Friday, February 03, 2006
Child prostitution story leads to arrest
There have been a lot of really interesting and thoughtful responses on the blog tonight about the border issue. I just heard some great news. One of the stories we aired earlier this week highlighting the problems of child prostitution in Mexico actually had an impact. U.S. government officials say that after our piece ran Mexican officials received a tip from a viewer who had seen the story. That tip led to the arrest of at least one American man who was caught making pornography with three little girls in Tijuana, the U.S. officials say. That man is now in jail and those three little girls are safe tonight, and for that, we are truly grateful.
"Coyotes" rule amid Tijuana chaos
Editor's note: CNN Correspondent Rick Sanchez traveled to Tijuana, Mexico, recently in search of "coyotes," otherwise known as smugglers.
I am one of the lucky ones. I am a Hispanic immigrant who doesn't have to look over his shoulder. I am, in a word, LEGAL! I get to stay.
Why? Because of a law passed in the 1960s called the Cuban Adjustment Act, which essentially says that because Fidel Castro is a bad guy, our enemy, and a communist, then people fleeing his country, like me, get to become automatic Americans.
It's a rare law, one of the few where somebody in Washington actually made a decision as to who should stay and why. Say what you want about whether the law may be outdated, but at least at the time it was passed it offered order. And order is something many people think is lacking in our present immigration policy.
There seems to be little willpower in Washington, D.C., to come up with a more consistent immigration policy, so as a result there are too few answers. Who should be allowed in? Who knows? Is there a way to earn a work visa that's worth waiting for? No, not really. Is there a way to quantify our immigration need or a reasonable number we can support? No help there either.
We saw a lot of these vexing issues firsthand on a recent trip to the border town of Tijuana, Mexico, for a piece airing tonight on the show. It is a place where "coyotes," or smugglers, rule. And it is a place where Mexicans cross the border illegally because they can.
So what are we left with? Confusion, which invites chaos, which may be the best way to describe what we saw in Tijuana.
Tell me what you think.
Is the U.S.-Mexican border broken?
With the recent news about heroin implanted in the bellies of six puppies, allegedly by a drug cartel trying to smuggle drugs into the United States, we thought we'd take a closer look tonight at problems on the U.S.-Mexican border.
Last Sunday, I went to San Diego to tour a recently discovered tunnel likely built by a drug cartel. Tonight, we are going to air a special report -- Battle on the Border -- that looks at a host of border issues, including smuggling, immigration and drugs.
We'll take another look at the tunnel and the incredibly disturbing trafficking in children for prostitution. I crossed into Tijuana last Sunday and it didn't take very long to find children working as prostitutes.
There is an American law called the PROTECT Act, which allows American citizens to be prosecuted for traveling abroad with the intent to have sex with a minor. But in Mexico, it doesn't seem like police take child sexual abuse all that seriously.
In Tijuana, we were in an SUV shooting video in the Zona Rosa, the red light district, and the police pulled us over because they saw our camera. We had to say we were tourists just out videotaping, and the police demanded a bribe. It's difficult for U.S. authorities to investigate sex trafficking of children when Mexican police seem to turn a blind eye to what is happening right in front of their eyes.
I want to do a lot more on this problem in the months ahead, but tonight we begin with our Battle on the Border special report. I don't want to use this blog just to promote programming, but I hope you watch tonight, because I think it's an important story.
What do you think needs to be done along our southern border?
Thursday, February 02, 2006
Ethics committee goes dark
QUESTION: For all the indictments, investigations and troubling questions swirling around Congress, why have we heard so little, or more bluntly, nothing, from the House ethics committee?
ANSWER: In the mid-1990s, Democrats and Republicans became so concerned that ethics complaints were being used for unfair political attacks on each other, both parties agreed to a truce. Although few will speak publicly about it, the truce is widely acknowledged on both sides of the aisle.
The ethics committee (or as it is properly known, the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct) is made up of five Republicans and five Democrats, so neither party can fairly say the other is keeping the committee silent. People seem to be noticing: A poll in December found that almost half of the U.S. population thinks most members of Congress are corrupt.
Now we're hearing all this talk in Washington, D.C., about lobbying reform. I have no particular affection for lobbyists, but it seems to me that this is like saying, "We have a problem with policemen taking bribes, but we're not going to hold the officers accountable. We'll just come up with new laws for criminals."
