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President Obama Confident on Tax Deal; Charles and Camilla Caught in Protest; Texas Pastor Gives "Grinch Alert" to Stores Wishing Customers "Happy Holidays"; Macy's Santa Fired for Naughty Joke; Jim Morrison Receives Pardon from Florida; Oprah Winfrey Talks to Barbara Walters; Colts, Manning Break Out of Slump; Cam Newton - Heisman Favorite

Aired December 10, 2010 - 09:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello to you. Good excuse to stay indoors. You all have a great weekend.

It is 9:00 a.m. on the East Coast, 6:00 a.m. out West. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. And here are some of the stories that have us talking. The Nobel Peace Prize ceremony is under way today in Norway, but this year's winner isn't there.

He's in jail in China serving an 11-year sentence for inciting subversion. Liu Xiaobo was honored with the award for his fight to bring human rights and democracy to China. But Chinese leaders call him a common criminal.

The federal government says Virginia Tech broke the law during the 2007 shooting rampage because it was too slow to spread the word about a gunman on the loose.

The student shooter killed two people at a dorm before killing 30 others in a classroom building but there was a two-hour gap between the first shootings and school's first e-mail notice.

Virginia Tech says administrators acted appropriately based on what they knew at the time.

And the fate of a homeless street preacher accused of kidnapping Elizabeth Smart is now in the hands of the jury. Deliberations resume in just a few hours. Even Brian David Mitchell's lawyers admit their client snatched Smart from her bedroom in 2002 and then raped her almost daily for months.

In just three weeks, the Bush era tax cuts are set to expire and if Congress doesn't get on board with the deal the president struck with the GOP, your tax bill will get bigger on January 1st.

Democrats are defiant but President Obama hit the air waves this morning saying he's confident Congress will come around.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Here's what I'm confident about, that nobody -- Democrat or Republican -- wants to see people's paychecks smaller on January 1st because Congress didn't act.


WHITFIELD: But House Democrats are fighting mad. A big sticking point, a tax cut extension for the rich, and they say they're not going to vote on the deal the way it's written right now.


REP. LLOYD DOGGETT (D), TEXAS: We were told yesterday by the vice president this was a take-it-or-leave-it deal. We are saying leave it.

REP. JAY INSLEE (D), WASHINGTON: Our caucus will not submit to hostage taking and we will not submit to this deal.


WHITFIELD: "STATE OF THE UNION" host Candy Crowley is joining us live now from Washington.

So, Candy, the president says he is confident. Should he be?

CANDY CROWLEY, HOST, CNN'S STATE OF THE UNION: I find it very hard to believe that there is a scenario under which Congress would leave and not just allow every American's paycheck to get smaller.

But say to the two million plus, long-term unemployed, by the way, your benefits are gone. I mean that's what's at stake here. It's difficult for me to believe that the majority of the people in the House and the Senate would allow that to happen.

So maybe they'll work from now until New Year's Eve or now until January 20th, but they need to do it by the 1st so, you know, yes, I think certainly the schedule is on the president's side and I think still the votes are on the president's side when all is said and done.

Do I think it will be exactly what they came up with? Maybe not. Maybe they'll mess around with the estate taxes but I think by and large what you're going to see is a package that includes much of what the president and the Democrats wanted but will also include that extension of tax cuts for everyone including the wealthy, and paying for or having unemployment benefits extended for the long-term unemployed for another year.

I think those two elements are set and won't be changed. Maybe there's some things around the edges or something they could put in that will bring on enough Democrats. Remember, he doesn't have to have every Democrat on Capitol Hill with him. He has to have enough of them to combine with most Republicans to get this thing through.

WHITFIELD: So meantime, any former president will be able to tell Mr. Obama that, you know what? I've been here before. Resistance from Capitol Hill. So in fact, Obama will be meeting with the former President Bill Clinton today.

Is this a discussion of a trading of advice or a giving of advice and a receiving of advice?

CROWLEY: I can't imagine that a conversation with Bill -- between Bill Clinton and President Obama wouldn't have some advice being exchanged between the two of them, mostly from President Clinton back to President Obama.

It certainly has sparked the conversation in Washington about, is this President Obama trying to triangulate -- a word made famous by President Clinton when he came back after an election defeat in the midterms and began working with Republicans, sort of tacking toward the center?

There have been a lot of talk after the election that the president, this president, was going to need to do the same thing but a lot of people said, here's the problem. Bill Clinton's natural position was centrist whereas Barack Obama does seem to be a little left of center.

