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Iraq Slowly Retaking Ramadi; Top Money Stories of 2015. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired December 25, 2015 - 11:30   ET


ROSS DOUTHAT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, that could be, too. But Iowans have such disproportionate political power, can't we force them to trade in some holiday cheer in exchange for exercising that power?

[11:30:00] But, no, I think ultimately, right now, it probably helps the not Donald Trump candidates, that they basically -- Trump is banking on a combination of name recognition and media attention and to some extent the lift he seems to have gotten from Paris and San Bernardino attacks.


DOUTHAT: And I think you could argue that Trump benefits from having a vote that happened right after a period when people, most people, sane people, not us, aren't paying close attention to politics. Trump is an anti-political candidate. He is a very unusual, and the assumption is that he is probably going to lose a little bit of support as the vote gets closer and people start paying attention. In that sense the longer wait probably hurts him.

On the other hand, the conventional wisdom, something has to hurt Trump, right? This is what we've been saying for months now and --

BOLDUAN: For six months now and nothing does. Everything bounces off that guy.

DOUTHAT: I guess the next 30 days will hurt him is, you know, I'm setting myself up to be wrong again.


BOLDUAN: That's OK. We won't hold it against you, Ross.

OK. So, Ron, most importantly on this Christmas morning, when you look back at this year in politics, who made it on your naughty list, and is anyone even close to being on the nice list this year?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I guess on the naughty list, Kate, I would start with you for giving us a homework assignment on Christmas morning.


BROWNSTEIN: Yes. I put you, homework assignment.

Look, you cannot avoid Donald Trump on the naughty list. No matter what you think about the underlying merits of the issues he's raised, he has raised them in the way this introduce a level of belligerence and overt racial divisiveness in our politics that we haven't seen in a very long time. I would say also on the naughty list, I would put whoever sat in the room with Hillary Clinton in 2009 and said that if you keep your emails on a private server, you will have more privacy about them.

I think that would -- on the nice list, there's a short list, but I would certainly say Kate McKinnon and Larry David, they have given us the best political impersonations since -- I can see Russia from my house. I would also give a nod to Dan Malloy, the governor who took that refugee family who had been through the process and vetted when the governor of Indiana turned them away at the last minute.

So, that would be my list.

BOLDUAN: Very good list. We got Kate McKinnon --


BOLDUAN: I don't know if you had the chance to see that.


BOLDUAN: There you go one more time.

Ron, thank you so much. Sorry for the homework assignment, but thanks, guys. Ross, Van, Ron, thanks, guys. Appreciate it.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, the fight for Ramadi rages on this Christmas Day, and now, Iraqi forces say they have a plan for where they are headed next. What this means in the fight to defeat ISIS. We'll be right back.


[11:36:06] BOLDUAN: This morning, we have video of the fierce battle to retake Ramadi from ISIS terrorists. The Iraqi air force is seen pounding ISIS targets from the sky. Iraqi officials say now that only 30 percent of Ramadi remains under ISIS control at this point. We got 500 ISIS fighters still in the area. And they predict Iraqi troops will clear the city by the end of the week.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The corpses are still under the rubble and none of them are still in this district. That's it. We retook it, and it's over for them. A couple of more days, and all Ramadi will be clear and there will be not one of them left in this city.


BOLDUAN: So, let's bring in now, CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, as well as CNN military analyst, Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.

Barbara, first to you, what is the very latest that you are hearing about the status of the battle for Ramadi?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is believed now that the Iraqis may have upwards of 70 percent of the city back over the last couple of days. They've been continuing to try to operate and take the city center back. That is where ISIS is very well dug in.

But just one indicator today of the level of the fighting, U.S. led air strikes have to destroy seven buildings, seven houses near Ramadi that were rigged with explosives to blow up. This has been the ISIS tactic. It's been with stopping the Iraqis. But now, after months of U.S. trading to help them deal with this kind of obstacles and kept their confidence back, it appears in Ramadi for now, it is working. They are beginning to take the city back. The question, of course, remains, can they hold it?

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. And, General, kind of to Barbara's point, when she was talking about air strikes outside of Ramadi, when you see a video that just came out yesterday of what Ramadi looks like right now, if and when Iraqi forces take it back, what's left? I mean, it's a disaster zone.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, ain't that terrible, Kate. That's exactly what groups like ISIS do. They destroy a lot in their wake, and it's almost a scorched earth policy, if you will.


