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New Message From Detained American; Winter Weather Turns Deadly; Failing To Deliver; Post-Christmas Sales Start Early; Obamacare Deadline Relaxed; Obama Meets The Troops; Turkey In Turmoil; Brain Dead Girl May Be Moved; Special Guest In Afghanistan; Pope Francis' First Christmas; Target Hackers Stole Encrypted PINs; Record Low Approval for Congress

Aired December 26, 2013 - 06:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to NEW DAY. It is Thursday, December 26th, six o'clock in the east. We hope you all had a very wonderful, holy day.

Breaking news overnight for you, a new video message from an American being held captive by al Qaeda raising some alarming concerns about his condition. Warren Weinstein is who you're looking at. He's been held for more than two years. We've heard from him before, but he now says his health is failing and the clock is ticking. The question, will the president and secretary of state take action to bring him home?

CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is with us this morning to break down this video, tell us the latest. But Barbara, please, let's begin by resetting who is this man, how was he taken?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Warren Weinstein (ph), Chris, was a contractor working for the U.S. government in Lahore, Pakistan back in August 2011 when militants broke into his house, overpowered his security guards and kidnaped him. It was after that that Ayman al-zawahiri, the leader of al Qaeda in Pakistan, claimed responsibility for this attack and claimed that al Qaeda was holding him.

Now, Mr. Weinstein, after all this time, has appeared again in another video, we believe, of course he made this under duress. We cannot verify the conditions of it. But this man is now making yet another plea. He seems very desperate. I want you to have a listen to what he has to say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nine years ago, I came to Pakistan to help my government and did I so at a time when most Americans would not come here. And now when I need my government, it seems that I've been totally abandoned and forgotten.


STARR: He makes a direct appeal for President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, the American media, the American public, to do something to get him out of Pakistan -- Chris.

CUOMO: Barbara, what is going on with getting him out of Pakistan? I mean, is there movement on it? What do we understand about the operation? Has there been some dropping of the ball here? What do we know?

STARR: Well, the State Department so far this morning, of course, very early on a holiday weekend, approaching a holiday weekend has not yet responded, trying to verify the video. The conditions that al Qaeda apparently has set for his release is stopping of all U.S. action in AFL-CIO strongholds, releasing of al Qaeda prisoners, that's not going to happen. It's hard to see where and how this is going to all turn out.

Of course, if you look at the video, compared to previous images of Warren Weinstein, you see the years indeed, as he says, have taken their toll. He says he has an asthma condition, a heart condition and that he's in bad shape, that he's feeling desperate and abandoned -- Chris.

CUOMO: Time must be so magnified under duress, Barbara. Let us know if we hear anything from the State Department. We'll stay on it because obviously this is an urgent situation. Thank you very much.

STARR: Indeed.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's turn to the weather now. The winter weather that left hundreds of thousands in the dark for the holiday, the storm we're talking about actually moved through a few days ago, but the power has also now been out for days from Michigan to Maine and the result has turned deadly. The nasty weather conditions are slowing the efforts to get the power back on and more snow seems to be in the forecast.

Let's get straight over to Chad Myers, who is in for Indra Petersons this morning with the very latest. So what are we looking at, Chad.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, looking at behind me, there is a shot from Windsor, looking over at Detroit, Michigan this morning, some light snow, maybe a little couple of slick spots on the lodge, 24 Scranton, 28 in Buffalo. This is the area right through here that has all of the power outages. We're talking hundreds of thousands of people that are still without power and the air is very cold out there and houses are getting cold.

Please try not to use your stove to heat the house if it's a gas stove. I know it works, but the carbon monoxide is getting in the house as well. Light snow across parts of Michigan and heavier snow when the lake effect sets up, Silver City picked up 16 inches in just 24 hours. If you're flying today, you'll see a lot of them trying to get other places, you'll get wintry mix in Boston, Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit, you'll see de-icing delays.

You'll see some morning freezing rain in Raleigh so watch out for piedmont. Those bridges could be a little bit slick and Southern California today gets a wind, kind of the Santa Ana event, 45 miles per hour. That could kick up some dust and slow down the airports out there in Southern California. But other than that, it's pretty good Christmas for a lot of folks out there.

