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Glimmer of Hope for U.S. Economy; Interview With Bill Richardson

Aired December 30, 2010 - 19:00   ET


JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: But finally, there's a glimmer of hope for the U.S. economy. Separate reports today show manufacturing and home sale picking up while first-time claims for unemployment benefits dropped below 400,000 for the first week since July of 2008. CNN's Alison Kosik says the unemployment number is especially significant.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Joe. Think of today's report as a step in the right direction. We found out that claims for new unemployment benefits finally fell below 400,000 last week after being stuck above 400,000 for more than a year.

I want you to think about what this report measures. It measures layoffs and that means 400,000 to 500,000 people have lost jobs each and every week. That adds up to more than 4 million people still collecting unemployment benefits.

Now the big drop in this week's report is great news. But -- and this is a really big but -- we have to see if this continues into the early part next year. It's really possible that many people working temporary jobs, especially in the retail sector, for the holidays, will wind up finding themselves right back in the unemployment line soon.

So it's really too early to get excited, but there is hope that today's report shows we're at a turning point. Wall Street, however, was unmoved by the report. The major averages drifted lower today, but stayed on track for solid gains in December and 2010 overall. Joe.

JOHNS: Thanks for that, Alison. While there are glimmers of hope about the economy, there are literally storm clouds on the horizon. Merchants say they lost $1 billion in after-Christmas sales because of last weekend's storms.

From coast to coast, cash-strapped state and local governments will have to find ways to pay for the winter storm removal and cleanup. That brings us to a big problem unfolding here in New York City, where a city councilman says sanitation workers have told him supervisors ordered workers to go slow on slow removal to protest city budget cuts.

Let's get more details from CNN's David Ariosto. David, this thing sounds like a big problem if it really happened. What do you know? DAVID ARIOSTO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's the big question, if it really happened. Allegations and accusations are swirling around the city right now and Mayor Michael Bloomberg addressed that very issue.

He's been facing a lot of pressure and a lot of heat over the last several days over concerns of the delay in snow removal that's left residents in some of the outlying boroughs snow bound. Let's listen in right now.


MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I) NEW YORK: I don't think it took place, but we're going to do an investigation to make sure that it didn't. It would be an outrage if it took place, but I just don't know.


ARIOSTO: Now, we've spoken with union representatives who categorically deny this. They're saying these sanitation workers are professionals and would not put the city at risk. These delays prompted 29 international flights to sit on the tarmac at New York's three major airports and left residents struggling to get to work, as well as first responders struggling to get to outlying boroughs. So their response is "this didn't happen." Joe.

JOHNS: So the first thing we heard, David, was that there were 400 jobs short in the sanitation department and that contributed to the problem. And now we hear this response that there are simply allegations at least that there was some type of labor slowdown in the works, probably from a big picture you have to ask the question whether this is just union labor finger-pointing and trying to assign blame when everybody screwed up.

ARIOSTO: It's true, and we spoke with a city council member who indicated three sanitation workers and two supervisors from the department of transportation came to his office concerned about his community saying that their supervisors indicated they should slow down sort of a retribution to the administration here in New York.

It's very difficult to tell, however, if this is just a small group of people, if these acts of retribution are, in fact, true, and if they are, if they only occurred in pockets. Many people are saying -- many officials are saying it's very hard for them to believe sanitation workers intentionally slowed down efforts.

There is an investigation. There will be, both from the governor and from the mayor. That was announced today. So we will see as this story develops and moves forward.

JOHNS: Fascinating story there. Again, if true. Thanks. Stay on top of that for us. David Ariosto right here in New York City.

Governments across the country look to New York City as the bellwether when it comes to crisis management and situations like this. Could workers slowdowns become a new form of protest against budget cuts?

Let's look ahead with Democratic strategist James Carville and Republican strategist Mary Matalin. They're both CNN political contributors.

Now I have to point out that there are other situations around the country that have occurred where you've had bus strikes and slowdowns. You've had sanitation worker slowdowns. Those are usually pretty much announced.

If, in fact, we had some type of a slowdown here or a job action, it was very much unannounced, even stealth, if you will. This is the kind of thing that wouldn't bode well for other cities if, in fact it happened, and was replicated somewhere else. Agree or disagree? James?

