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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Air Travel Mess Continues; American Freed From Haitian Prison; President Obama's Year

Aired December 29, 2010 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again -- Randi Kaye here, sitting in for Anderson, who is getting ready for CNN's big New Year's Eve special with Kathy Griffin.

Tonight, though: What went wrong? Air travelers still trying to get home from Christmas trips, still stuck at airports around the country, possibly until New Year's or beyond. Were new rules designed to protect passengers to blame? Did government regulators drop the ball? What about the airlines? We will try to get answers, "Keeping Them Honest."

Also tonight, breaking news in a story 360 led the way on -- American Paul Waggoner, who went from volunteer at a Haitian hospital to inmate at the country's worst prison, accused of kidnapping and turning a child into a zombie, Paul is free tonight. He's speaking out. And you will only see it right here on 360.

And, later, 360 M.D. Sanjay Gupta with a kid taking "Extreme Living" to new heights. Boy, you couldn't get much higher than this, just 13 years old when he climbed Mount Everest.

We begin tonight "Keeping Them Honest" on who or what's to blame for all the misery so many air travelers are still going through days after the blizzard, the outrage boiling over again today, as five new international flights are trapped on the tarmac at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, passengers waiting for up to nine hours to get off their planes, then hours more to retrieve their luggage.

A total of 29 international flights have been stranded on the tarmacs of New York airports this week, including a Cathay Pacific flight stuck for a mind-boggling 11 hours.

Of course, the problems didn't stop there. We can't forget the tens of thousands of air travelers around the country whose holiday plans were torpedoed by cancellations and flight delays, with no help in sight. Some won't make it to their destinations until after the new year. And the initial anger and frustration is only growing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We looked up at the screen and it said canceled within three minutes of walking into the door. So, we had no other plans. We didn't prolong our hotel stay. We didn't do anything. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're telling us that they can't tell us anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The airlines couldn't tell us anything. That sounds highly inefficient.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're on a standby right now. If that doesn't come through, then we will be in real big trouble.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm definitely going to get home sooner or later. If I don't, I have got to stay here.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't have any choice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: More than 10,000 flights have been canceled since last weekend's blizzard dumped 20 inches of snow on New York, bringing air traffic to a standstill from coast to coast.

And with airline phone lines, Web sites and reservation agents overloaded, re-booking those flights has been a nightmare. Imagine calling desperate for help, only to get this message.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks for calling Continental Airlines. Due to the weather in the Northeast, we're experiencing unusually high call volume and are unable to take your call. You can check the status of a flight or check in for a flight from your handheld device by going to PDA.Continental.com and enter your flight information.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KAYE: So, what exactly went wrong? Some experts argue nothing did. They say the aviation system is working just fine, given the circumstances.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

YOSSI SHEFFI, MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY CENTER FOR TRANSPORTATION AND LOGISTICS: The aviation system is not broken at all. We had the severe weather situation in the Northeast United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: But others say thousands of flights may have been canceled prematurely, all because of the new airlines' passenger bill of rights.

It fines airlines if domestic flights, not international flights, are kept waiting on the tarmac for more than three hours. Now, this was the first big test of the tarmac wait rule since it went into effect in April.

And rather than risk those fines, potentially millions of dollars per flight, critics say the airlines simply grounded them, leaving passengers stuck in the terminal, instead of on the airplane.

Meantime, the Department of Transportation is taking a hard look at what happened this weekend and will post its findings so consumers make informed decisions in future weather emergencies.

But the department insists telling airlines how to schedule flights is not its job. Of course, passengers still trapped at the airport aren't interested in excuses. They just want to get where they're going and maybe an apology from someone, anyone, in charge.

Cathay Pacific, the international carrier behind that 11-hour ground delay yesterday, was quick to offer one. In a statement, the airline wrote, "We are particularly sorry for the great inconvenience that more than 1,100 passengers have suffered throughout their long wait inside our aircraft on the tarmac."

And what about an apology for passengers stranded by our airlines here at home? In airports across the country tonight, thousands are still waiting and waiting and waiting.

Earlier, I spoke with Michael Boyd, airline analyst with the Boyd aviation group, and Brandon Macsata, executive director of the Association for Airline Passenger Rights, about who or what is really to blame.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE: All right, Mike, let's start with you. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it's my understanding that you think the airlines have actually done a fairly good job throughout all of this.

Now, there are a lot of people watching tonight who probably disagree with you. So what makes you think that?

MICHAEL BOYD, PRESIDENT, THE BOYD GROUP: Well, I think it's what you can do vs. what you would like to do.

You know, having been on that side of the table, or both sides of the table of this, you know -- and I wasn't at La Guardia to put up with this grief -- but what can you do when the -- the runways are shut down? You have 3,000 or 4,000 people there. You've got people calling reservations trying to re-book. You don't have many reservations people. That's a problem.

I guess it's wrong to say I think they have done a great job. I guess the point is, could they have done anything better under the circumstances? Probably yes, but would it be marginally better? I don't know.

