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Air Travel Nightmare; American Aid Worker Jailed in Haiti; Barack Obama and Michael Vick

Aired December 28, 2010 - 22:00   ET


RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again, Randi Kaye sitting in for Anderson.

Tonight: 11 hours on a plane after the flight had landed, on the ground, within sight of the terminal. And instead of action and answers, passengers got excuses and finger-pointing from the authorities and the airlines. We're "Keeping Them Honest" and talking with one family who suffered through it all.

Later: Why are Haitian authorities keeping an American aid worker in prison, even though he hasn't been charged with anything and even though the allegations against him include turning a boy into a zombie? He was in court today, but he's still not free. "Keeping Them Honest" there, too.

Plus, 360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta with another installment of "Extreme Living," this time, a NASCAR driver. She is really pushing it to the limit. That's right -- she.

We begin tonight, as always, though, "Keeping Them Honest."

Chaos at the airport as this week's monster blizzard leaves airline passengers stranded on the tarmac for hours on end. It's every traveler's worst nightmare, no food, no water, screaming babies, and frustrated passengers breaking down in tears -- not just on one flight, but four, all at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, all without gates to let their passengers off the plane, two Cathay Pacific flights, one stranded for a punishing 11 hours, a British Airways flight stranded seven hours, and an Aeromexico flight stuck for six hours.

Why? No one seems to know, but everyone is pointing fingers. The New York/New Jersey Port Authority oversees Kennedy, which is a major hub for air travelers from around the country and the world. The Port Authority claims the airlines are to blame.

Quote: "The reason for the delay is because the airlines brought in the planes without checking with terminal operations to see if there was a place to put them. It is an airline's responsibility to contact the terminal before bringing in flights, and they did not."

But Cathay Pacific isn't buying it. Its spokesperson says, the airline's intention was -- quote -- "to get passengers to New York as quickly as possible, and we anticipated to have gate space available." So, if it's not the airline or the airport's fault, who is it? Try U.S. customs. Noting that each of the stranded planes was an international flight, the Port Authority also suggests that, on the midnight shift, there may have been too few officers on duty to clear the passengers through customs.

Of course, a customs spokesperson insists that it wasn't them, a spokesperson saying, "At no point were customs officials sent home," he said. "For flights arriving after midnight, there is usually one terminal available, which is always staffed with customs officers."

Whatever the cause, what about that airline passenger bill of rights that's supposed to limit how much time passengers can sit on a tarmac? Well, it turns out there are exceptions. The rules don't apply if air traffic control determines there are safety or security reasons passengers should stay on the plane.

And if the flight is operated by an international carrier, the rules don't apply at all. But, right now, holiday travelers continue to suffer.

I sat down with the Ascui family. Dad, Max, and his children, 15-year-old Emileigh and 13-year-old Nicolas, were all on that Cathay flight from hell.


KAYE: Max, let's start with you.

You were on the tarmac at JFK for, what, 11 hours, plus the -- the flight time, which was more than five hours, so, really, almost 17 hours...


KAYE: ... on an airplane. What was the mood like on that plane?

M. ASCUI: Well, it was, you know, pretty passive initially.

I was quite surprised at how everyone was acceptable to what was going on. But, obviously, after we landed at 2:15 a.m., and expecting to -- to get off, we were told we'd have to wait for an hour. Then, the hour passed and the pilot came on saying, sorry, it looks like it might be another two hours.

Two hours would pass, and then he's saying, you know, bad news. I'm sorry to keep giving you bad news. This time, it looks like it may be six hours to eight hours.

Yes, it ended up being a full 11 hours that we were stuck.

KAYE: Were people angry?

M. ASCUI: Yes, there were some very angry, upset, demanding answers. None could be given. You know, the crew was very good. They were great, respectable. They didn't know. They couldn't answer.

KAYE: Right.


KAYE: Emileigh, do you remember what -- what was being told to you? What was the crew telling you? What was the reason?

EMILEIGH ASCUI, STRANDED AIRLINE PASSENGER: I remember, when we first landed, they told us to try and have our seat belts on and stay seated for a good hour, which was hard, because I like to get up and walk around. But they tried...


KAYE: But they kept promising that, soon, you would get off the airplane?

E. ASCUI: Mm-hmm, yes. And then the captain would come on and say, it's just another -- we don't really know. It's just another hour or two or something like that. And then that would pass, and it would be another, and then...

KAYE: Nicolas, how did you amuse yourself for 11 hours on this flight?

NICOLAS ASCUI, STRANDED AIRLINE PASSENGER: I watched movies and played the little video games they had on the TV. And that's practically all I did.


KAYE: I don't know how much you have flown, since you're only 13 years old, but are you scared to fly again?



N. ASCUI: Not really. I will be fine.

KAYE: And, Max, were people asking to get off the airplane?

M. ASCUI: Yes. Yes, actually on a few occasions.

And on one in particular that I remember, it was a family that was asking and begging to get off because they had three young children. And from what I recall, they -- they were going to try and see if they could shuttle us off. This is -- I believe it was around the seventh hour. So, they were planning on maybe clearing...


