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American Morning

Fury at FEMA; Teen Tragedy

Aired November 21, 2005 - 08:30   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Fifty-thousand families, more or less, face eviction and a strong deadline. These are families that were left homeless in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Some of them are here in New York, and they just want some answers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have not received a check. I have not received any assistance whatsoever from FEMA.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But if they've told you there is a check that's been sent, that, in a way, is good news because that means you're eligible, and we need to find that check.


O'BRIEN: A little back and forth with FEMA, some of the folks from Hurricane Katrina, happening here in New York. The deadline, as we mentioned, December 1st, and that is the day when people could be forced to leave their hotel rooms and motel rooms around the country, with some exceptions. There are now calls, though, to rescind that order. National Urban League President Marc Morial is a former mayor of New Orleans, and he joins us in our studio.

Nice to see you.


O'BRIEN: How bad do you think it is going to be?

MORIAL: This order to evict, which is what is, is neither sensible, nor is it compassionate. We're in the holiday season, and that's one reason. It's not sensible because there's been no plan by FEMA to assist the 50,000 families in transitioning to housing which may be not permanent, but at least transitional, because many of them want to return to their homes in the Gulf Coast, and they can't.

O'BRIEN: Is it realistic to think that in fact, some people will be homeless out on the streets?

MORIAL: Very. It's highly likely that people would be living in cars. They'd be in homeless shelters. They'd be seeking good samaritans to bunk with.

I think what FEMA should do is indefinitely postpone this order and develop a plan, a sensible, well-thought out plan, to assist those who need help in transitioning, because the reality is, in some communities, there isn't enough housing to absorb the people who are living in hotels. And the markets are tight. In some areas, the landlords want long-term commitments from FEMA that they are going to pay the rent if they agree to house people.

O'BRIEN: FEMA issued this statement and I just want to read it for you: "Finding long-term housing for all evacuees is FEMA's highest housing priority. We're working closely with state and local officials to reach out to all 53,000 families across the country. Many people have said, you know what, you can't afford to put people up in hotels and motels, the price tag is just too high. Do you agree with that?

MORIAL: There is no other alternative in a short run. It's better than purchasing trailers and placing the trailers throughout urban communities, and saying to people you can live in a trailer. The issue is, is that that statement by FEMA does not indicate that there is a solid plan, a solid plan.

All we, I think, this nation needs is to recognize with this catastrophe, with this holiday season approaching, now is not the time. Postpone it indefinitely, develop a plan to transition people, and I'm confident that if FEMA and the federal government put its enormous resources behind the development of a plan, this can be surmounted. But now, don't evict.

O'BRIEN: You wrote this essentially in a letter that you sent off to the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff. Has he responded to you?

MORIAL: I've not received a formal response. One of our staffers did talk to FEMA last week, and there was no -- The answer that we received was not necessarily satisfactory.

O'BRIEN: So that's a political way of saying what exactly did they say?

MORIAL: They basically said, well, you know, we're working perhaps to create an opportunity for some states to receive exemptions. But until we hear clearly from FEMA, we're going to continue at the National Urban League to speak out, because this is a humanitarian issue, and this is just an issue of common sense.

O'BRIEN: Do you expect to hear from the Michael Chertoff.

MORIAL: I hope to hear from Secretary Chertoff. And I think there's also an opportunity here, Soledad, for Donald Powell, the newly appointed czar, to step in and coordinate the activities of not only FEMA, but HUD and the other agencies, state and local government.

No one is saying, and I don't think people who are living in hotels want to stay there indefinitely. They don't have kitchen facilities, in many cases. They don't have a place to wash their clothes. They're not living in the lap of luxury.

But where they are now is better than placing them on the street during holiday season. What's better is for FEMA to develop a good, strong, solid plan to help people transition. Work with the mayors, work with the mayors, work with the governors, work with community- based organizations at the local level, and these folks can be transitioned. Now some will always be able to do it on their own, but many, many people need the assistance and need the help.

O'BRIEN: There are exemptions, as you know, in Louisiana and Mississippi. They pushed the deadline back to January 7th, I believe.

MORIAL: And that's not acceptable either, quite honestly.

O'BRIEN: Why not?

MORIAL: Because in the case of January 7th, if there is no plan, those who are hoteled in Louisiana and can't return to their homes, where are they going to go? FEMA is suggesting that down in New Orleans, they're going to buy trailers. How sensible is that, to buy trailers from out-of-town companies as opposed to continuing to house people, perhaps temporarily in hotels, until people can repair their homes, until there can be some sort of long-term strategy.