Some people will always offer improper favors to people in high places. What we need are members of Congress who won't accept those favors.
So tell me what you think: Should Congress officially turn off the lights and abolish the ethics committee? Will anyone notice if they do?
Gay former NFL player tackles demons
Editor's note: CNN Correspondent Heidi Collins' interview with Roy Simmons airs tonight on "Anderson Cooper 360°" 10 p.m.-midnight ET.
When Roy Simmons walked in to the studio to sit down for our interview, the first thing I noticed was how big he was. Take one look at this former NFL offensive lineman and it becomes obvious pretty quickly that he played professional ball.
Then Simmons shook my hand. It was the gentlest handshake and kindest voice I'd heard in a while. Not quite what you'd expect from a guy who had knocked helmets for the New York Giants and went to the Super Bowl with the Washington Redskins in 1984.
The fact that Simmons says he is gay and was raped by a neighbor when he was 11 years old and now is H.I.V. positive...These also aren't things you'd expect.
Simmons told me about the secret of his homosexuality and how it had tortured him for his entire professional football career. He said that in the NFL you can be a wife-beater or a drug-dealer, but being gay...forget about it.
He said hiding his sexual orientation led to a powerful addiction to drugs and alcohol. He told me he was spending about one thousand dollars every day to support his habit. He said it was so bad he even snorted cocaine on the day he played in the Super Bowl.
Today, Simmons is trying to maintain a sober life. He sat down with me recently to talk about his new book, "Out of Bounds," for a report airing tonight. He says he'd like to help others stop keeping secrets.
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
Oprah on my mind
Ok, so I know I should blog earlier in the day, but I just got back from Washington, D.C., and due to my lack of organization, my BlackBerry wasn't charged, so I've been away from a computer all day. Needless to say, I arrived back in New York suffering from technology withdrawal. My hands were shaking, but now that they are dancing on the keyboard, the tremors have stopped. There are a lot of emails from viewers today about my appearance on Oprah yesterday. It was really cool to be on her program, and I actually spent part of today working on another story for her in Washington. Not sure when that will make it on air though.
Is it just me, or does the State of the Union feel like it was months ago already?
Rock'n'roll in Iran
Editor's note: Christiane Amanpour is CNN's chief international correspondent. Her reports on Iran aired Wednesday on "Anderson Cooper 360°" 10 p.m.-midnight ET.
It's always a rush to revisit Iran. I grew up there, left during the Islamic revolution 25 years ago, and now regularly go back on assignment for CNN. I went back recently for a series of reports on the country.
I never quite know what to expect these days. Who would have thought Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a fundamentalist Islamic hardliner, could have been elected president by a country that's overwhelmingly young and overwhelmingly wants reform, modernization, travel and dialogue with the West?
For me, the most interesting thing about this country is the juxtaposition of the regime's hardline, even militant, supporters with the young kids, teenagers and adults who could belong anywhere, even the United States.
One day, I head underground to listen to...a ROCK BAND!!!! The next day, I head to the mosque to hear the young hardliners wax passionate about the Islamic revolution that happened in 1979, as if it were yesterday, praising the new conservative government for taking them back to those values.
Many of these kids just want to play their music. They are not political, yet they have to play their music in secret.
There are definitely two Irans. The dilemma for the West is figuring out which one to deal with: Who to punish? Who to reward? And how? There are no easy answers on Iran, only constant questions. And never has that dilemma been so critical to solve as today, now that Iran's new president has hauled the world into yet another nuclear crisis.
Each time I leave Iran, I don't know what I'll find when I come back. No one does.
Oscars for politics
I was riding the Metro train to work in Washington, D.C., this morning, bleary-eyed and headachy from staying up half the night to cover the State of the Union, when a thought hit me like a football to Marcia Brady's nose: If politics has really devolved into only so much political theater, why don't we treat it that way?
Now, I know that there are plenty of Democrats and Republicans who really want to help with the serious work of the nation: Spurring the economy, supporting families, protecting our security. But these Super Bowl political events, such as the State of the Union address, are really about policy second, putting on a show first.
