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American Morning

House Does Not Pass Senate Payroll Tax Holiday Extension Bill; North Korean Leader Kim Jong-il Dies; Ron Paul "The Wild Card"; Kim Jong-Il In Glass Coffin; Tax Cut Extension In Doubt; CNN/ORC Poll: Romney, Gingrich In Dead Heat; "What We Want Is Peace"; North Korea's Military Might; Does New Orleans Need National Guard?; Piers Morgan Testifies In Hacking Scandal; Sportscaster To Senate Candidate; Romney's Top Ten; The Perfect Holiday Gift; Medicaid Denied Transportation to Baby for Surgery; Snowstorm Cripples Part of the West, Midwest

Aired December 20, 2011 - 06:59   ET



JOHN BOEHNER, (R-OH) HOUSE SPEAKER: Our members do not want to just punt and do a two-month short-term fix.

NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA) MINORITY LEADER: Radical Tea Party Republicans who are holding up this tax cut for the American people.

ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Just when you thought they came together on something, House Republicans take a popular tax cut and say, never mind.

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): A dear leader on display. Images of Kim Jong Il's body in a glass coffin. The U.S. trying to figure out whether North Korea will be more dangerous and unstable without him.

CHO: Heavy snow, strong winds, and dangerous ice. The fierce snowstorm rips through the west and Midwest. So, is more snow on the way?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Medicaid is the one who holds my child's life in their hands right now.

VELSHI: Taking on the system. One mother's fight to get her baby the medical care he desperately needs on this AMERICAN MORNING.


CHO: Good morning. It's Tuesday, December 20th. Welcome to AMERICAN MORNING. I'm Alina Cho along with Ali Velshi. So glad you're with us.

VELSHI: Good morning. If you were hoping to wake up with an extra $1,000 in your pocket for next year, forget about it. House Republicans are now set to block a two-month extension of the payroll tax holiday. A vote is now scheduled for today after lawmakers scrapped one in the middle of the night. But House Speaker John Boehner expects the bill to fail, saying his members are against kicking the can down the road. Minority Leader Pelosi blames some rogue Republicans for getting in the way. Here's both sides.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: Our members do not want to just punt and do a two-month short-term fix where we have to come back and do this again. We're here. We're willing to work.

NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA) HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: It's just a radical, Tea Party Republicans who are holding up this tax cut for the American people, and jeopardizing our economic growth.


VELSHI: Here's what the in-fighting could cost you when you start getting the holiday bills. If Congress can't reach a deal Americans earning $50,000 a year would be hit with a $1,000 tax hike in 2012.

Joining us now from Capitol Hill is Congressman Jeb Hensarling of Texas. He is the chairman of the House Republican Congress. Congressman Hensarling, thanks for being with us.


VELSHI: Talk to me about what's going on here. It seems like a lot of process. Americans would like to see the payroll tax cut go through. Let's get the ideology out of the way for a second. Are you in favor of or against the payroll tax cut being extended?

HENSARLING: Oh, absolutely. Here's where the debate is today. Unfortunately, since the president has been elected, the president has been at, near or above nine percent. So we have to help struggling American families. So, by and large, everyone in Congress agreed we need to extend this temporary payroll tax holiday.

Here's where the debate is. The Senate wants to punt the ball. They want to do a 60-day extension. House Republicans frankly, this is one of the few times we agree with the president. We want to extend it for a full year. That's what the American people asked for. It's what the president agreed to. So number one, that's the first point.

Here's the second point. House Republicans stand ready to work over the holidays, like many other Americans have to do, to get this done. So today we will appoint conferees, a conference committee, which since the dawn of the Republic is how you work out differences between the house and the Senate. But so far, leader, Democrat leader Pelosi, Democrat Senate leader Reid said they won't do it. They won't negotiate. Our way or the highway.

Here's the last point. Washington didn't consult with the real world. Every single business group says a two-month extension is totally unworkable. It will do more harm than good. The associated builders and contractors, the roofers, the people that actually do the payroll say, you can't give people this little notice and get it done. That's why we need to do the year-long extension.

VELSHI: I would love that we didn't have people working on these ongoing extensions to the debt ceiling and to the budget. It's kind of in the eyes of most Americans ridiculous the way business is going on in Congress these days. We operate on the basis of 11th hour decisions or 13-hour decisions. The bottom line is --

HENSARLING: Isn't that the point? Shouldn't the Democrats come back to negotiate in good faith?

