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Cassim Family Speaks Out; Astronauts on a Spacewalk; Christina Aguilera Giving Back; Origins of Festivus

Aired December 24, 2013 - 08:30   ET


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Is there a next step for you guys? What's next?

SHALALI CASSIM: Really, just looking to support, trying to put pressure on getting him back as soon as possible. This is just ridiculous. Just get him out of there. Get him home to us. That's all we want.

BOLDUAN: Jean, do you remember what your first thought was when you got the information that your son was being detained and especially when you found out what he was being charged with and why?

JEAN CASSIM: Right. My first thought was actually despair and that has remained with me all these months. It's a feeling at the bottom of my stomach. You know, it's the pit of my stomach. I feel some kind of despair, not knowing where this is all going to end.

BOLDUAN: Is there anything -- how do you stay strong? How do you remain hopeful after it's been one deadline missed, one court date passed, one holiday, another holiday without your son? How do you remain hopeful through all of this?

JEAN CASSIM: I can't believe it, but I've got some kind of strength that has kept me going all these months. And somewhere along the line I think the Lord above is taking care of me.

BOLDUAN: Shervon, we've talked often about the United States government's involvement in this, we know that the State Department, they've tried to have back channel conversations to try to have this dealt with. This is clearly not the way the government would want this handled.

Do you think the U.S. government, the State Department, has done enough? Are you still working with them to try to have this resolved without your brother having to spend another day behind bars?

SHERVON CASSIM: It just seems like whatever they've tried hasn't been successful so far. It's been eight months and he's still in jail. It doesn't look like they've been able to have much effect on the situation so far.

BOLDUAN: Senator Amy Klobuchar from your state has tried to keep the message out there. She called it, in a statement she put out, completely outrageous, as you basically had said. Do you want more assistance from the government, from your senator? Is there anything more that you think can be done other than simply hope, wait and pray, Shalali?

SHALALI CASSIM: Absolutely. We would love for them to do as much as possible. Waiting is not an option for my family. We want them to help bring him home and where he should be.

BOLDUAN: Jean, you've been able to hear from him once in a while. How often are you able to get calls from him, do you think?

JEAN CASSIM: About once a week.

BOLDUAN: Go ahead. I'm sorry.

JEAN CASSIM: Especially on a Sunday.

BOLDUAN: That must offer you some sort of comfort, or does it just break your heart even more?

JEAN CASSIM: In two ways, some kind of comfort as well as, you know, it's so sad to hear him call from a cell.

BOLDUAN: How does he say, the last time you heard from him -- how does he say how he's doing, what are the conditions like for him where he is being held?

JEAN CASSIM: He is a very quiet boy. He doesn't talk much. What I sincerely believe he's certainly not happy there.

BOLDUAN: Have you come to terms after all of these months with any kind of reason why this has happened to your son, why this has happened to your family?

JEAN CASSIM: No. Not at all. It's very hard to come to terms with that.

BOLDUAN: What do you think? I was asking Shalali, but I wanted to get your take. What is next for you and the family? Do you pick up, head over to the UAE and start demanding answers or is that just as dangerous for you, I assume?

JEAN CASSIM: I guess so. I guess. It's just hoping that somebody somewhere will help us to bring my son home.

BOLDUAN: What are your concerns all along? What's your biggest concern been for your son?

JEAN CASSIM: His physical safety and his mental well-being.

BOLDUAN: How is his mental well-being?

JEAN CASSIM: So far he seems to be holding on. How long more, I don't know.

BOLDUAN: Jean, our network is seen throughout the world. If you could speak to -- you do get the chance to speak to your son, which is wonderful. But if you had a moment where you could speak to the officials in the UAE to understand what your family is going through, what would you say to them?

JEAN CASSIM: Please just understand what has happened. Try to understand that he did not mean any harm. Please send him home.

BOLDUAN: Jean, thank you so much for being here.

Shalali, Shervon, thank you again. We'll continue to follow this with you, even in the near term trying to get some clarity how much longer your brother, your son will be behind bars. Thank you so much.

JEAN CASSIM: Thank you.



CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Kate, coming up, they're still at it outside the International Space Station, a critical spacewalk to repair the cooling system. We'll check in with an astronaut who has done his own spacewalks, coming up.

And Festivus, "Seinfeld" made it sort of famous. The holiday for the rest of us. We're going to talk to the man who wrote the episode. And guess what, Festivus is real.




CUOMO (voice-over): Live pictures of the spacewalk. You can't ask for better than that. The astronauts are out there at the International Space Station. They're working on a critical mission to replace a piece of the station's cooling system and are giving us a Christmas gift of amazing images while in process.

Now, we have with us astronaut Mike Massimino, who has performed four spacewalks himself. We have him here. He's a visiting professor up in Columbia.

Right now you're down in Houston, which is good. It's close to NASA, it's all making sense. So help us make sense of this, Mike.

You told us before, you're going incredibly fast even though it looks still on our television screens, it's like some 17,000 miles an hour, whipping around the Earth. What does that do in terms of making the task more difficult?

MIKE MASSIMINO, ASTRONAUT: Well, it changes -- one thing it changes, Chris, you can see that on the scene now, it changes the lighting. As we talked earlier, they were around South America, coming over the Atlantic Ocean where the sun was shining then they passed over Europe into China.

Right now they're probably somewhere over China, entering where the Pacific Ocean is where it's dark right now. It's nighttime over there.

You go through this change of very bright light -- it's not even like a light. It's almost a pure whiteness to it, how bright the sun is in space when you're space walking.

You go from that transition, when you enter into the darkness of it, where it's dark, nighttime over the Earth. It's like the absence of light. It's the blackest black. And yet what you do is you turn on your helmet light. That's what they're using right now, the lights on their helmets that illuminates the area they can work in.

They go through this change of bright white light to very dark, dark, about every 45 minutes. So that's one of the things you notice. We talked about the temperature earlier. That's another thing.

CUOMO: How difficult is it to stay in the same spot while you're working? It looks like they're spending a lot of time playing with the tether, playing with their body position.

MASSIMINO: That is a very important thing to do. If you're working on something in your house or your car, whatever it might be, you want to be really stable. If you're floating around, it's not going to be so easy as you try to use tools.

So they're always restrained when they're going to -- when they're working. You always try to be as solid as you can. So Mike Hopkins right now has his feet in the robot arm. So his feet are planted. And that allows him to be pretty steady.

Rick Mastracchio is free floating, which means he's moving around with his hands when he needs to go somewhere. He has a body restraint tether that he can use. That's kind of like a clamp, an extra arm almost, that he can grab onto -- attach to a handrail and that will keep him really steady if he needs to work.

So you have these tools, the robot arm, foot restrains, things to help you to remain solid. But you really want to get into a good position and be nice and steady when you're working in space.

CUOMO: What's your guess as to how many steps have they have had to memorize in completing this process?

MASSIMINO: You know you don't necessarily want to memorize everything, Chris. You want to have kind of a game plan in your head and be able to visualize it. It's a technique that astronauts have handed down.

There are certain things you want to know for sure that are really important. Those are a couple things you want to memorize. But you generally you want to have the flow of the spacewalk. Kind of like the flow of a game. Maybe when you're doing your broadcast. You want an image of what that's going to do and then play it over in your mind as you're thinking about it before you go to bed and have that in your mind, the details of every little tool setting, that's more than you want to memorize. You'll mess it up if you try to memorize everything. That's why we have a checklist. There's a person inside, working the robot arm. The checklist right now is being read to them by Doug Wheelock, who's an astronaut who's done this spacewalk, who is on the ground, relaying that up to them. So he's making sure they have every step along the way. They don't have to memorize everything, but they want the big picture in their mind.

CUOMO: Mike, thanks for giving us this. We'll check in with it again if we can before the end of the show.

If not, Buon Natale, Merry Christmas to you and all yours. Appreciate the perspective from you.

MASSIMINO: Buon Natale, Chris, and to your family and the NEW DAY family. And I just want to add one thing, Chris, is that they're doing all this hard work so we can continue the great science on this space station. So that's the gift from NASA to the world.

CUOMO: Absolutely, space. We're all about it here at CNN. Thank you very much, Mike. We'll have you back for sure.

