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War Before the War; Health Care Fight Headed For Supreme Court?
Aired December 23, 2009 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Tonight, here are the questions we want answered.
What caused a near disaster aboard this American Airlines jet? Dozens of passengers hurt when their plane skids off a runway. The investigation. Plus, what can you do to survive if you are caught in an aircraft emergency?
Why are U.S. troops going to some of the most unforgiving land in America?
GEN. ROBERT ABRAMS, COMMANDER, NATIONAL TRAINING CENTER: This is an incredibly hostile, tough environment just to live, let alone operate.
VELSHI: A CNN exclusive: the all-too-real training our troops are getting for war and why they are getting help from some of those we once called our enemy.
Is the health care fight headed for the Supreme Court? The Senate's vote on the reform bill is just hours away. Could Republicans be ready to take the fight to a whole new level?
And Reverend Billy (ph) is here with a message. Why does he say it is time to save Christmas by putting down the credit card?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have got to stop shopping. Your consumption is getting out of control.
ANNOUNCER: This is your only source for news. CNN prime time begins now.
In for Campbell Brown, Ali Velshi.
VELSHI: Hello, everybody.
We start, as always, with the "Mash-Up." We are watching it all, so you don't have to.
Right now, we are waiting for answers to why an American Airlines flight from Miami to Jamaica ran off the runway and broke apart. Luckily, nobody died, although 91 people were hurt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Close call at Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, Jamaica, today, when the American Airlines 737 overshot the runway there.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It seems almost miraculous that everyone on board survived after the Boeing 737 skidded off the end of the runway in the driving rain. The engines sheered off. The jet cracked in two as the plane crashed through a fence and over a road before coming to rest.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A big crash. All the lights went out and we felt this big impact. And we realized that we (INAUDIBLE) crash.
MONICA RUFF, PASSENGER: I heard this humongous boom. The plane actually disintegrated, to me, broke in half right in row 30.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The 737 stopped less than 10 feet before it would have submerged into the Caribbean Sea. The fuselage cracked in several places. Remarkably, with the smell of fuel in the darkness, everybody on board was able to get out alive.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Investigators have recovered the black box from the airliner. It is with the NTSB on its way to Washington for further analysis. The suspected cause of the crash, puddles of water on the runway.
VELSHI: Well, tonight, President Obama is sounding like a kid who knows what he is getting for Christmas. In just under 11 hours, senators are expected to pass the Democratic version of health care reform. There wasn't much Christmas spirit on Capitol Hill today. Democrats and Republicans called each other names. There was even some Republican ill will directed at President Obama.
But, tonight the president tells PBS' Jim Lehrer that he is getting what he wanted, sort of.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you compare where we are now on health care to where I started at the beginning of the year, what would've I said during my campaign? I'm getting 95 percent of what I want.
Now, I might not be getting 95 percent of what some other folks want. But -- and oftentimes what happens is, people who are frustrated because they haven't gotten what they want then suddenly say, "Well, he's compromising." Well, no, I -- I have been very consistent throughout this process in terms of what I think is achievable and what would be -- be good for American families.
And so the -- you know, this notion that somehow the health care bill that is emerging should be grudgingly accepted by Democrats as a half-a-loaf is simply incorrect.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Of course, CNN will bring you the vote as it happens with special coverage on "AMERICAN MORNING" beginning at 6:00 a.m. Eastern.
Well, the balloon boy's parents are going to jail. Remember the Heenes? Well, how can you forget? They launched a balloon over Colorado and fooled authorities into believing that their 6-year-old son, Falcon, was inside.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: A 6-year-old boy, we are being told, is actually inside.
RICHARD HEENE, FATHER OF FALCON HEENE: We were working on an experimental craft.
MAYUMI HEENE, MOTHER OF FALCON HEENE: (INAUDIBLE) flying saucer.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is a flying saucer?
M. HEENE: Yes.
R. HEENE: This little guy got inside of it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does he know how to work the flying saucer?
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Who makes experimental balloons in their backyard?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are in the middle of Hurricane Gustav.
R. HEENE: Look at that. We're right in the middle of the eye right now.
JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": Balloon boy is safe. So, all that heartache that he put his parents and really the entire nation through, all for nothing.
FALCON HEENE, 6 YEARS OLD: I feel like I'm going to vomit.
STEWART: Let's get balloon boy!
R. HEENE: Absolutely no hoax.
F. HEENE: We did this for the show.
R. HEENE: I'm very, very sorry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Heene visibly choked up in court today. The judge sentenced him to 90 days in jail, although 60 of them can be served on work release. His wife, Mayumi, got 20 days to be served on weekends.
And now to one of today's hottest viral videos. A man posted it on YouTube accusing Hewlett-Packard's new Web camera of being racist.
