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THE SITUATION ROOM
Weather Messes On Both Coasts; Winds Blamed For Lift Derailment; Putin's Nod to Obama Win; Charges of 'Voodoo' Kidnapping; Michigan Building Explodes; Immigration Policy Back on Front Burner in New Year; Girls Warned About Dating Arabs; Grading President Obama's Policies
Aired December 29, 2010 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, GUEST HOST: Thanks, Brooke.
Happening now -- a single snow plow can mean the difference between life and death. Now, this hour, we're getting an up close look at the blizzard dangers that are still very real in the northeast right now. If America's biggest city can't handle this crisis, well, who can?
Plus, a U.S. aid worker jailed in Haiti fight some bizarre allegation that he kidnapped a child who's already pronounced dead.
And you know what year World War I broke out? Well, thousands of fourth graders do not because their history textbook got the wrong date.
Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. And you're in the SITUATION ROOM.
What a way to end the year with weather mess from coast to coast. New rainfall in Southern California is proving to be more than the already soaked ground can even handle, and we're seeing flooding, power outages, and traffic snarls. And parts of the northeast cannot escape the grip of the paralyzing holiday blizzard. Another 100 flights were canceled today at JFK Airport in New York just as the region is beginning to make a dent in the huge backlog of airline passengers.
Check out the headlines in New York. Residents are fuming now about dangerous delays and plowing the streets. Mayor Michael Bloomberg apologized today, acknowledging that some cleanup and emergency crews had been literally spinning their wheels. Our Mary Snow has been checking out the situation on the streets in New York. Mary, what does it look like and what are they saying?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, the city is now pledging that every street in this city will be plowed by tomorrow morning, and they've hired day laborers to help get that done. You know, conditions are improving but that hasn't quelled any of the criticism.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SNOW (voice-over): Three days after the big snowstorm, a plow arrived on this Brooklyn street, and it couldn't come any sooner for James Robinson.
JAMES ROBINSON, VOLUNTEER AMBULANCE CORPS: It's been a nightmare because it took like four hours to go ten blocks, because everything was stuck, even police vehicles.
SNOW: Robinson runs a volunteer ambulance corps in Bedford- Stuyvesant. His unit had to treat this 52-year-old woman at their base because their ambulance got stuck during the storm ruining the vehicle's transmission. He's angry with the city's slow response to clear streets.
ROBINSON: We could run faster than we could ride.
SNOW: He says crucial delays to emergency services have cost lives as ambulances got stuck.
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, (I) NEW YORK: Medical emergencies are always scary and a blizzard added another layer of difficulty and danger. In some cases, it took hours to respond to serious requests.
SNOW: New York City's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, finds himself on the defensive as the criticism announced (ph) about the city's response.
BLOOMBERG: We did not do as good of a job as we wanted to do or as the city has a right to expect. There's no question. We're an administration that has been built on accountability.
SNOW: The city council president who's an ally of the mayor is holding hearings to find out what went wrong.
CHRISTINE QUINN, NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL PRES.: What we're hearing is justifiable anger. We're not at a level where we're just hearing people complaining for the sake of complaining. We're not at that point in this process, and all of us in government need to recognize that.
SNOW (on-camera): And Suzanne, a hearing is scheduled for January 10th to look into what went wrong. And you know, talking to James Robinson who had that volunteer ambulance corps, he says, you know, following this snowstorm what he is worried about, judging by the response in these past couple of days, he worries about the next big test for the city -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: All right. We'll see how they do next time. Thank you, Mary.
Well, a new estimate today that the airlines may lose up to $150 million because of the holiday blizzard and all those flights that were canceled. All the main runways at New York's three major airports are opened today, but it will take a while for the industry to recover from this log jam. And some shocking delays still on the tarmac.
Our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff, he's been following this nightmare that's happening at the airports. He's been investigating those delays. Obviously, he's going to talk a bit about what is the difference between the domestic flights, the international flights, whether that makes even any difference when it comes to your rights on the tarmac -- Allan.
ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, the fact is, this problem is far worse than previously reported. We've just learned from the port authority of New York and New Jersey which owns JFK Airport that, in fact, there were 29 flights, international flights at JFK yesterday and today during this mess that waited more than three hours on the tarmac to actually unload, to get to a gate and unload.
