Sunday, December 30, 2007

Pakistan's Unfortunate Elephant in the Room (re-post)

FROM 2005
On December 2nd, 2004, a high level United Nations panel issued a warning of diminishing international barriers to the acquisition of nuclear weapons. The 16 member panel that included former United States security advisor Brent Scowcroft, had been commissioned by UN Secretary Kofi Anan.

Titled “High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change”, the report warns that the world is “approaching a point at which the erosion of the non-proliferation regime could become irreversible resulting in a cascade of nuclear weapon proliferation.” The report points out barrier breakdowns that increase the likelihood of terrorists obtaining nuclear weapons.

The UN report confirmed that the list of nuclear-armed nations was growing. It also become clear that one of America’s allies in the war on terror, Pakistan, had been the main supplier of these products of mass destruction, which in the end, created a complicated, tense yet apparently necessary relationship between the two nations.

In the course of just a few years, as the United States responded to the events of 9/11, the world had become a much more lethal place.
. “The nuclear barriers may not be crumbling, but there are certainly worrisome cracks” said Mellissa Flemming, spokesperson at the International Atomic Energy Association in Vienna.

Flemming said that when the IAEA discovered “a sophisticated black market in nuclear technology, we realized that nuclear technology was basically up for grabs.”

Less than one year earlier, Pakistani Scientist and metallurgical engineer, Dr. A.Q. Khan had been identified as a major player in the international nuclear black market. In February 2004, Khan admitted, and then IAEA officials confirmed, that over the course of a few years, Khan had sold technology and equipment to officials in at least five countries, including Iran. Khan, known as the “father” of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, confessed his actions but was then almost immediately pardoned by President Pervaz Musharaf.

Pakistani officials placed Khan, seen by many Pakistanis as heroic for equalizing the nuclear playing field with India, under house arrest. Pakistani officials have not granted any foreign interrogators access to Khan. “Khan’s black market nuclear bazaar exposed what many say was a leaky export control system over Pakistan's nuclear arsenal that was demonstrated by the behind the scenes dealings with customers like Libya and Iran who were willing to pay millions of dollars for sensitive centrifuge parts and technological know how,” according to IAEA’s Mellisa Flemming.

The UN report apparently confirms fears expressed by a number of nuclear proliferation experts around the world. According to one of those experts in the United States, this could eventually lead to a very troubling outcome that includes increasing threats of nuclear terrorism.

“It is inevitable that we will see a terrorist with nuclear capability within the next decade” said Joseph Cirincione, Director of the Non Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

Cirincione is concerned that the UN report’s confirms that security barrier breakdowns like the now exposed clandestine Khan network, increase the likelihood of a terrorist organization obtaining nuclear capabilities.

“There are groups out there intent on mass destruction” warned Cirincione of terrorist groups who seek nuclear weaponry.

Despite the dire tone of some observers, Mellisa Flemming at the IAEA, cautions against jumping to such frightening conclusions. She says the technology involved in making a nuclear weapon may be beyond the capabilities of a terrorist network.

“Whether terrorists, without the backing of a country, could make use of the goods on offer is questionable” said Flemming.

She notes that the centrifuge parts and designs of the kind that Khan was selling, require a tremendous amount of money and expertise to master. Further, there is the question of the nuclear material itself.

“Nuclear material is the required ingredient, and it does leave trails” insisting “there is no evidence of non-state actors who were customers” said Flemming.

But, that doesn’t dispel concerns expressed by some US political leaders, including a New York congresswoman who points out a number of potential avenues that nuclear technology or weapons could take and arrive in troubling situations.

“It would be naïve and dangerous to assume that terrorists are incapable of acquiring nuclear materials or weapons, whether from a rouge nation, or on the black market, or by theft” said New York Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez.

She believes that U.S. officials should be in direct contact with Pakistani scientists, especially those associated with Khan, so that his complete trail of proliferation is uncovered.

“The more we know about this black market network, the more likely we are to prevent nuclear material from falling into the wrong hands” said Congresswoman Velazquez.

Pakistani officials stress that the Khan nuclear network has been completely destroyed and that the government has been offering full details of the exposed trail of proliferation.

“The government of Pakistan has completely broken the ring of A.Q. Khan’s networkand Pakistan has provided all details to the IAEA” according to Haroon Shaukat, Consul General of the Pakistani Embassy in New York.

The IAEA said Pakistan has been cooperating and providing valuable information regarding the apparently extensive Khan Black market network.

“We are presently working out modalities with them to get more information” said Flemming. But, when considering whether or not the United States' allied relationship with Pakistan placed Washington in a position to exert greater pressure on the Pakistani government regarding direct access to Khan and his associates, Flemming was somewhat ambivalent.

“We are not in a position to judge US policy on this issue.”

Perhaps one of the more puzzling events in the Khan tale was the scientist's rapid pardon by President Pervaz Musharaf. Since the network's exposure and disruption, Khan has been under house arrest, and not available for any sort of questioning from officials outside of Pakistan.

Pakistani government reaction to the exposure of the Khan network concerns proliferation experts who suspect Pakistani government or military complicity in the distribution network.

“The confession and quick pardon of Khan was staged” said Joe Cirincione at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Cirincione says US officials have not been able to question Khan directly because of the instable nature of internal politics in Pakistan.

He goes on to say that the “staged confession” and the house arrest is part of a greater cover-up meant to protect higher up military officials.

“It is inconceivable that this was a private citizen affair” and that the nuclear proliferation conducted by Khan “could not have been done without the knowledge of military and political officials” said Cirincione. “There was a deal for Khan to take the blame in public, and that’s why we saw the fastest pardon since Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon.”

Khan’s network of proliferation was vast. It involved the shipping of materials through a large distribution network that reached far beyond clandestine labs. In spite of those concerns, the State Department, at least publicly, has not aggressively pursued any investigation of offical Pakistan’s alleged complicity.

Further, Cirincione’s sees US Government reaction to the Khan network as evidence that nuclear proliferation is a short sighted, and a secondary concern of the State Department in the greater war on terror.

Still, the State Department implies that much is being done behind the scenes to obtain more vital information about the nuts and bolts of the network.

“It is more fruitful for the United States to work through diplomatic channels with Pakistani officials in the matter of the Khan black market network” according to Sara Styker, Asia Expert at the State Department.