KAYE: Well, that's what I was just going to ask you. I mean, is this really the best we can do? BOYD: Well, when you have every runway in the New York area shut down over a holiday period, and people trying to get home, and airplanes canceled all over, I don't know what that means. It means, how do you handle it?

You can't open the runways. You can't make airplanes fly in bad weather. So, the question is, how did you handle the people on the ground? And I will bet there's legions of stories where people handled it wonderfully, and legions where the people sat there thinking, what am I going to do? Will I ever get out of this airport?

KAYE: And, Brandon, this was the first test of the passengers bill of rights, which is supposed to prohibit airlines from scheduling those chronically delayed flights that we have heard nightmare stories of people spending 11 hours on a plane. And you say the bill of rights actually doesn't go far enough, or this wouldn't have happened.

BRANDON MACSATA, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ASSOCIATION FOR AIRLINE PASSENGER RIGHTS: Well, Randi, we would like to strike a balance.

You know, we hear stories where people can't even get information as to when they might be able to get a new flight. That goes to the issue of, you know, the -- the phone systems being overloaded. They should have been prepared. We don't blame the airlines, or the airports, for that matter, for bad weather. We most certainly do hold them responsible -- responsible for being able to react when a situation like this arises.

KAYE: And, Mike, we're talking about these -- these customer complaints. I mean, on top of the canceled flights, the passengers couldn't get through to the airlines' phone numbers, as Brandon mentioned. They couldn't find out if their flights had been changed or even what flight they're on.

The online services weren't working, no response really from the airlines. And critics have warned that this would happen when these regulations took effect. Do you agree?

BOYD: Well, I don't think the regulations had anything to do with this.

I mean, we had a weather situation. And the problem when you fly, even in good weather -- and I'm sure Brandon's going through this right now knowing he's going to get on an airplane -- you have anxieties. But when you're in an airport crowded with people whose flights are canceled, just like yours, you don't know when you're going to get out, and there's no information, yes, consumers are going to get upset, justifiably.

The question is -- I agree airlines could do a much better job of this going forward to be prepared for it, at least to say, hey, everybody -- and I have been in this game -- hey, everybody, we don't know what the answer is, but we're going to try to find out, but we will get through this.

KAYE: Brandon, would you say that -- that the airlines were too quick, really, to cancel so many flights, for fear of being fined if they had the passengers sitting on the tarmac?

MACSATA: You know, most passengers that I talked to would prefer that the airlines pre-cancel flights, so that at least people are home or maybe they're at their hotel, rather than, you know, stick with the flight schedule, knowing that it's going to be a disaster, get these people on -- the airport, get them in the airplane, and then be in a position where they have to delay it or cancel. And it -- it causes absolute havoc on the system.

KAYE: And, Mike, why don't you react to that? Because this storm was predicted. It was not a surprise. So, what about a plan B here?

BOYD: Keep in mind, in the airline business today -- 10 years ago, you had a lot of ticket counter staff. Today, there's no tickets and no ticket counter staff.

But to be prepared for this and have -- have some sort of anticipatory plan is good. And they are doing a good job, I believe, canceling airplanes, so they don't go to La Guardia tonight...

KAYE: But what about staffing?

BOYD: ... get stuck under three feet of snow tomorrow.

KAYE: But what about staffing?

BOYD: Well, the problem is, sometimes...

(CROSSTALK)

KAYE: Were they prepared for that? Were they prepared for passengers...

BOYD: Well...

KAYE: ... not being able to change their tickets online or get any information from the airline?

BOYD: Well, one of the things, too, is, you know, you -- you don't build a reservation system for, you know, 5,000 calls in one hour. I mean, so you can understand that to a degree.

But the staffing part, maybe they didn't have enough staffing. But I would go along with Brandon and say it's real clear they didn't plan enough on this, because the whole idea is, they know the government's breezing -- breathing down their throat with silly regulations. And we know we have things like fines.

You know, you want to anticipate that, and I -- I would question whether they did that in this case.

KAYE: And on the flip side of that, Brandon, what about consumers? Do they hold any responsibility here? I mean, the passengers also knew about the storm, and many of them did go ahead to the airport and try and wait it out and get on a flight. MACSATA: Passengers do hold some responsibility, but the lion's share of this burden falls directly on the airlines. I think what we ought to do is take all the airline CEOs and top executives, put them on a commercial flight, and let them experience what passengers have dealt with in La Guardia. And then we will see how quickly the airlines will shape up.

KAYE: Yes, that would be an interesting experiment.

But let me ask you this. With so much cheap airfare out there today, is it a question of you get what you pay for here?

MACSATA: It's not just a case of cheap airfare and paying for what you get. I think it's just the -- the airlines are stuck in this outdated business model. They don't want to change.

And when an issue like weather comes up, they just throw their hands in the air and say, we're not responsible for Mother Nature -- Mother Nature. And that's just absurd.

KAYE: And, Michael, I mean, you -- you look at this mess, yet you still say that we don't need this bill of rights, this passenger bill of rights.

BOYD: What we need is somebody to enforce it.

The Department of Transportation is incompetent. They don't have people that understand these rules. You don't want the DOT telling when an airplane should be canceled or not. These people are political appointees. So, it would make things even worse because we don't have the machinery to make it work.

