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American Morning

House Expected to Approve the $825 Billion Stimulus Package; How Stimulus Can Help the Economy; Winter Storm Causes Travel Nightmare; Family Sells Everything They Own on Ebay to Pay Children's Medical Bills; Citigroup Jet Grounded; "Slumdog Millionaire" Controversy

Aired January 28, 2009 - 06:00   ET



JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Meet the new boss. President Obama and Secretary Gates sitting down today, setting new goals for Afghanistan.

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: And it is necessary for us to stay engaged.

ROBERTS: And going nose to nose over nukes.

Plus, a family putting everything on eBay just to pay the medical bills.

GREGG PETERS, FATHER: Nothing's more precious than the kids. I mean, not a sofa, not a TV.

ROBERTS: The desperation move to save their sick children on this AMERICAN MORNING.


ROBERTS: Good morning. Thanks very much for being with us. It's Wednesday, it's the 28th of January. And you know, this is what we'd like to call a sort of hump day where you climb over the very top of the hill and then you slide all the way down and there's enough snow on the road to help people slide, that's for sure.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, yes, from Texas all the way to the East Coast, a lot of weather, a big weather system moving through. We'll bring you the latest on that as well. Some of you guys may have had a tough ride. Well, we have some of the latest information.

ROBERTS: We've got snow here in New York City this morning.

CHETRY: Yes. And I'm sure some of the airports will be snarled up for sure.

ROBERTS: Yes. That's a problem.

CHETRY: Well, we begin with the president's push for his economic stimulus plan. The House is expected to approve the $825 billion package later today. The White House is resigned to a nearly party line vote in the House despite President Obama's pitch to Republicans on Capitol Hill yesterday.

GOP lawmakers say that the stimulus plan needs less spending and more tax cuts. Mr. Obama is still seeking bipartisan support for the bill in the Senate.

Sarah Palin may be taking the first step toward a 2012 presidential bid. The Alaska governor launched a political action committee called Sarah P.A.C. It allows her to raise money to support candidates for state and federal law office including herself. The Sarah P.A.C. Web site says it will contribute to a candidate of any party who share Palin's ideas and goals.

Sasha and Malia Obama are not the only ones starting in a new school this January. Second lady, Jill Biden, is now teaching two English classes this semester at Northern Virginia Community College. The 28- year veteran teacher has been hired as an adjunct professor. Biden has been a long-time advocate of community colleges and may advise the Obama administration on related education policies.

ROBERTS: Jill Biden at NOVA (ph). That's interesting.

We're tracking breaking news on the weather front this morning and one of the most dangerous storms of the season is on the move launching a curveball at travel plans across much of the nation. A look right now at Cleveland, Ohio, where the snow is falling. No? That wouldn't be Cleveland. There would be Cleveland.

Starting to stick to the highways, it's a scene repeated across the country yesterday. Up to three inches of snow and freezing rain brought down branches and power lines in Frankfurt, Kentucky. Take a look at that. Those trees never do well when their coated with ice, nor did power lines.

Icy highways also littered with scores of wreck cars, here is the scene outside of Dallas, Texas, yowsa (ph). As we speak, airports are beginning to back up as the storm targets the northeast.

Rob Marciano tracking it all in the CNN weather center this morning. The guy in the pickup truck drives like you, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hey, exactly. Definitely a bit of a pirouette there. Dangerous conditions, John, as you mentioned on the roadways. Some spots had one to two inches of ice on the roads, on the power lines and on the branches for sure. Just a gentle snow there in Cleveland. WKYC giving us that live shot for you.

All right, this thing is motoring to the east. As it does so, there is still a sliver of ice from Memphis just north of Louisville, across the Ohio Valley, and obviously seeing some snow across parts of the northeast major cities. How long is this going to last and who is going to get the most?

I think you're going to see it mostly north of the bigger cities. You're already starting to turn to mix down in Washington. And Philadelphia, you'll probably be turning to rain later on this afternoon if you're not already seeing the rain/snow line creeping up. Needless to say, if you're traveling any of the bigger airports, Philly, New York, LaGuardia, Newark and JFK, Boston's well could see over five inches of snow. You're going to see a travel nightmare today and then on the roadways it's no bargain either.

Twenty-five currently in New York, 27 degrees in Philadelphia, 30 in Washington, D.C. and 20 in Buffalo. So it's definitely colder behind this, but once we get most of the precipitation out of the way, then it really starts to get cold.

You notice this is the snowfall forecast. The big doozy is north of Albany where we'll see 10 to 20 inches of snow. I think the bigger cities will see anywhere from two to five inches before it changes over.

Here's the forecast weather map for later on today. The cold air comes in behind it. This thing will bomb out or intensify once it gets offshore. By the time it does that, it will be really heading out to sea. So we've got about a 12- to 18-hour window here, John, where the nastiness is going to take place. And obviously if you're traveling on the roadways you saw from that video, any sort of ice be it a half inch or two and a half inches is enough to throw you in a tailspin.

