Friday, March 10, 2006
Bush's successor might be in Memphis
Call it what you want -- the opening bell in the 2008 Presidential race, the first cattle call for candidates, an opportunity for delegates to kick the tires on the new Republican models -- but there's a chance the next president of the United States will be here in Memphis, Tennessee, this weekend at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference (SRLC). While this event can't make or break a candidacy, it can give Republican faithful an early look at how viable a candidate might be. It's all about buzz.
The early money is on Sen. John McCain. He has the edge on experience -- running a national campaign in 2000. And he's gone some distance in the past six years toward building bridges with the conservative wing of the party. But according to a recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, he is still more popular among moderates than conservatives, leaving the door open for someone else to pass him on the right.
Who might that be? Rudy Giuliani for one. According to our poll, he has less appeal with moderates than McCain, but beats him with conservatives (despite some positions that would seem to give social conservatives cause for concern). Giuliani also has tremendous national security and management credentials, the sort of person America equates with crisis management. Giuliani was invited this weekend, but is skipping the event.
And then there is Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. A dark horse at this point, Huckabee has the kind of personality that could catch fire. A former minister who is hugely popular with social conservatives, Huckabee recently lost more than 100 pounds and ran a marathon in an effort to beat diabetes. He was born in a little town called Hope. And we all know that Hope has a pretty good record of producing presidents.
Any way you look at it, the field is wide open. It's the first time since 1952 that there's no sitting president or vice-president seeking the nomination. The eventual list of candidates could top 10 or 11. In addition to McCain and Huckabee, also in attendance this weekend are Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (a home-state favorite), Virginia Sen. George Allen, Sam Brownback of Kansas and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Each will have 15 minutes to address the delegates. Fifteen minutes they hope will lead to fame.
We'll get our first idea of how delegates are feeling about the field with the results of a straw poll on Saturday night. Sure, a straw poll at this time could be considered meaningless, but let's not forget who won the SRLC's ballot in 1998 -- George W. Bush. However, some Republicans say the fix is in on Saturday's straw poll. Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott claims Frist has stacked the deck by busing in delegates from Nashville. There's no love lost between Lott and Frist, and Lott is throwing his support behind McCain. But to trash the senator in his home state is an indication of just how interesting the coming campaign could be.
It's still early, but who do you think is the GOP's best bet in 2008?
Son still hoping for fugitive father's kidney
Imagine counting on your dad to come through for you. Sure, he hasn't been there for you most of your life, having been in prison for seven years on a bank robbery conviction. But now, he's promised to donate a kidney
, raising your hope just a little.
That's how relatives of 16-year-old Destin Perkins describe the teenager's emotional predicament.
Last year, Destin's mother gave him one of her kidneys, but his body rejected it. His father, Byron Perkins, offered his, but is now on the run
with his fugitive girlfriend, Lee Ann Howard.
So all Destin can do is wait.
If his father is captured or gives himself up and still agrees to donate his donate his kidney, Destin says he'll take it gladly.
If not, his doctors at Kosair Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, say they won't even consider a transplant for months. They would first look to other relatives. Mainly, they say, Destin needs a good dose of emotional strength to rebound.
"Right now, the family's gone through a lot of psychological strain," says Dr. Larry Shoemaker. "We"re trying to get Destin back to a regular dialysis program."
The fugitive father and his girlfriend are now on the U.S. Marshals 15 Most Wanted List. There is a $25,000 reward for information leading to their capture.
Thursday, March 09, 2006
Twenty kids, eleven moms, one dad
Eleven women having children with the same man....not through polygamy or promiscuity, but through the modern marvel of reproductive science.
Women who undergo artificial insemination typically choose from a large pool of anonymous sperm donors. General characteristics, like height or education, may be revealed, but that's about it.
Well, while reporting this story, we looked at a case in Virginia where one man's genetic profile has proven especially popular. He is said to be of German descent, tall and athletic, and is responsible for "fathering" as many as 20 children through 11 different women.
He chooses to remain anonymous, but the mothers have established an incredible connection to each other through a Web site called DonorSiblingRegistry.com. The site allows mothers who conceive children with donated sperm to connect with one another.
