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THE SITUATION ROOM
Strip Stranded in Antarctica; Delivery Disaster; North Korea Warning
Aired December 26, 2013 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Now, happening now: delivery disaster. UPS is still sorting through that massive backlog that left disappointment under some Christmas trees, instead of gifts. How did it happen?
And McFailure. A Web site for McDonald's employees offers some tone-deaf advice, including a shocking warning about fast food. How did the company get it so wrong?
And drama at sea, rescuers trying to get dozens of researchers and tourists stranded near the bottom of the world. Their boat is trapped by ice. We will be going live to Antarctica this hour.
Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Brianna Keilar, and you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We are following an unfolding drama off Antarctica, where a ship is trapped in the ice there. We have new video of the Russian-flagged vessel shot today. You're looking at it now, and 74 people are on board this ship, including tourists and researchers. Now for the first time we're hearing from the leader of the expedition.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS TURNEY, EXPEDITION LEADER: As you can see, we're actually in a blizzard at the moment. There's a low pressure system sitting over our expedition vessel, the Shokalskiy. And we have wind speeds on average of 50 kilometers an hour, reaching in excess of 70 kilometers an hour.
The vessel hasn't moved for the last two days and we're surrounded by sea ice. We just can't get through. Everyone is safe, the vessel is perfectly safe, but we can't make a passage forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Now, we are going to talk to him live in just a moment, but first let's go to meteorologist Jennifer Gray.
Jennifer, how did this happen?
JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We, you just saw Chris -- heard Chris say they did have blizzard conditions, they had very strong winds. What happens is when the winds get very, very strong, it just sort of sandwiches that ice in, and it just made the ship struck, it just stranded it right there. Here is the ship, it's located about 100 nautical miles east of the station it started. You have to remember in the Southern Hemisphere right now, they're in summer, so it's actually a little bit warmer than some areas in the U.S.
Granted, they did have blizzard conditions, so, snow, they had some very gusty winds. But as far as temperatures go, 32 degrees today at 6:00 p. m. Minneapolis was at 25, so temperatures aren't as bad as you would think when you do think the Antarctica. Over the next couple days, temperatures will hover right around freezing, high of 34 on Saturday, high of 35 on Sunday, with lows in the mid 20s.
So it is bearable, considering they're on a huge vessel, and they do have a lot of the amenities there, so they will be comfortable. I will show you exactly where they are. They did send some ships out to rescue them. They do have the icebreaking capability.
And here is the closest ship, that Snow Dragon. And you can see it's still about a day away, it's expected to get there tomorrow, but it looks like everything will be OK. Here is where the crew is right there and here is the Snow Dragon so it's the vessel closest to them. Hopefully they will be able to get out of this mess in the next day or so.
KEILAR: Yes. Jennifer Gray, and thank goodness they have the other ships nearby.
The leader of that stranded expedition is joining us live now via Skype from off the coast of Antarctica. Technology sure is amazing.
We're joined now by professor Chris Turney.
Chris, first tell us how you are doing, how the crew is doing and how the tourists on board are doing.
Absolutely amazingly well, actually. Moral is remarkably high. We had a great Christmas. We have just been incredibly unfortunate, incredibly unfortunate. We're deeply frustrated not getting out to the open ocean. We were down here following in the footsteps of one of the great explorers, the scientist Douglas Mawson on his (INAUDIBLE) expedition, looking at how much change there's been in this environment in the last 100 years.
And we had a fantastic day on the 23rd working on the Antarctica (INAUDIBLE) the ship was heading north. We were able to get out. (INAUDIBLE) had been great before, but just as we were coming back to the ship, the conditions were closing in. We moved as quickly as we could. But the ship just couldn't get through. And Christmas morning, we had to put the alert out there to, please, someone help us break us out.
KEILAR: So, how much time passed, Chris, before you just, I guess, hoped that maybe the sea ice or the wind might change its direction and when you realized, OK, we're not getting out of this on our own?
We got caught very late on the evening of the 23rd, and we hoped over the next 12 hours that the winds might shift a bit, but part of Antarctica, we have a lot of low-pressure systems that circulate around the continent and effectively they bring easterly winds along this part of the coastline.
And that's just -- as you heard earlier, it just hemmed us into the sea ice. We can see the continent. And we just can't break out. A change in direction to a more westerly direction, which isn't that common, would help enormously, but the last few days, as you saw the footage from yesterday, phenomenal winds.
And when you consider 100 years ago, Mawson lived in an average wind speed of 70 kilometers an hour, it feels sort of odd just what they were capable of living through or working through.
