Tuesday, October 31, 2006
The Shot ... Halloween-style
This picture was sent by Robin Leger of St. Philippe, Quebec, Canada, through CNN's I-Report
system. It'll be "The Shot" on tonight's program.
Monday, October 30, 2006
So that's how 'bag, dad' got its name
Have you ever heard of Bagdad? Not Baghdad, but Bagdad, without the "h." As in Bagdad, Arizona.
My producer Amanda Townsend and I were in Arizona recently covering a couple of stories in the cities of Kingman and Tucson. On the drive from Kingman to Tuscon, we saw on the map that there was a small town named Bagdad, just a little bit out of the way of our route. What, we wondered, do the people of Bagdad think about what is going on in Baghdad? Was there an interesting story to tell?
Well, we found out that Bagdad is a copper mining town with about 2,700 residents. We also learned it's a generally conservative place, with what appears to be a higher level of support for the war than the country as a whole. We also discovered that a decent percentage of the town's young people have wound up traveling from Bagdad to Baghdad as members of the military. One woman told us that ten percent of her son's high school class was in Iraq at the same time.
The town enjoys its attention-getting name. The nickname of the sports teams at Bagdad High School is the Sultans. The logo is a genie on a magic carpet. But the name of the town does not have Mesopotamian origins. Legend has it that a father and a son were mining for copper in the late 1800s. The son wanted a sack for his copper and said to his father, "Do you have a bag, dad?"
Of course, we can't be absolutely positive this story is true, but everyone we talked to in town has heard it. Everyone we talked to in town also has an opinion about this war. Nobody was shy with us.
When we walked into the Miner's Diner, we talked with a couple that had a son in Iraq for nine months. We also talked with a woman whose husband was in Iraq for the first Gulf War. Most of the people we met completely backed President Bush's stance on this war. But others made a point to tell us that while they used to support the war, the time has now come to bring home the troops.
We enjoyed meeting Arizona's Bagdadians. And one of the great aspects of CNN's international scope is that the televised story of our visit can be watched in Bagdad as well as Baghdad.
Congressional power built on cash
Two things never fail to amaze me about the goings on in our nation's capital. First, the goings on themselves: Outlandish spending, inefficient bureaucracies, corruption, scandal and plain old "scratch your head" decision-making.
But what really amazes me are the answers I get when I ask questions about all these goings on: "That's just the way it's done up here, " I'm told, or, "You don't really know how it works, do you?"
It's with this bewilderment that I took it upon myself to ask a simple question for tonight's "360": Why are so many virtually unopposed and truly unopposed congressmen and women raising so much money for their campaigns?
They certainly do not need it for campaigning. Rep. Tom Price, a Georgia Republican, is expected to cruise to reelection. In 2004, he got nearly 100 percent of the vote. This time around, his opponent, a radio DJ, has so little money he can barely get yard signs up. TV ads are out of the question.
And out in Las Vegas, Rep. Shelley Berkley, a Democrat, is likely a shoo-in too. Her opponent has raised about $80,000, most of it his own money. Meantime, Rep. Berkley has raised around $2 million and counting.
So why do they need the money? Because in the city where people say -- "You don't really know how it works, do you?" -- the answer is that the city works most of the time with money. These two representatives spread much of their wealth to fellow members of Congress who need it for tight elections. Rep. Price told me it's helping the Republican team.
Rep. Berkley was blunt: "There are major issues that impact my state and it's very important I have friends in Congress." She says that because her state is sparsely populated, she sends excess campaign money to representatives in other states to make sure Nevada's concerns are "heard" when the time comes for a vote.
Vote buying? No, she says, more like access buying. "That's just the way it's done up here," I guess.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
Madonna adoption: Seeking the dad's story
We'd heard Yohane Banda, the biological father of Madonna's adoptive baby, was getting sick and tired of the press, sick and tired of being hounded, sick and tired of having to explain why he'd changed his story so many times. He'd gone into hiding and we needed to find him.
We set out for Yohane's African village at 6 a.m. on Thursday morning, the day after Madonna's interview on Oprah. Two hours of bone-jarring dirt road later, we arrived at his tiny village tucked away in a remote corner of Malawi.
The padlock on his door was the first sign of trouble. Also, none of the villagers wanted to volunteer any information on his whereabouts. Finally, we managed to convince one of his relatives. She told us he was staying with his sister at a different village a short drive away. Now anyone who's done any travelling in Africa knows the minute you're told something is a short dive away, it means it's quite a distance.
A half-hour drive later we arrived at the village of Kazyozyo, not far from the Zambian border. A few inquiries later, we found Yohane sitting outside his sister's hut drinking tea with his sister. Her husband is a teacher at a nearby school and together they have two children.
Yohane was surprised we'd found him but he was ready to talk, ready to set the record straight. We sat down for his first interview since Madonna appeared on Oprah. Our interview will be on "360" tonight.
Yohane told us he was pressured by various civil society groups to say he didn't understand the fine print when signing over the adoption papers of little baby David. Now, he says he wants Madonna to have his son as her own, to raise him, educate him and give him the life he'd never have gotten here in this impoverished corner of Africa.