I spoke to several women who connected in this fashion. They have become fast friends, but perhaps more important, their kids have discovered they have brothers and sisters. To see the kids' photographs is striking, because of their resemblance to one another.
The moms are smart and highly educated. They aren't unusual but for the fact they all chose sperm from the same donor and have kids with a strong biological connection.
So are they all really members of the same family? Are these kids actually brothers and sisters in any meaningful sense? This is one of those assignments I'll be thinking about for a long time.
I get by with a little help from my friends
If the statistics are trustworthy, they are staggering. The number of adults taking prescription drugs for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has more than doubled in the past few years. Some of them, like Kim Majerowicz, whom I met recently in Baltimore, are glad to hear it.
Attractive, outgoing, and middle-aged, Kim runs her interior design business with energy and good humor. She says that just a few years ago, however, she could barely drag herself out of bed. She often ran late to appointments, lived in chaos, and felt as if she were failing as a parent, as a spouse, and as a person. Then she was diagnosed as ADHD, started taking medication, and everything changed for the better.
Her doctor, David Goodman, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, thinks wider prescribing of drugs might help other people too. He is concerned that as many as seven million adults in America are living with undiagnosed ADHD.
But other medical experts fear that many adults, in a complex and busy world, are watching drug company ads and convincing themselves that the pills used to treat ADHD -- stimulants -- can be used as simple performance enhancers, making them work better, faster, and with less fatigue. They call it drug abuse.
I know there are people who suffer from pronounced psychological conditions who doctors say are undeniably helped by these drugs. But I also know some doctors worry we might be too quickly "running for the shelter of Mother's Little Helper." What do you think?
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Kentucky putting the squeeze on smokers
In Kentucky, tobacco has long been an important cash crop. It still brings in hundreds of millions of dollars a year. But tobacco has also brought the Bluegrass State something less glorious -- Kentucky has the highest smoking rate in the United States. Nearly 28 percent of Kentuckians smoke regularly, more than any other state.
Considering the state's heritage, we found it interesting when Kentucky decided to start charging state employees who smoke more money for health insurance than it charges nonsmokers. The man who led the effort to add the surcharge is Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who also happens to be a doctor.
Gov. Fletcher feels that insurance surcharges along with a wellness program will lower Kentucky's smoking rate. In addition, he thinks it is fair for smokers to pay more than nonsmokers because they cost the state so much more for medical care.
But there are a lot of angry smokers in Bluegrass Country. Here's one common complaint -- Why doesn't the state ask other people in high risk categories to pay more?
One state employee we talked to says she smokes two packs a day, but hasn't had any major medical problems, so why should she pay more?
We asked the governor what he thought about that argument. He says right now smokers are indeed the only group paying more, but he wouldn't rule out expanding the surcharge to other higher risk categories. Kentucky is one of five states that ask smokers to pay a surcharge, but it got our attention because of its number one ranking in a category it doesn't want to lead.
The 'Donald Trump' of New Orleans?
Where many people saw hopelessness in the damage and devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Patrick Quinn saw opportunity.
For years, Quinn has been a player in New Orleans real estate. Now, he's making a play to be a major power broker.
He's purchased five buildings since the hurricane and is in discussion for two more. Usually, he says, his company, Decatur Hotels, does only one or two big deals a year.
In fact, The New York Times Magazine this week dubbed him the man who wants to be the "Donald Trump" of New Orleans.
Quinn cringed when I asked if that was his goal, saying, "No, no!" What he really wants, he says, is to branch out from hotels and into residential development.
Quinn started down that path after Katrina, buying a couple of residential lots. But then he slammed on the brakes. He fears city, state, and federal officials have yet to come up with an acceptable plan to redevelop flooded areas like the Lakeview section of New Orleans.
Quinn lived in Lakeview as a kid, attending Catholic schools in this now devastated area. He believes homeowners will return if they are confident the area is safe.
