Wednesday, May 31, 2006
French Quarter bar making final 'last call'
New Orleans, with its famous French Quarter is still loud, wild and rambunctious. People are still allowed to drink alcohol in the streets and they party accordingly. But there is a different feeling here since Hurricane Katrina. Somehow, it feels the like fun and frivolity have been minimized. There are not as many people vacationing here, and therefore, not as much business. As a result, many clubs, bars, and restaurants are in trouble, if they haven't closed already.
Case in point, the Deep South Lounge, a bar in the French Quarter. The owner, Louis, opened it up a few years ago. Business had been booming. He bought a mechanical bull, encouraged bachelor and bachelorette parties, and was having the time of his life with jam-packed weekends in his business. But then came Katrina, and with it, an exodus of locals and the disappearance of tourists. Louis told me he would gross about $4,000 on a good weekend night. Last weekend, he only grossed about $600. He can no longer afford to stay open, so this week he decided to shut the doors on his dream business.
Other businesses are also having a tough time making a buck, but some are sticking it out due to deeper pockets or deeper resolve. The Voodoo Barbecue's business is down 50 percent from last year, according to the owner, and she's now digging into her financial reserves to keep it open. But she and her employees say they believe the city -- and their business -- will come back.
City officials tell us they expect a rebound and are encouraged that conventions are starting to return to New Orleans. But it could be three or four years before the comeback is considered complete, providing there are no more Katrinas.
And that is the underlying fear here. Odds are there won't be another Katrina-magnitude storm here for a long time to come. But as we enter another hurricane season, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone here who doesn't think about that possibility.
Need to see a doctor? Hurry up and wait
One of my professors in medical school once told me that "the very measure of a society is how well they take care of their sick." His words have stayed with me throughout my medical career, and I heard those words again as I reported from New Orleans hospitals this week.
Nearly nine months after Katrina, it is as dangerous as ever to get ill or injured in New Orleans. In a city that once boasted the famed Charity Hospital, a mammoth trauma center that took care of the indigent and the ignored by the thousands, there are now only hastily thrown together emergency centers with limited beds and dangerously low staffing.
As I surveyed the hospital situation, I calculated that at noon on Tuesday, there were only eight hospital beds available in the entire metropolitan New Orleans area. One bad pile up on I-10 and New Orleans would in crisis mode again.
Charity is still standing, but it is empty and devoid of any life. And there are no plans to resuscitate it. When I asked one man sitting out in front of the hospital what he thought of the situation, he looked up and said, "A lot of people were born in Charity and a lot of people died there." So true, but now it is the hospital itself that has died. While there are plans to build a new Charity, a sort of Charity 2.0, it may take more than seven years for that to happen.
If there was one word to describe the hospital system in New Orleans today, it would have to be "waiting." If you are riding your bike and fall and break your collar bone, you will wait at least 12 hours. Step on a rusty nail in the morning and you shouldn't plan on seeing a doctor until the late evening. Swallow 100 Tylenols in an attempt to kill yourself and the doctors will act more quickly to save you, but then you will have to wait.
Ambulances roar up to the hospitals with sirens blaring, but I was stunned to learn it may take up to three hours to even bring the patient into the emergency room. Many patients simply lie on gurneys in the hallways that line emergency rooms throughout New Orleans with no place to go.
I wish I could say things were going to get better and that there was a master plan to improve medical care in New Orleans. Truth is, after interviewing haggard doctors at a few different hospitals, most think it is going to get worse before it gets better. As the city repopulates, there will be even more injured and ill with the same lack of resources.
My professor from medical school would be disappointed in New Orleans today. The frustration is palpable and it seems the only thing everyone agrees on is that something has to change. So, what would you suggest to try and take care of New Orleans' neediest?
Friday, May 26, 2006
Bigger than da Vinci?
The rise of The Da Vinci Code phenomenon -- book and now movie -- began with the dropping of a name that, unequivocally, means genius: Leonardo da Vinci. So we decided to take a look at the person behind that name.
Born to an unwed mother in a town outside Florence, Italy, da Vinci displayed extraordinary artistic talent as a child and as a young adult was already producing masterful drawings, sculptures, and paintings.
But his range of talent went far beyond art alone. He was also a scientist who made contributions to biology, geography, botany, geology ... the list goes on and on.
And as an inventor, da Vinci drew intricate designs for flying machines, palaces, tanks, submarines, and so much more, long before the technology even existed to implement some of his ideas.
And, by the way, he also created what might be the most famous painting of all time: Mona Lisa.
If I created a list of the top ten most significant figures in the history of this world, I would assuredly put Leonardo near the top. Who else would you put on the list?
The lingering power of grief
It's been a really interesting week for me. Surreal, to say the least.
Writing a book can be a very personal act. There are many long hours of staring at a computer screen, many hours with nothing but your thoughts. Then the book is done, and copy editing is complete, and it disappears for a while.
You know it is out there somewhere being worked on by printers and publishers, but you are thankful it is done and use the extra time you suddenly have to catch up on sleep. Then, a few weeks before the book is released, you get your first copy.
It's startling, really, to see your words bound, packaged, printed neatly on a page. But it is still very personal somehow. It is not in bookstores. No one is talking about it. This week, however, all that changed with the release of the book
On Tuesday, I was on Oprah, and I know a lot of you watched, because many of you have written to me about it. I continue to be amazed by Oprah's talent and was really touched that she had read the book so thoroughly and was so passionate about it. I will sit down with Larry King soon in a program that will air sometime next week. And then more television appearances will follow.
I just wanted to say how much I appreciate all the feedback I've gotten from you on the book. I've already received a lot of letters and emails from people sharing their own experiences of loss and survival. Many of the notes are very moving, and if there is a common thread in them, it is the lingering power of grief, and the determination it takes to get through it.
I wish I could respond directly to all of your notes, but it would be virtually impossible to do so. Please know that I appreciate the many responses you have sent to me via this blog and in other ways. Thank you.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
Could Al Gore be the next Nixon?
Most Americans last saw Al Gore on December 13, 2000. That's when he ended his concession speech by saying, "And now, my friends, in a phrase I once addressed to others, it's time for me to go."
But look at Al Gore today. Magazines are running articles on "The Resurrection of Al Gore" (Wired) and "The Comeback Kid" (New York). His new movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," opened this week, and it's drawing good reviews: "A necessary film," writes A.O. Scott in The New York Times. For an Al Gore movie, that's a rave.
Could this be Al Gore's moment?
Since 2000, the former vice president has been traveling the world delivering lectures on the threat of global warming. More than a thousand lectures, in fact.
"I set myself a goal to communicate this real clearly," Gore says as the movie shows him trudging through airports, carrying his own bags. "The only way I know to do it is city by city, person by person, family by family."
He means it. At an advance screening in Washington last week, Gore was asked why his lectures had not gotten much press attention. "I deliberately kept them off the record," he said. "I wanted to preserve the intimacy of each occasion."
Hollywood producer Lawrence Bender saw Gore's talk and said to himself, this has got to be a movie. "We need to get millions of people to see it," Bender told CNN. "So we filmed him all around the world -- in China, all over the country, doing this presentation. It's truly phenomenal. It's going to blow your mind."
A lecture by Al Gore?
"The message is one that is serious and urgent and complicated," Gore said at the Sundance Film Festival in January. "They have made it entertaining and enjoyable and funny and really watchable."
How did they do that? By doing what Hollywood does best: Telling a story.
Director Davis Guggenheim said, "One of the things I wanted to do was tell his personal story, why he's so invested in this, why these facts and figures are so interesting to him." He added, "It all goes back to his life on the farm and tragedies in his family and the 2000 election. The process was very much an intimate storytelling experience."
The film includes the story of Gore's sister's death from lung cancer. "That's one of the ways you don't want to die," Gore says in the film. "The idea that we had been part of that economic pattern that produced the cigarettes that produced the cancer. It was so painful on so many levels. My father -- he had grown tobacco all his life. He stopped."
The filmmakers refuse to call it a "political" film, because they see the picture's message as unifying. Guggenheim said, "Gore frames it not as a political issue but as a moral issue, something we should all really think about no matter who we are."
Ok, but does President Bush plan to see it?
"Doubt it," Bush said. He explained, "We need to set aside whether or not greenhouse gases have been caused by mankind or because of natural effects and focus on the technologies that will enable us to live better and at the same time protect the environment."
These days, some Hollywood liberals have doubts about Hillary Clinton. Is she selling out? Can she be elected? Al Gore is emerging as their dark horse. After all, they say, he's been elected.
The Clinton legacy was something of a problem for Gore in 2000. A lot of Democrats believe Gore lost because he tried to distance himself from Bill Clinton. But you could also argue that Gore lost because he couldn't distance himself from Bill Clinton, even though he tried. That's why Gore put Joe Lieberman, Clinton's severest Democratic critic, on the ticket.
If Gore and Hillary Clinton were to run in 2008, both Democratic contenders could claim the Clinton legacy -- the former president's wife and his vice president. On the theory that a helpmate is closer than a running mate, Hillary would probably have the stronger claim. That could liberate Gore to run against Sen. Clinton from the left.
"He has a true vision," producer Bender told CNN. "He's strong. He doesn't equivocate. He's great on all the issues. He's passionate. He's funny, and he's grounded."
Well, Gore did appear on "Saturday Night Live" recently, where he pretended to be speaking as the president elected in 2000. "We have way too much gas," Gore said. "Gas is down to 19 cents a gallon, and the oil companies are hurting. I know that I am partly to blame by insisting that cars run on trash."
Gore calls himself a recovering politician, but adds, "There's a danger of a relapse." He said on NBC's "Today" show, "I'm not at the stage of my life where I'm going to say, 'Never in the rest of my life will I ever think about such a thing.'"
Talk about a smart marketing strategy: The film is coming out at the perfect moment. Millions of Americans are angry at President Bush and worried about energy.
The film is not overtly partisan, but few viewers will miss the visual cue after Gore says, "I was in politics for a long time. I'm proud of my service." The next shot shows the terrible devastation of Hurricane Katrina, an event some people believe hurt President Bush.
Would Americans really elect a president who served eight years as vice president, then ran for president and failed, and then was out of power for eight years?
It worked for Richard Nixon, because the moment was right.
Gang-raped and mutilated but still praising God
The cries of the women in a tiny hospital are as harrowing as they are haunting. I will never forget what I felt when I walked into a hospital room filled with the walking wounded in the town of Bukavu in Eastern Congo.
"This a pain worse than death," says 28-year-old Henriette Nyota. She's one of hundreds of women who've sought treatment at Panzi Hospital for a crime that continues to be committed here on an almost daily basis -- multiple rapes by men in uniform with the intention, aid workers say, of destroying their child-bearing capabilities.
