July 21st, 2010
01:20 PM ET

Opinion: Minor flaps obscure real race issues

Conor Friedersdorf
Special to CNN

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/OPINION/07/21/friedersdorf.sherrod.race/tzleft.friedersdorf.courtesy.jpg caption="Conor Friedersdorf says U.S. ignores tough racial issues to focus on individual flaps" width=300 height=169]

In the midst of a prolonged recession, two wars, and an ongoing environmental catastrophe, it is unfortunate that inconsequential controversies about race are among America's most widely discussed subjects.

The relationship among blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, and other ethnic groups is important, especially in a country where slavery, Jim Crow laws, and their legacy remain relevant.

What vexes are the particular aspects of race that we focus on. Ignored are the tough issues: social and economic inequality, prison rates, percentage of births out of wedlock, inequities in the education system, fatherless families, etc. Instead we obsess over any individual instance of racism, actual or alleged, so long as it morphs into controversy with political implications.

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July 21st, 2010
01:16 PM ET

No beer summit for Sherrod, White House aide says

Suzanne Malveaux

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/POLITICS/07/21/white.house.usda/story.gates2.gi.jpg caption="President Obama, police Sgt. James Crowley and professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. held a beer summit in the wake of the controversy surrounding Gates' arrest." width=300 height=169]

White House aides said Wednesday they do not expect President Obama to call Shirley Sherrod, the black former USDA employee who resigned after a video clip of her discussing a white farmer surfaced earlier this week.

Obama also likely will not show up to explain things at a White House briefing, as he did during the controversy surrounding the arrest of professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. last year.

"No more beer summits here," one aide said. After Gates' arrest, Obama, Gates and police Sgt. James Crowley met at the White House for beers.

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July 21st, 2010
12:54 PM ET
July 21st, 2010
12:25 PM ET

Mirrors help Haitians move their missing limb

Sarah Ryley
Special to AC360°

Parts of Rose Monsillac's body seem locked into place, even though she's not paralyzed.

On January 12th, the earth convulsed beneath her and her neighbors homes in Carrefour, Haiti, burying her beneath both. Her leg and finger were crushed, her head gashed open, and she anguished in the hospital hallway for five days before it was her turn to see the doctor.

Now Monsillac, 56, lives inside a tent in the Adventist Hospital's front yard, her muscles rock-hard from being cot-ridden for six months with an external fixator bolted to her leg in three places. More perplexing, her right ring finger has become the source of constant pain even though it no longer exists. It was amputated a week after the earthquake.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/07/21/rose.monsillac.by.sarah.ryley_web.jpg caption="Rose Monsillac, 57, feels like she’s able to move her missing right ring finger for the first time since the earthquake by watching her left one moving in the mirror. (Photo by Sarah Ryley"]

Her other four fingers operate perfectly, but to her brain, the missing one seems stuck open, rendering her entire hand useless.

"It feels like the bone is empty,” she told Dr. Eric Altschuler, a neuroscientist from New Jersey Medical School, as she struggled to make a fist. “I can’t even wash my face with this hand anymore.”

Dr. Altschuler flew into Haiti on Monday with the group Unified for Global Healing, towing 200 one-pound mirrors that cost $16 each, to demonstrate how the low-tech equipment could be used to relieve what’s known as “phantom limb pain.”

Thousands of Haitians had amputations in the weeks following the earthquake. Studies over the past 15 years indicate that around 80 percent of them could be feeling painful sensations like itching, tingling, cramping or burning where their limbs used to be.
Pharmaceuticals often do little to relieve the pain, and are impractical in a disaster-ravaged country where so many people live on zero dollars per day.

“At the moment, we’re just trying to explain why they’re getting the pain,” said Ruth Cross, a physiotherapist with Christian Blind Mission (CBM), an international non-profit working with disabled Haitians.

Veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center use the mirror therapy with a high success rate, so Dr. Altschuler thought, why not Haitians?

Instantly, when Monsillac watched the reflection of her “good hand” opening and closing in a mirror balanced in front of her “bad hand,” she felt like that stubborn finger had finally clasped shut.

Stunned, she did it over and over again, clenching her fist in relief. “It feels like the pain has finally gone away,” she said.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/07/21/irese.dossa_by.tamara.fitzpatrick_web.jpg caption="Irese Dossa, an octogenarian whose left leg was crushed by her house, then amputated, said she prays to God when it cramps up, knowing there was nothing she could do physically to alleviate the pain. Photo by Tamara Fitzpatrick"]

Neuroscientists like Dr. Altschuler and Dr. V.S. Ramachandrin are still studying what exactly causes “phantom pain.” But they think it arises when the brain receives no response to movement commands sent to position sensors in the missing limb.

Dr. Altschuler explained that the therapy works because “vision is more powerful than the proprioception, or the position sense of our body. It’s not surprising, in a certain sense- half the primate brain, whether in humans or monkeys, is devoted to vision.”

He said the therapy works really well for people with cramping or spasm sensations, but for unknown reasons isn’t very helpful for people with burning sensations.

Irese Dossa, an octogenarian whose left leg was crushed by her house, then amputated, said she prays to God when it cramps up, knowing there was nothing she could do physically to alleviate the pain.

Pumping her hands in cheer, she instantly recognized her lost limb when she saw it in the mirror for the first time on Tuesday.

“It feels like both of my children are together again,” said Dossa. “If I have a cramp in my missing leg, I’ll rock my good leg back and forth.”