The camera is supposed to follow people's movements, your face in particular, as you move around. But it apparently has trouble with black people's faces. The video inspired one hilarious parody. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think may blackness is interfering with the computer's ability to follow me. As you can see, I do this, no following, not really following me.
My white co-worker Wanda is about to slide into frame. You will immediately see what I'm talking about. Now, as you can see, the camera is panning to show Wanda's face. It is following her around.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I see white people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But as soon as my blackness enters the frame, which I will sneak into the frame. I'm sneaking in. I'm sneaking in. I'm in there.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's it. It's over.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And there we go. It stopped.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I would prefer to have H.P.'s facial recognition on this, as opposed to Apple's racial recognition. I keep my eyes wide open, no problems, right?
But as soon as I squint them out, oh, there we go. Wonderful. My MacBook has tracked a triangle hat and a Fu Manchu to me. And I think I hear zither music.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Hewlett-Packard released a statement saying that the problem occurs when there isn't enough light in the foreground.
And that brings us to the "Punchline." It comes courtesy of Conan O'Brien as he previews the holiday movie season.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH CONAN O'BRIEN": Now, Andy and I thought we would review all the big holiday movies for you. This way, we can help you decide which ones to see. That's a lot of money to spend on a ticket.
ANDY RICHTER, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH CONAN O'BRIEN": Yes. Yes.
O'BRIEN: So, it is time for Conan and Andy on the aisle.
Our final film is Disney's new animated feature "The Princess and the Frog." Now, this is the classic tale of a modern-day princess trying to find her prince. But there was one scene where the princess seemed to get a little desperate and off-track. Check it out.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: I can't believe I am doing this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: And that's the "Mash-Up."
We're just under 11 hours and counting down to the moment that senators say yea or nay to the health care reform bill. One of those who voted no all week on it, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, is going to be my next guest. She says, if you think the fight against is over, you are just plain wrong.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R), TEXAS: I think there will be legal challenges and then of course there will be elections, two elections, before this takes effect. And I think that this is going to have severe consequences.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Right now, we are just under 11 hours away from the Senate's final yes or no vote on the health care reform bill. After an ugly fight, the bill cleared a third and final procedural hurdle late this afternoon. The final vote is set for 7:00 a.m. tomorrow, Christmas Eve. Republicans are furious. And they're predicting a court fight if the bill becomes law.
This evening, I spoke with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas. She's among the Republicans questioning the very legality of the bill.
VELSHI: Senator Hutchison, thank you for joining us.
We have seen a great deal of creative Republican opposition to this bill in the Senate over the last few weeks. But your last stand is that this bill may be unconstitutional. Tell me how that can be.
HUTCHISON: Well, as we finally got a chance to look at the bill that came out on Saturday, there are trampling of states' rights, individual rights. And we think there are constitutional problem with the bill.
And I just think that everything that we can possibly do that makes the majority think about pushing this through so fast is what we are trying do.
VELSHI: You had three separate votes today on that and it didn't work. Came out with the same numbers. Doesn't seem that you can do anything to have the majority see this differently. And it doesn't seem like there's much that is going to happen that's going to stop them from passing this bill tomorrow morning.
HUTCHISON: Well, that -- definitely, it will pass tomorrow morning. There's no question about that.
But I do think that as people start looking at it, as constitutional scholars start looking at it, I think people in America are scared right now, Ali. I think they believe that there is a government takeover in so many facets of their lives. And health care is so personal, that I think people are going to talk to their members of Congress in this interim, and they are going to say, please don't do this. Don't have these severe cuts in Medicare. Don't have these increases in taxes on small business in this kind of economic climate.
VELSHI: Senator, some Democrats are sort of painting this as Democrats working hard to figure out some compromises to health care reforms and Republicans doing everything they can do to block it. I want to ask you personally do you think health care in this country is broken and needs immediate reform?
HUTCHISON: Yes. It does need reform.
And the reason that we are trying to block this bill is because we have had no input on it. And the only way we can fight is to block it to require that they start all over and that they would need more votes on our side to make this really bipartisan.
We can't remember a time in history when something so major has been passed on a complete party-line vote, as this one is.
VELSHI: Senator, what happens if this bill passes tomorrow, it gets reconciled with the House bill, and some version of a bill passes? How far will you go with what's potentially a legal challenge, a constitutional challenge, to this bill?
HUTCHISON: Oh, there will be constitutional challenges, for sure, insurance companies, for one thing, because two insurance companies in Nebraska are going to have different treatments than every other insurance company in America. They are going to file suit, for sure.
That's not equal treatment under the law. And there are other states that are already gathering together the attorneys general to challenge this Medicaid deal with Nebraska against all the other states.