The story is as complicated
as the Congo itself. The men in uniform are members of Congo's recently integrated army. Some of the men are from one ethnic group and they're raping and mutilating women from a different ethnic group in ways that can only be described as barbaric and medieval. After all, this is peacetime Congo. The civil war that killed more than three million people ended nearly three years ago. This isn't supposed to be happening today.
"These animals insert knives and other sharp objects into the women after raping them continuously for days at a time," says Dr. Denis Mukwege Mukengere, the lone physician working here. He's just finished a six-hour operation to repair one woman's uterus. She'd walked 300 miles to get here, exhausted, traumatized and overcome with excruciating pain.
"They seem to do this to prevent another generation of warriors from being born," Dr. Mukengere tells us.
He takes us on a tour of his hospital. Outside, in the corridors, new arrivals have just been dropped off by a Good Samaritan. I count a dozen of them, some with infant children, others too old to have children, all victims of unimaginable atrocities. He counsels them in his slow, methodical way and asks his small army of nurses to assist them. He's a kind of Mother Teresa, a person who has come to help the helpless. This hospital has become a haven for Congo's suffering masses, an oasis surrounded by horror and hatred.
We enter one of six wards dedicated to victims of sexual violence. Dr. Mukengere introduces us to 19-year-old Helene Wamunzila. She first came here five years ago after being raped repeatedly. Dr. Mukengere was able to stitch her back together and eventually discharged her. He says she cried the day she left, pleading with him to let her stay here because she said the evildoers were waiting for her back in her village. He didn't listen then and now regrets his decision. She's returned, badly mutilated physically and permanently scarred psychologically.
"I wish I'd let her stay," he says, shaking his head.
Victims of these horrible atrocities lie helplessly in bed, colostomy bags hanging below. Hanging over their heads is the fear that not only might they not be able to have children, but that they may have contracted HIV/AIDS, an almost guaranteed death sentence in this part of the world.
"Four out of 10 end up being HIV positive," Dr. Mukengere tells us. "It's almost as though God is punishing these people in the worst possible way."
Rose Mujikandi, 24, tells us 14 men broke into her parents' house two months ago. She says they killed her father and mother, two brothers and infant sister, but not before they had their way with her.
"It's the last thing my father and mother saw before they were killed. Can you imagine living the rest of my life knowing this is the image they went to heaven with?" she asks, tears streaming down her face. "But I have faith in God. What happened to me happened for a reason," she concludes.
In an open-air recreation area, more women, hundreds of them, talk quietly among themselves. They see Dr. Mukengere and one of them breaks into song. The others follow, but some are too traumatized to think of singing. The song is as haunting as it is defiant. I ask the doctor what it means.
"They're telling the men that they will never be broken, that their spirits will never be broken," he says.
The song ends and I turn to one of the women. She's using a cane to walk because of the damage she's received from days of multiple rapes and mutilation. She gives me her name only as Tintsi and says she's 21 years old. She was brought here by her relatives on a stretcher for a short distance, she says, only 25 miles. She tells me she was gang-raped by 15 men for eight days and eight nights. She just recently began walking again and the cane helps her get around.
"They can destroy my womanhood," she says, "but they can never destroy my spirit."
I ask her where she gets her strength and I almost know what she will say before the words leave her mouth.
"God," she whispers. Then, as if for emphasis, she cries aloud, "Only God can save the women of Congo." The women around her applaud. Some shake their heads in agreement. Others simply stare straight ahead.
I turn to Dr. Mukengere and ask him why everyone here refers to God after being the victims of such atrocities.
"God is the only thing they can hold on to that no one can take away from them. They've lost their dignity. They've lost their womanhood. They have nothing left," he says. "But if you ask me, God forgot about Congo a long time ago."
I wonder if he believes this. If he did, would he be here doing what he's been doing every day for the past three years?
I turn to leave this place and can't help feeling sick to my stomach. Every time I feel things are getting better on this continent that I grew up in, this land I proudly call my home, this place that has so much to offer, I'm confronted with the stark reality that all is not well in the place many people proudly call "Mother Africa."
We need to do more. We need to take care of our mothers, our sisters, our daughters and our grandmothers. Most of all we need to make life better for the generations that are yet to come.
We'll have to start somewhere, and the Congo it seems, is as good a place as any.
Congo rape victims -- how to help
After watching Jeff Koinange's story on air or reading his personal take here, many of you are probably wondering how you can help. Here are two organizations working in Congo:
The Swedish Pentecostal Mission -- PMU
Contact person: Marie Walterzon
Tel in Congo (243)-81-318-6246TEARFUND
-- A British NGO
Contact person: Tilly Leuring
Tel in Congo: (243)-997-089-850
Democrats: Poised to strike or flailing around?
It's now a little more than five months until the November elections. President Bush continues to take it on the chin in the polls, as does Congress. The number of competitive seats in the House continues to rise, according to the Rothenberg Political Report, and the Democrats are leading Republicans on every major issue, including terrorism.
The environment for the Democrats couldn't get much better. So why is it that when we asked people on the street yesterday what the Democrats' plan for America was we encountered responses such as "I have no clue -- to be honest, I have no clue what they're doing"?
It could be because the Democrats have yet to articulate anything that resembles a substantive plan. Oh sure, there have been bits and bites, but there's yet to be a clear election-year agenda. Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean says "there's plenty of time for specifics - the election is a long way off."
But if they hope to prevail in those exceedingly tight Congressional races, how long can Democrats continue to get by solely on rhetoric like Senator Harry Reid's declaration that "We as Democrats are declaring our commitment to change"?
For a while longer, according to Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel, whom many Democrats say is the guy driving the bus this year. Emanuel hears the calls from inside the party to lay out -- as quickly as possible -- a Democratic version of the Republicans' famous 1994 "Contract With America."
But he's keeping his powder dry for now, recalling that the Contract was released just six weeks before the '94 election. To do it now, he fears, would leave an agenda open to dissection and scrutiny, Republican attacks and inter-party fighting for a long time. Plus, what would be left to do in the fall?
The danger for Democrats, however, is that Republicans have been pretty effective at labeling them as the "party with no ideas, failing to articulate any core principles or governing philosophy."
Of course, that's merely a strategy to draw them into the debate. But as we saw in August of 2004, when John Kerry's campaign sank amid a barrage of unanswered attacks by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, sometimes you need to put some meat on the bones if you hope to have a chance of fighting back.
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
How do you prove Jesus existed?
It takes about one-and-a-half hours to drive from the center of Rome to the tiny town of Viterbo, Italy. With reporter Delia Gallagher, photojournalist Claudio, and our driver, Alfredo, we made our way through the hills of this ancient Etruscan town on our way to see a man with a very controversial cause.
Luigi Cascioli is suing the Catholic Church. He says he wants them to show proof that Jesus Christ actually existed.
As we drive up the road to his old stone house, my first impression is that this lifelong atheist is not at all what I expected. I'm not sure why. Perhaps as a Roman Catholic I thought he'd have horns and a tail? Instead, a robust, friendly septuagenarian approached the car to welcome us, accompanied by his dog, Pluto.
He says he has dedicated his life to bringing down the Catholic Church, and he's spent years of his life researching his subject. He says there was, in fact, no Jesus, but a military man named John of Gamala who lived in the time of Christ. And, he claims, it was the gospel writers who turned that mere mortal into the character of Jesus, a figure powerful enough on which to base an entire religion.
Cascioli's lawsuit is based on two points of Italian law. One makes it illegal to "abuse the popular credulity." The second outlaws impersonating another person. The chain-smoking, former construction worker speaks only Italian, and he doesn't mince words. He calls the Catholic Church leaders "con men," and says "they take advantage of the popular belief."
He began his case in 2002, suing a local Viterbo priest, Father Enrico Righi. He says he chose Father Righi because the law prevents him from suing the Pope, who is a head of state. But his case was rejected by the Italian courts time and time again. So why is Luigi Cascioli so interesting now? Because the European Court of Human Rights has agreed to consider hearing his case.
That means, at some future date, leaders of the Catholic Church may be called upon to present hard evidence that there once was a man named Jesus Christ. The question is, in this age of DNA testing and CSI drama, how do you prove a man existed more than 2,000 years ago using nothing but the written word?
'Illegal immigrant' discovers he was legal after all
Imagine owning a winning lottery ticket, and carrying it with you for decades, but not knowing you had it. Riches could lie ahead, opportunities might abound, but you don't know about the possibilities, until someone brings it to your attention. So it was for Wilfredo Garza, a man whose life is now changed forever.
Garza has lived for 35 years, much of the time wishing he could become an American citizen. He was born in Mexico to an American father and was raised in Mexico, always assuming he was Mexican. But at a chance meeting last year, Wilfredo learned from an immigration attorney that just like his dad, he was an American citizen.
Garza is a working man with almost no formal education and has long figured the best future for him was in the United States, not Mexico. For years, he and his brother crossed the Rio Grande almost daily, sneaking into the United States. Garza was deported on four separate occasions, but managed to swim back into the United States each time.
Eventually, Garza and his brother scraped together enough money to buy a small ramshackle home in downtown Brownsville, Texas. Wilfredo is proud to have worked hard for everything he owns. He says he didn't cross the river looking for handouts; he came to work and work hard. On a good day, he says, he'd make $25 to $30 a day.
Garza puts a unique face on our immigration crisis. He's an immigrant who really wasn't. But through his story, his struggle, we learn just how important it is to be "an American."
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
'Dispatches from the Edge'
After many long months and many long hours of writing, my book "Dispatches from the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters, and Survival" is in stores today. It's a very strange feeling.
In many ways, I've been writing this book in my head for the past 15 years, ever since I became a reporter. But it wasn't until Hurricane Katrina that I actually started putting it together on paper.
In those dark, difficult days in New Orleans, I started to worry that when the floodwaters receded, and the convention center was cleaned up, people would move on and forget what had happened.
I know we all like to say, "Oh, we could never forget such a tragedy." But the truth is tragedies are forgotten all the time. The media moves on, and so do people's lives.
I suppose that's just the way it is, but I didn't want the heroism, the heartbreak, the compassion, the negligence to just be forgotten, so I started writing about what I was seeing behind the scenes, the kinds of moments and conversations that never make it on television.
I first started working as a reporter soon after graduating from college. I couldn't get an entry level job at ABC News, so I came up with my own plan. I figured if no one would give me a chance, I'd have to take a chance.
