Friday, April 07, 2006
Medics answer quake's call
The pictures were heartbreaking; the death and destruction overwhelming. Just six months ago, as Pakistan was shaken to the core by a massive 7.6 magnitude earthquake, a group of New York City emergency medical workers was watching too, and immediately started making preparations to travel halfway around the world to help.
The quake crushed towns hidden in the shadows of the Himalaya Mountains. The numbers were staggering: 3.5 million homeless, 73,000 dead, 69,000 injured. When this band of medics arrived, they were stunned to find that many of the injured had never even been seen by a doctor.
"It was incredible that this was two weeks after the earthquake," said Phil Suarez, a paramedic. Phil kept a photographic record of the people he met. A few of his photos are featured here.
Their mission of mercy was beset by obstacles. A language barrier kept patients from communicating their pain. The perilous terrain made moving between camps nearly impossible. Shelter was nearly nonexistent, as were medical supplies. And a punishing winter that would cover the mountains in snow was approaching fast.
But still, the wounded kept coming to their makeshift emergency room. "Four men would be carrying these sick people over this rubble that I could barely walk on with a backpack," Phil said.
For two weeks, the medics worked in the harshest conditions, doing what they could with what little they had available for their very grateful patients.
When they returned home to their lives, their jobs and their families, they knew their work in the mountains of Pakistan was not yet done. In March, they made their way back. But this time, they were armed with donations, supplies, even prefabricated shelters for some of those still displaced by the quake, but unwilling to come down from the mountains.
Six months has passed since the earthquake, and little has changed for the people of the poor Pakistani villages buried under the quake's rubble. But much has changed for these medics, who left their lives behind to respond to an emergency call half a world away from home.
Real life 'Crash' in L.A.
When I first heard about this story, I thought to myself, "No way can this be true." These things simply don't happen. However, despite my natural skepticism as a journalist, the true facts of this story couldn't be ignored.
It goes like this: In 1981, a 13-year-old gay runaway was savagely beaten in a back alley in West Hollywood, California. The group behind the attack specifically targeted homosexuals. After the attack, the victim's life would never be the same. He was fearful of being in public places, even movie theaters.
Fast forward to 2005. The victim is working at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, a place dedicated to educating the public about hate. While there, he meets a former neo-Nazi skinhead who served time in prison for attacking an Iranian couple he thought was Jewish. This man, however, has undergone a personal transformation. He now realizes he was stupid for espousing racist beliefs and acting on them.
Over lunch, the two start talking about their life experiences. They quickly realize they'd met before. Yes, in that back alley in West Hollywood. After all these years, the victim and the perpetrator speak face-to-face. However, this time they're on the same side, both trying to accomplish a little bit of good.
This story is about so many things -- forgiveness, redemption, love, hate -- all the emotions we as human beings are capable of having. That two people could meet like this after 24 years and begin a friendship is astonishing.
I'd like to give a shout out to CNN Producer Stan Wilson for finding this incredible story and pushing it through to air.
Thursday, April 06, 2006
Jocks and sex
The accusation has never been definitely proven: That the sports culture in high schools, colleges, and professional arenas spurs sexually inappropriate behavior or sexual violence. But each time another athlete or sports team stands accused of sexual misconduct, the question is raised again: Is jock culture somehow responsible?
In the wake of the controversy swirling around Duke University's lacrosse team, I was given the job of looking into that question, and I found that solid answers remain as elusive as ever.
A study by Rutgers University found that the locker-room mentality of some male athletes provides fertile ground for sketchy attitudes toward sex and women. The study, which examined the 2001-2002 academic year, found many male athletes routinely, sometimes exclusively, refer to women through sexual slurs, especially when these men are together as a team. Some male athletes suggest they struggle with turning on and off the violence that is part of their game. And many believe in "accidental rape," that is to say rape that happens in the heat of a moment, often fueled by alcohol, which they feel no one should be blamed for.
But the Rutgers researchers caution that many other athletes and coaches are actively trying to fight such attitudes, and the entire athletic community should not be tarred by actions of some.
Still, victims advocates say American adoration of athletes is so profound that many victims will not come forward to tell their stories if an admired athlete is involved. So the question remains: Even when sexual misconduct by athletes is proven, does it
reveal rare and terrible behavior or something that is all too common in jock culture?
Get your trailer away from my mansion
You know the phrase "not in my back yard?" Well, how about "not next door to my mansion!"