According to the State Department’s Stryker, “the cooperation US officials have received from Pakistani officials has helped us in eliciting vital information” and that “we are now focused on results”. Stryker points to success in Libya, as evidence that the information provided by Pakistan has been helpful in disarming dangerous nations and stopping nuclear proliferation. She says she understands concerns like those expressed by Cirincione, but notes that Khan is under house arrest, and out of the proliferation business.

Further,there are concerns about potential Pakistani public reaction to what might be seen as American intervention. As President Musharaf told the Washington Post, allowing outsiders access to Dr. Khan would ignite anger among Pakistanis who regard Khan as a sort of folk hero- for equalizing Pakistan's nuclear capabilities with Inida.

Joe Cirincione still raises troubling concerns.

“The Bush administration apparently believes the Pakistanis have done all they can do” and “I take that as a very troubling sign that we are not doing all that we should be doing.”

Cirincione says that “while the Bush administration was focused on the Axis of Evil, we should have been paying attention to our ally, Pakistan.”

“If it was not for Pakistan, Iran would not have nuclear technology now, the same holds true for Lybia, maybe others,” said Cirincione. He argues that the US placed other security issues, including President Musharaf’s stability, above our own real security issues. “We’ve placed nuclear proliferation second” and “that has come back to haunt us in the past, and I think it will again this time”.

From "The Raw Story"-Lobbyist pressured to recant story about Abramoff meeting Rove on street corner

More on former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman:
Part I of this series explored the long-term involvement of two men -- GOP consultant Bill Canary and Alabama Attorney General William Pryor -- in the events leading to the imprisonment last summer of former Alabama Democratic governor Don Siegelman.RAW STORY
Link to full Investigative Piece


Bhutto's Death Cause Debated -From CBS NEWS
Bhutto's Death Cause Debated
Pakistan's government has released new video of the attack that killed Benazir Bhutto. Officials claim that she died from a skull fracture, not from gunfire or shrapnel. Sheila MacVicar reports.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Back Home on the Christmas Eve Highway

By Cody Lyon

A Christmas Eve drive home after a holiday party down Highway 78 from Walker to Shelby County provides bubbles of warmth, security and impassioned viewpoints.

From the new car, the hills seem dark, except for trees back lit by the moon, they lean with erratic cold breezes as the white car glides down this dark four lane of asphalt ribbon. Along the way, an occasional run down building every mile or so, some with lights, others empty, almost ghostly. From the car, the outside seems silent, like the song, but the darkness stirs memories long tucked away some place, begging to be found.

This is, after all, the highway where a long time ago another country boy named Elvis drove a truck all the way from Memphis to Birmingham.

Years later, perhaps, Elvis came down this road in a luxury bus, this time on his way to the Municipal Auditorium, a place they now want to tear down.

This Christmas Eve expressway is the place where even before Elvis, a future movie star named Tallulah made her way the few miles south to steel mill lit skies in Birmingham, painted red from blasting iron furnaces, it was there in the magic city, inside a hotel named Tutwiler, the Alabama foghorn had a honeymoon.

The New Yorker was on highway 78 in a county called Walker, a place where moonshine once ruled, even now, dry as dirt, except for Jasper. The 49 Mercury V8’s no longer run like scalded dogs down this dark road outrunning revenue men who sought their cargo, men who chased and if caught, could put the runners behind bars and seize, then destroy their product, lightning strength, often said strong enough to take away a man's breath, sometimes the brew was clear as water, except for tiny bubbles, that meant to those in the know, it was good.

Nowadays, the highway is lined with what is called, charity bingo parlors. Inside, patrons find video gaming machines. These establishments replaced the strip bars of yesteryear that line the road to Memphis or Birmingham, depending on the direction you were headed.

It’s Christmas Eve, and the New Yorker loves casinos, he begs to stop, to have a look, to play a few games, a five dollar limit he promises, his sibling and brother in law reluctantly agree.

In truth, the New Yorker can’t resist the sound of bells, whistles and the potential clanking of a win, it is a simple rush, much like a dance floor, or more accurately, a rollercoaster, he is a thrill seeker and was hoping for a fix of rush before the holiday continued, just a taste from a place he no longer knew like his own, it was, a hidden place, mysterious, appropriate on the lonely old haunted road back to the safety, familiarity of his native Shelby County.

Outside the cacophony of movement and conversation inside the car, smoke rises from a chimney in the distance, and further away, across the vast expanse and darkness of a thick forest sheltered by two rocky bluffs, a tower of cloud rises from a bubble of light and into the moonlit sky, its shape, much like a giant tornado, but this is no storm, instead, steam from a power plant on the distant river. Its generators send their juice back across the forest on towering power lines, into homes, the buildings, the cities down the way, even into the games in the parlors along the highway.

Smokestacks, at least 700 feet high, blink their warning to approaching planes in a crystal clear star filled sky, perhaps too, the lights reassure the children among the trees that this is the place where Santa finds there house, especially if they live on one of the hills that from the safety of the car seem so desolate, so quiet and alone, so far from what he now knew as his reality in Manhattan.

The gambling parlors they've passed so far have all been closed. Maybe that’s good, considering the warnings of a friend, who said, the odds for winning in those houses were bad, since in Alabama, there is no regulation, no gaming commission or lotto that’s run by a public agency.

According to another, the parlors exist legally since they donate part of their profits to local causes, firehouses, even schools.

Finally, off in the distance, lights are seen, cars fill a small gravel lot, the lights say Charity Bingo and loosely hung from the roof of the brown building are Christmas decorations. The doors seem dark, but red neon beckons to “come on in”

It is 1030 pm. Outside, a few SUV’s, a mid size car with an LSU sticker, another old Lincoln town car, a smattering of non descript muddied tires that look to have traveled unpaved roads time forgot, roads hidden from our safe eyes, memories never known, tucked away in the wooded hills, hills long mined for coal, far beyond these loosely hung Christmas lights with their spoon feeding mission of joy coming from a building that once housed something else.

The door is opened, the three go inside. All eyes, turn towards the new visitors as if nervous about an inspection. The two Alabamians watch as the New Yorker attempts to play a 2cent video game, he plays, then a man approaches, he gives him a ticket, like any old ticket, perhaps from a school carnival, perhaps a traveling fair, a raffle, he says something, the New Yorker doesn’t understand. The two Alabamians watch, impatiently both with arms crossed, the small room smells of smoke.