KEILAR: Well, certainly, Chris, and I'm sure it's also dawned on you and the researchers and the tourists on board the ship as you go to try to reenact this Australasian expedition that if this had happened so long ago, you might not have the resources that you have today in order to be rescued.
TURNEY: Well, that's right.
That's an inherent risk for working in Antarctica. Really, this is an area of enormous change. We're in area where actually the big driver of global climate. We're in an area near the (INAUDIBLE) a big part of the ocean circulation is into it.
And this big expansion of sea ice that we have seen the last couple of decades, but we wanted to come here to actually see how much change has taken place, not just visually, but actually making science measurements. And the tourists that you referred to actually have come to pay to be part of the science team.
We're trying a new way of bringing science and the public back together again and communicating those results to back home. So, people feel very passionate on board, but we're all scientists. We're working together. We have been professional and trying to make those measurements, but certainly when you compare what the people did, the teams did 100 years ago in wooden vessels, it fills you with awe.
And I'll tell you there's been some comparisons here to -- the photos we're taking now -- it's the most amazing shots you might have seen of Shackleton's expedition on the Endurance, where the ship is locked in sea ice. It's just -- it's amazing being in this environment, and to think they were there for eight months. I'm glad we're only here for a few days.
KEILAR: And what is the mood like there, Chris? How are you guys keeping busy at this point? I imagine you're not able to do the research you were hoping to be doing right now.
TURNEY: Well, ironically, this is actually giving us extra time to do the science. We gave -- I very politely gave them all Christmas off.
KEILAR: Good for you.
TURNEY: I think I would have a mutiny otherwise.
Basically, we're continuing the work. It's not ideal. We weren't looking to be here, but now that we are here, we're trying to make the best of a bad bunch. We're continuing the science. We're drilling through the sea ice. We're looking at the life under the sea, underneath of the sea ice and actually trying to get down to the seabed.
We're dropping microphones down to listen some of the (INAUDIBLE) seals and the other seals in the area. We will hopefully load those up in sound files a little later, so people can listen.
And if they're interested, they can go to the expedition Web site, spiritofmawson.com, and get some real-time observations of what we are seeing and hearing. But, ultimately, the team, myself, Chris Fogwill, who is the co-leader, and Greg Mortimer, we're giving twice daily briefings to the team. We're keeping everyone as informed as possible.
And we just want to reassure family and friends that everyone is fine, the vessel is safe, and we're forward to getting home and having a decent coffee very soon.
KEILAR: I bet you are.
And I do have to say, Chris, while I'm sure you didn't mean to get stuck in the ice, you probably in a way promoted your cause more than even just your expedition could have done at this point.
When are you -- are you in touch with these other ships? And when are you expecting to be home to have that coffee?
Well, it was (INAUDIBLE) I hasten to add. But we are in regular contact. The captain of the vessel is in regular contact with the other ships. And we understand the French vessel the Astrolabe actually might be here a little bit before.
We have just heard it's about 17 nautical miles just from our vessel, and so we're in regular contact with them. And the Snow dragon is also en route and maybe will get here -- might get here even as early as 8:00 or so tonight. We also have an Australian vessel shortly after. So, between the three of well, we hope we will be able to get out relatively quickly. We're scheduled to get back before 5th of January, into Invercargill, Southern New Zealand's port. And then we will hopefully see family and friends there.
But, if people are interested, please do follow us online and maybe we can talk to you in a couple of days and let you know how things are going.
KEILAR: I do think you will be getting more interest because of this.
Chris Turney, and I hope that you're rescued very soon. Obviously, dangerous situation that you're in, but luckily you have two ships racing to your rescue. Chris Turney, thanks for joining us from right there near Antarctica. Appreciate it.
TURNEY: Thank you very much.
KEILAR: Now, still ahead, disappointment instead of presents under some Christmas trees. We have details of that massive backlog that UPS is trying to sort out.
Plus, an ominous message from North Korea about war.
KEILAR: Disappointment is mounting and anger is rising among people who failed to have their Christmas packages delivered on time because of a massive UPS backlog.
Gifts that were supposed to be open yesterday are still on their way, and some may not even make it today. This is a major failure by one of the world's largest delivery companies.
And as CNN's Nick Valencia reports, customers are demanding to know what went wrong.
NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, I spoke to UPS earlier.
They couldn't give officials numbers of how many people are affected by this, but it's estimated that thousands of you are still waiting for Christmas gifts that didn't quite make it under the tree.
UPS and FedEx apologizing to scores of angry customers today, but the companies say it's not entirely their fault.