Good morning, Cleveland.


MARCIANO: John, back up to you.

ROBERTS: It looks nice when it's coming down. It's when it sticks that there's a problem. We should tell people that major roads in New York City are just wet. The side streets, though, the snow is starting to stick. So it might make things a little bit weird this morning getting in.

Rob, thanks. We'll check back with you.

MARCIANO: All right now.

CHETRY: And right now we're just hours away from a vote in the House on President Obama's plan to rescue the economy. In its final hours, a lot of last minute wheeling and dealing all of it triggered by the president's trip to Capitol Hill to make a personal pitch to Republicans. And while on congressional turf, the president pressed lawmakers to put the good of the nation before old-style partisan politics.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But the key right now is to make sure that we keep politics to a minimum. There are some legitimate, philosophical differences with parts of my plan that the Republicans have, and I respect that. In some cases, they may just not be as familiar with what's in the package as I would like. I don't expect 100 percent agreement from my Republican colleagues, but I do hope that we can all put politics aside and do the American people's business right now.


CHETRY: Well, late last night, politics came back into the equation as Democrats made a second concession to Republicans.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is live at the White House with details. It was -- it was going to be a turf war or a sod war, I guess you could say, right? That's over.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's over. There are a couple of things that happened late last night, yesterday. There was a meeting with the chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, with key Republicans. And despite that meeting, Kiran, White House aides are not even confident that they have a dozen Republicans on board here.

Now, what actually happened yesterday, Republicans behind closed doors complained this is -- this spending package way too big. They want deeper tax cuts. My colleagues on the Hill, Dana Bash and Brianna Keilar, reporting that Republicans challenged the president when it came to giving tax cuts for those who make too little to actually get income taxes. And that was something that the president did not actually agree with.

He said, feel free to whack me over the head because I probably will not compromise on that point. So, what is the part that he's willing to compromise? Well, one of the things that he reached out to -- one of the Democratic members of Congress saying, look, let's get rid of that $200 million contraceptive program, very controversial, Republicans didn't want it. So, that's out of the package.

Another thing, Kiran, that you had mentioned, and that is this $200 million that they're going to put sod down in the National Mall. Democrats are now saying that they believe that that's also going to be taken out. The big question, Kiran, is whether or not any of this is going to be good enough for those Republicans. And so far, all indications are there's not a lot of Republicans that are going to sign on to this legislation -- Kiran.

CHETRY: All right, Suzanne Malveaux for us this morning in Washington. Thanks so much.

ROBERTS: President Obama still hopes to fast track his massive stimulus package, but how will that stimulus plan actually help fix the economy and just how soon could we expect to see something and the effects of it?

CNN's Allan Chernoff breaks it all down for us. He's here this morning. Good morning, Allan.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, John. And you know, the fact is there is no quick fix for the economy, no guarantee that the government can pull us out of recession. But Washington can target spending to deliver a big bang for the buck.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CHERNOFF (voice-over): Construction company owner Sanjeev Dhawan (ph) is hopeful President Obama's stimulus program will get through Congress quickly, so he can win new government contracts and rehire workers he's had to lay off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hopefully what we're going to do is we'll make a few phone calls and get some of those people back to work, some of these talented folks that we had working for us before. Unfortunately right now, they're sitting home.

CHERNOFF: New projects Dhawan (ph) says would also have him buying concrete steel and other material and equipment.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll put people to work repairing crumbling roads, bridges and schools by eliminating the backlog of well-planned, worthy and needed infrastructure projects.

CHERNOFF: President Obama also hopes to improve our electricity infrastructure, computerize more medical records and upgrade hospitals. Each will take months to begin putting the money to work. And most of the funding wouldn't be spent until next year and the year after, estimates the Congressional Budget Office.

Even so, some economists say Obama's plan makes sense. And with many private businesses scared to spend, they say big spending to help the economy has to come from the government. But government can do only so much if the nation's banks refuse to start lending again.

NIGEL GAULT, CHIEF U.S. ECONOMIST, IHS GLOBAL INSIGHT: If we get the stimulus package and it comes and goes but the financial system remains broken and the banks are still not lending, then any help that we get from the stimulus will prove short-lived.


CHERNOFF: Government spending will help, but the Obama administration has to find a way to get banks to lend again. The banks have been holding on to the money with a tight, tight grip, and unless the administration can somehow loosen that grip, we're going to have some major problems even worse than we have right now.

You know, credit does grease the wheels of capitalism. Without that grease, those wheels can screech to a halt, John.

ROBERTS: So, the majority component of this economic stimulus plan is spending, but there's also tax cuts in there. One particularly controversial part of that is tax cuts for people who don't make enough money to pay income tax. What about these tax cuts?