VELSHI: Is a two-month extension not better than no extension?

HENSARLING: We talk to the people who actually have to do this. People need to get outside of the beltway small businesses who are actually responsible for this saying it's totally unworkable. It's Washington not listening to the people who actually create the jobs. They say you can't do all of these software changes overnight that are only two months. Number one, they're not listening.

Listen, the last time we had a disagreement and, listen, nobody likes brinksmanship, but we went to conference. We came up way bill to fund the government for the rest of the year and not have a shutdown. The question is, why won't Democrats come and negotiate in good faith?

VELSHI: Let me tell you, you've got Scott Brown, senator, Republican Senator from Massachusetts. You've got another senator from Indiana, Dean Heller from Nevada, all speaking out against the position that house Republicans are taking. They're saying, Scott Brown says, the effort to not do this is irresponsible and wrong. You do have people in the Republican party. Why is there this break in the Republican Party? Who is pushing --

HENSARLING: Well, I would say we have some Democrats who supported our positions. There's a handful of people on both sides. Again it comes down to this -- do you want a 60-day extension that is unworkable, according to the people who have to administer it, which, by the way, contrary to what your lead-in says it not $1,000. It's 60 days, about $160.

VELSHI: I Senate $1,000 over the course of a year. It's about $90 a month. I do get my numbers right.

HENSARLING: OK, well, then, congratulations. But, again, here's the problem. Again, do you -- it really comes down to this. Do you want to do a 60-day ex-attention or one-year extension? Are you willing to work on the holidays to get it done or not?

VELSHI: Gosh, I'd like to know what we're going the next five years? I love it if we weren't working on one-year cycles. What happens now? What's going to happen in your mind? How does this play out? HENSARLING: Again, the House will appoint people to, something known as a conference committee, which, again, since the dawn of the republic is how we work out differences. The question is, will Democrats show up to negotiate this good faith? I hope they do. This could be worked out in a couple of days. We could do what the president asked us to do. Again, the question, are you going to do it for a full year or punt the ball down the road like Washington does? So are you going to give America something --

VELSHI: You've articulated the issue very well. I guess my question is, you are a member of the leadership. Do we think that we will go into 2012 with a two-month extension or a one-year extension or is there a chance there will be no extension of this payroll cut?

HENSARLING: Well, I hope that the Democrats will come to their senses and be reasonable and negotiate in good faith. I hope this gets done. Again, I'm sorry we're in the economy that we're in. I'm sorry that the president's policies haven't worked, but almost everyone in Congress has agreed we need to do this, but the debate is, are you going to do it for the full year or are you going to punt the ball down the road? And work over the holidays or are you not?

VELSHI: If you can't get a one-year extension on the payroll tax holiday, will you and your colleagues vote against extending this for two months? There's some chance Americans may not get this payroll extension because want to stand on principle of it being a year?

HENSARLING: It's not just a matter of principle. It's a matter of practicality. I encourage you to talk to the businesses who are in charge of administering this saying it will do more harm than good. We're not going to vote for something that's going to do more harm than good for the economy. We don't understand -- why Democrats won't --

VELSHI: Congressman, I bet you there's a --

HENSARLING: -- they wanted a one-year extension in the first place.

VELSHI: It's 2011. Probably a BlackBerry in your pocket, like I have, some kind of device. It's not going to mess up the system we have a two-month extension. The computers, the software can handle it.

HENSARLING: You ought to talk to the people who are in charge of administers thinking. With this amount of notice, what it did do with their software impose more costs --

VELSHI: The software is the problem? We can't --

HENSARLING: Right now, I've laid out three different issues. If the president says you ought to do 12 months, Nancy Pelosi said this, we don't understand why you don't do 12 months? Why punt the ball down the field? That's the first question. I mean, you know good and well that the president for months and months and months have said we have to do it for a full year. Now all of a sudden we've got a 60-day bill. I do not understand.

Second of all, again, most Americans are going to have to work for the next couple of weeks. Why can't we get together, Democrats and Republicans, and negotiate this out? We ought to be able to do it in a couple of days and give the American people what they want and what they deserve.

VELSHI: We hope that is the case, Representative Jeb Hensarling. Thank you for being with us. It's a tough issue. I appreciate you going back and forth with me on it. Repsentative Jeb Hensarling is the chairman of the House Republican conference.