(voice-over): UPS trucks are back out in full force on Thursday 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: UPS says they've already delivered an estimated 132 million packages in the last week alone, blaming the backlog on "a perfect storm," an unprecedented surge in online sales and bad weather.
UPS apologized to customers, saying they added additional operations, but they can't guarantee that all packages will be delivered by Thursday. So some customers who have been waiting all week may still be unhappy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're still blaming it on the ice storm, which was two-and-a-half weeks ago. It's terribly disappointing because we ordered these things on December 1.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got to the front of the line after waiting for about an hour, and they said it hasn't been processed yet.
VALENCIA: Disappointed customers stormed online support sites, tweeting, "Got same message, still waiting for the response from this morning, along with my granddaughter's Christmas gift" and "Busy during December? Who would have thought #bunchofclowns."
UPS says it hired 55,000 seasons employees to keep up with the demand. FedEx said it hired 20,000. And they too admit they had "minimal service disruption, despite the increased volume." Neither companies made delivery on Christmas Day, something the U.S. Postal Service did.
(on camera): I want to read a statement that FedEx sent to CNN, saying: "FedEx was projected to handle 275 million shipments in the shortened holiday season between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and we operated with very high service levels, over 99 percent at FedEx Ground, for example, during our busiest time of the year."
It's not just FedEx and UPS that were responding to angry customers. It's also those online retailers that rely heavily on their services of the companies. They too are trying to make amends with angry customers. Amazon.com, for instance, they say they are offering gift cards and willing to pay for some of the shipping costs -- Brianna.
KEILAR: Thank you, Nick Valencia.
You know, rocky mountain high will have a whole new meaning come next week. A Colorado law legalizing recreational marijuana is about to go into effect. Businesses across the state are getting ready to meet the demand.
CNN's Ana Cabrera been following this for a little while now.
This is the big day come next week, right?
ANA CABRERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The scrambling is already happening.
The countdown is on as these businesses in the state gear up for the recreational sale of marijuana to happen in less than a week, on January 1, the state here in Colorado hoping this will generate tens of millions of dollars in new tax revenue. Businesses of course are seeing green, as certainly pop shops, the ones already selling medical marijuana, will open their doors to a whole new clientele.
CABRERA (voice-over): The green rush here in Colorado is about to get even bigger.
This week, state licenses went out to local businesses, giving them the green light to start selling recreational marijuana.
TONI FOX, MARIJUANA RETAILER: Money does grow on trees. And it's called the cannabis plant.
CABRERA: January 1, recreational pot sales will be legal and heavily regulated by both state and local authorities. Anyone over the age of 21 will soon be able to buy marijuana; 136 medical marijuana dispensaries now have state licenses to sell it, and 178 businesses can now grow it for recreational use.
MORGAN IWERSEN, CANYON CULTIVATION: I kind of say we're sort of like the United States' Amsterdam.
CABRERA: Morgan Iwersen runs Canyon Cultivation. They may marijuana edibles, drops and candies. She expects business to at least double in the new year.
IWERSEN: I really hope that people are responsible with it and they don't mess it up for the rest of us.
CABRERA: But Canyon Cultivation, like most companies here, won't be ready just yet on January 1. Retail outlets had major hurdles to get state approvals, fingerprint-based background checks, financial checks, and fees up to $15,000.
Toni Fox says she has more than a million dollars invested in her medical marijuana facility 3-D cannabis centers. Her store is only one of a handful expected to be ready for business on that first day.
FOX: A year ago I would have said I wish I hadn't done it. Now I'm very excited that I have done it and I'm looking forward to the future.
CABRERA: A future she and the state hope will pay off that massive investment.
CABRERA: It really was medical marijuana that paved the way for this new retail surge. A lot of this is being rolled on the infrastructure that is already in place for medical marijuana, including how the state plans to safeguard or regulate this product. There are even stricter rules that will be enforced when it comes to recreational marijuana, but, Brianna, keep in mind, the federal government still considers this criminal.
KEILAR: Yes, and that's the very interesting thing.
Ana Cabrera for us in Denver, thank you.
Most people know fast food can be unhealthy, but you wouldn't expect to hear that from McDonald's right? Imagine the surprise of its workers who logged on to a company Web site that advised against eating the company's food.
CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is here with more.
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A big whoops. And this is just the latest fumble for McDonald's, Brianna. And it's especially surprising and has people shaking their heads because it's a company so well known for their meticulous brand management. Now McDonald's says they have had enough.