CUOMO: All right, Chad, thank you. For some it was not and on that point, big lumps of coal for UPS and FedEx. Why? Thousands of Christmas gift givers are furious. Instead of presents, there were empty places under their trees and they took to social media to vent. Nick Valencia is at the CNN Center in Atlanta with the latest. Nick, what's the gripe?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris. Thousands of you are waiting at your front doors and looking out your window for your UPS driver to finally deliver Christmas gifts that never arrived. The company is apologizing to scores of angry customers this morning, but say it's not all their fault.


VALENCIA (voice-over): UPS trucks are back out in full force this morning trying to deliver packages that were supposed to be delivered by Christmas morning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I waited around for hours and hours for it to show up and it never did.

VALENCIA: Thousands of gifts not delivered on time, waiting in UPS warehouses to be shipped. UPS says they've already delivered an estimated 132 million packages in the last week alone, blaming the backlog on an unprecedented surge in online sales and bad weather. UPS released a statement saying in part, "The volume of air packages in our system exceeded the capacity of our network, immediately preceding Christmas. Some shipments were delayed." But many are still unhappy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are still blaming it on ice storm, which was 2-1/2 weeks ago. It's terribly disappointing because we ordered these things on December 1st.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got to the frontline after waiting for about an hour and said it hasn't been processed yet.

VALENCIA: Disappointed customers stormed online customer support, tweeting got same message, still waiting for a response from this morning, along with my granddaughter's Christmas gift. Busy during December? Who would have thought it? #bunchofclowns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you doing today?

VALENCIA: UPS isn't the only delivery company experiencing delays, people lined up at this FedEx Shipment Center in Oregon on Christmas day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They left me a note and thank God they're open so I can go to my parents and give my mom her gift.

VALENCIA: Meanwhile, UPS says they expect the vast majority of packages to be delivered today.


VALENCIA: Online companies who rely heavily on UPS's service are making amends., for instance, says it will refund shipping charges for some and are also giving out gift cards to make up for the botched shipments -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Let's see if it makes up for it with customers. Thank you so much, Nick.

So getting your package is one thing, but the holiday shopping season hasn't been so hot for retailers either. But the good news for them at least is it's not over yet. Phase two, the after-Christmas sales are now heating up. Some stores have been open for more than an hour already today hoping to lure folks in the door. Yes. That's early.

CNN's George Howell is covering that story from Chicago. George, I want to hear it. But first, the question on everyone's mind, did you get all of your holiday shopping done?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Most of it, most of it. I still have some to do. Here's the good news. You know, I was making my way into the bureau here on Chicago's Magnificent Mile. You get on the street. You notice the big, bright signs, promising huge sales, anywhere from 40 percent, 50 percent, 60 percent off. Here's a look at what you can expect if you plan to go out shopping.


HOWELL (voice-over): Just when you thought the holiday shopping frenzy was over, the after-Christmas sales are on and this year it's expected to be bigger than ever. Some stores like Wal-Mart and Kohl's open their doors as early as 5:00 a.m. to anxious shoppers just hours after Christmas. According to Deal News, you'll get the best bang for your buck on clothing, brand new HD TVs and holiday treats and decor.

KATHY GRANNIS, SPOKESPERSON, NATIONAL RETAIL FEDERATION: The discounts will definitely be deep this week. But what you're getting are leftovers. You can guarantee you'll see some 70 percent, 75 percent off discounts on wrapping paper and Christmas tree trinkets.

HOWELL: The sales aren't just in stores. They're online, too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're doing a lot of, online shopping.

HOWELL: Retailers like, Old Navy and Saks Fifth Avenue are amping up their day-after Christmas sales in hopes of cashing in on your holiday cheer.

GRANNIS: The week after Christmas can account for as much as 15 percent of what retailers see during the entire holiday season. If you add it all up, this final week is just as important for retailers as the week before is. HOWELL: Experts say the 26th is also a big day for gift card purchases with Target customers cashing in their stocking stuffers the most today.

GRANNIS: Gift cards for seven years in a row now have been the most requested gift item. We're expecting gift cards to bring in about $28 billion once they've all been redeemed.

