to meet with Bashar al Assad or other members of government, they usually don't seem to really come up with a really concrete, coherent plan. Lakhdar Brahimi went in yesterday, he met with the Syrian president, he left shortly thereafter. He talked to the press very briefly. He said that he had discussed steps to take with the president, to try to end the violence in the country. He said that he was going to be continuing his shuttle diplomacy going to different countries, speaking to international leaders and regional power players.

But we've Lakhdar Brahimi going several times. His predecessor, Kofi Annan, went into Syria several times. All this diplomacy and the deadlock of diplomacy happening and this back draft with this horrific violence continuing. It's been almost two years since the violence started in Syria. Over 40,000 people have been killed, hundreds of people, according to opposition activists that we speak to, just in the last few days, and that's when these talks were happening -- Alina.

CHO: Mohammed Jamjoom live for us from Beirut, Lebanon -- Mohammed, thank you -- Dana.

BASH: Other top stories this morning.

What started as a minor traffic stop in Houston ended with a decorated veteran police officer dead. Investigators say Officer Jimmy Norman had just pulled over the suspect for a traffic offense when he was shot. Norman apparently didn't even have time to draw his gun. A business owner who ran out to see what was going on was also shot and killed. Other officers shot and wounded. The 21-year-old suspect is expected to survive and face murder charges.

CHO: Later today, Egypt is expected to finally officially announce the results of a vote on its new constitutions which was drafted by a Muslim-dominated assembly. Preliminary unofficial results from the Muslim Brotherhood show 64 percent approve the charter. An opposition party spokesman says they've already filed several cases in the courts to challenge that vote.

BASH: Well, Netflix users who wanted to curl up on a couch with a movie on Christmas Eve, well, they couldn't do it. They were out of luck. The streaming video service was out for most of the day, affecting millions across the U.S. and Canada. It's on the Twitter page, Netflix blamed Amazon's web service for the problem.

I don't know. I was on Amazon, Alina, and that video service was working well.

CHO: Yes. And we were last-minute shopping, I know that.

Chuck strong -- have you heard about this? -- huge emotional boost for the Indianapolis Colts the day after the Cinderella team clinched a playoff spot. Their coach Chuck Pagano returned to the team yesterday after spending most of the season undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK PAGANO, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS COACH: If you're going to have to go through something, I know exactly why I'm here now, because this is the place you'd want to be starting with our owner and on down. It's the finest people I've ever been around in my entire life, and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

CHO: Strong man with a lot of courage and many people throughout the community donning Chuck strong bracelets. Two cheerleaders, as you see there, even shaved their head in solidarity. Good for them.

BASH: Absolutely. It's a very nice story on this Christmas Day.

And it's a space capsule that acts like a helicopter. Check this out. Coming up, the rocket launch that could change space travel as we know it.

CHO: And we are showcasing Christmas around the world this morning. Check out these kids getting gifts in Japan.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHO: Welcome back to EARLY START. It's 24 minutes after the hour. I'm here along with Dana Bash.

And, Dana, take a look at this video. It just may blow your mind. The company SpaceX launching a successful test flight of its grasshopper rocket. Now after launch, it actually hovers in the air as it is doing right now and then lands vertically very softly.

BASH: Wow.

CHO: We're going to see it eventually, I think, instead of breaking up.

It has the potential, by the way, to change space flight as we know it and save a whole lot of money in the process. The private space flight company says it is almost -- there's the landing -- almost ready for its first liftoff. A few kinks to work out.

SpaceX earlier this year carried cargo to the International Space Station and hopes to take people there soon.

BASH: I don't know. You know what? I'll let other people do that. Would you do it? Would you get on?

CHO: I don't think so, but people pay a lot of money to do it.

BASH: I know, I know. I'll get their reports when they get back.

