In 2004 I went to Liberia for the first of five visits. It was a pretty crazy place at the time, having just ended a 14-year series of civil wars a few months before I arrived with a small assessment team. The streets were patrolled by U.N. tanks, the only electricity was provided by private generators, and the non-functioning lampposts were covered in bullet holes.
While surveying villages outside of the capital Monrovia, we found this site where villagers obtained their drinking water.
I drink the tap water almost everywhere I go — but you can be sure I brought my own $3 bottle of water with me that day. No one builds up an immunity to a water source like that.
David Gewirtz | BIO
Director, U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute
So I jumped through the looking glass the other day. I spoke to our insurance company. Although the woman I spoke to was very nice, I felt at times like I was talking more to the Mad Hatter than a respected insurance provider.
It all started last fall, when we got a notice that our company's insurance program was going to change with the new year. Our insurance company (one of the largest and best known), provided no further details. After calling our agent and the company itself, all we were able to determine was this change was "normal" and our billing process might be delayed.
OK, fine. Was our rate going up? No idea. Did we file too many claims? No idea. Were we in some sort of coverage limbo? No idea.
So, we waited. And it turns out, our coverage was fine and our rate even went down by seven bucks.
Then came the conversation.
Breaking news: 8 of 10 American accused of kidnapping in Haiti are heading home. Plus, the raw politics of a U.S. Senate race in Florida. Is one of the candidates not Republican enough?
Want to know what else we're covering? Read EVENING BUZZ
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One year ago today, President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Investment Act. He called it "the most sweeping economic recovery package in our history" at a time when many feared the United States was on the brink of another depression.
To mark the anniversary, the president is launching something of a media blitz, dispatching Cabinet members across the country to share stimulus success stories and counter critics' accounts of stimulus shortcomings and waste. To help you weigh the stimulus progress, or lack thereof, the CNN Fact Desk thought it would be helpful to look back at what the stimulus was supposed to do in the first place.
Fact Check: What did President Obama promise the $862 billion stimulus plan would achieve when he signed it into law one year ago?
- Obama said the plan would "create or save three and a half million jobs over the next two years ... putting Americans to work doing the work that America needs done in critical areas that have been neglected for too long - work that will bring real and lasting change for generations to come."
One year later, the Congressional Budget Office says between 800,000 and 2.4 million jobs have been funded by stimulus money.
- The president said money would be used to upgrade transportation and information networks, "remaking the American landscape with the largest new investment in our nation's infrastructure since President Dwight Eisenhower authorized the building of an interstate highway system in the 1950s. Because of this investment, nearly 400,000 men and women will go to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, repairing our dams and levees, bringing critical broadband connections to businesses and homes in nearly every community in America."
One year later, the Transportation Department says stimulus money has funded more than 12,500 transportation projects and work has begun on bringing broadband Internet to communities with little or no Internet access.
- Under the plan, the president said, "we are making the largest
investment in education in our nation's history ... that will create jobs building 21st century classrooms, libraries, and labs for millions of children" and "provide funds to train a new generation of math and science teachers."
One year later, the Education Department says it has received $100 billion in stimulus funds, and has awarded $69 billion to states and other recipients through grants. Plans to start building and upgrading facilities are under way, it says.
- Obama said the bill would "create a $2,500 annual tax credit to put the dream of a college degree within reach for middle class families and make college affordable for 7 million students." The credit actually provides "up to" $2,500 for low-income and middle-income students, and is phased out as incomes increase.
- He said money would be spent on "computerizing America's medical records - to reduce the duplication and waste that costs billions of health care dollars and the medical errors that every year cost thousands of lives."
A year later, $20 billion in Medicaid incentives is being dedicated to hospitals and doctors' offices to digitize health records. It will be paid out over the next three to four years.
- He said it would encourage energy independence by "laying the groundwork for a new, green energy economy that can create countless
well-paying jobs" and "double the amount of renewable energy produced over the next three years."
One year later, the Energy Department says more than $1 billion in stimulus grants have financed at least 32 projects nationwide and helped revive the renewable energy industry. And the United States appears to be on track to double renewable energy production as the president said, although it remains a small percentage of the total output.
- The president said tax cuts would account for nearly a third of the money in the bill, with "95 percent of hardworking families" getting bigger paychecks through decreased federal tax withholding. And he said the bill would provide larger unemployment checks to millions of out-of-work Americans.