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, look, I agree, so far we know reportedly somebody -- no one names anything, but we know of one instance. That's hardly a citywide slowdown. If it did happen, we're going to find out pretty quickly.

You can hardly keep something like this quiet with that many sanitation workers, but the fact that -- suppose it's true one supervisor said that, that hardly will make much of a dent in the city the size of New York.

JOHNS: Mary, that question I asked Ariosto there, you can also point to this and say it's just labor and management pointing fingers at each other and saying, look, it's your fault, not mine. What do you think?

MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I don't know if this is true or not. We're somewhere where it's not snowing, and we've been following this from afar. It wasn't just that there was economic disruption. I thought I read a newborn baby had died because first responders could not get to the mother who had to give birth in her apartment.

If that's true and there's any slowdown anywhere, this -- it is a crisis. The mayor is going to have to do something very quick and very stern to get off of his agenda of counting calories and tobacco intake and all that and do what mayors are supposed to do, which is core competency and getting not just sanitation, but crisis sanitation and weather eradication as a core competency of the city government.

JOHNS: Now, let's sort of circle back around to what we started the program out with. That's the issue of unemployment numbers. Frankly, very good news for the United States some of the best news in almost two years.

However, with the dark clouds on the horizon, how does the president play this? Ask both of you, should he go ahead and just sort of talk about how the economy has now come out of its big problem, worst problem since the great depression? Or should he be more cautious because it's not clear we're out of the woods yet? James? CARVILLE: In a word, no. If we weren't on television, I'd say "blank" no. I think what he has to do is say we have to stay vigilant. These things while encouraging, still we're in the worst recession we've had since the great depression.

We have to stay really vigilant here. We have to really work hard, you know, but no, do not -- I think it would be a big mistake. What we found out in the '90s is you couldn't talk about any kind of economic progress until you were well into a sustained recovery. I suspect that's going to be true now because a lot of people just don't feel this at all.

JOHNS: Do you agree with that, Mary?

MATALIN: I'm going to agree with my brilliant husband, who's always brilliant, not always right. But in this case, the unemployment numbers are still close to double digits and they're twice what they were in the Bush administration.

So people are not -- this is -- we're not anywhere near robust recovery and we're not going to even stay in this tepid one if we continue to -- if there's any switchback from policies or -- switchback to the Obama policies with the new enhanced Republican majority. So no, James is exactly right. There are more policies that need to be undertaken to assure a sustained recovery.

CARVILLE: I think it would be fair to point out Obama created more jobs this year than Bush created in eight years, but if you're going to say that --

MATALIN: And he'd have to say that the unemployment numbers have been double what they were in his entire tenure than they were in Bush's entire eight years.

JOHNS: All right. You all hold on for just a moment. We're going to take a break here. When we come back, we're going to talk about some of the best political quotations of 2010. You'd be surprised who's on the list. Stay with us.


JOHNS: Have you ever had one of those moments when something you say just doesn't come out the way you intended or has a different effect than you'd hoped?

It happens to politicians all the time, especially during election years. Here now are top five "What I Meant Was" moments of 2010. Number five, supreme disagreement. New Jersey Congressman- elect John Runnion, Republican, then a candidate for Congress, was asked this question in a debate with his opponent Congressman John Adler.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you give me an example of the last 10 years of a Supreme Court decision, which you strongly disagree with? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That I strongly disagree with? Greg Scott.


JOHNS: Real brave move there. Dread Scott case was one of the great travesties in Supreme Court jurisprudence, but wasn't decided in the last 10 to 15 years. In 1857, the court affirmed the institution of slavery in the case so it's pretty easy to say that wasn't a good one.

Number four, Palin refudiates. Sarah Palin made this word a household term in a tweet and also on TV.


SARAH PALIN: And the president and his wife you know, the first lady spoke at NAACP so recently, they have power in their words, they could refudiate what it is this group is saying.


JOHNS: Refudiate was searched so often by users of Merriam Websters online dictionary they dubbed it the word of the summer. Our number three was Reid's good news. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had this to say about unemployment number in a speech on the Senate floor.