But the clock is ticking on Quinn's plans....Fewer than three months until hurricane season. And unless residents know they will be protected in low-lying areas, Quinn knows they will not return.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Remembering Gordon Parks
I just heard the news that Gordon Parks has died. My mom saw him several times this past week, and she warned me yesterday that he was near the end of his life. Still, the news came as a shock. I just wanted to write in and say a few words about a man whose life was truly remarkable and deserves to be celebrated and honored for years to come.
If you don't know who Gordon Parks is, or even if you think you know about him, chances are you only know one part of his story. Gordon Parks lived more lives and had more talents than anyone else I've ever met. He was a photographer, a writer, a poet, a film director, not to mention a father, a husband, and a friend.
Gordon gave so much to this world, even though this world initially didn't give him much of anything. He was born in Kansas to a family that was dirt poor. He was the first African-American photographer for Life Magazine, and later, the first African-American to direct a film for a major Hollywood studio.
My mom became friends with Gordon Parks in the mid 1950s. He was a photographer for Life back then and had come to take her picture. I don't think two people could have come from more different backgrounds, but my mom and Gordon became very close friends -- a friendship they maintained and protected throughout the rest of their lives.
Most kids don't pay much attention to their parents' friends, but when Gordon Parks came to stay at our house on weekends during the summer, my brother and I made sure we would be around. I knew Gordon was cool, long before I even knew what the word cool meant. Memory plays tricks over time, and I can't recall if Gordon drove a Jaguar or a Porsche, but I remember it was the most beautiful sports car I'd ever seen. He told me he'd give it to me when he died. Later, he admitted he said that to just about everyone who inquired about the car.
As a kid, I didn't really know much about Gordon's career. I knew he'd written books and took photographs. It was only as a teenager that I actually saw his remarkable work and came to appreciate the full scope of his talent.
We live in an age of quick celebrity, where people become famous for not really doing much of anything. Gordon Parks earned everything he ever got. He made countless contributions to art and politics, and through his work and his life was an important agent of social change. I feel very lucky to have known him even a little bit.
It's strange. I didn't know Gordon was ill, and just last week dropped off at my mom's house a belated birthday present for her. It's a photo of Gordon and her taken a few years ago in her apartment in New York. It was taken for a series on race The New York Times was doing.
In the photo, my mom and Gordon are sitting in her living room, holding each other. There is something so tender about it. These two old friends, both of whom knew the pain of losing a child, both of whom had seen so many good times and bad. There they were after all these years. Friends. Survivors. Together. Holding onto one another.
Gordon Parks has died. He is gone. Thankfully, his work, his art, his example -- those are things all of us still have to hold onto.
Reeve's resilience left me hopeful
I know the numbers are abysmal when it comes to lung cancer, but somehow I thought in the back of my mind that Dana Reeve still would beat it.
Maybe it was her amazing resilience after her husband was paralyzed or even the optimistic outlook in November when she announced her tumors were shrinking. Maybe it was the fact that she and Christopher had a son, Will, and it would be brutally unfair for him to lose two parents in two years. I should have known better.
Lung cancer kills 60 percent of its victims in the first year alone, and within five years, only 15 percent are living. A large part of the problem has to do with the fact that we aren't very good at screening for this type of cancer. By the time someone comes to their doctor because they are not feeling well, the cancer is often advanced. We have mammograms for breast cancer, colonoscopies for colon cancer and PSA tests for prostate cancer, but when it comes to lung cancer (the biggest killer of all), we aren't even sure who to screen.
Should it be every person who has smoked over 10 years? Should it be anyone who has a cough lasting more than a month? How about someone who develops pneumonia and bronchitis repeatedly? The answer is we don't know, and the medical community isn't ready to recommend a CT scan of the lungs for every American, while a chest x-ray alone probably isn't sensitive enough to detect early lung cancer.
A lot will be made of the fact that Dana Reeve wasn't a smoker. Fair enough, since that fact puts her in the minority of lung cancer victims. Only 20 percent of women who develop lung cancer weren't smokers and just 10 percent of men. It may have been bad genes, exposure to secondhand smoke or radon or something else entirely. Truth is, we may never know for sure.
Still, there is a larger issue: How do we collectively make a dent in saving and prolonging the lives of people with lung cancer? Should we place a bigger focus on it in the media? Should more funding go toward treatment as it kills more people than breast, prostate and colon cancer combined? And perhaps most importantly, how do we develop a better screening test?
