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Twenty-Plus Car Pileup Oklahoma; Is the Senate Our Only Hope?; Winter Storms Affect Travel in Parts of U.S.; Sailor Surprises Mother by Returning Home for Christmas; Holiday Shopping Trends

Aired December 25, 2012 - 08:00   ET


ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Dangerous weather across America this Christmas morning. Live pictures of a massive 20-car pile-up that shut down a highway because of ice and this is just the beginning.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: It was another silent night in Washington. The silent coming from our nation's leader on both sides of the aisle. Just one week to go until the country falls off the fiscal cliff.

CHO: And how much is too much when it comes to Christmas spirit? Take a look at this. Neighbors have had enough of this 65,000-light display. But the woman behind it says, it's not going anywhere. And we're going to talk to her live.

Her name is Jan Stewart and she's from California and she's up early for us.

Good morning, everybody. Merry Christmas. I'm Alina Cho in New York.

Hey, Dana.

BASH: Hey. Good to see you again, Alina.

I'm Dana Bash in Washington.

It is Tuesday, December 25th, Christmas Day. And STARTING POINT begins right now.


BASH: And our STARTING POINT this morning, a dangerous winter storm creating holiday travel hazards.

New this hour, we're getting word of a pile-up involving at least 20 cars and a big-rig on an Interstate 40 west outside of Oklahoma City. The crash has shut down Interstate 40 for two miles, freezing rain turning the road into virtually, an ice rink.

Bonnie Schneider is tracking this storm and others this morning.

Bonnie, this may just be the beginning.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It is the beginning, Dana, because the freezing rain has been falling in this part of Oklahoma since the overnight hours, and what will happen is, as the colder air wraps behind the storm, we'll start to see sleet accumulating, which means we're going to see little balls of ice pellets hitting the ground that's already covered with ice. And then the snow will come.

So it's really going to be a mixed bag of precipitation from Oklahoma into Arkansas and incidentally, places like Little Rock haven't seen snow falling throughout Christmas Day in over 80 years. They've seen snow in the state before, but to have a significant snowstorm on Christmas is rare, only happens very, very rarely through the South. And as you can see, we're not only looking at Arkansas, Kentucky, southeast Missouri will likely see, possibly even a foot of snow.

This is a blizzard warning now goes into effect later tonight and to tomorrow, and that's when we'll see the worst of it into the overnight hours. So, we're looking at blowing and drifting snow and then the storm progresses eastward, impacting cities like Cleveland and even into New York as we go into Wednesday that I don't think New York City will be impacted. It will be likely north and west of the city.

So snow is falling in Oklahoma, freezing rain as well. But then when you look to the south look at this, the lightning is incredible. We're getting reports of nickel-sized hail in southeast Dallas County and the storms are working across Louisiana into Mississippi at this hour, not only producing strong areas of lightning and heavy downpours, we have thick fog covering the region and we run the risk of tornados throughout the day today -- a moderate risk including cities like New Orleans, all the way to Pensacola, Florida.

So, this is substantial day not only because it's Christmas and everyone is traveling, it's really a huge day for severe weather, from tornadoes and thunderstorms, to snow, freezing rain and ice. So, please be careful if you're traveling. This is likely to impact millions of people as we go throughout the afternoon today.

BASH: Well, the good news is that a few people are working so it's a good day to cuddle up by the fire, and hang out and, I don't know, play some board games. Do people do that anymore? I don't know.


BASH: Bonnie -- thank you, Bonnie.


CHO: All right. To Washington now and talk about a lump of coal in your Christmas stocking. It's the one-week warning on the fiscal cliff. We're now just seven days away from tax hikes and spending cuts that could send the economy spiraling into recession.

And here's what your elected officials are doing about it. Have a look. President Obama spending Christmas Eve on the links in Honolulu with friends, while lawmakers relax at home for the holidays. Right now, the Senate looks like it might be the only hope for a compromise deal.

But can a deal be struck?

White House correspondent Brianna Keilar traveling with the first family in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Hey, Brianna. Good morning.


Yes, it's been many silent nights actually in Washington these days. Not just because there's nobody there to sort of figure out what's going on with the fiscal cliff but also, because folks just really aren't talking.