SERFATY (voice-over): It's the iconic fast food meal, a burger and fries, and there it was on McDonald's own Web site dubbed unhealthy.
McResource, McDonald's' internal Web site for its employees, telling them to eat a salad and sub instead, and avoid the very food they sell. Fast foods are typically high in calories, fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt, the Web site said, and may put people at risk for becoming overweight.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Telling their employees to eat somewhere else that's healthy is kind of contradictory to what they're selling.
SERFATY: Now McDonald's has shut the site down. It was the last straw after a long list of embarrassment, calling even more attention to what workers are already protesting, that it's hard to live on a McDonald's wage.
EMILY FOX, CNN MONEY: If everyone is then talking about these gaffes and these P.R. nightmares, that just draws attention to the fast food strikes. I don't think that's what McDonald's should be drawing attention to.
SERFATY: Recently, the Web site instructed McDonald's workers how to find a second job, sell off possessions to get out of debt and provided a hot line on how to get food stamps. Another example? McResource linking to other sites with holiday tipping sites for au pairs, doormen, and pool boys. PETER SHANKMAN, BRANDING AND SOCIAL MEDIA CONSULTANT: This has just been an amazing screw-up for McDonald's. This tells you that if you had one person internally edited this, no one saw this. Had one person saw this, they would have said, hey, wait a second, this isn't working.
SERFATY: McDonald's said, in essence, they're not loving it.
"Between links to irrelevant and outdated information," the company said, "along with outside groups taking elements out of context, this created unwarranted scrutiny and inappropriate commentary."
SERFATY: And that scrutiny, McDonald's seemed to blame a bit on the outside vendor they hired to run the Web site, but, Brianna, regardless of that, this is no doubt this is a supersized blunder.
BALDWIN: Oh, big time, yes, big time.
Sunlen Serfaty, thanks so much for that report.
Now, ahead, North Korea's Kim Jong-un says -- quote -- "War could break out without notice."
We will have details of what he is telling his military commanders to do.
And the year in scandal. We will look at some of the ones that had everyone talking this year.
KEILAR: North Korea's Kim Jong-un has warned that war could break out without notice. And state media says he's calling on his military to be ready for combat.
CNN's Karl Penhaul is in Seoul.
So, Karl, what can you tell you about these latest warnings and how seriously we should take them?
KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, the North Korean leader made those comments on a visit Christmas Eve to Unit 526.
That, as far as we understand, is a joint task force of the army, navy and air force based just southwest of Pyongyang. And he said to them, get on high alert, because war could break out at any time.
Many sense these kind of bellicose statements from North Korea are nothing new. In many ways, the North Korean military is always on high alert. We know, for example, that it has about a million troops at its disposal, certainly active service members. And around 70 percent of those are based very close to the DMZ, ready to strike South Korea at any time. But what's the significance of these comments right now? Well, U.S. and South Korean intelligence officials have said that they expect some kind of provocative act from North Korea in the first quarter of 2014.
Why? Because we have Kim Jong-un's birthday coming up on January 8. He's 31 years old. He has to show to his own people he's tough enough for this job. Also as well, around the first quarter, we have joint U.S.-South Korea military maneuvers, and North Korea always sees that as a provocation as well.
And don't forget, thirdly, the execution of Kim Jong-un's uncle earlier in December. So, really, with these types of comments to his military, he has to put down his stamp and show who is in charge, Brianna.
KEILAR: Karl Penhaul in Seoul showing us just how difficult it is to know whether you take this seriously or not as seriously.
How ominous are these developments in North Korea?
Joining me now to talk about this, professor Han Park of the University of Georgia. He's the author of "North Korea Demystified."
So, professor Park, we just heard Karl's report. It seems like the U.S. government kind of penciled this in on the calendar that they are going to expect something provocative. But should we take this very seriously?
HAN PARK, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA: I do not think so.
North Koreans, they are saying a lot of things for their domestic audience that they need to strengthen the power base and solidify the authority structure, especially after the mess of the Jang Song Thaek execution.
I think they know very well that any kind of provocation would lead to self-annihilation. So they're not going to do -- actually militarily assault South Korea or anything like that. But I think what has happened is they try to prevent the system from being collapsed following the Middle Eastern and North African examples.
PARK: ... the people, they are guarded by that possibility.
And Jang Song Thaek's execution is directly linked to that. He was believed to have some conspiracy colliding with the South Korean conservatives, and perhaps with the -- with the involvement of Kim Jong-un's older brother, Kim Jong-nam, who is believed to be in exile.
KEILAR: Sure. Sure.