The White House hates that whole triangulation discussion. They say that's not it. We're trying to do something that's going to stimulate the economy, although they don't use the word stimulate. And this is the thing that will do it because if we do not do this, there might be a double-dip recession.

It certainly will hurt the economy. It will hurt the jobless rate so they are -- you know, certainly that discussion is going on and certainly the president is now open to some discussion by others that he might be trying to kind of triangulate and position himself for an election. The White House says no, he's actually trying to do what's best for the economy.

WHITFIELD: All right. Candy Crowley in Washington, thanks so much. Of course, we'll look forward to seeing you this Sunday on "STATE OF THE UNION" as well.

Meantime, a big setback on the push to overturn "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Democrats trying to repeal the military's ban on openly gay soldiers couldn't even get enough votes to start debate in the Senate. And key supporters of repeal are left scratching their heads and looking for a path forward.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I just do not understand why we can't proceed along a path that will bring us to success. And that will allow us to get the 60 votes to proceed, which I am willing to be one of those 60 votes.

I thought we were extremely close to getting a reasonable agreement yesterday that would allow us to proceed.


WHITFIELD: Gay rights groups are planning a lunchtime rally at the Capitol urging lawmakers to work on repeal through the winter holiday.

And senators also rejected a bill that calls for medical benefits and compensation for sick 9/11 first responders. Republicans are blocking the proposal because of its $7.4 billion price tag. Supporters say they'll try to bring up the measure again but it's not likely to happen this year.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg calling it a tragic example of partisan politics trumping patriotism.

The Nobel committee officially has awarded a Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo its Peace Prize but Lieu wasn't there for the ceremony is Oslo. An empty chair was in his place.

Liu is in a Chinese prison serving an 11-year sentence for what Beijing calls inciting subversion of state power. The committee chairman said Liu has done nothing wrong and must be released.

The Chinese government calls the whole thing a political farce. It's boycotted the ceremony, blocked media coverage of it and urges allies not attend. Officers even blocked a CNN crew from approaching Liu's home.

Also overseas we're learning that the royal family got a taste of Thursday's huge street protest in London. Thousands of demonstrators showed their fury over a government plan to triple university tuition. Some of them attacked a car carrying Prince Charles and his wife Camilla.

You can see the busted window right there on their vehicle.

Let's go now to Dan Rivers in London.

So Dan, why in the world was the royal couple's vehicle right in the path of a protest in the first place?

DAN RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that's the big question for the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Paul Stevenson, who was under increasing pressure over this incident.

Clearly, this was not an ideal situation, a massive breach of royal security. Clearly, they knew that there were protesters on Regent Street where this incident happened. There seems to have been a lack of communication between the Royal Protection Officers, SO14, who were escorting the Prince and Camilla and those other police officers who were trying to control the crowd.

Now quite why they were sent up this main path up Regent Street towards this theater, the Palladium Theater, in central London for this royal variety performance is not clear. The choice of vehicle is also more perplexing. They were in a vintage Rolls Royce which didn't have tinted windows. They were clearly on view.

It was a very ostentatious vehicle to be driving into effectively a riot zone and frankly I think there would be a lot of questions about this. Already, back bench politicians here in the UK calling for an independent inquiry to get to the bottom of exactly what happened here.

WHITFIELD: And meantime, Dan, this upstaged the whole tuition hike protest. In the end what was the resolution there?

RIVERS: Well, yes. I mean, these protests were all about raising the cap on tuition fees, making students pay much, much more, three times more for their university education. That law has been passed in the House of Commons by a narrow majority, only 21 votes in it.

So a lot closer than people were predicting but nevertheless it's passed. It will now go through the normal procedure to the House of Lords, the upper house, and eventually probably will be made into law, but it was greeted with jeers and boos.

We were down there in the thick of it all day and there were some really angry scenes as protesters clashed with the police. For several hours down there, a lot of missiles being thrown at police. The police then responding, charging in with horses and with punches (ph).

So some very angry scenes and I think there are political consequences here in the UK for the junior partners in the coalition, the Lib Dems, who were roundly condemned as having betrayed the students because, of course, in the last election they promised they wouldn't raise fees and that's exactly what some of them voted to do yesterday.

WHITFIELD: All right. Nasty scene on so many levels there from London.

Dan Rivers, thanks so much.