So, I think there will be legal challenges. And then of course there will be elections, two elections, before this takes effect. And I think that this is going to have severe consequences, I believe, for people who vote for this bill.
VELSHI: Senator, as I said to your colleagues for the last two nights, I do hope you and the rest of the senators get to go home for Christmas and enjoy your families. Thank you for being with us tonight.
HUTCHISON: Well, thank you, Ali. Thank you.
VELSHI: All right, let's bring in our senior legal analyst Jeff Toobin.
Jeff, the senator said it is a trampling of state rights and individual rights. Does she have a point here, anything unconstitutional about the bill as you know it?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I think the last thing she said, she's right on the politics and wrong on the law.
This is a political issue. Candidates will run, they will win or lose based on how they voted in this -- on this health care reform. That's the appropriate forum.
There are no serious constitutional problems here. The fact that Nebraska did well is just Ben Nelson's political clout. If you go West Virginia, half the things in the state are named after Robert Byrd, because he used his political clout to bring home the bacon. That's what Ben Nelson did here. That's not unconstitutional.
VELSHI: Can they stall a bill that passes? Is there a way to get it up to the Supreme Court? Or is it not going to get that far?
TOOBIN: Well, I think it is very likely that there will be constitutional challenges. This is America. Everything is in court. Everybody sues all the time.
But that doesn't mean you are going to win. And, yes, it is true this is a generally conservative Supreme Court and it will be Republicans bringing these challenges. But I think to get involved in a political issue like this when the government has been involved in regulating the economy, in Medicare, in Medicaid for decades, to suddenly say it is unconstitutional, I think it is a real long shot.
VELSHI: All right. So, none of the Republican senators I have spoken to in the last few days disagree with the fact that this is going to pass tomorrow morning, barring some unforeseen circumstance. And then they're going to have to reconcile it with the House bill. And something may go through.
Anything standing in the way of this administration getting their health care bill one way or the other?
VELSHI: Well, yes. I think there are two major issues. There's the funding mechanism. The funding is different in the House bill and the Senate bill. They are going to have find a way.
VELSHI: So, the way they finance it and the amount of money they're going to cost.
TOOBIN: And the amount of money it's going to cost, and the effective date.
One of the things the more liberal members who lost the public option are saying, look, let's not wait until 2014. Let's do this in 2012. Let's get some benefit, not just -- and the other issue is abortion. It looks like they will be able to thread the needle here. But the margin for error in the Senate is zero. They lose one senator, it is all over.
TOOBIN: So, this is not a done deal. But the Democrats are a lot farther along than they have ever been before.
VELSHI: Jeff, thanks for being with us.
TOOBIN: Nice to be here.
VELSHI: Jeff Toobin, senior legal analyst.
Well, tonight, you are going to see the brutal conditions under which our troops get ready for war with the help of a military commander who once took orders from Saddam Hussein.
Plus, what you need to know to survive an airline accident like the one in Jamaica. Would you know what to do?
VELSHI: A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows that 59 percent of Americans support President Obama's plan to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan -- 39 percent are against it.
But not matter how people feel about it, more U.S. troops are going into harm's way. This week, in a CNN exclusive series, "The War Before the War," our T.J. Holmes is giving us extraordinary access to the training ground where U.S. troops go through excruciating conditions and violent simulations getting ready for the harsh reality of combat.
Tonight, he takes us to a part of America that now resembles the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq.
T.J. HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Daytime heat, frigid nights, and wicked sandstorms. California's Mojave Desert can be a miserable place. Perfect. GEN. ROBERT ABRAMS, COMMANDER, NATIONAL TRAINING CENTER: The real golden nugget about training in the Mojave Desert is, this is an incredibly hostile, tough environment just to live, let alone operate. You have to be aware of your surroundings. You have to deal with high winds, 30- to 40-degree temperature changes on a daily basis, microburst storms that come up during periods of the year. You've got a fair amount of hostile wildlife.
HOLMES: General Abe Abrams commands the National Training Center at Fort Irwin. Here, the Mojave serves as an ideal spot to train for war in Iraq or Afghanistan.
ABRAMS: We devote about 20 days of the most realistic, tough, challenging training that replicates as close as we possibly can the exact conditions they are going to see in either theater, so that, when they deploy, they are ready.
HOLMES: Soldiers who have served in the current wars swear by the realism.
SGT. 1ST CLASS RALPH WALTWOOD, 1ST BRIGADE, 3RD INFANTRY DIVISION: I love this place. It is awesome. It is the world's greatest training environment.
HOLMES: Sergeant 1st Class Ralph Waltwood has been a trainer or trainee here more than two dozen times.