But on -- on another point, keep in mind, those passengers sitting out at La Guardia today waiting to get out, I -- I can't blame them, because their tickets were probably nonrefundable. And, if they didn't go, they're going to lose their money. So they're kind of forced to go out and get into this rodeo.

KAYE: All right. Gentlemen, we will have to leave it there.

Mike Boyd, Brandon Macsata, thank you. And I hope your -- your travels are smooth in the days ahead.

MACSATA: Thank you. Appreciate it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE: So, let us know what you think. Join the live chat now under way at AC360.com.

Up next, breaking news: An American volunteer imprisoned in Haiti on just an accusation that he kidnapped and practiced voodoo on a child is out of prison tonight. We will talk to Paul Waggoner about what it was like behind bars without being charged and what he thinks is the root of the false accusation against him.

Also ahead, an Idaho man gets into a tussle on board a plane with someone using an iPhone and lands in police custody.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAYE: We have breaking news tonight in a story we have been following closely here on 360.

Paul Waggoner was freed late today from prison in Haiti. Waggoner is an American volunteer who went to Haiti after January's earthquake and who was imprisoned on an accusation he kidnapped a 15- month-old child and turned him into a zombie, in other words, that he practiced voodoo on the little boy.

In fact, the child was brought by his father to the hospital last February where Waggoner was working. The boy was critically ill and died. The hospital issued a death certificate, and the child's body was cremated on-site because his father said he had no money for burial.

But that's when things took a nightmarish turn for Waggoner. It was the father who made the kidnapping and voodoo allegation, insisting that his son was still alive. A summons was issued. Waggoner was arrested and held for the past few weeks in Haiti's dangerous national penitentiary, even though he was never officially charged by Haitian authorities.

It was during a hearing before an investigative judge yesterday that the father's story apparently began to unravel. And Waggoner now believes he knows the reason behind his horrible ordeal.

I spoke with him exclusively a short time ago via Skype.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE: Paul, it's great to see you free. How does it feel to be out of prison?

PAUL WAGGONER, U.S. AID WORKER IN HAITI: It's awesome. Feels great.

KAYE: How did this happen today, that -- yesterday, we spoke with your colleague, and it -- it wasn't clear exactly whether or not you were going to be freed. So, tell us how it came to be today.

WAGGONER: Well, Big Paul pushed it and pushed it until it went through. I had actually just finished dinner and laid down to go to sleep whenever the guards came through, told me it was time to release me, for me to get dressed and be ready to go in a few minutes.

KAYE: What was prison there like for you? I mean, how scared were you that you might never have gotten out?

WAGGONER: Well, due to all the delays, it was kind of beginning to look like it would possibly drag out for a long time, and maybe even go, you know, a bad direction.

But the last -- the last couple days started looking a little better. So, that kept my spirits up, and B.P. kept me up to date on what was going on the more we were able to see each other. So, I got -- in the last probably 48 hours, it started looking really good.

KAYE: Tell me about the conditions.

WAGGONER: Yes. It -- they're nothing nice. There's no light in there. Once the sun goes down, the only light that (AUDIO GAP) are the security lights that are lit up throughout the compound for the guards to see. There's nothing in the cells.

We had a couple flashlights. And there's -- there's a bathroom which you're locked in your cell and not allowed to access until -- I think about 8:30 in the morning, they were unlocking the door. We had no way to keep up with the time either.

So, I'm not real sure about that. But around 4:00, they would lock us back down, and that was the last time you had access to showers or bathroom.

KAYE: Why do you think you were actually accused of kidnapping this gravely ill child, I mean, even performing voodoo on him and turning him into a zombie? Why those accusations?

WAGGONER: Money. The -- the father was just trying to extort, you know, anybody he could for whatever amount of money he could get.

KAYE: But what contact did you actually have? I mean, if you could, just set the record straight for us tonight, because we are finally hearing your side of the story. What -- what contact did you actually have with the father and this boy, if any?

WAGGONER: Well, the child came in February 23 about 1:30 in the morning, 2:00, after a 4.7 earthquake.

And the doctors and nurses that we were working with proceeded to -- to try to help him. He -- he passed away, was placed in what they were calling a morgue at the time. And the father was told that he was allowed 12 hours to pick up the child, which was hospital policy, because there was no refrigeration, no -- no cooling system in this -- what they called a morgue.

So, I -- I gave him my phone number in case he wanted to come pick the child up to have a funeral, some kind of closure. And (AUDIO GAP) later that day, he gave me a call. I escorted him back to the morgue, seeing his child, insisted that he didn't want to take him; he wanted the hospital to incinerate him.

(CROSSTALK)

KAYE: And that was your first contact with the father?

WAGGONER: Yes.

KAYE: So, are you planning to stay in Haiti? Or are you planning to leave? Do you feel safe there? WAGGONER: I would like to stay and keep working, but, due to the circumstances, I think it would be good to get out of here for a little bit and see what comes of this.

And, after that, you know, we will -- we will make plans and move on from there.