KAYE: At seven hours?

M. ASCUI: Seven hours. KAYE: The seven-hour mark, they were trying to get you a shuttle?

M. ASCUI: That's right. So, they have their -- their children were stuck in the plane. And they did.

The crew, again, they were very respectful. They were going to try and do whatever they could. They wanted to...


KAYE: But the shuttle never came?

M. ASCUI: Yes, get a shuttle in, and it never happened. They never got back to us on that. Four hours later...

KAYE: You finally got off the plane.

M. ASCUI: ... we finally got off.

KAYE: Everybody's pointing fingers at each other, from the Port Authority, to the customs folks, to the airlines, the airport. Who do you think, Max, is at fault here?

M. ASCUI: I -- you know, I respectfully think it was the -- it was Cathay Pacific. I really do.

KAYE: The airline.

M. ASCUI: I think it was the airline that basically didn't check ahead of time. You know, in terms of keeping us there -- we started this trip, I don't know if you know, December 26.

KAYE: Right.

M. ASCUI: It was scheduled for 9:55.

KAYE: Then it was canceled.

M. ASCUI: And then it was postponed until 1:00, and then we were on the flight, we were in the plane at that time for four hours.

KAYE: But the airport, you're saying, should have known that there wasn't a gate for you?

M. ASCUI: Yes, that's right. I would assume that they would have called ahead and found out.

KAYE: Right.

M. ASCUI: And it was very rushed, too. We were in the airport. "Get over here. We need you here now." And they just flew out quickly.

KAYE: And on top of it all, you don't have your bags. So, hopefully, you will get your luggage soon. M. ASCUI: That's right.

KAYE: But you're on the ground and you're off that airplane.

M. ASCUI: Yes, and looking forward to the bed.

KAYE: So...


E. ASCUI: Yes.


KAYE: Well, thanks for sharing your story with us. We appreciate it.


KAYE: What a nightmare. I talked about why it happened and how to stop it from happening again with Kate Hanni, executive director of


KAYE: Kate, a passenger bill of rights was passed in April that lays out very specific rules that need to be followed in delays on the tarmac, including food and water after two hours. Air-conditioning needs to be on. Toilets need to be serviced. But this was an international flight.

So, is all of that out the window here?

KATE HANNI, FLYERSRIGHTS.ORG: It's all out the window. We tried, but failed, to get international flights included in the rule.

We also tried, but failed, to get airports to have mandatory contingency plans for long on-ground delays. Clearly, both failed this weekend.

KAYE: You heard the Ascui family say that some people, including themselves, had asked to get off the plane.

They had been promised that a shuttle would be coming. That was about at the seventh hour of their wait. What can they do in -- in a case like that to get off the airplane? I mean, why couldn't they just bring out the air stairs and a bus and unload these people?

HANNI: Well, that's -- that's the point. They could have.

Terminal four at JFK has 14 passenger-mover buses. They have 14 sets of portable stairs. And anywhere an emergency vehicle can go, those buses can go, and they could have deplaned them. The problem is, the Port Authority didn't appear to be motivated to make that happen.

KAYE: So, we know that no laws were broken here, but were promises broken, in your opinion?

HANNI: Promises were broken. I was on a tarmac delay task force for one year, and the Port Authority and all the other airports in the U.S. promised that they would never allow the kinds of situations that happened to JetBlue four years ago happen again. And here we are again.

KAYE: And do you blame the Port Authority or the airlines or the customs officials? Or -- or who's at fault?

HANNI: I blame all of them, but, ultimately, I blame the Department of Transportation for not including international flights in the rule. I think they got snookered by the International Air Transport Association lobbying for the international carriers and saying, oh, no, this will be too cumbersome for us. We can't possibly follow this rule.

But, unfortunately, that means any international flight coming or going from the U.S. is -- is not going to have any protections.

KAYE: And the passengers have no recourse at all. I mean, this family just told me they didn't even get vouchers. They got nothing.

HANNI: That's the problem. The -- the airlines, since September 11, have eliminated most of the things that they had in their contract that protected passengers during weather events. Those are gone now.

And a lot of passengers aren't aware that they're gone. We're trying to inform them and get them to advocate for themselves in advance by buying travel insurance, by packing appropriately in case they are stuck on the tarmac or inside an airport, and by also looking for alternative forms of transportation.

And, in the event of a giant storm like this, cancel your flight. Get reaccommodated. Plan it for another time.

KAYE: All right, good advice. Kate Hanni, thank you, as always.

HANNI: Thank you.


KAYE: So much passenger outrage.

Let us know what you think. Join the live chat now under way at

Up next: a story that's almost too incredible -- an American hospital volunteer jailed in Haiti, accused of turning a child into a zombie, in other words, practicing voodoo. We will see who made the allegation and talk to a colleague of the jailed man on the horrible ordeal that he's going through.

And later: President Obama phones the Philadelphia Eagles owner to say Michael Vick deserves a second chance after doing time for dogfighting. He also apparently talked about green energy and the Eagles' new stadium. Well, guess what's getting all the buzz.