I think this strategy has been ad hoc from the beginning. What FEMA needs to do, with the federal government, and Don Powell and others, I would urge them to develop a sensible plan to help people transition, and then communicate to people clearly what that plan is.

O'BRIEN: When you talk to Don Powell, and Vice Admiral Allen and all of the executives of FEMA, do you feel that they're hearing you?

MORIAL: Well, I haven't had any direct conversations with Vice Admiral Allen or Don Powell, and I would welcome those sorts of conversations.

And I believe that if they're open to suggestions, not only from me, but from people like Governor Barbour, and Governor Blanco and Mayor White of Houston, community-based leaders, I think that a solid, sensible way. We continue to be in the greatest humanitarian crisis in modern American history, because of the large number of people affected. In this case, this eviction order affects 150,000 Americans and 50,000 families. It's not a small number of people. It's quite large. And that is why the challenge is so great.

But the order to evict should be postponed. A plan ought to be developed, and I think the people and humanitarian side of this is something that we should remember during this holiday season.

O'BRIEN: We'll see what they end up doing. The deadline, as we mentioned, December 1st.

Marc Morial, nice to talk to you.

MORIAL: Thanks, Soledad, always.

O'BRIEN: Thank you -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: This is the kind of story that tends to make you mad when you hear it. Police in Philadelphia have no suspects, no clues in the fatal shooting of a teenager. The victim was a single father who, by the way, received national recognition for dedication to his young daughter.

And now friends and family in the area are mourning a loss.


RICHARD NESBITT, TERRELL'S POUGH'S UNCLE: He was just about personification of excellence.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): Eighteen-year-old Terrell Pough was no ordinary teenager. Once a street-tough kid, he became a devoted father struggling to raise his 2-year-old daughter, Diamond, on his own.

NESBITT: He had every opportunity because of his background to do the wrong thing, and it would have kind of been statistically understandable. But he was the exception to the rule.

SANCHEZ: This past summer, Pough was featured in "People" magazine as outstanding single father. He juggled work, school and parenting, determined to build a better life for his daughter.

Earlier this month, he was honored by the Philadelphia 76ers for being a responsible young adult.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's not much that Terrell probably couldn't do with his life.

SANCHEZ: Terrell's mentor in a teen-parenting program says he had a bright future.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's where he got his drive. I mean, you look at his daughter, how can you not want to give your all to her?

SANCHEZ: But Terrell's life was tragically cut short Thursday, gunned down in Philadelphia's crime-ridden Germantown neighborhood, on his way to pick up his daughter.

LIZ POUGH, POUGH'S MOTHER: What happens to Terrell was senseless, it's sad, and if anyone knows anything about what happened to him, if they would come forward, I would be grateful.


SANCHEZ: Here is a young man trying to do the right thing. Well, after getting the news of Pough's tragic death, people released a statement, saying this, "We are deeply saddened by the death of Terrell Pough, who won the admiration of our readers when we shared his story. Our thoughts are with his family, particularly his daughter Diamond, as they try to cope with the loss of this fine young man."

O'BRIEN: That's so sad.

SANCHEZ: Yes, isn't it? O'BRIEN: Yes, it really is. That's a terrible story. Hopefully, they'll get some clues as to what happened.


O'BRIEN: Andy is "Minding Your Business" ahead just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. What's coming up?

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: We're going to be talking about Wal-Mart, Soledad. Is the retailer giant going upscale? And also, is it charging you even less than it wants to? Stay tuned for that on AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: Let's get to right business news this morning. Andy has got something for us.

Good morning.

SERWER: Good morning, Soledad.

A couple of Wal-Mart stories. Before we get to that, though, GM having a big press conference this morning, announcing some plant closures. Want to get you right to that. Lansing, Michigan, Oklahoma City, Spring Hill, Tennessee and Doraville, Georgia. Those facilities will be closed over the next several years. We'll have more details on this news from GM coming up in the next hour.

Wal-Mart has been selling all kinds of stuff, mostly on the low end. But now online, they are going very, very upscale. How about a $10,000 diamond ring, $10,000? Not what you expect from Wal-Mart, one 3/4 carat, yellow-gold diamond with a 18 karat-white gold band. But they're also selling other high-end stuff, a 60-inch plasma TV for over $7,600.

Soledad, looking at cashmere scarf today for $98. Sorry, Rick.

For you, Rick, I've got a box of chocolates for $248.

O'BRIEN: Two-hundred and forty-eight dollars?

SERWER: A thousand chocolates in this box.

O'BRIEN: OK, that's about right.

SERWER: Last Rick the whole year.

SANCHEZ: I'll take a baseball mitt or something instead. But you know...

SERWER: That's cheaper.