CHO: The U.S. keeping an eye out for advancing troops and other threatening moves after the death of a dictator in North Korea. North Korean media showed images of Kim Jong-il's body laid out in a glass coffin in a mausoleum in Pyongyang, his third son and successor Kim Jong-un paying respects. Anna Coren is live in Seoul, South Korea for us, this morning. Anna, obviously no love lost between North and South Korea. What is the mood there in Seoul about this?

ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Alina, I have to say there is a great deal of uncertainty. People just do not know what the future holds with Kim Jong-un now at the helm. He is young. He is very inexperienced. But in an interesting act today, something that caught many people by surprise, South Korea offered its -- expressed, I should say, it's sympathies to the North Korean people.

The reason this struck many people as a surprise is because the South Korean government has had quite a rocky relationship with its neighbors to the north. Under president Lee Myung-bak it has been almost non-exist. Obviously, those attacks last year in 2010 on the South Korean warship which claims the lives of 46 sailors and the shelling of the South Korean island it really left relations at rock bottom. So for South Korea to express its sympathies to, really, reach out to its northern neighbors, it really is seen as thawing relations, Alina.

CHO: Anna Coren live for us in Seoul, thank you very much.

VELSHI: A massive snowstorm slams the west and Midwest. Take a look, the storm unleashing heavy snow and fierce winds, frigid temperatures turning roads into sheets of ice, blizzard warnings stretching from New Mexico to Kansas this morning. Driving conditions so dangerous, several major roads like Interstate 40 in New Mexico, are closed.


VELSHI: Still to come this morning, GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul surges in the polls, but can he win in Iowa? We're going to talk to him in about 50 minutes.

CHO: Plus, North Korea's military might. Just how worried should the world be?

VELSHI: And an Indiana mother takes on Medicaid in a battle to fly her four-month-old baby halfway across the country to get the surgery he desperately needs to save his life.

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. It is 13 minutes after the hour.


CHO: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING.

Some are calling him the wild card in the GOP presidential candidates, Ron Paul. A new CNN/ORC International Poll shows Paul surging. This as Newt Gingrich's lead evaporates.

Now, a lot of people are asking this morning, could Ron Paul actually win in Iowa? Jon Avlon thinks so. He's a CNN contributor and senior political columnist of "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast." Good morning. Nice to see you, John -


CHO: -- as always. You're just back from Iowa, as a matter of fact. I want to talk a little about this formula that Nate Silver of the "New York Times" came up with and basically a very sophisticated one. He factors in poll's momentum undecided voters. And look what we came out with. In one - put this up on the screen here.

Fifty-two percent favor Ron Paul - 52 percent. You know, they believe that he'll win Iowa. Now -

AVLON: That's right.

CHO: -- this is pretty incredible. This is not something that you see normally on CNN. So having said that, you spent some time in Iowa, what do you think? Does he have a shot at winning?

AVLON: He does have a shot at winning the Iowa caucus and that was the point of a column I did yesterday saying, "Look, don't count Ron Paul out in Iowa." This was apparent when I was there last week. You can see not only the intensity of his supporters. And his - Ron Paul's supporters are famously intense.

But this is a campaign that's really effectively been going on four years, since the last time he ran for president. And in many cases and many ways his views have been vindicated. So given that caucuses are high intensity low turnout elections, that you should not count Ron Paul out and the impact of Ron Paul pulling up an upset in the Iowa would - would resonate throughout.

CHO: How so?

AVLON: Well, first of all, I think Ron Paul ends up being a de facto benefit for Mitt Romney, because it takes Newt Gingrich out of the narrative -

CHO: Right.

AVLON: -- and force him to fight in South Carolina and Florida without win under his belt. Mitt Romney right now still has that glass ceiling that's been bedeviling him this entire campaign, but the support has now diffused. The opposition that Mitt Romney seems more diffused than it was two weeks ago when Newt Gingrich was sucking up all that support.

CHO: Right.

AVLON: But Ron Paul has an independent basis support. His folks are not fickle. They are not going anywhere.

CHO: That's right.

AVLON: They are true believers and I believe they're outside the stereotype of Ron Paul supporters particularly in Iowa.

CHO: While you touched on this, because you talked about how ardent his supporters are, how emphatic they are. I mean, you just look as his ground game in Iowa. I mean, he has run not a year and a half campaign like a lot of people, but a five-year campaign because his supporters never left. They continued knocking on doors -

AVLON: That's right.