Homeowners in a private, gated subdivision in New Orleans are furious that FEMA is putting a trailer park for evacuees next door.
The homeowners argue that there's plenty of vacant land in the city. The city councilwoman who represents the subdivision proposed an alternate site. But FEMA ignored the proposal and started moving in trailers.
That has made Mayor Ray Nagin so angry that he says he won't allow any more group trailer sites in the city -- and he wants the FEMA workers kicked-out.
FEMA says the city has "jeopardized" the housing effort, and FEMA says it may demand that the city pay back the $1.5 million FEMA has spent on the site so far. The Mayor says no way.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
Getting your share of federal pork?
A half million dollars for a teapot museum; $1 million for the development of waterless toilets; $600,000 for reminding folks about Abe Lincoln's bicentennial birthday. The 2006 Pig Book
is out, and Citizens Against Government Waste
(CAGW) says its annual publication underlines a wide range of tax dollar waste.
On a per capita basis, Alaska is once again on top of the pig pile, pulling in $325 million for pet projects, including the sea otter commission. But the CAGW says there is plenty of other pork for grilling.
The International Fund for Ireland, the report says, was given $13 million, some of which went for the World Toilet Summit. Another $1 million went for development of waterless toilets. Missouri got almost $6 million to relieve traffic in a town of only 50,000 people. Oregon welcomed $400,000 for a museum about two Chinese immigrants. Iowa rounded up $250,000 for its cattle congress. Nevada knocked down a cool $100,000 for a boxing club. New York landed $50,000 for a Tito Puente memorial project.
All of these projects have defenders, people who say this is not pork at all, but money well spent to spur local economies, create jobs, and bring taxpayer money back to the taxpaying communities. Still, CAGW and the elected officials who support eliminating pork say the proof is in the spending, and pork is still king in the capitol.
So what about your state: Are you getting pork...or just a well-deserved slice of the taxpayer pie?
Sexual predators find support systems online
The arrest last night of a Department of Homeland Security official on child predation charges has thrust the issue of Internet pornography/predators to the top of the news today.
Brian Doyle was the deputy press secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, a position that puts him on the front lines of helping to protect this nation. If what Polk County, Florida, police allege is true, it would not only be a grievous crime, but an abrogation of trust with the American people. We're going to take a long look at the issue of Internet predators tonight, how prevalent they are, the support systems the Internet offers them, and how the web has truly become an information superhighway for deviant behavior.
You might be frightened to know that as many as 1 in 4 children who go into Internet chat rooms have been contacted or propositioned by a pedophile. As the father of a 14 year old girl, I find that statistic incredibly troubling. What's more, the Internet not only offers perverts a quick and clear line to potential victims, it also offers a network for these deviants to plot and plan the best way to approach young people and how to manipulate them. It even brings pedophiles together in a common community where they assure each other what they're doing is not morally or criminally wrong.
The Internet can be a wonderful tool, but it is also home to a lot of dark places where predators aggressively pursue innocent victims. The exploitation of children over the Internet is already a $20 billion dollar a year business, and business is exploding. A recent survey conducted for the Polly Klaas Foundation found 25 percent of teens say they have talked online about sex with someone they never met in person. Nearly 1 in 5 reported knowing a friend who has been harassed or asked about sex online by a stranger.
Law enforcement does what it can to combat this nightmare of pedophilia. Brian Doyle was caught by a small sheriff's department in Florida that has decided Internet predation is an important enough issue to warrant a computer crimes unit. But for every deviant brought before the bar of justice, hundreds more continue to troll unencumbered for new victims.
Parents play a big role here too. You HAVE to be aware of what your child is doing online. Look at the case of Justin Berry, who testified before Congress yesterday. He ran an internet porn business from his bedroom for years. Where was his mother in all this? She claims to have had no idea what he was up to. Come on parents! What does it take to police your child's online experience? I'm not trying to play holier-than-thou here, but parents MUST take responsibility for their children's environment. It's a dangerous world out there in cyberspace -- and the problem of internet predation should spark us all to outrage.
We're covering all the angles on this important story tonight, and I'll see you for "360°."Editor's note: John Roberts and Heidi Collins co-achor "360°" tonight.
Big screen TVs part of Katrina relief effort?
For months, the people of St. Bernard Parish, a blue-collar community outside New Orleans devastated by Hurricane Katrina, have blasted the federal government, especially FEMA, for the slow federal response. Now, the Empire strikes back.