SENATOR HARRY REID: Today is a big day in America. Only 36,000 people lost their jobs today, which is really good.


JOHNS: Probably not a good day for those 36,000 people who did lose their jobs. Number two, a day in the life. In a TV interview after the BP oil spill, CEO Tony Hayward said this memorable line.


TONY HAYWARD, CEO, BP: I've sorry for the massive disruption it's caused to their lives. You know, there's no one who wants this thing over more than I do. I'd like my life back.


JOHNS: Eleven people were killed in the oil rig explosion in the Gulf Of Mexico and thousands lost their jobs. And our number one "What I Meant To Say" moment of the year was -- our own James Carville, resurrected a 2008 campaign joke in November saying this to a group of reporters.


CARVILLE: I'm the guy in the campaign who says if Hillary gave him one of her balls, they'd both have two. (END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: So was he sorry? Did he want it back? Here's what he said on this show, yes, this show.

CARVILLE: If I offended anybody, I'm not sorry and I don't apologize.

JOHNS: Now, James, you know, we love you, but we got to put you on this list because unlike some of the others who later acknowledged they misspoke or worked it out a little bit, you didn't even walk it back. You doubled down.

CARVILLE: I didn't --

JOHNS: Is that --

CARVILLE: Yes, I didn't misspeak.

JOHNS: But is that the secret of your success?

CARVILLE: I told it in the campaign, you know, why would I say I misspoke if I didn't misspeak? I would be a liar.

JOHNS: Yes, but is that the secret of your success? In other words, when somebody comes after you, you double down and keep ramming away, rather than backing off of it, is that what made you James Carville?

CARVILLE: I don't think so. If I'd said something that was really stupid or something that came out the wrong way, I would probably be careful to say that, but how could I -- I cracked the joke.

It was -- Maureen Dowd had it in "The New York Times" during the campaign. So it would be kind of -- I don't know how it would have come. People sound so discombobulated when they say I offended anybody. If I say something stupid, I obviously meant to say it because I'd said it before.

Having said that, given the way the president has come in December, it shows maybe he stands -- maybe the quote wasn't as accurate as it was when I said it.

JOHNS: Now, Mary, let me ask you, in the household there, does he not walk things back? Does he apologize every now and then?

MATALIN: He's a pretty Olympian back-walker on occasion. So yes, he knows how to walk it back. He knows how to apologize. He is pretty -- he's pretty good at what he does. I laugh. I cry. He's better than "cats."

CARVILLE: I got mad at Governor Richardson and called him Judas in "The New York Times" and they called me and I said I was quoted accurately and in context, you got it just right.

JOHNS: I wish I'd known that. I did a pretaped interview with Bill Richardson. He's going to be in the program a little bit later.

CARVILLE: We had it out on "Larry King" right after that. The campaign is over and, you know, it's -- time moves on.

MATALIN: It's time to move on to a new campaign. Believe me, we'll both make plenty of gaffes for you, Joe. Happy New Year.

CARVILLE: If you never say something, you know, controversial, you never say anything.

JOHNS: That's absolutely the truth. OK, hopefully you all will stay with us for just a little bit longer. We're going to be talking about some of the other things including Christine O'Donnell and her fight to save her reputation. Hear what she's saying about the government probe of her campaign finances coming up next.


JOHNS: Welcome back. Former U.S. Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell is back on the political radar in a big way. The Justice Department and FBI have launched a criminal investigation into her possible misuse of campaign funds for personal expenses. Gary Tuchman is keeping track of today's developments. Gary.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joe, Christine O'Donnell insists she's done nothing wrong. Her only tip-off about an investigation came from media reports, not from the government. She says if anything does materialize, she intends to cooperate fully. O'Donnell did a media blitz of all these morning network shows trying to defend her name.


CHRISTINE O'DONNELL: There's a vendetta to stop the movement in its tracks because if the citizen politicians continue to rise up and put career politicians on notice, we are going to continue to put the political establishment on notice.

This is part of the political apparatus who wants to make sure that this anti-establishment movement is stopped in its tracks. They're trying to discredit me. This is what's being twisted in order to slander my reputation.