One year later, most Americans are seeing bigger unemployment checks and increases in paychecks due to reduced withholding.
- Other promises included creation of a "newer, smarter electric grid" and the "weatherizing of over 1 million homes" to help Americans save on their electric bills. The Energy Department's Weatherization Assistance Program got a $500 billion stimulus boost, but has managed to spend only $441 million, raising questions about the program's effectiveness.
- The president promised all this would happen "without earmarks or the usual pork barrel spending" and "with an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability." We'll let the pundits and politicians settle this one!
Bottom Line: Most of the promises outlined by the president last year are being worked on, according to those keeping official track. But the American
Recovery and Investment Act signed in February 2009 was a two-year commitment, so it's only at the halfway point, and less than half the money has been spent.
And while the stimulus has clearly provided benefits to many Americans, there are accounts of fraud and waste amid the success stories. You can continue to check the progress and track how the money is being spent at cnn.com/stimulus as well as the government's official Web site, http://www.recovery.gov.
- CNN's Rachel Streitfeld, David Golfman, Josh Levs and Steve Hargreaves contributed to this Fact Check.
Got something that needs checking? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We're following breaking news in Haiti tonight were a judge has ruled eight of the 10 Americans accused of child kidnapping have been freed and may be on a plane headed for the U.S. right now.
Two other Americans, Laura Silsby and Charisa Coulter, remain in Haiti. The judge wants to determine why they traveled to the country on an earlier trip, a lawyer said.
The missionaries are accused of trying to take 33 Haitian children to the Dominican Republic 19 days ago without the proper paperwork.
Jim Allen, one of the accused who is coming home, released a statement:
"My faith means everything to me, and I knew this moment would come when the truth would set me free."
"I hope today's actions will allow everyone to focus again on the dire conditions that remain in Haiti. People are still suffering and lack basic necessities. Please find it in your hearts, as I did in mine, to find ways to give to those in need," he added.
"For those whose cases have not been resolved, we will continue to pray for their safe return."
Do you agree with the judge's decision? Share your thoughts below.
Tonight we've also uncovered new details on the Alabama professor accused of gunning down three of her colleagues last week.
Another violent incident from Amy Bishop's past has surfaced. It has to do with an incident at an IHOP Restaurant in March 2002 in Peabody, Massachusetts.
Tom Foreman has the details in tonight's Crime & Punishment report.
And, David Gergen joins us with an Insider Briefing on the war in Afghanistan. He met with high-level Obama administration officials today about the fight against the Taliban.
Join us for these stories and much more at the top of the hour. See you then!
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Previously missing police records on the 1986 shooting death of the brother of Alabama professor Amy Bishop - accused of gunning down her colleagues last week - have been found, and investigators said Tuesday they back a state police report that deemed the shooting an accident.
The Braintree, Massachusetts, police records show that police in 1986 believed they had probable cause to arrest Bishop on some charges in her brother's death. However, no charges were filed in that case.
Bishop is charged with capital murder and three counts of attempted murder in a Friday shooting at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, where she was a biology professor. She is eligible for the death penalty in Alabama.
Ready for today's Beat 360°? Everyday we post a picture you provide the caption and our staff will join in too. Tune in tonight at 10pm to see if you are our favorite! Here is the 'Beat 360°' pic:
Bo, the Obama's family pet, plays in the snow during a blizzard on the south grounds of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Have fun with it. We're looking forward to your captions! Make sure to include your name, city, state (or country) so we can post your comment.
Beat 360° Winners:
“Bo's so lame. Call me Wolf. Yeah, Wolf Blizzard.”
Rodney – Texas
"The Obamanabull snow dog."
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CNN White House producer
Soon after White House press secretary Robert Gibbs joined Twitter, he was already getting caught up in a race to amass as many followers as reality TV star and notorious tweeter Kim Kardashian.
Gibbs' third tweet from @PressSec: "Wow - in less than 30 hours almost 17K of you are following - amazing - watch out Kim Kardashian!"
His more than 25,000 followers as of Wednesday is impressive, but it pales in comparison to @kimkardashian, who has 3 million-plus followers. But Gibbs' foray into Twitter - the social networking and micro-blogging Web site that accepts messages, or tweets, in 140 characters or less - is an important avenue to deliver the White House's message.