KAYE: All right. It -- it really has been an amazing story that we will continue to follow.

Paul Waggoner, thank you.

WAGGONER: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE: Up next: The video was almost too incredible to believe, the roof at the Minneapolis Metrodome all caved in. We have got the first estimate of just how long it will be out of action.

And what kind of year did President Obama have? Depends on who you ask -- tonight's installment of all the best, all the worst in 2010 still ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAYE: New signs tonight that Christine O'Donnell's two biggest problems weren't dabbling in witchcraft and losing her Senate race in Delaware. Now she's got the feds looking into how she spent campaign money.

She raised millions of campaign dollars and was dogged by allegations she used some of it for personal expenses, which is against the law.

She didn't answer many questions at the time, as Gary Tuchman discovered firsthand back then, but now she's hitting back sharply. And Gary's got the latest.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Randi, Christine O'Donnell, the losing candidate in the Delaware U.S. Senate race this past November, is making a pretty strong allegation: that the Obama/Biden administration would consider abusing the powers of the FBI.

O'Donnell made that statement following this tidbit: A federal criminal investigation is under way into allegations that O'Donnell has misused campaign funds. That word comes to us from a source with knowledge of the probe. Word of the investigation was first reported by the Associated Press.

During the Senate campaign, we reported that federal election documents showed the Tea Party candidate spent a lot of campaign money months before she even declared herself a candidate in the Senate race. In addition, many of the expenses appear to have nothing to do with a political campaign. For example, she used campaign money to pay rent for her house, which during the campaign she says doubles as an office, but, remember, this spending was not during the campaign. She wrote a check for 600 bucks for her utility bill paid to Delmarva Power. She wrote a check for $26 to a Ruby Tuesday's restaurant. And she also wrote one for $19 to a bowling alley.

The allegation is that she used her campaign money as a personal piggy bank. But we certainly wanted to give her a chance to respond to the allegations. After a candidates forum this past September, I asked her if she'd take a question about this. She said she would, but then only gave a statement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SEPTEMBER 20, 2010)

CHRISTINE O'DONNELL (R), FORMER DELAWARE SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: We have been ethical. We have not -- I personally have not misused the campaign funds. And we have our SEC lawyer, a great attorney, answering those charges, if it ever goes anywhere.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TUCHMAN: Well, it may be going somewhere now. I tried one more time that night, though, to get specific answers from Ms. O'Donnell. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TUCHMAN: Ms. O'Donnell, I'm going to ask you that one question you promised you would answer.

O'DONNELL: I did answer it.

TUCHMAN: No, about the rentals last year.

(CROSSTALK)

TUCHMAN: Why were you paying rent money with campaign money?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. Sorry, tonight, not happening.

TUCHMAN: Well, that was the one question I had.

O'DONNELL: I answered it.

TUCHMAN: No, you didn't answer it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TUCHMAN: Well, there may be, indeed, a legal explanation to all of this, but Ms. O'Donnell and her advisers have never specifically answered the allegations.

However, her written statement today is strong. O'Donnell calls the probe "thug tactics." And she then attacks Joe Biden, saying, "Given that the king of the Delaware establishment just so happens to be the vice president of the most liberal presidential administration in the U.S. history, it's no surprise that misuse and abuse of the FBI would not be off the table."

Randi, we will stay on the story.

KAYE: Very interesting stuff, Gary. Thanks.

A lot more happening tonight, the details in this 360 bulletin -- Gary.

TUCHMAN: That's right, Randi.

There's been a terror arrest in Denmark. Danish intelligence authorities say four men were arrested on suspicion of preparing a terror attack against a Danish newspaper. The arrests were made at two apartments on the outskirts of Copenhagen.

Boise, Idaho, police have charged 68-year-old Russell Miller with misdemeanor battery after he smacked a fellow airline passenger with the back of his hand. Miller told police the 15-year-old would not turn off his iPhone on a flight from Las Vegas to Boise. Police say Miller left a mark on the teen's shoulder.

The snow-damaged roof of the Metrodome in Minneapolis won't be fixed until some time in March. A spokesman says every event through March will be canceled, including hundreds of college baseball games and the annual Minnesota TwinsFest.

And the NFL has fined Vikings quarterback Brett Favre $50,000 for failing to cooperate with an investigation into whether he sent sexually-explicit text messages to a female New York Jets employee in 2008. At the time, Favre was quarterback for the Jets.

The NFL says it sees no evidence Favre violated any league policies, and that's why he did not get a bigger fine. Fifty thousand dollars, by the way, Randi, is less than a third of 1 percent of his current season salary of $16 million.

There was a day when $50,000 meant something in the NFL -- not anymore.

KAYE: Yes, not exactly a dent in his wallet there.

(LAUGHTER)

KAYE: All right, Gary, thanks.

It's been quite a year for the president, both good and bad. Put his vacation in Hawaii in the good column. For the rest of the best and some of the worst, too, we will lean on Tom Foreman to wrap up 2010.