TUCHMAN: Well, talking about slandering her reputation, we've done a lot of investigating of Christine O'Donnell before she lost her Senate race. And if there is a vendetta, Joe, what we're finding is it's a bipartisan vendetta.

JOHNS: Absolutely and that's one of the big questions, of course. These are issues that actually came up during the campaign and a lot of them are unanswered questions, isn't that right, Gary?

TUCHMAN: The thing we've noticed is that the initial people who talked to us were Republican Party leaders in Delaware. They encouraged us to do the investigating. What we have found are documents with checks that Christine O'Donnell has signed.

She hasn't addressed the checks. She's talking about a vendetta. There may indeed be a vendetta with Republicans and Democrats, but these checks show she made payments when she wasn't running for office in 2009, payments for restaurants for $28, payments for a bowling alley for $16. Payments for a tank of gas in her hometown in New Jersey.

You may be seeing those are small amounts of money, but the point is under FEC laws you aren't allowed to use that money for personal purchases that is campaign finance money. That's the issue and likely what the feds are investigating right now.

JOHNS: Has the question already been asked and answered about the re residence that apparently got money from the campaign and some people suggested that she was actually living there as opposed to using that building as some type of an office or whatever.

TUCHMAN: What we have found is she has signed a check that appears to be for the residence where she lives. Initially, several weeks ago, she and her campaign manager said because it was used as an office it's OK to use campaign money to pay for her residence.

I think she told you this morning, Joe, when you talked to her, that she no longer was using campaign money to pay for it but using her money and reimbursing the campaign. What we've seen are checks written from the campaign fund to live in this house to work in this house and that's what you talked to her about today, Joe.

JOHNS: Very, very interesting case. And we'll probably hear a lot more about it because if whatever the feds are doing on this it doesn't sound like they're very far along on it probably a lot of follow-up. Thanks so much, Gary, you've been following the Christine O'Donnell story for quite a long time now. Stay with that.

Traditionally, the end of the year is a time for governors to show mercy, pardoning prisoners and commuting sentences. As we'll discover in a little bit, that even goes for cases that are more than 100 years old.

But in Mississippi today, Governor Haley Barbour made national headlines by suspending the sentences for two sisters doing life in prison for robbery, a very big and controversial condition. Martin Savidge joins us now from CNN Center in Atlanta to tell us about it. Martin, what was that condition that's got everybody buzzing right now?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Joe. In this case, the get out of jail free card is a kidney, a human kidney. That has to come from one sister, given to the other sister. We're talking about the case here of Jamie and Gladys Scott. They've been in prison now for 16 years.

We should point out, that they were originally convicted for armed robbery and as a result, they were both given life sentences. Now, there has been a growing protest against those sentences. Many people saying, look, the time just simply does not fit the crime here. We're talking about a robbery of $11 that was actually stolen and so that had been a growing protest.

But in the meantime, over that period, one of the sisters has become ill and has to undergo dialysis at least three times a week. The other sister, this is the younger one, has said, look, I'll give my kidney if it will help my sister. Well, all of this grew to the point where Governor Haley Barbour said, all right, now I understand the two of you could get out of jail.

I'll suspend the sentence for you in prison, however, you have to go forward with this particular surgery. And that's wait it's all developing right now. I had the chance to talk to the women's mother, and she got the news yesterday from a reporter. Here's how she reacted.

EVELYN RASCO, MOTHER OF GLADYS AND JAMIE SCOTT (via telephone): I just went hysterical. I had to stop the car. I was driving at the time when he called me. I got so emotional, thanking God that finally this has come to an end.

SAVIDGE: Evelyn Rasco, it should be pointed out, has been one of the staunchest supporters of her daughters. She says that they are not guilty, never should have been in prison in the first place, Joe.

JOHNS: Now, one of the very interesting things here, is there's a rich political backstory. Just about a week ago, Haley Barbour was really being slapped around in the media for his apparent support of the Citizens Council in the 1960s, which had a lot of racial overtones.