Now, if you still haven't done your Christmas shopping, you are worse than I am, you are a real champion procrastinator. Yesterday, shoppers were out hunting down last-minute gifts and deals. Some stores were open until 10:00 p.m.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Always say I'm not going to do it, but I think the -- I don't know why I always wait but I always do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think you feel like you don't have enough and you go back and get more and that's not good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Thirty-two shopping days between Black Friday and Christmas gave people each more time to procrastinate. Experts say the overall retail numbers this season will probably be disappointing, in part because people are afraid, yes, that's right -- Washington, are you listening? -- tax rates could go up next year.

CHO: Come on, really? Won't stop me.

(LAUGHTER)

BASH: That's for a later discussion.

CHO: Yes, exactly.

BASH: A one-woman still plus project.

But let's turn back to Christmas. First Lady Michelle Obama in the holiday spirit, answering calls from kids across the country as part of NORAD's Track Santa Program. The White House just released this picture, looks like she's having a lot of fun. Mrs. Obama took calls from Kailua, Hawaii, where she and the rest of the first family are spending the holiday.

CHO: Not on the beach for that moment, but I'm sure she's spending some time on the beach.

And so what will be playing in the background this morning when the kiddies open their present? We're CNN. Of course, we found a poll on this.

(MUSIC)

CHO: That's right. According to the latest poll, from Clarice Research Group, "Silent Night" is America's favorite Christmas song, and who else but Bing to sing on Christmas. "Silent Night", by the way, is followed by "White Christmas" and "Little Drummer Boy." In fourth place, "The Christmas Song", followed by "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," "Feliz Navidad" and "Jingle Bills".

BASH: None of my made the list.

CHO: And I have to say, "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" is probably my favorite. I'll spare the singing.

BASH: Well, you know, we could. It's Christmas. You could sing.

CHO: You don't want that, trust me. BASH: Pretend like you're in the shower.

CHO: Yes.

BASH: I'm a Jersey girl, so for me, it's "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" by Bruce Springsteen. But I do -- but when I'm looking at the old school songs, I like "I'll be Home for Christmas."

CHO: That's a great up, too. I've been listening to them all.

BASH: What's better than a Christmas song? Nothing.

We're making our list, we're checking it twice, coming up, what was naughty and who was nice in the world of politics this year.

CHO: But first, a very merry Christmas "Gangnam Style".

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BASH: The weather outside could be frightful today. Blizzard warnings and the threat of tornadoes. We're tracking the storm.

CHO: The week before the fiscal cliff and not a creature is stirring. Not even the president.

BASH: And a surprise Christmas present. I challenge you not to cry when you see this. A mom sets eyes on her sailor son for the first time in months. It's a heartwarming reunion you just don't want to miss.

Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Dana Bash in Washington.

Hi again, Alina.

CHO: Hey there. Merry Christmas, Dana. And we will have that family on live later this morning. I'm Alina Cho in New York.

And our top story: a huge Christmas storm threatening holiday travel this morning for millions. The Southern Plains, even in the Deep South, could get a rare white Christmas, and possible Christmas tornadoes.

Our Bonnie IS Schneider tracking the storm and all the delays for us.

Hey, Bonnie. Good morning.

SCHNEIDER: Good morning, Alina.

I wish had a better Christmas story for you on the weather department. But it's actually looking quite dangerous out there.

In Dallas right now, we're getting reports of pea-sized hail and you can see the real time lightning strikes sweeping across Louisiana and Arkansas at this hour, moving right into Jackson, Mississippi. This is just the beginning of a dangerous Christmas Day in terms of severe weather. A moderate risk for tornadoes across parts of Mississippi, Louisiana, and even areas of southeast Texas, including Vidor and Beaumont, and just -- including Houston as well, though they're not in the red zone where they tend to see more concentrated area of reported tornadoes. We'll be watching that throughout the day. No tornadoes yet.

But what we're seeing that's also dangerous for those of you that are up early on the road today. In Oklahoma City, ice accumulating. Reports of that throughout Oklahoma City that will change over to snow, and we're talking about measurable snow, four to six inches. The storm is working its way west to east.

