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Father, Son Reunited After 5 Years; Senate Passes Health Care Bill; '30 Second Pitch'

Aired December 24, 2009 - 14:00   ET


RICHARD LUI, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Now a quick look at the stories that we're pushing forward on this hour.

Take a look at Christmas Eve in Bethlehem. Thousands of pilgrims from across the globe are in this traditional birthplace of Jesus. Manger Square, of course, a popular place this time of year.

And then Christmas Eve in a big chunk of the U.S., it looks windy. Man, look at that. Icy and snowy, too. Tough to get around if you are trying to get to grandma's house.

And a massive and treacherous winter storm clobbering an area from the upper Midwest all the way down to Texas, and that means Santa needs to be really careful out there when he gets over this way. NORAD is tracking him, and it looks like he is getting close to the Middle East right now.

All right. David and Sean Goldman, a father and son, out of Brazil, headed back to the United States right now on a plane, living the first day of the rest of their lives perhaps. It marks the end of a battle that lasted some five years when the boy's mother took off with son, Sean, to Brazil.

All right. Rafael Romo is CNN's senior editor for Latin American affairs.

And Rafael, this just happened this morning. Yesterday, it was heard that the father was saying, look, I am not going to feel comfortable until I'm on that plane with my son.

RAFAEL ROMO, SR. EDITOR, LATIN AMERICAN AFFAIRS: That's what he's been saying all along, until I see ourselves in that plane flying back to the United States, I am not going to take anything for granted. Well, today is that day. That moment that he's been waiting for five years, it's finally here, and they are flying back to the United States right now as we speak.

LUI: You know, Rafael, can anything happen right now? Can anything stop them?

Obviously, they're on the plane, so physically it seems almost impossible. But I have to ask that question, because so many different times -- he went down there, what, 10-plus times and did not have the progress he wanted?

ROMO: Anything can happen, really, but it's not very likely. It's a private plane that they are flying back to the United States.

The courts in Brazil have ruled in favor of David Goldman. He's being supported by a congressman from New Jersey. Everything is in place for him to start a new life with his son in New Jersey, and that is what he intends to do.

LUI: All right. You and I were talking about the video of when the son was being brought by the stepfather, right, and what it told us. Let's go to that video right now if we can, because in that video, he is wearing a certain color.

ROMO: He decided -- he didn't say anything when he arrived, but he decided to wear the jersey that you see now in the video. It's a yellow jersey, and it is normally what you would see on the national team playing soccer for Brazil.

It is very representative, it is very popular in Brazil, and that's what people use instead of using the flag in Brazil. So he didn't say anything, but he definitely made a statement by wearing that jersey.

LUI: And who was with him at that time? We saw somebody kind of holding him, coddling him in that picture. Who was there?

ROMO: That was his stepfather. That was the man that he has known as a father for the last five years.

Remember, he was taken to Brazil back in 2004. He probably has very few memories of his biological father, and that man right there that he was hugging, you see it right now in that picture, is the only father that he can probably relate to at this point in his life.

LUI: And as you and I were breaking this down, what we're going to talk about in this two or three minutes, you mentioned something about English versus Portuguese, and that kind of really brought it to bear in terms of the experience that this young 9-year-old is experiencing.

ROMO: Well, as you can imagine, he was 4 when he was taken to Brazil by his mother. He has been there for five years, and we understand that he has been going to a school that is bilingual, where he learned English, but it's definitely not going to be the same thing as living here in the United States.

So, when you talk about him getting reacquainted not only to his father, but also to life in America, it's going to be a bit of a traumatizing process for him, and he has only started today. So it's going to take a few months, probably more than a year.

LUI: Rafael Romo, thank you for breaking that down. Really appreciate it.

ROMO: Good to be here.

LUI: And what an event it is.

All right. We've got a lot ahead for you, including health care.

We have the passing of the Senate health care bill today. The vote was 60-39.

Democrats call it historic. Republicans call it a monstrosity. Whatever side you're on, today's Senate vote in favor of health care reform, well, it looks certain to change the way that U.S. citizens access and pay for medical treatment. The straight party line vote gave Democrats and President Obama a huge political victory and wins in both houses of Congress, but it's clear that the debate is far from over.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: The most obvious problem with the bill before us is that it doesn't do what it was supposed to do. The one test for any bill was whether it would lower costs. This bill fails that test.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: What we will do is ensure consumers have more choices and insurance companies face more competition. We'll stand up for those greedy insurance companies that deny health care to the sick and drive millions to bankruptcy, to foreclosure and sometimes even worse.


