February 12th, 2009
04:21 PM ET

A glimmer of hope in Africa

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Ben Affleck
Time Magazine

The picture of the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo has grown tragically familiar: a region with great natural wealth, riven by war, racked with hunger and traumatized by a long history of colonial abuse, postcolonial kleptocracy and plunder. In the past 10 years alone, millions have died here, and more die each day as a result of the conflict. Most die not from war wounds but from starvation or disease. A lack of infrastructure means there is little medical care in the cities and none in rural communities, so any infection can be a death sentence. The most vulnerable suffer the worst. One in five children in Congo will die before reaching the age of 5 — and will do so out of sight of the world, in places that camera crews cannot reach, deep in a vast landscape and concealed under a canopy of bucolic jungle.

It is common in the West to read about African lives in grim statistical terms, so we've become inured to these huge numbers of deaths. Making matters worse, the conflict in Congo is often seen as a hopelessly byzantine African tribal war, encouraging the damning notion that nothing will ever change. This, of course, creates a sense of hopelessness — and nothing cuts down on humanitarian, foreign and development assistance so much as the jaded diminution of hope. The nation most in need of investment gets the least by the cruel logic that it is the most broken. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy that ultimately fosters indifference in the guise of wisdom. (See pictures of the fallout in the Congo by James Nachtwey.)

That should not be the case in Congo.
I've been traveling to Congo since 2007 to learn. TIME has agreed to publish my amateur journalism on the merits of this urgent crisis and on my good luck with photographers. James Nachtwey, the world's finest war photographer, accompanied me on one of my trips, and his extraordinary work fills the following pages.


February 12th, 2009
03:45 PM ET

Collins strips stim bill of whistleblower protections

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Zachary Roth

Another great coup for the centrists!

Sen. Susan Collins, the Maine GOP dealmaker who's been in the limelight this week for helping to pass a watered down stimulus, has been talking a good game about the need to avoid wasting taxpayer money. But it looks like Collins also worked today to strip from the final bill a measure that's crucial to exposing that waste.

Here's what happened:

The House stimulus bill contained a provision designed to protect federal whistleblowers. Currently, those protections are shockingly weak. According to the Project On Government Oversight, whistleblowers who are fired or demoted can file a complaint with a government board - but over the last eight years, that board has ruled in favor of whistleblowers only twice in 55 cases.

More to the point, the protections were designed to encourage federal workers to point out cases where taxpayer money is subject to waste, fraud, or abuse - a legitimate concern when Congress spends $800 billion, and one that centrists and Republicans have been particularly exercised about.


Filed under: 360° Radar • Economy • Raw Politics
February 12th, 2009
02:36 PM ET

Lincoln lived and died for freedom

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Donna Brazile
CNN Contributor

President Obama is taking a trip back home to Illinois on Thursday to pay tribute to the nation's 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, on the 200th anniversary of his birth.

Lincoln's personal principles, his political sagacity and his character are all worthy of emulation by anyone interested in public service.

Like Obama, I have always been a great fan of Lincoln, whose role in our history isn't based only on his signing of the Emancipation Proclamation (for which he justly deserves credit) but, in large measure, for preserving a nation based on "liberty for all."


February 12th, 2009
01:46 PM ET

Learning from Lincoln

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Editor’s Note: You can read more Jami Floyd blogs on “In Session.”

Jami Floyd
AC360° Contributor
In Session Anchor

Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, who won the election of 1860 against all odds, freed the slaves and saved the Union. And those are just the highlights. Of course no leader is perfect, but even with his many faults Lincoln was arguably our greatest president.

Now, 150 years after his death, the historical ironies and comparisons to our new president are hard to ignore: Both young senators from Illinois with little experience; both tall and lanky; both powerful orators. Most of all, both men prove that with hard work, relentless study and industriousness, humble beginnings are no barrier to success.


Filed under: Jami Floyd • President Barack Obama
February 12th, 2009
01:31 PM ET

Court rules vaccines not to blame for autism

Program Note: To hear more from Dr. Sanjay Gupta, tune in to AC360° tonight at 10 p.m. ET.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/HEALTH/02/12/autism.vaccines/art.cedillo.cnn.jpg caption="A special court denied Mike and Theresa Cedillo's claim that vaccines caused autism in their daughter, Michelle. "]

Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

There is a special court, known colloquially as a vaccine court. It is a place where judges called “special masters,” who are legal experts, not medical doctors, hear claims about vaccine injuries. It’s been around since the late 80s, in part prompted by the scare over the DPT (diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus) vaccine possibly causing injuries. If the court finds that an injury was likely caused by a vaccine, it can make a monetary award. For example, a few years ago, there was a case of optic neuritis after the tetanus vaccine. Other awards were given for fibromyalgia after the MMR (mumps, measles, rubella) vaccine; transverse myelitis after the HiB (Haemophilus influenzae type B) vaccine; and Guillain-Barre and MS after the hepatitis B vaccine.