We know that the White House is talking to Senate Democrats as we look to the Senate as he reconvene on Thursday, really, the last-ditch effort to try to do something. But as of yet, congressional Democrats in the White House are not talking with congressional Republicans. And that's even at the staff level.

What we're expecting now is that the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will be trying to cobble something together that could get some Republican support in both the House and the Senate. But what they're looking at now is a smaller measure than we've been talking about in recent weeks. Really, in recent weeks, President Obama and Speaker Boehner were working towards a bigger package that was supposed to deal with the fiscal health, the long-term fiscal health of the country, which was what the fiscal cliff was supposed to be an incentive for.

Instead, now, it's looking like there will be some sort of measure to really just deal with the fiscal cliff, the tax hikes that are set to kick in and President Obama wants them to cut off at $250,000, so that for folks making less, they don't see their taxes increase and there's also the spending cuts that are set to kick in. It's yet to be determined if that will be part of the smaller measure. We're really waiting to see kind of what Harry Reid comes up with.

CHO: So if he comes up with something.

All right. Brianna Keilar, traveling with the president in Honolulu -- Brianna, thank you.


BASH: Well, Alina, the big question now as s you and Brianna were just talking about is -- can Congress come back here, which they're planning on doing on Thursday, and can they figure some way to avert an economic disaster?

Well, joining me now to talk about that and more: Richard Socarides is back with us, former senior adviser to Bill Clinton and a writer for Ana Navarro is a CNN contributor and a Republican strategist.

Nice to see you guys again.

All right. I want to play for both of you, something that Grover Norquist who is the head of Americans for Tax Reform, he is famous for making, or I would say maybe enticing, most Republicans in Congress to sign a no-tax pledge. Listen to what he told me yesterday morning right on this program.


GROVER NORQUIST, PRESIDENT, AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM: This is a long fight. It's four years of a fight. It's not one week of a fight. And to your earlier question, does the president want to take us over the cliff? I think now, he does.


BASH: OK, Ana, I'm going to start with you as our resident Republican.

What I'm hearing from Republican members is one of the reasons why they just are so dug in, even on raising taxes for millionaires, is because they see this as their moment. They see this as the time where they can really stop spending and keep taxing low.

But are they sort of cutting off their nose to spite their face from your perch there in Miami?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Actually, I'm in New York City today.

BASH: Oh, in New York. How about from New York?

NAVARRO: Richard is in Miami. So, we're trading places.


NAVARRO: Look, Dana, I don't agree with Grover Norquist. I don't think President Obama or Speaker Boehner, or Harry Reid, or Mitch McConnell, or anybody wants to throw us all over the cliff. I mean, I want to think that we have not elected a bunch of lunatics to represent us but rather, people who got to message that we want them to work together.

Now, it's easier said than done as we've seen. And if this doesn't happen, there's going to be plenty of blame to go around.

But the American public are going to blame Washington. Whether it's the president, whether it's Congress, whether it's Republicans or whether it's Democrats, I don't think anybody wants the uncertainty and the economic uncertainty is going to result from a fiscal cliff.

So I hope that, you know what? I hope Santa Claus is bring bringing a lot of parachutes and putting them under the tree today because it's time to hope for the best but brace for the worst. And then we'll see what happens.

BASH: I applaud your optimism, Ana. I really do. But --

NAVARRO: It's Christmas, if you're not going to be optimistic --

BASH: You have to be optimistic. I know, I know. But I have to say that talking to Republicans and Democrats, they're saying, Richard, some of them, politically, it is probably best for them both to go over the cliff because after January 1st, everybody's taxes go up. So, what do they take a vote on? Tax cuts as opposed to before January 1st, they'll have to take a vote on tax increases?

RICHARD SOCARIDES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, I think the president is keenly aware of the fact that going over the cliff, the so-called cliff without a congressional solution is not good for average Americans. So I think he will do everything to avoid it. He's coming back early from that short trip to Hawaii.

But, you know, I think that that clip you played from Mr. Norquist, I mean, that was -- you know, it's really an important observation that we can see from that clip. I mean, he's talking about a -- you know, a long struggle about taxes and entitlements.

But right now, what it comes down to is -- will the Republicans support legislation right now in these next seven days which are going to protect -- which would protect average Americans from the real hardships that might be imposed upon them if we do nothing? Or if they're not -- if Republicans are not going to support this immediate legislation, will they, you know, will they make everyone be held hostage to their tax pledge to Grover Norquist?