Now, why would that have happened? Part of the reason is what Mary was just discussing. The fact that the streets of Brooklyn and Queens where JFK Airport is located were just filled with snow, had not been shoveled. Keep in mind that a lot of the people who work at JFK Airport actually live in the outer bureaus of Brooklyn and Queens. So, that is a major problem. In fact, Customs and Board of Protection confirms to us that some of their workers could not get to the airport.
They had to keep some workers on over time there, but they still didn't have a full staff, and the gate workers also could not get to their positions at the terminals. As a matter of fact, (INAUDIBLE) major operator over there confirms to us they're still having that problem. So, that is part of the issue, as well. The operator of terminal four, which is privately owned, also confirmed to us that, indeed, they did have shortages. They gave us a statement as a result of the shortages, they said, quote "Servicing of the departing aircraft was delayed as aircraft continued to arrive. A shortage of aircraft parking positions resulted, causing delays to arriving aircraft."
So, obviously, the gates were filled. The planes couldn't get out and the planes couldn't come in. And the company says that carriers knew about this problem, but nonetheless, sent planes to New York, anyway. Now, Cathay Pacific told us they're investigating. They said they don't have all the answers. British Air told us that part of the problem also was simply congestion at JFK.
The other international airlines did not respond to CNN's inquiries. Obviously, this is something that is going to have to be discussed and analyzed deeply between the port authority, the company that provided workers and the airlines. A huge, huge fiasco here in New York -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: And Allan, it seems as if everybody shares the blame in some part for what happened to those passengers, just the misery that they experienced. Do we know if the airlines are going to be charged any kind of fines or penalties because of this?
CHERNOFF: Right. You know, the FAA does have a rule for domestic flights, domestic flights only. So, in this case, the international flights, no. The airlines are not going to face a fine. That fine is huge. $27,500 per passenger, but only for a domestic flight if it has to wait on the tarmac for more than three hours.
MALVEAUX: All right. Allan, thank you so much.
We now have the official word from Maine that it was high winds that most likely cause that terrifying derailment of a ski lift, you may recall? State safety authorities issued a preliminary report today on the accident at Sugarloaf Mountain Resort. Now, more than 200 people were trapped on the lift for up to 90 minutes yesterday. They were dangling as high as 30 feet in the air. Well, several chairs fell to the ground and eight people were injured.
An American who went to Haiti to do volunteer work after the earthquake will now find himself in jail. We're going to take a look at this stunning allegation against him involving voodoo and child kidnapping.
Plus, in Jerusalem, a controversial new warning from the wives of prominent rabbis, that Jewish girls should not date Arabs.
And the latest on the rescue of people trapped when a building exploded.
MALVEAUX: President Obama is mixing pleasure and business on his Hawaiian vacation in between some golf and other outings. You can bet that he's, obviously, preparing for a challenging new year. Our new poll shows that more than a fourth of Americans hope that Mr. Obama's policies will fail in the months ahead. That's up slightly from a year ago.
My colleague, senior white house correspondent, Ed Henry, well, he's with the president in Hawaii. The president, obviously, Ed, may want to get some rest while he can. He got a lot done this last year, but he's got a lot on his plate coming up, huh?
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you're right, Suzanne. I mean, the way you laid that out. He's certainly going to want to get a little bit of R and R here in Hawaii. He's got a lot of big challenges waiting for him back there in Washington in 2011.
But, it actually feel pretty good inside the White House and here in Hawaii, some of the White House staffers who are travelling that he's ending the year on a high note because of all those victories in the lame-duck session in Congress. But the big question moving forward really is will this kind of new found bipartisanship really last?
HENRY (voice-over): To hear the president tell it, bickering with the Republicans is so 2010.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A lot of folks in this town predicted that after the midterm elections, Washington would be headed for more partisanship and more gridlock. And instead, this has been a season of progress, and it's a message that I will take to heart in the New Year. And I hope my Democratic and Republican friends will do the same
HENRY: But with the Republican, John Boehner, taking the speaker's gavel, that rosy scenario will be tested immediately in 2011. Because both parties will now have to agree on a long-term budget after kicking the can down the road on all those spending cuts the tea party was demanding, and the president's own debt panel was proposing to no avail.
OBAMA: I expect we'll have a robust debate about this when we return from the holidays. The debate that will have to answer an increasingly urgent question, and that is how do we cut spending that we don't need while still making investments that we do need.
HENRY: With the federal cash register tapped out, it will be, especially, difficult to tackle the president's biggest challenge of all.
