May 14, 2010

Sand on my face

Posted: 10:27 AM ET

We were only a week into the disaster, reporting on the threat of the massive oil spill in the gulf. Residents were very concerned and we were trying to see how it was affecting people on Dauphin Island, Alabama. A "paradise" with about 900 residents.

We had just finished doing live reports for the day on the eastern side where there were booms and fisherman everywhere and as the sun was setting, we headed out to the western side of the island which is a beautiful white sand beach community.

We wanted to see how people were reacting to the potential landfall of an oil spill in the middle of their long-time planned getaways. So we were interviewed a group of ladies celebrating their 18th anniversary of graduating from college.

My producer Julian was driving and parked the SUV next to a beach house. When it was time to go, this Manhattanite, which I joked wasn't used to non-city driving, tried to get us out off the beach.

Instead we sunk into the sand and got stuck (I would have done no better). That's when we found out that the SUV was not four wheel drive!

I thought I had the right idea by jacking up the car, then placing planks underneath the drive wheels. But that didn't work. The ladies at the house were nice enough to lend us their jack and some cool 'bevies' as we toiled.

Then our photojournalist Sarmad saved the day. He went to buy a yellow nylon tow strap. We connected it to the SUV and his truck, and all was well.

It only took us the better part of an hour. Just the exercise we needed; then back to the hotel and up at 2am the next day. A little something we could laugh about –ourselves– during what was (and still is) a very tough time for our friends in the Gulf Coast area.

Check out some photos from Richard's SUV adventure on Dauphin Island: Read the rest of this entry »

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Filed under: Behind the Scenes • Extras • Morning Express crew • Richard Lui

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April 26, 2010

Ride along with Richard Lui to cover a tornado

Posted: 09:46 AM ET

We got the call at 2am—storm damage in Albertville, Alabama. We arrived at CNN Center (home to HLN in Atlanta) at around 3am and then photojournalist Mike, Producer Aaron, and I drove west. We arrived just after sunrise to find large amount of vegetative damage, and luckily not widespread structural damage. Residents were already up, sort of scratching their heads as to what they were seeing for the first time under daylight. The storm hit right after 10pm local time, and some people stayed up all night to help clear damage and make sure their neighbors were ok.

I got the chance to meet Nancy Brooks who says she barely escaped with her life (see the video below), because the bedroom she occasionally sleeps in was completely leveled. It so happens she was in her other bedroom that night.

And there was the story of Wilena and Bruce Little, both 92 years old and full of energy. They’re homebound and had to hide in the closet as the storm went by. Wilena was sitting on her walker, her husband asking why they had to sit in a closet. Almost 10 forty-foot trees fell around their house but not on it. Their family and friends went to the house to clear a way to get to the Littles, four chain saws and a tractor at work. The Littles celebrated their 69th Anniversary yesterday. They joked they hadn’t been able to buy each other gifts, but certainly were glad they survived the tornado and were safely still together.

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Filed under: Behind the Scenes • Richard Lui • Tornado • Weather

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April 21, 2010

Too fat to fight?

Posted: 04:42 AM ET

Look around the room you’re in—one out of four of young people is unable to meet the requirements to join the U.S. military—so says a group of retired armed forces leaders. They believe this puts the country at risk and has become a national security threat. They point to us simply being too heavy. A threat from within if you will.

Richard Lui“It’s not drug abuse, it’s not asthma, it’s not flat feet—by far the leading medical reason is being overweight or obese,” said retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen Norman Seip.

Here are the stark indicators the group points to:
- 27% of 17 to 24-year-olds are medically ineligible because of weight
- 12,000 leave the service each year before their enlistment ends because they can’t pass physical fitness test

Here are some of the standards they must meet and maintain:
Army maximum weight – women, 241 lbs; men 259 lbs.
Army body fat content — depending on age, women with no prior service up to 36 percent body fat, and men with no prior service up to 30 percent

The group's suggestion: urge Congress to pass a law to remove school junk food, improve nutritional standards and quality of school meals, and open access to anti-obesity programs for children.