And so, professor, we realize that maybe he has an audience beyond the U.S., beyond the international community and that he's looking inward perhaps in these comments.
But let's talk about -- there is always sort of this threat from North Korea in terms of its nuclear program. There's new satellite imagery that shows activity at a North Korea nuclear plant. How worried are you about their nuclear program?
PARK: I think a nuclear program is something they need to keep, maintain to maintain the heightened alert for their military.
And much of this is for their domestic consumption. And their military capability, scientifically speaking, is far inadequate to reach the United States and become a real source of threat. So I think it's very important for us not to overreact to what appears to be rather harsh, provocative words.
KEILAR: And, obviously, you're looking at them in a way sort of pointing this towards the masses, concerned about the Arab spring, that something like that could happen in North Korea.
When you -- you mentioned the execution of Kim Jong-un's uncle. What is that -- when you looked at that, a lot of people wondered, oh, my goodness, does this mean that there's some sort of instability in the government? How did you read it, though?
PARK: No, Jang Sun-thaek is an anomaly. I don't think there are many Jang Sun-thaek's in North Korea. He miscalculated that he can challenge Kim Jong-un's authority. I really don't think Jang Sun- thaek meant to overthrow that regime and challenge Kim's authority.
North Korea is a family state created by Kim Il-Sung decades ago. And no one without the bloodline of Kim Il-Sung is legitimate, in the view of North Koreans. So Jang Sun-thaek, without having probably Kim Jong-nam bringing in sort of a palace coup, I don't think he personally had an ambition to become North Korean leader.
So this is now history and gone now, but buried in our memory. I don't think this would lead to any kind of Arab uprising type of situation in North Korea.
KEILAR: and that does seem to be the prevailing view at this point. Professor Park, thank you so much. We really appreciate your time.
PARK: Thank you.
KEILAR: And ahead, trying to recover from an ice storm, when the ice just won't melt. The thermometers will be moving soon, though. Stay tuned for whether it's up or down.
And we have brand-new poll numbers matching Hillary Clinton against all the Republicans who may have their eyes on the White House. Find out who is the only one ahead of her.
KEILAR: Could Hillary Clinton beat a Republican in the 2016 presidential horse race? Our new CNN/ORC International poll offers a very early look at the field and the potential matchups. Here's CNN's CNN chief national correspondent John King.
JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, we should make clear from the get-go, late 2013 polling is a far from reliable indicator, far from reliable of what the American people will be looking for when they next pick a president in 2016, but these early numbers, fun for some holiday political conversations, and they could impact how some of the potential candidates look and act in the weeks and months ahead.
Here's the early test. The early Democratic favorite, Hillary Clinton versus nine Republican 2016 prospects, and with just one exception, Secretary Clinton comes out on top, in most cases in a landslide. She beats, for example, former Governor Jeb Bush by 21 points.
From Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee by 15. Eighteen points is the Clinton edge over the Texas Senator and Tea Party favorite, Ted Cruz, and she's up 17 over Texas governor and 2012 candidate Rick Perry.
Another 2012 contender, former Senator Rick Santorum is behind Clinton by 19 points. And two Senate newcomers -- Rand Paul, Marco Rubio -- run behind Clinton by 13 points and 19 points respectively.
The House Budget Committee chairman, Paul Ryan -- remember, Mitt Romney's running mate in 2012 -- well, he comes closer. Our new poll shows Clinton with an eight-point edge over the Wisconsin congressman.
So who's the one exception? Well, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, of course. Christie edges Clinton 48 percent to 46 percent among registered voters.
Now that's a statistical dead heat, but nonetheless, some early bragging rights for Christie, as he begins a very busy 2014 schedule crossing the country.
So what makes Governor Christie so much stronger against Clinton and the other Republicans? Well, don't underestimate name recognition this early. He's been in the headlines a lot across the country because of his big recent reelection win.
And digging a bit deeper, Christie now beats Clinton by 26 points among independents and by nine points among suburban voters. Then he's running much closer to Clinton in the Northeast than any of the other Republicans.
So the numbers, a great Christmas present to Governor Christie, and for the most part, they should give Secretary Clinton some holiday cheer, but a very important cautionary note. At this point in the 2008 cycle, meaning polling conducted in late 2005, well, Hillary Clinton was the runaway leader among Democrats, and the former New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani, the big early Republican front-runner. Barack Obama at that point didn't even come up in the polls. He was a freshman senator from Illinois.
So have fun with the new numbers, and maybe have a little Christie/Clinton chatter, but wouldn't use these poll numbers at all to make any early bets in Vegas -- Brianna.