With a fake press pass made by a friend and a borrowed video camera, I left the United States to report on wars around the world. In retrospect, it was a foolhardy thing to do, but I was young and didn't feel like I had any other options.
Since those early years, I've visited a lot of countries in conflict, and have seen people lose their lives because of the color of their skin, the ideas in their heads, or simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I've worked in Somalia, South Africa, Haiti and Rwanda, and in all these countries, in all these conflicts, I've been awed by what humans are capable of doing to one another -- acts of terrible barbarism and brutality, yes, but also acts of kindness and courage.
In the far reaches of the world, you see what truly lurks in the inner reaches of the human heart, and those lessons were something I wanted to write about.
When I was a child, my father wrote a book about growing up in Mississippi. I remember when I was about eight years old and couldn't sleep, I'd go into his study late at night as he was typing his book and curl up in his lap. Laying my head against his chest, I could always fall asleep listening to the sound of the typewriter and the steady beat of his heart.
Writing my own book has been a very difficult process for me. As I said earlier, it feels strange to suddenly have it enter the marketplace, because it is in many ways a very personal book. It's not only about the tragedies I've covered as a journalist; it's also about the losses in my own life that propelled me to go overseas in the first place.
I will be on the Oprah show today. This will be the first time I will talk about the book in any detail in a large public forum. I don't really know what people will make of it. I do think that loss is a bond all of us share and one many people can relate to. If you choose to read the book, I'd love to hear from you.Click here to read an excerpt from "Dispatches from the Edge"
MARS is producing oil again
Let me just say first that I am not an early riser. But how often does one get the opportunity to fly out into the Gulf of Mexico and land on an oil platform?
That's how I spent most of my day yesterday -- up at 5 a.m. and straight to a waiting chopper with some folks from Shell Oil.
Shell has about six deepwater floating oil platforms in the Gulf, including one called the MARS platform, which was the biggest oil producer in the Gulf before Hurricane Katrina. The storm caused MARS' daily production to drop from 140,000 barrels of oil to zero.
We had hoped to visit MARS yesterday, but we couldn't because it had just started producing oil and natural gas again. While an estimated 15 percent of the Gulf's oil rigs are still down, the MARS rig is expected to be at full production in June.
Shell says it has spent nearly $300 million on Gulf recovery because it believes there are at least 71 billion gallons of oil out there waiting to be drilled.
With MARS off-limits, we toured the similar Ram Powell oil platform instead. It was humbling to stand on this structure, which is about the size of a football field. The oil rig that is clamped to the platform weighs as much as two 747 airplanes.
While walking around the rig we had to wear hard hats, safety glasses and steel-tipped shoes. And the stairs -- oh my! There's no elevator, so getting around is a workout.
Here's something that surprised us -- Shell wanted to periodically test the camera we were using to shoot this story. They were afraid the camera could give off a spark and cause a fire as it mixed with the gases in the air. So they monitored the camera and the gases as we walked around the platform.
We spent about an hour touring the rig and then climbed back aboard our helicopter for the hour-long flight back to dry land.
Monday, May 22, 2006
The 'forgotten war' flares again
It is springtime, and here on the Pentagon beat we're watching with interest the so-called "forgotten war" in Afghanistan. Every spring, as the weather warms up, the Taliban come out of the hills and start mixing it up again with U.S. and Afghan forces.
I was just in Afghanistan in late February and early March. During the visit, U.S. and NATO commanders warned me it was going to be an active spring. Sure enough, their intelligence was correct. Taliban forces have moved into the south of the country flush with money and new weaponry.
The U.S. military doesn't like to get involved in body counts. You know, "We killed more of them than they killed of us, so we win." Vietnam proved that's the wrong measure of who is winning. That said, U.S. commanders do point out the Taliban has suffered "extraordinary losses" in the past three or four weeks, including some mid-level Taliban leaders who were captured or killed.
The Sunday night/Monday morning strike near Azizi in Kandahar is the latest example. It looks like up to 80 people might have been killed when U.S. Air Force A-10s strafed and bombed Taliban positions. Kandahar is one of three southern provinces where the Taliban have come back stronger than they were last year.
The locals say many of those killed were innocent civilians, including women and children.
The U.S. military says it thinks most victims were Taliban fighters or civilians with "terrorist ties." The military says it does not target civilians and insists it takes all reasonable measures to prevent unintended civilian deaths. But it's also not willing to let the Taliban have safe havens in civilian homes.
Here is a statement from the Combined Forces Command, Afghanistan: "The Coalition only targeted armed resistance, compounds and buildings known to harbor extremists. Coalition forces must retain their ability to defend against fire emanating from known enemy positions."
And here is a possible translation of that statement: "If you hang with the Taliban, you may die with the Taliban."
What do the latest skirmishes with the Taliban mean? Are the Taliban staging a comeback in Afghanistan? That is difficult to say. But one thing is clear: The war here has become a test of wills as much as a test of firepower.
Friday, May 19, 2006
'Dogs have more rights'
Walking down Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, a 34-hear-old Mexican native named Flor tells me she is simply grateful to have her freedom.
Four years ago, Flor says, she was lured from her home in Mexico by people who promised her free passage to the United States, legal entry, and a good job as a tailor near Los Angeles.
When she arrived, however, she was immediately enslaved in a sweat shop and forced to sew 18 hours a day, sleep in a storage room, and eat little, she tells us. She says her boss told her she could go nowhere until she paid $2,600 for her transit into the country.
"She threatened me," Flor says, sighing, thinking of her mother and children still in Mexico. "She said if I tried to escape...somebody who I loved would pay the consequences."
This modern slave trade -- "human trafficking," as it is called -- is considered the third largest criminal industry in the world; behind only drugs and gun running.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates 18,000 people a year are brought into America this way -- half for the sex trade, half to work in homes, on farms, on construction sites, and in restaurants and factories. Federal officials say they are in communities everywhere.
Flor was lucky. After one-and-a-half months, she escaped captivity, she says, and after much adjustment became convinced that U.S. authorities would sympathize with her plight and help her.
She is now living here under a special visa developed for the victims of trafficking. She's trying to bring her children in too. But she says she is haunted by something her trafficker told her.
"She said, 'Dogs have more rights in this country than we had,'" Flor tells me.
"What did you think?" I ask.
"In some ways," Flor murmurs, "She was saying the truth."
What do you think?
For illegal immigrants: Don't ask, don't tell
If you're in this country illegally, and you want to do the right thing by applying for legal status, here's some advice from an immigration lawyer: Don't; don't ask the government for legal status; don't tell them you're here.
That's from Jose Hernandez, an immigration lawyer, who says he often tells illegal immigrants, "There is nothing I can do for you. Do not even look for answers. There's nothing that can be done for you."
The story we've been reporting for "360°" is a sad one. It started 17 years ago, when a 14-year-old Mexican girl named Maria Christina Garcia ran away from home. She tells me she was running from an abusive father.
Garcia crossed the border into California in the back seat of a friend's car at San Ysidro. She found work at a Taco Bell, and later a Target, and then at a large hospital. She gave birth to two sons -- both American citizens, now enrolled in good public schools in Orange County -- and kept a tidy apartment in a nice neighborhood.
But she made one very big mistake: She believed a storefront immigration consultant could help her get legal status. She paid this consultant $8,000.
Prosecutors now say the whole thing was a fraud, a nasty fraud, because in addition to taking her money, the immigration consultants told the U.S. government all about Maria Christina. She's about to be deported. The government told her she has just over a month left in this country.
She was the victim of an immigration fraud scam so common that her current lawyer rolls his eyes when he describes it. "What they tell them is: 'In 90 days, I can get you a work authorization, and within about a year, year-and-a-half, you will be able to get your green card.'"
As Hernandez tells it, the immigration consultant first applies for asylum in Maria's name. That application is quickly denied, because illegal immigrants from Mexico are generally not eligible for asylum.
The case is then turned over to an immigration court, which begins deportation proceedings. Because that sometimes takes a long time, and because the U.S. government believes in due process, an immigrant in deportation proceedings can be eligible for a temporary work permit.
This is what Maria got, and immigrants fight for these permits because they can use them, legally, to get a drivers license and a valid Social Security card.
At that point, says Hernandez, "Most of these immigrants think, 'We're on the right path. We're actually getting what we were promised.' Little do they know that in about a year and a half, they're actually going to be removed."
Maria's time is almost up. She's due to be deported in June, and it is very hard to get the government to change its mind about a deportation.
She's an emotional wreck. She has two American-born sons who are citizens. She is expecting a third child in July. She has health insurance and a doctor in California, and has neither in Mexico, where she will likely give birth.
She's thinking of leaving her children in California - their father lives here. They are well aware of what's going on -- her older son, 11-year-old Ivan, often refuses to go to school. He thinks the police might be coming for his mother, and he wants to be home to protect her.
"It may not be fair, but unfortunately, that's the law," said Jorge Guzman, who fights immigration fraud at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
What happened to the people who allegedly defrauded Maria? Not much. The operators of La Guadalupana Immigration Services in Santa Ana, California, were charged with numerous counts of business fraud in state court in California, but the operators have disappeared. Authorities believe they left the country after ripping off 2,000 or more illegal immigrants.
Thursday, May 18, 2006
Border crossers try 'gopher holes,' boogie boards
We are broadcasting again tonight from the U.S.-Mexican border. Last night, we were at the spot where the border fence hits the Pacific Ocean.
U.S. Border Patrol agents tell us illegal immigrants sometimes try to swim around the fence, or surf around it, or boogie board around it -- just about every possible way you can imagine has been attempted.
As dusk fell last night, a group of Mexicans gathered on the other side of the fence, watching us broadcast, with the bright lights of San Diego shining on the horizon. Perhaps they were just curious, out for an evening stroll. Or perhaps it was something else that drew them to the fence.
We've been returning to the border a lot these last few months, and every time we go, we learn something new about the difficult situation down here.
It's easy for some people to criticize the Border Patrol, but the truth is, they work extremely hard at a somewhat thankless job. No matter how many illegal immigrants they catch and return, others get through, sometimes the same ones they just sent back over the border.
Most Border Patrol agents say they don't focus on that too much, otherwise they would feel like they are not making any progress.
For all the talk of fencing, border security as it exists right now really boils down to these agents, riding in SUVs, on horseback, ATVs, watching with cameras, night-vision equipment, around-the-clock, day-after-day.
Within the last several days, they've discovered two more tunnels underneath the border. "Gopher holes," they call them, because they are not particularly sophisticated tunnels.
We were here several months ago when they discovered "el grande" tunnel -- the 2,400 foot tunnel from a warehouse in Tijuana to a warehouse on the U.S. side. They've blocked that tunnel off now, but the memory of it remains.