Later, he realized, the ticket was for a drawing, he finally understood what the old man had said. The New Yorker, at home in Alabama, had forgotten his own's way of speech, this made him think, it made him sad.

The twangs among the crowd were soft, but distinct, this was coal country, this land wasn't agrarian, this land was to rocky to grow big crops, this was not the black and rich land of his Coosa valley, this was hardscrabble Alabama, and inside this place, some were hoping to make life a little less hard as well.

Inside the small room lights are dim, there are no bells, no whistles, no whips of exciting sounds nothing that gave the adrenalin he'd found in a real casino, just the sound of quietness, as if something was wrong, something missing, in fact, something empty. No one seems to be smiling, in fact, no one has said much of anything, at least yet.

“There is a pile of something black on the floor” she says to her husband, as the New Yorker continues to press the white light on the video machine.

“Ya’ll go play a game,” says the New Yorker, feeling as if he’d inconvenienced his loved ones by forcing them to stop by the gaming house.

In truth, he had.

Each machine had a chair, each chair filled by someone, usually with a blank face, staring into dim blinking lights that ask for money, two rows of machines, like electronic wishing wells all promising cash, the answer to life’s woes, still across the floor, a field of cigarette butts and the smell of wet tobacco spits, occasionally, a curse or exclamation, but no bells, no whistles, just murmuring on Christmas Eve.

In the Birmingham area, many places have seen incredible growth, prosperity and economic infusions that have changed the face of entire communities. Suburban sprawl now ruled in much of Shelby County, a place that only 30 years ago, was primarily farmland and open space.

His two relations left the room, but later the sibling came back and ordered the New Yorker to come and get in the car, it was time to reenter the cacophony of movement and sound, get back on the highway and take the road on down to Birmingham.

Once past the decorated but quiet streets of downtown Birmingham and on through the city by an expressway that cuts through Red Mountain, a car headed south will eventually travel down a ramp, and onto the highway 280, that leads to Shelby County. At the foot of the ramp from the expressway, the street lights at the were mysteriously not working on Christmas Eve at around 1130. This highway, a place of explosive prosperity, prime suburbia, always crowded was dark at this one spot on this night.

“Those lights aren’t working” said the sibling.

“Maybe it’s for the zoo light safari” said the New Yorker.

“I don’t know but it sure is erie” said the sibling.

They then pass through Mountain Brook, onto Cahaba Heights, through Inverness, they go through Hoover, whiz on past Chelsea and back into the moonlit country roads of Shelby that take them to where they began. They've passed Starbucks, Saks, Whole Foods, malls, strip malls, bar b que and countless manicured office parks.

There were no charity bingo parlors.

It was Christmas Eve and time for one last glass of wine before the sun came up.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

New Orleans

With Regrets, New Orleans Is Left Behind
Published: December 18, 2007
Thousands of former New Orleanians are breaking their ties with the damaged city for which they yearn....LINK TO NEW YORK TIMES

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Postpartum Impression (New York Times)

Postpartum Impression
Published: December 13, 2007
Under the French health-care system, routine care for new mothers includes an astonishing perk: perineal re-education, which can also be described as making mothers as good as new.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Top Contender for Lebanese Government Post Killed

Dec 12 - A leading contender to take over as head of the Lebanese army is among several killed in car bomb attack.

Security sources say five people were killed in the blast in a suburb of Beirut. Brigadier General Francois al-Hajj was among the victims.

Paul Chapman reports. (REUTERS)

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Message We Send the World

CBSNEWS Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer weighs in on torture tactics:
Link to video commentary at CBS

Re: Long-Eared Jerboa

Fascinating footage of the endangered Mongolian Long Eared Jerboa.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Mitt Romney Panders Right


Former Massachusetts Governor and current Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney made an appeal to social conservative voters during a 20 minute speech in Texas this week, arguing that his Mormon faith was in line with Christian conservative values.

The speech was a clear attempt to convince members of the political Right wing that his views about social issues saw eye to eye with those of groups like the Christian Coalition or Family Research Council. He sent a clear signal that he would appease Christian Conservative concerns by setting a place for Religion at the table of policy in a Romney White House and further fanning the flames of us vs. them political rhetoric.

“They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgement of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America-the religion is secularism. They are wrong,” said Romney during the speech according to “The New York Times.”

For those who do argue that the constitution calls for a clear separation of church and state, the Romney speech was just another sad example of pandering by a Presidential candidate to a vocal and still powerful often irrational interest group, that has, in the past, flexed political muscle in exchange for support of policy, all guised under the curtain of self righteous certitude, faith and unspoken arrogance.

Plenty of Americans have begun to look behind that curtain and have found the real muscle behind the flexing, is a fundamentalist agenda that is dangerous to Democracy, no matter who does its bidding.

Still, the issue of Romney’s Mormonism has been one of the more interesting political sticklers to watch as Republicans continue pandering to the Right Wing movement. It appears that much of the leeriness expressed by Right wingers over Romney is due in part to what some see as a cloud of mystery that hangs over the Mormon Church.

Unlike the often shrill and colorful antics of the “praise the Lord” evangelical movement, Mormons keep many of their religious practices quiet, exclusive, some say even secret. For example, only Mormons are allowed inside their Temples. The Temples are where members receive their ‘endowments.’ Church members are forbidden to discuss temple rituals like the widely reported wearing of special underwear, they call “garments” or the white suits for men and floor length white dresses for the women.

In all fairness and with due respect to other faiths, that’s certainly no more odd than some of the rituals and wardrobe requirements required by other mainstream denominations, faiths and beliefs within their places of worship or for that matter, some of the less discussed practices at home.

Still, voters on both sides of the political fence point to what appear to be somewhat odd Mormon rules like no hot caffeinated drinks and the belief that marriage is eternal, family sealing, concerns over past polygamy practices as well as questions over how the Mormon Church treasure chest, estimated by some to be around $30 billion, got to be so big in the first place.

In addition, there are charges leveled over the centrality of the Temple in Mormonism as well as what some Christian Conservatives see as the diminished role of Jesus coupled with a high level of importance given to the gold tablet inspired Book of Mormon. Many of these concerns have led some Evangelicals to question the very fundaments of Mormonism and to that end, whether or not Mormons are indeed Christians.

In truth, Evangelical Christians and Mormons are very much alike.

For one, Mormons are the embodiment of Family Values living.