KEILAR: John King for us.
Now, this week not only brought a surge in last-minute Christmas shopping. There's also a surge in visits to the Obama care Web site. All sorts of Web sites are coming and going for people who need to sign up for health insurance.
And CNN's Athena Jones is way in -- over in Hawaii, covering President Obama, as he is on vacation, and also watching all of these deadlines.
ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brianna.
The administration has been touting the heavy traffic to the federal exchange, HealthCare.gov, this week. We know that Monday was a record day for the Web site. Tuesday was also a high-traffic day, but we're not going to get a real sense of just how many people were able to complete the enrollment process on the Web site until mid- January. That's when the administration is set to release its next batch of numbers, so we'll be waiting for that.
I will tell you that insurance companies today had a conference call with health industry officials -- I should say government officials to talk about these changing deadlines earlier this week.
This is not uncommon. The insurance companies are in constant contact with officials at HHS and the centers for Medicaid and Medicare services all throughout this roll-out process.
I will tell you, an industry source from the insurance industry told us that they haven't yet gotten the flood of enrollment applications from earlier this week. That's simply because it takes a while for these applications, this information to make its way from the exchanges to the insurance companies. And, of course, this being a holiday week, that's going to play a role there.
But this source also said that they believe that the change in the deadline from December 23 to midnight the following day, December 24, is not likely to have made much of an impact.
One more thing, Brianna, we've been talking about the big traffic on HealthCare.gov, the federal exchanges. Well, state exchanges also saw a big jump in numbers. I want to share with you just a few of them.
Connecticut had double -- more than double the enrollment on a single day, Monday; 6,700 people signed up through its Web site. Colorado also had a record day on Monday, 5,354 people enrolling. And California, by far the biggest numbers we've seen; 103,000 people enrolled between Friday and Monday through Covered California.
So just a few of the statistics we're getting from the states -- Brianna.
KEILAR: Proof that we journalists are not the only ones who work best under deadlines. Athena Jones for us in Honolulu. Thank you.
Now let's get to some of the top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM. A hundred thousand homes are without power in Michigan. Wintry weather has slammed the state, taking out power lines, wreaking havoc on holiday travel, as you can imagine. Power crews may not be able to restore lines until this weekend.
And the cold, it was so bad that it forced hundreds to Red Cross shelters on Christmas day. Michigan could actually see more snow, with highs only in the 20s.
And after months in a Russian prison for this stunt, the first Greenpeace activists are back home. The so-called Arctic 30, well, they had been held on charges of hooliganism after boarding an oil rig as a peaceful protest against drilling and climate change.
The charges were actually dropped this week, part of President Vladimir Putin's new amnesty law ahead of the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The remaining crew members, well, they will be leaving in the coming weeks once they receive the proper immigration papers.
And as a cab driver in Las Vegas, you probably see a lot of crazy stuff, right? But how about this: $300,000 in cash? Gerardo Gamboa discovered the money in the backseat of his cab Monday night. And you know what he did? He turned it all over to police. A professional poker player soon came forward to claim the money, and for his honesty, Gamboa was rewarded with a steak dinner and a $1,000 bonus. I'd say deserved.
And it's the "will he or won't he" that is gripping teenage girls the world over. Justin Bieber announced that he's, quote, "officially retiring" on his Twitter page, but he added that he's never leaving his fans and will be here forever. Lucky us, right?
Well, the 19-year-old Canadian pop star is "Forbes'" ninth most powerful celebrity, with $58 million in earnings last year and over 48 million Twitter followers, making some of us doubt that he will be giving up his career.
Well, next, a candid conversation with Shirley MacLaine. She opens up with our Gloria Borger about her ties to the Rat Pack, her friendship with JFK and what Hollywood and Washington have in common.
KEILAR: 2013's biggest scandals.
Here's CNN's Joe Johns. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Number 10, beam me up, baby. It's seldom you get the crack question of the year and the crack answer of the year in the same place. But it happened to the now notorious star of his own crack-smoking video.
MAYOR ROB FORD, TORONTO: Am I an addict? No.
JOHNS: Toronto Mayor Rob Ford when he got put on the spot in an open forum with the whole world watching.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you purchased illegal drugs in the last two years?
FORD: Yes, I have.
JOHNS: Ford was a trendsetter in 2013 -- leader of the pack in the category of mayors gone wild, with honorable mention to number 9, San Diego's Mr. Smooth himself, Bob Filner, who resigned as mayor facing a tidal wave of sexual harassment allegations, charges of unwanted advances including a former female employee who filed suit.