OBAMA: My singular focus over the next two years is not rescuing the economy from potential disaster but rather jump-starting the economy so that we actually start making a dent in the unemployment rate.
HENRY: Mr. Obama also may face resistance to his economic plans from both liberals still smarting from the tax deal he just cut, and conservatives determine to repeal his health reform law. A Republican-turned independent is urging both sides to give the new balance of power a chance.
SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI, (R) ALASKA: Let's figure out how we deal with some of these very, very difficult issues, whether it's tax policy or whether it's going to be what we're going to be doing on spending. We've got enough that we need to do that we don't need to get weighted down in the partisan politics.
HENRY: Music to the ears of White House aides trying to hammer the message that Republicans now have a responsibility to govern.
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: They can't afford any long to just simply sit and say no. They have to be part of a constructive conversation.
HENRY: Suzanne, senior aides say the president is already starting to work on his State of the Union address which should be at the end of January. And you can expect that to be a major theme, just what you heard from Robert Gibbs. This idea that now the Republicans are running at least half of Capitol Hill, they have to meet the president halfway on some of these big issues, especially the economy, Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: And Ed, obviously, one of those issues is going to be creating jobs. I understand that the president is going to try to get a head-start, a jump-start on 2011. What are you hearing?
HENRY: Well, you know what, they're already kicking around with some of the ideas that will be in the State of the Union address. They don't want to preview too much of it. But, I mean, they're running up against the fact that because they've spent so much money in that tax deal, they don't have a whole lot of money to spend for some brand-new initiative.
There can't be a -- what would now, essentially, be a third stimulus package. So instead, they're looking at some other initiatives in the education area, in the job-creating area to maybe get this economy boosted -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: All right, Ed, enjoy the rest of your covering the president there in Hawaii and safe travels back.
HENRY: Coming to a close, unfortunately. Thanks, you, too.
MALVEAUX: Thanks, Ed.
Well, a new pat on the back of sorts for President Obama from Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Putin today praised the new START nuclear arms reduction treaty between Russia and the United States. It is Putin's first remarks on the pact since the U.S. Senate approved it last week, one of the big wins for President Obama during the final days of a lame duck Congress.
We are monitoring other top important stories, including four suspects arrested for allegedly plotting what is being called an imminent terror attack in Denmark. The details of what authorities have uncovered.
Plus, two people are trapped following a massive explosion at a Michigan furniture store. We'll have the latest on rescue efforts underway right now.
MALVEAUX: Now to the very stunning story of a U.S. aid worker jailed in Haiti. Now he's been accused of kidnapping a child who was already pronounced dead. Now there are new developments to report in a case involving a witch doctor.
Our foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty joins us.
Jill, sounds like a very bizarre story. What is going on here?
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, you know, almost a year after the Haiti earthquake, conditions there can still be chaotic and confusing.
And one of the most confusing cases recently concerns the arrest of the American aid worker, Paul Waggoner. He was charged with kidnapping and his colleague tells us a judge has just thrown out that charge.
Now we tried to confirm that with the State Department, but they say that they are unable to because of Waggoner's right to privacy.
Here's how all of this started.
DOUGHERTY (voice-over): Paul Waggoner's nightmare began as he volunteered at a Haitian hospital providing relief to Haitians still struggling to recover from January's devastating earthquake.
A distraught father is critically ill 15-month-old son. The boy died, there was a death certificate, but the father returned with a witch doctor who claimed that the boy was still alive. The man accused Waggoner of kidnapping his son and the aid worker was arrested December 12th.
Now, according to Waggoner's coworker, the judge has found insufficient evidence for that charge.
The co-founder of Waggoner's aid organization, in a Skype interview from Haiti, tells me he is very relieved.
PAUL SEBRING, MATERIALS MANAGEMENT RELIEF CORPS: I was extremely happy. We worked very hard, the attorneys have worked very hard and they have provided the death certificate, certificate of its cremation. And I'm just glad that, you know, the judge was able to see that and make the correct ruling.
DOUGHERTY: In a letter Waggoner wrote from jail more than a week ago, he said he was scared he would never be released. "I am broken," he wrote, "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?"
In the aftermath of the earthquake last January, American volunteers flocked to Haiti to help. Some were arrested for taking children out of the country, but eventually freed.
The State Department says it's been close tabs on Waggoner's case.
P.J. CROWLEY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: We are closely monitoring this case. It is being investigated. We'll make sure that he -- he has, you know, full rights as he goes through this.