But, more specifically, if Evangelicals could get over their concerns about the secrecy, the rituals, the gold tablets and the specifics of who is, or who is not a Christian, for all intents and purposes, Mitt Romney should be their man. In fact, if Mitt Romney subscribes to one of the Mormon Church’s most important statements of faith, he could be a bigger prize than what the “right” ordered for its political entrée.

Much of the Central concept in Mormon Religion is laid out in the “Articles of Faith” a 13 point list of the Latter Day Saint’s most fundamental beliefs.

Article 10 has similarities with what Christian Conservatives believe regarding the future of mankind and the “second coming”. The Mormons, like Conservative Christians believe that Jesus will return to Earth some day to establish Zion, what was noted in a groundbreaking PBS FRONTLINE documentary called “The Mormons”, the paradisiacal Promised Land.

However, Mormons, unlike the Conservative Christians, believe specifically, that Jesus will establish his new kingdom on the American continent.

It’s certainly no secret that the Religious Right has long advocated that the United States is, or at least should be, a Christian Nation. So it seems almost odd, perhaps mysterious that the politically powerful Evangelical movement would not throw its support behind a leader who comes from a Religion that details a future America that is not only a Christian nation, but in fact, the Promised land.

Once again, Americans are reminded that there is a battle for Democracy being waged within our own borders. It is a battle for morality, fairness, logic and for all intents and purposes, the very soul of our nation. Our constitution is clear about the separation of Church and State. It is frightening that Mitt Romney, the respected former and well liked Governor of one of America’s most liberal states, would engage in such pathetic political pandering to the self righteous agenda of the Conservative Right wing. Romney had an opportunity to define himself as above the fray, perhaps a strong principled leader. He did not. Instead, his definition appears to be dangerous.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis- A Solution For Some (Reuters)


CBSNEWS Investigative Report

U.S. Taxpayers May Have Paid for Some Iraq Insurgent Weaponry (CBS NEWS)

CBS News Investigative reporter Armen Keteyian reveals that the "CIA has photographic evidence that Austrian-made Glocks intended for Iraqi security forces and paid for by U.S. taxpayers are now in the hands of Iraqi insurgents -- in numbers that the intelligence community believes are in the thousands." ...

Clinton Says That Wall St. Should Share Blame (Reuters)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Blowing In The Wind - Peter, Paul and Mary

Young, Homeless and LGBT (EDGE)

excerpt from EDGE:
"If you come out in an accepting environment, certainly that’s more healthy than hiding your sexual orientation," Siciliano said. "If you come out [of an] area [where] you are like spawn, and you are thrown out of the house that night with your belongings in garbage bags and have no way to support yourself except through prostitution, that is a catastrophe."

The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services estimates there are between 575,000 and 1.6 million homeless and runaway youth between 12 and 24 in the United States. The National Lesbian & Gay Task Force further concluded in a 2006 report titled "LGBT Youth; Epidemic of Homelessness" that between 20 and 40 percent of these youth self-define as LGBT....

"What if you had to eat from dumpsters, had to sleep on the train [or] had to turn to sex work to survive," she asked. "That’s not something people want for themselves - or for their children - even if they can’t stand what that child does."

My story (link) at EDGE onLGBT homeless Youth in NYC

Monday, December 03, 2007

Gen. Wes Clark Says Siegelman was Unjustly Confined (From Locust Fork Journal)

FROM "Locust Fork Journal"- Glynn Wilson
General Wesley Clark received standing ovations from Democrats Friday night when he called former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman "a great American" and an "honest man" who was "unjustly confined" by a rogue Justice Department "politicized" by a corrupt Republican administration, and for his criticism of Bush's war in Iraq.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

In Birmingham- The Divide

From the "Birmingham News" reporter Marie Leech
Birmingham students face distinct disadvantages: widespread poverty, schools with limited programs, outdated equipment. Suburban students thrive in high-tech schools with broad menus of challenge classes. Our schools are separate but unequal.--LINK TO FULL TEXT

As The World Turns- Russia and Venezuala

Putin’s Party Wins in Russia, but Leadership Is Still Clouded- "New York Times"
Published: December 2, 2007
While the results represent a triumph for President Vladimir V. Putin, they also usher in a new era of political instability for Russia.- LINK TO FULL TEXT

And from Venezuela:
Venezuela Votes on Whether to Give Chávez More Power
Published: December 2, 2007
Proposed constitutional changes would speed President Hugo Chávez’s efforts to formally establish a socialist state. - LINK TO FULL TEXT
Opposition in Venezuela Cheers Defeat of Chávez Plan
Published: December 4, 2007
The results of a referendum that would have given new powers to President Hugo Chávez were a stunning development in a country where he controls nearly all the levers of power.

And from REUTERS, on Venezuela:

Religion Gone Wrong- The Purge of Iraq's Christians-(CBS- 60 Minutes)

Link to Video Report from CBS News 60 Minutes
A Baghdad clergyman estimates that 90 percent of Iraq's Christians, once thought to number over a million, have either fled or been murdered by Islamic extremists. Sott Pelley's report: LINK TO VIDEO Excerpt

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Christmas Lights (re post)

Originally Posted Friday, December 22, 2006


CHRISTMAS LIGHTS (also published in 2006 at "Oh My News International")

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, New York City evenings begin to arrive at their annual ritual of taking on an extra-added electric glow. The added lights, displays and decorations among other signalers of the season announce to residents and visitors alike, the holidays have arrived. New York’s extravagant Christmas lights and decorations provide visual coaxing for what is meant to be a festive time of year in the American city that never sleeps, and loves to shop. Many tourists, children and residents, look at the lights in awe, as Department store districts like those in Midtown transform into a Christmas wonderland, where shoppers scurry about like busy elves getting ready for a certain really big night.

From Rockefeller Center and the famous, tall, sculpted and not a spot missed tree, to the giant crystal snowflake at 57th and Fifth Avenue, the city is polished and ready for Santa, North Pole bound, almost to a point of perfection with its elaborate decoration. Even down in the gritty fashion district new, modern single color snowflakes and brightly lit stars line the streets, one right after the other in an accurate order present an urban district that upon first glance, appears to have been enrolled in a special holiday exterior decorating class. Parts of Manhattan becomes a polished Christmas village, a scene out of a modern more orderly version of “Miracle on 34th Street” where all is planned, a place where if one's not careful, the sheer brightness and excitement can overtake the city's buffet of visual stimuli. But, in taking some time to explore and study detail of less traveled streets, one might stumble upon a Christmas light display that doesn’t shine as bright as those in Midtown. Sometimes, on those off the beaten paths, are the lights that twinkle, and for some unexplainable reason they might bring back memories which stimulate childhood nostalgia, recollections that have the ability to provide a key that can unlock personal spirits of Christmas and the hope, anticipation as well as joy the season brings.