HERTLING: But, first, to comment on this aircraft hitting a house. I'm very familiar with those kinds of things when house-born IEDs are laid on this kind of facilities, they can't be cleared. The only way to make them safe is to blow the entire house up.

You'll see this kind of rubbling effect, but it's been interesting to see how the Iraqi citizens have come back to their homes and rebuilt very quickly. They're very good at that because, unfortunately, they've had a lot of practice.

BOLDUAN: That's very good point, actually, General.

Barbara, you see also reports this morning, the Iraqi prime minister saying that they will fight to retake Mosul next. What's the view from inside the Pentagon on how hard that is going to be? Let's say they retake Ramadi and then they go to Mosul. How is that going to be different?

STARR: Mosul is going to be very tough. Mosul, as General Hertling knows better than anybody, much larger Iraq, second largest city. I think it's fair to say that the tactics that will be used will be similar. They will have to basically cut off the ISIS supply lines in and out of the city. That will keep ISIS from being able to reinforce itself, also keep ISIS fighters from being able to run away.

So, cut off the supply lines, begin to encircle the city, and move closure and closure. You are already seeing, of course, stepped up coalition air strikes in that area. Both Mosul, I think, is going to be a very tall order.

BOLDUAN: General, Mosul is an area where you, where you spent considerable time, when you add to that conversation about what Barbara is saying, how critical is Mosul and how difficult is it going to be. Mosul it seems is, I don't know, the crown jewel of what Iraq really wants to retake.

HERTLING: Yes, you're going to see and I think you have seen over the last six months or so, it's been under the radar, Kate, but both the Kurdish Peshmerga and the Iraqi security forces have been attempting to cordon the areas both from the east, west, and south of Mosul to try and separate from reinforcements that ISIS might send there, or resupply.

[11:40:11] So, they have done a pretty good job of the actions in Sinjar and (INAUDIBLE) a few weeks ago and they were indicators of what's been going on all around the circle of Mosul. What you are going to see now, again, going from Ramadi, a city of about 400,000, let's equate that to the size of the city of Cleveland, Ohio. Mosul, a city of 1.5 million people or more, is about the size of the city of Philadelphia. So, that just kind of gives you the scope.

A couple of other cities that you'll hear a lot about, we haven't heard these names yet, but you will in the next coming weeks, city of Shirkott (ph) and the city of Hawija, which will be on the route to Mosul. The Iraqi security forces have to capture those towns first in order to make sure their supply lines are secure going into Mosul.

The other things you have to consider very different from Ramadi, that was a Sunni fight. When you get into Mosul, it's going to be a combination of Sunni Arabs and Kurds on both sides of the Tigris River fighting for that city. It's still going to be very complex and complicated given the number of tribes and sects and sectarian issues that come into play.

So, Mosul is the crown jewel, but it's going to be a much tougher fight than Ramadi ever was.

BOLDUAN: And as you both point out and it's important to reiterate, it's not just retaking or capturing, it is holding. And that's a big part of this equation.

Barbara, it's great to see you. Thanks so much.

Thank you, General.

HERTLING: And merry Christmas to you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you. You too.

ISIS's brutality does not discriminate. We all know this. Muslims, non-Muslim as like are targets of the terror group, which is resulting in hundreds of thousands of people fleeing both Iraq and Syria. Well, this morning Pope Francis thanked all of the countries welcoming refugees in. What does this holy day, though, mean for those forced to run for their lives?

CNN Sara Sidner met one of those families from Iraq now in Turkey celebrating Christmas far from home.


SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A Christmas celebration in a land that is not their own. They fled for their lives fearing death, but nothing could kill their faith.

Nearly 2,000 miles from Mosul, Iraq, where ISIS murderers have tormented their people, including their Muslim neighbors, these Christian refugees have found a place to celebrate the birth of their lord and savior.

"My last Christmas was in my family's house. It was me, my mom and dad, and my brother. We were all together. And we hope to be united as one family in one place just once more," she says.

But, for now, they're refugees in Istanbul, Turkey, praying and singing, a family torn apart. They sing Christmas carols in old wedding hall that has been converted into a church for Christmas. They grieve for their losses, but pray for their homeland, hoping one day to return to Iraq as proud Christians with no fear of reprisals, simply because of their faith.

They come from one of the oldest, longest-standing Christmas communities in the world, but even their priest had to flee his church there.

"What gives us patience, solace, hope is the words from the holy book, the Bible," he says. "The Lord said you will face persecution, but take courage. I conquered the world."

Christianity is under siege in the very region where it was born.