WALTWOOD: A soldier can't get no more closer to combat than right here. And this is where he's going to make his mistakes and learn from his mistakes. It's better to make them here than across -- across over there.
HOLMES: Where there was once only sand, the Army built more than a dozen towns and villages and another dozen forward operating bases. The intent is to bombard the trainees with the look, the sound and the feel of Iraq.
CAPT. SCOTT STEPHENS, 1ST BRIGADE, 3RD INFANTRY DIVISION: The first time I walked down one of the streets of these cities and we were out here doing our leaders' recon, the hair stood up on the back of my neck, because it reminded me so much of Iraq. And it's so real.
HOLMES: The Army even brings a bit of Iraq to Fort Irwin.
Mustafa Mosa commanded a division in Saddam Hussein's army when the U.S. invaded in 2003. Today, he's back in an Iraqi army uniform, but he worked for the U.S. military as one of the hundreds of role players who bring authenticity to the training.
MUSTAFA MOSA, FORMER IRAQI COMMANDER: I never believed that there's one day I support and I came to the United States to support the mission for U.S. Army going to deploy in Iraq.
HOLMES: When U.S. soldiers find mock battles here, they do so alongside pretend Iraqi troops. This support aspect of the training mirrors the real U.S. mission in Iraq. ABRAMS: Previous, the U.S. forces, we did unilateral operations. We did unilateral planning. We did unilateral execution. Now, as a function of the security agreement in Iraq specifically, every operation is now combined.
HOLMES: Combat training will always be a major component at the NTC. But, along with the exercises, you now see missions like this, a joint security meeting of U.S. commanders and Iraqi army and police, just like you would see in Iraq.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will crush the insurgents.
HOLMES: These meetings are about teaching U.S. commanders the best way to carry out their newly defined support mission in Iraq.
ABRAMS: The environment is evolving in Iraq. You know, there was a big change in 2003. And we changed to a counterinsurgency environment to replicate that environment. We are at a change point in Iraq, where we have got these brigade combat teams that are enabled to be combat advisers, sisters of their Iraqi counterparts.
HOLMES: The side-by-side training with Iraqi leaders can be as hard for senior officers as firefights and IED attacks are for new privates.
LT. COL. GREGORY SIERRA, 1ST BRIGADE, 3RD INFANTRY DIVISION: It is a challenge just because we haven't done it before. So, we are kind of feeling it right now to see what works. So, that's some of the ways that me personally and my unit have been pushed the hardest.
HOLMES: These new soldiers recognize this training is important.
(on camera): What were you expecting when you came out here?
PVT. LAUREN WRIGHT, 1ST BRIGADE, 3RD INFANTRY DIVISION: To some extent, I think it may be a starting point, but altogether we will never know until we get down there basically, where we are newcomers coming into it. But this is a good heads-up on what to look forward to.
HOLMES: Do you think or will you go, you think, with a better sense or a higher degree of confidence?
SPL. MATTHEW FOQUIER, 1ST BRIGADE, 3RD INFANTRY DIVISION: A lot of us are already pretty confident in our jobs, but this kind of is the last chance to make mistakes before you get over there, so you get them out of the way.
HOLMES: The 1st Brigade of the 3rd I.D. spent nearly a month at Fort Irwin. They start putting all of that training to the test when they deploy to Iraq just before Christmas.
T.J. Holmes, CNN, at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California.
(END VIDEOTAPE) VELSHI: A very close call for 154 people last night when their American Airlines jet skidded off a runway in Kingston, Jamaica. We will look at what happened and how you can improve your chances of making it out alive from an aircraft crash.
VELSHI: Ninety-one people were hurt when an American Airlines jet skidded off the runway while landing in Kingston, Jamaica, overnight, breaking apart just feet from the ocean. Tonight, investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board are heading to the Caribbean to help figure out what went wrong.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Flight 331 left Miami and was headed for Kingston, Jamaica, when it overshot a runway while trying to land in bad weather.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When the plane hit the runway, it reportedly bounced and skidded.
Monica Ruff was one of the startled passengers.
RUFF: I heard this humongous boom. Things were scattered everywhere. Everybody was just trying to run and save themselves to get out.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then the lights went out. And we just buckled and bumped. And things were falling out. Everyone's overhead baggage started to fall. And we were just -- literally, it was like being in a car accident. And people were screaming. I was screaming.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Just about everyone who flies worries about plane crashes, and there are ways you can get through an onboard emergency.
What you learn in the next few minutes just might help make the difference.
With me now, former American Airlines pilot Mark Weiss, and, on the phone, Ben Sherwood, author of "The Survivors Club: The Secrets and Science That Could Save Your Life."
Breaking news. Let's talk about what happened here. Mark, let's start with you. What do you think happened? You landed at that airport before.