So, some of the rain will change over to snow in Little Rock, Arkansas, and then as you look towards Memphis and Paducah, Kentucky, Cape Gerardo, Missouri, this is going to be a big snow storm by the time we get to Christmas night with 10 inches of snow possibly in parts of Kentucky.

And, finally, Alina, we're also monitoring the fog. If you're here in Atlanta, you know what I'm talking about, thick and dangerous. So, be careful driving if you don't have to this morning. There's a picture. You can see a live out there barely.

CHO: Bonnie, you may have to stay at the office a little bit longer today to wait for the fog to dissipate.

All right. Bonnie Schneider in the weather center at CNN in Atlanta -- thank you.

A snowboarder killed in an avalanche in northern California. His body was found at the bottom of a ridge in about three feet of snow at Donner ski ranch in northern California. The sheriff's office said he'd been was buried for about five hours. Paramedics tried to save him but it was too late.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have been telling the ski patrol like we're missing a guy, we're missing a guy, but they didn't start looking for him until like two or three hours later.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They did an initial courtesy search around, didn't find anything. We're concerned for safety reasons because of the unstabilized that's still up there. So, they kind backed off.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHO: Nobody else was hurt. Meanwhile, a U.S. Airways crew smelled fuel while their empty plane sat parked at the terminal in Phoenix. When they checked it out, they actually found flames shooting out of tail. Can you imagine?

Fire crews put it out. Nobody was hurt and no other flights were delayed, thankfully. The airline says a small engine under the tail was probably the source of the problem. The plane was supposed to head to Vancouver. Passengers were put on another flight. BASH: And the president is on the links, lawmakers are on a break and as Santa slide down the last few chimneys this morning, a good chunk of all of our paychecks may be teetering right off the fiscal cliff. Merry Christmas.

We're now just seven days away from tax hikes for pretty much all Americans, spending cuts that could break millions of families' budgets, and it could launch the economy back into a recession. President Obama spent Christmas Eve playing golf with friends in Hawaii, and right now, the Senate looks like the last hope for neglect getting past to avert the fiscal cliff.

I want to go to our White House correspondent Brianna Keilar, who is traveling with the first family in Honolulu.

Brianna, any -- any discussions at all that you're hearing from sources in either party right now?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Some discussions, but they're not really surprising ones, Dana. That's the thing.

Right now, we understand that the White House is talking with Senate Democrats, and this is exactly what you would expect ahead of the Senate reconvening on the 27th when it's really up to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid now to try to figure out some sort of measure that can get some Republican support in the Senate and some Republican support in the House in the hopes of averting the fiscal cliff.

This is really a bit of a last-ditch effort, and instead of tackling sort of the big issue of dealing with the long-term fiscal health of the country, which is what the fiscal cliff was initially supposed to be an incentive to do, it's really looking like a measure that is just going to try to avert the fiscal cliff itself. The White House trying to at least publicly saying what they want is to avert tax hikes on people make up to $250,000 per year.

We also know, of course, Dana, spending cut are set to kick in. It's unclear how that maybe addressed in this measure or ultimately in something that the Senate might take up.

So, we're sort of holding our breath here as we wait to see what they cook up in the Senate ahead of them coming back to town in Washington on Thursday.

BASH: And, Bri, I have to ask you. You know, when I covered the White House and worked on Christmas Day, you know, the big news you waited for all day what's the president going to do? Or even more specifically, what's he going to eat? Are they going to put out a menu like they usually do?

KEILAR: Exactly. How many different types of pies will thereby on Christmas Day? That's one of the questions we always want to know.

Yes, we're expecting to get some of that information. But, you know, in the past, he's done something that we expect he'll probably do again, although it's not officially on his schedule. He frequently visits with troops on Christmas Day. He did that last year when he was here in -- on Oahu, so maybe he'll do that again next year. It's already getting some Christmas cheer in, kind of, Hawaii style, though. As you mentioned, he played golf yesterday. He went to the beach with the first family.