CHERNOFF: Right. It sounds unfair. It sounds unfair, but you know, the primary objective here is to stimulate the economy and those people that don't make enough to normally pay taxes, those people actually are most likely to spend the money. You give them money, they are going to spend it. You give rebates to wealthy people, they're probably going to save it. They may not spend it in this economy. We want spending. ROBERTS: We'll find out how it goes in the House today later on. Allan Chernoff, thanks so much -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Also new this morning, the government says that the Georgia peanut processing plant at the center of the salmonella outbreak knew that bacteria was at its facility, continued though to ship the products to dozens of companies.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, there were 12 instances during the past two years when products by Peanut Corporation of America tested positive for the bacteria. A spokesman for the company says it's cooperating with investigators. The outbreak is believed to have sickened more than 500 people and may have contributed to the deaths of eight others.

Well, today, former President Al -- former Vice President Al Gore urging Congress to act quickly to help save the planet. In just a few hours, he'll testify before a Senate committee, to discuss new research and to press lawmakers to take a leadership role in this year's climate change negotiations. Mr. Gore's testimony comes just days after the Obama administration named a special envoy for climate change and laid out plans to curb emissions.

Also a Cleveland firefighter who acknowledged President Obama during last week's inaugural parade is stepping down as the drum major of his band, John Coleman, was suspended for six months after he was seen giving a wave and a wink towards the new president. Coleman's superiors said that he ignored military protocol. Even a glance is out of bounds for marching bands in a parade marking the inauguration of a president. Coleman defended his actions and said he'd do it again -- John.

ROBERTS: Wow. I guess you got to stick with protocol when you're in the parade.

Citigroup's brand new corporate jet grounded after the big bank got a knuckle wrapping from the Obama administration. Citi is receiving billions of dollars from the financial bailout, which begs the question just how are those banks spending your taxpayer dollars?

It's 11 minutes now after the hour.


BRITTINY PETERS, MOTHER: Threw us a curveball, so, you know, we're willing to sacrifice these things and put our children first.


CHETRY: All we own to the highest bidder. One family's desperate plan to pay their kids' medical bills.

You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ROBERTS: Welcome back to the "Most News in the Morning." In a major story developing as we speak, some live pictures coming new to us this morning from our affiliate WMAR. It's in Baltimore. Just a little bit of freezing rain falling right now. But freezing rain can sometimes be worse than snow.

Snow will be in the picture especially in the northeast today. More details on the storm's track, its impact on your travel plans throughout the morning. But here's a hint, could get several inches of snow in places like Boston. So, certainly going to cramp things up at Logan Airport this morning.

CHETRY: All right. Welcome back again to the "Most News in the Morning." And their kids are sick, the medical bills are piling up and one Georgia family is taking some extraordinary steps to stay afloat, putting everything they own, literally everything they own, up for sale online.

Alina Cho is following the story and she joins us now. Certainly an unconventional route to go but clearly this family said they've run out of options.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, they're doing what they have to do, Kiran. It makes a lot of people sort of re-evaluate what's important.

Good morning. Good morning, everybody.

You know, imagine selling the entire contents of your home, everything from beds to TVs to sofas all on eBay. It may be hard to believe but that's exactly what this family in Georgia is doing. And they're not doing it just to make money. They are literally on a mission to save their children's lives.



CHO (voice-over): Desperate times call for desperate measures. And for the Peters family these are the most desperate of times.

BRITTINY PETERS, MOTHER: Life threw us a curveball so, you know, we're willing to sacrifice these things and put our children first.

CHO: The children, they're the reason why Brittiny and Gregg Peters are selling everything they own on eBay. Their TV, kitchen table, washing machine, virtually everything, except the house itself. They're even throwing in their car. Why? The Peters have three children, and two of them now need constant medical care.

GREGG PETERS, FATHER: Nothing's more precious than the kids. I mean, not a sofa, not a TV. I mean, that's -- that's -- it's -- it's as simple as that.

CHO: Last year, 2 1/2-year-old Noah was diagnosed with autism. His older sister, 7-year-old Ayla, a rare form of arthritis, called Still's disease, a one-two punch with bills to match. Gregg is a tennis instructor. Brittiny, a stay-at-home mom.

G. PETERS: I'm taking the kids to work with me, so I can just teach a few hours and then not go a whole day without work. So --

B. PETERS: You know, there were days that Gregg had to take, you know, Gregg had to stay with the other two children full time because I was at the hospital with her.

CHO: The opening price of their eBay auction, all items included, $20,000, exactly the cost of their medical bills. The response has been, well, through the roof. So much so, the Peters have their own Web site.

They've gotten more than a million hits and a thousand e-mails. But the auction is not bringing out the bidders. It seems people don't want to buy or take the Peters' belongings, but they do want to help. So, they're giving the Peters money.

More than 800 donations have poured in. Some just a dollar. But the total is staggering. $10,000 so far from people all over the world.

G. PETERS: Britain, Australia, and I think a few other places. I really feel like it's made me stronger. It's made me a better person. I've learned more in the last few weeks than I have in my whole -- the rest of my whole life.


CHO: Even though the Peters' situation is dire, they are planning to donate 10 percent of whatever they make to two foundations that benefit autism and Still's disease. The Peters say, "We believe you help others even through your own misfortunes."