I mean, this is one man who is -- who is set on no new taxes on millionaires or on anybody, and if the Republicans hold everybody hostage as long as --

BASH: Although, to be fair -- to be fair to Grover, he gave everybody a pass on voting for that. It didn't work.

NAVARRO: And they didn't follow him.

BASH: They didn't follow him. But I want to tell you --


NAVARRO: Dana, if there's anything we learned from last week's vote is that Republicans are not held subject to Grover Norquist. As you said, he gave them a pass. He encouraged them to do so and they promptly ignored him.

BASH: But other powerful anti-tax groups pushed hard -- very, very hard. I talked to several members that got those calls.

But my pessimism is -- I would say informed pessimism, and it's informed by the people who are going to take the votes. Listen to what several lawmakers said on Sunday about the possibility or really, the potential of going over the cliff.


SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R), WYOMING: When I listen to the president, I think the president is eager to go over the cliff for political purposes. I think he sees a political victory at the bottom of the cliff. REP. MICK MULVANEY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I believed from the beginning and continue to believe that the president has no interest at all in not going over the cliff. He wants to go over the cliff.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: In the aftermath of the House Republicans rejecting Speaker Boehner's so-called Plan B, it's the first time that I feel that it's more likely that we'll go over the cliff than not.


BASH: So, you know, look, I want to be proven wrong and I hope I'm proved wrong but December 31st or December 30th, they come up with something where they can get enough Republicans in the Senate, get enough Republicans to join Democrats in the House and pass something.

But let's just assume they go over the cliff. You know, their hope is that they, by January 3rd or so, get something passed but that could really be very, very dangerous for the markets and, also, for our credit rating?

NAVARRO: For all Americans.

SOCARIDES: It could be dangerous -- let me just, yes. Let me just say, it could be dangerous for everybody.

And I am still optimistic that something will get resolved short term before the end of the year, probably right at the last minute because if we don't, you know, it's going to be a needless -- it's going to be a needless infliction of pain on everybody because the parameters of what will ultimately be a deal -- the president was re-elected and received a mandate from a majority of Americans that the rich should pay more in taxes. I mean, that's a simple fact.

So, that's the solution. Whether it comes this coming week before the fiscal cliff or whether it comes later. That's where we're going to end up.

BASH: And, Ana, real quick before we go, you well know, you see all the polls, you talk to your friends in Washington, Republican friends, if we go over the cliff, Republicans are prepared to take the political blame? Do they -- do they get that?

NAVARRO: Oh, I'm sure not. I'm sure there's going to be a lot of finger-pointing on both sides going on, but it is also a bad omen, Dana, for what's to come. You know, President Obama is in a legacy- building mode and I think Republicans don't want to be seen by the American public as obstructionists. That means they got to get together and get something done.

Will it happen before December 31st? It's not looking likely, but it needs to happen in the next four years. We need to have cooperation in Washington and this and so many other issues.

BASH: Amen to that.

SOCARIDES: That's such a great note to end on.

BASH: Yes, as someone who walks the halls of Congress pretty much every day, I will give you an amen.

And, Richard, next time we'll send you an e-mail and make sure you get the memo on the outfits, OK? Merry Christmas.

NAVARRO: Merry Christmas to you.

BASH: Alina?

CHO: All right, guys. Thanks.

Other top stories this morning:

It's a grim Christmas morning in Upstate New York, where four firefighters have been shot, two of them fatally after being 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's 62- year-old William Spangler, an ex-con who spent 17 years in prison for beating his 92-year-old grandmother to death 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 up volunteer firefighters as they entered his kill zone.

Listen to the victims calling for help from the scene.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Multiple firemen down, multiple firemen shot. I am shot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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 a hunting rifle. I am stuck in the lower back and lower leg. So I need EMS.


CHO: Killed by sniper fire, officer Thomasz Kaczowka, a 911 dispatcher, who was just 19 years old, and Lieutenant Michael Chiapperini, a 43-year-old volunteer firefighter who was also an officer with the Webster, New York Police Department. Both men were found dead at the scene.