And have you ever felt like you were on top of the world? Have you ever been on top of the world -- well, at least the highest part of the world? Tonight, in "Extreme Living," meet one boy who has been there and many of the highest places in the world all before his 14th birthday.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAYE: President Obama goes into the new year with fewer Americans hoping his policies will succeed, fewer thinking they will succeed, but a big majority liking him as a person.

According to new CNN/Opinion Research polling, 61 percent surveyed tell us they hope his policies will succeed. That's 10 points down from last December. Only 44 percent think his policies will succeed, down eight points from a year ago.

But, as for how people feel about Barack Obama himself, a hefty 73 percent say they approve of him as a person. So, people like him a lot, but like his policies less. President Reagan had a similar problem during the recession he presided over.

But safe to say this was a tough year by any standard for President Obama.

More now from Tom Foreman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We cannot sustain -- oops.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: Was that my...

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: Oh, goodness.

(LAUGHTER)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The -- the president's seal falling off the podium. Yes, I don't. Maybe, you know, we have spent some money on other stuff. We can't afford glue anymore.

RICH EISEN, NFL NETWORK ANCHOR: Well, I would say President Obama had a bad season.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bad year for Barack Obama. Are you kidding me? Terrible year for Barack Obama.

FOREMAN: Hands down, the worst problem, the economy. And the worst number, unemployment, stubbornly holding at nearly 10 percent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fact is it did get better, a little better this year. And it -- and some could argue that it didn't get worse. But if you'd like to now how tough it is, take a trip to sunny Michigan.

FOREMAN: And that's not the worst place to post your resume. Say, which state had the highest unemployment?

SUNNY HOSTIN, TRUTV: I'm going to say Florida.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I vote California.

ELIOT SPITZER, CO-HOST, "PARKER SPITZER": Worst unemployment rate of any state in the country I think is Nevada.

FOREMAN: Correct. Gambling on their future with a jobless rate over 14 percent. And the state with the best employment picture?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll go Nebraska.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It might actually be Louisiana.

FOREMAN: Eliot?

SPITZER: I think it is North Dakota.

FOREMAN: Correct, with unemployment under 4 percent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eliot Spitzer. Fantastic. God bless him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know what they do in North Dakota.

JACK GRAY, CNN PRODUCER: They resent South Dakota.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, the reason why North Dakota has such low employment is they only have five people that live in the state, and they're all there to maintain Mt. Rushmore. Or is that South Dakota?

FOREMAN: Worst moment, that CNBC town hall meeting when he was confronted by a voter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm exhausted. I'm exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for, and I'm waiting, sir. I'm waiting. I don't feel it yet.

FOREMAN: She later lost her job.

The news was certainly not all bad for the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's easy to forget health-care legislation, record setting, financial reform. From an historic presidential perspective, he's got to be pretty happy with those results.

OBAMA: For the first time in six years, Ford, GM and Chrysler are all operating at a profit.

FOREMAN: Best or worst political schizophrenia, depending on how you look at it: the independent voters who pushed Barack Obama into office and this year pushed away from him just as hard.

COOPER: I think we saw a lot of independents, frankly, just switch from 2008 to 2010.

HOSTIN: When you would say, let's say, even ten years ago, "I'm an independent," people sort of looked at you with some contempt. Now if you say at a party, a cocktail party, "I'm an independent," you're all of a sudden interesting.

KATHLEEN PARKER, CO-HOST, "PARKER SPITZER": It's the new cool.

FOREMAN: And the new cool left the president in the cold.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE: 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.

Well, you heard Tom Foreman a moment ago with the hits, runs and errors. Let's bring in our political panel: Cornell Belcher, Democratic strategist and former pollster for the Obama campaign; senior political analyst David Gergen; and GOP strategist Ed Rollins.

Ed, Tom Foreman noted President Obama may be in the cold right now, but things seem pretty frosty for the Republicans, too. Despite their big win, a slim majority in our latest poll say GOP control of the House will be a good thing for the country.

Take a look at this result. Just one in four say the GOP will do a better job than Democrats. Just by way of reference, now, when we asked that question four years ago, when Democrats were taking over, 46 percent thought they'd do a better job than Republicans had, compared to 14 percent who thought they'd do worse. So what's going on here?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, the key thing is we're in the room now. We basically have one house that we get to govern and move the ball forward on, which we haven't for the last four years. So I think to a certain extent we have an opportunity to prove ourselves. It's like these playoff teams that are coming up, they may not have had the best record or won the division, but they're in the playoffs. We're now in the game, and we basically have an opportunity to try and prove ourselves. The points that we ran on, the points that we feel strongly about.

This was not an anti-incumbent election. This was an anti- Democratic election. And I think my advice to the president as victory comes to those -- to use a sports term again, victory comes to those with staying power, as he found out in the 2008 campaign. He's got to hang in there today. He's got to make the Republicans work with him, and obviously, there's still a long ways to go.

KAYE: And, David, the president may have gotten good marks for this lame duck, but there is one still outstanding here, the budget.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. And what's been interesting, Randi, is that after this lame duck, which he did do well -- and more than half the voters said it was a good lame duck. They liked it. But it hasn't really given him a bump in his overall approval. He's pretty flat on that.