And is the White House trying to downplay the Vick angle? "Raw Politics" -- tonight.


KAYE: One story we have been following closely here on 360 is the arrest and imprisonment of an American hospital volunteer in Haiti on an allegation that he practiced voodoo on a child. His name is Paul Waggoner.

He is accused of kidnapping a 15-month-old boy who in fact was seriously ill and died and then turning that child into a zombie. That's right, a zombie. An American man who is not yet charged with a crime is being held in Haiti's notorious National Penitentiary.

"Keeping Them Honest," the allegation, which is under investigation, was made by the child's father, who tells people his son is alive. A hearing was held today before an investigative magistrate, with both Waggoner and the father present.

A colleague of Waggoner's telling CNN the hearing lasted about four hours, but was cut short due to a power outage. No ruling was issued today, but Waggoner's supporters are hoping the judge may decide tomorrow to release him.

Now, here's the background to this story and how it got to this point. Back in February, a month after the earthquake devastated Haiti, Waggoner, whose nickname is "Little Paul," was volunteering at a hospital when a man walked in with his deathly-ill son, who did not survive.

The father, Frantz Philistin, was asked to return the following day to claim the body. American doctor Kenneth Adams was present at the hospital the next day. In an affidavit, Dr. Adams states that when Philistin was shown the remains of his son -- quote -- "The father jokingly said that it looked like the baby was still alive, but I pulled out my stethoscope and listened carefully for any breath sounds or heartbeat. And there was none."

In addition, an official death certificate was filled out for little Keevins Philistin and signed by a hospital official. The boy's body was cremated by the hospital because Frantz Philistin said he had no money to bury his son.

A colleague said that Waggoner's only role that day was being present with Mr. Philistin when he viewed his son's body. Even the head of hospital security said Little Paul had nothing to do with the child's care.

But, just weeks later, Philistin filed complaints against Waggoner and two others. They were cleared, but Waggoner was not. A summons was issued for his arrest and he was jailed earlier this month.

Last week, he released a letter from the National Penitentiary, saying -- quote -- "I am broken and can't understand why this is happening to me. I have done nothing wrong. Why can't anybody help me and get me out of here? I'm scared I will never be released. I have been moved and can no longer feel the sun on my skin. It is so dark, and I am so afraid."

Tonight, the State Department said that it's been providing consular assistance to Waggoner during his detention. Meanwhile, Waggoner's colleague is Paul Sebring, who, incidentally, is nicknamed "Big Paul." He's in Port-au-Prince tonight.

And, a short time ago, I spoke to him via Skype.


KAYE: How concerned are you about Paul's safety? I mean, he's been accused of basically turning a little boy into a zombie through some sort of voodoo. I mean, are you worried that there may be people out there in Haiti who will try and harm him once he is out of prison?

PAUL SEBRING, FRIEND OF JAILED AMERICAN: I think the biggest concern I have got for his safety and once he's out of prison is that, you know, people surrounding this case, they may try -- they may not be happy with the (AUDIO GAP) that has happened and they may come after him in some sense.

You know, there was violence that was surrounding it back in February. And there were a few basically lynch mobs that were going to come after him. We're just really hoping that that doesn't happen this time.

And we have, you know, contacted, you know, some people that we work with here in local police that are on our side to make sure that we're safe and secure when he is released before we go and (AUDIO GAP) the country for a bit.

KAYE: I have to ask, how is his mental and emotional state? I mean, he's been in the National Penitentiary since December 16. And he wrote a letter just before Christmas where he said that he was afraid, that he was scared that he will never be released. So, how is he doing?

SEBRING: For the condition that he's in, he's doing -- he's doing OK.

I mean, personally, he's a very strong individual. I know he's doing much better than I or anyone I know would do. Mentally, it -- you know, it is taking its toll, as it would with anybody. And we just keep, you know, trying to make sure he has food and water, and encouraging letters and -- that he can read to, you know, let him know how much he's loved back home and how everyone knows he's innocent.

KAYE: Are you concerned at all about his health? I mean, the prison where he has been staying reportedly has problems with cholera. Are you afraid at all that Paul could have contracted cholera?

SEBRING: He's separated from the cholera patients. He was -- when I saw him (AUDIO GAP) in court, he did look dehydrated. We are addressing that and getting him some more oral rehydration salts and some more water, things of that nature. The problem is, is that he has some other cell mates that are not as blessed as he is to have a support crew like us. So, he's been giving most of his food and water away to them because they're in worse shape than him.

So, he actually yesterday requested that we quadruple the food and water we're taking in, so that he can take care of his cell mates for the time being.

KAYE: Mm-hmm.

And how would you say the State Department has been handling this? Do you feel that they have been helpful at all in helping secure Paul's release from prison?

SEBRING: I don't think they have been trying -- I don't think they have been helpful, no, in that sense.

From the -- the answer I get from them is that they're process -- their process here (AUDIO GAP) the judicial process to make sure that it doesn't get bogged behind. But they can't be influencing any of the judges or anything like that. That's not their role.