And this was kind of fun. The first lady took phone calls from kids who are tracking NORAD's tracking of Santa Claus. So she was getting in on the fun, too.

BASH: All right. Brianna, thank you very much. Still love that backdrop and listening to the sound of those waves crashing.

CHO: Yes. We all wish we could be in Honolulu. All right. Brianna, Dana, thank you very much.

Santa has made his list and checked it twice and delivered his goodies last night. And while some are looking under the tree to find a shiny new bicycle, others found coal in their stockings on our show.

It's up to our Richard Socarides to Ana Navarro to decide who was naughty and who was nice in 2012.

Good morning to both of you.

I've got Ana here in New York next to me. And you, Richard, in Miami. You've sort of switched places today, which is, I guess, normal in the holidays, you're taking vacation.

But let's talk first about the nice list because we want to be nice, it's Christmas.

Richard, you have picked a Republican for your list, Chris Christie. He was awfully nice to the president in the days and weeks after hurricane Sandy, wasn't he?

RICHARD SOCARIDES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, he was, and, you know, I tried to pick Republicans because I wanted to be nice to them today, but --

CHO: If ever you were going to do it, today's the day, Richard.

SOCARIDES: You know, I think though, all kidding aside, Chris Christie showed real leadership in the wake of the terrible disaster that people in his state suffered through, and, you know, what impressed me about him and I don't usually agree with him on much, was that he was willing to speak the truth and, you know, talk cooperation and really put partisan politics aside. And I think we needed more of that this year and we didn't see it very often.

CHO: Yes. OK, well, a lot of Republicans -- he took a lot of heat from Republicans for doing that right around election time.

Ana, let's talk to you about -- you have such an interesting time. American girl dolls are on your list this year.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, I have no kids and this was an absolute discovery for me this year. I've never been to an American Girls Store, and we just opened one up in Miami. And it is bedlam, it was wild. I never saw so many girls going just completely crazy.

But, you know, it really felt heartwarming. They've got dolls that look like, dolls that look like me. Dolls that look like Dana.

They even have dolls that look like Richard. They've got male dolls, female dolls.

CHO: Are you sure about -- are you sure about dolls that look like Richard?

(LAUGHTER)

NAVARRO: Dolls in wheelchairs, dolls with hearing aids. I think it is such a good idea, such a good message with little girls, particularly with the self-esteem issues we know little girls have these days, teenagers, to have dolls that look like each of us that can be so individual.

So, I give all sorts of kudos on the American Girls Dolls.

Now, they could get down a little on the price.

CHO: Yes, they're a little expensive. What, they start at $105.

All right. Richard, let's talk about your next person on the nice list at number two is Chief Justice John Roberts. He made some key decisions in the health care realm, didn't he?

SOCARIDES: Well, I thought that yes. And, you know, I guess my list is quite different than Ana's, but I thought that John Roberts really this year showed, again, showed what, again, you know, showed what it meant to be a leader and put politics and partisan politics aside. I mean, I thought that he, in deciding to hold the -- and be the deciding vote and deciding to hold that the president's health care law was constitutional, he knew he was going to get -- be in big trouble with his fellow conservatives.

But I think he thought it was the right thing to do, the right thing to do under the Constitution and he put the Constitution ahead of partisan politics. And I think in doing so was a real profile in courage this year.

CHO: Ana, another sort of unconventional choice for you is Victor Cruz, the wide receiver for the New York Giants. But not for any play that he's made, and I think a lot of people just -- just were so -- had such great feelings for him when he went and visited that family who lost their son.

NAVARRO: Alina, I didn't know he was a wide receiver until you just said it. But I know nothing about football, but I can tell you that I thought what he did was such an act of kindness, and I think he also spoke for the entire country when he went to Sandy Hook, when he spent the time, when he gave his jersey so that little Jack Pinto could be buried in it.