Yohane made a passionate plea to Madonna to ignore all the media hype surrounding the controversial adoption and said she shouldn't give up the fight for baby David. He says he'll be going to the High Court in Malawi on Friday to tell the judge to throw out the case brought against it by a group of human rights organizations that want the adoption law in Malawi to take its course -- namely, that any potential parents should live in Malawi for a minimum of 18 months before being granted adoption rights.
In the end, I felt sorry for Yohane, a 32-year-old illiterate vegetable farmer. His first two sons died of Malaria in their infancy and David was his third and only living child. David's mother also died of Malaria soon after he was born.
Yohane's had a tough life, and he doesn't get a cent from giving David to Madonna. What he does get is, literally, a one-in-a-million chance for his son. David is one of a million children scattered across various orphanages in Malawi who have lost at least one parent. He now gets an opportunity to grow up wealthy and privileged and maybe one day come back and help out his poor family in one of Africa's poorest countries.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
GOP ad strikes new tone on Iraq
The campaign ad linked above is from Mark Kennedy, a Republican congressman from Minnesota who is running for the U.S. Senate.
We find it interesting because Kennedy says, essentially: We've made mistakes in Iraq and I know a lot of you are unhappy about where we are today in Iraq, but you should support me anyway, because the consequences of leaving Iraq now could be dire.
His candor is striking. And it seems to be a bellweather for what is happening in many races in these last days leading up to the election.
It made us think of James Carville's battle cry featured in the "The War Room," the documentary that took viewers inside Clinton's 1992 campaign for the presidency. Remember, "It's the economy, stupid." It seems to me that in this mid-term election the key to many political futures comes down to Iraq. In other words, "It's the war, stupid."
And that's why we are using Kennedy's commercial as a framework to explore politics and Iraq on tonight's program. We've streamed Rep. Kennedy's ad online, so please take a look and let us know what you think. We'll be listening.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
If Dems win: Grand plans or gridlock?
Listen to President Bush and his political team these days and their closing argument for the final two weeks of the midterm election campaign rings clear: Elect the Democrats, the White House says, and get a weaker war on terror and higher taxes.
"The voters out there need to ask the question: Which political party will support the brave men and women that wear the uniform when they do their job of protecting America," is one way Mr. Bush has framed the issue in recent speeches.
The Vice President echoes that, and what you might call the White House pocketbook pitch. Says Mr. Cheney: "If the Democrats take control, American families could face an immense tax increase and the economy would sustain a major hit."
Lost in that pointed rhetoric is this reality: Even if Democrats take both the House and the Senate, Mr. Bush will be president for two more years and could use his veto to block any Democratic legislation. Even Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean concedes Mr. Bush could ignore the Democratic agenda if he so chooses, especially calls for a plan to bring the troops home from Iraq.
"We're not going to be able to change the policy overnight," Dean told CNN on Tuesday. "That's going to require a new president."
Winning one or both chambers of Congress though would give Democrats a major policy platform, to push for:
- raising the minimum wage
- repealing Bush tax cuts for upper income Americans
- revisiting the new Medicare prescription drug benefit
- and using the tax code or other incentives to make health care more affordable and accessible.
"If the Democrats win the Congress they will have a seat at the table, they will have a voice in policy but the president still has the veto," former Clinton administration aide Michael Waldman says.
For Democrats, one challenge if they retake the House, which even many Republicans see as a distinct possibility, would be to pick and choose their fights with the White House. Some Democrats who are in line for committee chairmanships for example have talked of impeaching Mr. Bush, or in the past have urged Republicans to join them in issuing subpoenas for administration records on issues ranging from Cheney's energy task force to defense contracts to Halliburton and other firms.
Mindful of the risks of alienating voters with partisanship, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, according to top advisers, already has told senior Democrats she would draw a sharp line betweeen legitimate oversight and investigations that could be cast as partisan witchhunts.
Waldman put it this way: "Revenge is a bad idea. It's a bad idea and the public doesn't like it. Oversight is not only a good idea, it's what the public is demanding."
We're tackling this subject on tonight's show, so we'd like to hear your thoughts. If Democrats are able to win one or both chambers of Congress, how much will they be able to get done?
Friday, October 20, 2006
YouTube becomes political weapon
You've likely heard of YouTube. Well, rest assured, your representatives in Washington, D.C., most definitely have too.
That's because campaign operatives are starting to place negative images of the candidates they oppose on the video sharing site. The campaigns have camera-wielding staffers who go to the opposition's campaign events with the hopes of shooting something negative or embarrassing the candidate says and then putting it on YouTube.
The video of Virginia U.S. Sen. George Allen referring to an opposition cameraman as "macaca"
is available for the world's viewing on YouTube.
One of the more active purveyors of YouTube video attacks is the campaign of Montana State Senate President John Tester, a Democrat running for the U.S. Senate. Tester strongly supports the work of two members of his staff who record campaign appearances of U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, a Republican running for his fourth term in the Senate.
On YouTube, you can see and hear Burns referring to "a nice little Guatemalan man
" who's doing some work for him. You can also view the senator referring to the war on terror as a battle against a faceless enemy who is "a taxi cab driver
in the daytime but a killer at night." And then there is the most viewed of the Burns' videos, where the senator appears to nod off
at an agriculture hearing in Montana.
We went out to Montana to talk to both candidates and the cameraman about this. I asked John Tester if some of this is unfair. For example, don't tired people sometimes nod off at meetings?
Tester told me Burns shouldn't be falling asleep at hearings so important to Montanans.