And now, this week, he's suddenly being praised by the NAACP for righting what they see is a big wrong by letting these people out with suspended sentences or whatever it's being called. I guess the question is, is he sort of setting himself up for presidential run? Is there something more than Haley Barbour's largess at work here?

SAVIDGE: Well, I think almost everybody in the state of Mississippi will tell you that there is always a lot more going on behind the scenes than there is perhaps in front of the cameras. In this case, many people do believe this is politically motivated.

Keep in mind they do believe he will run perhaps in 2012 as a Republican against the first African-American president in the United States. So yes, politics is believed to be behind all of this. The first person to say all that was the attorney who represents these two women. He had a news conference earlier today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been asked a lot of questions, did the governor do this for political reasons. My guess is he did do it for some political reasons, but on the other hand I want to commend him for a movement, which bespoke humanity.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SAVIDGE: And that's the point here. People are saying yes, politics probably part of the motivation here, but he also did right thing. And that's the part that needs to be remembered most. We should also point out that the governor has said, look, there are a lot of things that could happen here.

First of all, the sisters may not be a match. There could be one of the sisters backs out of the operation or it just may simply may not come to fruition that the surgery takes play. It does not mean the two will go back to prison. They will remain free.

JOHNS: The other thing that's very interesting as well is the sort of cost benefit analysis going on behind the scenes. This dialysis costs something like $190,000 a year, doesn't it? And in a way, Haley Barbour gets a win-win because he gets to say "I saved the government money by not having to pay for this dialysis any longer at the same time I let these two sisters go free.

SAVIDGE: Well, it sort of he'll pass the cost along. It will go from the state of Mississippi, which of course, runs the prison system to when the sisters now go to Florida. One of them will probably go to Medicare -- that's a federally funded system, which means you're handing off the responsibility I guess from the taxpayers of Mississippi to the taxpayers of the United States.

JOHNS: Somewhere in there, there is a real medical/health ethical dilemma. I just can't put my head around it right now because there's so much to this story. Martin Savidge, thank you for your great reporting there from Atlanta tonight.

One of the latest crazes in sports is hating Michael Vick. Now, a familiar face on cable news says Vick should have been executed for his crime. Outrage on both sides of the argument and a spirited debate. That's next.


JOHNS: President Obama may be vacationing in Hawaii but he sure managed to stir up a sports controversy when word got out he praised Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, and said he ought to have a second chance. White House officials clarified that the president still condemns the dog fighting related crimes that sent Vick to prison for 18 months, but the outcry among some animal rights advocates was already under way. Then on FOX NEWS, political commentator Tucker Carlson took it one step further.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'm a Christian. I've made mistakes myself. I believe fervently in second chances. But Michael Vick killed dogs. And he did in a heartless and cruel way. And I think, personally, he should have been executed for that. He wasn't.

(END VIDEO CLIP) JOHNS: No surprise those comments moved the pop culture hysteria to a whole new level. Joining us from Los Angeles to talk about it CNN Contributor Max Kellerman.

Max, needless to say, a little bit over the top there what he said. But dog fighting is not a capital crime, if you will. On the other hand, why isn't going to prison enough punishment for this guy? At what point are people going to go ahead and say, all right, time for a second chance?

MAX KELLERMAN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: This is precisely the kind of topic that my friend Tucker and I used to debate on yet a third cable network, a couple years ago, when we were both there. I would have destroyed him on this one, Joe.

Simply put, people like Tucker, have this kind of an emotional reaction to harming dogs specifically, because dogs were engineered for companionship. Mainly because they didn't grow large enough to be a cheap source of protein and they don't taste very good to us. For instance, pigs on the other hand, do grow very large, do taste good to us, and therefore are a great cheap source of protein. So we don't have the same emotional connection to pigs, right?

So most of the people who are angry at Vick and Vick committed a moral crime in addition to a legal crime. He's paid his -- he's paid his debt to society, he's done his time. But in terms of those who have truly moral standing, to point the finger at Vick, not nearly as many as you'd think. If you eat pork, for instance, you are involved on the demand side of an industry that breeds, tortures, and slaughters millions of higher life forms than dogs.