To be inside that tunnel was fascinating. We saw the ropes that were used to carry bales of drugs. Examining the walls, we spotted markings made by the diggers.
The big tunnels cost so much to make its doubtful they are used by illegal immigrants, since that wouldn't be cost-effective. Instead, they are typically used to smuggle drugs, according to law enforcement officials. In fact, they found a large amount of marijuana in the 2,400 foot tunnel.
Tonight on the program, we are going to take an in-depth look at the problem of trafficking across the border -- sometimes the "product" being trafficked is drugs or sex; sometimes it is children. We'll also take a closer look at President Bush's visit to the border today.
Speaking of which, I'm curious to hear your thoughts about the immigration debate as it's playing out in Washington, D.C.
Are lawmakers moving in the right direction? Is comprehensive immigration reform possible, all at once? Or do you think they should focus on border security first, and then consider what to do with the illegal immigrants who are already here, hiding in plain sight?
34 children, 110 grandchildren, but very much alone
They live among neighbors who want them out of town. For Marvin Wyler and his two wives in the Fundamentalist Mormon polygamist enclave of Colorado City, Arizona, it is a nerve-wracking and depressing time.
You see, Marvin and his wives are some of the few people in Colorado City who no longer consider FBI fugitive Warren Jeffs a prophet. Although they used to follow him, they now consider Jeffs a fraud. This declaration has come at a cost.
Marvin, his wife Charlette, his other wife Laurie, and a late wife Esther have 34 children, and at least 110 grandchildren. But 10 of those children and a good number of the grandchildren are now out of their lives.
Warren Jeffs issued an edict declaring children should no longer talk with parents who are not loyal to the church. So nearly one-third of the Wyler children have completely cut off communication with their parents.
Marvin and Charlette tell me they occasionally run into one of these 10 children in this small town, and the children treat them like they are strangers.
We spent an evening with the Wylers. Three of the kids still live at home; two grandchildren were out jumping on a trampoline.
It seemed tranquil, but life here is now very worrisome for this family. Their house has been vandalized and church elders have told them to leave town.
But Marvin Wyler says he can't afford to leave, and besides, this is his home. His estranged children are still here and he has dreams of them coming back to their family.
So he'll wait it out, fearful of violence in Colorado City if and when Warren Jeffs is caught, but more fearful that he'll never have his children back because of beliefs that he helped them acquire.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Waiting in South Dakota for the end of the world
Where in the world is Pringle, South Dakota? It's what we asked ourselves as we came out here to report on yet another polygamist compound.
Right here in Pringle, with Mt. Rushmore as a backdrop, we found another one of the "chosen places," a "Zion," where followers of Warren Jeffs are told they must be to attain salvation when the world ends. To his followers, Jeffs is a prophet. But to the FBI, he's a wanted polygamist and pedophile.
The town's residents tell us they're certain Jeffs has been in Pringle. That's why we're here. What we've seen is a polygamist village in the making.
As in Eldorado, Texas, another Jeffs stronghold we visited recently, his followers hide from us. But we were able to get within a stone's throw of his newest Zion, or at least the newest compound we know about. There could be as many as four others, and maybe more, scattered across the United States.
As we arrive, we see backhoes, heavy equipment, silos, a water pump, trailers. Nestled among them are three-story residences for men, women and children. Some residents of Pringle fear another Waco or Jonestown scenario. Local authorities seem confused by the presence of Jeffs' followers in their midst. Why here?
Tonight, we'll take you along for a ride to the polygamist compound and show you what makes these 100 remote acres amid the Black Hills of South Dakota the perfect setting for the fulfillment of Warren Jeffs' frightening prophecies about the end of the world.
'Alligators like easy prey'
Quick! Gator sighting. Get over to this address. A trapper is about to catch one.
That was the word from CNN's assignment desk. The timing was right on. No sooner did we make our way to the back of a lakefront Florida home, than we heard veteran gator hunter Todd Hardwick yell, "Gator up!"
The gator had been sitting at the bottom of the lake for about an hour, evidently hoping that the guy who'd been circling the lake's perimeter would go away.
When the nine footer came up for air, Hardwick's hook landed him and he reeled in the 200-300 pounder. Hardwick sat on the gator's back and taped its snout, while I held a "catch pole."
With three women fatally attacked in the span of a week in Florida (only 20 such attacks have been recorded in nearly 60 years in Florida), Floridians have been calling trappers around the clock to capture gators.
The trappers have a priority list. The longest ones and those who are spotted on land go first. Then the smaller and more remote ones follow.
There's no charge to call a trapper. They're given permits and processors pay them by the foot for what they catch -- from as much as $55-60 per foot to as little as $15 per foot when they're plentiful.
When the gators are killed, nothing is wasted, Hardwick says. The meat, the hide, even the skull are sold.
In case you're wondering what to do if you ever come across a gator, Hardwick says you should ignore the common suggestion to run in a zig-zag pattern. He says it's just an old wives tale. You can try running straight away, but gators are very quick over short distances.
What you can do, if attacked, is "fight for your life," Hardwick says. Punch, kick, gouge out its eyes, and you might get it to back off. "Alligators like easy prey."
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Da Vinci Code character appears in flesh and blood
How would you feel if the author of a fiction book that's sold more than 40 million copies included you in it as a character, using your real name and job description, but never told you about it?
That's what happened to Maurizio Seracini, the only non-fictional character appearing in The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown's runaway bestseller about a fictional conspiracy to hide the "truth" about Jesus -- that he was married to Mary Magdalene and had a child.
In the book, clues about this conspiracy, which is supposedly perpetrated by the Catholic Church, emerge through the art of Leonardo da Vinci. The movie version of Brown's story premiers this week at the Cannes Film Festival.
When I met with Seracini in his breathtaking office just across from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, I thought he was joking at first. "You never met, spoke or e-mailed Dan Brown?" I asked. "Never had the pleasure," he replied.
In The Da Vinci Code, Brown describes Seracini as an "art diagnostician." With a title like that, I thought, you can't be a real
person, or in any case that's not a real
job. But Seracini's work not only exists, it's actually very important.
His office looks like a state-of-the-art laboratory, with machines you would normally find in a hospital. He uses them to study the origins of works of art, analysing the composition of the materials -- e.g. the wood, the paint, the wax, the canvass -- to establish how old they are and to advise curators and art galleries on how best to preserve them.
Seracini can certify scientifically whether a certain work of art was actually produced by Leonardo da Vinci or an impostor.
"How do you do that?" I asked. "It's simple," he replied with a broad smile. "I look for his fingerprints."
No wonder Dan Brown chose him as one of his characters. (By the way, if you have the book on hand, you can find Seracini in chapter 40).
U.S. border town fears influx of troops
When news emerged of President Bush's plan to use thousands of National Guard troops to secure the U.S. border with Mexico, my thoughts turned to Redford, Texas, a tiny town of about 100 residents along the Rio Grande. Nine years ago, this far-flung border town changed the way the United States protects its borders.
On May 20, 1997, Esequiel Hernandez Jr., 18, was herding his goats just a few hundred yards from his Redford home. He was carrying an antique rifle, a little firepower to protect his goats from coyotes.
What happened that day has been disputed by Hernandez's family, the U.S. Marines and the Border Patrol, but what is known is that four Marines were helping local authorities track drug runners.
The Marines were hiding in the low-lying brush in camouflage. They say Hernandez fired at them first, so they started tracking him through the rugged terrain, thinking he was a drug smuggler. Everyone agrees they were nearly 200 yards away. At that distance, says Margarito Hernandez, Esequiel's brother, he could not have known what he was shooting at, if he did shoot first.
A short time later, Hernandez was shot and killed by one of the Marines. The shooting sparked such intense controversy that the special task force of U.S. troops helping fight drug smugglers was pulled out of the border region. The Marines were cleared of wrongdoing, but the federal government paid the family almost $2 million to settle a wrongful death lawsuit.
Today, a humble white cross sits on the hilltop marking the spot where Hernandez was shot and killed. His family still lives in Redford. The idea of bringing the military back to the border has them nervous.
"Somebody else is going to get hurt. Some other parents are going to suffer the loss of a loved one," said Margarito Hernandez, as he walked me along the final path his brother took the day he was killed. "It's important for them to remember what happened to my brother."
Many residents of this border town repeated a common theme to us -- basically, "border culture" and "military culture" just don't mix. They say National Guard troops won't be trained well enough to understand the idiosyncrasies of border life. What do they mean by idiosyncrasies?
For the people who live here, there really isn't much of a border. Many families have loved ones on both sides of the border; the people look the same on both sides; they speak the same way; and they share the same culture. Residents here worry soldiers won't be able to tell the difference between who's breaking the law, and who's not.
Monday, May 15, 2006
Oregon sheriff to Mexico: You owe us $300,000
It's Monday, and I'm on my way to the small town of Pendleton, Oregon, to interview a sheriff who, like a lot of Americans, is fed up with what he considers this country's broken borders.
In fact, he's so frustrated that he has sent a letter to Mexican President Vicente Fox demanding that the Mexican government cough up more than $300,000 for the jailing of illegal immigrants in Umatilla Country, Oregon.
This country has seen its Latino population soar in recent years. That has meant an increase in illegal immigrants taking up jail space, according to Umatilla County Sheriff John Trumbo. And Trumbo thinks the Mexican government should pay.
I've never really thought of Oregon as the type of place to draw a lot of illegal immigrants, but because of its large farms and agriculture industry, it does.
For tonight's show, we'll talk to Trumbo about his novel approach to the immigration issue and ask him what, if anything, he's heard from President Fox.
The sheriff's actions aren't going to endear him to the Latino population. According to the Los Angeles Times, many of the county's citizens are infuriated with him. We'll talk to some of them as well.
What do you think? Should the Mexican government help cover the costs of jailing illegal immigrants?
Poll: Clinton more honest than Bush
How bad has it gotten for President Bush? Bad enough that in the eyes of many Americans his predecessor, President Clinton, is looking better.
Our CNN poll, conducted by Opinion Research Corporation, asked people to compare the last two Presidents.
Which President do people think did a better job on the economy? The public picked Clinton by a mile -- 63 to 26 percent. For many Americans, the 1990s were boom years. "When he was President," a woman told us, "My business did well and I made a lot of money. I kind of miss that."
Who related better to problems affecting ordinary Americans? No contest -- Clinton over Bush, 62 to 25 percent. Clinton felt your pain. Clinton also raised taxes. Bush cut taxes. Who wins on that one? Surprise! Clinton, 51 to 35 percent on taxes.