So I asked Burns what he thought about these tactics. Obviously, Burns' campaign workers aren't particularly pleased when their candidate is ridiculed on a Web site, but Burns seems to like Kevin O'Brien, the cameraman who works for the Tester campaign and goes by the name of "arrowhead77" on YouTube.
"We feed him at our luncheons and our picnics, because I don't think the Democrats are paying him very much," he said.
The polls show this race to be tight. We'll see if Senator Burns has the same sense of humor about all this after Election Day.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Why we aired the sniper video
Last night, we ran a controversial piece produced by our Baghdad correspondent Michael Ware. The backstory is that through intermediaries Michael had been communicating with Ibrahim Al-Shimary, a shadowy leader and spokesman for the Islamic Army. Michael had sent him a series of questions concerning the insurgency in Iraq and its motives. He was surprised when he received two videotapes in response. We aired portions of both last night.
One had Al-Shimary himself on camera -- his face electronically concealed -- responding to Michael's questions. The second tape surprised us even more. It documented 10 incidents of insurgent snipers attacking U.S. military personnel. To be clear, insurgents shot the tape themselves. This group has released similar tapes in the past. Indeed, you can find them on the Internet. But this tape uniquely included audio from the sniper team as they selected targets, waited for their opportunities and then praised Allah as they made their escapes.
We are assuming they included the sniper tape to prove the authenticity of the Al-Shimary interview tape and to establish their credibility. Of course, we also understood that some might conclude there is a public relations benefit for the insurgents if we aired the material, especially on CNN International. We also understood that this kind of footage is upsetting and disturbing for many viewers. But after getting beyond the emotional debate, we concluded the tape meets our criteria for newsworthiness.
Moreover, with 73 U.S. military casualties so far this month, October is already the third highest month for U.S. deaths in Iraq since the war began. In fact, many of them are victims of sniper attacks.
For those who did not see the piece, you can watch it here now: (Watch CNN's report on the insurgent video
You should know we dipped to black at the moment of actual impact of the rounds. A number of us felt airing that precise moment was simply too horrific. That decision, as well as the decision to build a piece around the sniper tape -- in fact, all the decisions about this story -- were subject to hours of intense editorial debate at the highest levels here at CNN.
You should also know we tried to put all of this in context. Our reporting included an interview with a current U.S. sniper in Iraq. He's been both under attack from insurgent snipers and he has himself operated as a sniper. We also heard from Major General William Caldwell, a coalition forces spokesman in Iraq, and CNN military analyst General David Grange, formerly with the Green Beret, Delta Force and Army Rangers.
Instantly, the piece received many strongly-worded responses from viewers.
Many viewers thought it inappropriate for us to air video of Americans being shot: "If I had a son or daughter over there serving, I would be outraged by what I feel is your aiding and comforting the enemy."
Some worried about kids who might have watched the program. (We clearly warned viewers the video was not appropriate for children before we aired it.)
Others praised us for showing the threats U.S. military personnel actually face: "Thanks for having the guts to show the sniper update and to show us the other side of the story. Please continue to give us the truth; I know the network is bound to be taking heat."
And still others thought by dipping to black and not showing the moment of impact of the sniper rounds we were sanitizing the horror of war: " ... I think the reason it took Americans so long to come around on this war is because they somehow did not think it was real because they never saw anyone hurt ... you guys need to show the unvarnished truth."
Whether or not you agree with us in this case, our goal, as always, is to present the unvarnished truth as best we can.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Is Iraq engaged in civil war?
The rumble seems to be growing louder by the week here in Washington, D.C. More and more political, military and international affairs analysts are saying civil war is already underway, or at least on the way, in Iraq.
Shias, Sunnis, and Kurds, they say, are girding themselves for a great battle for control of the country when and if coalition forces pull out. They are ready to shoot it out over old disputes, ethic rivalries, and the oil revenues that could make all of them, or perhaps only the winners, rich. What else can you call that, these analysts say, except civil war?
The White House, of course, sees it differently, and with reason. For starters, coalition troops, even while under constant fire, have in large part kept the various factions from massing large numbers of troops, gathering large quantities of big weapons, and launching broad offenses against each other, the hallmarks of a classic civil war.
In addition, there are political and security reasons to avoid any such admission. If full-scale, open civil war erupts and fractures the fledgling democracy, it will certainly be seen as a major defeat for the United States and Iraq would turn into a long-term staging ground for terrorism.
No matter what it is called, the situation is perilous for the U.S. military, for the Iraqis, for the future of the region. My question is this: Based on your reading of events, do you think Iraq is in a full-fledged civil war or is that term inappropriate?
Monday, October 16, 2006
Should kids be taught in Spanish?
As America's population nears 300 million, the number of people living here who speak little or no English increases nearly every day. Right now, for example, English is a second language for nearly 5.5 million schoolchildren, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
So what are public schools to do when students come in and only speak one language and that language is not English?
Well, most schools give those children intensive instruction in English with the hopes they learn the language quickly. But we visited a school district in Texas that, along with some other districts in the Lone Star State, has a different idea.
Officials in Bryan, Texas, offer a program in some classrooms in which Spanish is used for up to 90 percent of the day. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are taught for the most part in Spanish.