MARK WEISS, FORMER AMERICAN AIRLINES PILOT: Yes. It's been a number of years since I've flown into Kingston. And it was in a different aircraft. But unless things have changed, one of the things that I would be concerned about going into this airport and certainly on this runway is that this runway is not grooved. Many runways in this country have grooves cut into it so that any standing water would be dissipated off to the sides, so that would give the aircraft once it has landed and put the weight of the aircraft on to the wheels and have the lift devices, spoilers, that would come up that puts the weight on to the wheels, helps stop the airplane, breaking action would be greater. It helps to stop the aircraft.
Without having the grooved runway and again, if that hasn't changed that could be a major problem. Particularly this airport has been noted that when you have heavy rain, you'll get puddling on the runway with the water, with the standing water.
VELSHI: Let's go through what we know. The plane touches down, a bit of a rough flight. The passengers are said to have clapped when the plane landed, thinking they're down safely and then it doesn't stop. And then it lurches and things start to go a little haywire inside the cabin when people realize something has gone wrong. What as a pilot does that indicate to you? The plane did touchdown successfully and then had difficulty stopping.
WEISS: Well, I think that what you're going to be thinking about at that point if -- if the aircraft touched down and the people were clapping, then it was a successful landing and what would have happened then would have happened after the aircraft would have been on speed and on approach path, the correct approach path to land at the proper point on that runway.
So now, you start to think about whether I had any hydroplaning action. And very similar to what we had here in the Washington area or anyplace we will have black ice where the car would slide and slip, and you don't have any traction, that would probably be a similar effect that you're going to have on that aircraft right then and there. Now once the NTSB is able to ascertain from the black boxes, you'll be able to make a determination as to whether or not that was, in fact, one of the causes.
VELSHI: Ben, let me bring you into this. You have a feeling that there are things people can do if they get into this situation. Obviously, the panic builds up very quickly inside an aircraft. What can you tell people to do if they find themselves in this kind of situation?
BEN SHERWOOD, AUTHOR, "THE SURVIVORS CLUB" (via telephone): Interesting use of the word panic here, Ali, because in fact, it's just organized chaos. Panic is groundless or fear. This is not groundless fear. Your plane has just run off the runway and through a fence and just broken up.
VELSHI: Good point.
SHERWOOD: Some things you need to know, first, count the number of rows to the nearest exit. That's critical because in the dark, as these passengers were trying to find their way, if you have to feel your way with your hands, you can make it to an exit. That's one.
Two, remember the rule of plus three, minus eight. The first three minutes and the last eight minutes of flight are when 80 percent of the accidents happen. As is the case in this rainstorm in Jamaica, the last few minutes of the flight, that's when something went wrong. So pay attention. Don't get on a plane or land in a plane with, you know, mask over your eyes, your headset on, dozing, trying to not pay attention. Tune in and dial in.
VELSHI: The thing you're talking about knowing where those exits are, you really do feel the people should do something to familiarize themselves with their aircraft because it's not going to be as useful to try and find the exits once you realize you're in a crash.
SHERWOOD: The amazing thing, Ali, is that 60 percent of us don't pay attention to the safety briefings even though when we get on planes often the planes are different.
According to reports, the passengers on the Jamaica crash had difficulty opening the doors. One reason may have been that there they weren't attending the briefing, paying attention to the briefing. So pay attention to the briefing, and then if you can, try to sit within five rows of any exit because when they study the seating charts on airplane crashes, five rows is the typical cutoff. Within those first five rows of an accident, that's when people are able to get off especially when there is a fire onboard. Last night, the rain may have made a big difference because it could have dampened those sparks that could have led to a fire onboard.
VELSHI: Guys, this is great talking to both of you. Mark Weiss, a former American Airline pilot trying to makes sense at these early stages about what happened. Ben Sherwood, author of "The Survivors Club: The Secrets and Signs That Could Save Your Life." Thanks to both of you. We're going to find out what happened in this crash. We'll bring that to you when we know.
Breaking news tonight. A man is holding hostages at a Virginia post office. Details next. And a recall of swine flu vaccine has just been expanded. That and more in tonight's "Download."
VELSHI: All right. That snow that Chad was telling us about, there it is. That's Minneapolis-St. Paul airport courtesy of affiliate KARE. The snow is coming down. This may be a historic snowfall, Christmas snowfall, for Minneapolis.
It's starting now. This is affecting the whole of the Midwest, affecting traffic. There's a whole swath of the country Chad Myers was talking about that's getting more than a foot of snow tonight. Be careful if you're out there traveling. I know everybody wants to get to where they're going fast. Just be careful.