LUI: The health care vote was over and done with this morning before President Obama and his family left Washington for a Christmas vacation in Hawaii.

Our Senior White House Correspondent Ed Henry is already in Honolulu.

Ed, the president, obviously he's got to be pleased and celebrating in Air Force One right now.

ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you're right, Richard. They are fired up at the White House, because the president has been facing long odds for months now on this health care battle which is the signature domestic initiative, but they are not quite popping any champagne or celebrating. We have to be careful about that, because they realize that there is a lot more yet to be done.

The president, as you noted, before he got on Air Force One with his family to come here to Hawaii -- he'll be arriving in a few hours -- he hailed this as an historic victory, comparing it to Social Security passing in the 1930s, Medicare passing in the 1960s, but he was very careful to note this still has to get through what could be a very contentious House and Senate Conference Committee to work out their differences.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With today's vote, we are now incredibly close to making health insurance reform a reality in the country. Our challenge then is to finish the job. We can't doom another generation of Americans to soaring costs and eroding coverage and exploding deficits.


HENRY: The president making clear that there is a lot of work yet to be done. This is not finished by any stretch of the imagination.

In fact, White House spokesman Bill Burton, aboard Air Force One, telling reporters a short time ago that even though it's the holiday season, there's going to be a lot more than just sugarplums dancing in the heads of White House staffers. They're, over this Christmas and New Year's break, going to be doing a lot of work back in Washington to make sure they try to smooth passage of this health care bill, the final passage, which they're hoping will come as early as late January or late February -- Richard.

LUI: All right. So maybe no sugarplums, but how about coconuts and poi. Our friend Ed Henry, a year ago, was covering the president's vacation as well. He kind of coined the name as "Ed Board Shorts Henry."

And Ed, I'm betting you're wearing shorts right now. Are you doing that? Are you enjoying yourself.

HENRY: Yes. You can take a look. I mean, I've got the red on today for Christmas. You can see I'm going with the red and white.

LUI: Oh man.

HENRY: I mean, it is the Christmas season. I've got surf shoes.

You know, last year, also, you and others were tweaking me about wearing loafers on the beach. I felt a little bit like Richard Nixon that time when he went out on the beach and wore those wingtips. You know, I'm kind of a Washington guy.

Time to loosen up. I mean, they're even selling these things on the beach here, the president in board shorts and a surfboard.

He doesn't do as much body surfing these days because of all the security around him. But, you know, they've even got some flowers out here.

LUI: All right, Ed.

HENRY: And it's time to get into the aloha spirit.

LUI: Well, aloha spirit -- but we let you go, have you had anything with Spam yet? I know Spam's really big out there in Hawaii.

HENRY: Spam is very big here. I'm going to tease the fact that I'm going to be doing that for "AMERICAN MORNING" tomorrow, so you're going to have to tune in. Spam is a huge delicacy here. A lot of people have it around Christmas. I'm going to be showing you all about that on "AMERICAN MORNING" tomorrow.

LUI: Ed, Ed, Ed. You do it right, my friend. You do it right. We appreciate that.

HENRY: Merry Christmas.

LUI: All right. Ed Henry reporting.

Merry Christmas to you, there in Hawaii, following the president. Appreciate it, my friend.

It's dangerous out there -- ice, floods, tornadoes. And, oh, by the way, did I mention the blizzard?



LUI: Signs of life in the economy, especially when it comes to jobs. The Labor Department says 452,000 people filed new jobless claims last week, and that's 28,000 fewer. That's the silver lining there. That's fewer claims, 28,000, than the week before.

Another bright spot for you, the four-week average for new unemployment claims has fallen for 16 straight weeks.

All right. Let's try to bring those jobless numbers down by at least one by getting someone a job.

Dawn Petrick is an executive marketer skilled in all channels of marketing, and she has 12 years experience in the gaming casino industry, which has taken some big hits in this recession.

Now, Dawn, you were laid off twice within the last two years. You are more than ready to get back to work, no doubt. So, being out of work for 13 months, give us some of the key tips you might give somebody. Because you're in Las Vegas, really hit hard in terms of jobs, also hit hard in real estate.

What has worked out well for you?