Now these organizations, they say, are our children's hope for the future. And, Kiran, a little bit about the timing. I mean, you know, a lot of people know that it is early intervention is key, especially with a child who is diagnosed with autism. Noah is 2 1/2 years old. Really, their best chance for success is if you get that treatment before the age of 3, and so that's why they're doing it now.

Some people may be asking do they want donations. Was that the real reason for doing this? And the truth is no because they put up the eBay auction. Later on Wachovia actually help them set up this Web site,, because there was such an incredible response and people wanted to donate, and so that's why that happened.

CHETRY: You know, and that's the beauty of the Internet in a way is that, you know, it really enlarges your community.

CHO: Australia.

CHETRY: And so people from all over the world as you said sort of just like you'd help your neighbor next door, it's the Internet. And so, you help your neighbor world's away.

CHO: That's right. And then we should mention, you know, no bids so far for the bulk auction, $20,000, but if they don't get any bids for that, they're going to re-list everything one by one. They may let their daughter keep the bunk bed. I think they're going to take back the washing machine. But they hope to sell everything and, of course, they hope to make more than $20,000 so they can put some aside for a medical fund.

But just an incredible story. An incredible sacrifice but they say they've learned a lot.

CHETRY: And the kindness of strangers because as you said they're halfway there.

CHO: Yes.

CHETRY: $10,000 worth of donations.

CHO: Really, really great.

CHETRY: Thanks, Alina.

ROBERTS: Great story.

Today, a shift in priority is from Iraq to Afghanistan. Details on President Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates' important meeting as they begin drafting plans to confront what's being called America's most pressing military challenge.

And after taking some heat from the Obama administration, Citigroup grounds a brand new corporate jet that it was about to purchase but the big bank receiving billions of dollars in government bailout money. Just how are those banks spending your taxpayer dollars?

Christine Romans "Minding Your Business" this morning. It's 19 minutes now after the hour.


ROBERTS: Interesting choice of music. Nobody is getting higher in Cleveland this morning. Everybody's staying hunkered down because of all the snow.

Take a look at that, a shot from our friends at WKYC this morning. The snow is coming down in Cleveland today. It's going to be making a mess out of travel in the northeast, so make sure that you check with the airports before your airlines -- rather before you head out to the airport if you're traveling or check with your local radio station.

CHETRY: How it is coming down. The snow piles are getting higher, that's about it.

ROBERTS: There you go.

CHETRY: It's not the plane.

ROBERTS: Christine Romans here "Minding Your Business" this morning. And well, we talk about Citigroup in this jet grounding. CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: OK. Note to corporate America. If you take taxpayer money, you better be ready for people to be real outraged about taking delivery of a big, expensive plane. $42 million jet that Citigroup will not take delivery of now, because an official from the Treasury Department called the bank and said, look, this is not cool. That's a paraphrase. Don't do it. And they said they will not take delivery of this plane now.

I mean, it's just -- this is a plane that they ordered back in 2005. They put a deposit down for it. 2005 was a very different time than it is right now.

CHETRY: Right.

ROMANS: But it's just -- it's not going to fly these corporate jets anymore on the banks that are taking money from the federal government.

CHETRY: I have a question about it.


CHETRY: So, I mean, you know, as we've seen, everything relates to -- everything comes back to another sector of the economy.

ROMANS: Right.

CHETRY: So, who's losing out now and not getting the $49 million?

ROMANS: Well, a French company that makes the airplane. Also, the other thing is they might have to pay $3 million to $5 million. When you order a big jet like this, I think there are only 21 of these in the world, I mean, it's a pretty -- it's a rare, you know, 12-person luxury jet. When you order something like this, they usually have little clauses in the contract that say if you decide not to take delivery, you're going to have to pay a kind of penalty. So it will probably be like a $3 million to $5 million penalty. So, you know, they're going to have to pay that out and not get the plane. But --

ROBERTS: But they can also recoup that if they sell the plane.

ROMANS: They could also recoup that and sell the plane or if they decide to lease it somehow, or there are other things that they can do.

ROBERTS: Are there many people in America going to be crying that does sell aviation isn't selling another plane?

ROMANS: I don't think that they're going to be crying. I think this is all an image thing. I mean, this is really not about the plane. It's about the image of this whole thing, that this company had to take $45 billion in taxpayer guarantees and rescue and bailouts and the like, and then the American people are a shareholder in this company. And we saw from the car companies right on down, listen, if you need our help, we just -- a lot of people just don't get it why they're getting new planes. They've been downsizing the fleet, I will say, and this was an order made in 2005. But it just doesn't look good. People like "New York Post" started the whole thing and from there it was just outrage and the treasury official called them up and said --

ROBERTS: So Sarkozy may not be happy about it either.

CHETRY: Or maybe he could buy it.

ROMANS: You know, it shows that the treasury -- the treasury on a number of fronts is trying to show it's got more teeth, you know.