CHO: -- and in a sense, Ron Paul never left, you know? Now, having said that, you spent some time in Iowa -

AVLON: That's true.

CHO: -- and, you know, Ron Paul supporters, you know, if you read the media reports, they are college students who want to legalize pot, but you saw something different there.

AVLON: Right. I did. I don't think they deserve to be stereotyped that narrowly.

CHO: Right.

AVLON: You know, I went to a Ron Paul town hall in Marshalltown, Iowa and it was filled with, you know, middle class, blue collar folks who were just there in the early Saturday morning to hear what he had to say and they were nodding their heads. Probably around 20 of the crowd of a hundred stuck around to organize Iowa.

So given in many cases his view, while, you know, people can disagree with different parts of the Ron Paul formula, in some core ways his views have been vindicated. He deserves credit I think for philosophical consistency. He was making these points where it was very unpopular during the Bush years.

CHO: Right.

AVLON: Whether you call his foreign policy non-interventionalist or near isolationist, there's that skepticism about the wars. There's this skepticism about the Feds given what we've learned. There's that sense of - that he is a consistent constitutionalist but appeals to people in Iowa. So I think people should take Ron Paul seriously. I think he deserves credit for his intellectual influence inside the Republican Party, and this just might be his time.

CHO: You know, our polling also shows that the one thing that voters really, really like about Ron Paul is that he's least likely to act like a typical politician.


CHO: Now having said that, you know, let's look ahead to the general election here. I mean, isn't that a liability in the general election?

AVLON: Not just that. Look, I mean, people don't want a typical politician. They want someone who's authentic. And Ron Paul is defiantly himself. There's no question.

But the question of Ron Paul being a general election nominee, that's where things get a little more dicey.

CHO: Right.

AVLON: Now, there - I think, you know, the chances of an upset in Iowa are - I don't know if they're strong, has made several sense but they should not be counted out.

That said, general election nominee, could Ron Paul be the nominee of the party that, you know, famously rallied behind the Bush Family twice? It is a fundamentally different philosophy of government. That becomes more difficult to believe. But he has an enthusiasm that other candidates can't buy. And so that deserves to be taken in context and seen with a sense of respect.

One (INAUDIBLE) about the CNN poll is Ron Paul's support. People would say that they would not consider voting for him, among the undecided Republican primary voters, higher than those who say they're open to voting for him, in the total field.

So that's an important wrinkle -

CHO: Sure.

AVLON: -- and detail to appreciate as we look at Ron Paul's status.

CHO: All right. So then as you look at that if you're a betting man -

AVLON: If you're a betting man -

CHO: -- what do you think?

AVLON: I think -

CHO: Two weeks away. AVLON: Look, if we - just look at Iowa. Separate from the national - from the national polling, I think Ron Paul deserves to be taken seriously. I think he could very easily pull off an upset in the Iowa and that would shake up the race big time.

CHO: All right. We're going to hold you to it. We're going to come back. We're going to bring you here.

AVLON: We'll see. Keep in mind, the most important thing, not a single vote has been cast.

CHO: That's right.

AVLON: Everybody gets that themselves. At the end of the day, the Iowa voters, the primary voters, they're the folks that make the decision. We're just looking at the weather and saying, you know what, there's a storm front coming.

CHO: But isn't it exciting?

AVLON: It is. It is. This is great. American sport -


CHO: I love it.

AVLON: It's our country.

CHO: One of the more exciting primaries I've ever - season I've ever seen.

AVLON: This has been wild. Strap on your seat belts.

CHO: That's right. John Avlon, thank you so much.

And later on in the program, GOP presidential hopeful Ron Paul will actually join us here to talk strategy and the latest poll numbers. Could he win in Iowa? I'm sure he thinks so. That's coming up at 8:10 Eastern Time - Ali.

VELSHI: And still to come - still to come this morning, Apple scores a victory in the smartphone war. That means one cell phone maker may have to pull some of its phones here in the United States. We'll explain.

Plus, North Korea is a country with nuclear weapons. And this morning, someone new is calling the shots. So just how worried should the world be?

It's 22 minutes after the hour.


VELSHI: Twenty-six minutes after the hour. Welcome back. "Minding Your Business" this morning. U.S. stock futures are up. Investors will be watching the banking sector after Bank of America's stock dropped below $5 a share yesterday. A level not seen since March 2009.