According to Mary Bellis at “”, Inventor Edward Johnson was responsible for the first string of Christmas lights back in the late 1890’s. By 1900, Department stores had started using the lights for displays. Later, Albert Sadacca came up with “safe” Christmas lights and eventually started mass producing the brightly colored bulbs through a company called NOMA. Soon enough, cities found themselves taking on the added glow of Christmas displays of all shapes, sizes and colors from coast to coast. Hanging from light poles on main streets, big city downtowns and other places where people lived, Christmas Lights soon become the tradition they are today.

This year in New York, Christmas displays began appearing as early as Halloween. There was barely time to enjoy Thanksgiving when what would appear but strands of giant green garland across Eighth Street and the white stars in the Financial and fashion districts. Then, at some point, several strands of random, vintage Christmas displays were quietly being strung across the streets of the East Village. And, it was in that neighborhood, on 7th Street, near Avenue A, one of the displays brought back memories of growing up in a small Alabama town, when the annual appearance of Christmas decorations in Wilsonville made a small boy thrilled that the holiday season had arrived.

It was in the tiny one stop light village of less than a thousand, usually the day after Thanksgiving, a boy would ride his bike down to the main road, Hi-way 25. Here he would sit, watch and worry, eagerly awaiting men with cherry picker trucks to arrive and install the town's Christmas lights. The festive lights in Wilsonville, some shaped like canes with bells, others with Santa Clauses faces framed in green tinsel, even a few red candles held up with green garland all grand to the small town child eyes waiting for their show. Hues of red, blue and green suddenly lit power line poles and the road beneath them, areas of space and time that seemed dark and lonely over most of the year, except for the occasional passing car on its way to someplace else. Now the holiday hues projected joy on all who passed by, as well as those who appreciated them nightly.

The displays of then and there weren't so polished and the lights not so bright like today's extravagant bulbs, instead these sweet old creations twinkled, more like the far away stars in mysterious reaches of the sky, all magic to a child's eye, especially eyes from a small town who knew nothing else. He saw the lights as visual pills of warmth, comfort and the wonderment that Christmas, back then and there, meant to him.

And suddenly, here in New York City, amid the hectic hustle and bustle here on his neighborhood streets, there it was again. It took a few minutes to realize the twinkling lights were even there, complete with their sweet hues of joy and peace. It was here in the nation’s largest and busiest, that he had discovered a memory formed years ago during a period of untouched innocence and love.

In truth, it was an accidental discovery, since, he'd probably passed the draping lights several times before he'd actually taken any time to notice them. But for whatever reason, there they were, green garland donned by bells lit pink and red, hanging in poetic curves that came to point over the center of the street, all framed by a red ribbon filled with tiny gold lights.

What imperfection, this relic of history, who could say how many Christmas seasons these old weathered lights had seen? How much had New York City changed since those twinkling bulbs first decked the street and charmed the children and adults of the city's past? How much the world had changed since the boy made his way from Alabama to New York? Where do they store those whispering lights throughout the year and how did they had survive so long in the rough and tumble that is New York.

The cycling New Yorker paused with his logical pondering and began to stare deeper, to wonder at the Christmas Light's beauty, and the sense of comfort, anticipation, joy and hope they provided. He'd realized, unlike so many of the city's impressive decorations, tree's, Broadway shows and Department store window displays that all blatantly attempting to coax people into the season, he'd been ushered into the spirit through the re acquaintance with a memory. It was a memory that held a key to what this season truly meant, or at least, what it represented for him. It was the sort of moment that proved beauty, hope and joy is everywhere, but sometimes one has to make the effort to find it, in this case, beauty, joy and the peace it commanded was locked away inside the memories that an old Christmas light hanging across the street could, and did, set free.

CBS News' Bob Schieffer Say's Political Candidates Underestimate America's Intelligence

On Politicians Telling the People what Politicians Think the Voters Want to hear...Hi Tech Style-
'Face The Nation's' Bob Schieffer Comments

(New York Times) As Giuliani Cites Facts, He Stretches Them Sometimes

As Giuliani Cites Facts, He Stretches Them Sometimes
Published: November 30, 2007 excerpt and link:
Both Rudolph W. Giuliani’s Republican rival Mitt Romney and Democrats have accused him of a pattern of misleading figures and have begun to use the issue to try to undercut his credibility.

AND FROM CBS NEWS- Katie Couric Asks Mayor Giuliani Tough Questions on EXPENSE-GATE
link to video clip at CBSNEWS

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Governor Siegelman's Daughter See's Higher Up's Fingerprints (From RAW STORY)

An interview with Dana Siegelman, daughter of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman from "Raw Story". Link to full text

Alabama Updates-Don Siegelman-From Scott Horton's No Comment

From Scott Horton at "Harper's" No Comment:
Alabamians Believe Siegelman a Victim of Political Prosecution
The view taken by Raw Story, that Don Siegelman is a political prisoner, may have emerged as the view of the people of Alabama. In any event, a new Rasmussen poll shows 56% of Alabamians surveyed believed that politics played a role in the prosecution of Don Siegelman. Earlier polls had shown only about 30% believing that the prosecution and trial were politically motivated.
Link to Full Text

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Darfur- PBS Frontline's "On Our Watch"

From PBS FRONTLINE: The world vowed "never again" after the genocide in Rwanda and the atrocities in Srebrenica, Bosnia. Then came Darfur. Over the past four years, at least 200,000 people have been killed, 2.5 million driven from their homes, and mass rape has been used as a weapon in a brutal campaign supported by the Sudanese government. In On Our Watch, FRONTLINE asks why the United Nations and its members once again failed to stop the slaughter. (more »)
View the entire program at PBS.ORG

Monday, November 19, 2007

Hood 2 Hood: Birmingham, AL - Part 1

The Simplistic and Divisive List of Dangerous Cities


For the 14th year in a row, CQ press published its “City Crime Rankings: Crime in Metropolitan America” , based on the September 24 FBI crime statistics report. Once again, some of the usual suspects, Detroit, Cleveland St Louis and my home “metropolitan” town Birmingham were listed in the top ten. As a result, the rankings have appeared on websites, newspapers and will probably be broadcast on television stations across the country.