DAWN PETRICK, JOB SEEKER: Well, I'll tell you, I've been doing a lot of professional networking, a lot of reaching out to my peers, both within the gaming industry and outside of the gaming industry. And I've been fortunate enough to be able to do some consulting and contract work so that I've been able to keep my name out there, keep myself sharp and keep my calendar full.

LUI: Have you found that companies -- Dawn Petrick -- and I'm sorry for mispronouncing your name.


LUI: It's Dawn Petrick.

Have you found that companies are receptive to your experience? You have so much experience, quality experience.

PETRICK: I'll tell you why. I'm finding that they're definitely receptive to it. I get labeled a lot with the "overqualified" label, unfortunately. I think it's just a lot of people out there vying for the same jobs at the same time, and it's really competitive.

LUI: You feeling good, Dawn? You got the energy?

PETRICK: I'm feeling great. I have a lot of energy, if you can't tell.

LUI: All right. Way to go.

Dawn Petrick now with her "30 Second Pitch," going in three, two, one -- Dawn!

PETRICK: I'm Dawn Petrick, and I believe I'm your next vice president of marketing.

I possess over 12 years experience working side by side C-level executives and multibillion-dollar companies. Through these experiences, I've garnered a robust set of skills across all channels of marketing.

Whether it be managing all marketing and PR for the World Series of Poker, closing deals with other Fortune 500 companies, or running a $9 billion budget, my contributions to past employers have been many. I'm looking for an opportunity where I can reach organizational goals at a strategic, analytical and creative level.

LUI: And can do it in 29 seconds with a lot of energy. Marketing is so important. That's on the revenue side, ladies and gentlemen, not on the cost side.

PETRICK: You got it.

LUI: It's on the revenue side.

Dawn Petrick, good luck. We hope we've made a difference for you.

PETRICK: Thank you.

LUI:, if you would like to reach her rather in Las Vegas.

All right. We'll have her e-mail posted on

And if you want to be part of the pitch, e-mail us your resume at, or tweet us at KyraCNN.

If it's Thursday, it's "30 Second Pitch."

Merry Christmas and a big thanks to all of our troops. We will look at how one base in Iraq is celebrating this holiday.


LUI: Headed to Hawaii with a big political victory, President Obama calling this morning's Senate vote in favor of health care reform historic. The $871 billion bill will have to be merged now with the version that was passed last month by the House. At this hour, the first family, they're flying to the president's native Hawaii and a warm Christmas vacation.

And at long last, a five-year international custody battle is over. A New Jersey man and his 9-year-old son were reunited in Brazil today, ,quickly hopping on a U.S.-bound plane. David Goldman had been fighting for his son Sean ever since 2004. That's when the boy's mom took him to Brazil for a vacation. She later died.

And disgraced financier Bernie Madoff is being treated for dizziness and high blood pressure. The Federal Bureau of Prisons says Madoff has been at the Butner Federal Prison in North Carolina since last Friday. Madoff, as you'll remember, went to prison in March after pleading guilty to bilking thousands of investors out of more than $50 billion.

Our soldiers are getting a big holiday thank you from the commander-in-chief. President Obama says he called a handful of troops this morning wishing them a merry Christmas. And while there's no place like home for the holidays, troops abroad are still getting into the Christmas spirit.

Diana Magnay is at Tarmiyah. That is a joint security station near Baghdad.

Diana, how are troops out there celebrating this holiday season for us?


Well, we can ask one of them. He's right here with me, Specialist Sco Thelematuue from Massachusetts.

This is your third Christmas in Iraq. How have they changed over those years?

SPEC. SCO THELEMATUUE, U.S. ARMY: From the initial coming over here in 2006, 2007 and back in 2009, a lot has changed, because, 2006, the violence was picking up. In 2007, we just kept seeing IEDs left and right. So -- and in 2009, from helping our Iraqi counterparts, security counterparts, we're able to do a lot, and we are maintaining the streets and they are taking security into their own hands.

MAGNAY: So, what are you going to be doing tomorrow to celebrate?

THELEMATUUE: I'm going to be celebrating with the rest of my friends. You know, my fellow soldiers, eating. And then duty calls.

MAGNAY: Do you have a turkey dinner?

THELEMATUUE: Probably. I've just got to see what the cooks have in store for us.

MAGNAY: And what about calling home? Are you going to be speaking to your family?

THELEMATUUE: Yes. I will call my mom, my sisters, talk to my brother and talk to some of my friends.