Local officials say FBI agents are looking into how St. Bernard Parish spent federal relief money. The agents are asking about everything from a $700 million contract to haul away garbage to the purchase of three big screen TVs.
Larry Ingargiola, St. Bernard Parish's emergency management chief, says the feds "are on a fishing trip, and this fish won't bite." He says parish leaders did what they had to do after Katrina as quickly as they could "to save lives."
Ingargiola also says some of the big contracts the parish signed without FEMA approval might not have been legal, but "it was the morally right thing to do."
Neither FEMA nor the FBI will comment on an ongoing investigation. But contractors who did not get some of the early action, who missed out on the big money deals, are crying foul.
Louisiana Legislative Auditor Steve Theriot, the person in charge of going over all the documents, says state auditors are reviewing every single purchase made by St. Bernard Parish since the hurricane -- a review he says will take not days or weeks, but years.
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Belay DeLay -- a few thoughts about the "Hammer" bowing out
It's a time-honored tradition in Washington that whenever someone gives you an explanation for something, you immediately start digging for the real reasons why. And so it is with the announcement that Tom DeLay will not seek reelection to represent Texas' 22nd Congressional District.
DeLay said today that the fight just wouldn't be worth it, that "liberal Democrats were trying to steal his seat with personal attacks..." and that while he is confident he would have prevailed, it would have been a nasty and expensive battle, and that he, not the issues, would be the story. While it's an open question whether DeLay would have won reelection, the rest is certainly true. But are those the only reasons?
DeLay's troubles -- the indictments, his forced ouster from the position of majority leader and swirling suspicions about his possible connections to Jack Abramoff -- had made him a lightning rod. Controversy is nothing new for DeLay. In fact, he often relishes it. But in an election year when Republicans are hyperventilating about the prospect of losing the House and Senate, anything that distracts from the issues on which they'd like to run is unwelcome. You'll notice that while Republicans said glowing things about DeLay today, not one publicly encouraged him to stay and fight.
DeLay swears he did nothing wrong in either the Texas case for which he is under indictment or the Abramoff scandal. But the latter hit very close to the bone last week when a former DeLay aide, Tony Rudy, pleaded guilty to conspiracy for his dealings with Abramoff. No surprise that people are wondering how much further the former lobbyist's tentacles reached into the halls of power.
DeLay's departure from the scene -- expected in late May or early June -- robs the Democrats of a potent arrow in their election year quiver. While all politics are local, Democrats were anxious to turn the battle for the 22nd District into a national issue by holding up DeLay as "poster boy" for what they call the Republicans' "culture of corruption." With DeLay off the stage, Howard Dean and company will be left to point to Randy "Duke" Cunningham as the national example of bad behavior. But Cunningham has already been sentenced. There's not much more to talk about there. An active investigation always makes better fuel for partisan attacks.
Any way you shape it, Congress won't be the same without the "Hammer." For some people, that's a good thing. But DeLay is one of those characters, who, love him or hate him, is a rich part of the American political process, one of those colorful figures whom history remembers. What is unclear at this point is what history will remember him for.
Helping college students cope with addictions
I love stories of second chances. While producing our weeklong series on alcoholism, I met many people whose lives were destroyed by alcohol, yet through humility and tenacity, they turned things around.
Samantha Wiegand is one of those people. The first thing you notice about Sam is her contagious smile. But there was a time when that smile was hard to come by.
Sam started drinking when she was in her early teens. She says she did it to fit in and that she wasn't able to function unless drunk or high. Her mom intervened and Sam went off to rehab. She's been sober since 16. But Sam was concerned out about how she would deal with her alcohol problem when she left home for college, where drinking is a major social activity for a lot of students.
Sam found out about an unusual program at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, called StepUp. This program supports college students dealing with drug and alcohol problems. They live in community with others in recovery and meet with counselors once a week. The program boasts an 83 percent success rate.
There are a handful of similar programs at other college campuses in the United States. But the experts we spoke with say more of these programs are desperately needed as more people go into recovery at an earlier age.
Roughly 430,000 teenagers enter rehab each year, according to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. Also, a 2002 study by the Harvard School of Public Health found that 6 percent of college students meet criteria for a diagnosis of alcohol dependence, aka alcoholism, and 31 percent meet the criteria for alcohol abuse, or drinking too much.
As for Samantha, she is studying psychology and dreams of opening her own recovery center for teens.