The theory is that too many non-English speaking kids get lost when they start learning all their subjects in a language they don't know. They quickly fall behind other students; some of them never catch up.
Officials in Bryan took us into classrooms to see how their program works. We saw one crowded classroom with enthusiastic children playing computer games in Spanish. We also saw a class doing the Pledge of Allegiance in English and Spanish. The officials tell us the program is so popular that there are waiting lists to get in; and the waiting lists include native English speakers.
As it turns out, roughly half the kids in the classes were born and raised in the United States and have parents who want them to be fluent in Spanish.
So the question we pose in our story that airs on "360" is this: Is there an issue with American taxpayers footing the bill for public school education taught primarily in Spanish?
We interview the head of the English First organization who says bilingual education "has never worked." He adds that children who can't speak English should get more intensive English instruction to get them caught up. Meanwhile, officials in Bryan are considering expanding their offerings in Spanish.
America's Latinization: Shakira, salsa and Ugly Betty
I feel like I keep doing this same story every year, telling the tale of how the booming Latino population is changing the United States, how the U.S. media business needs to take note of this vast and demanding market. I'm Latina and in the media, so I cop to having a special interest here.
But, as the U.S. population approaches 300 million people, the story has finally changed. I've written for years about how Latino content -- in Spanish and English -- is growing so much that it's going to transform American media. Now it seems to have actually happened.
It's not just that People Magazine also publishes People en Espanol or that CNN has a Spanish-language channel called CNN en Espanol. All U.S. media is changing its content to reflect the fact that Latinos have become the nation's largest minority group and that the rest of the country is feeling their own culture become Latinized.
You can see it in supermarket snack aisles, where tortilla chips and salsa outsell most everything around them. You can hear it on the radio and on MTV, where Spanish music and music with a Spanish beat are everywhere. Hello, Shakira! I flipped through childrens channels the other morning with my 15-month old daughter and there was Handy Manny talking to his toolbelt in Spanish, Dora exploring the world with her amigos and Diego talking to some birds in Spanish. By the time my little girl is my age, it is likely that one in five school children will be Spanish dominant. Our country is changing, fast.
Just a few years ago my relatives in Peru told me not to call them when Betty La Fea was on because they wouldn't pick up the phone. I remember visiting them and TV reporters were on air around Latin America doing live shots to show how empty the streets were during the broadcast. The show was a major telenovela phenomena. Everyone watched, every time. When ABC announced it would produce a U.S. version in English, I figured this would be a true test of whether the U.S. audience, Latinos and non-Latinos, would embrace something so quintessentially Latin American. Well, question answered. Ugly Betty has become the most-watched new series this season.
The show is funny, with crisp writing and a compelling story line. It is also very much a Latino show. Yet the numbers speak for themselves. It's not the nation's Latinos watching; it's everybody.
After years of watching Spanish-language shows and news broadcasts in the U.S. attract Neilson ratings that were the envy of U.S. broadcasters, it's heartening to see something Latino holding its own in English. It means there has been a coming together, a melting in the melting pot. That's the thing that makes the United States a special place for immigrants. That it welcomes and assumes their culture. That it goes out of it's way to welcome the millions of Bettys out there into their home.
Friday, October 13, 2006
300 million could drive us crazy
The problem is not that America is too small to handle 300 million people. This is a vast nation with huge areas of affordable, largely unpopulated land. The problem is no one wants to live in the wide open spaces. The problem is we all want to live in the same place.
Having traveled to all 50 states many times, I'm convinced of it. Our ancestors spread from east to west across the continent, clearing forests, planting crops, raising houses and small towns, but we are now abandoning the countryside. Big cities have consolidated much of the political and economic power to draw business, so we have clustered ever more around giant metroplexes seeking employment and the hope of a secure financial future.
As competition for those jobs has grown, the competition for affordable housing nearby has grown too, pushing middle-class families further and further out beyond the suburbs.
The result: Commutes that were once considered unthinkable, except in a handful of the very largest cities, are now common. One hour. Ninety minutes. More. Each way. Studies show that the average American worker now spends more time in his or her car than on vacation. We eat in our cars, try to visit with our spouses, review the kids' school days, catch up on the news, all on the move.
Nearly everyone I talk to says they can't afford to live closer to the cities, but they also feel they can't afford to retreat from their well-paying big city jobs either. They are terrified by the uncertainty of employment as they get older and worry about failing company pension plans, a debt-riddled populace, and soaring costs for health care and education for their children. Maybe we're greedy too: We want big screen TVs, yet another cell phone, and an iPod for every person ... not the old ones, for crying out loud, the newest, smoking hot video ones.
I thought about all this during my 40-minute drive to work this morning in Washington, DC. (Don't hassle me too much. I've taken the Metro plenty of times and I biked to work 20 miles roundtrip for a year.)
Are our cities just too big? Do we just want too much? Or is our drive toward the future with 300 million people along for the ride just going to mean more, more and more driving?
Thursday, October 12, 2006
U.S. population nears 300 million ... so what?
The numbers are now in! The statisticians at the Census Bureau officially calculate the U.S. population will hit 300 million at 7:46 a.m., Tuesday. So what, right?
Well, we don't think it's just one of those meaningless milestones. In 1967, when the country hit 200 million, it was celebrated by the public and politicians alike, including then President Lyndon Baines Johnson. It meant prosperity, opportunity, growth.