GERALD PICKERING, WEBSTER POLICE CHIEF: As people get up in the middle of the night to go put out fires, they don't expect to be shot and killed. It's a very difficult -- it's a very difficult situation.


CHO: The two wounded firefighters have been identified as Theodore Scardino and Joseph Hoffsteder (ph). They are in guarded to stable condition this morning. They're recovering from gunshot wounds. No word yet of a possible motive for the shooting.

All day and all night this Christmas, people in Newtown, Connecticut, are paying tribute to the Sandy Hook Elementary School's victims. A candle is being lit for each person killed, 20 children and six adults. And organizers of the 24-hour vigil are actually asking volunteers to take half-hour shifts to make sure those candles keep burning.

People in Newtown helping each other get through their first Christmas after the rampage. One mother saying it's all about the kids and being with family.

And Newtown's police officers, who have gone through so much, received a rare gift this Christmas; the entire force got the holiday off. And that's thanks to officers from other communities around the country who are pitching in and working for them. That is great.

BASH: It sure is.

Well, the pope's message this Christmas, 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 also said we're now full of ourselves, so much so that we don't make room for God for others, for children, for the poor or for the stranger. Pope Benedict also called for peace in the Middle East and an end to violence in Syria.

And, Alina, I got to tell you, he has a point. Look at this. This is me. This is how I walk around every single day. And --


CHO: And he's right.

BASH: -- more than me. You know? You got your head in all of your devices and you don't look up and see who's around you or --

CHO: That's true.

BASH: -- interact with people like the way you should. I think he's got a really good point.

CHO: He does. He does. And particularly around the holidays we should be remembering what's important. Hopefully, we are.

BASH: Absolutely.

Well, ahead on STARTING POINT, she has 65,000 Christmas lights up at her house. Imagine living next door to her? Her neighbors want them taken down. Jan Stewart is refusing, though, because she says she's done it to honor her late husband. We're going to hear from her live from her very, very bright house. That's next. CHO: Yes, look forward to that.

And as we go to break, a look at Christmas in flip-flops. Just look at how they're spending the holiday in (inaudible).

BASH: Don't tell us.

CHO: Bondi Beach (ph), Australia. Wouldn't that be nice to be there? We're back after this.


CHO: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. It's 20 minutes after the hour.

Well, everyone knows the house in their neighborhood, you know, the one that goes a little too far with their Christmas display? Maybe it's too many lights; maybe it's an inflatable snow globe.


CHO: Well, take a look at this house. It's in Fountain Valley, California. We first showed it to you yesterday. Get a load of this, 65,000 lights put up in tribute to a man who died of cancer. It's also the source of a lot of controversy in the neighborhood. A lot of those neighbors want that display taken down.

Jan Stewart is the owner of the house; she's the one who put the display up. She joins us from California this morning.

Jan, good morning, so great to see you; 65,000 lights? It costs $50,000 and took a month to put up. Just tell me a little bit about the display that we're looking at behind you.

JAN STEWART, HOMEOWNER: Oh, well, it's a tribute to my late husband, Larry (ph). We had always been -- we had been looking at these lights for quite a while on the Internet and decided last year was the year we were going to do it. And unfortunately he passed away in May so I decided to do it in his honor. And this is the second year.

CHO: Well, it's extraordinary. I mean, 65,000 lights, at an enormous cost. Just tell me, what goes into putting this display up? And why so elaborate?

STEWART: Oh, well, I just wanted it to be something special, something nobody else had and so, a friend of mine, Damian Rodriguez (ph), he put them up and he's very good at it as you see, and just go with the flow.

So that's what happened and we're continuing on with this because I've got lots of people, lots of neighbors that say they like it and a whole lot of other people that visit here nightly.

Some have come back two and three times, you know? And have them sign the guest book and I have got like 3,000 signatures that say they like it. Everybody else does, even though some of the neighbors around here don't, but it's Christmas. CHO: Well, and let's -- you're right. It is Christmas and it certainly is festive. But let's talk about some of those neighbors who have complained. Not so happy that you turned it on at, say, 5:00 in the morning. And here's what one of your neighbors told our local affiliate, KTLA, watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's more appropriate for the Las Vegas Strip than for a residential area. Most of the houses do have Christmas decorations. We're not opposed to that. But it's just very bright, very intrusive.