DOUGHERTY: Paul Sebring, meanwhile, says Waggoner, in spite of being imprisoned, is lucky.
SEBRING: Where I wouldn't even put an animal in those conditions, he is an American in a Haitian prison and the locals, they don't even have that going for them and a lot of them are in there basically no charges, just waiting for an investigation.
DOUGHERTY: Now Paul Waggoner still isn't out of jail. His colleague tells us the judge still has to sign an order to release him -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Thank you, Jill.
Well, a major building explosion in Michigan. Our Brianna Keilar is monitoring that and some of the other top stories that are coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Hey, Brianna. What are you working on?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, officials say that two people are trapped and another person in critical condition following that furniture store blast. Crews have shut off a two-inch gas main leak that was being investigated at the time of this explosion. Fire departments around the Detroit area are assisting in those rescue efforts.
Intelligence officials say four men have been arrested for allegedly plotting an imminent terror attack against a Danish newspaper. Authorities uncovered a machine gun, a silencer, as well as live ammunition following the arrests. At least three of the suspects are foreign-born living in Sweden or Denmark. Officials believe the targeted newspaper is the one that published controversial political cartoons of the prophet Mohammed five years ago.
Actor George Clooney's organization is spearheading new effort to monitor violence in Sudan during a critical January vote. This program will use satellite images to assess the situation on the ground and help capture civilian threats. Humanitarian groups hope the alert system will prevent human rights violations. Hundreds of thousands of people have died in Darfur from genocide over the past seven years.
You know, you could save a little money mailing letters and packages in the new year. Starting next month, all new first class stamps will be those forever stamps. Under the Postal Service policy, those who use the new stamps won't have to keep up with postage increases. The price of a regular 44-cent stamp, though, is expected to go up.
I think that's good, Suzanne. I always get so annoyed when I'm having to stick the one-cent stamps on with the normal stamp.
MALVEAUX: I don't even think I have one-cent stamps anymore, Brianna.
KEILAR: You give up.
(LAUGHTER) MALVEAUX: Thanks.
Well, the political debate over immigration reform is heating up. Is there anything new that President Obama and Congress can really accomplish in the new year? I'll ask two key lawmakers.
And reports that Twitter could come to the House floor. Or, is it a breach of decorum?
MALVEAUX: When the new Congress convenes next year, immigration policy will be back on the front burner, a decade after George W. Bush outlined his strong vision on the issue. Over (ph) two terms he pushed for a comprehensive immigration, including what he believed was a fair reasonable path to citizenship for some of the 11 million illegal immigrants in this country.
With Bush, it all collapsed on the Senate floor in July of 2007 because of members of his own party. In recent weeks, Senate Republicans, including John McCain, killed the DREAM Act that would have given those who have been brought there illegally by their parents a path to citizenship.
Joining us now, Congressman Xavier Becerra, California Democrat, Joe Barton Republican of Texas.
Thank you so much for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
I want to start off first by playing a clip. This is from the president. He left for his vacation, he talked about all of the things that he had accomplished over the last two years, but specifically the lame duck Congress session. But there was one regret.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But I will tell you, one of -- maybe my biggest disappointment was this DREAM Act vote.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: This last decade, immigration reform essentially has been lost. Where does it stand now? What should Congress, the new Congress do to move this issue forward, immigration policy?
I'll start off with you, Congressman Becerra.
REP. XAVIER BECERRA (D), CALIFORNIA: Suzanne, I think what the president said was true for many people, a grave disappointment to see the Senate, even though more than a majority voted for the bill, to see it die because a minority of members were able to kill it. I hope what we do is go where the president said he has wanted to go, and that is to reasonable reform, continue what we have started and try to get enough Republicans to make it happen, because as President Bush said and as President Bush tried, we could do this, it's just a matter of getting some good bipartisan support and not playing politics with the issue.
MALVEAUX: How did you do that, Congressman Barton? What do you put for it in the new Congress?
REP. JOE BARTON (R), TEXAS: Well, you've got almost irreconcilable differences between the two political parties.
Republicans like myself think you have to start with controlling the border and having an enforceable legal immigration policy. My good friend, Congressman Becerra of California, wants a more lenient policy where we're notes particular about whether they come into the country legally or illegally.
And so, we have that basic sticking point, the difference between legal immigration and illegal immigration.
BECERRA: Actually, Suzanne, I'm not sure if Joe has it quite correct.