MAGNAY: Because that has changed, hasn't it? I mean, three years ago, the first Christmas you were here, it was much more difficult.

THELEMATUUE: Well, yes. We were using satellite phones, but us infantry guys are constantly on the go, because when duty calls, duty calls.

MAGNAY: And now, do you have a special message for your family back in Massachusetts?

THELEMATUUE: Yes. I'd like to say Merry Christmas and I'll see them soon Not to wrap things up.

MAGNAY: So this will be your last time here.

Richard, and that is the case for many of the troops. In fact, most of them, their last tour of duty in Iraq, of course, with the drawdown coming up first days in August and 2011, all the troops here hopefully out -- Richard.

LUI: You know, Diana, we understand that the installation that you're at is of smaller size, and we're used to seeing some of those larger installations where they have some celebrations. You know, they've got the decorations out, they've got big feasts.

How is it different there? What's the mood like for these personnel?

MAGNAY: Well, there are no decorations, as you say. I mean, basically, we're here today and it looks the same as any other day.

And one phrase that they have said to me, that the troops here have said, is that, "Every day for us a Monday." You know, it's a fairly bleak picture, but you'll see inside there, they are playing basketball, they are sort of relaxing in the evenings.

And the mood is good, because as Sco said, the violence has abated so much, that here, they are really just kind of keeping things going, supporting the Iraqi troops who are based literally just next door, going out on patrols with them, helping them. But as far as Christmas decorations, Christmas spirit, there isn't much of it around on this base.

There will be tomorrow. And as the specialist said, of course, the possibility to actually use Web cameras to see your family back home, Skype with people, that will bring families closer to this quite remote base north of Baghdad -- Richard. LUI: All right. Well, our best to you, Diana Magnay, near Baghdad, as well as to Specialist Thelematuue. We thank you both on this, well, day before Christmas. And have a great day.

Thank you so much for that.

Before our troops hit the battlefield, they hit the training field, but sometimes the conditions seem identical. Is this a desert in Afghanistan or is it California? We're getting an inside look at the war before the war.


LUI: We want to give a final salute to a war hero considered the United States' most decorated soldier.

Retired Colonel Robert Lewis Howard passed away yesterday in Waco, Texas, after a battle, his personal battle, with pancreatic cancer. The 70-year-old veteran was nominated three times for the Medal of Honor, and he won it once for rescuing a missing soldier from enemy territory during Vietnam.

He was wounded 14 times during that war, garnering eight Purple Hearts. Colonel Howard will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Forget sunshine, Hollywood and wasting a day at the beach. Part of southern California has been transformed into a brutal training ground for U.S. troops heading into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. Some vets say it is the closest you can get to the real thing.

T.J. Holmes brings us part three of his series, "The War Before the War."


T.J. HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Daytime heat, frigid nights and wicked sandstorms. California's Mojave Desert can be a miserable place. Perfect.

GEN. ROBERT "ABE" ABRAMS, COMMANDER, NATIONAL TRAINING CENTER, FORT IRWIN: The real golden nugget about training in the Mojave Desert is, is that this is an incredibly hostile, tough environment just to live, let alone operate. You have to be aware of your surroundings. You have to deal with high winds, 30-to-40-degree temperature changes on a daily basis, microburst storms that come up during periods of the year. You've got a fair amount of hostile wildlife.

HOLMES: General Abe Abrams commands the National Training Center at Fort Irwin. Here, the Mojave serves as an ideal spot to train for war in Iraq or Afghanistan.

ABRAMS: We devote about 20 days of the most realistic, tough, challenging training that...

**1430 GEN. ROBERT "ABE" ABRAMS, CMDR., NATL. TRAINING CENTER, FT. IRWIN: We devote about 20 days of the most realistic, tough, challenging training that replicates as close as we possibly can the exact conditions that they are going to see in either theatre, so when they deploy, they are ready.

T.J. HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Soldiers who served in the current wars swear by the realism.

SGT. 1ST CLASS RALPH WALTWOOD, 1ST BRIGADE COMBAT TEAM/3RD INFANTRY DIVISION: I love this place. It's awesome. It's the world's greatest training environment.

HOLMES: Sergeant First Class Ralph Waltwood has been a trainer in or trainee here more than a dozen times.

WALTWOOD: A soldier cannot get closer to combat than right here. This is where he makes the mistakes and learns from the mistakes. It is better to make them here than across over there.