We'll take your cancer-related questions live on air tonight between 10 p.m. and midnight ET, so please call us then at 877-648-3639. In the meantime, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below. I'm anxious to hear what's on your mind.
Couple 'vacations' with fugitive dad in Mexico
John and Lynn (real names withheld by choice) were sitting at an airport gate in Phoenix, waiting for their connecting flight to Washington state after a Mexican vacation.
CNN was on the monitor. John was reading a book as he listened to a story about a Kentucky fugitive dad
who was allowed to leave jail for a final round of tests before donating a kidney to his son.
But he skipped out. Vanished. John said he thought, "What a jerk." He looked up at the screen, saw Byron Perkins' photo, and said, "Honey, you wouldn't believe who was just on TV."
John and his wife believe they unwittingly spent a few days with that runaway dad in a tiny fishing village called Boca de Tomatlan south of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Perkins and his girlfriend Lee Ann Howard had been on the run for a month.
Instead of ignoring the story, John and Lynn went the extra step. They called police. They got involved. Timing. Luck. Whatever you call it, U.S. Marshals are grateful to have their first solid lead in weeks.
Monday, March 06, 2006
Former employees allege racism at Allied Aviation
It was a source who first called me about this story, which focuses on an airline refueling company called Allied Aviation, one of the largest airline refuelers in the country. Chances are, when you look out the window of your airplane, Allied workers are refueling your aircraft.
When I first heard the details, I found them hard to believe. Several African-American and Latino workers at Allied's facility in Dallas allege they were subjected to racism by supervisors and colleagues and that upper management didn't do enough to stop it.
Eric Mitchell, a former employee, described how white workers and managers used a demeaning racial slur to describe blacks. He says his immediate supervisors did little to stop it. One day he went to work and saw his name, as well as the names of several other black employees, on something called the "n----- hit list." The list was written on a bathroom wall.
Mitchell was so concerned he reported it to police. But he said it was only after he and others complained to Allied's corporate headquarters that the company scheduled a sensitivity class.
I also spoke to Francisco Ochoa, who had put up with workers telling him to go back to "Mexico." The defining moment for him was when he walked into his manager's office and found a derogatory cartoon with him in it. He said it was titled: "Mexican gas chamber." Ochoa, who was battling cancer, tearfully explained how deeply it had hurt him.
When I caught up with Ochoa's former manager, the one who had the cartoon on his desk, he told me that while the cartoon probably should not have been on his desk, whoever drew it was "a good artist." He said Ochoa never complained to him about the cartoon.
Allied would not speak to us on camera about the allegations, but they did release a statement: "We deny that these individuals are the victims of any type of discrimination or retaliation....We have acted in good faith towards these individuals."
But the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission conducted an investigation, and as a result, filed a federal suit against Allied Aviation. The EEOC says Allied did too little, too late to stop the racism at its facility. And, according to James Vagnini, a plaintiffs attorney, there are similar allegations at Allied facilities operating at JFK airport, Newark International and San Antonio.
I know full well that racism still exists in many parts of our society, despite the good intentions of most people, but the allegations in this case nevertheless are disturbing.
'Buddy' finds dead people with his nose
Buddy gets up every day and can't wait to get to work. No complaining, just a methodical, business-like approach to his job.
That's amazing when you consider more often than not Buddy spends his entire day looking for dead people.
Buddy, you see, is a six-year-old German shepherd and a "cadaver dog." He is trained to find dead people.
Buddy went into a house in the Lakeview section of New Orleans Sunday, hit the brakes and immediately looked toward the ceiling. A short while later, a grim find in the attic -- the mummified remains of a man in a crawl space.
This man probably died more than six months ago during Hurricane Katrina. While it's not easy to say, the state medical examiner believes he died a terrible death.
Just two days earlier, on Friday, the city police checked the same house and found nothing. Without Buddy's keen nose following up on Sunday, the house would have been torn down, the remains of this man likely swept away with the debris.
But now, with DNA testing yet to come, there should be some sense of closure for this man's family.