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/07/21/irese.dossa_by.tamara.fitzpatrick2_web.jpg caption="Irese Dossa, 85, says the mirror she’s holding will finally help her get rid of the cramps in her missing leg. Photo by Tamara Fitzpatrick"]

Frustrated at having few other solutions to amputees’ complaints about phantom pain, over the coming days therapists in Haiti with two major disabled advocacy organizations, CBM and Doctors Without Borders, will learn mirror therapy from Unified for Global Healing volunteers.

“This will enable the therapy to continue when we leave,” said Dr. Altschuler.

Filed under: Haiti Earthquake
July 21st, 2010
10:41 AM ET

When in Doubt, Keep Them Out: Media Access is Key to Accountability in the Gulf

Amy Masciola
Special to AC360°

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/07/21/caution.tape_web.jpg caption="There is a pervasive culture of secrecy and hostility toward the press that leads authorities and responders—at every level—to block the media." width=300 height=169]

The explosion on the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig in April killed eleven workers, and led to the biggest oil spill and one of the worst environmental catastrophes in U.S. history. The spill and its effects on the economy, the environment, and the people of the Gulf region will be an important story for months, if not years, to come. Journalists must have unfettered and unfiltered access to sources, places, and people in order to tell that story. But every day, we hear reports that journalists continue to be denied access. I traveled to Louisiana last week to investigate those reports for the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA).

It is clear that obstacles to access remain despite repeated statements by BP and Unified Command that the press will have unfettered access to cover the disaster. Confusion on the part of authorities at every level, and a lack of coherent, consistent information flowing from Unified Command’s Joint Information Center (JIC) to local responders has often made it difficult for journalists to do their jobs. Even more disturbing is the pervasive culture of secrecy and hostility toward the press that leads authorities and responders—at every level—to block the media. The default position seems to be “when in doubt, keep them out.”


Filed under: Gulf Oil Spill
July 21st, 2010
10:10 AM ET
July 21st, 2010
09:59 AM ET
July 21st, 2010
09:57 AM ET
July 21st, 2010
09:53 AM ET

Letter to the President #548: 'Welcome to Waveland'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/POLITICS/07/02/obama.economy/smlvid.obama.flag.gi.jpg caption="Dear Pres. Obama, Come down to Waveland in private, and see how a government and its people really can work together" width=300 height=169]

Reporter's Note: I suppose I should send a postcard from Waveland, Mississippi, because it’s the prettiest place I’ve seen in a long time.

Dear Mr. President,

Sometimes even battle scarred reporters meet people who change the way they see the world, and I have to tell you I have found them in Waveland, Mississippi, this week. Waveland, as you no doubt recall, was picked up, chewed, and spit out by Hurricane Katrina. All of the town’s businesses were lost, almost all of its homes, and the residents scattered like leaves across the nation.

But as we approach the anniversary of that horrible storm, I am happy to report Waveland is still steadily coming back on the unbreakable and remarkable tenacity of its leaders, its citizens, and good people from all around who have taken an interest in their cause.

I met a man, for example, down at the Civic Center (which was one of the first buildings restored after the storm) busily tending to the unending details of recovery. He seemed relentlessly busy: Taking calls, talking to people, making decisions about contracts, and regulations, and all manner of important things. And yet, while we talked, he went around the room straightening chairs and nameplates, dusting ledges, making sure windows were properly closed.

We walked down a street with a few of his children, and as he saw a bottle on the ground he instantly asked one of them to pick it up. She did so with the same natural sense of community service that her father exuded at every moment. Not once did he seem to be self-important or posing; but rather he appeared to be purely a man doing difficult work day after day because it needs to be done; because his neighbors need him to. His name is Tommy Longo, and he’s the mayor. No kidding; a politician and one of the most impressive men I’ve met in a long time. He made me want to live in his town.

But he wasn’t alone. There was the tireless woman named Tish who answered our every call instantly, putting us in touch with survivors and rebuilders and librarians and church leaders and pretty much anyone we needed. There was a church volunteer named Beth who is helping revive a youth group. There was Caroline; only 16 but like so many of her friends standing ready to take up the reins any adult hands to them so that they too can do their part. And there were so many others.

Tonight I stood on the shore watching the light fade on some distant clouds as the sun went down. Behind me, still ravaged trees loomed over still vacant lots. Before me, some untold amount of oil looms. I know, and the people of Waveland know, that they are traveling an exhaustingly long road to the better days they all crave. But this week they showed me why they will absolutely make it; because they are carrying each other.

Come down again. But leave the press, leave your aides, leave everyone behind. Come down in private, and see how a government and its people really can work together.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

July 21st, 2010
09:33 AM ET

Former USDA official: Department's reconsideration is 'bittersweet'

CNN Wire Staff

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://www.cnn.com/video/politics/2010/07/21/am.johns.sherrod.latest.cnn.640×360.jpg caption="White House agrees review of Shirley Sherrod's case needed" width=300 height=169]

A black former Agriculture Department official who resigned under pressure after a video clip surfaced of her discussing a white farmer said Wednesday the agency's decision to review her case is "bittersweet," but said she isn't sure she would accept her job back if it is offered.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said early Wednesday that he will review the case of Shirley Sherrod, who resigned Monday after the video clip first appeared on a conservative website and later on Fox News.

In the video, Sherrod, the former USDA director of rural development for Georgia, seems to tell an audience at an NAACP function in March that she did not do her utmost to help a white farmer avoid foreclosure.

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