I'm willing to be tough, and I'm not interested in having a system where we allow people who don't do it the right way to continue to come in. I'm just willing to face the facts, as I think the majority of Americans are, that we've got 11 million people, we've had record numbers of deportation in the last year, close to 400,000 people, and at that rate, even with records being set, it will still probably take us 80 years to get to where we need to go.
So the reality is, you have to come up with a rational approach. What Joe is proposing really won't take us anywhere, because even under a Republican leadership in the House and in the Congress, and even when we had a Republican president, we didn't do what Joe says he wants to do, which is to control the border. So that's like a moving target which never gets you anywhere.
I think both sides actually, there are enough members who want to do this the right way -- tough, smart but fair -- and we can get there.
MALVEAUX: So, Congressman Barton, let's start off here. Obviously, President Bush tried to do everything all at once and it failed. Within his own party, they rejected it. It was comprehensive so you had a guest worker program, you had ID verification, working for the border.
Can this be done piecemeal? Is there a way that Democrats and Republicans can agree on one particular issue to move immigration policy forward, to deal with the 11 million illegal immigrants who are here?
BARTON: I think there is a way. You know, I would vote for a much expanded guest worker program for people who came into the country illegally, for specific periods of times, either for specific jobs or at least general trades.
Most of the unions in the United States don't support that type of a policy. What people like me have to insist upon, though, is that you come into the country legally.
You know, I took my family to the movies yesterday. We paid $6 or $7 a piece to go into the movie. We didn't just walk up to the ticket window and say we're here, we're good people, let us into the movie for free.
And all these folks that have come into the country illegally, they have committed an illegal act. And we have to recognize that and come to grips with it once we determine politically how to treat the people that are here illegally. Then the rest I think will fall into place.
MALVEAUX: Congressman Becerra, are you hearing anything from your fellow congressman here that indicates to you that there is some room here, some movement on this very controversial issue that the two of you can work together?
BECERRA: Yes, there is, although, I think Joe has got a --
MALVEAUX: Specifically, what is it that you're hearing?
BECERRA: He's saying there's a way to try to get people to come here to do it the right way. I wouldn't say that we should offer them only an opportunity to come as guest workers, because that simply means we exploit their labor, keep American wages low by never letting these folks ever become part of America. They become essentially second-class workers because they never can quite get to where they need to go to have all of their rights.
But there is something there, because we certainly continue to see immigrants coming. And what we can try to do is figure out a way that we can deal with trying to make sure that anyone who comes into the country, we want them in, but then deal with the fact that you've got about 11 million people that we have to do something with because they're living in the shadow. And that's where the terrorists can really cause us some mischief, because they can hide behind those who hide in the shadows.
MALVEAUX: Congressman Barton, there are some Republican strategists who say, you know what? We really don't have to deal with immigration reform policy at all, that it's just not that important. And they cite something politically.
They say, you know what? With the shellacking that President Obama got for the midterm elections, we don't need Latino votes. We already have managed to have a lot of power without the Latino vote.
Is that a good strategy? Is that something smart for Republicans, to think of it that way? BARTON: Well, I've never heard a Republican strategist enunciate that policy. We want all the votes -- "we" being the conservative Republicans -- that we can get, and we consider the Hispanic vote a key cornerstone of our base.
My most conservative voters in my congressional district down here in Texas tend to be Hispanics. They're very family-oriented. They're very strong work ethic, very conservative.
So I'm very open and very -- I used to have an Hispanic advisory committee in my congressional district. It doesn't make sense, as the majority party, to try to exclude or to ignore any voting bloc that's as strong and as conservative as the Hispanic voters are in Texas.
MALVEAUX: Congressman Becerra, one of the reasons why we're seeing a dip in illegal immigration coming into this country is because of the recession, because there really aren't those jobs that are out there for people to go and to fill.
Are you worried at all as the president becomes more successful, as the economy improves, that you're going to have an increase in illegal immigration again, that this problem is going to become bigger?
BECERRA: It becomes bigger, Suzanne, the more we allow employers to violate the law. Remember, there may be a violation of law in the immigrant who comes into the country, but that's preceded by the violation in the law that occurs by the employer, the American, who is willing to hire folks illegally in this country.
And so what you have to do is turn off the spigot. You have to close off the magnet that attracts people to come in, because when you can make in one hour what you can make in parts of Central America in a whole day, you're going to come to this country if you can.
I don't blame them for trying to make it here. We just have to have a reasonable system that allows us to control our borders. But we have to be practical.