All right. Back in this country now, it looked like the middle of winter in parts of the northeast this week. Even though the season doesn't start for another week and a half, blame the lake-effect snows which dumped up to four inches of snow in some places.

Now a major snowstorm system is moving east to spread snow to other parts that haven't even been hit yet but something tells me, Reynolds, you're going to give us news on who is going to get hit next.

A lot of the people who haven't had their first taste of winter weather, that's going to change this weekend.

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: And you know what? A lot of times during the hurricane season we tell you to have a preparedness kit? Well, the same rule sort of applies now. Today would be a good day for many people in the eastern third of the country, I'd say from Tennessee northward to the Great Lakes to go out and get the extra batteries, maybe some extra food as we get into the weekend.


WHITFIELD: Gosh. OK, I know you'll keep us posted throughout.

WOLF: You bet.

WHITFIELD: Thanks so much, Reynolds. Appreciate that.

WOLF: No problem. WHITFIELD: All right, the first family helped throw the switch on the National Christmas Tree last night.

Gorgeous. The president asked the audience to remember Americans struggling to make ends meet this holiday season and he also asked for prayers for service members overseas.

All right. Happy holidays versus merry Christmas? One Texas pastor says get specific with your season's greetings or your business could get a Grinch alert.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Time now to travel Cross Country. First stop, Robinson Township, Pennsylvania. It was a stuffed toy bonanza for a two-year-old girl at a suburban mall this week. She crawled inside a toy machine and actually got stuck. It took 15 minutes for firefighters to free her but, thankfully, the little girl was not hurt.

And next to Deltona, Florida, where a 16-year-old is facing felony charges after he crashed into a house following a high-speed police chase. Officers first spotted the teen speeding down an interstate at 120 miles per hour. He exited the freeway, crashed into two parked cars, then slammed into a house. No one, thankfully, was inside at the time.

And finally, this 840-pound manatee is riding high at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. The endangered sea mammal was hoisted onto a plane yesterday for a flight to a new home in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The manatee has a new lease on life after recovering from injuries from a boat strike. Now, it will serve as a surrogate to orphaned manatees.

All right. A Texas pastor has set up a naughty and nice list for businesses. It's called "Grinch"

(MUSIC - "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch")

WHITFIELD: Oh, bringing back those memories, right? OK. So, you don't have to actually steal Christmas to land on the naughty list. Remember, we're talking about the pastor, actually, in Texas. Well, you might get there just by posting a "Happy Holidays" sign. The website lets users call out businesses that use a generic holiday greeting instead of going with "Merry Christmas."

It was set up by Reverend Robert Jeffress, the senior pastor at the First Baptist Church of Dallas. He says too many businesses have bowed to political correctness. But critics complain that the website defeats the spirit of the season.

One rabbi says, quote, "Rather than honoring Christmas, this kind of campaign feels meant to remind me and people like me we are second- best customers or members of this society. I realize every movement needs an issue to rally around. How about 'love your neighbor as yourself?'" End quote. Here's how Reverend Jeffress responded. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT JEFFRESS, SENIOR PASTOR, FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF DALLAS: I would say, we're not trying to make anybody feel like a second-class citizen. In fact, if I went into a business that was owned by a person of the Jewish faith, and if that person said to me, "Happy Hanukkah," I wouldn't be offended at all. In fact, I would respect that person for not going to the generic PC correct "Happy Holiday," but embracing their faith.


WHITFIELD: The reverend says Grinch is meant to prompt any business boycotts. It's not meant to, that is. He says it's just meant to be a fun holiday campaign.

So when you head out this season, do you prefer "Happy Holidays," "Merry Christmas," what? Should a business land on the naughty list for choosing one over another? We want to hear from you, so sound off on the blog,, and I'll read some comments here next hour right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

A very naughty joke got Santa Claus fired from a Macy's in San Francisco. Here's what he said to an adult couple who came to sit on his lap.


JOHN TOOMEY, FIRED MACY'S SANTA: I said, "You know why Santa's so happy and jolly all the time?" And they said, "No." And I said, "Well, that's because Santa knows where all the naughty girls and boys live."


WHITFIELD: OK. Well maybe Mrs. Santa enjoys that type of humor. But instead of ho ho ho, this couple left saying no, no, no. They complained about Kris Kringle's dirty jokes, and he got the ax. The San Francisco Santa says he never said anything inappropriate to kids, and he's landed some work posing for pictures at a fire department fund-raiser instead.

Oprah Winfrey unplugged. The veteran talk show host talks life, love and her new venture. Hear what Oprah told Barbara Walters next.