So I thought, let's go through all the moments of the speech and give out some awards, just like we do for movies.Best Actor:
Senator Bill Frist acting like he wasn't using every moment in front of the camera to campaign for his own presidency.Worst Actress:
Hillary Clinton trying to force a smile after President Bush invoked the name of her husband in a bid for Democratic applause.Best Drama:
Samuel Alito's agonizing struggle over whether or not to clap.Best Direction:
Mindless lockstep of Reds and Blues cheering or grousing on cue.Best Walk-On:
Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco...a not so subtle reminder that big problems remain in the Deep South.Worst Walk-Off:
Anti-war protestor Cindy Sheehan. She got herself into the chamber, but then got thrown out for revealing her antiwar t-shirt before the president even arrived. Talk about missing your cue.Best Supporting Actress:
Laura Bush. Who can argue?Best Comedy:
Dave Chappelle. No, he wasn't there, but it sure would have been funny.Best Picture:
OK, no kidding here. The family of Marine Staff Sergeant Dan Clay, who was killed in Iraq, displayed dignity, bravery and respect in a room full of political posturing. By far, their appearance was the most compelling moment of the night.
Anyway, we're cutting tape on this piece now and tonight we'll roll it out: Step aside Oscar, the COOPERS are coming!
What Oscar-style political awards do you think should be handed out and who should win them?
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Taking the offensive
Editor's note: CNN political contributor J.C. Watts Jr. joins us tonight as a guest-blogger
I think the speech was very strong on national security, an issue in which President Bush is strong and Democrats are weak.
The fact that Cindy Sheehan was arrested is another sign to the American people that Democrats are not serious about national security. It plays into the perception that Democrats are not prepared to defend you. That's not to say Republicans don't have a perception problem too. Republicans are perceived as not caring about poor people.
The president has to stay on the national security point often. Progress is being made in the war against terror.
As for Katrina, the American people saw that there were mistakes made on the federal, state and local level. The president said that he takes responsibility for the mistakes of the federal government. He's got a chance to improve, to rebuild those communities.
The State of the Union gives the president an opportunity to pivot. He can take all the good news -- that we're winning in Iraq, that we haven't been hit since 9/11, that we have low unemployment and low inflation, that we collected $100 billion more in tax revenues than we expected -- and make his case to the American people.
The Democrats are an opposition party and this is politics. That's why the president's numbers are where they are -- the opposition has framed the issues. But when the president is out there and framing the issues, he is better off. He did that in this speech. It gives the American people some confidence.
Editor's note: CNN political contributor Paul Begala joins us tonight as a guest-blogger
President Bush began by calling for greater civility in politics. That's like Paris Hilton calling for chastity. Mr. Bush has allowed his allies to attack his opponents -- from John McCain to John Kerry -- with rare and raw savagery. His calls for civility are as phony as his posing as a rancher.
The President said troop levels will be determined by military commanders, not politicians. That would be a welcome shift from Mr. Bush's decision to overrule Gen. Eric Shinseki, the top general in the Army, who said occupying Iraq would take hundreds of thousands of troops. Gen. Shinseki was insulted and shipped out.
And does anyone believe the president who allowed Enron and Exxon to write his energy plan in secret is the man who can break America's addiction to oil? That's like asking the neighborhood crack dealer to run the local detox clinic.
The president faces a credibility crisis. In 2002, 71 percent of Americans said Mr. Bush was honest and trustworthy. Today, 53 percent say he is neither honest nor trustworthy -- because he's not.
Pomp and pageantry
"Enjoy the show," the police officer with the dog just said. He was talking about the State of the Union. It is a show, of course, with pomp and pageantry befitting its royal British roots.
A lot of grand statements are made, but rarely it seems do they amount to much. Last year, it was privatizing Social Security. Democrats put the kibosh on that one...We'll see what happens tonight.
Just arrived at the Capitol to cover President Bush's big speech tonight. The place is buzzing with police. They are about to lockdown the area.
I'm sitting in the Cannon House Office Building rotunda. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin is a couple hundred feet away doing an interview. He will be testifying this week about his administration's response to Katrina.
It's always kind of surreal coming to Washington, D.C., for major events like this. It's such a completely different atmosphere than anywhere else....Oops I gotta move. A bomb-sniffing dog needs to sniff my desk. I will blog more later.