Also, this is an interesting Wal-Mart story. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union, who have been fighting Wal-Mart, has sponsored a study by some academics to check out pricing of Wal-Mart, particularly out West, to see if they're overcharging customers. It turns out they're not. They're under-charging customers! The surveys showing that the cash registers are a little bit more messed up than the national average of retailers. But on the whole, consumers are getting the better end of the deal.

O'BRIEN: You mean they're accidentally...

SERWER: They're accidentally under-charging customers. Oops, sorry about that. So Wal-Mart critics don't have a lot of ammunition on that one, and Wal-Mart is going to be fixing those cash registers bigtime, I bet, right.

O'BRIEN: I bet they are.

SANCHEZ: There's probably no question that if you shop Wal-Mart, you're saving a bunch of money. The question is, and this is what this big documentary that's coming out now about Wal-Mart says, is that their employees are the ones that are really being asked to sacrifice to bring those prices down.

For example, they've got them on record saying that they actually asked their employees to look into welfare and to try and compensate themselves in other ways. Can Wal-Mart defend themselves on that?

O'BRIEN: There is some huge percentage of Wal-Mart employees that don't have health insurance for their children or are on Medicare.

SANCHEZ: Well, the deductible is, like, a thousand dollars.

SERWER: They are the biggest employer, and obviously they're connected to a lot of workplace issues, also off-shoring, goods being manufactured in China, people not paid enough. So there's a lot of stuff going on there, and this documentary really spells it out. You wonder, though if it's the kind of where critics and people who don't like Wal-Mart will like the movie. I'm not sure whether it's going to change anyone's mind. A lot of people like to shop at Wal-Mart.

O'BRIEN: Right. And the employees, I mean, you certainly see the counter has been those employees coming toward with their own testimonials about how much they love Wal-Mart, and in fact how disappointed they are about all the negative news about Wal-Mart.

SANCHEZ: Surprised to see Wal-Mart that they were answering back finally? They're got a little a PR game going?

SERWER: I think, yes, it's about time from their perspective, because they've been so defensive, and they've had a bunker mentality for so many years, and now they're going on the offensive. And you know, they are a hot-button company. I mean, they're the biggest employer in the country , so they're a target.

O'BRIEN: Yes, all right.

SERWER: Pun intended.

O'BRIEN: Andy, thank you very much.

SERWER: Good to see you.

SANCHEZ: Coming up, Something your kids will no doubt be talking to you about after they listen to this, so you know what, we'll say it really low so they can't hear. New Xbox 360 hits stores tomorrow! And that's our Daniel Sieberg. He's working diligently -- yes, right -- to get the latest on this, or playing diligently. The folks at Microsoft say it's going to transform home entertainment. Can it live up to the hype, though? That's next on AMERICAN MORNING.


SANCHEZ: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. Gamers around the country are waiting to get their hands on the Xbox 360. It's set to be released at midnight, but Microsoft is hoping the souped up gaming console will win over a broader audience than just the gamers and the young teens.

CNN technology correspondent Daniel Sieberg is joining us now from the CNN Center in Atlanta. A little show and tell for us this morning, Dan?

DANIEL SIEBERG, CNN TECHNOLOGY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a little research, Rick. Yes, Microsoft, of course, they're hoping to try to get a broader audience with the new Xbox 360, which officially comes out tomorrow. It's been four years since the original Xbox came out. But will people buy into the idea of the new Xbox?

We talked to one family who says the idea of combining all their home entertainment into one is kind of appealing.


LUCILLE BALL, ACTRESS: Honey, there's a hi-fi turn table and an AM/FM radio. And this is, of course, the television and the tape recorder. And they all play through a three-speaker stereo sound system.

SIEBERG (voice-over): In a 1950s commercial for Westinghouse, Lucy made it look so easy. Your living room, your home, transformed by technology.

AARON BOBICK, CONSUMER: I often see her watching TV. She's got a laptop, which is on the Internet, so she's IMing her friends who are watching the same show, and meanwhile she's talking to somebody else on a cell phone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This weekend was fine.

SIEBERG: Aaron Bobick, father of three, knows that nowadays, it's a bit more complicated. A recent study by the Consumer Electronics Association says the average U.S. household has 25 electronic gadgets. Bobick is a technophile; in fact, his whole family is plugged in. But he's looking to cut down the clutter. BOBICK: Games is one version of digital media. Video, pictures, music. It's all just digital media. And so by having a digital media box that lets you do all this stuff, you can decide what to do in that one location.

SIEBERG: And what if that box were disguised as a video game machine? That's what in the cards for Microsoft's new Xbox 360, which hits store shelves on Tuesday. Designed from the ground up not only to play video games, but also to integrate music, data, voice, and video.