So 39 years later, we think it's a good idea to take stock of where we are now: Who are we? How old are we? What is our faith? What do 300 million people mean for how we live? Natural resources? Roads and highways? Health care?
Clearly, there are a lot of big issues raised by the approach of 300 million, issues we plan to cover on "360" in coming days, culminating in an hour-long special Monday night. All of our reports will be framed with great stats, the kind people talk about at parties and everyone says, "Wow, I didn't know that."
Here are a few. The first one deals with some factors that result in a growing population:
- One birth every 7 seconds
- One death every 13 seconds
- One international migrant (net) every 31 seconds
- Net gain of one person every 11 seconds
(U.S. Census Bureau)
That's right, the United States is gaining one person every 11 seconds. Whether this rapid growth will continue long into the future is debated by demographers, but it doesn't change the fact that for today, at least, we are a swiftly growing nation. And here are a few numbers that show just how swiftly we have grown:
- 100 million people in 1915
- 200 million people in 1967
- 300 million people in 2006
- And 400 million in about another 40 years
(Census and National Center for Health Statistics)
Despite this rapid growth, the following numbers shows we have a long, long way to go before we catch the most world's most populous nations:
- World: 6.5 billion
- China: 1.3 billion
- India: 1.1 billion
- U.S.: 300 million
(CIA -- The World Factbook)
When Paul Ehrlich published "The Population Bomb" in 1968, the term "overpopulation" became a buzzword and a warning. Since then, many experts have discredited some of his most dire conclusions. But now, we have become a nation of 300 million people. What do you think of this milestone?
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
When tragedy strikes near home
It's always an odd sensation to be reporting on a tragedy like this in your own city. We've all seen accident scenes before, either up close or on TV. There's a pattern to them, a routine, but it's always a shock to see one up close.
I think that's why so many people stand around and stare, watching police and firefighters do the jobs they've trained for.
We saw the smoke from our offices, and I jumped in a cab as soon as I could. CNN already had reporters and producers on the scene, and they had found eyewitnesses willing to talk to us on camera.
It's raining hard right now and that's driven away most of the curious onlookers.
CNN reports two people dead, including Cory Lidle, who owned the crashed plane. Lidle had a wife and a 6-year-old son. Tonight, let's all say a prayer for them and anyone else affected by this accident.
Plane crash alters plans
As you can probably guess, our plans for tonight's program changed radically after a plane crashed into a tall residential building here in Manhattan. We could see the smoke from our office windows. Anderson is on the scene.
What surprised us is that after 9/11 a small aircraft could make it into airspace over Manhattan. We are gathering as much information on the crash as we can and expect to know many more details by 10 p.m.
Blacks, Latinos spar in small Georgia town
Willacoochee, Georgia, population 2,000, is the kind of small American town you hear about every now and then, but don't visit very often. It's located in Atkinson County, which is about 45 miles north of Georgia's border with Florida.
Willacoochee and the county it resides in may be small, but think of them as sort of test kitchen for race relations for the future. Back in the 1960s, when the U.S. population was closer to 200 million, 30 percent of Atkinson County's population was black and the rest was white. There were almost no Hispanics.
Now, as we approach 300 million people in the United States, Atkinson County is still mostly white, though by a smaller percentage, and the minority population has shifted greatly. The county is now 19 percent black and 21 percent Hispanic, due to a steady stream of immigrants settling in the area.
Here's the issue: Racial tension between what locals call the "blacks" and the "browns" is booming. Blacks say Latinos are taking their jobs, buying up their land, and moving in on their public assistance. Latinos say blacks don't want to work very hard and are turning down jobs. The mayor of the town, who is white, says, "We don't have any problems." But racial tensions between blacks and Latinos do appear to have increased.
To get a better handle on these dynamics, I visited with two local pastors, Harvey Williams and Atanacio Gaona. Williams is black. Gaona is Hispanic. They are good friends and say that everyone stares at them in town when they go out to eat or do anything in public. They're trying to unite the community. Pastor Gaona won't tolerate jokes about blacks, and Pastor Williams waves to unfriendly Hispanic drivers even when they don't wave back. They say they may even bring their congregations together for a service one day.
This is where the rest of the country is headed, isn't it? As more immigrants start to call the United States home, the nature of relations between different racial groups is changing, and not always for the better.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Is Foley fallout fair?
The Mark Foley situation has created political ripple effects across the United States. But in certain places, sensitivity is especially heightened.
One of those places is Florida's 22nd Congressional District, which is adjacent to the district that was represented by Foley. The 22nd district is where 13-term incumbent Representative Clay Shaw, a Republican, is running against State Senator Ron Klein, a Democrat.
This race was already one of the highest profile contests in the country. But now, with Foley's constituency one district over, reaction to the scandal is garnering extraordinary attention. Shaw is defending the Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert; Klein is very critical of the GOP leadership.
Tonight, in the Broward County city of Coral Springs, the candidates are holding a debate, and everyone is bracing for an onslaught of Foley related questions. We'll be there to cover it for tonight's "360."
In the meantime, do you think it's fair that the Foley situation has become an issue in this and other districts that he didn't even represent?
Foley's failings don't faze some religious conservatives
There's a saying, I'm told, that there are more churches in Virginia Beach than flies at a summer picnic. With that abundance of churches, comes a large number of Christian conservative voters. This is, after all, the place Pat Robertson calls home. His Christian Broadcasting Network is based here, along with Regent University, the school he founded.