HOWELL: And for those of you who may be lugging around that sack of returns, some advice from "Consumer Reports." Be sure to read the fine print on your receipts for the exact return window and to see if you can get an extension on holiday gifts. Also, be on the lookout for restocking fees and keep in mind that some items, like video games and movies, can't be returned once you've opened them.


HOWELL: So the stores today are really waiting, Chris and Kate, on people like me, to go in and do that after-Christmas shopping. This is the week, according to the National Retail Federation that stores could make up to 15 percent of their overall sales. They are counting on those people who waited until the last minute, counting on people with the gift cards and of course, those shoppers looking for the best deals.

BOLDUAN: So you're just helping the economy, George. I understand.

HOWELL: Doing my best, you know.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, George.

CUOMO: All right, we'll talk about shopping. How about shopping for health care? We have some new developments for you on Obamacare. The extension to sign up was so nice. They're doing it twice. The date to sign up for coverage will be extended to help those that got caught up by web site issues. Even better, the Obama administration says those people may still be able to get coverage that starts January 1st.

As for the president he spent his Christmas in Hawaii, spending time with those helping to keep the country safe. Athena Jones is with the president live in Honolulu for us this morning. What's the latest?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris. It's not unusual for the president to visit the Marine base just a few minutes from his rental home here in Hawaii. He goes there to play golf. He goes there to work out. But on Christmas, the Obamas make a special trip.



JONES (voice-over): In what has become a Christmas tradition --

PRESIDENT OBAMA: We just wanted to come by and say on behalf of all Americans, thank you.

JONES: The president and first lady visited with troops at a military base near their rental home.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Michele and I know that we would not enjoy the freedoms we do if it weren't for the incredible dedication and professionalism and work that you do.

JONES: President Obama thanking them for their service and sacrifice.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I had the opportunity of calling 10 folks who were in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and it was just a sampling of the incredible sacrifices that all of you and your families make every single day.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Happy holidays.

MICHELE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: Merry Christmas from our family to yours.

JONES: The Obamas also released this Christmas day video message.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: This is the season for millions of Americans to be together with family, to continue with long-held holiday traditions and to show our gratitude to those we love. For many of our troops and newest veterans, this might be the first time in years they've been with their families on Christmas.

In fact, with the Iraq war over and the transition in Afghanistan, fewer of our men and women in uniform are deployed in harm's way than at any time in the last decade.

JONES: The first lady calling on all Americans to do their part to support military families.

MICHELE OBAMA: Now it's our turn to serve, step up and show gratitude for the military families who have given us so much.


JONES: Now this accommodation you spoke about at the beginning is getting a lot of attention. The administration says they're making their every effort to make sure people who made their best efforts enrol in a health insurance plan by the deadline Tuesday night, midnight Tuesday night, those who weren't able to complete the process will get help from customer service representatives to try to complete their enrolment in time to get coverage January 1st. Now, this won't work for everyone, but that's something the administration says they are working hard to give people the support to try to do -- Kate, Chris.

BOLDUAN: All right, Athena, thank you so much.

CUOMO: The next chapter in this story will be -- you can sign up and get coverage February 1st. They'll have to keep pushing it because they need the enrolment numbers to go up. Let's get to Pamela Brown right now. She's in for Michaela. She has got the other top stories this morning. It's great to have you -- Pamela.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN GUEST ANCHOR: Thank you. Good to see you both. Hope you enjoyed the holiday.

Making news on this Thursday, Kim Jong-Un telling his soldiers to prepare for a war that could start without any notice, this information coming from North Korea's state news agency. It says Kim visited a military command center on Christmas Eve and told soldiers to be ready for combat at any moment. Also a Japanese paper claiming Kim was very drunk when he ordered his uncle's execution. "The New York Times" saying the two had a heated disagreement over shellfish exports.

And Turkey in turmoil, protests happening in the country's major cities amid a cabinet shuffle and intensifying corruption investigation there. Three senior ministers resigned on Wednesday, one of them claiming Turkey's prime minister knew about corruption involving the construction industry in the country. The prime minister announced the names of ten new ministers and called the corruption investigation an international conspiracy against him.