(MUSIC - "Break on Through")

WHITFIELD: All right, there's a new chapter in the Jim Morrison story. The state of Florida pardoned the late front man of the Doors rock band. He was convicted 40 years ago for supposedly exposing himself at a concert in Miami. But Morrison's widow Patricia says the whole thing is just a stunt. CNN's Susan Candiotti talked with her before the pardon was official.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): You said, "He would hate, loathe, detest and despise the whole idea. No doubt he would rip the pardon into tiny pieces. He did nothing to be pardoned for. Nothing."

PATRICIA MORRISON, WIDOW OF JIM MORRISON: Quite right. If the conviction could be expunged, I would be happier about it.


WHITFIELD: Patricia Morrison also says there were 10,000 people at that concert, but no one has a picture of the incident.

Oprah Winfrey is gearing up for her newest venture. The veteran talk show host is wrapping up 25 years on network television to start her own network, aptly called, OWN. Winfrey talked about it with ABC's Barbara Walters.


OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: First I thought, oh great, a network, oh, gee, this is the dream I had. Oh. And I actually showed him the piece of paper where I had written it down and Stedman said --

And as that started to settle in with me, I thought, whoa. What is this I've gotten myself into? This is a lot more work than I ever imagined.


WINFREY: Very scared.


WHITFIELD: And as for Oprah's love life, she says Stedman is still her man.


WALTERS: Is he still the man in your life?

WINFREY: Yes, he is.

WALTERS: The love of your life?

WINFREY: And the love of my life.

WALTERS: The lover in your life?

WINFREY: The love, the lover, the man, the partner, the mate.


WHITFIELD: All of it. The Oprah Winfrey Network is slated to make its debut January 1st, 2011. Right around the corner.

All right. When a school didn't perform the way some parents wanted it to, they did something about it. They made a move to take over the school and get some new leaders. A new California law lets them do that. But not everyone thinks that's a good idea. We'll have details in a few minutes.


WHITFIELD: It's the final session of a trading week on Wall Street, and investors are hoping to make it a happy Friday. But uncertainty about the tax cut measure has kept gains in check all week. Carter Evans is at the New York Stock Exchange with a look at how things just might go today.

CARTER EVANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Fred, it's been a frustrating week. It's been really sluggish. Wall Street doesn't seem to have its mojo right now.

Today, we're looking at a slightly higher open. Now that there's some uncertainty about those tax cuts and the House, though, we could also se more caution today.

There are some new economic figures, though, that could influence the market today, as well. We're going to get a report on consumer sentiment in just about 20 minutes. Now, consumer spending accounts for about two thirds of the economic activity here in the US. And now that the economy is starting to rebound, it's very important to know how consumers are feeling about things, especially during the holiday shopping season.

There's also news on the US trade deficit with China today. It improved last month. China also raised the bank reserve requirements in that country. It's good news for Wall Street, because it means the country is taking the necessary steps to contain its explosive growth.

Nothing explosive here today to speak of, though. All three of the major averages right now on the rise slightly higher. Not a whole lot of action. The NASDAQ, by the way, though, is now trading at the highest level in almost three years.

Finally, today, Fred, how about this? Company holiday parties are coming up. We all know this. But here's a question for you. Would you pay to attend your company party?

WHITFIELD: No. Sorry. Didn't have to think about it.



EVANS: I don't think a lot of people would. I don't think a lot of people would. You know, I think if you're younger and --

WHITFIELD: Where's the celebration here? Come on. EVANS: Yes. You know, if it's a business move, maybe you'll go ahead pay for it, but a lot of people are doing that here on Wall Street right now. Despite logging record profits this year, some firms here on Wall Street are asking their employees to pay to attend the parties. Pay to play, if you will.

WHITFIELD: Low turnout.

EVANS: These big company-wise parties are a thing of the past, yes. One Morgan Stanley employee tells CNN Money she had to kick in 30 bucks to attend her holiday get-together. Bank of America, UBS, JP Morgan, Chase. They're also skipping the lavish parties this year and they're letting the individual units plan it.

WHITFIELD: Oh, boy. And then there's pressure because it's probably very PC to do that. You want to send the right message to your employer, but at same time I would imagine a lot of folks say, I'm not going. I'm protesting.

EVANS: Yes. Well, you know, they might have to use a small part of their big bonus to pay for it.