Many people started paying attention to the court after the federal government last year awarded damages to the family of Hannah Poling, conceding that Hannah was injured by a vaccine, causing her autism-like symptoms. (Read about Hannah’s case here) According to the Department of Justice, more than 1,500 people have been paid in excess of $1.18 billion since the inception of the program in 1988.

Keep Reading...

February 12th, 2009
12:48 PM ET

Virginia GOP chairman's Twitter outreach: Massive fail

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Eric Kleefeld

The Republican Party's embrace of technology, which many inside and outside the party see as essential to a political recovery, so far is working out like...well, it's not working out at all.

Yesterday the Virginia GOP came very close to taking control of the state Senate, nearly luring a Democratic Senator to switch parties and put them at a 20-20 tie, which would have been broken by the Republican Lt. Governor. Then Jeff Frederick, a state legislator and the party chairman, ruined it all by Twittering this:

"Big news coming out of Senate: Apparently one dem is either switching or leaving the dem caucus. Negotiations for power sharing underway."


Filed under: 360° Radar • Raw Politics • Republicans
February 12th, 2009
12:32 PM ET

Something Darwin didn't know

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Rick Weiss
The Washington Post

Charles Darwin was nothing if not methodical. When the time came to consider marriage, he divided a sheet of paper into two sections, "Marry" and "Not Marry." Under the first heading he noted: "a friend in old age . . . better than a dog anyhow." In the second he tallied counterarguments: "perhaps quarreling," he fretted, and "less money for books."

Darwin's commitment to weighing the facts, even when the topic was an emotional one, would serve competing advocates of science and religion well as the world celebrates the great naturalist's 200th birthday today and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his "On the Origin of Species," with its groundbreaking explication of evolutionary theory. While Darwin himself never took his findings as definitive evidence against the existence of God, many people of faith have read that conclusion into his work. As a result, the man who first grasped biology's most unifying concept is today widely demonized as an enemy of the church, even as many scientists and others make a similar mistake and invoke Darwin in their rejection of everything theological.

Darwin was a mostly Anglican biblical literalist when he set sail on his famed voyage aboard the Beagle. Like many Americans today, he believed that God created the world as it is, with all its countless species intact from the start. But Darwin's studies of rocks and fossils opened his eyes to the immensity of geologic time. And his keen observation of life's variations and adaptations sowed the seeds of his eventual revelation that mutation and natural selection, acting on simpler forms of life, could account for all biological diversity.


Filed under: 360° Radar • Religion
February 12th, 2009
12:30 PM ET

Financial Dispatch: Jobless claims, foreclosures dip

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Andrew Torgan
CNN Financial News Producer

New claims for unemployment benefits dropped slightly last week, but remain near a 26-year high as companies lay off workers amid a deepening recession.

The number of first-time applications for jobless benefits dropped by 8,000 to a seasonally-adjusted 623,000. And the number of people continuing to claim benefits for more than one week rose to 4.81 million - once again the highest total since the government began keeping records back in 1967.

The frantic pace of foreclosures eased somewhat in January.


Filed under: Andrew Torgan • Economy • Finance • Gas Prices • Housing Market • Oil • Unemployment
February 12th, 2009
12:22 PM ET

Tell me what she wore

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Jeanne McManus
The Washington Post

How to say this: I enjoy reading about Michelle Obama's clothes. I like to know what she's wearing, appreciate details about her shoes and gloves, wonder where she got her necklace. When she shows up at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, I'm not distracted from her message by being simultaneously informed that she is in a slate-gray suit.

Is it right about here that other women start throwing shoes at me?

In the stunning image of Michelle Obama, a woman of substance and of style (in this case, attention-getting, Vogue-worthy style), it is apparent that in Washington we don't always do a good job of acknowledging those two sides of the same woman - or of allowing them to coexist. Hawk-eyed consumers of mainstream media are ready to pounce anytime a reporter covering Mrs. Obama goes off message and writes about her clothes.

History is partly to blame for this kind of self-consciousness, a willingness to deprive ourselves of one side of the prism of an important woman for the sake of being proper and fair. First ladies have been minimized and marginalized.


Filed under: 360° Radar • Michelle Obama
February 12th, 2009
12:10 PM ET

Must add white to 'color' of NAACP

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Wendi C. Thomas

A century ago today, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was founded.

Despite the "C" in the acronym of the premier civil rights organization and despite its commitment to equality for "colored" people, white people were always among the committed.

Just as black children need role models like those found in the NAACP's founder and intellectual Dr. W.E.B. DuBois and Maxine Smith, former executive secretary of the Memphis NAACP branch, white children also need to know that their history includes civil rights stalwarts like the NAACP's founder and first president, Moorfield Storey, and locals like Jocelyn Wurzburg and Mary Goodman Hohenburg, now Mary Mhoon Walker.

After all, only two of the six NAACP founders listed at naacp.org were black - anti-lynching journalist Ida B. Wells and DuBois. The rest were white.


Filed under: 360° Radar • NAACP • Race in America • Raw Politics
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