And of course, Wall Street will be watching for developments in the eurozone debt crisis. The eurozone ministers have agreed to lend the International Monetary Fund $195 billion to help with the debt crisis. There's uncertainty surrounding the loan, because Britain has refused to contribute to the bailout fund and the loan agreement is $65 billion short of what the leaders were hoping for.

ConocoPhillips is getting the OK top begin work on the first commercial oil well in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. The decision by the Army Corps of Engineers comes just two weeks after the Environmental Protection Agency and the Fish and Wildlife Service dropped their objections to a bridge and a pipeline.

Apple claiming a minor victory in its battle against Google's Android operating system. The U.S. International Trade Commission ruling a number of technology features like being able to tap on a phone number in a next message belong to Apple. The case was against phone maker HTC which uses the Android operating system. HTC could face a limited ban on some phones starting in April.

Seattle, now the latest city to ban plastic grocery bags. The new ordinance which takes effect next July also includes a five cent fee for paper bags. City officials will hope the ban - are hoping the ban will reduce pollution, free up landfill space and improve the environment.

And the wait is over for "Star Wars" fans. Today, one of the most expensive games ever made is released. It's called "Star Wars: The Old Republic." And the game maker, Electronic Arts, is hoping it can take on the World of Warcraft, which is one of the most popular online games ever created.

Don't forget, for the very latest news about your money, check out the all-new

AMERICAN MORNING will be right back after the break.


VELSHI: It's 30 minutes after the hour. Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. Time for this morning's top stories.

The body of North Korea's long time dictator Kim Jong-Il laid out in a glass coffin as weeping mourners filed by. Kim Jong-Un, Kim's third son and successor also visited the coffin along with top military officials.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered her condolences to the North Korean people with a message of hope that they can now have a more peaceful future.

CHO: House Republicans said to block a two-month extension of the payroll tax. A vote is now scheduled for today after lawmakers scrap one in the middle of the night. House Speaker John Boehner expects the bill to fail.

VELSHI: Only two weeks until the Iowa caucus and the latest polling shows Newt Gingrich status as GOP presidential frontrunner is slipping. A new CNN/ORC International poll finds Gingrich and Mitt Romney are tied as the Republicans choice for presidential nominee. Both have 28 percent.

CHO: Now back to one of our top stories, the tremendous uncertainty consuming North Korea right now after the death of its dictator, Kim Jong-Il.

A big question, does this mark the beginning of a brighter era for the millions of people who live in one of the most oppressed nations of the world or not?

You remember, President Clinton traveled to North Korea and met with Kim Jong-Il back in 2009. It was part of a humanitarian mission to free American journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling. Here's what Clinton had to say yesterday about his hopes for North Korea's future.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: What we want is stability. What we want is peace. What we want is for all the children to grow up and do well and then we need to go back to work and try to reach an understanding with them.

And I think it can be done. I've always thought so, but we have to recognize the way the system works over there, and try to figure out how they can change it and open up without being consumed by the changes.


VELSHI: In South Korea, armed forces are on high alert. But it's not just because Kim Jong-Il is dead, it's because of everything we don't know about their next leader and the massive military that he now leads. Here's Tom Foreman.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For a poor country, North Korea has long spent a disproportionate amount making its army look strong. What concerns military analysts most, however, is what we cannot see, first, the nuclear threat.

Under the obsessive prodding of Kim Jong-Il, the secretive nation has been enriching uranium and amassing plutonium, possibly enough in hidden sites to make six or eight nuclear weapons or more.

Analysts are convinced North Korean missiles can reach South Korea, Japan and maybe Hawaii or Alaska, although it's unclear whether they can carry nukes, but that may not matter.

Another credible theory is, if North Korean nukes can be hidden or merchant ships and sailed to ports around the globe. Second, the artillery threat. After the Korean War, the north was heavily supported by Russia. That stopped in the early '90s.

But analysts say North Korea has maintained hundreds of artillery pieces from that era and has added many more rockets and scud missiles, although the north's fighter jets and military ships would probably be destroyed quickly in open war fair.

Analysts think those ground weapons could pour explosives under the southern capital of Seoul, 30 miles from the border producing tens of thousands of injuries and deaths in just the first hours.

And third, there is the human threat. North Korea has 400,000 infantry troops, which military experts believe would either flood across the border into the south or dig in to repeal any counterattack.