Irene McCormick Jackson alleging that Filner asked her, "Wouldn't it be great if you took off your panties and worked without them on?" He was eventually sentenced to 90 days home confinement and three years probation for assaulting women.
Number eight, also in the runoff for worst mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick, the former hip hop mayor of Detroit convicted of racketeering and extortion so pervasive that prosecutors said it helped pushed the Motor City into the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history. Kilpatrick finally got the term he wasn't elected to serve; 28 years in federal prison.
And speaking of elections, number seven on our list isn't a mayor, but he could have been. New York's former congressman, Anthony Weiner, a hit performer on the list from past years for the sexting controversy that made him leave Capitol Hill. Weiner made an encore running for the Big Apple's top job.
But when more explicit pictures surfaced that were sent to a 22- year- old woman under the alias "Carlos Danger", Weiner, who is married, lost the primary with less than five percent of the vote.
Magnanimous as always, Weiner gave the media the universal "We're number one" hand signal as a parting shot.
While we're on the subject of popularity, number six on our list is that agency everybody loves to hate -- the Internal Revenue Service. And in keeping with the season what might be described as one of the most notorious naughty list in recent U.S. history. It seems somebody at the IRS got bright the idea of singling out conservative groups, especially Tea Partiers, for extra special attention. The practice attracted outrage from coast to coast. And an investigation by the other federal agency that gins up fear and anxiety everywhere, the Justice Department.
And speaking of spilling the goodies, there are some non- government players that must be mentioned for outstanding performances in 2013.
Number five on our list is the former man of steel, Lance Armstrong. Here is a guy who was master of the cycling world and the big lie, winning the Tour De France seven times, claiming repeatedly that he wasn't doping to enhance his athletic performance.
But after being banned from the sport, he gave a tell-all, sort of, interview with Oprah, where else? He confessed and offered what may be remembered as the biggest understatement in the history of sport.
LANCE ARMSTRONG, CYCLIST: I'm not the most believable guy in the world right now.
JOHNS: Number four on our list was another kind of credibility problem -- that phony sign language interpreter who crashed the Nelson Mandela memorial service. It would be funnier if it weren't so creepy. This guy got within arm's length of the President of the United States, making meaningless gestures. It later came to light that he had once been accused of rape and murder but was found not guilty.
Number three is Paula Deen.
PAULA DEEN, CELEBRITY CHEF: My goodness.
JOHNS: What would possess a host of a popular cooking show that get herself embroiled in a lawsuit where somebody was actually going to ask her under oath whether she ever used the "N" word when she knew she did? Can you say settle the case already?
And speaking of legal problems, number two on our list is the not so secretive anymore NSA, the National Security Agency. Who would have thought that one government outfit that was supposed to be stealth city could manage to embarrass or anger just about everybody in the U.S., by letting a rogue former contractor named Edward Snowden download a busload of secrets, so-called signal intelligence, from its computer system, splash some of it to the media and then run off to Russia, of all places, while the goodies continue to be spilled item by item for maximum effect.
And finally on our list coming in dead even: tied for first place for the broken government award of the year, Congress, for the absolutely inexplicable government shutdown crisis of 2013 that featured an absurdist dramatic reading of a Dr. Seuss classic in the midst of a 21-hour Senate talk-a-thon.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them Sam I am. JOHNS: And not to be overlooked, the Obama administration for the utterly disastrous bungled rollout of the Healthcare.gov Web site.
Which debacle was worst is entirely in the eye of the beholder. The futile attempts by a congressional minority to dismantle a law of the land upheld by the Supreme Court, with the stated aim of getting rid of the President's signature achievement or the video replays of the leader of the free world promising that his signature achievement would allow anyone to keep the status quo only to find out, that well, it just wasn't true.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.
JOHNS: Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.
KEILAR: Shirley MacLaine is being honored for her contributions to American culture and she recently talked with our chief political analyst Gloria Borger.
SHIRLEY MACLAINE, KENNEDY CENTER HONOREE: I just remember sitting in the car with John Kennedy on top of Mulholland Drive, talking about film, and power and entertainment. And that's all we did was talk.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh.
You were backstage when Marilyn Monroe sang happy birthday at the garden to Kennedy? What was that about?
MACLAINE: No, there is a back story to that. Marilyn wouldn't come out of her little dressing place because she, I don't know, didn't like the dress. I don't know. What was or wasn't happening.
And they asked me if I would sing. There I was an understudy again and they asked me if I would sing happy birthday to the president if indeed Miss Monroe didn't come out. Well, at the very last moment she came out.