The family of a California girl declared brain dead after a tonsillectomy might move her from the hospital. The move would allow Jahi McMath to remain on a breathing machine. A judge ordered the hospital to continue life support only until Monday. Court-appointed doctors confirm the brain dead diagnosis, but the family believes that she will recover.

Could a common knee surgery be pointless? A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at patients with a torn meniscus. It found that many would have done just as well with physical therapy. Researchers say young patients and athletes probably should have the tears fixed on the operating table, but older folks whose knees are just wearing down likely need the surgery.

And a special visitor for U.S. troops spending their Christmas in Afghanistan, Country star, Kelly Pickler, paid them a visit. She's on a USO Tour and spent Christmas Eve visiting two forward operating bases bringing gifts to service members there. She also performed at Kandahar Air Base. She told the troops there was no place she'd rather spend Christmas.

BOLDUAN: Very sweet. I think she's a big supporter of USO.

BROWN: That's great.

BOLDUAN: It's really great. Thanks, Pamela.

CUOMO: Gets her a fan of me, helping out the men and women over there serving, it's the right thing to do.

BOLDUAN: We're going to take a break. Coming up next on NEW DAY, drama on a Los Angeles freeway, you've got to see this amazing video. A car bursts into flames and it could have easily ended in tragedy if not for a courageous police officer and some very good Samaritans. Details, coming up.

CUOMO: Can't talk about Christmas without El Papa. Pope Francis celebrates his first Christmas at the Vatican. The big question, did he stick to the script? Answer ahead.


CUOMO: Big week for Pope Francis, his first Christmas as leader of 1 billion Catholics. Now, as you know, he's been surprising people with his words and deeds ever since he took the reins at the Vatican.

So, the question is, how did he do on a holiday where tradition is so important and making the right impression is going to mean so much to so many.

Let's go to CNN's Erin McLaughlin in Rome. She covered the entire thing.

What did you see?


Well, the celebrations were really full of excitement and hope. All eyes were on Pope Francis for his very first Christmas at the Vatican. And I have to say, the leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics didn't disappoint.


MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): There's a new Christmas message from Pope Francis. And the focus is on the poor and the forgotten.

JOHN ALLEN, CNN SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST: This is a pope who wants the Catholic Church to be a change agent, a force for good in the world.

MCLAUGHLIN: In St. Peter's Square on Christmas Day, the energy was palpable. Young and old, religious and atheists gathered to hear what Pope Francis had to say.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's amazing. It's an amazing feeling. Yes, even if I'm not a Catholic or religious.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I heard him mention peace many times. You could tell from the response around us, people are hopeful about him.

MCLAUGHLIN: This is not your normal Christmas at the Vatican. For the first time in history, two popes exchanged holiday greetings.

And a record number of people requested to attend this pope's first Christmas Eve mass at the Vatican.

After the final blessing, Francis greeted children from five different continents.

ALLEN: This is a pope who loves everyone and kids in a special way. That was a classic Francis moment.


MCLAUGHLIN: Today is St. Steven's Day, the pope delivering this morning an Angelus Prayer in St. Peter's Square, calling for prayers for persecuted Christians around the world -- Chris and Kate.

BOLDUAN: Erin, thank you so much.

If we keep saying it over and over again, what a fabulous assignment. I hope you've really enjoyed it.

She can't hear me. I think she enjoyed it.

CUOMO: Her silence is accepted.

BOLDUAN: Let's just go with she enjoyed it.

It's money time, folks. Markets re-opening after a day off for the holidays. So, will investors be getting a gift today? Will they feel the holiday spirit?

Tell us, Alison.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Did you know? It's the best day in the year to be in the stock market. At least if you look at history as your guide. In fact, if you back to 1945, the S&P 500 index, it's risen on December 26th, almost 79 percent of the time. That's according to analytics group Bespoke Investment.

So, Boxing Day appears to carry some extra punch for the stock market. So far this year, the market has been knocking out skeptics. The Dow is up 25 percent for the year. The NASDAQ is up 38 percent, the S&P 500 is up 29 percent. Those are big numbers.

This is disturbing. "Reuters" reporting that despite what Target says, that hackers managed to steal encrypted personal identification numbers or PINs. The concern according to "Reuters", is that the kind of cybercriminals who stole the information from 40 million credit and debit cards might be able to crack the encrypted data. That could be one reason JPMorgan Chase limited how much cash customers could take from ATMs and spend at stores.