HOLMES: Where there was once only sand, the Army built more than a dozen towns and villages and another dozen forward operating bases.

The intent is to bombard the trainees with the look, the sound and the feel of Iraq.

CAPT. SCOTT STEPHENS, 1ST BRIGADE COMBAT TEAM/3RD INFANTRY DIVISION: The first time I walked down one of the streets of the cities and we were out here doing a leaders' recon, the hair stood up on the back of my neck, because it reminded me of Iraq and, you know, it was so real.

HOLMES: The Army even brings a bit of Iraq to Fort Irwin. Mustafa Mosa commanded a division in Saddam Hussein's army when the U.S. invaded in 2003. Today, he is in an Iraqi uniform, but he works for the U.S. military as one of the hundreds of role players who bring authenticity to the training.

MUSTAFA MOSA, FMR. IRAQI ARMY COMMANDER/FT. IRWIN TRAINER: I never believed that one day I would support, and I came to United States to support the mission for U.S. Army going to deploy in Iraq.

HOLMES: When U.S. soldiers fight mock battles here, they do so alongside pretend Iraqi troops. This support aspect of the training mirrors the real U.S. mission in Iraq.

ABRAMS: Previous the U.S. forces, we did unilateral operations. We did unilateral planning, unilateral execution. Now, as a function of the security agreement in Iraq, specifically, every operation is now combined.

HOLMES: Combat training will always be a major component at the NTC.

But along with the exercises, you now see missions like this, a joint security meeting of U.S. commanders and Iraqi army and police, just like you would see in Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: This, we will crush the insurgents.

HOLMES: These meetings are about U.S. commanders the best way to carry out their newly defined support mission in Iraq.

ABRAMS: The environment is evolving in Iraq. You know, there was a big change in 2003 and we changed to a counterinsurgency environment to replicate that environment. We are at a change point in Iraq, where we've got these brigade combat teams that are enabled to be combat advisers, assisters of their Iraqi counterparts.

HOLMES: The side-by-side training with Iraqi leaders can be as hard for senior officers as firefights and IED attacks are for new privates.

LT. COL. GREGORY SIERRA, 1ST BRIGADE COMBAT TEAM/3RD INFANTRY DIVISION: It's a challenge because we haven't done it before. So, we're kind of feeling it out right now to see what works. That is some of the ways that me, personally, and my unit have been pushed the hardest.

HOLMES: These new soldiers recognize this training is important.

(on camera): What were you expecting when you came out here?

PVT. LAUREN WRIGHT, 1ST BRIGADE COMBAT TEAM/3RD INFANTRY DIVISION: To some extent, I think it maybe a starting point. But altogether, we'll never know until we get down there, basically, where we are newcomers into it, but it is a good head's up on what to look forward to.

HOLMES: Do you think or will you go, you think with a better sense or higher degree of confidence?

SPEC. MATTHEW FOQUIER, 1ST BRIGADE COMBAT TEAM/3RD INFANTRY DIVISION: A lot of us are pretty confident in our jobs, but this kind of, is the last chance to make mistakes before you get over there. So, you get them out of the way.

HOLMES: The 1st brigade of the 3rd I.D. spend nearly month at Fort Irwin. They start putting all that training to the test when they deploy to Iraq just before Christmas.

T.J. Holmes, CNN, at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California.


RICHARD LUI, CNN ANCHOR: They have heart-wrenching survival stories, orphans given a new home and a fresh start in Africa. They eventually lead long and healthy lives and they grow up to be big -- really, really big, in fact.

David McKenzie is at an elephant orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They grew up to be one of Africa's giants. But like all creatures, they start off pretty small.

Dwarfed by their keepers, each orphaned elephant at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has a tragic tale.

(on camera): This is Sala, and she is six weeks old. And they say that her mother died because of starvation in the Kenyan drought. The person who found her gave her cow's milk, which is extremely harmful to elephants because of the fat.

Sala wandered into a tourist park in Kenya's Sava (ph) National Park alone and confused.

The orphanage scrambled a plane to rescue her.

Carefully strapped in and traumatized, they evacuated Sala to Nairobi. For weeks, she was too sick to stand. Three weeks ago, she started walking again. If she makes it, she won't be alone.

Drought, poaching and shrinking habitats have decimated elephant herds across East Africa.