After 9/11, national security became Bush's strongest issue. And now? People think Clinton was better on national security by a nose -- 46 to 42 percent. What happened? One word: Iraq.
Now for a tough test -- character. The character issue was crucial for Bush, who campaigned in 2000 on this promise: "When I put my hand on the Bible, I will swear not only to uphold the laws of the land, I will swear to uphold the honor and dignity of the office to which I have been elected."
So which President do Americans now consider more honest and trustworthy -- the man who said, "I misled people, including even my wife," or the man who said, "If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it and we'll take the appropriate action"? A close call, but slightly more people say Clinton -- 46 to 41 percent. That's right, by a narrow margin, the American public now considers Bill Clinton more honest than George W. Bush.
Could Clinton nostalgia be setting in? Many respondents said yes, citing the former president's "agenda for peace" and "more social programs for those in need." Others talked about the "Clinton nightmare," like the man who called Clinton a "womanizing, Elvis-loving, non-inhaling, truth-shading, abortion-protecting, gay-promoting, war-protesting, gun-hating baby boomer."
Clinton divided the country politically. So did Bush. Who do people think divided it more? The answer is Bush, by a big margin -- 59 to 27 percent. The public sees President Bush the same way they once saw President Clinton -- as a divider, not a uniter.
Friday, May 12, 2006
Minutemen's rallying cry: No amnesty
In the shadow of the U.S. Capitol today, I stood between the warring lines of our national immigration debate.
The Minutemen, those advocates for rigorous enforcement of immigration laws, were rallying against any sort of amnesty program for illegal immigrants. A short distance away, protestors in favor of greater rights for immigrants were trying to shout down the Minutemen speakers.
The protestors called the Minutemen racists, Klansmen, Nazis, and repeatedly chanted at them in Spanish.
As I wandered among the Minutemen, however, they had little say about the protestors. One after another they repeated the basic tenet of their group: If a nation has laws about immigration, those laws should be enforced, period.
The folks who came to support the Minutemen were a mixed-lot racially -- mostly white, but some African-Americans, some Asians too. I don't think I saw any Latinos among them.
Many of the Minutemen took a couple of days off of work to drive to the Washington, D.C., for this cause. Some told me they'd never been interested enough in politics to do anything like this before.
And that caught my attention more than all the shouting, signs and speeches I heard, because generally, when ordinary folks care enough about an issue to abandon part of their ordinary lives to get involved, whatever that issue is, it is going to get bigger.
Standing by the Capitol on this spring day, I watched a small, heated confrontation, but I couldn't help but wonder: Will much bigger, more volatile clashes on immigration follow in the heat of the summer?
Thursday, May 11, 2006
Cop accepts prison after videotaped shooting
When Sgt. Billy Anders emerged from his prison cell in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I expected to greet a man filled with anger and resentment after a judge recently sentenced him to one year in prison for voluntary manslaughter.
For his own protection, Anders is serving this sentence in solitary confinement. He's locked in a concrete room with a small window 23 hours a day, surrounded by violent criminals, some of whom are on death row for heinous crimes.
As I greeted Anders, I found a former cop who seemed more concerned about how our crew was holding up in such a depressing place than with his own well-being. I sensed no prejudice or hatred from this cop who served 31 years on the force, just one year short of retirement.
During our two-hour interview, I looked for signs of malice in Anders' demeanor that might suggest he killed Earl Flippen, a former white supremacist, out of revenge for his partner's death. Anders shot Flippen just moments after Flippen killed his partner. They were responding to a domestic disturbance call in Cloudcroft, New Mexico.
We asked Anders to explain why he still felt threatened even after severely wounding Flippen and placing him in handcuffs. We asked him why his account differs so much from what appears in his patrol car video camera, which captured the incident.
Anders said he has little memory of his decision to pump a fatal bullet into Flippen's chest. He said he only wants the court of public opinion to consider the totality of the circumstances that led to the shooting, believing his life and that of a 3-year-old girl he was trying to save were in danger. Anders had already lost his partner. The girl's mom had been killed too.
Videotape can be a powerful witness, especially when it appears to contradict a police officer's account of an incident. In this case, it appears that Billy simply cannot justify his actions. Even his own team of investigators and the town's chief prosecutor saw a crime there. If the state didn't act, the feds were preparing to intervene.
After a distinguished career in law enforcement, and without ever firing a single shot on duty before this incident, Anders now spends 23 hours a day in solitary confinement, reading scripture, pondering why this all happened. He gets one hour a day to shower and shave.
Billy has accepted responsibility for his actions, and many residents in this remote corner of southern New Mexico's national forest consider him a hero.
In the meantime, he says he thinks often of that little girl's future, even as he struggles to find redemption at the Penitentiary of New Mexico in Santa Fe, the very same place that Earl Flippen, the man he killed, once served hard-time.
How polygamy affects your wallet
You may or may not agree with polygamist Warren Jeffs' lifestyle, and you may or may not think he is indeed the dangerous criminal the FBI says he is, but would you believe Jeffs and his followers are costing you money?
"Their religious belief is that they'll bleed the beast, meaning the government," said Mark Shurtleff, Utah's attorney general. "They hate the government, so they'll bleed it for everything they can through welfare, tax evasion and fraud."
It makes some sense. Polygamists have multiple wives and dozens of children, but the state only recognizes one marriage. That leaves the rest of the wives to claim themselves as single moms with armies of children to support. Doing that means they can apply for welfare, which they do. And it's all legal.
"More than 65 percent of the people are on welfare ... compared with 6 percent of the people of the general population," Shurtleff said.
Shurtleff hasn't filed charges against Jeffs or his organization, but he's investigating Jeffs for "cooking the books," avoiding taxes, and even setting up offshore accounts.
One thing we do know is that Jeffs and his followers have not been paying their fair share of property taxes.
A judge appointed accountant Bruce Wisan to take control of the group's $110 million trust. Wisan's biggest challenge: Collecting more than $1 million in overdue property taxes from polygamist property owners living in Colorado City, Arizona, where Jeffs' church is based.
"They've received benefits of living on trust land for free," Wisan said. "They didn't pay for the land. In many cases it was community efforts that built the house. So all they have to pay are utilities and property taxes and I don't think that's unreasonable."
The other fundamentalist polygamist
We are out in Utah and Arizona looking for the other fundamentalist polygamist on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list. The one whose name isn't Osama bin Laden. It's Warren Jeffs.
I spent some time recently in Saudi Arabia, where polygamy is legal, yet by no means universal. In Islam, a man is not supposed to have more than four wives. Interestingly, bin Laden's father had many more than that, but he got around this by frequent divorces. He ended up with more than fifty children. The founder of modern Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz, also had a number of wives and several dozen children.
Back to where I am now, Utah, which happens to be another desert climate. (Does that have anything to do with polygamy? If so, I can't figure it out.)
I spent the day out here with a private investigator named Sam Brower, who has been looking into Warren Jeffs and his organization for the past three years. There have been a number of civil suits against Jeffs, and Brower has helped the plaintiffs in each, so he's spent considerable time and effort in trying to understand Jeffs.
Brower compares Jeffs and his church to the Taliban. They dress and act in a certain way, he says, and Jeffs controls the women and makes them subservient. This is all wrapped around Jeffs' version of a fundamentalist Mormonism. Brower says that in his opinion, Jeffs is also a terrorist, but his "terrorism is directed at his own people."
The big fear of course among the law enforcement community with Jeffs right now isn't about terrorism. Instead, the operative word is Waco. Everyone worries about what might happen if Jeffs gets involved in a big standoff. But that is a story for another day.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Polygamous group exists in a different world
I said it often on the air Tuesday night, but I find it hard to believe that a religious sect like the one led by fugitive "prophet" Warren Jeffs has existed in the United States for so long.
We live in an age of information, where it's easy to believe everyone is connected by technology. But the longtime existence of Jeffs' organization, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, shows that not everyone is part of the same world.
There are plenty of religious orders in this country that choose to live in isolation. That's not why Jeffs is of interest to legal authorities. They are after him because he stands accused of heinous acts against minors, and essentially, running an organized crime outfit. His organization, which broke away from the Mormon Church decades ago, teaches polygamy as a way of life.
I keep staring at those pictures of women in long skirts turning away from the camera, the few grainy, telephoto images that we have of Warren Jeffs' thousands of followers. What must life be like in those communities?
I'm in Utah now, and am spending the day talking with people who once followed Jeffs' teachings. Other CNN correspondents have fanned out across this region to cover the story from different angles.
Gary Tuchman is in Arizona looking at a relatively content polygamous household. Randi Kaye is exploring the tax and welfare implications of polygamy. And Rick Sanchez is taking a closer look at "Yearning for Zion," a Texas compound where many of Jeffs' followers live.
We're broadcasting live from Utah tonight on this fascinating story. I hope you tune in.
Fort Knox has nothing on polygamist compound
I'm in the town of Eldorado in the Texas hill country today, trying to report on a bizarre, yet impressive compound of polygamists that rises out of 1,600 acres of brush and cactus. But I think it may be easier to penetrate Fort Knox than to get inside this place.
The compound, which is called "Yearning for Zion," is home to followers of Warren Jeffs, the polygamist leader recently named to the FBI's 10 most wanted list. Some outsiders suggest Jeffs might be in there too.
So far, I've tried driving in. And I've played a game of cat and mouse with the people living inside, who run the other way when they see us. With our telephoto lens we watch them as they, in turn, watch us. It's eerie. Now, I'm trying to fly over the compound in a rented plane.
This place is amazing, like a small city surrounding a giant Masonic temple, where devout followers of Warren Jeffs believe they need to be to get ready for the apocalypse. Jeffs, who they believe is their prophet, has told them they need to be here when the world ends in order to start a new civilization.
Of course, in the meantime, Jeffs has a more pressing problem. He's running from the law for allegedly having sex with minors and arranging marriages between underage females and older men.
You see, these fundamentalists, who broke away from the mainstream Mormon church in the early 1900s, believe that in order to get to heaven each man must have at least three wives. And the more wives you have, the closer you are to heaven.
We've spent the day talking to law enforcement officials in the area, both local and federal. We asked: Why don't they go in and look for Jeffs? They tell us they can't until they are convinced he's there.
Will the compound eventually be raided? Is this going to be the next Waco? That's what residents here in Eldorado fear most. You'll hear from them and get a closer look at "Yearning for Zion" on tonight's show.
Polygamists claim it's all about love
It was one of the harder interviews for us to arrange. Polygamists don't like to talk on camera. It is against the law in every state to have a plural marriage, and people involved in this lifestyle are constantly looking over their shoulders wondering if they might be arrested. Many of them have parents and grandparents who have spent years in jail.