So that's one impression of what's going on, on Christmas day. But for millions of others it's a very different experience. Millions of other are going to go hungry this holiday season. Hunger is not just confined to the holidays. We know that, something superstar singer Christina Aguilera also knows very well and it's why she is lending her voice to those in need year-round. It is this week's "Impact Your World."



CUOMO (voice-over): Christina Aguilera is lending a hand and her voice in the fight against world hunger.

The Grammy winner says becoming a mother played a key role in her decision to get involved.

CHRISTINA AGUILERA, SINGER AND ACTIVIST: When I look at my son, I realize all the opportunities that he has around him. Every child deserves the chance to dream and to hope.

CUOMO (voice-over): Aguilera recently traveled to Rwanda as an ambassador for the U.N. World Food Programme.

AGUILERA: It's so lovely to see them smile and their eyes light up and for them to be eager to get a good education and in the long term try to provide for their family and break the cycle of going hungry.

CUOMO (voice-over): This is Aguilera's third trip with the World Food Programme. She previously visited Guatemala and Haiti.

AGUILERA: Why not do all I can to give these children a voice of their own, to be heard and to have the same opportunities everyone else should have?


CUOMO: Now to find out how you can help, you can go to

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

Coming up next on NEW DAY, it's that time of year again. No, not Christmas. Festivus, the holiday for rest of us. And it's not just a comedy bit from "Seinfeld." We'll find ought outline about it from the son of the man who created this fabulous holiday coming up next.




CUOMO: "As I rained blows down upon him," boy, that brings back great memories. This is Christmas Eve. Let's talk Festivus. It's real. You just saw it on "Seinfeld." A lot of us have grievances to air. So it's playing out in real life.

Senator Rand Paul tweeted his, "In Washington, bipartisan deal is a synonym for increasing our debt." That's the airing of a grievance. And he also said, "I have a small grievance with people who think my hair is not real."

But enough about Paul. Festivus is bigger than any one politician. Let's get to the source. We are very lucky here, writer Dan O'Keefe.

His father created Festivus nearly 50 years ago. He was a writer on "Seinfeld." Took it to the show, good to have you here.

DAN O'KEEFE, WRITER: Great to be here. Thanks for having me.

CUOMO: So tell us a little bit of the backstory of why this came into your family.

I'm assuming it's not the Jerry Stiller version where your father was raining blows down upon someone..

O'KEEFE: There may have been some blows somewhere, but a combination of alcohol and mild mental illness and internal "Reader's Digest" politics. My dad was an editor at the "Reader's Digest" for many years and I think some of the pressure of that with everything else led him to decide to create a holiday that was just for his family that wasn't beholden to anything political or religious.

And so he decided to, every year, somewhere between October and May, make his family celebrate this very peculiar holiday with very peculiar aspects, which did not involve that pole, however. That was made up by a writer named Jeff Schafer (ph), who created the league (ph) along with his wife, Jackie (ph). That was his joke.

And, actually, I didn't want to put it on TV.

BOLDUAN: You didn't? Why?

O'KEEFE: Because it was sort of like a family disgrace. And then my younger brother let it slip that this went on. So the other writers and Jerry said, yes, we would like to give this to America. And I said I don't think America wants it at all and I don't think it should have it. But they prevailed upon me and --

CUOMO: America is lapping it up.

O'KEEFE: And now the chickens have come home to roost.

BOLDUAN: So you were George running out of the diner?

O'KEEFE: Faster, yes. Yes. I attempted to run out of the diner.

BOLDUAN: So did the holiday at home also include the airing of grievances and the feats of strength?

O'KEEFE: No. I was not forced to wrestle my father. If I had, I would have been raised by the State of New York, not by my parents. The grievance thing, though, yes. A lot of it was a lot of -- most of it was actually airing grievances into a tape recorder, talking about all the indignities that my father had suffered at the "Reader's Digest," all the indignities my brothers and I had suffered at school and all the indignities my mother had suffered at the hands of myself, my brothers and father.



O'KEEFE: But I'm also trying to get (INAUDIBLE).