Well, in a few minutes, I'll be joined by the Reverend Billy who's trying to save Christmas by preaching a philosophy of anti- consumerism. There's more must-see happening news right now. Here's Randi Kaye with tonight's "Download."
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ali, breaking news in Virginia where a gunman is holding five people hostage inside a post office in a small town of Wytheville. The suspect is apparently in a wheelchair. He entered the post office this afternoon and fired one shot. No one's been hurt but a local newspaper reports the man claims he has five pounds of a plastic explosive strapped to his chest.
The Food and Drug Administration is recalling more of the H1N1 swine flu vaccine because it isn't as potent as it should be. The recall involves nearly five million doses of one company's nasal spray vaccine. Right now, only about 3,000 of those doses are left in warehouses. The rest were shipped out in October and November while they were still at full potency.
And the feds say mega-swindler Bernie Madoff has been quietly transferred to a prison medical facility. The $65 billion Ponzi schemer is in the medical center at the federal correctional facility in Butner, North Carolina. No word on what's wrong with him. Madoff is doing 150 years for swindling investors and has been in prison since July.
And one of Hollywood's longest lasting power couples is now history. Actress Susan Sarandon and actor Tim Robbins apparently broke up last summer although Sarandon's publicist announced the breakup just this afternoon. The couple met while filming "Bull Durham" in 1988 and have been together for 23 years. They never married but they have two sons.
VELSHI: That one gave a lot of people a surprise.
KAYE: It sure did.
VELSHI: All right. Randi, thanks so much.
KAYE: Thank you.
VELSHI: Just two days before Christmas, who is telling people to stop shopping and spending? None other than the Reverend Billy and his stop shopping gospel. They're right here at CNN.
VELSHI: OK. You're listening to the live melodious voices of the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir. They're part of the Church of Life After Spending, and they're trying to encourage to you stop shopping. They are led by the Reverend Billy who's traveled the world for the last ten years entertaining people and preaching a philosophy of anti- consumerism. He joins me now.
Reverend Billy, good to see you. Thank you for being with us.
REVEREND BILLY, PASTOR, CHURHC OF LIFE AFTER SPENDING: Ali, how are you?
VELSHI: It's been a while. Listen, you say that the holiday season is what you go out and tell people it does not have to be about spending. Are you against people giving people gifts, buying gifts and giving them to people?
REVEREND BILLY: Not really. The point is you don't have to buy a gift to give a gift. Amen.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
REVEREND BILLY: The earth is our CEO now. The government says if you love your country you'll go out and shop. And what they really mean to say is go to a big box store, go to a corporation.
VELSHI: You don't mind so much --
REVEREND BILLY: A chain store --
VELSHI: You don't mind so much if people are buying things in local -- in their community.
REVEREND BILLY: Locally. Amen.
VELSHI: All right. Let's talk about this. You predicted for years that we would be in a financial crisis because of people's spending benefits and excessive debt. Do you really believe that's what got to us to where we are now?
REVEREND BILLY: Well, absolutely. A 70 percent consumer society it just doesn't work. It has crashed, and it has not worked.
Now the effort by the government and the corporations to resurrect this system by way of Christmas, by how we shop, that's a mistake. There's a secret revolution going on right now, Ali. People are e-mailing us. Every 15 minutes we're getting communication (INAUDIBLE). Families are finding a new way to celebrate Christmas, and it's not necessarily involving shopping.
VELSHI: Reverend, now this is character that you've been in for a while. You've been an entertainer. It's not really a religion.
REVEREND BILLY: Trust me, Ali, it's not a character anymore. I'm afraid -- I am Reverend Billy now.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
VELSHI: And how do you, you and the choir sustain yourselves by going around and preaching this gospel of not shopping?
REVEREND BILLY: There is a large number of Americans right now who support changing how we live in a very basic way. The earth is our CEO. Not the corporations. Not the government.
We saw what happened in Copenhagen. It's up to us to change. And this Christmas we have a chance to make gifts, to have no money Christmases, to have rules like $10 or less per gift, or to buy local.
If you sustain your local economy, that's much better for the earth, much better for the life. The earth is talking to us. The fires and the droughts and the extinctions and the melting ice, that means something.
VELSHI: Reverend, you've been doing this -- you've been doing this for a lot of years.
REVEREND BILLY: I'm not preaching, Ali.
VELSHI: You've been doing this for a lot of years. Have you noticed the change in how people respond to your message? You're often in very busy shopping centers or outside of them telling people to not shop. Has anything changed as to how people respond to you?
REVEREND BILLY: Absolutely. We're not as whacky as we used to be, are we?
REVEREND BILLY: People are really trying to change their lives now. And how we celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, that's a personal decision. Families are making them. We're living within our means.