CHO: Some of those neighbors, Jan, have threatened to go to City Hall to try to get an ordinance to have your display taken down. I mean, how do you respond to that?

STEWART: You know, I think that everyone has a right to celebrate Christmas the way they see fit and I'm certainly not bothering them, how they choose to do it. And it's only for another week or so. And then the display will be gone. You know?

And I just don't understand their attitude. Everybody else, you know, thanks me and says, great show. We love the lights and do it again. And it's just a very few.

CHO: Jan, and I understand that but with all due respect, these are people that come and they visit, they drive by. I know one person actually rented a bus and brought 30 of her friends, drove 30 miles to get to you.

But -- and often the crowd is three to five people deep across the street. And I understand, you know, it is extraordinary and definitely is something to see, but living next to it, don't you think it would be a different thing and can you see their point and see where they might say, you know, this is a little bit of a nuisance?

STEWART: Yes. I can see how they would get that way. But once again, it doesn't last for very long. It's just a very short, brief period in the year and for all the smiles and happy faces that I've heard these people tell me and how much they like it, it's worth it, you know?

I'm not asking for any donations or money or anything like that. I just want everybody to be happy. Because it makes me feel nice when they are smiling and nowadays it's great to have a smile here whenever you can get it.

CHO: Yes, yes. And you make an absolutely great point with that.

When -- I guess, my question is, when does the display come down? Is it after the first of the year? And then will you do it again next year?

STEWART: Yes. Yes, hopefully, yes, I will do it again next year. And you know, I'm sure we'll have the same problems, but, once again, I think they're outnumbered by the people who do come here every night and tell me how much they like it. So that's worth it to me. I like to make people happy. It's Christmas.

CHO: Well, good. Merry Christmas to you, Jan Stewart and I give you a lot of credit for spending a month and $50,000 putting up 65,000 lights in front of your house. It is an extraordinary sight. I wish you the best this holiday season. Thanks for waking up early for us.

STEWART: OK. Same to you. Thank you.

CHO: Bye-bye.


BASH: Well, Alina, ahead on STARTING POINT, an NFL coach's triumphant return. Chuck Pagano's cancer fight and his comeback just in time for the playoffs.


BASH: It's the type of emotional boost that could just send your team on a magical playoff run. The Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano made an emotional return to the team yesterday after spending most of the season undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia.


CHUCK PAGANO, COLTS' COACH: You're going to have to go through something, I know exactly why I'm here now. 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 y'all from the bottom of my heart. Thank you.


BASH (voice-over): Many people throughout the community have been donning Chuck Strong (ph) bracelets. Two cheerleaders even shaved their heads in solidarity. The Colts just clinched a playoff spot on Sunday.


BASH: So what will be playing or maybe what's playing right now in the background as the kiddies are opening their presents? Maybe it's this:


BING CROSBY, SINGER: Silent night, holy night --

BASH (voice-over): According to the latest poll from Claris (ph) Research Group, "Silent Night" is America's favorite Christmas song. And who else to sing it but Bing? After all, it is Christmas Day. "Silent Night" 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 Bells." (END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: All good ones.

CHO: They're all pretty good ones.

BASH: They're all great ones.

I'll listen to them all, all day long today, I'm sure.

CHO: All right, Dana.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, some airports already cancelling flights thanks to the threat of everything from feet of snow to tornados to freezing rain. We'll have your Christmas-day forecast next.


CHO: Welcome back to a special edition of STARTING POINT on a Christmas Day. It's 34 minutes after the hour. Good morning, everybody. I'm Alina Cho in New York. Hey, Dana, great to see you.

BASH: You, too. We're almost to the top of the hour. This has gone so fast. I am Dana Bash in D.C. on Christmas morning. Thank you for joining us.

Our top story we're watching right now with this dangerous winter storm that's going across the country making travel very hazardous. And there is new video we have of a major pile-up that's shut down part of I-40 in Oklahoma involving at least 20 vehicles, including three big-rigs, one of which overturned. Highway Patrol has shut down interstate for two miles.

We have on the phone Trooper Betsy Randolph, the spokesperson for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. What can you tell us, Betsy, about where things stand? This sounds like a horrific crash.