CHETRY: Right.

ROMANS: Lobbyist rules, this, other things they're trying to do. So, the treasury is trying to put some strings on our money.

CHETRY: Thanks, Christine.

Well, one-on-one with former President Jimmy Carter talking to Larry King about avoiding new problems in the Middle East, plus his take on President Obama's first week on the job.

Also, political tug-of-war over the president's stimulus plan. New late-night concessions to Republicans. But will it be enough for the GOP to support a popular new Democratic president and his estimated $825 billion plan?


CHETRY: All right. We're taking a look at the radar picture right now to show you just how far this storm, this winter storm is, stretching all the way from parts of Tennessee all the way through the northeast today. And there's a live picture from WKYC, our affiliate in Cleveland. They are also, of course, getting a fair bit of snow right now, and I'm sure that's going to be snarling things up at the airports in the area.

But right now, Cleveland's, you know, getting a little bit of snow. They're looking at a high today, still sticking around in the 30s, and actually, yes, they're going to be going up to maybe 23 today and that feels like 15, because it is a little windy there as well. All right, your live picture from Cleveland, Ohio.

Meanwhile, we're going to check our top story. Eric Holder's confirmation as attorney general pretty much assured now that Senate judiciary chairman Arlen Specter says he will support him. The committee will vote today to report Holder's nomination to the full Senate. Several GOP lawmakers criticized Holder for his role in some pardons while serving in the Clinton justice department.

The new Mideast peace envoy, George Mitchell, the former senator arriving in Israel this hour for talks on strengthening the fragile Gaza cease-fire with Hamas. The first stop on his Middle East tour with Cairo. That's where he met with Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak on efforts to bring peace to Gaza. Overnight, Israeli warplanes bombed tunnels under the border between Egypt and Gaza that Israel says are being used to smuggle weapons to Hamas.

And former President Jimmy Carter also weighing in on the Middle East crisis. In an interview with CNN's Larry King, Carter shared his thoughts on how President Obama is dealing with the crisis and also a potential doomsday scenario for the region.


JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The worst possible thing that can happen to Israel in the long run is to continue down the road, go to one-state solution, which means that eventually you'll have a majority of Palestinians, of Arabs, in the one state and a minority of Israelis and of Jews. And that would be a catastrophe, I think.

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Do you expect it to have a kind of balanced outreach to the Middle East?

CARTER: Probably this is a very good start and I believe it will pay rich dividends to reach out to them. I think his phrase that he wants to shake hands if they will unclench that fists, those who are inclined in that direction was a very memorable thing.


CHETRY: The former president says that this is the most optimistic he's been since the early '90s and that real progress will be made in the Middle East.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: A day after his sales pitch to Republicans, President Barack Obama's $825 billion economic stimulus plan comes up for its first test in the House today. Sources say House Democratic leaders have dropped two provisions in the bill, including one for $20 million to put sod on the National Mall. GOP lawmakers argued that it was pork spending, not stimulus. Still, passage is all but assured in the House with little or no support from Republicans.

Joining us now to talk more about the economic recovery plan, from West Chester, Pennsylvania -- Mark Zandi. He's the chief economist and co-founder of Moody's And with us here, Chrystia Freeland. She is the managing editor of the "Financial Times."

Good to see both of you this morning. Let's talk first of all about this idea of tax rebates for people who don't make enough money in this country to pay income taxes. President Obama insists that he wants to stick with this idea. Critics are calling it welfare by another name.

Chrystia, is it a good idea?

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, U.S. MANAGING EDITOR, "FINANCIAL TIMES": Yes, I think it is a very good idea. I mean, it's obvious why that would be quite -- that would be an ideological red flag to Republicans. It feels to them like the Democrats are being allowed to do something that Democrats have always wanted to do, which the Republicans have opposed -- redistributing money to poorer people.

But as it turns out, economically, that's the smart -- one of the smartest things for the stimulus package to do. The goal of this package is to get the economy going again. And one of the best, most efficient way of doing that is putting money in the hands of the people who have been hardest hit by the recession and who have the greatest, what economists call, marginal propensity to spend, and that happens to be the poorest people. That also goes for some of the extended Medicare benefits which the stimulus package also includes.

ROBERTS: Right. You know, Mark, it's a real potpourri of ideas here. They're just sort of taking a pot and grabbing the spaghetti and throwing it against the wall to see what sticks.

MARK ZANDI, MOODY'S ECONOMY.COM: Well, I think there is more to it than that. I mean, if you sort of break it down, there is income support for people who are losing their jobs. There's aid to state governments, which is important, because those governments are under pressure to cut jobs and programs that are much need. There's a tax cuts that go to low- and mid-income households and to some businesses, and there's infrastructure spending. And then there's a potpourri of projects.

But I see that more as a strength than a weakness, because that will get the money out there faster and you don't want to put all your eggs in one basket. You don't know what's going to work well and what's not going to work well. So, if you take a step back and look at it, I think there's a lot to it and I think it's pretty well constructed.