Solid brick homes destroyed in seconds
I have seen enough severe storm damage in the last year to last me a lifetime. But every time I arrive at a scene like I came across in Dyersburg, Tennessee, I remind myself that for the people I'm about to meet this is probably the first time they've seen destruction and loss like this.
Yesterday, I drove with Sheriff Jeff Holt through the neighborhoods leveled by the storm. These weren't neighborhoods with flimsy, mobile home structures. The houses that were disintegrated by this tornado were skillfully constructed and made of brick. So when you see wide open fields where 15 houses once stood and all that's left are the foundations, you can imagine how vicious this storm must have been.
Tornadoes, to me at least, are the most frightening storms to cover. Relatively speaking, you have time to prepare for hurricanes. But the people who were killed by these tornadoes only had a few final, frantic moments to take cover. In seconds, their homes disappeared.
When I was with Sheriff Holt yesterday, I asked him what the worst part of the storm had been for him. I could tell he was fighting back the emotion when he said he would never forget the face of an 11-month-old boy who was killed by the tornado.
That's why I remind myself that no matter how many times we cover a story like this, every storm is different.
Monday, April 03, 2006
Cutting themselves for comfort
Tonight on "360," CNN National Correspondent John Roberts and I will co-anchor.
Because of his many years of reporting in the nation's capitol, John will bring terrific insight into one of the topics we are covering tonight -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's seemingly surprise visit to Iraq.
Rice went there hoping to encourage Iraqi politicians to form their own much-needed new government. We'll cover her trip and what it means for the United States and Iraq.
You've probably heard about the devastating tornadoes that struck last night. At least 27 people are dead across eight states. We'll have several live reports from the area and Rob Marciano, a meteorologist, will be in the hot zone where the worst damage took place -- northwestern Tennessee. The video we've collected of the damage is incredible.
We'll also hear some of the first 911 calls that came into emergency dispatch centers all around New York City on September 11, 2001. The sound of the voices of the people who later ended up becoming victims on that terrible day reminds us all how fragile life can be.
Finally, don't miss a frightening segment we'll have on something called "cutting." About 6 million people in this country use razor blades or knives to cut themselves to deal with their angry, depressed emotions, according to experts. But they aren't trying to commit suicide. Instead, they say they are "soothing" themselves.
Inside Tennessee's deadly night
I'm writing this on a plane to Memphis, Tennessee, where after landing we'll drive another two hours north to a spot hammered by storms and tornadoes on Sunday. Sadly, the number of deaths from these storms is in the double digits. Watches and warnings were posted well ahead of time, but the storms moved so fast people were bound to get hurt.
Already this year, we have seen about five times the average number of tornado reports. That's a bit scary, considering the severe weather season is just getting started.
Typically, when daylight savings time begins, tornado season starts to crank up, eventually peaking in May. The main reason this time of year is so active is because the atmosphere is transitioning from winter to summer. This results in a clash of hot and cold air masses. Spring is more active than fall for tornadoes because the upper atmosphere is still cool in spring, making it more unstable. Also, the days are longer and the sun is stronger in late spring.
The most prominent spot for tornadoes is in the plains, stretching into the Ohio and Tennessee valleys. Dry heat from Mexico and moist air from the Gulf only add fuel to the fire. Supercell thunderstorms producing strong tornadoes are often the result.
Tragically, that's what happened last night in northwestern Tennessee.
Drinking and drowning
They drink, they get drunk, and they drown.
That's the tragic scenario that plays out far too often in Minnesota and Wisconsin, where there are lots of college campuses and lots of water. In that region alone, twelve college students have wound up dead in the water over the past decade after wandering away from a party or bar following a long night of drinking.
For "360's" ongoing series on alcoholism, we took a closer look at this phenomenon through the eyes of Patrick Kycia's family. Patrick died last fall after leaving a fraternity party at Minnesota State University in Moorhead, Minnesota. His body was found four days later. No foul play is suspected.
The party Patrick went to that night was just six blocks from his apartment, yet he wound up more than two miles away in the other direction...in the Red River.
Patrick's mother told us she had nightmares for weeks after his death that she was drowning. She'd wake up gagging. That is what a tragedy like this can do to a family. Patrick's blood alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit.
I've talked with half a dozen parents who lost children this way. Each story involves a great kid who had too much to drink. It breaks your heart. Colleges are trying to make students more aware of what's happening and so are families. But the tragic events continue.
What do you think should be done? And whose responsibility is it to make sure this doesn't happen again?