BECERRA: There are 11 million people here already. You need to work on that as well.
MALVEAUX: All right. We'll see if the two of you can work together in the new Congress, obviously to come up with something that is considered reasonable to both sides.
Appreciate you being here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happy Holidays. Thank you.
BECERRA: Happy Holidays.
MALVEAUX: Well, you send your kids to school in the morning and you hope they get smarter, but some students in Virginia are getting it all wrong because of factual errors -- that's right -- in their textbooks. How could this happen?
And the White House upgrades essential communication now for the president.
MALVEAUX: In Israel, there are new questions about whether some Jewish religious leaders are promoting bias against Arabs. At issue in this controversy is the dating habits of Jewish young girls.
Here is CNN's Paula Hancocks.
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: An open letter signed by around 30 wives of prominent rabbis has caused a bit of a stir here in Israel this Wednesday. The letter says quite simply that Israeli girls should not date Arab men. It says that Arab men will be polite at the beginning, but that behavior will only be temporary.
Let me quote some of the letter itself.
"As soon as you arrive at the village, your life will never be the same. The attention will be replaced with curses, beatings, and humiliations."
Now, this open letter was initiated by a group called Lehava, which is an extreme right-wing group that says its aim is to stop the "assimilation of the Jewish people." There has been instant condemnation though from the reform movement. More than 30 female rabbis have signed their own petition condemning this letter.
Now, this comes just three weeks after a previous letter, an open letter, was signed by around 50 state-appointed rabbis. This particular letter said that it was not allowed for Jews to rent or sell apartments to non-Jews.
That, again, caused a lot of controversy and it was instantly condemned by politicians, by human rights groups. And also, around 800 rabbis from across the world actually signed a counter-petition condemning the letter, saying that it damages the interests of Israel.
Paula Hancocks, CNN, Jerusalem.
MALVEAUX: Well, a serious incident involving a plane in Wyoming, Our Brianna Keilar is monitoring that and some of the other top stories that are coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Brianna, what do you have?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, this is an American Airlines 757 that ran off the runway in Jackson Hole. A spokesman for the airline saying none of the 181 passengers and crews on board was injured. Flight 2253 from Chicago came to a stop about 200 feet beyond the paved portion of the runway. There was heavy snow at the airport. And an investigation is under way.
Australia's prime minister is promising aid for the country's flood-ravaged northeast region, part of which has been declared a disaster zone. The government is using Black Hawk helicopters to evacuate hundreds of residents. And forecasters expect the weather to clear over the next 48 hours. The thing is, though, flood warnings are still in effect for very much of the area.
Ford is giving parents more power over their teens driving. The auto giant is upgrading its MyKey technology which allows them to control both speed settings and satellite radio programming in their family cars. The technology, which can limit speeds starting at 65 miles an hour, is designed to address safety concerns as teens transition into highway driving.
I don't know, I think maybe some adults could use that too -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Absolutely. Thanks, Brianna.
A new change for President Obama's team while he's in Hawaii, and it could keep the country safer.
Plus, another muddy mess in California. The state dealing with a new wave of rain. Could that turn into another East Coast blizzard?
MALVEAUX: New CNN polling now shows that heading into the new year, a majority of Americans think that President Obama's policies will actually fail.
Joining us in today's "Strategy Session" to talk about that and much, much more are CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist, James Carville, also Republican strategist Nancy Pfotenhauer. She is the president of MediaSpeaks Strategies, a communications firm here in Washington.
Thanks for joining us. Happy holidays, obviously.
Want to start off with this first poll. It might be a little surprising here.
CNN releasing new polls about the new year and new Congress. In it, it says the majority think that President Obama's policies will fail. If you take a look at the numbers, 44 percent think that they will succeed, but 47 percent say that they think they will fail.
James, I want to start off with you. Do you think that this is a reflection of Americans' reticence about the role of government or too much government? I mean, why do you think people have that kind of pessimism about whether or not he's going to succeed? JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, because people have been inundated. Which stories are correct? If there's a Republican majority in the House and not one single Republican can't (INAUDIBLE) anything that President Obama wants, there's skepticism.
Secondly, we don't know what President Obama's policies are, nor should we, for 2011. I suspect that he'll lay a lot of them out in the State of the Union Address, though, you know, I don't know if these numbers are particularly significant of anything. I might have answered the same way, not knowing, A, what he's going to propose, and, B, the fact that you have a House that at least, for certain, is adamantly opposed to anything that he wants to do.