ROBERTS: Chrystia, do you think that this is all going in the right direction? As we mentioned, they pulled out measures to re-sod the National Mall, give more money to family planning. But, you know, there's been observations that part of this bill rewrites the Democrat Party's social contract with the poor. Does that count as stimulus?

FREELAND: Well, yes, I think it does. I mean, I think actually in this particular moment of the economic crisis, getting, directing a disproportionate amount of the money to the people hardest hit by the economic crisis actually benefits us all, because they'll spend it the most quickly.

I also think that Mark made a really good point, which is this is not a moment to put all your eggs in one basket. The reality is even the world's smartest economists don't know precisely what will work in this economic crisis because it's unprecedented. So, having a variety of measures probably makes sense.

ROBERTS: It's like your investment portfolio. You want to make sure that you're diversified.

Mark, let's finish off with you this morning. Growing Republican opposition to this plan, it looks like not many of them are going to cross the aisle to vote with the Democrats on this one, yet at the same time, economists say we urgently need this stimulus package. It needs to be something of magnitude to -- you know, what card is the GOP holding here in their opposition to this plan?

ZANDI: Well, the Democrats have enough votes to pass it and it will pass. It would be nice to get Republican support, at least some Republican support, because I think that would lend more confidence to businesses, to consumers that they feel that this is the right thing and that it's going to work.

You know, I think there's some things that can be done in the Senate perhaps to get more support among Republican senators, and hopefully that happens. In my view, you know, I think the package should be increased. I don't think it's enough. And I think it should be increased with more tax cuts. And if we get more tax cuts in the plan, maybe we'll get more Republican support.

ROBERTS: You got Chrystia nodding her head there in agreement as well. Mark Zandi, Chrystia Freeland, it's great to see you both this morning. As always, thanks very much. We'll check back with you after the vote as well.

This morning, Iraq moving to the backburner as the president makes plans to address what the Pentagon is calling America's greatest military challenge right now.

And the feel-good hit, "Slumdog Millionaire" finally arrives in India. Lots of Oscar buzz in the United States, but it's not making people feel so good in India. In fact, it's causing a whole lot of controversy. Who did it offend and why? We'll have that story for you. It's 35 minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: 37 1/2 minutes after the hour. Right now, tracking two developing stories. The first, a powerful winter storm dumping snow and ice across a major portion of the nation right now. Take a look at the live radars. The storm races toward the northeast in those pinks -- and whites. Not good news for people. A lot of snow in there.

And the winter wallop leaving a real mess in its wake. Ice bringing down power lines, coating roadways and highways. Delays also starting to build on the rails and runways. If you're flying today, check with the airline before you head out.

CHETRY: Well, the second major story on our radar this morning -- the war in Afghanistan. This afternoon, President Obama will be heading to the Pentagon to meet with defense chief Robert Gates, and among the things they'll be talking about -- setting the stage for a major troop buildup in Afghanistan, America's most pressing military challenge according to the Pentagon chief.


ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: As in Iraq, there is no purely military solution in Afghanistan. But it is also clear that we have not had enough troops to provide a baseline level of security in some of the most dangerous areas -- a vacuum that has increasingly been filled by the Taliban. And that is why the United States is considering an increase in our military presence, in conjunction with a dramatic increase in the size of the Afghan security forces.


CHETRY: Suzanne Malveaux is at the White House right now, live for us this morning.

And it's interesting because Defense Secretary Robert Gates is, of course, a holdover from the Bush administration. Now, the Obama White House is in some ways looking to turn the page on some Bush policies. At the same time, Robert Gates wasn't always on the same page as President Bush either when it came to certain things, militarily speaking. So, how is this switch going to take place?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kiran, you know, this really isn't going to be business as usual. This is going to be a big departure from the Bush administration. We're going to see President Obama meeting at the Pentagon with Secretary Gates and the joint chiefs. And essentially, he has been saying during the campaign, he does not believe that Iraq is the central front in the war on terror, but rather look at places like Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Taliban and al Qaeda are hiding, where Osama bin Laden, they believe -- suspect, is still on that border.

So, what is going to happen here? Well, we have heard Obama before talk about the need for additional troops in Afghanistan. We just heard from Secretary Gates in his testimony saying, perhaps expect as many as three brigades going to Afghanistan. That's about 10,000 to 12,000 troops. Some military experts believe that a lot more is necessary there.

We have also heard from Vice President Joe Biden, right before he was elected -- before he became officially the vice president, he went to Afghanistan and he delivered a warning to Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, the leader there, saying essentially that this administration is going to expect a lot more of you when it comes to fighting corruption, drug trafficking, all of those huge problems in Afghanistan. The situation in that country, Kiran, has deteriorated tremendously over the last year or so. That is a big challenge for the Obama administration.

CHETRY: Certainly is. No doubt. And they'll be having many conversations about this. One note, I think a lot of people were wondering why Secretary Gates had his jacket only on one arm. He injured his other arm. Ready to undergo some surgery for a ligament problem, that's why he only had a suit on one arm.