And the orphanage is the fuller than it's been in 30 years. Still, Dame Daphne Sheldrick will take more.

DAME DAPHNE SHELDRICK, DAVID SHELDRICK WILDLIFE TRUST: You know, if a human child came in, in need of care, you wouldn't put a bullet in it or turn it away. Elephants are the same. Whatever comes in, we have to make space.

MCKENZIE: It takes years to rehabilitate and reintroduce the orphans into the wild. For the keepers, it's not just a 9:00 to 5:00 job.

EDWIN LUSICHI, CHIEF KEEPER: After working with these elephants, it's no longer just a job. It is from inside your heart, the love that you have for these animals.

MCKENZIE: Every three hours, day and night, to keepers mix fortified soy milk for the elephants. It costs $900 a month to care for each orphan, so the elephants have to earn their keep.

With the slap of sunscreen to protect their sensitive skin, the babies go on parade. They slush and slide for the throngs of tourists who see the fun, but not the heart break. For every baby elephant saved this year, another has died.

SHELDRICK: It's a trauma. We grieve. We bury it. We turn the page and get on with the living. That's all you can do.

MCKENZIE: So, they hope to lead these infants through their most fragile stage. It could take years before Sala joins a family of wild elephants. In the care of a human family, she might just make it. David McKenzie, CNN, Nairobi, Kenya.



MAJ. TIM HYDE, U.S. ARMY: I'm Major Tim Hyde (ph) of FOB Hammer Iraq and I like to say happy holidays, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to my friends and family in Flint and Ramblint (ph) Michigan. Miss you guys and see you soon.



LUI: All right. We got the top stories right now for you.

Radical Muslim cleric who claims to have been in touch with the Fort Hood shooting suspect may have been killed by the Yemen's military. That word from the country's embassy in Washington. The cleric said he had communicated with the Army Psychiatrist Nidal Hasan who allegedly e-mailed him for advice about the killing of U.S. troops and Islamic law.

The Democrats -- well, they hope to have a health care reform bill on President Obama's desk by his State of the Union address early next year. The Senate passed its version this morning. The vote is strictly along party lines. Differences in the Senate and the House versions have to be ironed out right now before a final bill is sent to president for signature.

Uncle Sam gets a new credit card this Christmas and it's big. Along with passing its health care bill, the Senate voted to raise the national debt ceiling by $290 billion. The new ceiling will be just under $12.5 trillion. It allows the government now to issue bonds to keep operating.

Putting the smiles on kids' faces -- that's what the Marine Corps' Toys for Tots program does. But the program has been hurt by the recession. In today's "Giving in Focus," CNN photojournalist Bob Crowley visits a Toys for Tots center in Boston to see how things are going there.


SGT. CLINT SCHRIBNER, BOSTON TOYS FOR TOTS: The Marine Corps mission for Toys for Tots is to collect and distribute toys for needy children in our local areas.

We have approximately 700 total campaigns.

We are fighting battles but in a different way. And we're fighting the poverty battle here in the United States.

KAY CARPENTER, TOYS FOR TOTS VOLUNTEER: We have a lot of toys. We use them up rapidly. We are filling orders like crazy. They are delivering on the 18th of December, and will be here between 10:00 and 11:00 in the morning.

They go out as fast as we have come in. We run out of some toys, but overall, we are doing better than last year.

BETTY WHALEN, TOYS FOR TOTS VOLUNTEER: Can you leave that one there?

As soon as we sort this, we'll start making up orders and it will be gone.

And he can pull this out first.

Ideally, they would be fool of toys that we would just pick from to fill the orders. But they're not. They're not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a problem every year, running out of toys at this time of the year. But, eventually, we get the orders out.

WHALEN: Yes, down to the wire, usually.


WHALEN: It's been tough the last couple years. It's tough for everybody with the economic climate the way it is, you know, home losses, job losses, lack of funds.

CARPENTER: It's very important to keep boxes full because we can't get orders out to people and organizations who need them in time for Christmas. You can keep donating. Even one small toy is wonderful. But everybody needs to get involved in doing it so our boxes are not empty.


LUI: All right. Tune in to CNN on Christmas Day for a special expanded look at what your friends and neighbors are doing to help the less fortunate. Our "Giving in Focus" special begins at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Big tempers and big hair, big ratings, though. MTV's new reality show "Jersey Shore" is riding high on a wave of popularity, but now, some members of Congress want it yanked. What's going on?


UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: Hi. I'm (INAUDIBLE) from the Air Cavalry Brigade in Camp Taji, Iraq. I want to say "Merry Christmas" to Miss Ingram's preschool class in Blacksburg, Virginia. Thank you for artwork and keep up the good work. Special "Hello" to my son Ben and my niece, Ellie. Merry Christmas!




LUI: Which is best for you ladies and gentlemen in terms of all those hats? I'd say it's the mask with the two balls off to the side. That one right at the right. Our producer, Sonya, classy, classy, classy. Well done, Sonya.

All right. Those are the people who make it happen all year long, of course, for Kyra and what a great team they are. You know, icy roads, canceling or delaying flights, there's going to be a lot of that this Christmas with a big storm gripping a big chunk of the country.

Chad Myers is tracking it for us.

And, Chad, at least you don't have a crazy hat like that. Not yet, not yet.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: All over America, there are -- people are saying, "You get a free bowl of soup with that?" From "Caddyshack," of course, but -- anyway, Sonya, we love you.

Snow across parts of Oklahoma, not one plane out of 4,600 right now, Richard. Not one plane either on the way to Oklahoma City or coming from Oklahoma City, because of this. Take a look at some of these pictures here. This is I-35. It looks like about -- it doesn't look like an "I." It looks like state Route 40. I don't know, it doesn't look like much out there.

We got some ruts going here, we got some cars stuck, but they are keeping going most of the time. You just got to -- have to keep up the momentum. Try not to cross those lanes because I have not seen a snowplow come by there yet. KWTV, our affiliate there.

And, boy, so, the winds are blowing at 50 miles per hour, too. Visibility is just nothing.

Oklahoma City and now back down towards Abilene, and Fort Worth, you are getting some snow. This dry air mass that's been over you for a while is now sliding to the east and away, and so, this wrap-around snow will get to you, Dallas, rather quickly here in the next probably hour or so.

Some severe weather is still possible across parts of the South. We had severe weather last night. I have some pictures out of Wytheville, Louisiana. Some trees are down.

One fatality because the tree actually fell in the home and you just can't even think about that. In the middle of the night, winds are blowing, you hear things cracking, and the one thing you can do at that point in time is to stay inside, and they were doing the best they could. But a NOAA weather radio might help.

I'll tell you what, if you are still looking for that last-minute stocking stuffer, those NOAA weather radios go off in the middle of the night, wake you up and tell you to get to a safe place, especially if it's in your county. Find those ones with SAME technology. Those are the ones you can program for your town and your county.

And across parts of Ohio, all the way back into Illinois and Iowa, this entire system slides to the east, but the snow doesn't really. There may be some icing in the mountains along I-81 tomorrow, but other than that, this is a Midwest snow event, not an east coast snow event -- Richard.

LUI: All right, Chad, lots happening.


LUI: But nothing in Oklahoma City, as you were saying. So, tough for those guys.

MYERS: Yes. It is going down.

LUI: All right. We hope for the best for them.

All right. From Chad Myers now, we head over to team Sanchez, they are back there working on the next hour of NEWSROOM. Rick is off today, and filling in for him is our one and only Ali Velshi in New York.

And, Ali, what are you working on? Nice tie, my friend.

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you. Good to see, my friend.

Well, we're working on a couple of things. First of all, Sean Goldman is on a plane back from Brazil to the United States with his father. He hasn't seen his father in a long time. They haven't spent a lot of quality time together. This is a young boy. He's 9 years old.

How is that reunion going to go? We know that the legal fights are coming to an end. What does this mean for their life together? We're going to think about that.

The other thing is -- do you know that there are a large number of bin Ladens, relatives of Osama bin Laden, immediate family, children and wives, living in Tehran. Well, we're going to meet with some of his family and find out exactly what they are doing there, how they're getting along. And at least one of those members, one of his daughters is trying to apparently get out of Iran and get back to reunite with her mother in Saudi Arabia. We're going to find out firsthand about some of that in the next hour.

LUI: A lot of great stuff with Ali Velshi coming up. All right. Thank you.

VELSHI: All right, Richard.

LUI: MTV has caught a lot of flack and even more eyeballs for that show "Jersey Shore." The show stars some extremely proud Italian Americans goofing off in the Garden State.

