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Disappointing December?; Holiday Travel Forecast; Edward Snowden: Mission Accomplished?

Aired December 24, 2013 - 05:00   ET


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN ANCHOR: A disappointing December leaves retailers sweating it out, slashing prices with last minute deals, hoping to reel in shoppers. Why this shopping season could make or break some retailers.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: And from last minute shopping to last minute traveling. Millions taking to the airports and highways today. But will the weather wreak havoc on anyone's Christmas plans? Indra Petersons is tracking the very latest this morning.

MARQUEZ: And breaking overnight. Mission accomplished. Edward Snowden declaring victory in his first in-person interview since sharing surveillance secrets with the world.

BROWN: Well, good morning to you. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Pamela Brown.

MARQUEZ: And I am Miguel Marquez. I'm a little more sure that of that today. It's Tuesday, December 24th.

BROWN: I thought (INAUDIBLE) was I getting to you.

MARQUEZ: Well, I did beat me up. But I've had enough coffee this morning that I'm overcoming.

BROWN: Good. Glad to hear.

MARQUEZ: Five a.m. out here.

BROWN: It is.

MARQUEZ: How did that ever happen?

We begin with our December national pastime. I'm talking about holiday shopping, of course. Don't look now. But there's just one shopping day left until Christmas and I think that is today.

So, people get -- the sales this season have not been all of that fantastic. Here to sort it all out for us is CNN's Alison Kosik.

How are you? What's going on?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Doing well. You know, it's kind of surprising when you go to the mall around this time of the year and it's packed and can't find a parking spot but retailers are thinking otherwise. You know, retailers have high hopes very December that comes around. But new numbers coming out are showing that this year had actually been really disappointing for those retailers.

Sales at U.S. stores have been down each of the first three weeks of December compared with last year. That's according to ShopperTrak. That's the company which gathers all of the data at some 40,000 locations across the country. And from December 2nd to the 8th, they were down 0.8 percent from the 9th to the 15th, sales were down 2.9 percent and from December 16th to the 23rd, sales were down 3.1 percent.

But don't worry, all is not lost. November sales -- they were strong. There was this initial momentum going on, and this season is estimated to be up about 2 percent from last year.

Now, the reason November and December sales figures are so important is because U.S. retailers generate 40 percent of their annual revenue in these last two months of the year. The news isn't much better when it comes to online sales this holiday season, which haven't measured up to expectations. Between November 1st and December 15th, experts predicted Internet sales would be up 14 percent, but the reality, they only rose 9 percent.

Analysts say online sales could still pick up and meet expectations. The final figures are due in January. The retailers are going nuts, sending out massive e-mails. Sale, sale, free shipping. So, that's why that's happening.

BROWN: A last-minute push there.

KOSIK: Yes. So, with Christmas just hours away, retailers are pulling out all of the stops. The silver lining for all of us procrastinators like me. Sales could be as much as 70 percent off and that's just the way last-minute shoppers like it.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that the best deals are right now. And maybe right after Christmas. I don't go shopping right after Christmas. I do all of my shopping right before.

I was telling my cousin that there is no point in buying things that are full priced because almost everything is on sale.


KOSIK: Yes, but you get a little stressed. I felt the stress yesterday at the mall.

MARQUEZ: Mall stress?

KOSIK: Mall stress.

MARQUEZ: Oh, dear, it's serious.

KOSIK: All right. Meantime, one of the nation's biggest retailers Target is still reeling from the data security breach that saw the theft of the debit card and credit card information for 40 million customers. Target says the government is now investigating and people are lining up to sue the big box retailer. Fifteen lawsuits have already been filed since disclosing the breach. Shares of Target have dropped almost 3 percent. If you do the numbers at home, that amounts to about a billion dollars in market revenue.

So, I'm also hearing that not as many people are shopping to Target and kind of spooked by this.

BROWN: Yes, this couldn't come at a worst time for Target, really.

KOSIK: Yes. But, you know, they gave 10 percent off over the weekend and I took part in that, too!


BROWN: You're taking advantage. Smart.

MARQUEZ: There you go. Perfect.

BROWN: So, the bottom line seems like customers have the edge, shoppers have the edge this holiday season?