Michael Vick was on the supply side of an industry that, you know, that tortures and kills thousands of lower life forms than pigs. And yet outrage for Michael Vick, and you have bacon on the end of your fork in the morning, and you don't think twice about it.

JOHNS: All right so getting beyond the breakfast food fight sort of story, there are some other issues that have been raised out there in the blogosphere, newspapers, other places. Including a really interesting quote, I thought, from Richard Cohen in "The Washington Post."

He says, "Vick got a second chance not because he deserves it, but because he can play football. This is the lesson we can all take from the sorry episode. It's one thing to be sorry. It's much better to hit your man in the end zone."

So there you go.


JOHNS: I mean, is that what this is really about? Go ahead.

KELLERMAN: No, I don't think so. It may be he had a high enough profile that it helped him out in that way. I think as a -- as a kind of example for people, it's probably good, it's probably good that people see that you can get a second chance and reform your behavior and become a better person and contribute again to society. That's probably a good thing. And if Vick's profile helped him do that, then we should probably celebrate that.

But I don't know, people seem to be preoccupied now with a legal code. Is the time that he did, a couple years, enough to justify going back to work for fighting dogs? That's probably a matter of personal taste. I think it is.

He didn't kill a person. He was involved in the competition -- as I said, the supply side of the dog fighting business. And I don't know, a couple years in jail sounds right to me. Maybe it doesn't sound right to the next guy. But the law was followed here.

JOHNS: Interesting. This has been kind of a political year and a sports year for redemption. We saw in the elections some politicians who sort of told stories about their records in the war, in Vietnam and the Iraq war. And in sports, not just Michael Vick, and the issue of redemption, we've had Ben Roethlisberger over in Pittsburgh. He had his own set of legal problems. Cleared up, ended up not being charged.

We also had Lebron James and his issue with Cleveland, moving to Miami. Where on the scale of redemption do you think Vick falls? And why do these guys get more of a pass if you think they do than Michael Vick?

KELLERMAN: Well, Lebron James didn't do anything criminal -


JOHNS: All right.

KELLERMAN: He wasn't accused of doing anything criminal --

JOHNS: But people in Cleveland hate him.

KELLERMAN: They hate him because -- in Cleveland, he left them high and dry in Cleveland, and so they're very angry. Let's look at Vick and Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger, charges were never brought against him. However, I do have what I call the jersey test. In other words, if an athlete is guilty of what he is accused, and pays his debt to society, could you ever wear his jersey again with a -- in good conscience? Could you ever wear it again?

In Roethlisberger's case, the original reporting was that he forcibly had his bodyguards take a young woman into a bathroom where he had -- where she was raped. I mean, essentially that was the issue. And the charges weren't brought against him.

Now, had that been true, there is no way you can wear a Roethlisberger jersey again unless, I suppose, he did a very long time in jail, came out, and worked for various causes, as Vick has done for dog fighting.

JOHNS: Right. KELLERMAN: It really is a personal choice. Your own personal kind of values and your personal taste. It's very bad to fight dogs. They're innocent animals. They shouldn't be fought and killed and tortured. Clearly, I think everyone would agree with that. How much time would it take for Vick to finally clear -- how much time would it take for Vick before people thought, yes, I can put his jersey on again. And how would he have to behave in order for people to do that?

He's saying all right things right now. He's doing all the right things right now. He's already gone to jail. I think it's safe to say that many feel it is OK to put on the Michael Vick jersey again. And to answer your previous question, yeah, the more touchdowns he scores, probably, the better people feel about wearing the jersey.

JOHNS: The funny thing is, the reason why this is on a political show, though, is because the sports spectator in chief, if you will, Barack Obama, weighed in on this issue and got everybody talking about it. What do we think of this president and the White House who just can't resist talking about what's going on in pop culture? And particularly in professional sports?

KELLERMAN: Again, from my point of view, I like the fact that it's not an automaton in the White House. That he's not scared to point to examples in the popular culture, or in popular culture, that reflect values that he thinks are important, and reflect his own values. In this case, it's -- he mentioned it as an article of faith - of his faith, that he believes in second chances. And I think that also reflects a larger sense in our popular culture, certainly in our sports culture, where the bigger the idol is built up, he's never quite as big, or she is never quite as big, as if they fall and then rise again.