O'KEEFE: So, yes. Grievances was a very real part. The other stuff was made up for television.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The pole, which everybody sort of talks about, which you smashed a little while ago, it was actually a clock in a bag nailed to the wall. Is that real?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There must be some reason for that.

O'KEEFE: In this crappy little pamphlet -- I call it book that I wrote like '05, called "The Real Festivus," I was forced to reveal that.

Yes, the real symbol of the holiday was a clock my dad put in a bag and nailed to the wall every year. I don't know why. I don't know what it means. He would never tell me. He would always say, "That's not for you to know." And so I honestly don't know what it signifies. CUOMO: The most powerful symbol is one you do not understand?

O'KEEFE: Something about time and the womb of -- I have no idea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's actually making sense to me right now.

O'KEEFE: Really? That's really frightening.


BOLDUAN: What sleep deprivation will do to you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's possible.

BOLDUAN: When this all came onto the show, onto "Seinfeld," would you ever have expected this would have ever been? This is one of the lines and episodes that everyone remembers. It is a classic.


BOLDUAN: You knew it was going to be?

O'KEEFE: No. I thought you were about to say a line from the show.

BOLDUAN: Did you ever thought Festivus --

O'KEEFE: No. Actually I thought it was going to the most forgettable; part of it was going to be cut out for syndication. There were five stories in that episode and that was the one I didn't want in there and really had no hope for.

And, no, not at all. I thought it was kind of going to suck. And I was really surprised that Alec Bergen (ph), Jeff Schafer (ph), the other cowriters of the episode, they contributed some stuff that was arguably funnier, and -- but this is the one that has seemed to metastasized through American culture.

CUOMO: Talented writer, yes. Prognosticator, no?

O'KEEFE: No. So in other words (INAUDIBLE) --

CUOMO: Be careful what you don't wish for.

O'KEEFE: Yes. Exactly.

CUOMO: Well, thank you for the gift. It keeps giving. It's great.

O'KEEFE: I'm sorry I gave it to you.

BOLDUAN: And you do now know that you will now have to...

O'KEEFE: Did Rand Paul really --

BOLDUAN: Yes, it was yesterday.

CUOMO: It's big now. BOLDUAN: And it actually led to bipartisanship with Cory Booker, who decided to come together.

CUOMO: Threatened him with feats of strength.

O'KEEFE: A grievance.

BOLDUAN: On the Senate floor.

O'KEEFE: When Rand Paul tries to seem relevant with 15-year-old pop cultural references it reminds me of when Bob Hope used to dress up like the Fonz. That's just me.

CUOMO: Your burden, America's burden.

All the best to you.

O'KEEFE: Please.

CUOMO: Appreciate it.

BOLDUAN: Happy Festivus.

CUOMO: Thank you for the gift of Festivus.


BOLDUAN: Every time he laughs when I say Happy Festivus.

O'KEEFE: This is the proper response to when somebody says Happy Festivus.


CUOMO: If that's not the good stuff, we have even more for you coming up. We've got "The Good Stuff" coming up after the break.




BOLDUAN: Sounds like every day on NEW DAY. Just kidding.

CUOMO: If you're not celebrating Festivus, you're probably getting ready for Christmas. If you are, from our family to yours, we wish you the best of health and happiness on this Christmas Eve. Thank you for being with us. Lot of news this morning. Let's hand you over to "THE NEWSROOM" and Ms. Carol Costello. Best wishes to you as well.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN HOST: Oh, Merry Christmas to all of you. I think it's going to be a great one. Have a great day. NEWSROOM starts now.



COSTELLO (voice-over): Christmas crunch deals and sales for all you late shoppers, stores slashing prices as millions fewer Americans are actually out shopping this year. Also happening now 200 miles above the Earth, a complicated and dangerous spacewalk. Two Americans on the critical mission to fix the space station.

Also, mission accomplished. Edward Snowden speaks out saying, hey, I already won. The reporter who sat down with him, straight ahead.

Plus this --


COSTELLO (voice-over): We are serious. Here comes Santa Claus, we're tracking Santa's every move this morning. Right now he is over Japan and, guess what, he has delivered almost a billion presents. So pour some hot cocoa, gather 'round the Christmas tree. NEWSROOM starts now.


COSTELLO: Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for being with me.