But after weeks of negotiations, a group of polygamists who live near Colorado City, Arizona, agreed to talk to us for tonight's "360°" special on polygamy.
We went with one female polygamist to her home, and what a home it is -- 32 bedrooms, immaculately decorated, architecture that resembles Versailles. This is not the typical polygamist's home, but size is a great benefit in this kind of family.
Linda (who did not want her last name used to protect her family) was afraid to give too many specific numbers and details about her life. But she did tell us she lives with at least ten other wives, and has more than 30 children, nine of which she has given birth to herself.
Many of the wives in the house have paying jobs, she said. The husband they all share has a job they do not want to disclose. We also talked to one of Linda's teenage daughters. She said she is not sure if she will be a polygamist too, but claims it's the most normal lifestyle in the world.
In addition to Linda, we interviewed nine other male and female polygamists, all from different families, who say they have plural marriages because it's a religious commandment. They are fundamentalist Mormons, who believe the Mormon Church made a mistake more than a century ago when it banned polygamy. One woman said, "Why is love punished? That's what our lives are about. Love, love and more love."
The women acknowledge their husbands must have significant stamina. When we asked a question that a lot of us are curious about regarding how conjugal visits are determined, a woman named Joyce joked that whichever wife draws the short straw is the one who sleeps with the husband that night! But she then added in seriousness that it's all decided by good communication among the wives, who are her best friends, as well as their husband.
The people we talked to are not followers of Warren Jeffs, the man recently named one of the FBI's 10 most wanted, but they are not ready to vilify him until a jury finds him guilty. They dress conservatively and act conservatively, and say they are open-minded concerning how other people live.
But they do not believe the rest of society is open-minded enough when it comes to their lifestyle, which they say they are not willing to give up, no matter what the law says.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Shhh ... New Orleans witnesses spate of murders
There are two things you need to really understand about New Orleans before you can talk about any issue there: 1) It is much smaller than you think and 2) Everything is about politics.
So when I tell you the murder rate is rising, but the chief of police doesn't think it's that bad, you can understand why people in New Orleans are starting to worry.
New Orleans has always been a high-crime city, but there was a big drop-off in the number of murders committed in the initial months after Hurricane Katrina. The flood that wiped-out large areas of this city also was credited with dispersing New Orleans' criminals.
But the effect appears to be temporary. So far this year, thirty-two people have been murdered in New Orleans; thirteen last month alone. In this city of 180,000 people, the result is murder rate comparable to some of the most crime-ridden areas of the country.
Last week, I sat down with Warren Riley, the new chief of the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD). He tried to explain how crime is not that bad in New Orleans.
The actual murder rate, he says, is lower than it was before Katrina wiped-out the population. He also tried to explain that the official estimate of the population -- 180,000 people -- is wrong.
Why? Because that figure doesn't count all the people who drive into New Orleans every day to work. It only counts the people who actually sleep in New Orleans when all those workers go home.
So the NOPD has decided to add a new mathematical twist to make its murder rate look better than it is. They add the daytime population to the nighttime population, then divide by two. That gives a much bigger population figure, and lo and behold, 32 murders in four months doesn't look as bad.
Despite trying to put a positive spin on the numbers, police officers admit there are indications that violent Latino drug gangs are following the heavily Hispanic labor force into the city. This is setting up the potential for turf wars with the mostly African-American gangs that dominated this city pre-Katrina.
The police force is short around 200 officers, and Chief Riley is asking the state for 50 or 60 troopers to help patrol the city's abandoned areas. Also, many police stations are still unusable, and the jail, courts and even patrol cars are in disrepair.
Chief Riley hopes to have his force back to around 1,600 officers in the next two years. Even so, he says he may need a force twice that strength to really control crime in New Orleans.
Friday, May 05, 2006
Polls show Republicans in peril
Is it 1994 again?
That's the question people keep asking those of us who keep an eye on the polls. You remember 1994: Newt Gingrich, the Contract with America, the Republican Revolution. That was the last time angry voters rose up and overthrew the majority party in Congress. Then, it was the Democrats who lost. Now, it's the Republicans in peril.
The answer is that it sure looks a lot like 1994 in the polls. The latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll shows Congress with a 25 percent job-approval rating. That's the lowest rating for Congress since -- gulp -- 1994.
Even though President Bush is not on the ballot this fall, midterm elections typically are strongly influenced by a president's popularity -- or unpopularity, in the case of President Clinton in 1994. Clinton's job rating at this time in 1994? Forty-eight percent. President Bush's latest job rating? Thirty-three percent. Double gulp.
Democrats need a net gain of six Senate seats and 15 House seats to retake control of Congress. It's hard to see that happening if you look at the Senate and House races one by one. But national polls suggest a rising tide of voter anger captured by the ancient political maxim, "Throw the bums out!" And a majority of incumbents -- that is to say, the "bums" -- happen to be Republicans this time around.
What are people angry about? Congress can't pass immigration reform. It can't pass a budget. It can't even control its own spending. Ethics? Don't get us started: Lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham have pled guilty to various offences; Rep. Tom DeLay faces charges; and now Rep. William Jefferson, a Democrat, is under investigation.
Can Congress do something about gas prices? Why, yes. The Senate Republican leadership proposed a $100 rebate for all Americans. That proposal got laughed off the agenda. It has become this year's symbol of an out-of-touch Congress, just as the Terri Schiavo case was last year.
Republicans console themselves by repeating the mantra, "All politics is local." Which is true, except when it's not true. It was not true in 1994. And maybe not this year, either.
Big business on 'mission' in Gulf Coast
I was working on a story in my office this past Wednesday when I received a call from U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez. I've been doing a lot of stories on immigration of late, and I thought that since the secretary is a Hispanic immigrant like me, that's what he wanted to talk about. Instead, we began chatting in English, Spanish and Spanglish about another pressing story.
He told me about a trade mission he's undertaking. That's where U.S. business leaders travel abroad to an emerging market to look for investment opportunities, not exactly the type of story I would be interested in, because it fits neatly into the "so what" category.
When I, just to be polite, asked what country, his answer both intrigued and astonished me.
He said, "New Orleans!"
"New Orleans?" I threw back at him. "How's that?"
He told me that never before has a U.S. trade delegation gone on a trade mission inside the United States, but if ever there's been a place in the United States that needed it, it's New Orleans.
Here's his explanation: Our government has spent tens of billions of dollars in the area, much of it misspent, and New Orleans still needs a lot of help.
Secretary Gutierrez, who quit his job as chief executive officer and chairman of the board of Kellogg to work for the government, and took a huge cut in pay to do so, is a big believer in private sector initiatives. And he's convinced that "big business has a better shot at saving New Orleans than big government."
That's why he's on a bus, traveling throughout the Gulf Coast. On board with him are executives from 32 of the most powerful corporations in the world, including Citigroup, Caterpillar, Marriott, Goldman Sachs, Shell, Home Depot, Dow Chemical, Disney and Wal-Mart, just to name a few. On "360," we will take you along for the ride.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
Did immigration rallies spur backlash?
For Phil Jones of Herndon, Virginia, the backlash against illegal immigration began last year when he took his teenage daughter to a convenience store near his home.
He says his car was mobbed by illegal immigrants looking for work as day laborers. He says they completely surrounded him and tried to climb into his car, and that when he indicated he was not hiring, they made obscene gestures at his daughter.
So when Jones heard that his town council in Herndon was going to establish a permanent hiring center for immigrants, including illegal immigrants, he began organizing opposition. And it worked.
On Tuesday, just one day after nationwide rallies against stricter immigration laws, Herndon voters tossed out the officials who supported the hiring center.
Across the nation, grassroots groups favoring stronger immigration controls and enforcement say they are benefiting from a backlash against illegal immigration after the pro-immigrant rallies earlier this week.
They say e-mails, phone calls, and even donations are on the rise, as legal American residents react to the demands that illegal immigrants be given amnesty and allowed to become citizens.
Since Jones began his campaign for tougher immigration policies, he says, his home has been egged and a pro-immigrant Web site posted his picture online, calling him a racist.
But Jones is not giving up the fight. He is convinced the immigrant rallies this week made many more Americans aware of what he sees as growing militancy among people who don't even have a right to be here.
He thinks the backlash has just begun. What do you think?
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
Pandemic plan not just for the birds
There is no question it is difficult to get people to pay attention to a "bird virus" that primarily exists on the other side of the world. Add in the fact that we can't say for sure whether this H5N1 virus will turn into a contagious human virus, and eyeballs tend to glaze over at its mere mention.
So, many people were probably surprised when the White House released a significant plan
today to deal with a worst-case outbreak of the bird flu, where 2 million people might die, 50 million people might be infected and 40 percent of the workforce could be out of commission. The plan's price-tag: $7.1 billion.
This much is clear: We are not ready to handle the toll of a pandemic flu if it were to hit the United States tomorrow. Hospitals barely have enough intensive care beds and ventilators to care for the sick today, and if we suddenly had an additional 10 to 20 million critically ill people, hospital resources would be overwhelmed.
But from my reading of the White House plan, it looks like little of the $7.1 billion will go to expanding hospitals or other health centers. Most will be spent on stockpiling Tamiflu (an antiviral medication) and the production of vaccines, which would need to be changed if and when the virus mutates.
There are also plenty of recommendations for communities and states as to how they should begin programs of surveillance and preparation. But those recommendations aren't complete. For example, if someone arrives in Boston from Bangkok and is ill with flu-like symptoms, what would we do? Will there be an enforceable quarantine? Frankly, I am not sure how that will work in reality.
Despite these questions, the good news is the federal government is at least taking some concrete steps to prepare for an outbreak. As U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said recently: "We don't know if this will lead to a human pandemic, but we do know what a human pandemic is." Yes, we do.
It is estimated up to 50 million people died during the flu pandemic of 1918. With preparation, we can have some hope of avoiding a repeat of that deadly period in world history.
Border city fears influx of guns, drugs
To get a border city's perspective on immigration issues, we spent some time recently in Laredo, Texas, a city of around 200,000 people.
Residents here are concerned about what they say is a porous border with Mexico and an apparent turf war between drug-running gangs. A key drug-smuggling route into the United States runs right through Laredo.
They say a lot of their trouble comes from Nuevo Laredo, a once-popular Mexican tourist town just across the border. This year alone, more than 90 people have been killed in Nuevo Laredo. This includes four Mexican drug agents who were shot dead in broad daylight. A local newspaper was also shot up, an attack newspaper employees interpret as an attempt to muzzle them.
Now, law enforcement officials from Webb County, which encompasses Laredo, say they are seeing an increase in violence on their side of the border.
