Saturday, April 28, 2007
Oregon governor tries living on food stamps
Could you live on just $3.00 dollar a day for food? One dollar for breakfast, one dollar for lunch, one dollar for dinner. Well, the governor of Oregon, Ted Kulongoski, tried to do so this past week. The goal was to raise awareness of hunger issues.
When the governor came into office four years ago, Oregon ranked last in the country for its hunger rate, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In other words, more people in that state than anywhere else in the country were having a hard time putting food on the table. Things have improved there, but Democrats such as Kulongoski are concerned about possible cuts to the food stamp program.
Cameras followed the governor as he shopped for groceries. All he had was $21.00 to spend on food for an entire week. That's the average amount of money allotted to a food stamp recipient. He had to say "no" to organic bananas and Swiss cheese. Too expensive on a paltry budget.
If the governor's goal was to get publicity, he certainly succeeded. The story made the front page of both local newspapers and various TV outlets covered it.
-- By Dan Simon, CNN Correspondent
Friday, April 27, 2007
Is economy becoming campaign issue?
For all the important and tough wrangling over Iraq, another issue has come creeping out of the woods: the economy.
The Commerce Department has issued a report saying the first quarter of the year showed the weakest economic growth in four years, led by the declining housing market. Couple that with the way gas prices continue to creep up, and this could have the makings of a political sleeper.
Remember, our most recent poll showed that only a slim majority of Americans think the economy is doing well anyway, and that poll was conducted before this news came out.
Obviously, some Democrats will lay the blame for the slowing economy at the door of the White House, and some Republicans will say the economy is still doing awfully well and point to numbers like the unemployment rate.
But what about you, the voters? How are you doing, financially? Amid all our concerns over Iraq, immmigration, and whatever else, do you think the economy could emerge as a dominant issue in this presidential race?
-- By Tom Foreman, CNN Correspondent
We regret the error....
We made a mistake last night in our piece about Andrea Yates, the Texas woman who infamously drowned her children and who then became the center of a very high-profile trial. Our piece last night was part of a number of pieces we did looking at questions that emerged following the Virginia Tech murder spree. In our story about the Yates case, we erroneously reported that forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz "lied" on the stand, leading to an appeal and a new trial for Yates.
While an Appeals Court later concluded Dr. Dietz gave "false testimony" during the trial, the court also noted that "the record did not show Dr. Dietz intentionally lied."
CNN and "360" regret the error.
-- By David Doss, "360" Executive Producer
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Mom's murder raises troubling questions
More on CNN TV: Bundy, Dahmer, Cho. No one knew they'd snap until it was too late. "360" investigates: "A Killer Among Us." Tonight at 10 p.m. ET and Friday night at 11 p.m. ET.
In 2005, William Bruce, now 25, was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. He had attempted suicide a couple of times, thrown his little brother down a flight of stairs, threatened to jump off the rooftop of the family's home in Caratunk, Maine, and pulled a gun on his father.
His parents had tried to get him hospital care after each horrible incident. But the treatment facilities could not keep him against his will. In Maine, unless the patient proves to be an imminent danger to himself or others the facility cannot involuntarily commit him.
In 2006, that happened after William attacked his father, who then called police. William was over 18 so he had the legal right to keep his case file private. His parents were completely cut off. The hospital wouldn't answer any of their questions. His father, Robert Bruce, told me "it was like dealing with the iron curtain."
When William was released last April, he left Riverview Psychiatric Hospital without any medication. His father says his son was never even given a prescription or any follow-up care. Riverview's superintendent would not discuss the Bruce case with us, but said, "Any time someone leaves a care environment and doesn't get connected to the next care environment, then we as a system failed to engage them in treatment."
Robert Bruce isn't sure why his son was released, other than the fact he requested to be released and had the legal right to do so as long as he didn't pose an imminent danger. Doctors determined he did not.
Three weeks after William was released, he chased his mother through the family's home with an axe. She tried to escape, but he cornered her and bludgeoned her to death.
Dr. E. Fuller Torrey of the Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center believes a key reason William was released was money.
"The pressure is to discharge patients, to get them out of the hospital. And the reason is to save state money. As long as the individual is in the state hospital, the state is paying most of the cost. If you can transfer the patient, get them out of the hospital, if they then go into an outpatient setting, you're effectively shifting a lot of the cost to the federal government," he said.