It's at Regent that we met Charles Dunn, the dean of Regent's School of Government. He believes what is happening in his own backyard is a telling sign of what could happen in November.
Dunn says Christian conservatives are demoralized, a feeling made worse by the Mark Foley situation. Polls tell us that a majority of people from many walks of life aren't happy with the way things are going in Washington. So why do evangelical Christians stand out? For one thing, they helped Republicans win in recent elections and what Foley did seems like kind of moral failing that would make a big impact on this community.
Dunn says evangelicals don't have that same energy to get out the vote this year as they did in prior years. This notion is seconded by some GOP strategists who are convinced that Christian conservatives may sit out this election rather than vote for a Democrat.
To test this notion, we attended some Sunday services in the Norfolk/Virginia Beach area and talked to churchgoers, many of whom told us they're not throwing in the towel just yet. They said that while they are disappointed that lawmakers in Washington, including the White House, have not advanced some conservative causes, they will still vote because they think voting is not just a civic duty, but a religious one. Many also noted that they and their fellow evangelicals view Mark Foley's scandal as a personal sin, one for which they don't hold the GOP accountable.
It'll be another month before we know how many religious conservatives turn out on Election Day. Until then, all we can do is read polls, talk to analysts and meet with likely voters. So here's my question for you (especially all the religious conservatives out there): Based on your reading of events, do you think Christian conservatives will stay home on Election Day in protest or will civic duty prevail?
Monday, October 09, 2006
Census: U.S. gains new person every 11 seconds
Tonight on "360," we are looking mainly at two subjects: North Korea and the continuing Foley/GOP meltdown.
No doubt North Korea's claim it conducted a nuclear test in the far north will occupy a lot of our time in the days and weeks ahead. Tonight we'll start with New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who as Clinton administration energy secretary shuttled to North Korea a number of times to deal with that country's nuclear ambitions.
We'll also hear from Robert Kaplan, a visiting professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, who wrote the cover story for the October Atlantic Monthly: "When North Korea Falls."
In part, Kaplan argues, if you think putting Iraq back together after the U.S. invasion has been difficult, then beware a complete leadership collapse in North Korea. He says it could result in a Titanic-sized humanitarian disaster, because the peninsula has been isolated and impoverished for decades.
And at 11 p.m., we are airing a fascinating documentary from CNN Presents about life inside North Korea, one of the world's most secretive nations. The documentary was shot by a number of folks with hidden cameras, and some scenes come from tapes that were originally smuggled out of the country.
Also tonight, we are beginning a population countdown clock. The U.S. population stands at 299 million and counting. After births, deaths, military deployments and immigration, the U.S. Census Bureau calculates the population increases by one person every 11 seconds. It is fast approaching the 300 million mark. This milestone is being greeted far differently than when the United States hit 200 million in 1967. At that time, President Lyndon Johnson trumpeted the news as proof of prosperity and growth and opportunity.
But think about 300 million. It is political quicksand: It means contentious debates about transportation, resources, the environment and greenhouse gases and health care and immigration. On immigration, in fact, 53 million of the 100 million gain in population since 1967 has come from recent immigrants, both legal and illegal, and their descendents. With the 300 million mark nearing, you can see why we're watching the population clock on our program.
Friday, October 06, 2006
'White guy, white guy,' the kids yell
On this blog and on "360" each night this week, Anderson Cooper, Jeff Koinange and Dr. Sanjay Gupta delivered a series of reports on the armed conflicts and humanitarian crises in the Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Scroll down to read the reports they wrote for the blog. And see the links below for a selection of the video pieces they filed for CNN, including Anderson's reporter's notebook, which includes his impressions of being a "white guy" (or "mzungu") in this part of Africa.Watch: Anderson Cooper reflects on his time in the Congo - 2:04Watch: Wounded soldier copes with Congo's health system - 3:24Watch: The 'lost girls' of the Congo - 3:23Watch: Catching an elusive general - 3:51Watch: Life in a refugee camp - 2:27Watch: Gorillas caught in crossfire - 4:28Watch: Congo's violent history - 3:15Watch: Peacekeeper's lonely task - 3:31Watch: Neglect in North Darfur - 3:08
A warning about the 'Devil on a horse with a gun'
Wherever you go in Sudan, especially as a journalist, you have to have the right paperwork and credentials. Even if you leave the capital, Khartoum, you have to have a stamped piece of paper that says you can carry out your work in whichever town you end up in.
We were aware of this, and aware the authorities would be looking for any excuse to make doing our work as difficult as possible.
We took a helicopter flight to the dusty town of Kebkabiya, deep in northern Darfur, accompanied by the World Food Program representative. This is janjaweed terrority, the Arab militia that roams the countryside burning village after village and raping, looting, and terrorizing entire communities. Tens of thousands have been killed, millions more forced to flee as the janjaweed patrol the area on horse or camel.
Our interpreter warned us not to use the word "janjaweed" openly here because the locals don't like its negative connotations. "What does it mean?" I ask. "It means, 'Devil on a horse with a gun,'" explains Mohammed, our fixer.
Just as we'd loaded our vehicles and were getting ready to drive around, two plainclothes individuals approached us.