Did you notice that at the hearing? Oh, there we go. There we see it. All right, well, hopefully he's feeling better.

MALVEAUX: Hopefully so, yes.

CHETRY: Suzanne, thanks.

MALVEAUX: Sure. CHETRY: It's 41 minutes after the hour.

Serious praise, angry protests. The "Slumdog Millionaire" controversy.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You're absolutely right!


CHETRY: Outrage over the hit film, nominated for ten academy awards. Why some even want the name changed.

You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."



UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You are on your own.



ROBERTS: Welcome back to the "Most News in the Morning." "Slumdog Millionaire," already a bona fide hit in the United States with ten Oscar nominations, but it's just now hitting the theaters in India where the movie is set, and folks there are protesting the award- winning film. Our Sara Sidner joins us now from New Delhi with more.

And Sara, you know, the American audiences are enamored of this story, of this Chaiwala (ph) from the slums who goes on to become a millionaire, but folks there in India, some of them at least not too happy about the whole thing.

SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's true. And if you take a look at the newspapers, John, you can clearly see that "Slumdog Millionaire" is definitely creating plenty of buzz in this country, but as you mentioned, it's not all happy chat.


SIDNER (voice-over): "Slumdog Millionaire" has dazzled critics and audiences in America, but the film about life, hope, and love in the slums of Mumbai has just reached audiences in India.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's really nice, fantastic. I would suggest everyone to go forward to see it.

SIDNER: It's been met with praise and protests. This is the reaction from slum dwellers in one of India's poorest states. They say being referred to as slumdogs is degrading and they want the word "dog" taken out of the title. Other Indians were unhappy with the content of the film and how it depicted India. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's brutal. It's brutal, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They've just shown the poor part of India. They haven't seen the real India in this movie, so that's kind of annoying -- that's, you know, for some people and for me as well.

SIDNER: But several leading Indian movie critics were quite taken with the Hollywood film.

SHUBRA GUPTA, FILM CRITIC: All critical opinion in terms of serious film critics have been uniformly positive, which doesn't happen very often.


SIDNER: All in all, this film has definitely stirred up lots of emotion from the Indian population. There are people who feel quite angry as you saw, but also people who are very proud of their countrymen, saying that they're glad to see their actors and that the film's composers seeing some serious, serious possibilities of getting awards. The film's composer is up for three Oscars and might just bring at least one back here to India.


ROBERTS: You know, Sara, that one fellow said that it doesn't show the real India, but many people would argue that, in fact, it does show a real part of India that many Indians would like to believe doesn't exist.

SIDNER: There is that, John. There definitely is a sentiment that some people are watching the movie, saying, look, this is part of the reality. I spoke to several people who are sort of in their 20s, and they're saying yes, this is part of our reality, but there's also another wonderful, beautiful, soft reality of India as well. And a lot of people were kind of upset that that part of India wasn't shown really at all in that film.


ROBERTS: Sara Sidner for us this morning from New Delhi. Sara, it's good to see you. Thanks.

CHETRY: Just nine days into the job, is this what President Obama is really feeling?


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The time has come to set aside childish things.


CHETRY: A president gone mad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You know, you have gotten some criticism for not making his ears big enough in this, you know?


CHETRY: Inside the halls of "Mad, magazine. What they've done to our new president. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


CHETRY: Welcome back to the "Most News in the Morning." "Mad" magazine has spoofed its share of political figures. As we track President Obama's first 100 days, "Mad" has its own take on the subject. Here's Jeanne Moos.


MOOS (voice-over): When President Obama said --

OBAMA: The time has come to set aside childish things.

MOOS: We hope he didn't mean this childish thing. Sure, he's graced a million magazine covers, but "Mad" shows him as we've never seen him. The first 100 minutes surrounded by dire headlines, smoking five cigarettes simultaneously while chugging Pepto-Bismol and popping Excedrin. Not quite the way the official White House photo depicts him. But some complain the magazine personified by Alfred E. Newman missed something with its Obama caricature.

You know, you have gotten some criticism for not making his ears big enough in this, you know?

JOHN FICARRA, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, MAD MAGAZINE: He does have big ears. There's no question about it. He even mocked himself at the Alfred E. Smith dinner about his ears.

MOOS: The Alfred E. Smith dinner named after a former New York governor.

OBAMA: It's often been said that I share the politics of Alfred E. Smith and the ears of Alfred E. Newman.

MOOS: President Obama is always joking about his ears. When he visited Mt. Rushmore, he was asked if he'd like to see his face up there.

OBAMA: I don't think my ears would fit.

MOOS: "Mad" did accentuate Obama's ears the first time he appeared on its cover right after his nomination. "Time" magazine named this morph of Alfred E. Newman and Obama one of the top ten magazine covers of 2008.

What is this?

FICARRA: This is what we call the celebrity snaps.