But Target's spokeswoman says, "We continue to have no reason to believe that PIN data, whether encrypted or unencrypted, was compromised, and we have not been made aware of any such issue in communications with financial institutions to date."

Really disturbing, you know, this happened between a pretty lengthy period of time --

BOLDUAN: The key time, I would say, right?

KOSIK: -- between November 27th and December 15th. That is three weeks of just passing that plastic along and possibly handing over your numbers. BOLDUAN: And it was a big period of time. I'm not one to judge how the investigation goes, but they keep saying they're early on in the investigation to figure out what really happened. This as customers are dealing with their bank statements.

KOSIK: This is disturbing, because this means that these crooks could possibly reach into your bank account and take out some money. So --

BOLDUAN: With the worst of it. Thanks, Alison. Much more on that ahead.

But, first, coming up next on NEW DAY: we've heard all the talk about it being the worst Congress in history, but what do people really think? We have the answer. We're going to track it by the new numbers in a new poll.

CUOMO: Prediction, they think it's the worse Congress ever.


CUOMO: And this is being called a Christmas miracle. This car caught on fire on an L.A. freeway, but all rights it should have gone and it's just been a horrible situation. But there was a police officer at the right place at the right time. We have an amazing story of rescue for you, coming up.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY.

If you feel like this Congress has been the worst ever, you are certainly not alone it appears. A new CNN/ORC poll shows the ugly numbers. Two-thirds of the country call this the worst Congress of their lifetime. The polls are also showing the blame falling on both parties and a gridlock has many, including even lawmakers themselves shaking their heads, as they round up the year.

Chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash has more -- Dana.



2013 has been Congress's least productive year in modern history. Lawmakers get that and they hear complaints from constituents all the time. Believe it or not, though, there are some in the middle actively trying to make things better.

(voice-over): Freshman Angus King and Joe Donnelly just wrapped up their first year in the Senate. Their take on the institution is telling.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: It's still pretty bad that we haven't been able to get more done.

SEN. JOE DONNELLY (D), INDIANA: The more cooperation we can get, the better off we'll be.

BASH: A new CNN/ORC poll shows 67 percent, 2/3 of the country, call this the worst congress of their lifetime and nearly three-quarters of those people, 74 percent, have lived a long life, they're 50 and older. Seventy-three percent say Congress has done nothing to address the country's problems.

(on camera): The public approval of Congress is still pretty low. Does that surprise you?

DONNELLY: No, because what we see every day on television is deadlock, and fights and screaming. What you don't see every day is large groups of both Democrats and Republicans coming together saying, how can we work through this process?

BASH (voice-over): One thing that is bipartisan, the blame, the public doesn't trust either party. Fifty-two percent say policies of Democratic congressional leaders will move the country in the wrong direction. Republican leaders fare only slightly worse, at 54 percent saying the GOP will move the country in the wrong direction.

Moderate Republican Susan Collins spent the year organizing bipartisan discussion to solve big problems. She wants Americans to have hope for 2014.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I hope that the American people will realize that there's some of us who are trying to build bridges and bring people together and solve problems.

BASH (on camera): Congress did leave for the year on a higher note than when it started, passing a bipartisan budget through the House and Senate. Several senators told me they had people coming up to them all over their states thanking them for being reasonable.

One told me that first, he thought it was a nice compliment but then realized that's a pretty low bar -- Chris and Kate.


BASH: An excellent point. But they end the year on a high note. Let's hope it carries through. Thanks, Dana.

CUOMO: All right. Let's get to Pamela Brown in for Michaela with the other top stories this morning.

Hey, Pam.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey there. Great to be here with you. Great to be with you at home.

Making news: "The Associated Press" is reporting that the leader of an al Qaeda group fighting in Syria has tried to kidnap United Nations aide workers. "The A.P." says Iraqi intelligence officials got the information from members of another al Qaeda-linked group. A U.N. worker was released in October after being held for eight months in Syria and two dozen U.N. peacekeepers were briefly held earlier this year.

Meantime, UPS and FedEx getting swamped with packages and complaints.