Muhammad Ali is the best example I can think of. Where he became such an unpopular figure, for so many, during the Vietnam war. He went to the Nation of Islam and then refused induction in the armed forces. Then as that war turned out to be unpopular and people saw Ali as very serious about his religious beliefs, and was willing to sacrifice for them, he became enormously popular; more popular than he would have ever been otherwise.

So maybe Michael Vick is in the same situation. If he's genuinely repentant and he -- and this behavior, public behavior, especially, of his keeps up. Then I suppose eventually it's not out of the question that he could become more popular even than had he never fought dogs.

JOHNS: You bet. All right, Max, thanks so much. Out in Los Angeles, where the weather is good. Appreciate you coming in and talking to us tonight. Happy New Year.

KELLERMAN: Thank you so much for having me. Happy New Year to you, sir.

JOHNS: All right. Yet another case of leniency is making news tonight. Next, should New Mexico pardon a guy who by reputation killed 21 men? You might be surprised who's involved in this one.


JOHNS: Now that he's back from North Korea, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is tackling an issue that's really controversial. Before leaving office next month, should he pardon Billy the Kid? Governor Richardson joins us now from Santa Fe.

Governor, this is sort of pardon season for a lot of governors around the country. You have one of the most controversial decisions of them all, this time, at least. Have you decided whether you're going to pardon Billy the kid?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON, (D) NEW MEXICO: Well, Joe, I haven't decided. I'm going to decide tomorrow. Because I've only got one more day as governor. The decision has to be tomorrow. It's going to be a very close call. It's not going to be a blanket pardon because Billy did kill some law enforcement officers when he was escaping the Lincoln County jail.

The issue is did a previous New Mexico Governor Lou Wallace, promise Billy a pardon in exchange for some testimony. And if that is the case, if there's conclusive proof, then there will be a pardon.

JOHNS: A lot of us know, or think we know something about Billy the Kid, and that is mostly through books and movies, and so on. Let's take a look at a clip. Just to refresh the memory of viewers out there, about who Billy the Kid was-or who we think he was.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Reap the whirlwind, Sheriff Brady. Reap it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You weren't supposed to touch Brady.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sheriff Brady sent the man who killed John. It was a good move for us, Alex.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it was. Have you seen "The Independence"? The governor's revoked your deputization (sic) powers. You are now wanted by the legitimate law as well as those outside the law.


JOHNS: So, governor, does Hollywood have the image of Billy the Kid right? Or as my seven-year-old son might say, was he a good guy, or a bad guy, or a little bit of both?

RICHARDSON: Well, he was a bad guy. But the issue is whether that governor, Lou Wallace who-by the way, is the one who wrote "Ben Hur", he was a territorial governor at the time appointed by the president-in fact, made that promise to Billy. And the issue is whether Billy should be pardoned for the murder of Sheriff Brady, who at the time was in law enforcement, but he was also doing the bidding for a group called -- a syndicate called the Santa Fe Ring. So there weren't good and bad guys at least in this instance.

But, Joe, there are four killings tied directly to Billy. There's a myth about Billy across the board. But this is a part of Americana. This is part of the American West.

But I've heard, from all over the world. We set up a Web site, Europe, Asia, tremendous fascination. Historians across the board generally favor Billy getting the pardon. But I just think if you make a pardon, you're a governor, you've got to be very certain of your action. I've dealt with this issue for eight years now. And I am going to wait till the last minute to make the decision. And it will be tomorrow, Joe.

JOHNS: Don't you kind of wonder whether this is the kind of guy who would have wanted to be an outlaw at the end of the day, and even identified as such by the governor of New Mexico?

RICHARDSON: Well, yeah, I mean, Billy was not a good guy. But the issue is not his entire life, because he did kill two deputies when he was escaping from the Lincoln County jail. So I'm not giving him, if I do a pardon, a blanket pardon across the board. The guy was a criminal, but the issue is this specific Sheriff Brady instance, and did the governor of New Mexico promise him a pardon in exchange for some testimony in this murder case.

