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July 26th, 2010
01:09 PM ET

Video: Shirley Sherrod's full NAACP speech

Watch Shirley Sherrod's full NAACP speech that ignited the controversy and decide for yourself whether it was warranted.


(From NAACP.org)

July 26th, 2010
12:19 PM ET

Senators demand answers in release of Lockerbie bomber

CNN Wire Staff

Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi boards a plane last August after being released from a prison in Scotland.

Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi boards a plane last August after being released from a prison in Scotland.

Two U.S. senators ratcheted up the pressure on BP and British government officials Monday to provide answers to the questions now swirling around the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, the Libyan man convicted in the 1988 bombing of Pam Am Flight 103, which killed 270 people.

A group of senators from New York and New Jersey have repeatedly voiced suspicions that Scottish authorities released al Megrahi as part of a deal allowing oil giant BP to drill off the Libyan coast. BP, a British corporation, is already dealing with a public relations nightmare as the company responsible for the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.

Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, is set to lead a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Thursday on the controversy surrounding al Megrahi's release. Several British officials have declined invitations to testify.

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Filed under: 360° Radar
July 26th, 2010
10:44 AM ET

Equatorial Guinea on $508 a Day

Chris Guillebeau
AC360° Contributor

As the boys are fishing, someone else in the background dumps their garbage right into the water.

As the boys are fishing, someone else in the background dumps their garbage right into the water.

If you’ve ever considered traveling to Equatorial Guinea, you’ve probably heard about the high cost of visiting.

Yes, a basic hotel room really does cost $400-500 a night, and sometimes much more. There are no hostels with merry young backpackers hanging out at the beer garden, and no home exchange vacationers looking to trade housing from an offshore oil center with an apartment in a hipster neighborhood in Portland, Oregon.

Couldn’t I sleep on the floor of the airport? Not really—it’s not that kind of place. I’ll be sleeping on the floor of Hong Kong’s airport next week before coming home, but HKG is the Hilton of airport sleeping. If I attempted to stay overnight at SSG, I would at least be questioned, and could very well be arrested. Soft adventurer that I am, I’d rather avoid that.

Thus, when encountering such a situation, I do what I have to do. I pony up the money, all in cash because the country doesn’t accept credit cards of any kind, and head up to the dingy, one-star room. I also find the whole thing fairly ironic, because I’ve stayed in my fair share of dingy, one-star hotels—see this old post for one of my favorites—but I’m not usually paying $400 a night for them. No, most definitely not—but if you were to come to Equatorial Guinea, that’s probably what you’d have to do too.

Notes on the Rich Getting Richer

I also want to say something that will probably get me in trouble, but once in a while you should say what you really think. The thing about Equatorial Guinea, and most other African countries in similar situations, is that the people are poor not because they are meant to be poor, they like being poor, or because they’ve done anything wrong.

For the most part, the vast majority of people in places like Equatorial Guinea are poor because of a lack of opportunities, and a system of corruption that discourages savings and investment. To put it more simply, a few people have a lot of money, and most people have almost no money. None of the development, or at least very little, actually helps most of the people that live there.

Everyone I met in Malabo was nice—well, except for the hotel clerks, who were clearly under orders to extort as much money as possible from visitors. It’s not the people’s fault that government officials are stashing the cash that belongs to the country in their own overseas bank accounts. The president’s son, for example, lives in a $35 million mansion in California. By all accounts, he did not get rich selling ebooks.

This is how it works in Nigeria as well—a country that should be rich is actually very poor. Nigeria produces two million barrels of oil for export every day, but its villages and even large cities often go without electricity. The country used to rank dead last on Transparency International’s scale of global corruption. Then one year it “lost” the record of most corrupt country in the world to Bangladesh. The joke among my African friends was that Nigeria had paid off Bangladesh to take its place.

One theory calls this the “resource curse” of Africa. Countries that have oil or other natural resources, like Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, or Sudan, end up with large pockets of the population that are completely left behind. Meanwhile, countries without a lot of natural resources (Botswana is the most frequently cited) tend to do much better in terms of reducing absolute poverty and providing healthcare for their citizens.

Whether that’s true or not, I think it’s sad that corruption and exploitation are the normal patterns of business in much of sub-Saharan Africa. Of course, I should note that my government and most other Western governments are complicit in this arrangement, because the arrangement supports everyone involved. Everyone, that is, except the people who most need the chance to create opportunities for themselves, to raise healthy families, and to make their own choices. I hope it will change but I’m not sure it will.

I also realize I’m a rich, privileged person, writing mostly to other rich, privileged people who read blogs about life planning and unconventional living. So I’m not really complaining about my $400 one-star hotel room, as much as I’d rather spend that money on something else. Some people have a car payment every month; I ride the bus so I can visit random places like Equatorial Guinea. It works out OK.

No, what makes me uncomfortable is that in this case, none or very little of this money seems to be doing much good for people who need it. Some people are very rich, but most are very poor. Maybe the oil workers (and me) are funding the president’s son in his California mansion. Since there’s no transparency and few checks and balances, no one really knows for sure.