More important, the north is believed to have 200,000 highly trained Special Forces soldiers who could infiltrate the south, wage guerrilla war and spread panic among civilians.


FOREMAN: The north is so unpredictable even in form. Analysts admit all of these are just educated guesses, but they add the world must be ready for the worst with North Korea because that nation has been so unpredictable for so long, and maybe even more so now. Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

CHO: It's 35 minutes after the hour. Other stories new this morning, call in the National Guard. That's what a Louisiana lawmaker is demanding after a horrific crime spree in New Orleans.

A little girl just shy of her second birthday was shot to death in a drive-by on Sunday. The gunman was targeting another man who ran through a courtyard crowded with children.

A state representative says enough is enough. He wants the National Guard to take back the streets. Governor Bobby Jindal says, not so fast. Here are both sides.


AUSTIN BADON JR. (D), LOUISIANA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Crime is spiralling out of control. Everybody's afraid. You know, you can't walk down the street without crimes happening and occurring. The bad guys are running the city right now. We've got to take this city back.

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: Talked to the mayor at the point he made those comments. We recommended actually talk to the mayor to coordinate, so there's one voice coming out of the city of New Orleans.


VELSHI: CNN's Piers Morgan will testify today at an inquiry into the "News of the World" phone hacking scandal. His appearance before the British high court will be via video link.

Morgan is the former "Daily Mirror" and "News of the World" editor. He said he never hacked a phone, told anyone to hack a phone or to his knowledge published a story obtained from the hacking of a phone.

CHO: From a sports caster to Texas Senate candidate, sports analyst, Craig James is quitting ESPN and he's making a late entry into a crowded race into for the seat soon to be vacated by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson.

The former NFL pro is running in the GOP primary this spring as what he calls a conservative outsider who understands the economy. James says he's a self-made businessman from, quote, "the real street."

VELSHI: Who said Mitt Romney isn't cool enough to hang? He delivered the top ten list on "Letterman" last night. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Top ten things Mitt Romney would like to say to the American people. We go to number ten --

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Isn't it time for a president who looks like a 1970s game show host?


ROMNEY: What's up, gangsters? It's the MI double tizzal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, it's not. Number four --

ROMNEY: I just used all my campaign money to buy zoo with Matt Damon.


ROMNEY: Newt Gingrich, really?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, yes. That's right. And the number one thing Mitt Romney would like to say to the American people --

ROMNEY: It's a hairpiece.



VELSHI: That was good.

CHO: You don't have that problem. VELSHI: No. That wouldn't be my number one.

CHO: So what does it take for you to finally hit that unfriend button on Facebook? Well, it turns out it's all about who you know and what you post.

A new study finds that Facebook users are most likely to unfriend people they don't know very well and people who make offensive comments. Check the stats here.

More than half users dump friend over comments, 23 percent ditch depressing posters and 39 percent unfriend people trying to sell something.

VELSHI: All right, still to come, sometimes you really think you know someone until it's time to buy them a Christmas gift. Is there a person on your list you cannot seem to find the perfect gift for?

CHO: Like your wife, Ali?

VELSHI: Help is on the way after the break.

CHO: Four months old and a fight for his life.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sat by his bed hour by hour thinking that if I closed my eyes for a second that I would miss my last opportunity with him.


CHO: One Indiana mother takes on the system to get her son the care he desperately needs. We'll have that story for you as well. You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. It's 38 minutes after the hour.


CHO: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. Still haven't finished your Christmas in shopping yet. Maybe it's not that you're not lazy. Maybe you really just want to find the perfect gift.

Well, our next guest says you don't have to spend all that time thinking and you don't even have to spend a lot of money. With us now is columnist, John Tierney, who's done some research on what makes the most memorable present. A lot of you are going to be interested in this.

John, good morning to you. So five shopping days until Christmas. Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah. You know, people are freaking out about finding that perfect gift that says, you know, I know you really well. I appreciate you. But you say, just calm down.

JOHN TIERNEY, COLUMNIST, SCIENCE TIMES: Relax. There's a big gulf between givers, they have to go through all this effort. They have to spend a lot of money. They have to find just the perfect thing.

But there's been some really interesting research by Frank Flana, a psychologist at Stanford doing these experiments and they found that givers think it's really important to spend the money, find the thing. The people who get the gifts really don't care. They would rather get what they ask for.