Iraq's Christian population used to be about 1.5 million a decade ago. Now, only about half remain. Syria is even worse. Of the 1.1 million Syrian Christians who once lived in the country, about 600,000 have fled.

In the Middle East, they call themselves by many names, Assyrians, Syriac, Chaldean, but they are all Christians.

JOHNSON RAZGIN, REFUGEE: It's sad to be far away from our country. It's sad to be far away from our neighbors, from our friends, from our families. It's not easy.

But anyhow, something is better than nothing. And thanks for God that we have a priest here, that we're gathering here. I hope everything could be OK.

SIDNER: On this day, these Christians humbly offer their thanks, grateful that they have survived to celebrate one of the most joyous days on the Christian calendar.


SIDNER: There has been a fear from Christians in the region that Christianity may be dead in the very region where it began, but when we talked to these refugees, they said, you know what, we will go back. Christianity will always be there. We just want to feel safe in our own country.

BOLDUAN: It's wonderful to hear their stories, and also hear how strong they are because they've lost so much. But they're still so grateful to be able on have a place to celebrate the holiday.


BOLDUAN: Thanks so much, Sara. Thanks for bringing that to us.

Coming up for us, when you get on a plane for 20 hours, you expect to be, I don't know, probably on the other side of the world, not the country.

[11:45:04] That's what happened to one American Airlines flight. Think planes, trains, and automobiles, but only the plane part. That's next.


BOLDUAN: Millions of Americans are on the move this holiday, of course, but for one group of travelers, their cross-country flight turned into a Christmas Eve nightmare.

American Airlines Flight 295 from Miami was supposed to land in Los Angeles five hours later. Instead, an engine blowout forced the flight to be diverted to Lubbock, Texas. After switching planes there, they had to go back east to Dallas to fuel up. It wasn't until 20 hours after takeoff that passengers from Miami finally landed at LAX.

Stephanie Elam spoke to some of those exhausted passengers. She's joining me now from Los Angeles.

Exhausted might be the nice word I would be using if I were caught on that flight.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I can't even imagine how they felt. You think about it. You take the off on Wednesday and you are expected to get there five hours later, because it is a cross-country flight, right? But instead, it took them 20 hours basically to make that journey, and they were not happy about it.

Apparently, there were mechanical issues. Some passengers said there was smoke in the cockpit, but just take a listen to what some people had to say about this journey.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a nightmare that you can't believe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it looks like we have a fire, dude. The cabin is full of smoke, and he reacted and called the pilot, and them we started going down, I went back to my seat, was gagging a little bit on the smoke. It is crazy and an odyssey from, you know where.

EVELYN ALBERT, PASSENGER: I just heard a noise, but I didn't know where the noise was. Somebody said they smelled smoke, I didn't. But that was the scariest part, and once we landed, I was just completely relieved.

TOM DANLUCK, PASSENGER: We were 15 hours late, and there was no sort of information are from the flight crew, and it is just that it was a bad situation all of the way around.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are happy that we are here, and it is Christmas, and thank God that we are here.


ELAM: All right. And so, the plane lands at 2:00 a.m. our time here in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve, 186 passenger, and six crew members are doing this. And the reason why they went from Lubbock, back to Dallas, it is because they had to refuel, and not sure why there is fuel in Lubbock, but it is because they had a new plane, because they had a plane without mechanical issues.

A debacle, but hopefully, none of those people are watching us right now, and enjoying some lovely family time and hopefully putting that whole debacle behind them, Kate.

BOLDUAN: And if they are watching, I really hope they are drinking a lot of eggnog at the very same time, because they did their best after on that plane that long.

ELAM: They do, yes.

BOLDUAN: Stephanie, thank you so much. Merry Christmas.

ELAM: Merry Christmas. Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

[11:50:00] ELAM: So I hope that at least one of the sounds that you have been hearing in 2015 is cha-ching, the sound of making money. It was a big year of the big winners and even bigger loser, and that is not even according to Donald Trump.

In our top 10 of the 2015 series, Christine Romans and Richard Quest break down the stories that broke the bank.




Workers are winning.

QUEST: And the era of cheap money ending.

Our top stories are serious business.

ROMANS: And it takes big money moves to make the cut.

Here are the top ten money stories of 2015.

Number 10, daily fantasy sports on defense. The ads are everywhere and business booming and the payouts to top $300 million, but then a DraftKings' employee is accused of using insider information to the win $350,000 on rival site FanDuel. An internal investigation clears him of wrongdoing, but that leaves the question about the company's business practices, and calls for the regulation of daily fantasy sports.