So what do you think: Are the U.S. military recruiting standards fair? Should they be raised or lowered? What do you think of the group’s proposal to prevent obesity? What else should be done? Is this really a national security threat?

Let us know what you think and we’ll try to share your comments on "Morning Express" this morning!

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August 19, 2009

Democrats Could Bypass GOP on Health Care

Posted: 06:30 AM ET

News Correspondent Richard Lui

The debate over health care reform could be heading in a new direction. Democrats are considering going at it alone. That would mean trying to pass it without Republican support.

Caution: Relations between Dems and the GOP could get toxic.
Caution: Relations between Dems and the GOP could get toxic.

Democrats want to use a process called reconciliation. It would only require 51 votes in the Senate to get a health care bill passed. Normally, a bill would require 60 votes to be passed. Also, with the reconciliation process, only 20 hours of debate would be allowed, no filibuster would be allowed, stamping out opposition debate.

Some Republicans might call the use of this process an underhanded move, and suggest that their efforts to hammer out a bipartisan solution unappreciated. Some Democrats would say their efforts to discuss major issues, even the public health plan option, are going unappreciated.

This is not the first time the reconciliation move has been discussed. President George W. Bush used it for major tax cuts. President Bill Clinton rejected reconciliation when he was trying to get his health care bill passed.

During the congressional break, bipartisan debate continues fervently in town halls across the country and in DC on health care. Democrats are trying to appease conservative members of their party to stay on board with the President, while wooing moderate Republicans.

What do you think of reconciliation? Smart move or the wrong move? Let us know what you think about the ongoing fight over health care right here, and we’ll share your comments later on Morning Express with Robin Meade.

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Filed under: Your Money • Your Turn

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May 12, 2009

Sadness at Camp Liberty

Posted: 08:27 AM ET

News Correspondent Richard Lui

We don’t expect to hear about soldiers killing fellow soldiers. They treat each other like family. The story of a soldier suspected of opening fire on fellow soldiers at near Baghdad on Monday was shocking and horrific. It was probably a lightning bolt that ran through the minds of mothers, brothers, and friends of troops abroad. Are they ok?

Yesterday’s losses were at a stress clinic at Camp Liberty, the largest of U.S. camps in Baghdad, capable of holding thousands of troops at a time. Global Security says it has a chapel, PX shoppette, barber shop, Internet cafe, gym and more. It is a small city within a city, a home away from home, that yesterday was turned upside down.

In the past, on-site mental health facilities were not robust. Now the military has stress clinics that treat troops while they’re close to the frontline. That is where the gunman was going for treatment. But some question if mental injury treatment capabilities are enough not only on the frontline, but also when they return to civilian life in the U.S.

A recent study illustrates just how widespread mental health issues are among troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. It found one in five veterans have symptoms of PTSD or depression. And the Army says there were a record number of troop suicides in 2008.

Critics point to the number of tours of duty. Many reservists are on their third or fourth. Each time, troops are exposed troops to a possible mental injury, says Paul Rieckhoff of the Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America. The gunman in this case was on his third tour. Rieckhoff points to the family unit too—though they are not on the frontline they get deployed emotionally, especially as economic stress hits hard at home for many.

When we hear this, many of us want to help. We want to reach out, and we want to help make it better and easier for the servicemen and women. When you see them in airports across our country, they are so valiant, yet always seem so calm. For some, it may be quite the opposite. So what do you think of what happened at Camp Liberty? How does it make you feel? What more can we do to help troops? We appreciate your thoughts, so please post them here, and we will share as many as we can on Morning Express.

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February 9, 2009

Stimulus Plan: right or wrong for your town?

Posted: 06:04 AM ET

News Correspondent Richard Lui

It aims to stimulate a recessionary economy. House and Senate versions hover in the 800 billion dollar ranges. The plan’s spending over one or two years would almost equal ten percent of the total national debt built up since the founding of the U.S.


As the effects of the economic downturn spread, President Obama wants to act fast to stop the bleeding, What would you like to see him do?