The message in the rankings seems to say, that these places are dangerous, so if you go there, be afraid, watch your back, best to stay away if you know what’s good for you.

. But, as a number of critics charge, the “most dangerous” rankings, tend to be simplistic and incomplete. Beyond the irresponsibility of broadcasting shrill messages that fail to detail crucial criminal science and sociological factors in each of these unique places, especially the story behind the poverty that leads some cities to high crime rates, is the fact that the lists actually divide us as a nation, and in a number of ways, that is more dangerous than Downtown Detroit at midnight.

For one, they imply that places like Detroit are hopeless, and that residents live in chaos and fear, that non residents should avoid visiting, and those residents with means should try to leave when economically feasible for greener and more safe pastures, perhaps a nice suburban gated community.

The rankings also play upon the epidemic of fear in America that has, for far too long, included America’s inner cities among its unhealthy symptoms.

We Americans are suckers when it comes to fear. For example, since 9/11, some government officials and politicians have used fear as a method of gathering support around causes and platforms that in the end resulted in serious erosions of some of our most cherished rights and freedoms. Fear has proven that it has the ability to bring certain groups of people together, united in their fright, but, the cost has been ideological and political division unlike any seen since the Vietnam War. Fear in public policy is cheap. It is the bad cream rising to the top, and it takes attention away from solving what are usually very complex problems like the current health of many American cities. It’s certainly easier to paint broad brush strokes of danger, isolation and fear. In truth, dangerous places lists contribute to American fragmentation, further confirming the words of a certain American President who once said, we have nothing to fear, but fear itself.

Besides that, what purpose does a dangerous place list serve? For a person living in Phoenix, Detroit might seem just a bit more scary, thanks to the new rankings. But, for that some person, will they ponder, why or what made Detroit, statistically a high crime town. Will this 14th Annual list, evoke a flurry of political leaders across America to address the nuts and bolts problems that residents of Cleveland or Detroit may face like cultures of poverty, racial segregation, investment money flight? Or does Detroit’s status as number one, simply serve as further confirmation of long held stereotypes that Detroit has held as America’s poster child of urban danger?

And, underlying the confirmation of stereotypes is the role that race plays in images of crime and cities. It's no secret that people of color face the most danger from crime in Urban America. And, as we see in newscasts and other media, the way those stories get told is through sensational details, since it still holds true, if it bleeds it leads. But, once again, that’s simplistic and potentially numbing to viewers and readers, who have yet to see the press confront Washington leaders about urban ills or success stories that deserve greater attention and resources. As “Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting” pointed out in a July 1992 article that critiqued the media’s coverage of political candidates speeches regarding race and urban ills, “the press needs to be as interested in the crafting of urban and social policy as they are in fiery speeches”.

While it might be easy to point at places like Detroit or Cleveland as spooky northern cities, they are, in fact, connected to the same greater fabric of the American community as places like Des Moines or Salt Lake City. Perhaps, its time to start taking care of our cities with real innovative solutions that address what led them to this unfortunate list in the first place.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

US governors feuding over water shortage

Summation of the ongoing water wars over man made Lake Lanier's dwindling water pool. The report mentions Alabama and Florida's concern over wildlife, but does not point out that Alabama's Coosa River, which depends on Lanier for healthy flow, enables public utility generating power and is also a source of drinking water for parts of the state.CL

Inside Story- Does Pakistan need emergency rule?-06Nov07-Pt1

Interesting take from AlJazeera English Channel

U.S. Acts to Bolster Supply of Water for Atlanta (From New York Times)

U.S. Acts to Bolster Supply of Water for Atlanta
Published: November 17, 2007
Federal biologists allowed Georgia to keep more water in a reservoir that supplies the city and northern parts of the state, a decision that reduces flows to Florida.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

FBI Charges Guards (From NEW YORK TIMES)

International / Middle East
F.B.I. Says Guards Killed 14 Iraqis Without Cause
Published: November 14, 2007
F.B.I. agents investigating the Sept. 16 episode in which Blackwater security personnel shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians found that all but three of the shootings were unjustified.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Why did a Mother Sue A Motel After her Kids were exposed to Pornography?

My investigative story looks at a lawsuit where a Mother won $85,000 after she sued a Motel in California after her children were exposed to a few minutes of pornography.

Atlanta is Running Out of Water

How Poor Planning and an Unfortunate Nod from Mother Nature contributed to a Potential Catastrophe



For America’s Deep South, Atlanta Georgia is what the Emerald City was to the land of OZ. First built in 1837 as Terminus, Atlanta later rose from the ashes of the civil war to become the land where Peachtree met CoCa Cola. Later, in the early 1960’s as the winds of change blew storms of resistance throughout much of the South, Atlanta leaders chose compromise over conflict, almost progressive when compared to some its neighbors, especially competitor cities like Birmingham where fire hoses, bombs and police dogs became symbols of all that was wrong with the region.

Atlanta’s conflict free transition through the civil rights movement, planted the seeds for its current role as the South’s economic center. By the 1980’s the city was growing faster than kudzu as investors and business interests helped attract residents to the area’s low cost of living and warm climate. But the arms of expansion extended well beyond the glass towers of downtown, sprawling out some 60 miles in either direction presenting infrastructural challenges common to uncontrolled growth. Still, bigger highways and construction along with other solutions kept Atlanta’s economic engine churning. That is, until a once in a lifetime drought threatened the regions most precious natural resource.

Within a matter of months, Atlanta could run out of water.

Without some sort of intervention, Atlanta’s main source of water, the 38,000 acre Lake Sydney Lanier could go dry in three months according to Georgia’s Environmental Protection Unit. That means if a slow moving tropical storm doesn’t settle over Georgia, or drastic measures aren’t taken, Atlanta’s water faucets could soon spew air. In addition, public utilities in Alabama and Georgia may be forced to reduce production of power and the Apalachicola Bay in Florida might see the death of millions of mussels and other wildlife. But perhaps it’s the un-spoken nightmare scenario, a Katrina like disaster that has observers and advocates most worried as the sense of urgency and blame begins to sink in over the South.