I think he's -- I think what we're seeing in these numbers -- I was especially struck by the fat that some 50 percent of the people thought it didn't make any difference between Republicans or Democrats. That means they don't trust either one.

And I think, yes, there was an anti-Democratic wave, as Ed Rollins just said, but there's been a lot of anti-Republican hanging over from the Bush years. I have to tell you right now that I think both parties are on probation, on probation as they head into 2011.

KAYE: And, Cornell, take a look at this result from the polling. The president had a good lame duck, but does the GOP really have an edge heading into the new session, according to that?

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think David hit it right on the head. I think Ed to a certain extent was going this way, as well.

Look, Americans are anxious, and they're not in love with either the Democrats or the Republicans. The Republicans have been given an opportunity here, but I think we've seen independent voters in particular, you know, really looking for change. And they've moved violently from one party to another. And if they don't see change coming this time around, you know, they are going to punish the party that's -- that's in charge.

I think Speaker Boehner coming in has got the lion by the tail, because he's got independent voters who are looking for Democrats, Republicans to come into one room, work together, move the country forward. But he's also got a lot of Tea Partiers in his -- in his caucus who came in saying, you know, "We're not going to compromise. We're not for any of the president's legislation."

So he's got the tiger by the tail, as well, and he's got to walk that fine line.

KAYE: And on the other hand, Ed, just to make things even more confusing, looks like Republicans might not want to get too confident here. The public still trusts Democrats more by 10 percent, according to our numbers. Democrats just lost more than 60 seats in the House, an historic defeat, but the public still trusts Democrats more? Does this result surprise you?

ROLLINS: No, it doesn't. I mean, I think -- I think the bottom line is -- is we're now -- as I said, we're now in the game. There was a real fatigue on Bush. Obviously, that helped Obama get elected.

And I think my only warning to Obama is that the senior Bush, Bush 41, was very popular among the American public and, you know, was defeated badly in re-election attempt.

So I think both have to work together. Republicans obviously, I think, have their fiscal map that they're going to lay out that's going to be different than Nancy Pelosi's, and we'll see how far we get here.

KAYE: And David, to you again. Who do you think Boehner should be more worried about pleasing here? The voters or the Tea Party activists? I mean, what's his best move here?

GERGEN: He's going to have to -- he's going to have to be fairly deft at this. Look, I think ultimately that the best politics is good policies and making things work. If he can -- if he can come in and show that they're serious about cutting spending, if he can get some things done with the president, as Ed Rollins suggested, the Republicans will benefit.

If they come in, and they're simply the party of no at every turn, they're recalcitrant, I think they pay a price.

Now, he's got some time here, Randi, before the State of the Union to make a couple of moves. When the Congress opens he can show how serious they are about cutting spending. He can send a letter to the president from the Republicans, saying what they would like to see in the State of the Union. He can see some initiatives. The president's got some opportunities, too.

I think both parties are going to be vying in the next 30 days or so to see who can get the upper hand in what is now -- right now a standoff between them, in effect, in terms of power.

KAYE: All right. David Gergen, Ed Rollins, Cornell Belcher, we will leave it there. Thank you very much.

GERGEN: Thank you.

KAYE: And in tonight's edition of "Extreme Living," meet the youngest person in the world to climb Mt. Everest. But that's not all he's done. Find out what else he's doing to live his life to the extreme. That is next.

Later, some say teaching is one of the hardest jobs. But imagine trying to teach using a book that simply gets the facts all wrong. We'll tell you more about it when we add a new entry to our RidicuList.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAYE: All this week we've been introducing you to people who look at life a little differently from most of us. We're calling it "Extreme Living."

Tonight we meet Jordan Romero, the youngest person ever to scale the world's tallest peak, Mt. Everest. The 14-year-old was all of 13 when he climbed Everest. In a moment, Dr. Sanjay Gupta talks with Jordan, but first a closer look at the young man who's just not satisfied until he reaches the top.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At 17 months, Jordan Romero was on skis. At 13, he was on top of the world, the youngest person by nearly three years to reach the peak of Mt. Everest. Father, Paul, and step-mom, Karen Lundgren (ph), here with Jordan on Everest. They're professional athletes. They love extreme sports and adventure.

When Jordan was 9, he told his dad he wanted to scale the Seven Summits, the highest mountain on each continent. Dad said OK. And off they went. At age 10, Africa's Kilimanjaro, Kosciuszko in Australia. At age 11, Mt. Elbrus in Russia. Check off Europe. South America, Denali in Alaska. And then the biggest challenge of all.

JORDAN ROMERO, YOUNGEST EVEREST CLIMBER: This is it. Since a kid I've been dreaming of seeing Everest with my own two eyes and standing on top of it.

GUPTA: Up sheer rock across deadly splits in the ice.

ROMERO: Had a big lunch right before this, so probably that's what's weighing us down, but...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're doing great.

ROMERO: Still getting closer.

GUPTA: Then the final push. Yes, they did it. A boy's dream coming true...

ROMERO: Woo!

GUPTA: ... on top of Mt. Everest.