It's a sovereign country here, so they have to respect the laws there. They just want to make sure that the laws and the judicial process is followed all the way through.

KAYE: And from what I understand, the State Department told you that they wouldn't be present at Paul's hearing because of the Christmas holiday. Yet, you're there. So, how did that sit with you?

SEBRING: I was really upset, actually. You know, it was on the 24th. It was a Friday. And I asked what time they were going to be there. And the answer I got was: It's a holiday. We're not going to be there.

And I said, well, if he gets released and we have issues, what about a security detail? And they said: Well, it's -- we will see what we can do.

I was extremely disappointed with that, because it's just, they're leaving him hanging out to dry is how I feel.

KAYE: And the two of you have been doing humanitarian work with this -- with your group since the earthquake.

When this legal ordeal is over, which it does seem it's getting close to an end, will you actually stay there and continue your work? Is that what he wants to do?

SEBRING: That's what he does want to do.

(AUDIO GAP) want to do is, we do need to take a break from Haiti for a little bit, let things cool offer. I was speaking to him after he met with the State Department for the first time on Wednesday last week, when he was in the prison. And they asked him what his plans were. And he told me that he told them straight up, he's like, I want to go back to the house, settle up some things, take care of some of the prior projects we were working on, leave for a couple weeks, and come back.

I believe, honestly, that I have never met another person who is more dedicated to working in -- in this country and helping out (AUDIO GAP) people.

KAYE: All right. Paul Sebring, good to have you with us tonight and thanks for your time.

SEBRING: Thank you.


KAYE: Up next: Was it a political fumble? President Obama phoning in his support for convicted dogfighter and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. And is the White House now trying to make the refs look the other way at something else? We will try to spot the spin.

Later: from the rise of the Tea Party to new numbers showing the decline of Sarah Palin -- the year in politics.


KAYE: President Obama is a football lover and a dog lover. He's also passionate about green energy and programs to help ex-cons fit back into society, so they don't end up in prison again.

Somehow, it all came together in a presidential phone call to the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles. It has dog lovers up in arms and political pundits scratching their heads. They want to know why he brought up Michael Vick and whether the White House is trying to downplay a potentially controversial call.

Some answers now from Martin Savidge.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One thing seems certain. The president's call to Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie was never supposed to go public. It did when "Sports Illustrated"'s Peter King broke the news.

(on camera): And may I ask how you heard of it?

PETER KING, "SPORTS ILLUSTRATED": I would rather not say.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): Once the story was out, the White House quickly said the reason the president called Lurie was to discuss plans the owner add to improve energy efficiency at Lincoln Financial Field. Then the conversation turned to other issues, with the president complimenting the Eagles for giving Michael Vick a second chance.

KING: Obama basically said to him that so many people who serve time never get a really fair second chance. And Lurie told me that the president was very passionate about it.

SAVIDGE: The president may be passionate about the employability of ex-convicts, but many people are still passionately against Michael Vick. And that could be a problem for the president.

Vick spent 18 months in prison, after he pleaded guilty to being part of a dogfighting ring. To the horror of many, the wider criminal investigation revealed deaths of dogs by drowning, hanging and electrocution. The case still ignites outrage, as seen at this dog boutique in Dallas, where the owner is offering a 20 percent discount to those who say they hate the Eagles.

LISA LANGE, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, PEOPLE FOR THE ETHICAL TREATMENT OF ANIMALS: I don't personally think it was the smartest thing to do. This is a nation of football lovers, but it is more of a nation of dog lovers. And the White House was quick to make the statement that he condemns dogfighting and he condemns the actions that Michael Vick took. But I think it is very hard for people to forget.

SAVIDGE: This isn't the first time the president has been heard on topics relegated to conversations around the water cooler. Remember this?

KANYE WEST, MUSICIAN: I am really happy for you. I'm going to let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time.

SAVIDGE: The president criticized Kanye West's behavior at the MTV Music Video Awards.

Or this: the so-called beer summit at the White House designed to soothe the controversy after the arrest of a prominent black Harvard professor who said he was a victim of racial profiling.

Political analyst Darrell West says, whatever the reason for the president's call, it was the wrong call to make, with the potential to alienate Obama supporters.

DARRELL WEST, VICE PRESIDENT AND DIRECTOR OF GOVERNANCE STUDIES, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: The president really needs to be focusing on the issues that are crucial for his own long-term future, and not get drawn into these cultural or social issues that really are not that central to his future performance.

SAVIDGE (on camera): President Obama is an avid fan of football, as have other presidents been, including Richard Nixon, who, at one point, legend has it, supposedly called the coach of the Washington Redskins and actually gave them a play, which they used in their very next game. It had disastrous results, and the team actually lost.

Martin Savidge, CNN, Atlanta.


KAYE: Coming up, our series "Extreme Living" and a NASCAR driver who is trying to pave the way for others just like her. You might say she's a female NASCAR phenom.