DAVID HUFFORD, MICROSOFT XBOX 360: Well, Xbox is first and foremost a gaming console, but absolutely. I mean, we want to bring the whole world of entertainment together in the home. And this one device really can do all of that.

SIEBERG: Microsoft already dominates the desktop and wants a place in your living room. Once they're in the door, additional benefits for you and revenue for Microsoft might come from services like in-game chat, video conferencing, downloaded music or OnDemand TV.

BALL: Oh, hi, honey. And practically everything in this house is available today. I want everything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can't blame you for that.

SIEBERG: Prices have changed a little since Lucy's days. The base price for the Xbox 360 is $300 and it quickly goes up from there for additional features. The big question is, with an already crowded living room, will consumers make room for it -- even those not into games?


SIEBERG: Now, if you are into games, you probably want to see what it can do. We're going to do a quick demonstration here of a game called "Project Gotham Racing." This is a Microsoft title. This is a speed challenge. I'm going to see how well I can do here.

The graphics are really optimized for high-definition TV. So if you have a regular television at home, you're not really going to see the improvement of the graphics. This definitely is a much faster processor. It's a faster machine. It's hard -- I'm losing all my gaming credibility here as I try to -- I failed!

But in any case, Rick, this is basically the best demonstration we can give you of the processing power that's in this box. You can see it right there. It's a little sleeker, a little smaller than the original Xbox. And it's designed that way. They want to have it to have a little more aesthetic appeal in your living room.

SANCHEZ: If I'm a dad -- which, by the way, I am -- and I want to continue to use the old games that I bought my kids over the years where I spent, you know, a fortune, could I use those in this one or do I have to buy a zillion new games now? SIEBERG: The answer is not out of the box. In other words, if you go and buy this Xbox 360 tomorrow and let's say you've got 15, 20 games from the old Xbox, you cannot just put them in and start playing. What Microsoft is saying is you need to get an software upgrade, it's called an Emulator, that allows you to play these older games. So not right away. But eventually they're going to add more and more titles so you will be able to play these older games.

But games are not cheap. You're looking at "Call of Duty" -- is one of the games that's going to be coming out. They're going to be $50 or $60 each. So it will go -- although the base system starts at $300, if you want this nice wireless controller here, if you want the hard drive, if you want some of the other features, games, we're talking $400, $500, or more. So you're really going to have to think about whether you want to make that leap to the next generation.

SANCHEZ: Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching!

SIEBERG: Cha-ching! No Microsoft's -- you know, they know what they are doing. They want people to buy it and then keep buying.

SANCHEZ: How do you think a company like that got to be a company like that?

O'BRIEN: That's right. That's how make all that money.

SIEBERG: Exactly.

SANCHEZ: Thanks a lot, Dan.

O'BRIEN: Thanks, Daniel. He's pretty good, too.


O'BRIEN: He's doing a live shot while he was, you know...

SANCHEZ: He's probably practiced a little bit, hasn't he?

O'BRIEN: I bet he did.

SANCHEZ: Sixty bucks a pop, why not?

O'BRIEN: Well, this week, we are celebrating the week of giving right here on AMERICAN MORNING. And if you're affected by this season's hurricanes and if you want to thank somebody who helped you, please send us your story. You can right to We're going to post the responses on our Web site. And some people will be selected to share their stories right here on AMERICAN MORNING.

We're going to continue right after the break. Coming up this morning, we are going to meet a husband and wife team. They're trying to piece together their life's work with the help of friends and complete strangers, too. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: This Saturday night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time, a special look at the sound bytes that transformed our world over the past 25 years. "They Said What?!?!" with Larry King. We'll take a look at the sound bytes that are a crucial part of our history, the country, even pop culture. --

Here's a little bit of a sneak peek for you.


TAMMY FAYE BAKKER: I hope that Jerry Falwell and his family never have to suffer the way that they've made our family suffer! I wake up every morning wishing that they had killed me! And Jim does, too.

MO ROCCA, COMEDIAN: Tammy Faye Bakker is painting Jerry Falwell as a Don Corleone, the televangelist as mafioso here.

KIM COLES, ACTRESS/COMEDIENNE: She's a tough chick and she's a survivor, you know. I like her. And she was just going through hell at that moment and she just wanted everybody to know and I wake up in the morning and I wish they would just kill me!

CATHERINE CRIER, ANCHOR, COURT TV: Tammy Faye Bakker is one of those that has made a whole new career and life for herself coming out of this.

JIM MORET, CHIEF CORRESPONDENT, INSIDE EDITION: She was larger than life. And when people are larger than life and they fall, they fall farther and it hurts when they land.