Credit cards are 10 percent down. The Gallup poll just said that shopping would be 30 percent down. We are changing this world by how we refuse to shop in chain stores and big department stores.
VELSHI: Reverend, what about the fear that we are a consumer society and if you tell people to stop shopping, are you not worried that you're just going to make this economy worse than it is now?
REVEREND BILLY: There's another economy. There's a secret economy. It needs to be reported. It's a local economy.
Local manufacturers are coming back. Start-ups, on the garages, on personal computers, people are rolling up their sleeves. They know the corporations aren't helping them. They've lost their life savings and pensions in some cases. People are just starting over. And that is going on all over this country right now.
VELSHI: Reverend Billy, good to see you and the choir. And we wish you a very happy holiday. Reverend Billy.
REVEREND BILLY: Ali, change-luiah (ph). Amen.
VELSHI: Alleluiah (ph).
That's the -- that's the Stop Shopping Choir, came out to give us their very special message.
Now up next, a very special surprise for a member of our CNN family.
VELSHI: Few developing stories we've got. Here's a picture courtesy of affiliate KARE.
That's Minneapolis-St. Paul. The snow is coming down there. We could be expecting record snowfall in that area for Christmas. It's already started very heavily. Chad Myers I think is in our severe weather center right now. Chad, are you with us?
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I am, Ali. A very long event, too. This could be a 48-hour snow event. The snow will come. The snow will go back and forth.
Chicago, you're getting ice right now. But it will be Minneapolis getting snow the entire time. And the reason why this is going to be a very long event, because the low is going to try to come up and it's going to do a loop and slow down and then finally go back up as it's waiting for another low to come by. It's almost like a little watusi going on here across parts of the Midwest. So because of this loop, the storm stays longer, the snow comes down longer and it looks like this longer.
Look at the Minneapolis shots. There are planes --
MYERS: There are planes trying to get through this snow right now. You can see they're moving every once in a while.
VELSHI: Unless you know that's a major hub. Between Chicago and Minneapolis, you've got two major, major hubs. I don't know if Detroit's going to get affected by this, too. But this is a place where a lot of people are going to pass through as they try to travel, which means people are going to start panicked early, Chad. And that always, you know, that could create problems in itself.
MYERS: Which means every single plane right now is going to have to be de-iced when you get snow coming down this heavy. And so Minneapolis does it better than anyplace I've seen.
MYERS: It's almost like a carwash. They take all the hoses. They take all the de-icers. They put them on the end of the tarmac and they run the planes through them like a carwash and the plane gets to take right off. You don't want to de-ice it at the gate and then have it sit in the snow for 45 minutes.
MYERS: Because then you've got to go back and de-ice again. So it may be slow, it may slow you down a little bit but Minneapolis does snow better than the other towns that you know.
VELSHI: Chad, thanks a million for that. I know we're going to stay on top of the weather situation over the next couple of days as many, many people try and get home for the holidays. Chad Myers in our severe weather center.
Let's go to the mayor of Wytheville, Virginia, Trent Crewe. He's on the line with me right now. We have an ongoing hostage situation in the postal facility in Wytheville, Virginia. Mayor, thanks for being with us. What do you know?
MAYOR TRENT CREWE, WYTHEVILLE, VIRGINIA (via telephone): Public service information officer tonight, the command center. I'm not sure how current your information is, but we do have an ongoing situation with a person who has taken several hostages. There are some who've gotten away. We know it's less than five. I can't confirm the exact number.
The FBI is handling the negotiations and are in contact with the suspect, and it's obviously a very fluid situation. We've got multiple police agencies. The ATF, FBI, everybody on site. The Red Cross has set up a shelter for anyone who is affected. We have cordoned off several block area of downtown Wytheville. Anyone who is affected is encouraged to go to the --
VELSHI: Mayor, tell me this. We've heard reports that the man has something strapped to him and there's something in his car that was parked outside. What is that about?
CREWE: I don't know. It's an unconfirmed report. The police authorities have told me they are acting on the assumption there is an explosive device of some kind in some location. There's a bomb squad, in fact more than one bomb squad on site, though we cannot confirm explosives.
VELSHI: All right.
CREWE: But we're under the assumption there is some explosives but we don't know.
VELSHI: Is there an active negotiation going on? Has he made any demands?
CREWE: There are no demands and no indications for a motive and no I.D. of the suspect, but there are ongoing negotiations currently being handled by the FBI.
VELSHI: All right. Mayor, thanks very much. We will keep checking in with you. Hope it will end safely. Mayor Trent Crew in Wytheville, Virginia.
"LARRY KING LIVE" starts in just a few minutes. But next, Jeanne Moos has tonight's "Guilty Pleasure," some Santas who might be more naughty than nice.