CHO: Right. Well, that's for sure. I mean, one component of that study I found was really, really interesting is they took a CD and an iPod, and they found that receivers liked both of those gifts equally. One cost hundreds of dollars more than the other. Is that really true?

TIERNEY: It's a really strange result. But the thing is, the person giving, I had to choose between a CD or an iPod, and they know that the iPod is a lot better.

But the person getting it didn't go through that process. They didn't know what the alternative was. So to them, the alternative was no gift at all in which case, you know, the CD is not bad.

CHO: Let's talk a little bit about some of the things that go through the minds of givers a lot. Like one thing is obviously, re- gifting. You know, it's seen as this big no-no. But what's your thinking on that?

TIERNEY: I think people really don't care. It's another thing where givers think it's terrible to do that, but the people who get it, really don't care.

CHO: That there need to be full disclosure?

TIERNEY: No. No. It's better not to I think.

CHO: Really?

TIERNEY: But I think even if they find out you did it, I don't think -- it's not that taboo because everybody does it and people really care more about what they get rather than what you went through.

CHO: Here's one thing. You know, my mother often jokes. Cash is the best gift. In Asian cultures, you know, cash is the best gift and they often use cash for a variety of different occasions, but you find that people like to receive it?

TIERNEY: They actually did these experiments and they found people liked cash even more than getting something off their wish list. You know, and they didn't care that the person hadn't gone through any effort. They just liked having the options and flexibility of cash.

CHO: So bottom line, if you're going out there today or the next couple of days and you need to find that gift, don't stress, but what else? Do you have any sort of bottom line tips what you should have in your mind-set when you go out there and you hit the stores?

TIERNEY: Well, if somebody asks for something, get them what they ask for. Don't try to be creative. If you have a great idea yourself and really enjoy doing it, do it. Don't feel obliged to. When all else fails, cash is really appreciated.

CHO: Don't over think it, right?


CHO: All right, John Tierney, thank you so much. Great tips. I got a gift for my mother.

Still to come this morning, an Indiana mother takes on Medicaid in a battle to fly her 4-month-old baby half way across the country to get the surgery he desperately needs to save his life. We'll have that story for you. It's 45 minutes after the hour.


VELSHI: Forty-six minutes after the hour. Here's what you need to know to start your day.

The body of North Korea's longtime dictator, Kim Jong-Il, laid out in a glass coffin as weeping mourners filed by. That's his son, Kim Jong-Un, Kim's third son and successor. He visited the coffin along with top military officials.

House Republicans are set to block a two-month extension of the payroll tax holiday. A vote now scheduled for today after lawmakers scraped one in the middle of the night.

And Newt Gingrich's lead is gone. A new CNN/ORC international poll shows Gingrich and Mitt Romney are tied as the Republicans' choice for presidential nominee. Both have 28 percent. Gingrich had led by as much as 4 percent last month. Only two weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses.

The Philippines declares a state of national calamity after Tropical Storm Washi kills nearly 1,000 people. Washi swept over the weekend, destroying property. Tens of thousands of people are left homeless. President Obama has offered deep condolences and pledged humanitarian support.

A wild snowstorm ripping through the west and the Midwest. The storm unleashing snow and strong winds. Dangerous ice causing some areas to shut down roads and highways, like Interstate 40 in News Mexico. Blizzard warnings remain in effect for parts of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

And Candlestick Park goes dark during the Monday night football game. Power outages caused two delays during last night's game between the Steelers and the 49ers. The 49ers eventually won the game, 20-3.

Scientists say they are that much closer to unlocking the secret of Stonehenge. For the first time, archeologists discovered the precise origin of some of its rocks. The rocks were traced to a rugged hill in north Penbrokeshire, Wales. This breakthrough confirms a long-held volcanic rock from the Preseli Mountains located in the area were used to build the prehistoric monument. Glad we got that all straightened out.

You're caught up on the day's headlines. AMERICAN MORNING is back after a short break.


VELSHI: Welcome back. An Indiana mother's battle to save her baby. 4-month-old Pierce (ph) was in desperate need of heart surgery.

ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. Medicaid said it would cover the procedure but it would not pay for the medical flight that was needed to transport little Pierce (ph) to a special hospital in Boston.

CNN's senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, has the story.


JESSAMYN (ph) FIELDS, MOTHER OF PIERCE (ph): We didn't get you a bath this morning? I'll get you a bath.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jessamine Fields says government bureaucrats are trying to kill her 4- month-old baby.