KOSIK: Especially if they waited until the last minute as you heard that woman said. And, really, I mean, the proof is in the e-mails you're getting if you subscribe to all of these retailers as I do, you see just that last push and that is their really last push to meet their bottom line.

BROWN: Get the inventory off the shelves as well.

MARQUEZ: I'm a hunter gatherer, but it is a buyer's market is what I'm hearing.

KOSIK: It is. It is.

BROWN: Alison, thank you so much. We appreciate it.

All right. So, we know what the holiday shopping is like, time to know about the weather for the last-minute holiday travelers.

MARQUEZ: It's got to be good, right?

BROWN: We hope so. Better than it has been, hopefully.

MARQUEZ: If it's not good, do you know who is in trouble?


INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: You, right? Is that what you're angling for, right?

MARQUEZ: That's right.

PETERSONS: That's what I thought. All right. Let's take a look outside and see what is going on. The system we have been watching the last several days -- well, that is continuing to make its way offshore, but we are continuing to watch right now is the next system kind of making its way farther down to the South, kind of going across the Dakotas and going into the lakes today. So, that will be the clipper that we are going to be watching for.

Let's take a look at the radar right now. You can actually see this. Just a hint of a dusting here right around the lakes.

Now, we talk about -- so there is a chance. Maybe in New York City. Maybe a little bit of a flurry could be seen overnight tonight, but most likely we are talking about lake-effect snow south of Buffalo.

The next story, of course, is really going to be what is farther out there? We are going to be watching as that system or clipper makes its way across for several inches of snow. So notice right across the Dakotas and Minnesota, we talked about this yesterday around the lakes, even as far as east as Michigan, that's where we have our better chances for a couple of inches out there, even in through Iowa, if you want to see how it pans out.

There is the timing really as we go in through overnight in through tomorrow. Not a big system. It shouldn't be a travel woe, but it maybe enough to make a white Christmas for someone. So, that's actually a plus side and, of course, temperatures are down. So, at least it's not hot on Christmas because I know that from California. I think you know that pretty well, Miguel. People feel festive when it's hot so nice and cold.

MARQUEZ: Unless you're at the mall when they have fake snow.


MARQUEZ: I love fake snow!


MARQUEZ: Indra Petersons, thank you.

BROWN: All right. Thank you, Indra.

MARQUEZ: All right. U.S. military officials say 150 Marines are prepared to enter South Sudan to help evacuate Americans and secure the embassy there. An estimated hundred U.S. citizens are believed to be in South Sudan. Escalating violence in the country has triggered fears of an all-out civil war.

Over the weekend, four Navy SEALs were wounded when their helicopter was hit by gunfire as they tried to evacuate Americans.

BROWN: The Obama administration easing off a deadline to strike an Afghan security deal by December 31st. President Hamid Karzai has delayed signing that agreement, which would keep a small American force there beyond 2013. Officials have threatened to pull all trips after that if a deal isn't struck soon. But how soon remains unclear. Those threats have so far done little to force Karzai's hand.

MARQUEZ: There is a new Obamacare deadline. Americans have until midnight tonight to sign up for health insurance coverage that would begin January 1st. The White House says the one day extension of enrolment deadline is because of delays caused by record high traffic on the site on Monday.

We get more from CNN's Athena Jones.


ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Pam and Miguel.

Across the country millions of Americans got an extra 24 hours to sign up for health insurance coverage starting January 1st. The cutoff had been Monday but officials delayed that deadline until midnight today, Christmas Eve, to allow people more time to pick a plan.

We also learned on Monday, the president signed up for an individual bronze plan on Washington, D.C.'s exchange over the weekend. But he didn't sign himself up. Instead, a staff member signed him up. The White House citing that complicated nature of the president's case.

JOSH EARNEST, DEPUTY WHITE HOSUE PRESS SECRETARY: One of the core functions of the Web site is confirm your identity. So, and the way that they confirm an individual's identity when they do to the Web site is you submit your personal information and they check that personal information against a variety of government databases to make sure that you are who you say you are. Now, the president's personal information is not held on a variety of government database, for perfectly understandable reasons. So, the president has a rather unique case.