***

Anyway, after visiting Equatorial Guinea I went to its next-door neighbor Cameroon, a fun and lively place. I don’t know a lot about Cameroon, but having lived for some time in similar countries (especially Benin), I found it joyful and lively.

It was also quite hot, but that comes with the territory. I went for a long run that became a short run when I had to stop after 25 minutes in the heat. But it was a fun place nonetheless, and it left me with a more hopeful feeling than I had across the way in Equatorial Guinea.

That’s how I see it from my distorted, privileged traveler’s perspective. I know there are a lot of other active travelers among our group, as well as many people who live in countries hindered by corruption, so feel free to share your own views if you’d like.

###
Editor’s Note: Chris Guillebeau writes for a small army of remarkable people at ChrisGuillebeau.com. Follow Chris's live updates from every country in the world at @chrisguillebeau.


Filed under: Chris Guillebeau • Travel
July 26th, 2010
10:33 AM ET
July 26th, 2010
10:24 AM ET

Afghanistan says it's 'shocked' by leaked U.S. documents

Atika Shubert
CNN

The Afghan government said Monday it was "shocked" as it sifted through tens of thousands of leaked U.S. military and diplomatic reports on the war in Afghanistan that a whistleblower website posted a day earlier.

"The Afghan government is shocked with the report that has opened the reality of the Afghan war," said Siamak Herawi, a government spokesman.

WikiLeaks.org - a whistleblower website - published on Sunday what it says are more than 90,000 United States military and diplomatic reports about Afghanistan filed between 2004 and January of this year.

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Filed under: Afghanistan
July 26th, 2010
09:51 AM ET

Ring the high school bell later

Dave Schechter
CNN Senior National Editor

Pushing back school start times by just 30 minutes each day can improve alertness, mood and health in adolescents.

Pushing back school start times by just 30 minutes each day can improve alertness, mood and health in adolescents.

“If you don’t get up now, you’re going to be late for school!”

Do you remember hearing this during high school?

Have you ever said this to your high school student child?

If you answered yes to either question (I did to both) you’ll be interested in the results of a recent study.

I know it’s summer vacation and a lot of teenagers think rising for lunch is appropriate. But in two weeks (yup, the second week in August), it’s back to school for our boys, a high school senior and a sixth-grader.

When the older boy complains that school starts too early, he may have science on his side. "Beginning at the onset of puberty, adolescents develop as much as a two-hour sleep-wake phase delay (later sleep onset and wake times) relative to sleep-wake cycles in middle childhood," the authors of a study on the subject wrote in the July issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

CNN summarized the study’s conclusion: “Pushing back school start times by just 30 minutes each day can improve alertness, mood and health in adolescents.”

Based on years of observation – of our teen son and his sister now in college – I tend to agree. The research says that this age group needs 8.5-9.25 hours of sleep nightly. Does anyone know a high school student getting that much sleep when school is in session? A study in 2006 by the National Sleep Foundation found that more than half of high school students slept fewer than eight hours a night. No surprise that that not getting enough sleep contributes to being unhappy, depressed, annoyed or irritated.

The latest study focused on 200 students at the St. George’s School, a private school in Providence, Rhode Island, where the bell that once rang at 8 a.m. was re-set to 8.30 a.m. “What surprised me most,” Head of School Eric F. Peterson said, “was the breadth of the benefit. I kind of figured things would be a little better in some ways. They seemed to be so much better in many ways.”

Tracking the effects of changing the time school starts for the older set is the subject of an online campaign in Fairfax County, Virginia, outside of Washington, D.C., by a group called SLEEP (Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal). SLEEP ironically found itself opposed by WAKE (Worried About Keeping Extra-curriculars), which worried what would happen to after-school activities.

A study of two other Virginia school districts with different start times found that a later bell can even help reduce the incidence of teenage vehicle accidents.

Delaying the start time for the older kids might mean changes in the school day for younger kids, wreak havoc on bus schedules and parents dropping off and picking up their kids and force rescheduling of sports, play practice and other after school events. And, yes, there are teenagers who will continue to stay up late, show up late and pay too little attention no matter what time the bell rings.

The bottom line: "If you really need nine hours, and you're only getting six and a half hours or seven hours, even that extra half-hour can make a big difference," said Dr. Judith A. Owens, director of the pediatric sleep disorder center at Hasbro Children's Hospital, who directed the Providence research.

What do you think? Does high school start too early in the morning?


Filed under: David Schechter • Education
July 26th, 2010
09:38 AM ET

False 911 leads to arrest

____________________________________________________________________

A Boston man was arrested over the weekend for making a false phone call that had officers rushing to his home with their guns drawn.

According to police, John M. Sullivan, 42, of Dorchester, called 911 early Sunday morning to report of an attempted home invasion. Sullivan said an armed man was trying to gain entry into his apartment, investigators said.

Uniformed officers immediately responded to the address and drew their weapons as they approached the door, the police said.

Instead of being met with an armed robbery, they were greeted by the 911 caller, who said “there is no gun, I just wanted you guys here quicker,” police said.