(on camera) I had dreams when I was 9 years old. All sorts of things. A lot of them didn't come true, but one of them was not to climb all Seven Summits. Where did that come from?

ROMERO: It came from the art of inspiration, really. It was a -- it was a mural of the Seven Summits in my school hallway, and it fascinated me so much. You know, when I walked right by it, I just paused right there, looked at it and said, "Wow, this is pretty fascinating. And I kind of want to -- I kind of want to do some more research on it." So I did research and I figured out, you know what? I kind of want to climb it. I want to climb them and experience for myself.

Then my dad picked me up from school. I said, "Dad, why don't we climb the Seven Summits?"

GUPTA: Now you're 14 years old, so a whopping five years later.

ROMERO: Yes.

GUPTA: When you look back on that, I mean, do you think that you had the judgment or the knowledge or the maturity to take this on?

ROMERO: You know, I think -- I think I did. You know, I had my dad, who took my goal very seriously. And I guess I could say I was quite mature for my age. Through the years of training and climbing more mountains, definitely maturity.

GUPTA: One of the things that comes up in medicine, for example, is the biggest challenge is knowing how to get yourself out of trouble. As a doctor, taking care of patients. I imagine it's similar in mountain climbing. So, you know, 99 percent of the time things could be going just fine, but it's that 1 percent that could be really problematic. How do you prepare for that?

ROMERO: You know, we're always prepared, as -- you can -- you can never be overly prepared for climbs like these, and we have my dad, who's a life flight paramedic, specialized in high-altitude medicine. So that's always the best thing to get -- to bring along.

GUPTA: Yes, sure.

ROMERO: And it's important to know what you're doing up there. You can't fake it up there at all. You cannot.

GUPTA: And by that you mean that sometimes you'll want to go for it in your impetuousness youth, half kidding, and may say go for it, but someone needs to pull you back and say it's not safe.

ROMERO: Yes. There were some points on Everest where I thought, you know, "I'm not sure this is the most safe thing ever." You know, during the whole climb there's that. But during an avalanche that we were slightly involved in, that's where I was kind of thinking...

GUPTA: What happened?

ROMERO: Well, during -- during the avalanche there was a huge surrack (ph) that had collapsed on the approach.

GUPTA: Like an ice shelf.

ROMERO: Yes, like an ice shelf. My dad told me, "Jordan, that thing could collapse any time. We need to get moving right now." So he started moving, and just as we got out of the zone, it happened right there. And it was quite scary. So we were right on the edge. Just enough to be pulled down with me and my dad and one of our other sherpas. And the guide sherpa had came down, helped me out, and we were pulled up to safety.

Negative thoughts is definitely one thing that can -- that can pull you back. And it can be a conflict, and that can run through your mind and just slow down your performance and make you think, what am I doing here?

But, you know, throughout our whole team, you know, we're having -- we're having a motto, and that's no mistakes at all. And as we're staying cautious, you know, we're staying positive, keeping negative -- negative thoughts out, that just always keeping focused, but just having fun with it and we're just there to climb and that's it.

GUPTA: What propels you and allows to you do what you do? Because, again, a lot of people may say, "I want to aspire to have a goal like that." But they won't. Why can you? ROMERO: It was -- it was so much motivation. That has -- that has helped me along the whole way with my dad, who actually took it serious and wanted to help me actually make it happen. That's the key right there.

And with the community of Big Bear Lake and with all the fund- raisers we've put on to even get to the mountain was so great and to have a community like that behind me and always pushing me and always there to support me. I feel like the luckiest person in the world.

GUPTA: What's next for you?

ROMERO: Next thing for me, you know, we still have one more mountain to climb. Climbing Everest was No. 6 of the seven, and we still have the highest mountain in Antarctica to climb, Mt. Vinson Massif, which is 16,000 feet. We're looking at December 2011 to go after it.

GUPTA: You're so young. If I said, look, you've done the Seven Summits. It's time to wrap up the climbing part of your life, what would that mean to you to say you could no longer climb?

ROMERO: To say I could no longer climb, it's -- that would be a big thing to take away from me. I'm an adventurous person, and you know, that comes from an adventurous family. We could find something else. But climbing is just such a huge part of my life that I just wouldn't really want to give up. So that'd be -- that would take something out of my...

GUPTA: Out of your soul.

ROMERO: Out of my soul, yes.

GUPTA: I hear you. Some things like that (ph) happened to me, as well. Jordan, I'm really inspired to meet you.

ROMERO: Thank you.

GUPTA: Thanks so much.

You're just 14 years old. Appreciate it.

ROMERO: Pleasure.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAYE: Pretty impressive. Tomorrow, more on extreme athletes with Tyler Bradt, who's a kayaker. No big deal, right? Kayaking. Well, it is when you kayak down waterfalls. Yes. That changes things, doesn't it? That's Extreme Living with Dr. Sanjay Gupta right here on AC 360.