JONES: The president already gets health coverage through the military. So, this sign-up was purely symbolic show of support for the exchanges. The White House says the president monthly premium will be less than 400. Despite the change to the deadline, health officials say Monday was a record day for, with a million people signing on to the site. That's in addition to the 1.2 million people who visited the Web site over the weekend -- Pam, Miguel.


BROWN: Athena Jones, thank you so much.

NSA leaker Edward Snowden now says his mission is already published. In an interview with "The Washington Post", the former NSA contractor who was granted temporary asylum in Russia says, quote, "I didn't want to change society. I wanted to get society a chance to determine if it should change itself."

Back in June, Snowden leaked documents to "The Post" and "The Guardian" newspaper in Britain, outlining the spy agency's collection of bulk Internet and phone records. In the Moscow interview, Snowden said, quote, "What the government wants is something they haven't had before. They want total awareness. And he added, "Is that something we should be allowing?"

MARQUEZ: Now, we're just couple of hours away from a Christmas Eve space walk at the International Space Station. It's the second phase of a critical repair to the station's cooling system, which was responsible for keeping instruments both inside and outside the space station from overheating. Two astronauts began work over the weekend, a second space walk was scheduled for Monday but NASA pushed it back a day because of problems with one of the astronaut's space suits.

BROWN: Did you see the video from over the weekend? Incredible.

MARQUEZ: Stunning.

BROWN: I know.

MARQUEZ: Yes, I can't get enough space video.

BROWN: Whether you're a space nut or what.

MARQUEZ: Just a nerd.

BROWN: Well, I am too. It's all good.

MARQUEZ: It's amazing to watch.

BROWN: It is.

Well, coming up right here on EARLY START, anticipation, rather, growing at the Vatican as Pope Francis gets ready to celebrate his first Christmas as leader of the Roman Catholic Church. We are live with that story.

MARQUEZ: And we are now hearing the terrifying moments at a hospital campus when a gunman stormed in and opened fire. That coming up after the break.


BERMAN: Well, welcome back to EARLY START.

Excitement is building at the Vatican as Pope Francis prepares to celebrate his first Christmas as leader of the world's Roman Catholic Church. On Christmas Eve, Francis visited his predecessor Benedict XVI at his Vatican home to exchange Christmas greetings.

CNN's Erin McLaughlin is live for us in St. Peter's Square.

Hello there. How goes it?


It's an absolutely beautiful day here at the Vatican. There is a sense of excitement. Thousands of pilgrims are in Rome to celebrate and they say it's extra special, not just because it's Christmas Eve, but this is Francis' first Christmas as pope.

Take a listen to what they had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's amazing to be here and to be part of the party, the energy. We all love the pope. I think his charisma brings people to the city and to the Vatican.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's the center of our faith and we are all very close to this pope because is a people's pope. So, for myself and my children, it's a great honor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's so different than being in the states where it's so over-commercialized and here, back to the simpleness, the real meaning of celebrating Christmas.


MCLAUGHLIN: The pope's celebrations began on Saturday with a message to the curia. That's governing body of the Roman Catholic Church. He told them that he wants them to focus on service and to cut back on gossip and then he led by example spending three hours at a local hospital, visiting with sick children and their doctors.

Now, yesterday, history was made. The two popes met for the first time at Christmas. They exchanged Christmas greetings. Francis met with Benedict for a total of 45 minutes.

And then, of course, tonight, the big event is the mass here at St. Peter's Basilica, led for the first time by Pope Francis. There were a record number of requests to attend. Those who weren't able to get tickets can come here to Vatican square to watch the celebrations on the big screen.

Then, tomorrow, of course, is pope's Christmas message to the world, so that is the official schedule of events, but Vatican insiders tell me that with this hope, we need to expect the unexpected. So, we'll just have to wait and see what other surprises the pope may have in store -- Miguel.

MARQUEZ: I was going to say with this pope, I'm sure there will be more surprises. Very interesting that his message to the curia was cut down on the rumors in the curia because that's, obviously, a big issue for the church.

We just want to send our condolences to you for having to be in such a beautiful place for Christmas. Have a lovely Christmas in Rome.