BORGER: She did.
MACLAINE: But I was right back there thinking, I wonder if she'll finish the song? And she finished him off star-wise.
BORGER (voice-over): MacLaine found her natural habitat with the Rat Pack, the notorious bad boys of Hollywood.
(on camera): I have to show you this picture we found of you with two of your favorite memories with the Rat Pack. Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra.
MACLAINE: Oh, is that Jack Carter?
BORGER: Yes, I think it is.
MACLAINE: I think it is.
BORGER: What was it like being the girl in the Rat Pack?
MACLAINE: I was the one who would pick up the crackers and the jelly beans and answer the door. I always told them the truth. I really did. That's why I think they liked me.
BORGER: Did it ever get romantic?
MACLAINE: Never. I had a crush on Dean for about 15 minutes.
BORGER (voice-over): She liked Sinatra, too, and discovered how helpful he could be.
MACLAINE: A couple of times when I went on the road with my show and there were some union problems at whatever theater we were playing, and you don't mess with the union when they've got their problem, so I would call Frank. He'd say, yes, I've got people. Next thing I know there was no union problem.
BORGER: MacLaine looked back on the Rat Pack days as a time when Hollywood stars weren't so perfect.
MACLAINE: They were human beings who were so primitively talented on all levels. And they loved the mistakes of the moment. And they loved --
BORGER (on camera): What do you mean by that?
MACLAINE: Well, they didn't like perfection. They didn't like to rehearse. They didn't like to be aware of what was happening so that they didn't look ridiculous.
They loved looking ridiculous because they knew they were icons. They knew they were so especially talented that the audience couldn't relate to them, because who was this talented? So when something happened on the stage or even in a movie, and it was knocking them off their pedestal, they loved that. They were very aware of how smart that was.
BORGER: Does that happen in Hollywood now?
MACLAINE: No, no. In my opinion, no. Everybody wants perfection. Even if they're playing a disheveled idiot on the street, they want to know exactly what's going to happen.
BORGER: Do Washington and Hollywood have anything in common?
MACLAINE: Oh, yes. They all both -- they both want to be understood. They both want to entertain. They want to learn secrets of how to win an audience with comedy.
They both want to look good. They both want high ratings. They both want the right wardrobe mistress. They both want how -- they want to learn the secrets of exercising power without seeing, seeming dictatorial.
BORGER: So, you've just written this book, "What If". What if Shirley MacLaine had gone into politics instead of show business?
MACLAINE: I don't think I was ever that nuts. They asked me, how old was I? I guess I was in my 50s. A bunch of people with money came and asked me if I would run for the Senate from California. I'm not interested. Oh, I think I said, sure, I'll do it. If I win I want eight weeks a year to play Vegas.
BORGER (voice-over): She needed a larger stage and her signature moment came in a movie.
(on camera): You have to go back to the Oscar, "Terms of Endearment." You as the mother are frantic to get your dying daughter a painkiller. And you scream.
MACLAINE: Give her the shot.
All she has to do is hold out until 10:00. It's 10:00. My daughter is in pain. Give her the shot. Do you understand me? Give my daughter the shot!
Thank you very much.
BORGER: One take?
MACLAINE: One take.
BORGER (voice-over): MacLaine is convinced that real life isn't done in one take. She is a believer in reincarnation and other worlds.
(on camera): Some people say you're kookier. Are they right?
BORGER: They are?
MACLAINE: But aren't they saying also, no, I want -- I want to hear about the unkooky part that they say? Have I earned the right to have that unkooky part, too? I'm really interested in that.
OBAMA: Shirley has been fearless and she's been honest and she's tackled complicated characters and she has revealed a greater deeper truth.
BORGER (voice-over): And she is still doing it, as the visiting and formidable American mother on Downton Abbey.
MACLAINE: You think the British have a lock on grande dames? Let's see the other side.
BORGER: You're having fun.
MACLAINE: Oh, yes.
BORGER (voice-over): For the first time, the Kennedy Center honor is a family affair. Warren Beatty got his in 2004.
(on camera): Your younger brother got it before you.
MACLAINE: My younger brother.
BORGER: So, what's that like?
MACLAINE: We all have a lot to talk about. He called me and said, well, OK. What's next? I said you have to get it first. Then that guarantees I'll get it.
Maybe the Nobel Peace Prize for understanding there are other realities. And that's when they hung up. So --
KEILAR: I'm Brianna Keilar, in for Wolf Blitzer.
And "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.