Webb County Sheriff Rick Flores says his deputies confiscated $17 million worth of narcotics, more than $1 million in cash, and serious firearms, including an AK-47, last year. But Sheriff Flores says his greatest fear is that terrorist groups will infiltrate the drug cartels, and eventually, smuggle weapons into the United States using the cartels' technology and knowledge.
What's the solution to this problem? Sheriff Flores says he needs more men on the ground and better equipment to keep up with the cartels' night vision and GPS technology.
"It's impossible to have people every 10 feet in the border. I'm not asking for that. But it's been long overdue that we get the assistance to have more bodies to be more vigilant," Flores said.
The U.S. Border Patrol says it recognizes it needs more people on the ground to help local law enforcement. It hopes to do more recruiting to increase its numbers by 9 percent this year.
But will that be enough? How concerned do you think we should be about drug cartels crossing our border? And do you really believe terrorists may enter through Mexico?
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Chasing smugglers through rattlesnake-infested lands
The Sonoran Desert can be blazing hot during the day, but bone-chilling at night, especially this time of year. It's a vast, often forbidding, but spectacular place.
We spent a night roaming this area with a group of guys who form the tactical arm of the U.S. Border Patrol, called BORTAC.
These guys leave family and loved ones for seven weeks at a time to live out here in the desert. There are three shifts of about ten men apiece. The overnight shift can be the busiest, and sometimes, the toughest.
BORTAC agents are given the latest high-tech gadgets and infrared devices to track smugglers, but sometimes old-fashioned legwork and beating the brush ends up working best.
Smugglers often cross the border with large groups of illegal immigrants, sometimes 60 or even 80 in number. After crossing, they split up and try to scatter in the desert.
BORTAC agents drive along roads near the border searching for footprints and signs that groups of illegal immigrants are on the move. On our trip, I asked Russell Church, the team's leader, how he knows they won't just cross the road after we pass.
"We don't," Church said. "We just hope we can pick their tracks up the next time and pass the information on to the other agents farther north so they can flush them out."
As a routine part of their jobs, these agents will track illegal immigrants for miles through dense cactus and underbrush loaded with rattlesnakes. On the night I was with them, two agents from the overnight shift continued tracking some potential smugglers through ravines and gullies into the morning.
Around 8 a.m., three hours after their shift was over, they rounded-up 24 illegal immigrants with the help of a helicopter -- a small victory for the Border Patrol in what is shaping up to be a very large war.
Border checkpoint relies on honor system
We all know that security has been tightened at U.S. border crossings since 9/11. And that's why we were quite surprised when we found out the tale of one particular crossing on the border with Canada.
This official U.S. Customs and Border Protection reporting station is on the border between Manitoba, a Canadian province, and Minnesota, and relies on the honor system. Yes, the U.S. government is counting on all people who cross into Angle Inlet, Minnesota, to report themselves via telephone. There are no permanent customs or immigration officials who work at the checkpoint.
Angle Inlet is the northernmost city in the contiguous United States. To get there over land, you have to drive 40 miles within Canada to the other end of the Lake of the Woods, so the Minnesota town is in essence an enclave that sits within Canada. Because of that geographical quirk, and because very few people live up there, the checkpoint has always been laidback.
But in this day and age, law enforcement officials in Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota, are very concerned. The sheriff there says he has intelligence that drug smugglers and potential terrorists take advantage of the "honor system" to cross into Angle Inlet illegally and then take a boat across the Lake of the Woods to go into "mainland" Minnesota.
The checkpoint looks like a shack. You are supposed to stop your car when you get there, get out, and pick up a videophone that often doesn't work.
When we got there, we picked up the phone and pushed a button that has the American flag on it. Nothing happened the first six or seven times I pushed the button. Finally, I heard a Customs employee's voice. She said her name was Officer Johnson, and she cordially told me she was in the Customs office in Warroad, Minnesota, about 50 miles away.
She told me to stand in front of the camera so she could see me. Then video of her popped on the screen so I could see her. She asked for my name and my purpose for coming to the United States, and asked me to hold my passport in front of the camera so she could see it. I was then approved for entry into the United States.
While we were at the border "shack," other cars just zoomed by; not necessarily because the motorists were up to no good, but because many perceive the shack with the faulty phone to be a cumbersome waste of time.
Residents are given special permits to avoid going into the shack, but it's estimated by the local sheriff that 70 percent of the people who are supposed to stop don't bother doing so. So is this border checkpoint going to stay this way? That's what we asked U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials.
They told us that this is not considered the "highest risk" area. But officials did tell us some changes are in store.
Customs officers do make patrols to the checkpoint. They said those patrols will be increased. In addition, they said there will be technological changes, including the installation of cameras providing surveillance over the area, not just inside the shack.
Before we left Angle Inlet, we met one motorist from Manitoba who did his law-abiding duty and picked-up the videophone to report his arrival into the United States. But it would not work for him, so he picked-up an old-fashioned payphone and called the office. They couldn't see him or his passport, but customs officials thanked him for trying, and then let him into the United States.
24 hours on the border
There were a lot of really interesting responses to yesterday's post about the Minutemen building a fence
on the U.S.-Mexico border. I'm curious to know what a lot of you think about yesterday's demonstrations as well.
When you are standing in the midst of the demonstrations, as I was yesterday in Los Angeles, it's hard to get sense of how the images and messages are playing elsewhere in the country.
Do you think they were effective or counterproductive?
Many of you probably haven't had the chance to spend much time on our southern border, but it's a fascinating place to visit. When you actually see the border fence (in the places where there is a fence), it's surprisingly small.
Also, the countryside is littered with water bottles and clothing left behind by illegal immigrants trying to elude the U.S. Border Patrol.
Day and night, night and day, the game of cat and mouse is played out between smugglers and law enforcement. Of course, it is no game, and each year hundreds of lives are lost on the border.
Tonight, we want to give you a sense of what life is like along the border for law enforcement, illegal immigrants, and others, so we've put together a special edition of "360°" called "24 Hours on the Border." It starts at 11 p.m. EST, after the first hour of "360°." I hope you are able to watch.
Genocide in plain sight
"This is a tsunami. This is no small thing. This is an emergency."
Those are the words of Jan Egeland, the United Nation's undersecretary for humanitarian affairs. He is referring to the situation in Darfur, a dry, desolate, swathe of land about the size of Texas, tucked neatly into the western part of Sudan.
In Darfur, tens of thousands of black Africans have been systematically slaughtered by an Arab militia known as the Janjaweed. Tens of thousands of women and children have been raped and mutilated, while millions more have been forced to flee their homes.
The United Nations says the Janjaweed is sponsored by the Sudanese government. Over the weekend, Sudan agreed to accept
a peace deal brokered by the African Union, but the Janjaweed and other rebel groups have yet to agree to terms.
Someone once called Darfur the land of the three Ds -- death, disease and despair. According to the United Nations, Darfur is the world's worst humanitarian disaster. U.S. officials have another phrase for this slow-building tsunami -- genocide in the 21st century.
The poorest of the poor wind up in refugee camps. At last count that number was somewhere around three million people. But this may be for only a short while, as the few aid agencies still able to operate here are attacked regularly by the Janjaweed.
"Three million lives are at stake. Three million people need food," says the U.N.'s Egeland.
How does one begin to organize to feed three million hungry, angry people? So far this year, a handful of countries have contributed more than $100 million in aid. But the United Nations says it would need five times that amount to prevent millions of people from becoming extinct in plain sight.
Monday, May 01, 2006
Closed restaurant sends message in Chapel Hill
A banner waves from the second story balcony of Top of the Hill, one of the most popular restaurants in Chapel Hill, North Carolina -- "Todos somos Immigrantes! We are all Immigrants."
Proprietor Scott Maitland decided to close shop on Monday and forego about $12,000 in sales to support "A Day Without Immigrants," hoping to draw attention to the debate about immigration policy.
"Immigrants have always been an important part of our society," Maitland said. "Our willingness to open up makes us American."
Maitland said immigrants play an integral role in his restaurant, with many of them working there for more than five years, advancing from the dish room to the floor.
Sam Kenworthy, a college freshman, read a notice on the door explaining why the restaurant was closed, but paid more heed to a handwritten addition from his friends telling him to "Go to Spanky's" -- a restaurant across the street.
Dozens more would-be patrons also read the notice, pausing for a moment before rattling off other dining options.
But it also got some of those people talking. "I think it sends a positive message that boycotts like this work," said Sara Ward. She said the closed restaurant made more of an impression on her than anything she had seen in the news.
Protest provides great excuse to skip school
One thing that really stood out to me after walking around the rally in downtown Los Angeles today -- all the people smiling.
Normally, when I go to a political rally where people are protesting something, their faces appear very serious, even angry. Here it's almost like a celebration.
I do see some Mexican and Korean flags here and there, but I'd say 90 percent are American. I think the organizers are getting better at playing to their audience in middle-America, because no one is handing out Mexican paraphernalia -- it's all American.
The mayor of Los Angeles, along with a lot of other leaders, told students to go to school today, but I see kids everywhere I look.
I asked one kid if he came here just to get out of class, but he was pretty serious. He said he was born here, but his parents were not, and it's important to him to join the rally.
But I doubt that's the case with all the students who missed school today. We called the Los Angeles school district, and they said about 72,000 students, or more than one quarter of the total number of students in grades 6-12, didn't show up today.
Rallies leave small mark on Big Apple
In a sea of Hispanic faces at this rally in New York City, there is blond-haired Anna Cwiecek of Holland.
"I wanted to live here," she told me. The 21-year-old with a pierced eyebrow said she's been in New York ten months on a student visa studying english. She would like to stay to pursue a degree in international criminal justice.
More representative of the crowd are painters and construction and restaurant workers from Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. They barely speak English, but using my broken Spanish, I can understand as they tell me they took the day off from work because they want to become U.S. citizens.
The main immigrant rally at Union Square has attracted perhaps 6,000 people, not quite enough to fill the entire square. In many New York neighborhoods, the day without immigrants did not generate boycotts at all.
So it was business as usual in this, the nation's business capital, even here in Union Square, where the regularly scheduled farmer's market had plenty of room for customers.
Scott Crosby, an "all natural" muffin and turnover salesman told me, "Sales are good."
Protester's family predates home city of Phoenix
"Aqui estamos, y no nos vamos!"
"We're here, and we're not leaving!"
Thousands of people delivered that message during four separate demonstrations held in and around Phoenix, Arizona.
More than 1,000 people formed a half-mile-long human chain stretching around the block from the Home Depot store near 75th Avenue and McDowell Road.