BROWN: Well, gay and lesbian couples in Utah and their supporters are celebrating after a federal judge refused a state's request for a stay of his ruling that made same-sex marriage legal in the state. It's led to them to a flood of same couples tying the knot there, and some calling it a Christmas they'll never forget.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I never thought I would see this in my lifetime. I'm so grateful to finally have the protection of the state to protect our relationship.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thrilled that the judge decided to notch a rule on the stay and to allow marriages to continue because it's a great day. There's so many people here. It would have been sad to have people be denied. So, it's wonderful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is really, really a wonderful Christmas present.


BROWN: Some 700 marriage licenses have already been issue to same-sex couples in Utah since the judge's initial ruling last Friday, which struck down the state's voter approved constitutional amendment defining traditional marriage.

MARQUEZ: Well, meantime, Ohio's ban on gay marriage was declared unconstitutional, but on a much narrower scale. The ruling by a federal judge applies only to death certificates. It says if you're legally married in one state, another cannot summarily take your license away. Although it's limited, the ruling could lead to more lawsuits challenging the Ohio ban. Ohio's attorney general says they will appeal the judge's decision.

BROWN: The heart wrenching case of a California girl declared brain dead and her family who refuses to accept that diagnosis is back in court today. A judge Monday ordered an independent physician to examine 13-year-old Jahi McGrath. The little girl was declared brain dead after surgery, to remove her tonsils and adenoids at children's hospital in Oakland.

Her parents do not believe she is dead and went to court to prevent the hospital from removing Jahi from life support.


NAILAH WINKFIELD, MOTHER: I feel like my daughter is on death row because I never know when they are going to pull the plug or make that decision.

DOUGLAS STRAUSS, ATTORNEY FOR CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OAKLAND: This is obviously a tragic situation. A young lady has died and no one takes that in a callus or uncaring manner but she is dead.

WINKFIELD: I cannot imagine my daughter in the freezer on Christmas. That is heart wrenching.


BROWN: That is tough to hear.

Well, the independent doctor is due back in court today to deliver the results of his examination of Jahi. Meanwhile, the court has extended a restraining order prohibiting the hospital from making any moves until next Monday.

MARQUEZ: And a New England compounding pharmacy at the center of the deadly meningitis outbreak has agreed to a settlement that would create a hundred million dollar compensation fund for victims. The outbreak in 20 states was linked to the pharmacy's steroid injections blamed for 64 deaths and more than 700 illnesses.

Michigan, Tennessee and Indiana were hit the hardest by the outbreak. The owners deny any liability for wrongdoing, but they say they want to play a major role for establishing a fund for those who have suffered or died.

BROWN: A Texas man wants his wife taken off life support but the hospital won't do it because she is pregnant. Thirty-three-year-old Marlise Munoz was found unconscious in late November and has been on a ventilator since then. Her husband Erick says she didn't want a machine keeping her alive, made that very clear to him. But state law says if she's pregnant, the pull can't be pulled regardless of her wishes.


ERICK MUNOZ, HUSBAND: We talked about it. We are both paramedics. We have seen things out in the field. And, you know, we both knew that we didn't want to be on life support.

J.R. LABBE, HOSPITAL SPOKESWOMAN: We have a responsibility of making sure that we follow the laws, whether they are state or federal when it comes to providing care to patients and that's what we're doing in this case.

MUNOZ: We have reached the point where, you know, you wish that your wife's body would stop.


BROWN: Marlise is about 18 weeks pregnant. There could be several more weeks before doctors can make a decision about taking the fetus out.

MARQUEZ: We're hearing now for the first time 911 calls from a scene of last week's deadly shooting at a medical office in Reno, Nevada. The gunman, 51-year-old Alan Oliver Frazier, killed a doctor and wounded two other people before taking his own life. You can hear the fear in the voice of the female caller.


911 OPERATOR: Did you see it happen or did you just hear it?

CALLER: We just heard it. He's coming.

911 OPERATOR: He's coming?

CALLER: He's in the --

911 OPERATOR: Can you hide yourself? Can you put yourself under a cabinet or something, in case a shot gets fired your way?

CALLER: We are behind a table.


MARQUEZ: Police believe Frazier was focused on the physicians at the Reno office and we may never know the exact motive for the shooting. The police did earlier renounce that a botched vasectomy maybe the issue.