But, first, Joe Johns with a 360 bulletin -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Randi, some terrifying moments at the Sugarloaf Ski Resort in Maine today. More than 200 skiers were trapped on a lift in winds gusting up to 50 miles an hour, when the lift broke down, nine people injured when five of the lift chairs fell to the snow, a drop of more than 20 feet. Maine officials are investigating.

New York police have charged a 55-year-old man, Hassan Malik, with second-degree murder in connection with the death of a woman whose body was found in a suitcase last week. Authorities say he confessed to bludgeoning and strangling 28-year-old Betty Williams.

Congressman Charlie Rangel says he's starting to raise funds to pay for a trust to pay his legal expenses. Rangel was formally censured by the House this month for rules violations and is saddled with legal fees. The New York Democrat says a House committee has authorized his fund-raising plan.

And Sir Elton John can add one more title to his name: dad. The singer's publicist says he and his longtime partner, David Furnish, are the proud parents of a boy who was born Christmas Day to a surrogate in California. Sir Elton's baby will have a very regal name of his own: Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John. Levon, as Elton fans know, was the name of one of John's biggest hits in the early '70s.

And, boy, that is quite a name there, Randi.

KAYE: Five names really there in that one name.

JOHNS: Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John.

KAYE: What a mouthful.

JOHNS: It sounds like a song.


KAYE: There you go.


KAYE: All right, Joe, thanks.

Up next: It's been a big year in politics, from the crazy campaign ads to the midterm elections. Find out what stories made our list of all the best, all the worst in 2010.

Also ahead: life in the extremely fast lane, driving for more than two hours in broiling heat. Meet the fastest woman in NASCAR. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAYE: "Raw Politics" now, and new evidence suggesting Sarah Palin might be losing her presidential luster among Republicans. We did some polling on who Republicans prefer at the top of their ticket, and who Democrats like for their own. We'll talk about that and a lot more tonight with Columbia University's Marc Lamont Hill. He's the host of "Our World with Black Enterprise." Also with us, Erick Erickson, editor in chief of

Good to see you guys.


KAYE: Let's take a look at a few numbers from our 2012 poll released this morning. One number that's raised a few eyebrows today has to do with Sarah Palin. So take a look at this. Forty-nine percent saying they are likely to support Sarah Palin for the nomination, but if you look at two years ago, it was 67 percent.

So her support has dropped by nearly 20 points since the '08 campaign. Now a majority say they aren't likely to support her. And we're just talking about voters in her own party, Erick. I mean, they're using the word "unelectable" here.

ERICK ERICKSON, EDITOR IN CHIEF, REDSTATE.COM: Right. You know, she's suffering from what every politician, including the president, suffers from, and that's when you're overexposed as much as she is right now, your polling tends to go down. It doesn't matter who the politician is. Regardless of what party it is, your polling goes down when people see you constantly.

And it is impossible for Sarah Palin to get out of the media spotlight, whether or not she wants to. I mean, everything she putts on Twitter, on Facebook, on her TLC show, everyone sees it. And then again, she's got her TLC show, as well. So she's not going away, and that level of exposure makes you -- conversely, those people in the poll who are out of the spotlight and have been for a while are going up in the polls, which is kind of what you expect to see at a point like this.

KAYE: And, Marc, it seems like Palin's been looking to beef up her policy image recently. There was the trip, of course, to Haiti, the op-ed on Iran. Are those the right moves for her at this point?

HILL: Those are the right moves. I disagree with Erick a bit. I mean, part of it is overexposure, but part of that, whenever she gets exposed, she gets exposed. People don't realize that she doesn't know a whole bunch about the topics. So it's important for her to convince the American public or at least her base, that she's not only someone who can ride (ph) the truth to the populace but that she's someone who can answer tough questions and help us solve these tough economic problems that we're facing and also have some sense about foreign policy.

By writing op-eds, by going on trips, she's beginning to do that, but the fact is, all of that stuff is being counterveiled by a TLC show, by her child being on "Dancing with the Stars," by her making horrific gaffes on Facebook, by favoriting tweets like mine a few weeks ago. I mean, she's making all the wrong moves in the public, and I think it's going to hurt her, ultimately, with her base. I don't think she'll make it to the top of the ticket if she continues in this way.

KAYE: You don't think reality TV is a ticket to the White House?

HILL: Probably not. Probably not.

KAYE: Let's get to this other interesting number here. Erick, check out this result. We have who are they most likely to support for the GOP nomination was the question. Mike Huckabee, 67 percent; Mitt Romney, 59 percent; and then we Sarah Palin, if you look there, with 49 percent, the back of the pack.


KAYE: So what do you make of that?

ERICKSON: The Mike Huckabee number is just stunning to me. And frankly, I guess what it shows is you've got to have a weekend show on FOX or something to be able to get up that high.

I can't fathom that. What it suggests to me, though, looking at his number, Palin's number and the other, is that there is room in the race, big room for a Tea Part-style conservative who is not on the list, who connects to the establishment. Whether that's a Mike Pence or someone else, I'm not sure. But there's definitely room for someone there. I really don't think any of those on that list are going to be the nominee.

KAYE: And Marc, let's get...

HILL: Oh, I disagree.