To me, he embodies what we saw from the entire nation, an outpouring of support, of random acts of kindness, of prayers and times for the victims of Sandy Hook. We've seen that time and again this year from the American people. They step up, they unite, and they support in a time of distress and disaster.

CHO: Yes. I think we all saw that he wore his cleats and he put, "My hero, rest in peace, Jack Pinto" and then he gave those to the family. I actually went and visited the Pinto family, which was so extraordinary.

NAVARRO: He gets my MVP award, and I tell you, I don't watch football.

CHO: Yes. Plus, he's cute.

All right. Richard, we want to move on to the naughty list. That's a total aside. We want to move on to the naughty list and talk about someone who's been in the news for what you say was the big announcement that wasn't.

SOCARIDES: Yes. I thought Wayne LaPierre and the NRA, you know, showed once again that, you know, Wayne LaPierre has been at this for 20 years. He has been the single biggest gun block to sensible gun control and after the terrible tragedy we saw just a number of days ago, we thought that we were going to see a little movement. We thought that he was going to be willing to -- the NRA might be willing to work with others, to do something sensible.

And instead, you know, they are back out there blaming everybody else but themselves and blaming everybody else, blaming the culture, blaming Hollywood, blaming video games, taking no responsibility. And, you know, they have been the number one stumbling block to sensible gun control in this country, and I think, finally, the country is ready to move beyond it. But they are not and that was a -- was, you know, breathtakingly out-of-touch announcement he had the other day, where they want to put more guns in schools.

CHO: Yes, I think public opinion, as we've been reporting, is clearly shifting the other way.

Ana, let's talk about your naughty pick. Maybe we should mention handcuffs for this one, right?

NAVARRO: Maybe.

CHO: E.L. James, "Fifty Shades of Grey." I have to tell you. I read all of the books for research.

(LAUGHTER)

CHO: I was doing an interview, an entertainment interview and had to do research. But tell me why you picked E.L. James. I think it's pretty clear, right?

NAVARRO: Because she was naughty and we liked it. She was like Mae West, when she's nice, she's very nice. And when she's naughty, she's even nicer. She brought the term "mommy porn" to the American lexicon. She had so many American women she really touched a nerve.

CHO: Yes.

NAVARRO: She did tremendous things for people all over the place.

CHO: Good choice of words.

NAVARRO: So I think she was -- she was naughty in a creative way and she laughed all the way to the bank.

CHO: And that's exactly it. I mean, listen, it was the fastest selling novel in history. It's pretty incredible. All right.

NAVARRO: I read it just, you know, to be up with pop culture.

CHO: Me, too.

NAVARRO: I did not want to be left behind the curve.

CHO: Me too. Richard, did you read it?

SOCARIDES: This was -- I did not read it, although Soledad tried to get me to read it, but I did not read it, but this is definitely a different kind of naughty.

CHO: Yes, it is, yes, it is.

Richard Socarides and Ana Navarro, we're going to be -- stay right there. We're going to be talking to you a little bit more, because coming up in the next hour, who came in No. 1 on Richard and Ana's naughty list? We'll check in with both in a bit.

Coming up, the best Christmas present a mom could ever ask for, a big surprise when her sailor son returns home. We will have the heartwarming reunion next.

And before the break, a look at Christmas in Thailand, where instead of elves, there are elephants? That's right. Just have a look at this. Merry Christmas, everybody. We'll be back after this.

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BASH: Welcome back to EARLY START.

Well, she could not have asked for a better gift. A U.S. sailor surprising his mother with an early Christmas present. The gift was himself. It was all captured in a video that has gone viral on the web around the world.

Sailor Matt Giles sent an oversized Christmas card that his mom read aloud to a friend on the phone, and then, well, take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am truly best, and it takes time to think of a good present to give you, and I decided that this big (EXPLETIVE DELETED) card would be it, a good start. It will show everyone that I love my mom and I'm damn proud to be her son.