Take a look. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was born and raised a guido. It's a lifestyle. It's being Italian. It's representing family, friends, tanning, gel, everything. I've got a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) tanning bed in my place. That's how serious I am about being a guido and living up to that lifestyle. There's no way I'm going to Jersey without my hair gel.


LUI: Well, a group of Italian American state lawmakers says this is not a reality show at all. It's an offensive, inaccurate fabrication, they say. But wait there is more. They say that "Jersey Shore" violates the spirit of the state's hate and bias crimes law, and they have asked MTV to ax the self-proclaimed guidos. There you go.

All right. Despite his bad habits of falling asleep in church and calling Jesus "Jeebus," Homer Simpson's got the Vatican's blessing. The Holy See's official newspaper congratulating the show on its 20th anniversary. And according to the article, "The Simpsons" reflects the religious and spiritual confusion of our times.

Yes. And you want to talk about a midnight madness sale. There was one in Sacramento that was so mad it brought an armed response. More than 1,000 people lined up for the new and yet retro Air Jordan "Space Jam" shoes. You might remember that movie. It came out 13 years ago. A hundred and seventy-five bucks a pair, slightly more than Chuck Taylor's.

When some people started cutting through the line, passed people who had been waiting for 10 hours or more, things got ugly. About 30 officers had to break up the ruckus, a low-point for high-tops evidently. No arrests, though, no injuries and no shoes. The mall was closed and the sale postponed.

They don't pay taxes, but they do shell out a lot of cash to lawmakers. The religious lobby treading the line between church and state -- that is next.


CHAPLAIN CAPTAIN DAVID MURFIELD (ph), U.S. ARMY: Hello, this is Chaplain Captain David Murfields (ph) here at Ali Base, Iraq, wanting to wish my mother and father Grace and Morris Murfield a Merry Christmas there in Rutland, Vermont. God bless you.



LUI: Lobbyists spent $2.5 billion this year sweet talking our D.C. lawmakers. That's according to a nonpartisan research group. Something else that might surprise you here, some of the folks behind those big bucks are doing God's work. Kate Bolduan takes a look at the religious lobby.


SISTER MARGE CLARK, LOBBYIST: So, I think at some point we need to go through question by question and I don't...

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sister Marge Clark has been a nun for more than 36 years. She's also a registered lobbyist working just blocks from Capitol Hill.

CLARK: I think we're always looking through a faith lens. We're always looking at it from the cry of the poor.

BOLDUAN: Her firm, Network, considers itself a Catholic social justice advocate, lobbying on issues and legislation ranging from immigration to health care, fair pay, even F-22 fighter jet program.

(on camera): Why is it important to you to take your advocacy out of the church and onto Capitol Hill?

CLARK: Because the church can't change the systems. It's law that has to be changed.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): Sister Marge is far from unique. Political and religious experts say there has been a surge in religious lobbying in recent years, including Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim groups.

ALLEN HERTZKE, POLITICAL PROFESSOR, UNIV. OF OKLAHOMA: If you belong it a church or a synagogue or a temple or a mosque, chances are your denomination or your faith has a Washington office. It has become that broad.

BOLDUAN: Alan Hertzke is a soon to be released Pew study on religious advocacy. He estimates the religious lobby is a multi- million dollar enterprise with more than 200 official and unofficial groups vying for influence in Washington.

While the scope of religious lobbying may be modest compared to the entire lobbying industry, those who study money and politics add, it's very difficult to measure the muscle of faith. And skeptics say that is a problem, what they see is undue influence these groups wield even as some maintain tax exempt status.

BARRY LYNN, AMERICANS UNITED FOR SEP. OF CHURCH & STATE: I'm not saying that people don't have the right to make moral arguments to Congress, but Congress has to make its decisions not based on pressure from any church, but on the basis of the constitutional values of all of us.

BOLDUAN: So, is the line separating church and state beginning to blur? Sister Marge says not at all.

CLARK: Jesus was a political activist and he was trying to change unjust systems. And I think that's one of the ties for being a lobbyist.

BOLDUAN (on camera): Religious advocacy experts say, rather than a legal issue, it's more of a question of accepted standards. Where should the faith-based organizations draw the line? A few studies suggest the American public's view at least is shifting. In 1996, 54 percent said houses of worship should express their political views. In 2008, 52 percent said they should keep out of it.

Kate Bolduan, CNN, Washington.


LUI: And now, we go Ali Velshi with the 3:00 p.m. hour of NEWSROOM.