KAYE: Oh, you do? OK.

HILL: Yes, I disagree. I've been saying for two years that Mike Huckabee was the guy. He has all the right credentials.

And if you remember correctly from 2008, once the American people, or at least Republican voters, stopped thinking about who they thought could beat Hillary Clinton and actually thought about who they liked, Mike Huckabee started winning elections. You know, Mike Huckabee was the guy who had the popular surge toward the end.

He has strong conservative values. People like him. He does have a TV show, which broadens his base. You know, he's likeable. He has strong Christian values. He has all the things that Republicans are looking for right now.

Mike Huckabee is easily going to be the guy. You can write that down right now. Mike Huckabee is going to be the nominee if he runs. ERICKSON: In a year when the fiscal conservatives are really controlling the show right now, those are the guys who don't particularly care for Huckabee, and he kind of likes this house he's building in Florida a whole lot.

KAYE: All right. Let's get to some interesting numbers we also have for Democrats in our poll, too. The choice for nomination in 2012, Barack Obama, 78 percent. Another Democrat, just 19 percent. So looking back at our history here, this is actually much better result than Bill Clinton had at this point. So Marc, what do you make of it?

HILL: It mean that's some of these naysayers can finally be quiet. You know, for so long they told us Barack Obama was the next Jimmy Carter, that he was going to be unseated by his own party. All of that talk is absurd. He's more popular than Bill Clinton was at this point. He's also had the most successful legislative two years of any president in his first two years than the last 50 years.

So Barack Obama has been extraordinarily successful. The base knows that. Has he sold out progressives, and has he sold out the far left? Absolutely, and I'm very disappointed at that. But the reality is that voters know that he's the only one who can move the agenda forward. They now he's been successful. They know that if there's any chance for progressive agendas in the next four years or next six years, it's going to come from him, and so they're showing that in the polls.

ERICKSON: I just -- honestly, I think this is fairly well a non- story. I don't see anyone challenging Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination. If only because, to get to Barack Obama, you have to get through African-American voters in a Democratic primary, and that's just not going to happen for anyone else.

KAYE: All right. Marc, Erick, thank you so much. We'll have to leave it there.

ERICKSON: Thank you.

KAYE: Good to see you both.

ERICKSON: Pleasure.

KAYE: We've had plenty to talk about this year. Tea Party favorite Christine O'Donnell made headlines first by knocking off a heavy favorite to become Delaware's Republican Senate nominee, then by running a TV ad with the five words that usually guarantee victory: "I am not a witch." She isn't, but they didn't.

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert called the nation to a Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington. The people came and went. So did the sanity.

The year also saw former President Clinton walk daughter Chelsea down the aisle. She married longtime boyfriend Mark Mezvinsky.

And as they say, that's not all. Here's Tom Foreman with more from the year in politics.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's time for a nerd.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We kick off with the worst, biggest, baddest political story of the year: the midterm elections, where candidates of all stripes roasted each other.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Want to know just how out of touch Harry Reid is?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Barack Obama is the worst president in history.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It was a strange year, I think.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a hard year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 2010 is a year to forget.

ELIOT SPITZER, CO-HOST, "PARKER, SPITZER": We don't like anybody.

COOPER: There's so much polarization.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought the election was kind of a freak show.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our country is fading.

FOREMAN: The attacks were relentless, from demon sheep...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A wolf in sheep's clothing.

FOREMAN: ... to the call girl callout...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The true case of the senator and the madam.

FOREMAN: ... to open gun play.

KATHLEEN PARKER, CO-HOST, "PARKER SPITZER": The ads were phenomenally entertaining but also really, really nasty.

JULIE CHEN, HOST, CBS'S "THE TALK": People say they hate nasty negative campaigns. But you know what? It works.

FOREMAN: Best out of the frying pan into the fire. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who took more heat than anyone else in the negative ad onslaught.

PETE DOMINICK, COMEDIAN: The people in her district that know her the best actually like her. The people outside of her district, the rest of America are wondering whether or not she has the ability to blink.

JULIA REED, "NEWSWEEK": She seems as disconnected to me as Obama but in a less likeable way.

FOREMAN: Best case of making the major parties blink: like it or hate it, the rise of the Tea Party.

SUNNY HOSTIN, TRUTV: I still don't understand where they came from. Is it really the Republican party in disguise? And they've just been so successful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that means we're winning.

HOSTIN: It's shocking to me.

FOREMAN: They did not grab as many congressional seats as they would have liked, but they did grab the Washington establishment by the collar.

CHEN: The Tea Party exists because of partisan politics.

FOREMAN: And the Tea Party gave the partisans a hard shake.

Best pounding of the pundits. Sarah Palin.

REED: Borderline lunatic.

CHEN: Love her or hate her, she's definitely entertaining.

FOREMAN: The hockey mom gone rogue proved all the predictions of her political demise dead wrong, surging in prominence in Republican and Tea Party circles, giving us a new book, a new word of the year, refudiate, and even a new reality show.

EISEN: I think Sarah Palin would say she's not doing a reality show. She's -- she's showing you the peaks and valleys and the indigenous life of Alaska. And by that, I mean her husband, I think.