So, you know, you're evaluating legal documents. You're evaluating newspaper clippings, what relatives say. But it's fascinating and Billy the Kid is part of, as you said, Americana. And everybody is interested. It's fun, though.

Joe, you know, in these days when you're broadcasts, you are talking about wars and people not getting home for the holidays, and economic downturn. You know, this is a fun part of America. And by the way, I admit it's good publicity for New Mexico and New Mexico history.

JOHNS: Yeah, but, the other side of that, of course, is I'm sure there are realists on the ground in New Mexico who say we've got a lot of pressing concerns, budget shortfalls, what have you. Why would the governor of New Mexico be spending so much time on an issue like this, when we have other pressing issues?

RICHARDSON: Well, look, I'm not spending a lot of time on it. I've studied this issue over the years. You know, we're dealing with a budget, with a transition to a new governor here. I was in North Korea, as you mentioned. So I'm dealing with serious issues.

Again, this is something that New Mexicans over the years, and Western buffs, want settled. You know, we've had a huge response to whether we should pardon him or not. So a lot of people do care. And it's good to put this issue to bed. And I'm going to do it tomorrow.

JOHNS: What are you going to be doing once you leave office? You've been very busy. You've been over to North Korea. You're handling a variety of issues there as governor. We can't imagine you doing little or nothing. What are your plans?

RICHARDSON: Well, I am actually going to look to become a private citizen and do the things that I've always wanted to do. Visit baseball parks. Go to spring training. Not myself, but just watch it.

But, Joe, I'm going to stay in Santa Fe. I'm going to do some paid speeches. I'm going to do some boards, nonprofit and profit. I'm going to try to set up a foreign policy institute where I continue my work on peacemaking, on rescuing hostages, on U.S./Latin American relations. I'm going to stay active. I'm going to be around.

Not in New Mexico politics, but more at a national and hopefully international national level. But, you know, I need a pause. The people of New Mexico need a pause from me.

Probably the country needs a pause from me. So I'm going to stay in Santa Fe. Maybe some day we'll be back and we'll see you back in Washington.

JOHNS: Governor Richardson, thank you so much for spending a little bit of your time with us. We will be watching to see what you decide on the issue of Billy the Kid. And looking forward to your next trip overseas, wherever that may be.

RICHARDSON: Thank you, Joe.

JOHNS: All right. A look at the top news headlines you need to know next.


JOHNS: Welcome back. Let's check in with Gary Tuchman for the latest news you need to know right now.


JOHNS: Who better to guide you through the snowy streets than our own Pete On The Street. When we come back, hey Pete?

PETE DOMINICK, OFF BEAT REPORTER: Hey, Joe. You're not going to want to miss this.


JOHNS: Getting ready to trek through snowy and slushy streets is a full-time job especially for those who have to work in it. Our Offbeat Reporter Pete Dominick knows firsthand just how tough it is.

So, Pete, how tough is it?

DOMINICK: Well, that's right, my bald-headed brother, Joe Johns. It's very tough.

And now the snow is tough but, Joe, as you know, you're in New York. It's warmed up. It's the melt that will get you. Take a look at these people I found trying to make it through the streets in New York.


DOMINICK: The problem in New York, and other cities around America, is as the snow melts, it's the puddle of death. Let's take a look.

Are you good? As long as you don't drop the pretzel.

Oh, someone almost went down. Look, what a gentleman. He doesn't even know this woman.


DOMINICK: Oh, you do now. Look at that, ha, ha.

Is that dad?


DOMINICK: Well done, dad. Well done. Look at that.


DOMINICK: Can you carry me across the way back?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How much money do you have?

DOMINICK: I have 20 bucks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That will work.

Holiday, holiday.

DOMINICK: Thank you so much. Watch out for the truck.

He's putting me in the truck! He's putting me in the truck!


DOMINICK: Well, there you go, Joe. People are helping people out there, but as you know New Year's Eve, tomorrow night, right here in New York. And there's a lot of snow still out there in the streets, Joe Johns.

JOHNS: Sure. You know, I'm amazed I haven't fallen yet. I thought I was going to fall. Thanks so much, Pete On The Street.

That's all from us tonight. PARKER SPITZER starts right now.