WHITFIELD: Well, if you got that, then yes, no worries. If you have that bonus coming, you better pay for the party. In fact, you ought to just pitch in for some of your colleagues that can't afford to go. How's that? Yes, that's my opinion.

EVANS: Sounds like a plan.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks so much.

EVANS: In the spirit of giving.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks so much. Appreciate it. Have a great weekend.

We're also learning now that the Federal Aviation Administration is having trouble keeping up with who owns private and commercial planes in the U.S. There's concern that terrorists or other criminals could take advantage of that problem.

CNN homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve has more on this. What more do we know about this? Sounds very strange.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, here are about 357,000 private aircraft in the U.S. But the Federal Aviation Administration says that registration records for about one third of them, 119,000, appear to be inaccurate, out of date. That increases the possibility that the aircraft or their registration numbers can be used by drug traffickers, for instance, even terrorists.

Since 9/11, of course, there's been a huge concern about aircraft and the threats they pose. And registration numbers can help law enforcement when an aircraft, for instance, enters the restricted air space over Washington. You know, one of the first things law enforcement would do in that instance is run the tail number. That gives them the owner's name and helps them determine whether or not there's a real threat there. But if the registration isn't accurate, it isn't any help and a lot of them aren't.

Well, why aren't they accurate? Until now, owners only had to register the aircraft once at the time of purchase. Required to report changes, like an aircraft sale or the scrapping of an aircraft, but many owners simply haven't just been doing that. Sometimes for innocent reasons, we should say, like the death of an owner.

But as a result, a large number of the FAA's records are out of date. Now, the FAA is taking corrective action. A new rule will require all civil aircraft to be re-registered over the next three years, and after that, owners will have to renew their registrations every three years. It is comparable to what you do with a car. Owners that don't comply will have the registrations canceled, and the planes won't be able to fly legally.

WHITFIELD: And so, there's confidence that this will solve that problem?

MESERVE: Well, it isn't going to solve it completely. This change isn't going to eliminate the illegal use of a plane's tail number, for instance. It isn't difficult to change a number on a tail. Just take some tape and you can do it. Drug traffickers, for instance, put legitimate numbers on their planes all the time to throw law enforcement off their tail. That's still going to happen from time to time, but the hope is that this tighter system is hoping it lets it happen less frequently.


WHIFIELD: Jeanne Meserve, thanks so much.

MESERVE: You bet.

WHITFIELD: All right. It is 9:34 on the East Coast. 6:34 on the West Coast. Here's the stories that have us talking this morning.

Johnson & Johnson is recalling more than 13 million packages of soft chewable Rolaids. This follows consumer complaints of finding metal and wood particles in the product. For more information, go to

Fire breaks out at a school in Atlanta this morning. Flames and smoke pour through the roof of the building. Luckily, this all happened before students arrived.

Turning now to Washington. The White House is optimistic Congress will approve the tax cut compromise President Obama reached with Republicans. But Democrats in the House are livid and won't even consider the measure. The Senate might still vote on it Monday. If the deal is not approved, your taxes will go up in January.

A new California law allows parents to take over a failing school. The law is getting its first test right now in Compton. CNN's Casey Wian is here to tell us all about it. So, Casey, it's causing some controversy already?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. That controversial new law here in California is called the Parent Trigger Law. And this week, parents pulled the trigger with their sights set on a group of administrators at one failing elementary school.


WIAN (voice-over): Marlene Romero and Shemika Murphy seem unlikely revolutionaries. They're parents of students at McKinley Elementary in Compton. One of the worst performers in California.

SHEMIKA MURPHY, MCKINLEY ELEMENTARY PARENT: I'm here today because I care about my children and their education and their future.

MARLENE ROMERO, MCKINLEY ELEMENTARY PARENT: I think the district is -- their priority is not the kids. It's something else.

WIAN: Parents representing 62 percent of McKinley's students signed a petition to force the Compton school district to give up control of McKinley.

CROWD: Yes, we can!

WIAN: Parents packed school buses headed for the district office to deliver their petition. It's the first attempted takeover under a new California law allowing parents to change leadership at failing public schools.

ISMENIA GUZMAN, MCKINLEY ELEMENTARY PARENT: And this is our petition, us as parents that we're going to care for our kids' education.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. We all care for our kids' education.

WIAN: Organizers say they expect the district to fight the takeover perhaps in court. The teachers union and some parents also are opposed.