Now I'm truly sorry that JD had to be the one to give this to you. I would have personally done it, but then that would have really messed up the best part about giving this. I love you, Matt, thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I have. Matt! Oh my God.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: You can see why that's gotten more than 70,000 hits online and probably as many tears from viewers. Don't miss it at 8:30 Eastern when Matt Giles and his mom will both join us live.

And from landing on Mars to a daredevil leap that broke the sound barrier. It was quite a year for science. We'll look back at some of the most amazing feats in the science world, next.

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BASH: From finding God to a potentially blood-boiling leap from space, it was the year for science, a year where daredevils met nerds, danger met discovery and more. CNN's John Zarrella counts down the biggest science stories for 2012 this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At number 10, a revolutionary camera called Litro.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's such a powerful technology breakthrough that this will forever change how we all take and experience pictures.

ZARRELLA: The camera captures the entire light field, allowing the picture's focus and perspective to be changed after it's been taken.

Number 9, NASA's Dawn spacecraft sent back staggering data about an asteroid 325 miles in diameter called Vesta. It appears Vesta went through some stages of planetary evolution. It's one of a kind in the solar system.

CAROL RAYMOND, DAWN SCIENCE TEAM: What's clear to us is that Vesta appears to be the only intact proto-planet that's left.

ZARRELLA: Number 8, you may have heard the term God particle. Scientists call it Higgs boson. The European Nuclear Research Organization called CERN claims to have found it. Why is it a big deal? Think big bang theory.

DR. MICHIO KAKU: And this particle, we think, was in fact, a particle like this was the fuse that set off the explosion which created the universe.

ZARRELLA: Researchers found it after analyzing data from proton collisions generated by a particle accelerator.

At 7, a leap of faith. Felix Baumgartner's record-breaking jump. Baumgartner broke the free fall record and the sound barrier, jumping from 128,000 feet in a revolutionary spacesuit

FELIX BAUMGARTNER: I said I know the whole world is watching right now, and I wish the world could see what I see.

ZARRELLA: 6, young children dying at an alarming rate in Cambodia and with alarming speed. It was a medical mystery. Streptococcus dengue and a pathogen called EV71 were unusually aggressive. Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta was there when the mystery was solved.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: They found that those organisms in conjunction with these kids getting steroids, probably led to such an aggressive course.

ZARRELLA: Number 5, SpaceX became the first commercial company to rendezvous and dock a space craft to the International Space Station. It marked a new beginning. Private companies taking over for NASA, sending cargo and eventually humans to the station.

Number 4, scientists found the Great Barrier Reef, the largest in the world, is in trouble.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Half of the coral on the Great Barrier Reef has disappeared over the last 27 years. That's a momentous change.

ZARRELLA: Scientists attribute much of the loss to storm damage.

At no. 3, we go to the Pacific, and the deepest part of any ocean in the world with famous film director and explorer James Cameron. First, test dives.

JAMES CAMERON, FILM DIRECTOR: Got about five (inaudible) that prevented me from going on.

ZARRELLA: Finally, in a submersible called Deep Sea Challenger, Cameron went down 35,000 feet.

Number 2, melting ice. Scientists using satellite and aircraft data have found the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing three times as much ice as 20 years ago. Giant rifts appeared in places like Antarctic's Pine Island Glacier. Combined, Antarctica and Greenland have contributed to one fifth of all sea level rise over the past 20 years.

And our number 1 is called seven minutes of terror. The rover Curiosity survived a harrowing ride through the Martian atmosphere in a landing method never before attempted, prompting an outpouring of emotion from the NASA team. Curiosity is now roaming the landing site, hunting for signatures of past life, water, carbon, methane. If it finds any, Curiosity might well be our No. 1 again next year.

John Zarrella, CNN, Miami.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHO: Dashing through the snow today. Coming up, storms closing in on Christmas Day, and some of them could prove dangerous.

BASH: And as we showcase Christmas around the world this morning, a look at NATO troops celebrating in Afghanistan. We'll be right back.

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