Friday, March 16, 2007
From snow to Southeast Asia
New Yorkers awoke this morning to a fresh blanket of snow. It was admittedly somewhat jarring. (Remember when you were a kid and snow was so exciting, at what age does it become annoying?)
I'm heading to Southeast Asia tomorrow morning, so there's always a lot of last minute stuff I have to do, and trudging through the snow just makes it that much harder. I've been getting shots for things I'd never even heard of -- who knew you need a vaccine for Japanese Encephalitis?
For years, I never got shots when I traveled. I figured it wasn't worth the hassle. Considering my cameraman Neil was hospitalized after our recent Brazil trip (he'd been bitten by a spider according to one doctor) and my other cameraman Phil had some bug lay eggs inside him, I've decided to get all the shots I can, and I've promised myself I will actually take my malaria medicine with me this time.
We'll be in Southeast Asia next week broadcasting from a variety of locations. I went to school in Vietnam in the early 1990s but I've only been back to the region once since then. I went for the elections in Cambodia, and I'm looking forward to returning to see how the region has changed. We'll be reporting on environmental issues for our "Planet in Peril" series, but we'll also be looking at sex trafficking, in particular the trafficking of children, which is especially bad in Cambodia.
We had our morning call earlier today, and there are a number of stories we are following for tonight's broadcast. The morning call is always interesting, folks call in from home or the gym or wherever they are to talk about what's happening today. You can usually hear a couple of kids in the background as producers try to maximize time with their families and get work done at the same time.
Plastered in the middle of our newsroom is this dry-erase board. It's where we lay out the day's show. The words "Ask Believe Receive" are written on the top. I think someone put it up there as a joke when we did a segment on "The Secret." No one's bothered to erase it yet.
Anyway, we were just meeting in front of what we call the "big board." And for now, it's a work in progress. That's okay, it's early. Usually, whatever we put on the board now gets changed later anyway. Still, there are some stories that will definitely make the cut.
One of them is Valerie Plame Wilson. The former CIA operative testified before Congress today and blamed the White House for blowing her cover. But is that true? The Washington Post had put out an editorial several years ago saying, Plame's husband was actually responsible for what happened to her career. I asked him about that a couple of weeks ago and he categorically denied it. We'll look at the facts and find out what exactly she was doing over at the agency.
Jeff Koinange has a fascinating profile about the very strange president of Gambia. This guy has no formal medical training, but he claims he can cure people of AIDS. Actually he claims he can only do it on certain days of the week. He says the treatment came to him in a dream.
From there, things get really bizarre. It's a really interesting story, the kind you won't see anywhere else. That's it for now. I'm off to take another look at the big board.
Ask. Believe. Receive. Sure, why not?
Umm, are those spider fangs in your leg?
It was good to see our photographer Neil walking again. We met at JFK airport Thursday morning. The last time we worked together was three weeks ago in Brazil, where after 10 days of shooting in the rainforest he had to check into a hospital for an unexplained leg condition.
It seems he was bitten by something that was causing his knee to swell so dramatically he couldn't walk. The doctors were a bit stumped. One of them said they pulled from his leg what looked like spider fangs (not an altogether unreasonable claim considering the critters we encountered) but Jeff Corwin blamed a form of prickly palm tree that when touched releases a bacteria into your skin that can cause infection. Neither scenario sounds pleasant and Neil never got a firm diagnosis. (Watch Corwin teach Cooper a painful lesson
Phil, our other photographer, didn't fare much better. After making fun of Neil's condition for nearly a week, Phil noticed what looked like a cluster of small eggs under the skin of his leg. I could go on, but I don't think you want the details. You'll be happy to know Phil's much better now too.
We're going to try and avoid the parasitic problems this time around. We're heading to Asia's so-called "Golden Triangle" to report on the problem of species loss and the black-market trade of wildlife. The trip is part of our ongoing series of reports we're calling Planet in Peril.
Thailand and Cambodia are largely recognized as ground zero for the illegal wildlife trade, an underground market the UN estimates is a $5-8 billion industry, the world's second most lucrative black market behind the drug trade. Most of the animals -- dead and alive -- are sold at open-air markets where buyers make their purchases for culinary consumption as well as for traditional medicines. There's quite a bit of trophy collecting of rare cat pelts and skulls as well.