Two Home Depot stores were targeted for the demonstrations to document the importance of immigrant workers, said Alan Hanson, 30, of Phoenix, a volunteer for the group Somos America (We are America), which organized the chain.
"We don't see this as fighting," Hanson said. "We see this as workers exercising their rights in this country."
In another demonstration, people chanted and cheered "Si se puede!" -- loosely translated as "Yes, we can" -- in front of Trevor Browne High School in southwest Phoenix, where many students are immigrants.
Jesus B. Alvira, 58, of Phoenix, said he came out for the Trevor Browne demonstration because he wants to show that people are sometimes wrongly thought to be illegal immigrants. A seventh-generation Arizonan, Alvira said his family lived in the area before the city even existed.
"Just by looking a little dirty and taking off my cap, you'd think I'm illegal," Alvira said.
He added that the Latino vote is to be reckoned with when considering immigration reforms, because many Latinos are U.S. citizens and are part of a group with growing political clout.
"When November comes, they're really going to put the vote on," Alvira said.
Anarchists puzzle Chicago marchers
The march started out nice and easy from Union Park in Chicago, looking more like one of those mass fundraising walks than a political rally.
Spirited chants of "Si, se puede" -- loosely translated as "Yes, we can" -- swelled from the crowd now and again as various groups wearing similar T-shirts or hats walked together.
Among the many handmade signs and placards marchers carried:
"We also have a dream"
"Your homes need my work for more beautiful"
"Mexicans in Mexico should organize like Mexicans in US"
"Stop the Raids Now"
"Don't bite the hand that feeds you"
The smiling women of St. Patrick's Old Church handed out cups of water to the marchers.
Marching alongside women in head scarves, Rami Nashashibi, executive director of the Chicago-based Inner-city Muslim Action Network, said his group brought 40 members to "stand up for Latino brothers and sisters."
Workers from the Chicago Housing Authority watched the marchers go by from their office, with a sign saying "We Support You" hanging in their window.
Boyd Klingler, a financial services worker in a suit, watched the marchers from behind a police barricade. Asked what he thought, he gave a wry smile and said, "That there are a lot more Mexicans in Chicago than we thought."
At Lou Mitchell's, a longtime Chicago lunch spot, two regulars discussed the issues as the marchers walked by.
"People aren't doing what they should be doing," said Gary Williams, referring to a story he read about local police who knew illegal workers were in their town but did nothing.
"I see both sides," said Dennis Mogan, adding that there must be some sort of middle ground to solve the problem.
As marchers entered the Loop, a motley band of anarchists made a racket beating on street signs and bucket drums with their "No Borders" and "viva Anarchia" message. Most marchers didn't seem to know what to make of them and followed cautiously at a distance.
Grandmother shakes her head at younger protesters
After waiting for hours in front of a nearly empty city hall in Los Angeles, the crowds arrived en masse shortly after 11 a.m. local time.
While there's no official crowd estimate, the line for the porta potties is beyond long, so we obviously have a big protest on our hands.
Before it got crowded here, I got to talk to Cecilia Mendez, a grandmother originally from Mexico. She came to this Los Angeles rally before it got moving, because her husband has a foot injury and can't walk the protest route.
We chatted together on the steps of city hall as we waited for the crowds. She's been a legal resident since 1985 and gave birth to two daughters in the United States.
Cecilia joined the rally because she wants people to come out of hiding. She thinks illegal immigrants who have been here working and contributing to society deserve a chance to live with the same rights as everyone else.
Cecilia came wearing white and waving an American flag. She said she hadn't protested since the days of Cesar Chavez, a Mexican-American labor activist and former leader of the United Farm Workers.
Just like any grandmother might, she shook her head at some of the younger protesters. In particular, she couldn't understand why someone would bring a Mexican flag to a rally in the United States.
As she put it: "I love this country. THIS is where we want to live ... to work."
All quiet in the nation's capital
The Mall in Washington, D.C., has been site of many memorable, massive protests, with demonstrators making their points heard in view of Capitol Hill.
Just not today.
By the middle of the day, a few dozen pro-immigrant AFL-CIO-affiliated protesters from Wayne County, North Carolina, and a handful of others reading from the Bible were on the Capitol lawn.
Local labor and other civic leaders made a conscious decision not to act -- for now, at least -- even as elsewhere crowds marked "A Day Without Immigrants." As with much in Washington, politics played a prominent role.
"The ball is now in the Senate's court -- they deserve time to address the issue," said Jaime Contreras, president of the National Capital Immigration Coalition, which organized an earlier protest. "We're trying to hold back. There are other things we can do."
While speaking 142 languages, Washington's immigrant population isn't as established as those in cities like Los Angeles and New York. But it's growing rapidly in size (from 400,000 in 1990 to over 1 million) and stature, according to Gustavo Torres, head of CASA de Maryland, a non-profit group that offers services to area day laborers.
Protests by immigrants may yet return to the streets of the nation's capital at some future time. But for today, apart from smaller gatherings around the region, such as at Washington, D.C.'s Malcolm X Park, big protests are the province of other cities.
Chicago immigration rally a 'coming out party'
As a massive crowd started to gather in Chicago, I went hunting for a live interview with someone who was taking part in this city's immigration rights march. Instead of finding one person, I found two -- two guys who didn't know each other until this morning.
Jose Garcia and Luiz Ramirez were standing behind a large banner and talking to each other about what they believe.
Jose, a retired high school teacher from Chicago's suburbs, came to the United States from Cuba when he was 15 years old. Luiz, a junior high school teacher who took the day off from work, emigrated from Guatemala almost 20 years ago. Both are U.S. citizens.
"It's a moral issue," Luiz said, explaining that he's marching because he believes immigrants are vital to the American economy. He thinks undocumented workers should not be thought of as lawbreakers, but as contributing members of society who are worthy of citizenship.
I asked, "Why now? What is it that is causing such an intense reaction in Chicago's Hispanic community?" After all, the quickly organized March 10th rally drew an estimated 100,000 people, and today's rally has been projected to be at least twice as large.
"It's that House bill," said Jose, referring to legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives that would make illegal presence in the United States a felony, as opposed to a civil offense.
"That is an insult," Jose added. "That got a lot of people to come out."
Indeed, the scene before me is something of a coming out party. People who have spent little time on politics are now marching and expressing their beliefs, and in the case of Jose and Luiz, making friends.
The two strangers found they were both teachers, both graduates of the University of Illinois at Chicago. They plan to march together, sharing food from Luiz's stuffed backpack. They hope that those marchers who are illegal immigrants may someday become American citizens, just as they did.
Minutemen build fence along southern border
I spent this past weekend along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Friday night, I went out with U.S. Border Patrol agents searching for illegal immigrants. Then, Saturday morning, I met up with a large group of Minutemen volunteers who planned to build a fence along a remote patch of border.
If you have been following the border debate, you no doubt know about the Minutemen. They are volunteers who patrol the border, hoping to deter and detect illegal immigrants. They don't try to apprehend border crossers themselves; they watch them cross and call the Border Patrol. Their critics call them vigilantes. They respond by saying they are vigilant.
I didn't really know what to expect when I went to meet the Minutemen. At 8 a.m. Saturday, about a hundred volunteers gathered in a trailer park near the border. They set out in a convoy of trucks and SUVs to a remote section of the border where they began to build a barbed-wire fence.
There is a fence along parts of the border, but it stops from time to time. So the Minutemen began drilling holes for posts and stringing barbed wire. They didn't know if they would be stopped by the Border Patrol, but the atmosphere was festive.
Those unable to actually work on the fence cooked hot dogs and served sodas in the desert heat. For many, it was the first time they'd volunteered for the Minutemen, and they seemed happy to be doing something.
I asked one woman why she was there, and she said this is one issue where she actually feels she can make a difference. She said she couldn't do anything about the deficit or gas prices, but she could stand on the border and "be the eyes and ears" helping the border patrol.
There is a lot of debate about the effectiveness of building a fence along the border, and the Minutemen constructing the fence on Saturday admit what they were doing was largely symbolic. But it was a start, they say. I think the imagery of American citizens standing on the border and building a fence with their own hands is pretty powerful, and I think this may be a new front in the battle on the border.
I'd be interested to know what you think. Should Americans take matters into their own hands and build fences along stretches of the border that don't have any fences? The land they were doing this on was owned by the federal government. Even if the fence is barbed-wire and doesn't really deter people from crossing, is it worth building to send a message to our leaders? Would you help to build a section of fence along the border?
Tonight on "360," we'll have more on the Minutemen's fence building operation.
Protesters gathering in Atlanta
About 2,000 people gathered in front of the Georgia State Capitol as the noon kickoff time approached for a planned rally to mark "A Day Without Immigrants." People were trickling from downtown Atlanta to the site, but it seemed unlikely there would be the tens of thousands seen at an April protest in the Atlanta area.
While the numbers may not have been high, opinions were strong. Heather Ruark, 29, sat on the sidewalk and wrote out a protest sign. The Dekalb County teacher said she was waiting for her husband, an illegal immigrant who would soon be heading back to Mexico to fight for legal status from beyond U.S. borders. Ruark said she would be joining her husband in Mexico.
Marco Obregon of Mableton, Georgia, came with his wife, Flor, and 8-year-old daughter Kenya. Obregon owns his own construction business, employing six people. He said he came to show "support for our brothers."
As Obregon spoke, across the street was Michael Mooney, a 40-year-old chemical plant worker from Cartersville, Georgia. Mooney held up a sign supporting strong immigration laws, and said those who want to come to the United States should "be patient, follow the laws, and wait their turn." People need to earn their way into the country, he said.
Chinatown workers ignoring immigration protest
As his employees stir giant vats of dough, Richard Eng, manager of the Canton Noodle Corporation, tells me that he and his employees are too busy to step out and join the human chain planned down the block just after noon today.
"We have too many noodle orders," he says. This company on Mott Street in New York City supplies lo mein and wontons to local restaurants -- all of which are open today.
Across the street at the Grand Harmony Restaurant, the geese and duck are roasting. It's business as usual, with management expecting a large lunchtime and dinner crowd.
Of the several dozen people I've spoken to on the street today, none of them are boycotting work. Many people are simply unaware of the demonstrations planned as part of "A Day Without Immigrants."
Organizers say they're expecting between 600 and 700 people to link up as part of the human chain that is to span down New York's Canal Street and East Broadway. El Diario, the city's top Spanish newspaper, has a front page that is half-blank, in order to symbolize the day without immigrants.
This day may be a significant event in the Latino community, but here in Chinatown, where nearly everyone is either an immigrant or a child or grandchild of an immigrant, it is business as usual.