"I wish to live deliberately"
I've never met Bob Woodruff, but in covering the story for "Anderson Cooper 360," I now feel like I know him. Every phone call I made today to interview people for our story revealed good things. A natural leader. A really smart guy. The universal favorite among his coworkers at ABC. My assignment was to do a story about Bob Woodruff the man, not Bob Woodruff the journalist. As my senior producer called it, the "kitchen sink" piece.
So we hunted down Woodruff's high school lacrosse coach outside Detroit, Michigan. I found out Woodruff went to Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School where he was captain of the lacrosse team and the ski team. He was also a darn good soccer player. His coach Charlie Shaw told me Bob instantly turned heads because he was a very confident and striking fellow. He never bid for attention. He always deflected attention elsewhere. He was a very gracious young man and always looked to bring in those who were on the periphery.
We also tracked down a partner at a law firm Woodruff worked at before becoming a television reporter and anchor. Steve Sherman of Shearman and Sterling in San Francisco told me he was watching CNN when he first learned his friend had been injured. Just a few weeks ago, he had sent a note to Woodruff congratulating him on his new job of co-anchor for ABC World News Tonight. He had no idea his friend could be in this much danger. He compared what happened to Woodruff to a Greek tragedy.
And finally, we spoke with ABC News Correspondent David Muir. He and Woodruff spent a few weeks together in New Orleans. Muir says Woodruff was always the first one out chasing a story. He remembered the two were asleep in the front seat of a car. They were rocked by an explosion. Muir had barely opened his eyes but Woodruff was already out the car door and on the story. He says: "You think you run fast; Bob always runs faster."
Woodruff's passion for helping people see the world was evident even back in his high school days. In his high school yearbook, he quoted Henry David Thoreau: "I wish to live deliberately,...and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."
Monday, January 30, 2006
On patrol with the Minutemen
One of the first things members of the Minutemen told me while patrolling the Mexican border is that they reject the notion they are a "vigilante" group. Take the "e" off that word, they say, and you get their more favored term: "vigilant."
We spent an afternoon and evening with the group that tries to stop Mexicans from crossing the border. We rode, walked, and climbed with them on a piece of unguarded frontier about 70 miles east of San Diego for a story for tonight's program.
They have binoculars and night-vision goggles. Two members carried guns -- for self-defense, they say. They also carry a great deal of resentment that the U.S. government doesn't spend more money on keeping the border closed.
We saw clothes, water bottles, hats, and scarves discarded by illegal immigrants who successfully crossed into the United States. We saw hundreds of rattlesnake holes that I hoped no longer housed their usual occupants.
But on our night with the Minutemen, we didn't see any people trying to sneak across the border. The Minutemen say few people try to cross the border where they are. And that's just the way they want it.
Tunneling into America
I heard the news about Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt, his cameraman, after landing in San Diego Sunday morning. The report on my blackberry stopped me cold. It's one of those things all of us who've been to Iraq know can happen, but when it does, it's still like a punch to the stomach. My thoughts and prayers are with Bob and Doug and their families.
I'm in San Diego because we've been given remarkable access to the tunnel discovered last week by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. It's no surprise drug cartels will do just about anything to bring narcotics into the United States, but the sight of this tunnel up close is remarkable.
Two years ago, ICE agents got some information that there was a massive tunnel either being built or already completed under the U.S.-Mexican border. When they finally discovered it last week, even they were amazed at its size. It is the longest tunnel they've ever found. It runs about 2,400 feet, the size of eight football fields.
What's so surreal is that the tunnel's exit on the U.S. side is in a tiny office inside an enormous industrial warehouse. If you saw it in some movie about drug dealers, you'd never believe it because it seems so implausible. They found more than two tons of marijuana inside the tunnel, but it is likely that cocaine and other drugs were brought through as well.
The tunnel is leaking. There are several inches of water on the ground, and they've brought in pumps to try to dry it out. They've already processed the crime scene, and tonight on the show we'll give you an exclusive tour.
We also drove down to Tijuana last night for an update on a story CNN's Thelma Gutierrez filed on sex trafficking of children. In 2003, the United States passed the PROTECT Act, which makes it illegal for an American to travel overseas with the intent to have sex with a minor. The hope was that it would put a dent in the sexual exploitation of children. While it has resulted in a number of arrests, there are still plenty of young girls working the streets, as we saw last night in Tijuana.