All Robert Bruce knows is he lost his wife, and now he's lost his son. William Bruce was found "not criminally responsible" and was returned to Riverview Psychiatric for an "indefinite period of time" -- the same hospital that released him weeks before he murdered his mother.
Does the mental health system seem like it's broken to you?
-- By Randi Kaye, CNN Correspondent
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Should military restrict religious symbols?
Sgt. Patrick Stewart fought for the United States in Afghanistan and died doing it, yet the U.S. government didn't grant him the same religious freedom he was fighting to uphold.
This member of the Nevada Air National Guard was shot down in his Chinook helicopter September 25, 2005. Ever since, his gravesite has been marked with a plain old rock and a few small American flags. His wife says that's because the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs refused to recognize their religion and allow them to express their faith in a military cemetery.
The Stewarts practiced Wicca, a pre-Christian religion wrongly criticized as being associated with devil worship. Wiccans don't pray to God in the traditional sense. Instead, they believe in a "great oneness," and see themselves as part of the circle of nature.
Earlier this week, the VA announced that as part of a settlement of a lawsuit, it will allow 11 families to display the Wicca pentacle, a religious symbol whose five points represent earth, air, fire, water and spirit, at their gravesites. The pentacle will be provided by the military.
So why did it take 10 years to settle this dispute with these families? Sgt. Stewart's widow, Roberta Stewart, believes Wiccans are victims of religious discrimination.
"My husband is a military man. To deny him the rights he fought and died for breaks my heart," she told me.
The Pentagon estimates there are more than 1,800 Wiccans serving in the military. In the Air Force, there are nearly three times as many Wiccans as Muslims.
This case raises some interesting questions: Do you think it took too long for the military and the VA to agree to place the Wiccan pentacle on gravesites? Should service members and their families have complete control over which symbols are displayed on their gravesite? Or is it important for the VA to maintain some restrictions on religious symbols?
-- By Randi Kaye, CNN Correspondent
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
'Stop Snitchin' takes hold in cities
If someone you loved was gunned down in front of you, would you tell police everything you saw? If you think the answer is obvious, you may be stunned by our lead story tonight, which looks at the power of two simple words: "Stop Snitchin."
This phrase is a catchy, hip-hop slogan that tells people not to talk with police. It preaches an unbending code of silence in poor communities -- and the message has taken root. In many inner-city neighborhoods, witnesses to crime aren't stepping forward, and murders are going unsolved. The driving force behind this troubling trend: rap and hip-hop music.
It's bizarre to think that a moral code can be so blatantly marketed, but "Stop Snitchin" appears in hip-hop videos and on t-shirts, Web sites and CD covers, and the people selling the message, including major recording labels, are making millions.
My report ran on "60 Minutes" this past weekend. You can see it again tonight on "360." We're building out on the story tonight, and one person we'll talk to is well-respected educator Geoffrey Canada, who makes a forceful case that African-Americans are undermining their own communities by permitting this music and attitude. We'll also talk to hip-hop producer Russell Simmons. It's a provocative subject and we hope you'll join us.
-- By Anderson Cooper
American convicted of murder in Nicaragua
(Click image to play video)
Video by CNN's Rick Sanchez and Brittany Harris
Monday, April 23, 2007
One week ago...
It happened one week ago. At this hour, last Monday, we had just learned how many people actually died in the shooting rampage at Virginia Tech. We knew how many, but not their names. At this hour, families who lost loved ones could still cling to hope. It would take time to identify the bodies and reach their next of kin.
Since last Monday, we've learned much about the killer, Seung-Hui Cho, and his victims. But many questions remain, and tonight we'll try to answer some of them.
Classes resumed today at Virginia Tech. Can you imagine what that first class this morning must have been like for teachers and for students? Heading through the classroom door -- similar to the doors some students barricaded trying to prevent Cho from getting back in. Sitting in their chairs -- identical to the chairs students hid behind.
Not all of the students chose to return, of course, but we'll report on what the day was like for those who did. CNN's Gary Tuchman is going to check-in with one of Cho's former suitemates, Andy Koch. Gary interviewed him the day after the shootings and today Andy was back on campus, trying to be a student again. We'll also have the latest on the investigation and what police have learned from the autopsy reports.