MOOS: Readers send in photos of themselves posing with celebs holding "Mad."

FICARRA: So here we have a former president. Mr. Bush holding up a cover that says "Mad 20 Dumbest" of which he was in that.

MOOS: The Bush years supplied plenty of covers for "Mad." Some of which must have made Republicans mad. But the magazine industry is in trouble and "Mad" isn't immune. It just announced it would be reduced to quarterly publications.

FICARRA: Pretty much get feedback that one out of every three issues of "Mad" is funny, we decided just to print those three or four a year. It will be fine.

MOOS: It will be fine, that's what the president must be saying as he tries to save our butts. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


ROBERTS: Report card for America. We're grading the roads you drive, the water you drink, before any stimulus money gets thrown at rebuilding America, grade check, from sea to shining "D"?

Plus, who smells pork in the stimulus plan?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They do a whole lot to undermine the credibility of the package.


ROBERTS: Which city wants a map museum, dog parks, and tennis, anyone? You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


CHETRY: Well, the Obama administration's economic stimulus plan is headed for the House of Representatives today. It's likely to pass, but with a price tag nearing $1 trillion taxpayer and people are now making all kinds of claims about what is in the bill.

To help us sort it out, the founder of Bill Adair, and he joins me now.

Thanks for being with us this morning, Bill?


CHETRY: So we're going to get started with House Republican Whip Eric Cantor. He said last week regarding the stimulus that it includes $300,000 for a sculpture garden in Miami. That's a very specific claim about one of the things that, you know, many would call pork. Is it true? ADAIR: No, it's not. And so we gave it a pants-on-fire on our truth- o-meter. It's not mentioned in the bill. We went in to the bill and looked for the word sculpture, looked for gardening. We couldn't find anything.

He's referring to a provision in the bill that would give $50 million to the national endowment for the arts, and he's actually citing a project from last year. But it's really wrong to say that it's in the bill now. It's not, and so pants-on-fire wrong for this one.

CHETRY: All right. And you say you like -- you generally like Eric Cantor. That he -- that he just sort of went off the reservation with this one.

ADAIR: Yes, Eric Cantor, I think is going to be good for business for the truth-o-meter. He says a lot of provocative things. He's the Republican Whip in the House, and it's going to be fun for us now to fact check him as well as the Democratic leadership and see what they're saying and whether it's true or not.

CHETRY: All right, let's fact check President Obama. He talked about the dire state of the economy in his weekly Web address on Sunday. And here is what he said. Let's listen.


OBAMA: Our economy could fall a $1 trillion short of its full capacity, which translates into more than $12,000 in lost income for a family of four.


CHETRY: 12 grand, a scary number to a lot of families out there. Is that true?

ADAIR: It is scary. If you do the numbers, he's right about the $1 trillion estimate in terms of -- of the overall thing. We ended up giving this a half true on our truth-o-meter. He's right, as I said, about the trillion dollars and it does average out to about $12,000 per family. But it's misleading to say that, because as we know, the impact of the recession is very widely. Some families hit very hard, other families hit very little. And so, we gave it a half-truth.

CHETRY: I got you. So it's not a "one size fits all" number that you can -- that you can give to each family. It's different.

ADAIR: Exactly.

CHETRY: OK, Republican Congressman Joe Barton of Texas is furious over what he says is a lack of debate on the stimulus, and if this one is true we should all sit up and pay attention. He complained last week Democrats have said that even one hearing on the stimulus bill would be one too many and that we have a single day to approve these five complex propositions that will affect the lives of millions.

He says that this is being slammed true. So is it true that they have not had a debate or a single debate and they don't want one?

ADAIR: Yes. This one gets a true on our truth-o-meter. At least as regards to the energy, Commerce Committee, which had a big chunk of the stimulus bill. Barton was right. They had not held a hearing. And I think this is an area where the Democrats could be in for some criticism. They have tried very hard to rush this through, because they want to get the stimulus into the economy as quickly as possible. But in the process, they have left themselves open to this criticism that they have not held the kind of hearings to look at the effects of the stimulus and whatever. So, a true on the truth-o-meter for this one.

We're going to be very busy I think with the stimulus bill and Congress getting very active already so --

CHETRY: That's right. Especially because one person's definition of pork is somebody else's, you know, badly needed project for their community. Interesting, though, because the bailout, that was also a big criticism of the bailout, that it was -- that they all met in a room with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, he says, this has to happen now, and that that was approved also and that now looking back, there are many lawmakers who wish they were more strings attached.

ADAIR: Exactly. You know, they want to get the money into the economy as quickly as they can, but in the process they leave themselves open to charges of pork, as you say, but also that it's being rushed through without a lot of thought. So, we'll be fact checking this and trying to keep an eye on what they're saying and giving it the truth-o-meter.

CHETRY: Yes. We'll be bringing you back for more. Very interesting stuff. Bill Adair with the, the founder of it. Thanks.

ADAIR: Thanks, Kiran.

ROBERTS: Got to love that pants on fire.