LEE FINNIE, MCKINLEY ELEMENTARY PARENT: They're doing great with my kids. I really don't have any complaints. I'm understanding that the school was having problems previously, but they're actually making steps and strides for the benefit of the children.

WIAN: Test scores have improved, yet McKinley ranks in the bottom 10 percent of even low-income area California schools.

(on camera): The takeover effort has created a rift among families here at McKinley Elementary. Opponents say they've been harassed by people gathering signatures for the petition. And supporters say they've been threatened by opponents.

Latino families have even received flyers like this one warning they will be deported if they sign the petition.

(voice-over): Much of the anger is directed at Parent Revolution, a group that organized this takeover and lobbied for the law.

BEN AUSTIN, PARENT REVOLUTION: We're going to take a failing district school and turn it into a high-performing charter school. By far, the biggest risk is the status quo.

WIAN: Charter school operator Celerity is slated to run McKinley.

VIELKA MCFARLANE, CEO, CELERITY EDUCATIONAL GROUP: We're here to follow the parents' will. And so, we know that we need to listen. We need to listen very carefully and we need to also listen to the teachers and see which ones of them want to follow the will of the parent.

MURPHY: This could happen -- this Compton, other cities, other states, this could be something really big.


WIAN: But it's only a start. The school district has not said how it will respond in a lawsuit appears very likely. Meanwhile, the charter school operator's preparing to take over that elementary school, perhaps as early as next year. And six other states are already considering laws similar to California's Parent Trigger Law.


WHITFIELD: Casey Wian, thanks so much for that update. Interesting stuff.

All right, meantime, let's talk a little politics straight ahead. Sarah Palin is leaving the country this weekend. She's going to Haiti on a mission with Franklin Graham. That's coming up next in our political ticker.



CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST, "CONAN": Because of a Chinese dissident won this year's Nobel Peace Prize, China has started to censor news on the Internet regarding the Nobel Prize ceremony.


O'BRIEN: Yes. Boo is right, yes. For example, China's claiming that Bristol Palin won.



WHITFIELD: Speaking of Palin, let's talk about Sarah Palin. She's been traveling on her book tour, but now she's heading out on another trip for a different purpose. Our deputy political director Paul Steinhauser has the story from the desk. That's a mouthful.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: That is where I am, Fred. That is where I am. You got it.

Yes, we had this one first. In fact, our political director Sam (INAUDIBLE), broke this story yesterday afternoon.

And let's talk about Sarah Palin. He learned that she is heading to Haiti. You mentioned this, with Franklin Graham and his relief group Samaritans Purse. They're going down there this weekend and among other things, they're going to be stopping at a cholera clinic. Of course, Haiti dealing with that crisis down there. Palin, of course, has talked about possibly running for president, so we're going to keep our eyes on the former Alaska governor. And of course, she was John McCain's running mate in the last election.

Another person who may want to run for president, Tim Pawlenty, the outgoing Minnesota governor. I'm going to ask Jerry Morehead, our cameraman, to zoom right in here. Brand new this morning on the CNN Political Ticker. Pawlenty's new book. It's called "Courage to Stand." It's coming out next month, and we learned this morning that the book tour takes Tim Pawlenty to, among other places, Iowa and New Hampshire.

Well, why does that matter? Because Iowa and New Hampshire, Fred, have a very prominent role in the road for the White House. Iowa's caucuses are the first contest in the primary season, and New Hampshire follows right after that with the first primary in the nation. So, we'll keep our eyes on --

WHITFIELD: Interesting.

STEINHAUSER: -- all the stuff as the road to the White House --

WHITFIELD: So, that seems to be the new strategy. Book tour to kind of test the waters in time to see if you really should be running for something.

All right. In the meantime, let's talk about how Americans are feeling about that tax cut deal or no deal.

STEINHAUSER: Yes. A lot of push back, of course, by Democratic lawmakers in Congress against the deal between the president and Republicans in Congress. Also some pushback by those on the right, as well.

So, as you said, where do Americans stand? Well, two polls this week give us a little bit of a hint. Take a look at this. This is from Gallup. Came out earlier this week. And you can see right there, they asked, do you support extending those tax cuts for two years for all Americans? And 66 percent said, yes.

Also, in that plan between the president and congressional Republicans is extending the jobless benefits for those long-term unemployed. Two-thirds of the people questioned in the Gallup poll agree, yes, agree.

But look at this. This is from Bloomberg. And they asked, do you favor those tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans? And you can see right there, six out of ten - actually, that should be -- I'm sorry. About that. Six out of ten, that's right. That is right. Six out of 10 favor eliminating the tax cuts. Only 38 percent oppose that.

