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Friday Note From Michael
Emily The Writer and Geordie The Editor in Edit 11 cutting Matthew's story. Photo by Vickie!
April 15th, 2011
09:09 PM ET

Friday Note From Michael

Greetings all, and Happy Friday!

Massive storm front approaching Atlanta and will arrive right in time for the evening commute – great way to start the weekend, especially when drivers here seem to have nervous breakdowns when the weather is anything other than fine and sunny.

Over the past couple of weeks, BSHQ has seen quite a few discussions on tax – it's tax time here and folks are approaching the deadline to file with varying emotions (me: "yay, a little refund!"; Kendra "ARRRRGGGHHHH!!!! I OWE THEM MONEY?????").

We should all move to Pakistan, where barely one percent of people pay any income tax at all.  Yes, ONE percent.  Why? Well because they can get away with it, thanks to a combination of corruption, a crumbling collection system, and the ability to pretty much "disappear" off the taxman's books.

Here's where it gets interesting.  Among the country's weapons to battle tax avoiders, transgender collectors.   In a country where you can be sentenced to death for blasphemy, the government sends transgender men out to embarrass people into paying up.

Armed with lipstick, attitude and a secret weapon ("pay or tomorrow six of us will come back and dance and sing outside your door"), they wander from errant citizen to errant citizen trying to collect.

Regular CNN freelancer Nick Paton Walsh is in Pakistan and filed a fascinating piece about this quite frankly bizarre tactic, but we had more questions so we debriefed with him earlier.

Also today, I've been hearing some pretty good, rather terrible and laugh out loud funny Matthew Chance impersonations.   Matt sent in some classic BackStory material which has had the folks around here both fascinated and in hysterics.

Emily has been filling in for Ann and I've heard constant giggles and "oh my goodness's" from my left.

What's the story?  Well, the main part is Matthew and crew getting exclusive access to one of Russia's biggest and most powerful icebreakers, the Yamal, for a report on how the Arctic oceans are becoming more and more accessible for ship transport and exploration, partly because of global warming.

Of course, it's a double edged sword – on the one hand, transport ships being able to cross the arctic seas is a massive shortcut, making their journeys shorter, cheaper and less damaging to the environment (ie less fuel used).

On the other hand, many folks are worried that oil and gas fields will become more accessible too, and the environmental impact on a fragile part of the planet will be compromised.

Matt's story is great, and his BackStory fascinating as he shows us around the Yamal, which began life as an icebreaker, was transformed into a cruise ship and then moved back into its original role.

But, the gang tells me (I haven't yet seen it) his other BackStory is the highlight.  Before Matthew and the crew got to the icebreaker, a delay meant they had to spend the night in a place called Kandalaksha in a Soviet era hotel.

Put it this way, it was no Four Seasons.   Matthew was wide eyed as he encountered all manner of strange gadgets – and Matthew's been around.  Him being wide eyed is not the norm!   The amusing part is Matthew being astonished while his Russian crew were all "meh. No biggie. We used to see this stuff all the time."

Hence the Matthew impersonations around BSHQ.

Right now Matthew is on a train headed to some big scoop and emailing Vickie constantly, worried that everyone being so enamored with his piece means he's gone too far.

Hope you can join us for our Friday show!



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Filed under: backstory
April 14th, 2011
07:23 PM ET

After some delay, Nigeria heads to the polls

Nigerian voters are heading to the polls again this weekend, as part of the country's three-week long election season.  This time, they'll choose a new president.  Incumbent Goodluck Jonathan is widely considered the favorite; his People's Democratic Party has won every presidential race since military rule came to an end in Nigeria in 1999.

The week after that, Nigerians will vote for local governors.

The first round of voting was delayed for a week, after many areas reported they hadn't yet received the materials needed at polling stations.  It was a source of frustration for many Nigerians, who were eager to begin casting the ballots they hope will bring big change to their country.

Christian Purefoy was there as people finally got their chance to vote.

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Filed under: backstory • Nigeria
April 13th, 2011
09:56 PM ET

More on Bahrain crackdown: CNN Investigates

Amber Lyon, from CNN’s Special Investigative Unit, continued her conversation with Back|Story about her recent trip to Bahrain.

Hear more about the government’s efforts to conceal a crackdown on protesters. Amber describes scenes of people who are afraid to seek hospital treatment for gunshot wounds for fear of being detained by police.

Amber also answers questions submitted by BackStory viewers on Facebook and Twitter.

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Filed under: Arab World • backstory
April 12th, 2011
07:49 PM ET

Unjust treatment in Bahrain

From Michael Holmes, CNN


CNN Investigations Unit correspondent Amber Lyon got more than a story when she visited Bahrain recently – she and her crew had the experience of being forced to the ground with automatic weapons pointed at their heads.

Amber and team were there working on a documentary which included telling the story of Bahrain's ongoing crackdown on pro reform protesters.   Here’s her report, our chat with her about her experience and what’s going on in Bahrain.

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Filed under: Arab World • backstory • Interviews
April 11th, 2011
05:38 PM ET

Some of Japan's youngest survivors

From Nadia, Sr. Writer


April 11, 2011

(CNN)- A powerful 6.6-magnitude aftershock rattles Japan on the one-month anniversary of the devastating earthquake and tsunami. The aftershock triggered landslides, which trapped several people in the city of Iwaki. Workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant were also briefly evacuated.  Hundreds of aftershocks have shaken Japan since the initial March 11th disaster, making the road to recovery even longer.