Last Monday, I was in Afghanistan. We had planned a week or reports from Kabul, but after the shootings occurred I came back as fast as I could. Peter Bergen and Nic Robertson have filed some remarkable reports from Afghanistan, and we will put those on in the coming days and weeks.
Tonight, our story mix also includes a new report
that shows women earn significantly less than men earlier than anyone thought -- starting in the first year after college. The findings are provocative and CNN's Randi Kaye is working on a fact-check for tonight. We'll also talk to financial guru Suze Orman.
And CNN's Rick Sanchez has been investigating a murder mystery. It's the story of a young American man who was convicted of rape and murder in Nicaragua and sentenced to 30 years in prison, despite evidence that he was two hours away from the scene of the crime when the murder happened. It's a fascinating report. We'll see you at 10 p.m.
-- By Anderson Cooper
A memorial fund for victims
To get more information about the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, which was set up by Virginia Tech, please visit the fund's Web site: Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund
Professor finds slain student's test on desk
Professor Mohammed Hajj says he knew going back inside Norris Hall would be emotional. "What we heard, what we saw, was pretty bad," says Hajj as he talks about being in his office when the gun shots started last Monday, and taking cover as the shooting continued a floor below.
Investigators say as many as 225 shots were fired inside Norris Hall. To the world, Norris Hall is the site of the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history -- a stone building with yellow police tape where terrified students jumped out of windows and where the lives of 30 innocent victims came to a tragic end.
For the Virginia Tech engineering science department, Norris Hall has been home for the past 70 years, a building where thousands of young minds have been educated and where professors like Hajj have spent much of their lives teaching and doing research.
"It means a lot to us," says Hajj.
For a few hours on Thursday, the Virginia state police allowed Hajj and other members of the engineering faculty a few minutes to retrieve materials inside Norris Hall. Each person that went in was escorted by both a member of the Virginia state police and a mental health professional. The second floor, where the killings took place, remained sealed off.
Professor Bill Smith has been at Virginia Tech for more than 50 years. He's retired, but still has a desk on the third floor. He came to retrieve some books. "The locks on all the doors are ripped off, but otherwise it looks the same," says Smith.
Three engineering professors were killed during the massacre: G.V. Loganathan, who professor Hajj describes as "every students' favorite professor;" Liviu Librescu, a Holocaust survivor who witnesses say died holding a door closed so his class could jump out of a window; and Kevin Granata, a husband and father of two young children who, according to staff, was considered one of the brightest members of the department.
"Some of the faculty members tell me they don't know if they'll ever be able to go back," says Ishwar Puri, who's head of the engineering science and mechanics department. Puri says most of the people that went back to Norris Hall "broke down."
Hajj says when he went back he was able to keep his composure, until he walked into his office and saw a stack of test papers on his desk. The exam on top had been taken by a graduate student by the name of Juan Ortiz, one of eight engineering students killed. Hajj says that's when he started to cry.
"Suddenly you're looking at the test and you see that he's not there to get his grade anymore, and for no reason," says Hajj.
What happens to Norris Hall is up in the air. A few have suggested it be torn down; others think that for the university to move on it should open up as soon as possible.
"I don't know what will happen," says Hajj. "But I would like to stay in Norris Hall. It means a lot."
--By Ted Rowlands, CNN Correspondent
Sunday, April 22, 2007
'Come together, grieve together'
There was not a cloud in the clear blue sky, as Virginia Tech students returned to campus on Sunday. Both parents and students were dressed in maroon and burnt orange as they made their way back to a place filled with heavy emotions.
There's always a fine line we as journalists must walk when covering stories like this. How do you approach a student or a parent who has gone through the unthinkable?
Cautious of their emotions but yet eager to do our job and tell their story, one must tread lightly. We found many of the people we spoke to were happy to discuss their feelings.
One tech student, engineering major Kristen Paterson, spoke to us right after she walked through the student-erected memorial on the drill field.
Paterson said memorials like this are necessary to heal.
"The overall feeling in the school has been great. It's really helpful when we all just come together and have memorials like this and our candlelight vigil. It really does help when we can come together and grieve together."
The sense of unity on this campus is overwhelming. It's hard for someone like myself who's experiencing it for the first time, not to be amazed by the sheer courage and camaraderie of these Virginia Tech students, who seem filled with Hokie pride.
-- By Brian Vitagliano, CNN Producer