MALVEAUX: We think that one thing he obviously wants to do is create jobs going into the new year, trying to improve the economy.
Nancy, do you think that James has a point here, that perhaps they are looking at this and thinking, well, the president is going to have a tough time working with a House that's majority Republican?
NANCY PFOTENHAUER, PRESIDENT, MEDIASPEAK: I really think the poll is reflecting where things are right now more than anything else. I think it's the fact of the matter is that we have lost three million jobs, that the president had his majorities in Congress for two years, and put in place -- in fact, ran through certain policies and promised, for example, an unemployment rate in the range of 8.5. Instead, I don't think it's fallen below 9.5.
So the policies to date have not proven to be effective in turning the economy around, and I think that's what we're seeing primarily in the poll numbers.
MALVEAUX: James, do you think it could be a lack of faith in Congress, the notion that there's Washington gridlock here, that you do have these moments when Democrats and Republicans and the White House come together on the tax cut deal, but for the most part, it's been a really tough road for the president?
CARVILLE: Well, but, look, he's probably -- I mean, let's be fair to the president. He's probably gotten more done in two years than anybody since Franklin Roosevelt. I mean, it's not like they haven't gotten things done here.
And again, I'm a little bit -- the numbers are about 44-47, sort of pretty tight. I am not surprised by those numbers. As I pointed out, look, he's going to have rough sledding, particularly in the House. And we'll see where it goes.
They're liable to shut the government down. You know, there's been a lot of stories about this, and the public is, I think, appropriately skeptical here.
MALVEAUX: I want to take a look at another poll real quick here.
This is obviously taking a look at outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi versus the incoming House Speaker, John Boehner, what are the favorability numbers here.
Nancy Pelosi gets 34 percent favorable opinion. John Boehner gets 36 percent. For both of them, that's pretty low.
We saw, Nancy, John Boehner, in a "60 Minutes" interview, had a really hard time saying the word "compromise," that he'd be willing to compromise. Do you think that people look at him and say here's a guy who is not going to work with the president, he's not going to work with Democrats, and that's why they don't think very favorably of him?
PFOTENHAUER: Actually, I think the low favorability numbers are reflective of the American public's view of Congress overall.
There is no love lost here. Remember, obviously, the Republicans got fired in 2008. The Democrats got fired in 2010.
Obviously, they need to rebuild trust. So I think that's partly what's going on.
Now, I will say, in fairness to John Boehner, that he has a history of working with the Democrats in the past when it's an issue that matters very much to him. And we have the post-1994 model to look at, where you look at Clinton and Gingrich, who worked on things like a balanced budget, welfare reform, and free trade.
So there is the ability -- we have seen in recent history the ability for a divided government to produce positive legislative outcomes.
MALVEAUX: James, what would you tell the incoming Speaker, Mr. Boehner, to try to work better and get those favorabilities up a little bit here?
CARVILLE: When I saw those numbers, I was expecting it to be, like, a 20 percent differential between the incoming Speaker and the outgoing Speaker, to tell you the truth. I saw it's even, I'm like, oh, my goodness.
Look, the Republican Party is actually less popular than the Democratic Party, which is kind of odd being that they just won a big election. But it shows American skepticism -- the skepticism that American people have, and apparently it's reflected in their views of the incoming Speaker.
Nancy is right, John Boehner is kind of a compromise guy. I don't think his caucus is very compromised.
MALVEAUX: All right. We're going to get back to you, guys, so hang on to that thought. Stand by.
Next, in our "Strategy Session," an African-American Democrat in Chicago is warning former President Bill Clinton not to stick his nose into the mayor's race.
MALVEAUX: There is new heat for former President Bill Clinton.
I want to get back to our "Strategy Session," James Carville and Nancy Pfotenhauer.
This is a controversy that is brewing here in Chicago. You have former President Bill Clinton who says he is going to be backing Rahm Emanuel, the former chief of staff to President Obama. They've known each other for a long time. They go way back.
He wants to support him in the race for the mayor of Chicago. There is another candidate. This is Congressman Danny Davis, who says, essentially, he wants the president to butt out.
He says, "The African-American community has enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with the Clintons. However, it appears as though some of that relationship may be fractured and perhaps even broken should former President Clinton come to town and participate overtly in efforts to thwart the legitimate political aspirations of Chicago's black community."