You may know somebody who lost their job or has had their hours scaled back. Many are living a life of frugality we haven’t seen in recent years. The largest asset most own is their home, but the value has plummeted in the last year. Part of the debate is whether these types of problems will be solved by the stimulus plan now being cobbled together on Capitol Hill.

There’s some good. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said last week the stimulus bill will increase jobs by 1.3 to 3.9 million by the end of 2010, lowering the projected unemployment rate by 2.1 percentage points.

But there’s some bad too. The CBO also warns the stimulus plan would hurt long-term economic growth; reducing it by 0.1 to 0.3 percent by 2019. The concern is that large government spending would reduce availability of money to be invested privately.

There is also concern the bill is packed with pork, special interest earmarks that help one group from a certain congressional district for instance. This is fueling debate over tax cuts versus spending projects.

Senator John McCain, R-Arizona, wants a trigger in the bill, one that switches off the spending as soon as the economy recovers. He points to a lack of real bipartisan work in the Senate, and says anybody who says they are working in a bipartisan fashion doesn’t know what the word means.

While Senator Barbara Boxer, D-California, told opponents of the bill to "get over it. Come and talk to us. Come and work with us.”

What do you think of the stimulus plan? How could the money best be spent to create jobs in your community?

We want to know! Weigh in and your comments could be featured on the show.

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February 4, 2009

Obama transition: Fast out of the gate, slow to finish

Posted: 05:58 AM ET

News Correspondent Richard Lui
First, Nancy Killefer, President Obama’s choice for the new position of Chief Performance Officer, withdrew her name from consideration because of concern over how she handled unemployment tax for household help in the past. No more details were given.


Daschle: Not the best nominee. Also not the only one to withdraw under scrutiny.

Then hours later, Tom Daschle, President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services withdrew his name because of persistent questions about his failure to pay taxes for work previously done, and for car and driver services he received. He also faced questions about consulting work to a lobbying firm and possible conflicts of interest.

Add in Bill Richardson who withdrew from consideration for Secretary of Commerce, and the once quick out of the gates transition team seems to have hit some bumps. How did the 63 items listed on the transition team’s questionnaire to avoid situations like this not get the job done? Analysts debate when and how much information was known.

History tells us you’d have to go back to 1985 with Ronald Reagan to find a President’s cabinet with more unnamed positions by February 3. Reagan had four positions open; Obama has three.

So what do these withdrawals say about the new administration? The common theme with Killefer, Daschle, and Geithner were tax problems. The President says he doesn’t want to set a standard of double standards — one for powerful people, and one for ordinary folks who pay their taxes. But is it too late? And does this represent the change in Washington he promised? Or on the flip side are these vetting standards too high for certain individuals like Killiefer, and perhaps scaring away talented individuals?

Let us know what you think. We’ll be sharing your views on Morning Express with Robin Meade.

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January 7, 2009

Boy oh boy, Burris-mania bombards DC

Posted: 05:57 AM ET

News Correspondent Richard Lui

2 questions to talk about.

1. Is this about Burris or about Blagojevich?

Roland Burris has spent decades in Illinois politics, is well respected, and was the first African American male to hold a statewide elected office. He competed against Rod Blagojevich for the governorship, but lost. Burris then became an ally of Blagojevich, leading the new governor’s transition team. So appointing Burris might appear reasonable.


Burris: At the heart of the storm.

But Blagojevich is under investigation for allegedly trying to sell President-Elect Barack Obama’s Senate Seat to the highest bidder. That development has now cast doubt over his ability to govern, and tainted his selection of Burris to fill the seat. Burris says that Blagojevich’s problems have nothing to do with him and the appointment is legal. Illinois House lawmakers have put together a special panel to determine if impeachment proceedings against the governor should be taken. So is this more about Blagojevich, or about Burris?

2. Should Burris be allowed to sit in the US Senate?

He showed up at 1030am, January 7, 2009, like hundreds of other new lawmakers, but his trip was different. He was swarmed with a frenzy of media. Everybody wanted to know if Burris was going to make it to one of the 100 wooden desks that the most exclusive club in the world uses daily.