And that Bloomberg study to similar other polls, as well. So, kind of a mixed message here. Maybe Americans like the plan, but maybe they're not so crazy about extending the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Of course, polls, as you know, Fred, are a snapshot of how Americans feel right now. People change their minds.

WHITFIELD: Of course. Like they change their shoes or clothes. Anything. You know? Tomorrow could be a whole different story.

Paul Steinhauser, thanks so much. Appreciate it.


WHITFIELD: All right. We'll have your next political update in one hour. And a reminder. For all the latest political news, go to our Web site,

We're also keeping an eye on the tuition protests in London. We'll be right back with more of the NEWSROOM.


WHITFIELD: Ok. Check out this Russian daredevil taking base jumping to new extremes. The 45-year-old braved temperatures of 22 below when he jumps off a nearly two-mile high peak in Antarctica. He glided for about 45 seconds before opening his parachute, shoo and then landing safely. Scanning our "Morning Passport" -- oh, that is a serious daredevil. I've got to see that one more time.

Ok. We're going take you to eastern Australia now where authorities have issued disaster declarations after heavy rain and flooding. About seven inches of rain drenched a large part of New South Wales and eastern Victoria.

Wow, extraordinary pictures there. Dams, rivers and creeks are full. Some overflowing as you saw. More than a thousand people are on evacuation alert.

And it's not rain but snow that is causing major headaches across Europe. In Germany, air ground and rail travel has been disrupted. Hundreds of flights canceled. And passengers stranded in Berlin and Frankfurt. Things are expected to get better today. Let's hope.

Even the animals at a city zoo are trying to cope in the cold. These meerkats are gathered around a small heater trying to stay warm while other animals seem oblivious to the cold snowy weather and they seemed to like it there. Where's Santa? I got the antlers out there. All right, now, an amazing performance in Slovakia. Take a look. Oh my goodness. Her voice is amazing and she is just 12. Patricia Janeckova is the winner of the Czech/Slovak Talents Mania television show. Some 1.2 million viewers took part in the final vote; 53 percent favored her and you can bet the music world is taking notice. My goodness.

Of course, we're also following lots of other developments; less melodic in the next hour of the CNN NEWSROOM. Let's check in first with homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, the FAA is moving to close record kept -- keeping gaps that may have provided opportunities to drug traffickers and even terrorists. I'll have that story at the top of the hour.

REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: And over the last couple of weeks, we've been talking about some heavy snowfall in parts of the Great Lakes. Now, we're going to see parts of the nation that haven't had a taste of winter yet getting a great deal of rain, sleet, snow and possibly some ice. That story is coming up straight ahead.

WHITFIELD: All right, Reynolds, Jeanne, thanks so much. I look forward to that also.

You, our viewers, have sent us your snapshots and videos for years now, and we have actually reached our goal; an iReport from every country in the world. The viewer who sent the last picture says he felt like he was on the edge of the world. And we'll talk to him next hour.

And CNN's newest primetime program "Parker-Spitzer" showed just how outraged House Democrats feel about the tax cut bill. One veteran Congressman says the caucus have never been so united against a Democratic president's proposal before.


REP. PETER DEFAZIO (D), OREGON: I think it's a pretty darn strong message. They heard some people down at the White House are blowing it out saying no, it doesn't mean much, it's not by any -- I'll tell you what, all our leadership was in the room they heard what we said and they heard that 99 percent of the Caucus was on board with this is not an acceptable package.

I mean, if you think the economics of the last eight years have worked great that is supply side, trickle-down, this would be even more supply side and even more trickle-down and I don't think it's going to produce the results that this president wants or needs in terms of putting people back to work. I mean, he's had a failed economic team and this is more mush from that same failed economic team.


WHITFIELD: Catch "Parker-Spitzer" tonight 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. And a very timely "Flashback" this morning. On this date 1984, the single "Do You Know it's Christmas" was released by Band-Aid.




WHITFIELD: All right. That song was the brain child of Bob Geldof. He co-wrote the song and put together a group of top musicians, like George Michael, Boy George, Sting, Bono, all of them performing at the single. It raised money for famine relief in Ethiopia, and now it's a classic.


WHITFIELD: Oh yes, time to talk a little sports. You have a little jiggy too. Former Falcons running back Jamal Anderson with us now.

JAMAL ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm going dirty but I -- I've got to dance.