BROWN: And shifting our focus now. I really can't get enough of these stories with reunions of soldiers coming home from combat. They never get old.

But a recent reunion in Florida was one for the books. Roberto Vazquez had been deployed since May and came home without telling his girlfriend of two years, Elisa Basco (ph). This past Sunday, she went to a mall to watch a Christmas show and was told she had won some gift cards.

I bet you can guess where this is going. She went up to the stage where she got not one but two surprises of a lifetime. Take a look.


BROWN: Wow. Roberto and Elisa will be able to spend the holiday together in a few months together as well. He is being deployed again in March. Of course, we wish the happy couple well.

MARQUEZ: Very well.

BROWN: That puts a smile our face.

MARQUEZ: Very sweet.


MARQUEZ: Now coming up, the Dallas Cowboys could be in trouble. Tony Romo badly injured. Could he be out for the season? Joe Carter, the man in the know.

"The Bleacher Report" is coming right up.

Joe, see you in a second.


BROWN: Welcome back, everybody.

In the last regular season game at Candlestick Park, the San Francisco 49ers went out in style with a wild win over the Atlanta Falcons.

MARQUEZ: We love a wild win. BROWN: We sure do.

Joe Carter is here with more in "The Bleacher Report."

Hey there, Joe.

JOE CARTER, CNN SPORTS: Hey, good morning, guys.

You know, next season, the 49ers are going to move to a brand-new $1.2 billion stadium in Santa Clara. It's called Levi's Stadium. It's a monument of blue jean.

So, so long Candlestick Park. Thanks for the memories and a lot of them obviously. The 49ers have played at that iconic stadium since 1971.

Now, their opponent last night, the Falcons, everyone knows have had a terrible season but they almost spoiled a party with two minutes left in the game. The Falcons went for the onside kick and they recovered it, that put the Falcons in position to tie or win but that is when Matt Ryan's pass went into the hands of Navarro Bowman.

He returns the interception 89 yards for the score. Falcons give it up and the 49ers get the win. In the process, they also clenched a spot in the playoffs. How they are seeded will be determined, obviously, on Sunday.

Hey, the big question swirling around the NFL right now. Will Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo start or is he too injured to play? Well, I guess it depends on who you ask.

Reports yesterday ruled Romo out for the rest of the season because of a back injury. But last night, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said, it's just back spasms.

Head coach Jason Garrett says Romo's status is day-to-day. That is pretty much code for "we're screwed." The Falcons, excuse me, the Cowboys face the Eagles on Sunday night. This is why this is important because the winner of that game will be headed to the playoffs as NFC champs. The loser will watch the postseason from the couch.

Hey, let's talk a little boxing or kind of boxing. A Floyd Mayweather versus Manny Pacquiao super fight does not look likely but Mayweather is sending his best jabs through Twitter o his rival. This is a Christmas card. Look closely.

You'll see the up left score. The champ offering Pacquiao $40 million to fight. Pacquiao demanding 50/50 or nothing. The next bottom left frame shows Pacquiao knocked out, which did happen in December of last year. And, finally, Pacquiao praying for Mayweather to finally call him back.

So far, this is so popular it's been retweeted 21,000 times.

Hey, trending this morning on, it's one of the more bizarre plays you'll see in the National Hockey League. Look closely. The puck is deflected in the air and it lands in the pants of Phoenix Coyote goalie Mike Smith. OK, so, it lands in his pants! Mike Smith has no idea where the puck went so he backs over the goal line and that is the game winning goal for the Buffalo Sabres!


CARTER: That's right. He gives up the game winner in his pants! And get this, guys. This mishap is trending online. It's #buttgoal.


MARQUEZ: I've long had a butt goal! I don't know what that means.

CARTER: You know you're pucked when that happens.


MARQUEZ: Sorry, I don't know what that means.

BROWN: Yes, we need to move on.

Thank you, Joe.

MARQUEZ: All right. Joe Carter, thank you.

The top headlines and everything, everything you need to know coming up after the break.

BROWN: We'll see you then.


BROWN: Breaking news overnight.

NSA leader Edward Snowden on the record in his first in-person interview since sharing the surveillance secret with the world. We are live with his shocking revelations.

MARQUEZ: And a dreary December for retailers.