"Paperwork," they demanded.
We handed over the necessary accreditation. One of them looks at it, whispers something to the other and barks at us, "Not Good."
"What do you mean, 'Not good'?" I enquire.
"Paperwork not good," he yells. "You come with us."
We follow them for the 20-minute drive to what was supposed to be the national security office. The building is from a bygone era, badly in need of a touch up, security guard lounging around, AK-47 assault rifles propped up against the wall. We're brought to an old dilapidated office and told to wait.
A short while later, a stocky official stomps in, hardly acknowledges us, scans the paperwork, growls something to his inferiors who cower down like they're about to be flogged, then turns to us and without a greeting barks through a translator, "This doesn't say Kebkabiya. It's no good."
"But isn't Kebkabiya in Darfur State?" I ask. "Of course, but it only applies to El Fasher," he replies.
This is absurd since both towns are in the same state and barely 45 minutes by helicopter apart. "But El Fasher isn't written on the accreditation either," I go on. But at this point, I realize we're fighting a losing battle here.
We head back to the airport, escorted by three security officials. I've been deported from some African countries, but I never imagined I'd be deported from a state within a state.
One hand doesn't seem to know what the other hand is doing around here. Maybe that's why peace is so fleeting in Sudan.VideoWatch: Ill-equipped peacekeepers on the job -- 3:31Watch: The fight for survival in North Darfur -- 3:08
Thursday, October 05, 2006
This is not a fairy tale
There are some things you see, some things you hear that simply are unspeakable. In a hospital in the eastern Congo city of Goma, we met a little girl. She never said a word to us, she could barely look us in the eyes. When she did, her eyes told the story.
"She never says anything to men," one of the hospital counselors explained, and then she told us why.
The little girl was raped. Gang-raped. It was allegedly done by soldiers engaged in a complicated regional war that has claimed millions of lives. The war officially ended in 2003, but outbreaks of violence and rape continue. The girl is now five years old. She was raped when she was three.
I wish I could tell you this was an extraordinary event. I wish I could tell you she was the only child attacked. The hospital was full of rape victims, and the doctor had seen other small children victimized.
Because the rapes are so violent, women often develop fistulas -- ruptures in their vaginas or rectums that make it impossible to control bodily functions. A charity called Heal Africa was running this hospital, and the doctor said he was able to fix about 70-80 percent of the fistula cases, but of course some wounds never heal.
Heal Africa has opened up a residence for women with fistulas that can't be surgically fixed, at least not here in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The women can't go home. Often they've been rejected by their husbands because they were raped. The stigma here is strong.
I met a woman named Angela. I can't stop thinking about her. She was raped by three men in front of her children. Afterwards they shot her, and she says they burned her baby girl. The girl is four now and has a massive scar all over her chest.
Angela's fistula was fixed, but her arm remains injured from the gunshot. Pscyhologically she's still devastated. To make matters worse, her husband kicked her out of the house.
"He heard I was raped," she said whispering. "And he just said, 'Go on your own, I don't need you anymore. If we lived together, you now might have HIV so you might infect me.'"
I didn't ask Angela her HIV status. I didn't think it was any of my business. Perhaps I should have asked, but she didn't volunteer it, and I felt like I'd already asked her too much.
The funding for the Heal Africa house comes from a non-governmental organization. They say their funding ends in April. It's not clear what will happen then.
"The only thing I need is some land so I can build a house," Angela said to me before I left. "I might die and I want my kids to have that castle. I'm hoping for a miracle."
There aren't many miracles in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This is not a fairy tale, some stories don't have happy endings. Here the men who rape with impunity are rarely brought to justice. Women like Angela are expected to simply bear the pain.
If you would like to help Heal Africa in the work they are doing, you can log onto their Web site
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Crayons help 'lost boys' lose their pain
I have a young daughter at home. We recently bought her a set of crayons. My wife thought it was important to start letting her express herself in different ways. All I could think about was the cost of repainting the walls after she indelibly marked them up. Truth of the matter is, I can't really tell what she is drawing, but sometimes my wife sees images of our dog, whom our daughter loves, or a favorite toy of hers.
Well, as I have been traveling through Africa, my daughter has been on my mind a lot. Oftentimes, I see young children smiling and waving from the streets as we walk by, and I almost want to cry. I am not sure why, exactly.
Perhaps, it is because I wish these children could have a nice, safe place to sleep tonight. I know, instead, that many of them will sleep outside, hungry and worried that bandits will take them or their parents away. Perhaps, it is because I see my own child in their eyes and I cannot wrap my mind around the injustice that allows such different lives for the incredibly young. Perhaps, selfishly, it is because I pray my child will never have to lead that sort of life.
This week, I visited Goz Amir refugee camp in Koukou, Chad. It is a UNICEF-funded camp for lost boys. The first thing I noticed was lots of boys sitting with paper and crayons. Of course, I immediately wondered what pictures they were drawing. What I found was really stunning.
These were young kids, yet they were drawing people with guns shooting at other people. There were pictures of people with blood squirting from their heads and other people who had flames coming from their bodies, after their homes had been set on fire. There were pictures of bombs falling and missiles rising. One boy simply drew a man hiding in a bush outside the boy's home. It was clear the boy was really scared of that man, but he wouldn't tell me why.