Well, if you have tried to travel at all, you know airports and airlines have been in complete chaos. Most don't have much sympathy for the airlines, but they might when we tell you how many millions of dollars all the delays are costing the carriers. And are you smarter than a fifth grader? Well, you may be, but the creators of one elementary school textbook most definitely are not. We'll school you on why they made our RidicuList tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAYE: Coming up, how facts that aren't really facts, dozens of them, made it into a history book and onto the RidicuList. First, Gary Tuchman's back with the "360 News & Business Bulletin."

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Randi.

Polygamist leader Warren Jeffs says he's not guilty of bigamy and sexual assault. A judge at San Angelo, Texas, entering the pleas today on behalf of Jeffs, who did not have a defense attorney representing him. The 55-year-old is scheduled to go on trial next month on charges stemming from his alleged spiritual marriage to a 12- year-old girl.

The U.N. says cholera is threatening Haiti's rice harvest. The water-borne disease has already killed nearly 3,000 Haitians. Now the U.N. says farmers who are afraid to enter rice paddies amid fears they, too, are contaminated.

The blizzard that hit the East Coast this weekend could cost airlines up to $150 million in canceled flights and crew overtime costs. That's according to the aviation research firm Boyd Consulting, which says it's a drop in the bucket, though, for carriers. In 2009, for example, American Airlines alone, that airline, brought in $20 billion.

And a new study finds "30 Rock" is the most politically incorrect show on TV. According to Global Compliance, "30 Rock" averages 11 violations per episode.

For example, on one show, Jack, played by Alec Baldwin, talks about how a, quote, "chick lawyer," who handles sexual harassment cases is, quote, "asking for it."

By the way, "Grey's Anatomy" was ranked the second worst politically incorrect show.

This is a very interesting study, Randi, because it made me feel about -- think about the more innocent days of TV, in the '60s, through the 1950s. And they weren't innocent. Like, think about the title of this one great show, "Father Knows Best."

KAYE: Oh, yes. Now that...

TUCHMAN: I mean, that's -- that's politically incorrect. Right?

KAYE: Oh, yes. And now there's a group that actually ranks the most politically incorrect shows. Right? Things have changed. Maybe I'm just getting older. I don't know.

TUCHMAN: One other show I want to bring up, OK? "Leave it to Beaver." Great program. But Barbara Billingsly, who played June Cleaver -- may she rest in peace. She just passed away a short time ago. She spent most of the time in the kitchen. You know, it was a very popular show but very politically incorrect.

KAYE: Yes. We don't see that much anymore. Do we?

TUCHMAN: Not much any more, fortunately.

KAYE: Take a look at this, Gary. Pay close attention here. Time now for the RidicuList, our nightly journey into the land that good sense forgot. Tonight's episode, book bozos. Or don't know much about history. Brought to you tonight by the Internet.

If it's on the Internet, it's got to be true. That's where the author of this fourth-grade Virginia history book says she got some of her facts. And in her book, which is read in classrooms across the commonwealth, you can find facts like these. Now, we've added commentary from Homer Simpson, who just like the author, is not a historian, just in case you were wondering.

Fact, the United States entered World War I in 1916.

DAN CASTELLANATA, VOICE OF HOMER SIMPSON: Doh!

KAYE: Actually, it was 1917.

Fact, there were 12 confederate states.

CASTELLANATA: Doh!

KAYE: Nope. 11.

Fact, in 1800, New Orleans was a U.S. port.

CASTELLANATA: Doh! Doh! Doh! Doh! Doh! Doh!

KAYE: All right. Well, Homer's right. There are dozens of errors in the book. But a mother and a historian at William and Mary noticed perhaps the worst one of all in the book.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was particularly jarring when I got to this one passage that was so at odds with what historians have been saying about who participated in the Civil War.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: The book says thousands of southern blacks, which the facts do not support, including two black battalions under the commander of Stonewall Jackson. Just two things wrong there. One, it wasn't even until 1865 that African-Americans could serve in the Confederate army. And Stonewall Jackson died in 1863.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JEREMY MAYER, GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY: It is the equivalent of Holocaust denial being taught in the public schools, but worse, it's also the equivalent of saying that the Jews helped the Holocaust.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: Again, the author is not an historian, and she says she found the information on -- wait for it -- yes, that's right. The Internet.

Her publisher, though, defending her, saying, quote, "I don't think the author could necessarily be accused of being stupid and doing Internet-only research."

All right. Maybe we're all being a bit too harsh here. After all, it's hard enough for some people to even sit through history, let alone write it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEN STEIN, ACTOR/AUTHOR: In 1930, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, in an effort to alleviate the effects of the -- anyone? Anyone? The Great Depression passed the -- anyone? Anyone? The tariff bill. The Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act which -- anyone? Raised or lowered? Raised tariffs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: See? No wonder Ferris Bueller took the day off. And if he were a Virginia fourth grader, he might have actually learned a whole lot more about history by ditching class.

And why would anyone buy such a book in the first place? Well, one school official told CNN they were about 17 bucks cheaper than the alternative. Saving Virginia schools money but landing them on the RidicuList.

At the top of the hour, who or what is to blame for thousands of passengers getting stuck at airports around the country as a result of the blizzard? Did Mother Nature take the blame? Government regulators? What about the airlines? It is all straight ahead.