QUEST: Number nine, the force is with Disney. A definition of a blockbuster redefined. The thrillers from "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" is seen by millions of people on ESPN's "Monday Night Football."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is true, all of it.

QUEST: Fans of all ages going wild for merchandise, and then invading the box office.

Disney's $4 billion bet on the Lucas Film franchise which it bought in 2012 seems to be paying off.

ROMANS: Number eight, hackers expose Ashley Madison, posting information from 32 million accounts, names, email addresses, credit card accounts. The cheaters dating site survived the breach, and it still claims 43 million members, but the hack resulted in serious social consequences, including suicide, broken marriages and reports of extortion.

QUEST: Number seven, Greece in turmoil again. The country misses payments on its ballooning debt, despite deep cuts and two rescue packages. Withdrawal limits are put on the ATMs and the banks, and the stock markets are shuttered. Protesters hit the streets.

Eventually, a deal is reached, and Greece stays in the eurozone, but its economy remains in the dark deep spot in a steady European union.

ROMANS: Number six, back in the U.S., the workers are scoring some wins. Unemployment drops to 5 percent in October, the lowest level since the Great Recession, wage growth is finally showing improvement due to in part a higher minimum wage in some areas. Several companies are also doling out generous parental leave policies, among them Netflix, Spotify and Credit Suisse. Late in the year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg joins the movement taking two months off to be with his newborn.

QUEST: Number five, cheap oil everywhere. A brief rally in the spring fades, crude prices plummet from end of last year, hitting a six-year low. And that is giving a big break to U.S. consumers. Gas hovers around $2 a gallon in December, about 75 cents lower than last year.

While drivers are happy, OPEC is not. The world's major oil producers are struggling with whether to cut production to force prices higher. And oil companies are cutting tens of thousands of jobs due to the prolonged slump in crude prices.

ROMANS: Number 4, stocks summer slam. In July, a technical glitch halts the trading on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: One trader is saying it is a technology problem.

ROMANS: The stoppage lasts four hours. By the next month, worries about the global economy have investors on edge. On August 24th, the Dow tanked 1,000 points at the open, an unprecedented decline. The average battles back to close with 188-point loss.

So, what made the investors so fearful? That's number three.

QUEST: Number three, China's economic slowdown. The world's second largest economy suffers the worst growth rate since 2009. In any other nation, 7.0 percent GDP would be something to cheer about, but not in China, with average 10 percent growth for decades.

Emerging markets around the globe will feel the downturn as demand for commodities plunge, and China's stock market swings wildly throughout the year, crushing the middle class investors until Beijing rushes in to stop the bleeding.

[11:55:09] ROMANS: Number two, Volkswagen's emissions scandal and corporate cheating at the highest level. The automaker fits 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide with software that can cheat emissions test. On the road, the cars pumped out 40 times more pollution than allowed in the U.S. The fallout is disastrous for VW. Its CEO resigns, its stock falls more than 30 percent, and the December sales the month after the scandal broke tumbled nearly 25 percent.

The question is not how Volkswagen will recover. The question is, if the company can survive. Analysts predict the total price tag for this fiasco, tens of billions of dollars.

QUEST: And number one, the biggest money story of the year, something that hasn't happened nearly a decade. The U.S. Federal Reserve hikes interest rates. Janet Yellen and company have investors confused and anxious for much of the second half of 2015. Inconsistent jobs data, a wild stock market and mediocre growth statistics pushes the move to the very last meeting of the year, and with it, so begins the end, the era of cheap money.

Mortgages, car loans and credit cards will get more expensive. The Fed finally thinks Americans can handle it.


BOLDUAN: What will 2016 bring in your wallet? Let's see.

Well, this year, there is a new Grinch that we have to tell you about who stole Christmas or at least one who failed to deliver the presents in time.

FedEx is under fire from customers who expected to have the packages in time for Christmas morning, for this morning, and the company is blaming heavier than planned last-minute shipment volumes, and severe weather outbreaks in some areas of the United States. To make up for the delays, though, FedEx says some employees will work today on a voluntary basis, and pickup counters at express stations will remain open.

FedEx rival UPS said that its Christmas Eve operations were running smoothly.

With that, merry Christmas to all. Hope you're having a wonderful day. Thanks for joining us AT THIS HOUR.

"LEGAL VIEW" starts right after a short break. Bye, friends.