Almost 30 percent of the south is now covered by what is called an “exceptional drought”, the National Weather Service’s absolute worst category. One result has been the rekindling of a long running dispute over water between Georgia, Alabama and Florida. Water from Lake Lanier, channeled through dams on the Chattahoochee River provide water not only to around 3 million people in metro Atlanta, but also industry and residents in Alabama and much of the marine life in Apalachicola Bay Florida. A number of those on the end of the water flow are blaming Atlanta’s over development and its apparent slow reaction to the potentially catastrophic conditions.

After a brutal drought over the summer, Atlanta leaders finally did order a ban on all outdoor watering that took effect on September 28, 2007.

Still, Alabama Governor Bob Riley told the “Washington Post” this past month that “Atlanta can’t spend all summer during a drought watering their lawns and flowers and then expect someone else to bail them out.”

But, what exactly defines Atlanta anyway?

Unlike most major metropolitan areas, Atlanta is not located on a major body of water. For those unconcerned about the negatives of sprawl, that has in the past been considered a positive impact on development. As a 1998 Federal Reserve Bank regional update report detailing Atlanta’s Housing growth seemed to say, the expanse of land surrounding Atlanta’s core was ripe for development.

Titled, What is Fueling Atlanta’s Housing Growth the FRB report noted that Atlanta’s growth area is “unlimited” thanks to “the lack of nearby natural barriers like large bodies of water, mountains or major federal land holdings. The same report went on to say that the area “can continue growing and expanding into fringe areas with cheaper land for some time.”

Expansion continued with sub-divisions filled mostly single family homes sprang up across hundreds of square miles of former farmland and forests creating what some have called America’s poster child of Suburban Sprawl, areas of low density development spread over wide areas typified by single family homes and commutes by automobile to work.

According to the United States Census Department the Atlanta Metropolitan area now consists of around 6,000 square miles that include 28 counties with a population of around 4 million which compares to 1970 when the metro area had 1.9 million residents living on 1,730 square miles of land. The actual city of Atlanta’s population has hovered at only around 400,000. Metropolitan Atlanta’s population density remains low at around 700 people per square Km. compared which compared to New York City’s metropolitan area is dramatic at 2,050.

In addition to the 28 county governments there are around 65 somewhat autonomous municipal government bodies.

The reality of disconnection and separation illustrated by a greater Atlanta now spreads over a hundred miles in every direction, defined by rings, perimeters and super rings allowed for a psychology of negligence when it came to uniform environmental concerns including water supply.

A report from the “New Georgia Encyclopedia” stated that 67 percent of Georgia’s monitored waters do not meet water quality standards. That report said that the area’s waters are threatened by pollution associated with poor development practices and urban storm water runoff. It also said, that the water quality of the Chattahoochee River, the river where half of Georgia gets its water is threatened by rampant suburban growth and inadequate or aging water and sewer systems, runoff from paved surfaces, agricultural lands and lawns erosion from construction sites and seepage from septic tanks. One million metro Atlanta area residents still use septic tanks which is more than any other major American metropolitan area.

It’s clear, that now, as frightening potentialities flood newspapers, websites and newscasts, investments need to be made in the bones of the body of the Atlanta area.

According to a study and report by American Rivers, The Natural Resources Council and Smart Growth America there are efficient, cost effective approaches that policy makers in cohesion with developers and communities could take to help remedy the threats now faced by Atlanta. They include measures like allocating more resources to identify and protect open space and critical aquatic areas, sound growth management, comprehensive legislation that includes incentives for smart growth, integrating water supply into planning efforts by coordinating road building and other construction with water resource management, managing storm water among others.

They say that what is needed is the political will to see them through to fruition.

Steve Davis, a spokesperson at Smart Growth America, said most of the regional planning that might result in uniform implementation of smart planning that impact water had finally started to happen, but, unfortunately, mostly without teeth.

“Most of the efforts to consider water supplies as part of the long range comprehensive planning consisted only of “suggestions” as to approval or denial, but local plans still have no mandatory requirement for projecting the effects on water in the area,” he said.

It’s clear now, that Atlanta must act, as should the Federal and State Governments. The spirit of what made Atlanta a beacon of progress and opportunity for all now faces great peril, thanks to an unfortunate nod from Mother Nature coupled with a lack of human ingenuity, cooperation and perhaps patience. This is a time, when Atlanta, must take a break from being busy and figure out how it can plan for its future.

New York Activists Push for Gender Expression/ID Protections Bill

"A lot of discrimination is not about who you go home to at night; it’s about the fact that you are breaking some kind of gender norm in the eyes of your boss or co-worker," according to Joe Tarver, Spokesperson at Empire State Pride Agenda. Link to Full Story At EDGE

Sunday, November 04, 2007

"One of the Deadliest Con Jobs of Our Time" (60 Minutes Reveals Curveball)

CBS "60 Minutes" reveals the crown jewel source of intelligence that was used to sell the American invasion of Iraq to the world. LINK TO CBS VIDEO

Friday, November 02, 2007

Monday, October 29, 2007

On Alabama Governor Bob Riley's Protests- to much?

Excerpt from Scott Horton's "No Comment" piece in Harpers;
But the real show-stopper in the Riley-Blackledge story is the suggestion that Artur Davis claimed “the governor of Alabama went to Washington, met with the Justice Department, convinced them to put the resources into a conspiracy…” Davis, of course, neither said nor insinuated any such thing at any point during the hearing. So what leads Riley to say this? I have a theory. It’s because Riley knows that he did travel to Washington and pursue using the Justice Department as a cat’s paw to secure his own hold on the Montgomery statehouse. In fact, the entire play surrounding the Siegelman prosecution is unmistakably tied to Alabama electoral politics, and to Riley’s concerns about his grip on power. LINK TO FULL STORY

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Democracy In Grave Peril (FROM LOCUST FORK JOURNAL)

From Alabama's Glynn Wilson at "Locust Fork Journal"
excerpt: Today I want to talk a little bit about another author, a famous columnist named Walter Lippmann, especially to debunk a label that has been pinned on me of late by a local used car salesman. As you will see from this essay, I am no "elitist."

I hope the bad students down at the Big Mule Press are listening, but I do not have much hope since they are passing off another piece of manufactured GOP propaganda as news even today, with no documentary evidence and a key source who, of course, could not be reached for comment. You know who I am talking about. I refuse to link to their bullshit.