WHITFIELD: You know once and for always, right? It never leaves the system.

ANDERSON: How are you?

WHITFIELD: I'm doing good how about you?

ANDERSON: You look fantastic, I'm great.


We have to talk a little bit of stuff here. Of course, we're going to start with football. And the Colts --


ANDERSON: Well, last night was a big game. Last night was a big game. The Colts and Titans played. Peyton Manning and the Colts are on a three-game losing streak, the first time in a long time. Actually 2001 was the last time the Colts lost four games in a row.

Peyton Manning back again last night. You see him --

WHITFIELD: And he said, don't worry about me. Everything's all right. Don't sweat three losses in a row.

ANDERSON: Very true. What I loved about the press conference last night is Peyton saying guys, I'm ok. I never left the bright spot.

25-35, 319 yards passing last night. Again, 11 INTs for Peyton Manning in the last three games, no interceptions last week. Two touchdowns -- you're watching the play right here.

WHITFIELD: Ok. Wait. What's INT? I don't know that much --

ANDERSON: Interceptions.

WHITFIELD: I don't know football that well.

Anderson: Pierre Garcon here with a fantastic play with the Colts. It was a tough game. The big thing for the Titans since Vince Young has gone away, it's been a different football team. But they did fight back last night, but the Colts did get a win, big.

WHITFIELD: We're hearing Garcon's name a lot this season.

ANDERSON: Yes. Hey, Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon and Peyton Manning -- it's a very, very talented trio. Yes.

WHITFIELD: So now let's move to -- are we still talking football? Or are we talking Celtics now?

ANDERSON: Boston Celtics -- Boston Celtics last night, 18 --


WHITFIELD: Yes. Very close win.

ANDERSON: Very, very close win against the 76ers. Yes. The great thing about basketball this year, you have the Celtics, you have the Heat. You're watching the highlight here. Kevin Garnett and -- look how close this game got to the point. A fantastic slam here over Kevin Garnett, which is kind of dicey right there, but the Celtics were able to come back.

You're watching Rajon Rondo moving the ball around, 18-4 for the Boston Celtics. It's a tough game. Again, you have the Heat on the East as well.

WHITFIELD: On fire again.

ANDERSON: The Knicks are playing well. The Hawks are playing well in the West -- on the West you have the Lakers and you have Spurs. This is going to be interesting.

WHITFIELD: Yes. I have --


WHITFIELD: -- ticket Sunday night.

ANDERSON: Cam Newton?

WHITFIELD: Yes. Let's talk about Cam Newton.

ANDERSON: The Heisman Trophy is tomorrow. Last night Cam Newton, he cleaned up, he won the Maxwell Award, Player of the Year, Davy O'Brian Quarterback of the Year. We have a clip of Cam Newton here talking about the allegations and what happened with his dad.

Let's check this out.

WHITFIELD: All right. Good.


CAM NEWTON: I'm not -- I'm not afraid of saying that you know, we are not all perfect. Everybody's made a mistake. I'm not sitting up here and saying not what he did is right or what he did is wrong. Who am I up here to say that what he did is true or not?


WHITFIELD: Is it as simple as that? He's learning, unfamiliar territory for his dad, too. They're excited. A parent is super excited about their son. Wants to make everything happen. Is it like that?

ANDERSON: It's a very, very tough situation. People are still very angry. The NCAA ruled Cam Newton is eligible. He is clearly the best player in college football this year. And you know, he won last night. The Heisman is tomorrow night. He should certainly win the Heisman Trophy as the best player but his dad won't be there.

WHITFIELD: Dad can't go?

ANDERSON: His dad will not -- his dad decided not to go. He can go, he decided not to go. He wants to pull away from --

WHITFIELD: He doesn't want to upstage --

ANDERSON: Yes, absolutely. Same thing happened at the NFC championship game a week ago. It's a smart move for the dad but it's very, very tough. There are people who are still upset. But Fred this guy is the best player in college football. He should win.

WHITFIELD: People are simply going to be watching it. What a moment.

ANDERSON: He should win.

WHITFIELD: All right Jamal.

ANDERSON: Great working with you.

WHITFIELD: Awesome. Appreciate it. Good to see you. Have a great weekend. Are you going to jiggy out now?

ANDERSON: It's Friday. It's Friday.

WHITFIELD: Ok. There's the jiggy.

ANDERSON: I cannot wait. Have a great weekend.

WHITFIELD: I will. You too.