BETSY RANDOLPH, TROOPER, (via telephone): Good morning, Dana. It has been a horrific crash. We know several people were injured and transported from the scene to local hospitals. We don't know the number of injured or we know it's not any fatalities but we know we did have some injured and transported from the scene.

Like you said, the crash occurred about 3:00 this morning. We had some precipitation that fell and then froze on the roadways and as you can see that's an overpass and those traditionally freeze and stay frozen quicker and longer than most other roadways.

We did have 21 cars involving three semis and we have units there at the scene trying to upright that semi. So the road has been shut down since three and it will probably be another hour or so.

BASH: Very, very frightening. There is nothing worse than sliding on ice and there's nothing you can do especially when you're in a big truck. Do you know -- we know there were 21 vehicles involved. Do you know how many people were taken to the hospital?

RANDOLPH: I don't know the numbers. I think it's somewhere close to ten people involved. We did have 10 separate collisions with 21 vehicles involved. Like I said, we don't have any updates on the casualties or how many or how -- the extent of them. But that information is still kind of trickling in.

BASH: And the fact that it was on an overpass adds even more danger and fear to a pretty dicey situation. But it was contained to the roadway?

RANDOLPH: That is correct. It's a pretty long drop there above the Oklahoma River. We were grateful we didn't have any fatalities out there this morning. Definitely scary and I'm sure that's not the way the people wanted to start their Christmas morning.

We do, like I said, have units still on the scene and ODOT has been out there to fan the bridge so we're hoping to get the roadway clear. Right now we're asking folks to increase the traveling distance between them and the car in front of them and to slow way down this morning.

BASH: That's good advice on any day, especially when the roads are that icy. Thank you very much for joining us. Appreciate it and keep us posted on how things are going.


CHO: On Christmas Day, what could be a better gift than to have off son or daughter return from service overseas, especially when it's a surprise? That's exactly what happened to this mom. Debbie Giles of Texas, her son, sailor Matt Giles, planned the ultimate surprise, sending an oversized Christmas card that she read aloud to her friend on a cell phone and then, well, have a look.


DEBBIE GILES, MATT'S MOTHER: -- present to give you and I decided that this -- because it will show everyone that I love my mom and I'm damn proud to be her son. And now I'm truly sorry that she had to be the one to give it to you. I would have personally done it but that would have really messed up the best part of giving. I love you, Matt. Thank you.


DEBBIE GILES: Yes, I am. Oh, my god!


CHO: How great is that? That video got more man 70,000 hits online so far and probably as many tears from viewers. And we are so happy to welcome Debbie and Matt Giles who join us from Houston. Merry Christmas and thank you so much for joining us.

MATT GILES, U.S. NAVY: Thank you.

DEBBIE GILES: Yes, and merry Christmas to you, too.

MATT GILES: It's a very merry Christmas I know in your household. Debbie, I'll begin with you. In watching that video, I have to say, you kept a fairly calm -- I'm surprised you didn't totally freak out. What was going through your mind when you turned around and you saw your son?

DEBBIE GILES: It was a total shock. I wasn't expecting that at all. And I wasn't paying attention when my oldest son had said somebody had given me something to give to me. And then I read the card and I didn't pay attention to the last line that, then I looked up when he touched me and it was a total shock.

CHO: Matt, I know that this took precision planning. Tell me, what did it take to get all the way home from your deployment without having your mom find out?

MATT GILES: I actually knew a couple weeks before we got back from deployment when we would get leave. And I had been kind of leading my mom on. I told her it would be around new years that I would be back and I ended up going to my cousin's house. That's who she was actually on the phone with. And I had made the card over at her house and, yes, I called my brother and he's the one that took the video. And it just worked out perfectly.

CHO: Thank god you put it on video because 70,000 people have enjoyed it and counting. Did you ever think it would get so much attention?

MATT GILES: I really didn't. I was happy I was at my friend's house a couple of days after and I saw that it had 1,000 views and I was like, wow, that's amazing. I never thought it would be that big and next thing you know on CNN.

CHO: Exactly, and we're so glad you're here. Debbie, tell me, what has this Christmas holiday been like with your son, Matt, home? How have you been spending it?

DEBBIE GILES: It's been wonderful. We spent last Friday with all of my children and grandchildren. We had our family get-together then. It's been wonderful having matt home. I hadn't been able to see him since March.