The governments and law enforcement from both countries recognize the problem and along with U.S. representatives have recently beefed-up their enforcement efforts. But it's a tough challenge. There's a great abundance of species in the region's forested areas and it's easy to slip back and forth across the borders of both countries. Then there's China. The region's eastern neighbor is a consumption machine and along with the United States is a massive consumer of illegal wildlife.
The black-market trade is only a small part of the overall problem of species loss. Many biologists believe the earth is in the midst of the sixth great spasm of extinction. The first five were naturally occurring (ice age, meteors, etc), but this one's man-made. The pressure humans are putting on plants and animals is enormous. From deforestation to habitat encroachment to pollution, it's all adding up to rates of extinction that are profound. American Scientist Magazine recently estimated that three species are lost per hour -- that's 72 species a day, 26,280 per year.
Like almost all environmental problems there aren't any easy answers. The fate of many of these species are weighed against economic interests and population growth. Anderson and wildlife biologist Jeff Corwin will investigate all the angles.
It's almost time to take off now and Jeff Hutchens, the still photographer from Getty Images who joins us on these trips, has just arrived. We haven't seen each other since Brazil and he just pulled up his pant leg to show us all what he thinks is a small parasite creeping around his ankle. They don't have those in Thailand, do they?
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Family seeks $100K military death benefit
I had to laugh when I politely declined the kind offer from 9-year-old Kayla Jaenke to join in the game she was playing. She and her little cousin were in the middle of a heated contest of "Mud Baseball." I'm not sure what the rules were, but if the objective was to become covered in black Iowa mud then Kayla was surely winning. Her grandmother Susan Jaenke smiled and said that as long as her washing machine and shower still work, then she's more than happy to encourage Kayla's tomboyish fun.
"She's just like her mother," she said.
Kayla probably hears that a lot. Her long blonde curls and light blue eyes are reminiscent of her mother, Jaime Jaenke, who grew up riding and caring for horses in Iowa City. She was a young mother and was married briefly. She helped build a stable where she boarded horses and one day planned to provide therapy to disabled children. Even as she deployed to Iraq with her unit of Navy Seabees, Jaime was sending checks home to take care of Kayla and keep the stables operating. Those checks stopped in June when Jaime was killed by a roadside bomb.
Kayla doesn't like to talk about her feelings about losing her mother. But she's happy to tell you how her mom taught her to care for the horses, something she does everyday. She also smiles warmly when she shows off the dress her mom sent her from Iraq. Her grandmother's house seems to be full of love but it is a troubled home.
Kayla's grandmother shakes her head when she tries to make sense of the law that keeps her from collecting Jaime's $100,000 death benefit from the military. It is money Jaime thought she was leaving behind to pay for her daughter's upbringing, as she spelled out in a letter shortly before she deployed. Instead, the death benefit sits in a trust that Kayla can't touch until she's 18. In the meantime, the roof is leaking, the horses need to be fed, the mortgage needs to be paid and her grandmother can't make ends meet.
Susan Jaenke summed up the situation thusly: "I'm a mother without a daughter. I've got a daughter without a mother. And now, we don't have a future."
The Jaenke's situation is not a common one. Still, Rep. Tom Latham of Iowa says he would like to change the law governing death benefits to let them be accountable to the wishes of the individual service person. And he wants to make the change retroactive.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
VA hospital turned away suicidal vet, family says
Although he earned two purple hearts for fighting in Iraq, Marine Jonathan Schulze was rejected by a Minnesota VA hospital when he needed urgent treatment.
Schulze was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by his family physician. He was prescribed Ambien, Valium, and Paxil, but they didn't help. When Schulze began to feel suicidal, he turned to the VA hospital in St. Cloud, Minnesota, about an hour outside Minneapolis.
His father and stepmother both insist they heard Schulze tell the intake nurse he was "suicidal." But instead of admitting him, the hospital told Schulze to go home and call back the next day.
The family says it was told the social worker who screens PTSD patients was too busy to see him. When Schulze called back the next day, his stepmom says she listened as he told the social worker he felt suicidal. The hospital then responded by telling him he was Number 26 on the waiting list for one of 12 PTSD patient beds. In other words, he'd need to wait at least two weeks before he could get treatment.
Is that any way to respond to a Iraqi Veteran who is telling you he's suicidal? And why, with the U.S. fighting two wars in the Middle East, are there only 12 beds reserved at this hospital for PTSD patients? The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs expects one in five veterans will need to be treated for PTSD.