PARKER: I think she is a brilliant politician. I think she has an instinct for the zeitgeist and for what people need to hear, but I don't see her as a serious political figure.


KAYE: And you can see more of Tom Foreman's "All the Best, All the Worst 2010" as part of CNN's New Year's Eve coverage. Anderson and Kathy Griffin are together yet again this year for New Year's Eve live, counting you down to 2011.

Up next, living life to the limit and way above the speed limit. Extreme living to the max. Tonight you'll meet one of the fastest women in all of NASCAR.

And while many people are still digging out from the blizzard that slammed most of the northeast, the last thing you want to see is your car being hit by the plows trying to clean up those streets. We'll tell you why else this made our RidicuList.


KAYE: More now on our new series, "Extreme Living," a look at athletes who push their bodies to the extreme and beyond. Tonight, Jennifer Jo Cobb, the fastest woman in NASCAR. Driving at G-force speeds demands top conditioning, both mental and physical. So what's her secret? In a moment, Dr. Sanjay Gupta goes up close with the athlete, but first an inside look at the woman burning up the track one race at a time.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The speed can reach over 190 miles an hour. The temperature inside the race car, 150 degrees. Despite those extremes, and the usual fire-spitting crashes, Jennifer Jo Cobb feels right at home on the NASCAR racetrack. This up-and-coming driver is paving the way for aspiring female racers and making quite a name for herself.

Out of the 35 or so women who've made it into NASCAR's elite series, Jennifer's 2010 finish was the best ever, winning her $250,000. Jennifer also owns her own team.

Her love of NASCAR began as a little girl, watching her father, Joe Cobb, competing on the racetrack. The 37-year-old has come very far since her first race in 1991 in her hometown of Kansas City. And she's already set her sights on the Daytona 500 in 2012.

(on camera) So at 16 you're drag racing Trans Ams, is that right?

JENNIFER JO COBB, NASCAR DRIVER: Yes, it is. Believe it or not.

GUPTA: Where does that come from? You decide, I mean, a 16- year-old young lady decides to do that sort of thing. What started that?

COBB: You know, I'm literally getting out of dance practice and then going and drag racing Trans Ams, so I think I live kind of an ironic life. But my dad has been a race-car driver since I was three years old, and in racing we say it's in your blood. And there's no denying that it's definitely in my blood, from both my father's side and my mom's cousin is who actually got my father started racing.

GUPTA: So they got you in dance lessons. You want to race cars. What propels you to do it, though? I mean, in the blood, your father did this, but what propels you at that age to start thinking about something that's, A, usually for people who are older, and male?

COBB: You know, I think every child has a big dream, and at 3 years old my mom put me into dance classes. And at 3 years old my dad started driving race cars. And, you know, dance was wonderful, served a great purpose for my life, but I'm not going to grow up and be a ballerina.

I feel like God planted a seed in my heart, and at 8 years old in my father's garage, I said, "I want to be a race car driver."

And the reaction was, like, you know, rolling of the eyes and shaking of the head and, "OK, go along now." You know? "Go somewhere else. We're busy working on your dad's car for Friday nights."

GUPTA: Right. Are you a competitive person?

COBB: I don't believe I'm overly competitive off of the racetrack. I think I reserve everything that I have for on the track. I am an aggressive person.

GUPTA: And as far as the type of training to be a race car driver, I mean, you think about the physical demands, which I know, there are significant physical demands, despite the fact that you're making a bunch of left turns. That can be challenging. There are mental demands and spiritual demands like you mentioned. First of all, do you train for your events physically?

COBB: I do. I do. And every racetrack is different. You go to a track like Daytona or Talladega, and your speeds are up to 200 miles an hour. Our average speeds at Talladega this year were over 196 miles an hour average speed.

And so it's more of a -- a mental focus when you get to that level at those tracks and at those speeds. And then you go somewhere like Bristol or Dover, and it literally just kicks your rear end physically. You know, you just have the two hours...

GUPTA: Right.

COBB: ... and 150 degrees inside the race car or the race truck.

GUPTA: Do you get scared?

COBB: I'm scared of failure. I'm scared of ruining my truck and not being able to race the next week. And I just -- I rely on my faith when it comes to fear.

GUPTA: When I read about you and now talking to you, you bring this up a lot, this idea of spirituality overcoming, using spirituality. What can I learn from you? What can people who are watching learn from you along those lines?

COBB: You know, if we -- if we bring a biblical perspective to it, there's a saying that, if God brings you to it, he'll get you through it. And it's obviously maybe overused.

But I once had a conversation with my own father about this. And he would get so worked up. And my mom, I always felt like my mom lived with a lot of fear: fear over bills, fear over, you know, taxes or whatever it may be. You know, just normal everyday middle-class family.

And I said to my father one time, "Dad, look back to your entire life and all of the things that you have feared, and none of them has overcome you." My dad's had a major heart attack, and he came through it. And I just think that we're a family that's really bonded well together. And if you just look back to your life at how fear does not serve you.