He had to make it past the sign-in desk, then past the sergeant at arms at the chamber door, and then finally get to his seat on the US Senate floor for swearing in. Those were the steps. But he only made it to the desk, where he was turned away because his certificate from the state of Illinois didn’t have the Illinois Secretary of State’s signature.

At 1050am he was back on the street telling reporters he was not allowed in. US Senator Diane Feinstein broke ranks on Burris-mania yesterday. She says the by rejecting him, it casts doubts on gubernatorial appointments nationwide. Do you agree with her? Should he have been let in or was the right decision made to keep him out? And do you want to hear more from President Elect Obama on Burris?

Let us know what you think about these questions and any other thoughts you have. We’ll be posting them here and getting them on Morning Express! See you then.

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November 14, 2008

Got a secret?

Posted: 05:51 AM ET

News Correspondent Richard Lui

Got a secret? If you want to work in the Obama White House those doing the hiring want to know about it.

“Tell me about your past live-in lovers, what are their names and phone numbers?”

“Have you hired a house cleaner, what are their names, are they legal US citizens?”

“Who owns a gun in your family, how’s their health, do they have any enemies?”

Those questions just scrape the surface of 63 essay questions each high level candidate is being asked to answer. It’s a far cry from the 11 blank fields like name and address one needs to fill out on to be considered for the new Obama administration. Not all candidates for the 7000 jobs listed in the new Plum Book will have to answer theses questions, just cabinet and high level advisor positions.

As you have seen in recent times, this data is important to know not only to assess the strength of one’s candidacy but also to determine how one will be perceived by the public and press under scrutiny. Tax returns can expose one’s financial and business dealings. Lovers could reveal salacious details. And family members’ actions could reflect the candidate’s character.

This is no online McDonald’s application which will take you about 30 minutes to fill out (I just looked at it online). But running the U.S. is not even close to running a fast food restaurant (although I hear they serve french fries with the West Wing Burger at the White House Mess—the eatery under the Oval House).

So here’s the list if you want to see all the questions.

Since these leaders will be running the U.S. during a very fragile time of its history, many of you are probably concerned about whether these job candidates have what it takes—the X factor in running the largest economy in the world.

So what do you want to know? What would be your questions for the next Treasury Secretary or White House Press Secretary? Blog below and don’t hold back. As you can see, neither did the Obama Transition Team.

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November 5, 2008

Obama's "Change" meets American history

Posted: 05:06 AM ET

News Correspondent Richard Lui

It came earlier in the night. I got the email from CNN’s Political Team at 8:39pm that CNN was projecting Pennsylvania as an Obama win. It was the state the McCain campaign had targeted as necessary to reach the White House. When that didn’t happen, it hinted of things to come.

Star realtor Linda Stein

Sen. Barack Obama addresses a crowd of 125,000 people in Chicago, Illinois.

Then Ohio went Obama at 9:33pm—as has been said, no Republican has won the White House without Ohio.

Then at 11pm, CNN projected Senator Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States. History had arrived, and was reached by breaking a lot of well-investigated conventional wisdom.

The youth did turn out as 18% of votes were aged 18-29, and 2 out of 3 of them went for Obama. Large numbers of Clinton supporters didn’t protest vote: of those who wanted her to be the Democratic nominee, 82 to 17 percent went for Obama.

As for the Bubba vote or Bradley Effect, it didn’t materialize it appears based on early numbers. CNN’s last average of polls had Obama/McCain at 51/44. Popular vote at this hour is 52/47. And Independents favored Obama 51/45 percent. If this much discussed dynamic where voters will not tell pollsters their actual preference did show up, it did in small numbers.

And there are more stats, but really this is about you and the country in the days and years ahead.

What do you think this election means to the country’s financial crisis, healthcare, and terrorism?

Will you remember where you were when you learned who won?

Going forward, will the country work in a bipartisan way, or is it still divided? And on a more personal level, what does this day mean to you? Let us know!

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