FIELDS: There's very few children like Pierce (ph) on the planet.

COHEN: Pierce (ph) was born with an extremely rare condition, called Heterotaxy Syndrome. About 16 children are born with it each year in the United States and they have multiple heart defects. Many die as infants.

FIELDS: And I sat by his bed hour by hour thinking, if I closed my eyes for a second, I would miss my last opportunity with him.

COHEN: Pierce (ph) has spent most of his life here at the Intensive Care Unit at Riley Children's Hospital in Indianapolis. He needs surgery soon or he will die.

(on camera): So when they first talked to you about surgery here, tell me what they said.

FIELDS: That taking him to surgery would be like a death sentence. Rushing him into surgery at this point was very unsafe.

COHEN (voice-over): But the hospital CEO says his surgeons can do it. They've done nine open-heart surgeries on babies like Pierce (ph) over the past decade. But Fields found a much larger hospital who said they have done over 100 in the last few years alone, Boston Children's hospital. Many studies show the more procedures a hospital performs, the better the outcomes. Also, Boston has a Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, riley doesn't. But there's a problem. Pierce (ph) is on Medicaid and they denied her request to transfer him to Boston.

(on camera): Is the government making a life-or-death decision about your child?

FIELDS: Absolutely. Medicaid is the one who holds my child's life in their hands right now.

NEAL MOORE, SPOKESMAN, INDIANA MEDICAID: We have regulations that we're required to adhere to.

COHEN (voice-over): Neal Moore, a spokesman for Indiana Medicaid, says Riley Hospital is capable of doing Pierce (ph)'s surgery and it doesn't matter that Boston has more experience.

MOORE: This is not a question of what is the best medical choice. It is a question based on the systems that we have. The funding mechanism has very distinct regulations that are associated with that that we must adhere to.

COHEN (voice-over): I just heard you say, this is not about the best medical choice for this child. So, what is it about?

MOORE: From the Medicaid perspective of this circumstance, there's only one question that is being considered. That question is, is there a solution that exists in Indiana? The answer to that has been given that there is one.

COHEN: You didn't ask them how often you do it. You didn't ask them, do you do it well. You didn't ask them if there were other people who could do it better. You just said, can you do it. Yes, and the answer is, sure, they can do it. But you did not ask them if that is the best care for Baby Pierce (ph). Why didn't you ask them that question?

MOORE: I've given you the answer repeatedly here. The process is in place that includes the solution. I don't know what else you can -- I can say to you that would be an appropriate answer beyond that.

COHEN (voice-over): Of course, hospitals can't be transferring children around for every major surgery. But Baby Pierce (ph)'s condition is so rare, only a few places, like Boston's Children's, have had a lot of experience with the intricate surgeries he needs.

FIELDS: Mommy's strong boy.

COHEN: Meanwhile, back at the hospital, Fields gets a miracle. Mothers of other children with other heart problems get together through Facebook and donate enough money to send Pierce (ph) to Boston.

FIELDS: I think it's bad that a bunch of moms and strangers, who don't even know me or my child, have stepped up to the plate more than, you know, the government and insurance and Medicaid.

COHEN: After the moms volunteered their money and after CNN started asking questions, the Indiana hospital did step up and they paid for the transport.

But Medicaid, even at the very end, refused to pay a cent to get Baby Pierce (ph) to Boston.

Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, Indianapolis.



CHO: Wow, yes. It's a lot of money.


CHO: The cost of that flight to Boston was about $40,000. Now, a lot has happened in the past couple of days. Pierce (ph) arrived at Boston's Children's Hospital on Friday and he went into surgery yesterday. He is now out of surgery. mom says he's doing well. He will need additional surgeries down the road. There's no word yet on how those surgeries will be paid for. But you can bet Elizabeth will be keeping track. And we'll bring you an update later.

VELSHI: Still to come, Republican presidential candidate, Ron Paul, is rising in the polls. He joins us live in the next hour. The big question, can he take Iowa? And what happens if he starts to climb any further? What does that mean for you, the economy and how he'd govern?

CHO: And we'll have a sneak peek at the much-anticipated new Spielberg movie "War Horse." It doesn't hit theaters until Christmas day. But we're talking to one of the film's stars that's just 20 years old. That's next.

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. It's 55 minutes after the hour.