GUPTA: Right.

COBB: And how overcoming those fears does serve you.

GUPTA: That's worth reminding ourselves of that often.

Let's say I told you, Jennifer, "You can't race anymore. I'm taking away your privilege to do what you're doing on this track," which is amazing to watch that. We were just watching that and knowing that you're behind the wheel. But if you couldn't do this any more, what would that mean to you?

COBB: I'd be heartbroken. I have given my life for this. This is my passion. This is what I've wanted to do since I was 8 years old, and I've worked very hard to make it happen, despite the odds against me. I'm a girl from Kansas City without a lot of money or resources. So I would be heartbroken, of course.

But I also have learned that you can't force things in this life, and if you try hard enough -- if you're telling me I can't do this, it better be a darn good reason.


COBB: But I feel like when the time comes, God will, you know, make me at peace with it.

GUPTA: I saw those images of you in that terrible crash, as well. I'm so glad to see you, be able to talk to you, and know that you're OK. I'm sure that was scary for you.

I also expected, when I heard about you, a teenage gal at 16 drag racing Trans Ams, I wasn't quite sure what to expect but it's been a delight. Thank you so much.

COBB: Thank you. And just have to say, there was no fear in that wreck at all, and that's the weird thing about being a racecar driver, is you go through those things. And it's very safe in NASCAR, and I'm very grateful for that.

GUPTA: You were more worried about the car, I heard, afterwards.

COBB: Exactly.

GUPTA: Thanks so much.

COBB: Thank you.


KAYE: She is amazing. Tomorrow, more on extreme athletes with 14-year-old Jordan Romero, the boy who conquered Everest. That's "Extreme Living" with Sanjay Gupta right here on AC 360. Up next, how this dog ended up in this wall, and better yet, how he finally got out.

Later, look what the plow dragged in and see who it dragged straight onto the RidicuList.


KAYE: A lot happening tonight. Joe Johns is back with the "360 Bulletin" -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Randi, a Texas produce distributor has recalled nearly 7,000 cases of cilantro and parsley after samples from Michigan and Quebec tested positive for salmonella. It was packed between November 30th and December 6th and processed with the branded name Little Bear. The company says there are no reports that anyone has been sickened from eating the herbs.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is defending his family trip to Disney World despite the weekend blizzard that created a state of emergency. He left the day the storm started, turning control of the crisis over to New Jersey Senate president. Democratic critics said Christie and his lieutenant governor should not have taken vacations at the same time.

And an 8-month-old German shepherd in Riverside County, California, found himself in quite a predicament. He managed to squeeze his head through a hole in a wall and get stuck. It took officers from animal services 30 minutes to rescue the pup. We're told he's just fine. He must have really been looking hard for something on the other side there. My gosh.

KAYE: Must have been one heck of a furry cat on the other side.

JOHNS: Or food.

KAYE: Or food, you're right. Maybe a steak or something yummy.

JOHNS: Yes. Amazing.

KAYE: It's a great shot. Good to know he's OK. Thanks, Joe.

Time now for the RidicuList, our nightly journey from the USA deep into the OMG. Tonight's entry, Snowparklipse now. One stuck plow, one hapless parked SUV and, of course, a New Yorker with a video camera.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you out of your mind? What are you doing?


KAYE: Oops. That's a New York Sanitation Department front-end loader being towed right through someone's SUV in Brooklyn. A sanitation spokesman, Vito Turso (ph) calling the incident, quote, "unfortunate but not unusual." In fact, I think we've got more from the cleanup right here.



CURLY HOWARD, ONE OF THE THREE STOOGES: What's the idea taking that? Why don't you use your own?

MOE HOWARD, ONE OF THE THREE STOOGES: I just want to borrow it.


KAYE: OK. OK. We joke. We joke because we love. We live here, too, and like it. The new bike lanes, low crime, smoke-free bars, no more trans fats, no French fries, all of it. And Mayor Mike Bloomberg says he expects the city to pay for damages to that SUV, but -- but here's where he lost us. When he said, hey, enough with the complaining already.


MAYOR MIKE BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK: We won't get to everybody every time, we will make mistakes, but we have to continue plugging ahead. Yelling about it and complaining doesn't help. Trying to find ways to get more tow trucks would help.


KAYE: All right. Sorry, Mr. Mayor, but a lot of New Yorkers would beg to differ, once they dig themselves out, of course. They know this was an epic storm, but they're also calling the response an epic fail. That's one reason.

The other is simpler: it is a New Yorker's God-given right to complain. But not a mayor's right to complain about the complaining. Besides, he should have seen it coming. He watches the news.


PETER FINCH, ACTOR: I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it and stick your head out and yell, "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this any more!"


KAYE: No, that was not the great Jack Cafferty but the great Peter Finch in the prophetic movie "Network" 34 years ago.

So we're ignoring the prophesy, crunching the truck, and giving New Yorkers a reason to say they're mad as hell. The mayor and the city earn a spot on the RidicuList.

That, that picture right there by the way, is what the city's going to look like some time next June if we're lucky.