CHO: Oh, wow.

DEBBIE GILES: My brother passed away.

CHO: I think we have -- well, and, in fact, I know, Debbie, that your husband recently suffered a massive stroke. I'm curious, how -- I know he's on the mend but how is he doing this Christmas?

DEBBIE GILES: He's doing really great. He actually had the stroke last year. And his whole right side is affected. But he's able to get some movement in his right arm and his leg and right foot now, so he's progressing really well with some therapy. CHO: That's great to hear. And I'm sure he must be so thrilled to have matt home. Matt, I know you're not allowed to answer any questions about your deployment, how long you're home and all of that. But I guess I'm curious to know, what would be you were one wish for next year?

MATT GILES: My one wish for next year, that's really hard. I guess, if possible, I would wish my dad could actually stand up on his own, he could walk again. It's a big wish and it probably won't happen, but he's made a lot of improvement and for him to improve as much he has from the stroke until now, that would be more than enough. And I'm just so proud to have come home and seen that he's doing so well, see that my mom has been taking care of him so well.

It's been really hard for her. She's pretty much on her own. She had some help from my brother and sister. But she's just been blown away. That's why I was so happy to come home and actually give her a surprise because she's been working so hard and I wanted to give her something really good for the holidays.

CHO: Well, I know that Christmas has extra special meaning for your family this holiday season, and what a poignant thing to say about your father, Matt. I wish him and you all the very best and, Debbie, you as well and your entire family this holiday season.

MATT GILES: Thank you.

DEBBIE GILES: Thank you.

CHO: Thank you so much for joining us this Christmas Day and sharing your story. It means a great deal to us right here on STARTING POINT.

MATT GILES: Well, thank you very much and it meant a lot for us, too.


CHO: Happy holidays.

DEBBIE GILES: If I had one wish I would wish that all the military personnel can be home with their families through the holiday season.

CHO: Great. And you know how important that is. All right, merry Christmas to you both.

STARTING POINT will be back after this.


BASH: Welcome back. A few "Top Stories".

Actor, director, Ben Affleck will not be running for Senate to fill John Kerry's senate seat if he is confirmed as Secretary of State. Affleck wrote on his Facebook page, quote, "I love Massachusetts and our political process but I'm not running for office. We're about to get a great Secretary of State and there are some phenomenal candidates in Massachusetts for a senate seat. I look forward to an amazing campaign."

Retiring Republican Congressman Ron Paul blasting the NRA's plan for armed guards at every school. On his Web site Paul says, "Absolute safety is unattainable and that pursuing it gives the government way too much control over people's lives." He also criticized those who called for more gun control laws after the Newtown's shootings. He said, "Criminals just don't obey the laws."

CHO: America has lost one of its most beloved actors, Jack Klugman has died. Younger fans will remember him as a crime fighting coroner in the hit TV show, "Quincy M.E." But Klugman was best known for his role as the sloppy, cigar-chomping sports writer Oscar Madison in the TV sitcom "The Odd Couple", a show that never really took off with audiences until years after it ended in reruns and on "Nick at Night". Here he is with Larry King back in 2004.


JACK KLUGMAN, ACTOR: It was never below. We're never above 45, we were 62nd and 58 and Tony was so worried. I said, listen to the audience how they're laughing.

LARRY KING, TALK SHOW HOST: You were never a hit.

KLUGMAN: Never, never.


CHO: Klugman was once a five-pack-a-day smoker, he eventually lost his voice to throat cancer in the 80s but taught himself how to speak again. His son says he died with his wife by his side on Christmas Eve. Klugman was 90 years old.

BASH: What an amazing life.

Well up next, how to save money even after the gifts are opened this morning. And which of those gifts that you gave are maybe, likely to be returned?

But first, how do we have Christmas in 2012 without this? Christmas Gangnam style.


BASH: Well you've shopped, you've spent and you're probably opening presents right now. Well are you getting what you really want? Our friends at RetailMeNot Insider has been examining the trends, what people asked for and how they've been saving money and how you can save in the holiday shopping season. And you know it's not over.

Trae Bodge is the senior editor of RetailMeNot Insider thank you very much for joining us, especially on this Christmas morning.