Our Paula Hancocks has been traveling through devastated Japanese communities with photographer David Hawley and producer Jiyeon Lee. In the town of Tome, the team met some young survivors who are learning to cope with losses most of us can’t even imagine.

Filed under: backstory • Japan
April 8th, 2011
05:27 PM ET

Gadhafi's son arranges CNN interview with alleged Libyan rape victim

Nic Robertson and CNN Photographer Khalil Abdallah spoke with Back|Story to describe what it was like to be in the room with Eman al-Obeidy, how the interview was arranged and who else was in the room with them as the interview took place.

From Nic Robertson:

TRIPOLI, Libya (CNN) - It has been almost two weeks since Eman al-Obeidy burst into our hotel in Tripoli, desperate for the world to hear her story of rape and torture. We had been trying since then to interview her in person and were finally able to speak to her Wednesday, against the explicit wishes of the Libyan government.

"You should not be allowed to do this," government spokesman Musa Ibrahim told me.

The interview with al-Obeidy was facilitated by Gadhafi's son Saadi and was subject to a government review. We asked al-Obeidy if she would be willing to come to Saadi Gadhafi's office. She agreed and Gadhafi sent a car to pick her up.

She came dressed in ornate black robes and with her head covered. She called herself an ordinary citizen, a good Muslim who is conservative in her social outlook. She spoke with clarity and exuded strength through the conversation, adamant about clearing her name she said Libyan state media had smeared.

"Everything they said about me is a lie," she said.

"I am well-educated unlike the way the Libyan TV portrayed me. I come from a good family, regardless of what they said, I am also not mentally challenged like they said. Just because I raised my voice and talked to the media they blamed me and questioned my sanity. Nonetheless, I want my rights, even without the media."

She spoke of her abduction, of how she was taken to one of the residences of Moammar Gadhafi's soldiers. They were drunk, she said. They tied her up, beat and raped her.

Her bruises had faded, but I could still the see the evidence of her agony around her wrists. She said in the height of her trauma, she took pictures with the camera on her mobile phone, lest people should not believe her later.

"People have blamed me for showing my body," she said. "I was depressed and there was no way to show people how I was tortured. I was brutally tortured to the point of them entering weapons inside me. They would also pour alcohol in my eyes."

She said the men who tortured her are still free, without punishment. Later Saadi Gadhafi told me: "The people responsible for raping her should face charges. She is a strong woman."

Undercover with paintbrush at MI6
April 7th, 2011
10:11 PM ET

Undercover with paintbrush

Artist James Hart Dyke was given unprecedented access to Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, as MI6 celebrates its 100th anniversary.  He spent a year shadowing spies and illustrating their activities.   This week's episode of "The Revealer" takes us behind the pictures, and shows us how things are not always what they seem.

Hart Dyke's work looks pretty ordinary at first glance.  If you walked in off the street, you might think his art portrayed everyday images.  But this slideshow features some of the images he created during that time, along with the backstories on the illustrations.


April 7th, 2011
10:08 PM ET

The Revealer: Artist spies on Britain's MI6

For the first time ever, an artist has been invited into MI6, for an unprecedented behind-the-scenes look at Britain's Secret Intelligence Service.   To mark MI6's 100th anniversary, James Hart Dyke spent a year shadowing spies and illustrating their activities.   It was a top secret mission; he was required to sign the Official Secrets Act, and was allowed to tell only his wife and parents what he was doing.

His challenge was to capture the mystery, intrigue and excitement of the world of espionage, without letting any state secrets slip.  MI6 gave him extraordinary access.  But Hart Dyke's work was eventually censored; some drawings and paintings even have holes cut out of them.

Hart Dyke's work looks pretty ordinary at first glance.  If you walked in off the street, you might think his art portrayed everyday images like a man in a hotel room, a woman standing on a street corner or a neighborhood in a third world country.   But  we reveal the "real life of a spy" - and show how, when it comes to the murky world of espionage, nothing is ever as it seems.

In this episode of "The Revealer", James Hart Dyke talks about how the project took over his life, and the biggest challenge he faced on the job.


April 7th, 2011
01:48 PM ET

Japan's Disaster in Words and Pictures

The magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11th is being blamed for more than 12,000 deaths.  At this writing, more than 15,000 people are still missing and unaccounted for in the wake of the disaster.

In the days after the quake and tsunami struck, CNN crews fanned out across the disaster zone to bring the story to the world.  One of the crews on the ground was reporter Gary Tuchman, producer Justine Redman and photojournalist Mark Biello.  Mark recently returned to Atlanta from Japan and shared some his most powerful images and stories with BackStory.

Filed under: backstory • Japan • photography
April 5th, 2011
04:37 PM ET

Journey to Misrata: Inside the war-torn Libyan city

From Ann, Back|Story CNN

Join Fred Pleitgen, CNN Producer Jonathan Wald and CNN Photographer Scotty McWhinnie as they travel with international organizations delivering aid to the war-torn Libyan city of Misrata.

During an 18-hour boat trip from Malta, the team travels through treacherous waters, keeping an eye out for possible assaults from Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's forces.

When the team reaches shore, they hook up with rebel fighters who take them into the heart of the battle-weary city. At one point Fred and the team run and take cover from incoming fire. Fred also shows us what he calls "one of the worst humanitarian situations" he's seen in a long time. (And Fred has seen some pretty bad stuff during his years of reporting)

And finally, watch as Fred, Jonathan and Scotty travel back to Malta by boat in the dead of night, battling rough surf but still managing to do back-to-back live shots while on board.

A fascinating and informative journey.

Filed under: backstory • journalists
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