“During conversation with the caller turned suspect, officers noted that he was intoxicated based on the smell of alcohol and his unsteady gait. The caller then went on to tell officers that he had called 911 on someone who lives in another apartment because “…he bangs on his door and thinks that he owns the building,” police said in a statement.

Sullivan then “went on to launch a number of racial epithets about his neighbor while pointing at his officers and yelling, causing neighbors to come out their apartment,” police said.

Neighbors appeared at the scene to tell the officers Sullivan “is always drunk and causes a disturbance by banging on his ceiling and doors,” police said.

Sullivan was arrested for disturbing the peace. As he was being led to the patrol car, he allegedly threatened the officers and shouted “I’ll call the cops every day and “you $%#@ need a real job!”

Follow the Falcon File on Twitter @FalconCNN


Filed under: Crime & Punishment • Gabe Falcon
July 26th, 2010
09:32 AM ET

Letter to the President #553: 'And you can quote me! Pt. 1'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

What has happened so far in your presidency may be important, may matter to history, but for your purposes…whether for good or ill…it is water beneath the bridge.

What has happened so far in your presidency may be important, may matter to history, but for your purposes…whether for good or ill…it is water beneath the bridge.

Reporter's Note: A great author once suggested that quoting other people is one of the surest ways of trying to appear brilliant on the cheap. So the fact that I am quoting him here in my daily letter to the president ought to tell you something. Ha!

Dear Mr. President,

Ta ta dah! Rise and shine, it’s Monday time! After a little R & R, I am fit as a fiddle and raring to go (although I’m not entirely sure what ‘raring’ is) and I hope you are feeling the same. Did you see the end of the Tour de France? Fabulous stuff. Think about it: These guys ride well over 2000 miles and the winner is some thirty-odd seconds ahead of the second place finisher! And if that’s not impressive enough, think about this: You and I could have jumped in, peddled like fiends to race them over the final mile, and they still would have totally smoked us. Ha! Well, my chapeau is off to them all.

I am, in fact, so inspired that I have decided to depart from my demented pen-paldom, and spend the next few days conducting a little old-fashioned summer training session for you right here in my daily letters; something to help you shake off those summer doldrums that seem to drag every White House down.

And I’m going to do it through some of my favorite quotes. And I’ll start with the one that is probably the most universally useful.

If it is inevitable, it is ideal.

I have looked for the source of this quote many times and I can’t find it. My daughters and wife think I came up with it, but I do not think so. I think I read it a long time ago and it settled in a corner of my brain like a advertising jingle for potato chips. It’s a fair bet. I once wrote a song that my friends thought was brilliant and oddly familiar. For days, a college roommate and I puzzled over where it might have come from, then one afternoon he burst into the room and shouted “Puff the Magic Dragon! The melody is from Puff the Magic Dragon!” He was right.

That aside, this quote is one of the most encouraging ones that I know. To my way of thinking, it’s about living in the moment.

We all know that life is far from ideal most of the time. Our friends and allies are not as helpful or steadfast as we wish. Our enemies can be more cruel and cunning than we might hope. Our resources are frequently insufficient or in the wrong place. Our luck, the weather, and the tides can all run against us just when we most need them to flow our way. And heaven knows when you are looking forward to a bananas Foster waffle at a quaint little bistro wouldn’t you know they’d run out of bananas? Arghhh! Oh well, you don’t want to hear about my problems.

The point is that we must put aside our pining for what might be, and accept what is. Emotion and effort spent wringing our hands over a lost opportunity only make the loss worse. The past is past, and the future is just a chance. What we have is the moment, no matter what kind of shape it finds us in, and if we proceed with our head and hopes high, we improve our chances of success in every endeavor. Or at least we don’t make them any worse.

What has happened so far in your presidency may be important, may matter to history, but for your purposes…whether for good or ill…it is water beneath the bridge. Sit down at your desk in the Oval Office each morning and imagine yourself there for the first time. Look at the tasks before you with the unbridled enthusiasm that you brought to your first week in office. And then begin. Whatever you are facing that day; all the promise, all the challenges, all the puzzles and solutions are the only ones you have for this day…and they are ideal. Go to work.

More tomorrow. Don’t call this week. I’ve got a shade too much to do, and frankly you should be using any down time to rest, contemplate, and perhaps enjoy some snacks!

Regards,
Tom

Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

July 26th, 2010
09:21 AM ET

Oil breaks up on Gulf surface as ships return to well site

CNN Wire Staff

Drill ships returned to the well site Sunday

Drill ships returned to the well site Sunday

Oil left on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico is breaking down naturally now that the flow of crude has been cut off beneath the surface, a Coast Guard admiral said Sunday after touring the scene.

Rear Adm. Paul Zukunft said the remnants of Tropical Storm Bonnie did little to affect the oil slick, which is breaking down "very quickly."

"The storm itself was not that significant," Zukunft told CNN after an aerial survey of the northern Gulf on Sunday. "We've had nine days of no new oil being released, so what we're seeing is the remnants of oil that was released nine days ago."

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Filed under: Gulf Oil Spill • T1
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