The Marine's dad, Jim Schulze, said, "When a vet cries out that he is suicidal, even if they had to set up a bed in the kitchen, you don't turn them away. You don't put them on a waiting list."
Four days after his visit to the VA hospital, Jonathan Schulze put a household electric cord around his neck and hanged himself in the basement of a friend's home. A picture of his one-year-old daughter was at his side.
"If our men are going to serve for our country and serve in a war and a conflict then when they come home, they should be taken care of. They were promised when they were in, when they signed on the piece of paper, and they come home, and they have a problem, and what are they told, you're number 26?" his stepmom, Marianne Schulze, told me through her tears.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is investigating why Schulze wasn't admitted immediately. It wouldn't comment on the case. Neither would the hospital.
Bronx tragedy makes for tough interview
When I looked Moussa Magassa in the face, I knew I was staring at a man living through the worst of possible nightmares. Moussa had lost five of his 11 children in a house fire, and as I talked to him outside his destroyed apartment building in the Bronx, I was worried about what to ask him.
Interviewing people is an integral part of my job, but there is no tougher interview than talking with someone who has suffered like Moussa. That is why his kindness and graciousness were so noteworthy when we asked him how he was handling this tragedy.
The immigrant from the African country of Mali told us that average everyday people were helping him cope. He told us he wanted to "thank everybody in New York City" for being supportive of him and his family.
Like many Muslim men from West Africa, Moussa has more than one wife. He lived in his Bronx apartment with two wives who both survived the fire. One of his wives, Manthia lost five of her seven children. The other four children brought into the world by his wife Aissa all survived.
Polygamy is illegal in the United States, which has made many worry that Moussa and his family could find themselves in legal turmoil. But polygamists have not been prosecuted in this country for decades, unless the marriages involve underage girls.
Moussa spent much of this day in a mosque in his Bronx neighborhood. He was surrounded by dozens of other men as they said their daily prayers. As composed as he seemed to be, Moussa Magassa knows he has never needed God's compassion more than he does now.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Your questions about sex abuse report
People ask us all the time: "Why don't you guys follow up on more of the stories you do." We should. We agree. So here goes...
In the last 24 hours, we've had an overwhelming response to last night's special report on our colleague from Headline News, Thomas Roberts. Many of you watched the report, which revealed Thomas' personal account of the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of a Roman Catholic priest, and we had more than one million page views of Thomas' story
on CNN.com. Thousands of you e-mailed us.
So the follow-up? Thomas Roberts will appear live on "360" tonight to answer some of your questions. Many of you commended Thomas for his courage in speaking out. And many of you had questions about Thomas' story that we did not answer. Here is what some of you had to say:
Betty Ann of Nacodoches, Texas asked, "Is Thomas Roberts still a Catholic?"
Nicky of Calgary, Alberta, asked: "Why aren't parents teaching their children about inappropriate touching and encouraging them to discuss when it happens?"
Jacob of Norfolk, Virginia, was disappointed in our presentation of the Catholic Church: "The Church has a zero tolerance for abuse, and has been a leader in identifying and dealing with clergy abusers from the past as well as the present. Ever here of VIRTUS?"
Hunter of Charlotte, North Carolina, wondered why a young man between the ages of 14 and 17 could not defend himself and stop this from happening.
Kay of Long Beach, California, thanked Roberts: "Mr. Roberts you a model of COURAGE. Demonstrating your ability to conquer fear and dispair by publicly speaking about your private pain and the scars you were left to deal with gives me hope that I too can some day reveal the events that robbed me of my innocence so many years ago. Thank you."
Thomas of Baldwin, Michigan, asked: "Why tell the story now?" (I can answer this one: We asked Thomas to tell the story now. This project did not begin with Thomas coming to us. Instead, a year ago we heard that Thomas was testifying before Maryland state legislature to press them to change the state's statute of limitations laws. It piqued our interest and we began shooting his story then. In the meantime, Anderson and the show have been to countless countries shooting pieces for "360"; we realized so much time had passed that the convicted abuser, Father Jeff Tooey, had actually been released from jail and that other abuse victims were back in front of the Maryland Legislature testifying on that same issue: changing the statute of limitations.
So tonight, we'll put some of your questions to Thomas.
Monday, March 12, 2007
Information for abuse victims
As the producer of tonight's "360" special with Thomas Roberts, I want to pass along a couple of sources of information for people who may be suffering sexual abuse and looking for a way out:
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