Let's start with, you know, the whole idea of saving. Because we've been talking all morning about the fiscal cliff coming in a week and your poll says that people are finding ways to shop smart. You say that 36 percent used an online promo code and 26 percent used in-store coupons. Is that kind of typical or do you see a rise in that this year?

TRAE BODGE, SENIOR EDITOR, RETAILMENOT INSIDER: We're definitely seeing a rise in that. Every year customers are becoming more savvy and obviously people are concerned about their budgets so we're encouraged to see those stats there. I also read a survey from Bank Rate recently that said that 30 percent of people in anticipation of the fiscal cliff were cutting back on their holiday shopping.

So I think it will be really interesting to see how the numbers all play out once the holiday is over.

BASH: Very interesting. Well I want to ask you about gift cards, because you know it used to be a little bit you know gauche or a little weird to get somebody a gift card because obviously they know how much you've spent. But that seems to be skyrocketing, right? You say 86 percent of people say gift cards are acceptable.

Now the problem is that people might not use them, right?

BODGE: Yes. We did find that one in four people actually leave a balance on their gift cards and you know I think it's really important to remember that, you know, a balance on a gift card is just like cash. So I want to remind people, definitely use them. I think sometimes the problem is that you leave them at home and you're out shopping and you forget that -- you know to put it in your pocketbook so if you have a gift card with a balance on just pop it in your wallet and carry it with you. Because you never know when you might be able to use it.

BASH: That's really good advice. You know as people are opening their gifts they're going to be polite but we all know that we all have a relative or two who just sort of can't get it right. They give us something that we don't necessarily want.

Let's talk about returns. Your Web site has found that 31 percent of people would consider returning gifts. 26 percent would actually re- gift the gift. Now re-gifting was considered like, the biggest faux pas but maybe not so much anymore?

BODGE: Maybe not so much I mean, you know someone spent money on your gift and it's something that's new and it may not work for you yet it might work for someone else so I think if you have the opportunity to return a gift and purchase something that you like better, I think that's perfectly ok.

But you know, again, the gift that you may not like may -- may delight someone else so why not find a special place in the basement and store those gifts that are brand new and look for the next recipient for that gift that they might enjoy.

BASH: I might have room where I might do that at my house, maybe.

Let's look at kids. Trends for kids. It's retro, right? We call it vintage. Alina would call it vintage. But it's retro. A lot of the things that we played with as kids are coming back for our kids.

BODGE: Yes. I mean write a lot of gift guides for the RetailMeNot blog and it was so interesting to see the resurgence of retro-toys. I mean there's Furby with brand new technology. Cabbage Patch Kids, Power Rangers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. So it was kind exciting for me to see those toys that I enjoyed when I was a kid and see our kids enjoying them today.

BASH: Let's talk about Apple also because I was in the Apple store just the other day and I walked in and said, recession? What recession. It is just unbelievable.


BASH: No matter what time of day it's bustling. And your poll shows that 49 percent of people on your Web site do want an iPhone when it comes to a Smartphone; 41 percent -- excuse me, 49 percent. 41 percent want an iPad if you're talking about a tablet. They don't have the entire market but they certainly have -- it's like when you talk about Kleenex you mean tissue. It's the same kind of thing?

BODGE: It is becoming that way. You know? IPod became the new music player and that was the ubiquitous term for it. I mean I think it's really all about the design. They're so cool looking. And you know, I think with iPad in particular, you know, we were just talking about this last night at home. Not everyone has a use for an iPad and it's very specific functionality. However, you see one and you have to have one regardless of whether you really need it or not. And I think that they'll really hit a home run with their design and people want them regardless.

BASH: Thank you so much for joining us. Great tips. Great information and you can get more on your Web site.

We'll be right back in a moment.


BASH: Thank you so much for sharing your Christmas morning with us. We hope you have a wonderful holiday with your friends and family. And that goes for you too, Alina.

CHO: I hope you have the best holiday. It's been great to be with you Dana.

BASH: Yes.

CHO: Quickly I wanted to congratulate you on your National Press Foundation Dirksen Award for your extraordinary reporting on Capitol Hill.

BASH: Thank you.

CHO: I know this is the third time you won it. Congratulations.

BASH: Thanks Alina. CHO: I'm Alina Cho. I'll be back here again tomorrow.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: You know, Dana Bash is -- she's good on Capitol Hill.