Congressman Davis, he's a one-time ally of the Clintons. He also says there are two African-Americans who are running, one being Carol Moseley Braun, and that this would damage the relationship that President Clinton has with the African-American community.
James, do you think, first of all, that there is some legitimacy here, that they make a point?
CARVILLE: No. I think if you look at any poll, that Rahm is probably running very well in the African-American community.
By the way, he did go to work, as I recall, for a very prominent Chicago African-American by the name of President Barack Obama.
So I think this is not sort of much to this. President Clinton and Rahm are very close. Rahm was a very senior official in President Clinton's White House, and he certainly has been in any number of races, he's endorsed any number of candidates around the country. But I think that people are going to appropriately look at this and see it for what it is.
MALVEAUX: You don't take Congressman Davis' warning seriously? You don't think it's going to be politically damaging in any way?
CARVILLE: I do not at all. No.
I mean, I don't blame him. This is the most publicity he has gotten since he announced since he's been there. I don't blame him for taking the shot, but again, it is not like Rahm hasn't served, like I said, a very prominent African-American politician in the city of Chicago.
MALVEAUX: Nancy, you get the last word on this.
PFOTENHAUER: Look, all politics is local and it's a contact sport. Multiply that by 10 any place in Chicago. But the former president of the United States has the right to endorse anybody he wants to endorse, and the voters in that area will have their day in court, if you will, or in the voting booth. So that's it.
MALVEAUX: All right.
CARVILLE: I agree with Nancy.
PFOTENHAUER: There you go!
MALVEAUX: All right. There's agreement here. Who would have thought?
CARVILLE: I totally agree.
MALVEAUX: Only for the holidays.
CARVILLE: That's it.
MALVEAUX: All right. Thank you. Nancy, James, appreciate it.
Well, we are asking tough questions about how and why so many airline passengers were stuck on the tarmac for hours during the Northeast blizzard. Stand by as we try to find out who is to blame.
And thousands of fourth graders misled by history textbooks that are flat-out wrong.
MALVEAUX: There's a new call for dialogue in the midst of heightening tensions that could lead to all-out war on the Korean Peninsula. South Korea's president is reportedly pushing for six-way international talks with the North as a means of diffusing the conflict. Now, he says threatening military action against the North is not enough. Four people were killed when North Korea struck a southern island in November.
Now to a different kind of conflict on the Korean Peninsula. This one involving free speech on the Internet.
Here is CNN's Kyung Lah.
KYUNG LAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The war games are on in the Korean Peninsula. Show of force after force from Seoul in military drills. But there is another fierce battle here say netizens over cyberspace.
"South Korea is competing with North Korea in trying to control the public," says Koh Jaeyoul, talking about South Korea's approach to social media users. Koh, better known by his 72,000 Twitter followers as Dotzel (ph), is ranked as one of the world's top 20 twitterers by Twitos (ph). (on camera): Were they angry? Were people on cyberspace angry?
(voice-over): His followers have been very angry, he says, with recent government action against the social media users.
Seoul is arguably the most wired city on the planet. People often talk more over cyberspace than in person. One message, whether true or false, spreads here faster than wildfire.
After the sinking of a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors, Internet chatter sparked conspiracy rumors that the South Koreans sunk its own warship and forced the South Korean government to shoot down the rumors. After the Yeonpyong Island shelling last month, another rumor, that South Korea had declared war and the military was mobilizing.
This time the government cracked down on the users and indicted 19 people for sending false text messages.
(on camera): But legal watchers say those 19 people may soon be off the hook. The telecommunications law that allowed the government to charge people for spreading lies on the Web with the intent to harm the public interest was declared unconstitutional, a decision being cheered by cyberspace, but gives the government fewer options to contain social media.
(voice-over): So South Korea's president has taken to the airwaves, urging his citizens to ignore rumors. In his weekly radio address this week, he said there must be unity in public opinion for the sake of national security.
And at a public park in downtown Seoul, this photo display put up by the government showing this year's attacks from Pyongyang which Seoul hopes would be more potent than Web chatter.
Back with power twitterer Koh Jaeyoul, his followers continue to comment. "The more you try to hide, distrust will grow," says one.
Koh says instead of fighting social media, government should harness it. "Whether public opinion is divided or undivided is not the issue," says Koh. "What's important is whether issues are being fully discussed. Government isn't always right. There should be more communication."
Balancing national security with free Web speech, the next step in the relationship between this republic and its people.
Kyung Lah, CNN, Seoul.