What these boys are doing is a sort of art therapy. I have seen it used before in Pakistan, after the earthquake, and in Sri Lanka, after the tsunami. The idea is that some form of expression is important in order to get past the atrocious events these children have suffered. Since many of them don't wish to talk about what happened, they turn to drawings instead.
Unlike with physical injuries, which may require a stitch or a pill, there are no rules when it comes to emotional trauma. And, even though many of these children have never seen a crayon in their lives, they do seem to take to it rather quickly and start an important process of discussing their fears.
I was also reminded of just how low a priority emotional health can be. Many of these boys have been refugees for three years now, after fleeing Sudan as orphans. Yet, it was just over the past few weeks that they have been encouraged to start this form of emotional healing. I asked one boy if it helped to draw. "It doesn't relieve all the pain," he told me. I can't imagine it would.
One day, I will tell my own daughter about the lost boys I met in Africa. Until then, I simply hope she will never have to draw those sorts of images.
Hot Links: Congo, Sudan
This week on "360," Anderson Cooper and his team take viewers inside the armed conflicts and humanitarian crises in the central African countries of Congo and Sudan. If you'd like more information on what's happening in these countries or are looking for a way to get involved, please check out the following organizations:
For information about the conflicts:
For information about the gorillas:
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Out-gunned soldiers avoid confronting enemy
We went on the road today with African Union peacekeepers in Darfur, Sudan ... you know, those 7,000 ill-equipped and undermanned troops who are supposed to police an area the size of Texas.
The United Nation's top diplomat in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, told us that some of the units have to cook their own food. How are you supposed to keep the peace when you're worrying whose turn it is to cook? They're also seriously under-equipped in terms of firepower. And the few helicopters they have don't even have enough fuel to fly troops in and out of difficult-to-reach places, the UN's top man told us. And this is their mandate: Shoot ONLY if shot at -- this in one of the most lawless and unforgiving regions on earth.
Well, we were about to find out just how undermanned and ill-equipped they are on this day. We were on patrol with them to a town called Tawiya, recent scene of heavy fighting that forced more than 15,000 civilians to flee their homes. Add that to the roughly 2.5 million internally displaced people, a polite term for refugees in their own country.
Halfway into the trip, the radios started crackling (at least they have radios). There was trouble up ahead and they had to turn back and avoid a confrontation like they had a couple of weeks ago when nearly a dozen of them were killed in a gun battle with anti-government forces. Imagine what this does to morale. Battle-hardened soldiers forced to turn back because the "bad guys" up ahead are better equipped. It' enough to demoralize any troops, and these African Union troops are fast getting demoralized.
The bottom line, their commander told me: He needs twice as many troops, plenty of logistics support, lots of harware and free access to the air, something the Sudanese government is completely opposed to. And to think that these are the soldiers that stand in the way of Africa's second genocide in a little over a decade. They don't appear to stand a chance.
Monday, October 02, 2006
Woman recounts how gunmen killed husband, children
Yesterday, I met a woman who shared with me one of the most horrible stories I have ever heard.
She had fallen asleep at her home one night, after staying up talking to her husband about the best education options for her daughter and son. They didn't have a lot of money, but public schools simply weren't an option, because she felt they could not provide the quality schooling she dreamed of for her children. So, they argued a bit about whether they could afford to send her children to a private school.
So far, this probably sounds like a common story -- a mom in search of the best future for her children. But here is where the tale takes a tragic and unimaginable turn.
A few hours later, they were awakened by a sound she had never heard before -- short, loud cracks she later learned were gunshots. This young mother grabbed her daughter and placed her in a backpack baby carrier and started to run. She watched as armed bandits came into her home and shot her husband and son dead. She continued to run frantically until another sharp crack sounded and suddenly her daughter strapped in on her back went quiet and limp. The young daughter had inadvertently saved her mother's life, and died doing it. The woman ran and ran, until the gunfire could no longer be heard and then started to walk. She walked for over 30 miles.
For her entire life, her home had been Darfur, Sudan. Now, for the past three years, she has lived in a refugee camp in eastern Chad.
For the past week, I have been living among refugees in Chad, where the vast majority of the more than 200,000 citizens of Darfur have fled. Upon arrival in this country, I was immediately struck by the fact that most of Chad might resemble a refugee camp to many people. After all, there is absolutely no evidence of industry in the entire eastern part of the country. There are no paved roads and only one percent of the country has access to a restroom with modern plumbing. One out of every five children die before the age of five and the basics of health care, such as vaccinations, antibiotics and clean water, are considered a luxury.
Members of UNICEF and UNHCR have given me a unique look at life inside the many refugee camps in this country. These camps have been filling up remarkably quickly with tens of thousands of people living in very close quarters. They complain bitterly of not enough food and clothing. They wish they had better roofs over their heads than sorghum branches tied together with twine. During rain season, they get wet and muddy. They are bored out of their minds.
Nonetheless, these camps have a strong "pull" factor. People fleeing violence in Darfur find their way here. Also, the living conditions throughout much of Chad are so terrible that many people will simply pack up their belongings and move into refugee camps, which ironically offer a better way of life than most people in Chad could ever hope to see.
In addition to the World Food Programme, which provides a ration of food, and Doctors Without Borders, which provides health care, UNICEF does something the young mother I met would have really appreciated. They provide an education, something her two young children will never get to experience.