VELSHI: Something very special today here at CNN. You've often seen me on this show using what we call our magic wand. John King uses it. Tom Foreman uses it.
Well, it doesn't just happen. We get that stuff from a guy named David Reisner (ph). He's one of our producers and around here we know him as the technical guru behind that now famous magic wall. When he woke up today, he knew it was going to be one of the biggest days of his life.
DAVID REISNER, CNN PRODUCER: I'm proposing to my girlfriend at Wollman Rink. Two years ago, we went ice skating here and everything was going perfectly. And as a little kid cut in front of us and she lost her balance, I went to catch her.
We both fell. I broke my arm in the process. So we actually had to leave Wollman Rink and go to the hospital. And it was like two days before Christmas. So it was like amateur night there. And I didn't even get seen until 5:00 in the morning. By 6:00 or 7:00, we're finally getting checked out with a broken arm. And she took me back to my place and she took care of me the whole night. And that was the moment that I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.
And that night I told her that I loved her, the first time. So two years to the day, I'm going to go tell her I love her again in a whole other way right about there, right where the trump sign is. So I'm a little nervous. But I'm really excited at the same time, too. And I hope she's surprised, too. I hope she says yes.
VELSHI: Well, David's wonderful girlfriend is another one of our colleagues, Christine. We aimed our cameras Wollman Rink, which is where he was going to do this. Take a look at what we saw.
That's him, getting down on his knees proposing to Christine right there. Let's see what she does. She seems to have her hands over her face. He's on his knees. No one seems to be noticing him all that well.
Let's bring out some photographs. You can get a better shot. There we go. Look at that. Look at that.
Clearly, she said yes because she's giving him a big hug. I think we've even got some still photographs of it. You can see that's them. He's doing something. She must be wondering on an ice-cold night like that, what exactly it is that he's doing. But it worked.
David and Christine, many, many congratulations. You're good friends of ours and part of our family.
"LARRY KING LIVE" starts in just a few minutes. But first, tonight's "Guilty Pleasure." Old St. Nick isn't always so jolly. In fact, some clauses will put the fear of Santa into you, your kids and even your dog.
CNN's Jeanne Moos reports on some Santas whose laps you'd rather not sit on.
MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Bo, it's Santa. JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When the first do, Bo, was barking at him --
OBAMA: He hasn't seen Santa before.
MOOS: When bank robbers are dressing up like him.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He took his little red sack and pulled out a gun and told everybody to be still.
MOOS: It makes you wonder --
PEOPLE: He knows if you've been bad or good.
MOOS (on camera): Yes, but how do you know if he's been bad or good, naughty or nice?
(voice-over): Or maybe just sketchy? The kind who end up on the new Sketchy Santas Web site.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The same we really like to celebrate a lot of the more retro-Santa photos, because those are really the funniest. And part of the reason why, I think, the standard for who can be a Santa was lower back then.
MOOS: Would Santas like this make it into a modern mall and this age of background checks?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can we both sit with Santa Claus?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
MOOS: How would she have reacted to a one-eyed Santa or masked Santa?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pretty scary, right?
MOOS: And why someone wondered is Santa wearing a woman's watch?
VOICE OF WILL ZWEIGART, CREATOR/SKETCHYSANTAS.COM: Everyone can relate to that first time being pushed on to a scary stranger's lap in the mall.
MOOS: Will Zweigart started Sketchy Santas and encourages photo submissions.
ZWEIGART: By far, the most popular picture on the site is actually a grown man sitting on Santa's lap wearing a Speedo and a saxophone.
MOOS: Santa is not the sketchy one in this picture. Movies like "Bad Santa" in which he smokes, drinks and carouses don't help St. Nick's image. And forget visions of sugarplums when your Santa comes from the crypt. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "TALES FROM THE CRYPT" FROM HBO)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Naughty or nice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MOOS: The guy who robbed a Nashville bank Tuesday was definitely naughty.
(on camera): But even this Santa gone bad managed to stay in character.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And he explained that he was robbing the bank because Santa had to pay his elves.
MOOS (voice-over): And it's not just Santa. Police in Florida arrested Merry Christmas earlier this month. Merry allegedly got belligerent and the arresting officer had to put her in a bent-arm takedown. And what's your take on this Sketchy Santa? Posted one wit (ph), so that's how elves are made. No wonder Bo was barking.
OBAMA: Quiet. Quiet. His eyes, how they twinkled. His dimples how merry.
MOOS: Did she say Merry or scary?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't drink and drive.
MOOS (on camera): OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You might spill it.
MOOS (voice-over): Jeanne Moos, CNN. New York.
VELSHI: And that's it for us. Thanks for joining us.
"LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.