But to prove that I am a truly independent scholar ruled by no political party or ideology, I am also going to publicly quibble with a couple of liberal writers who I otherwise respect. That is still allowed under the First Amendment, I presume. LINK TO FULL TEXT

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

More Questions on Judge Fuller and the Siegelman Case

How cozy was the relationship between the Prosecution and the Presiding Judge in the trial of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman? Harper's Scott Horton received an affidavit filed by an Missouri Judge that may provide more clues to this puzzling, disturbing and still unfolding case.
LINK TO "No Comment" at Harpers

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Forgotten War On Terror- The Tragedy of Somalia

Footage/insight/reporting that rarely finds its way onto our television screens
CHANNEL 4 NEWS (LONDON) Nima Elbagir's graphic report from Somalia.
From Channel 4-So why isn't the international community doing more? Maybe it's because footage like this rarely makes it's way onto our screens. The journalists of Somalia have themselves become a target.On August 11, Mahed Ahmed Elmi was shot outside his office at Horn Afrik television station. As his funeral procession pulled away, a bomb exploded under a car killing his friend, the station's co-founder Ali Shamarke.The lawlessness is easily explained. The government forces, because of their Ethiopian troop support, face a coalition of both Islamist and nationalist insurgents. The Ethiopians rarely patrol the city and when they do they lose not only their lives but their boots and anything else the insurgents can use.That leaves the African Union forces as the most visible presence on the streets.

Black clergy, activists, join forces to stop AIDS (FROM EDGE)

by Cody Lyon
EDGE New York City Contributor

More than 100 black ministers, health officials and politicians gathered at the Time Warner Center in New York on Oct. 8 - 9 to discuss ways to address the AIDS epidemic among people of color. The National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, the National Medical Association, the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services and the Congressional Black Caucus participated in the National Conclave on HIV/AIDS Black Clergy...We are in crisis mode," Bishop T.D. Jakes said. "Our focus right now is saving lives. We can save souls later."

Still, critics charge the Church was slow to respond:
Gil L. Robertson, author of "Not in My Family: AIDS in the African American Community," praised Butts and others who have shown support for their LGBT congregants with AIDS. But he delivered a scathing indictment of the black church’s overall response to the epidemic.

"African American leaders were absolutely negligent in not stepping into the frontlines in trying to solve this problem," Robertson said.


Friday, October 12, 2007

On Blackwater

Elizabeth Palmer's scathing report on Blackwater...from CBS NEWS
link to video


FROM "The New York Times"
Ex-Commander Says Iraq Effort Is ‘a Nightmare’
Published: October 13, 2007
Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez is the most senior war commander of a string of retired officers who have harshly criticized the conduct of the Iraq war. LINK TO FULL TEXT AT NYT

Editorial from Anniston (AL) Star Re: Sielgelman Case

One More Layer of Smoke-This new revelation alone ought to stir Congress to examine this case; it’s unacceptable to let stand the allegations against Pryor and Sessions. Give them a chance to either clear their names or prepare for a trial by jury. LINK TO "STAR" Text

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Further Links To Karl Rove in Bama Case-from TIME MAGAZINE

Adam Zagorin at Time Magazine's follow up in the Siegelman Case appear to show Rove Fingerprints. LINK TO FULL TEXT

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


via TIME-The case of Don Siegelman, the Democratic former Governor of Alabama who was convicted last year on corruption charges, has become a flash point in the debate over the politicization of the Bush Administration's Justice Department. Forty-four former state attorneys general — Republicans and Democrats — have cited "irregularities" in the investigation and prosecution, saying they "call into question the basic fairness that is the linchpin of our system of justice." LINK TO FULL TEXT

In the guise of reporting on the Simpson interview with the House Judiciary Committee, the
B’ham News reporters in fact launch a major sustained assault on the credibility of Jill Simpson.

A Rainsville lawyer who first suggested White House influence in the prosecution of former Gov. Don Siegelman told congressional lawyers last month that Siegelman dropped his 2002 election contest after Alabama Republicans promised to end the federal investigation of him.

EDITOR'S NOTE FROM WILSON-Any press reports that ignore this and focus on other parts of the testimony are at least misleading and at worst part of an orchestrated coverup to try and protect the political fortunes of Bob Riley and George Bush, and to potentially prevent the indictment of former White House Aide Karl Rove, who resigned in August as these charges first came to light. LINK TO FULL ARTICLE & TRANSCRIPT AT LFJ

Friday, October 05, 2007

U.S. Issues New Rules for Iraq Security Firms

By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN and JOHN M. BRODER ("New York Times") -10/5/07
The order by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came a day after Congress voted to bring all U.S. contractors in the Iraq war zone under the jurisdiction of American criminal law.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

More Elite Than Our Military?


Why are United States taxpayers paying the private military and security firm Blackwater, $1,222 a day for the services of each of its single protective security specialist. By most estimates that amount is six times what it would cost for a U.S. soldier to perform the same duty.

Thanks to well publicized, reportedly reckless and deadly blunders, including the deaths of sixteen of its own staff, coupled with recent questioning on Capital Hill, at least some of the answers may arrive, eventually. But, as that process lumbers along, and as facts begin their slow ascent into the public forum, the people of the United States may notice their skin crawling with outrage.

That unfortunate and greater truth appears to indicate that a number of well connected private military contractors have gotten rich from our current national nightmare that is Iraq.

Not that Blackwater co-founder Erik Prince ever had anything to worry about when it came time to eat at night. The private school educated, Naval Academy graduate, former navy Seal is, after all, the son of the late Edgar Prince, who founded Prince Automotive, a company that was sold in 1995 for $1.4 billion. Erik Prince’s Mother now manages the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation which has dolled out tremendous amounts of money to socially conservative causes. In 2004, she was the top individual contributor to the Citizens for the Protection of Marriage, an anti-gay marriage group that campaigned to ban same sex marriage in Michigan.

Prince’s sister is the former Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Betsy DeVos. Betsy DeVos is married to Dick DeVos who is the son of the billionaire founder of Amway Corporation Richard DeVos. In 2006, Forbes Magazine estimated Richard DeVos to be the 73rd wealthiest person in the United States. Each of these Prince family connections have given generously to Republican candidates, including President George Bush. Erik Prince himself donated an estimated $200,000 to the Bush campaign.

While there may be a number of soldiers in Iraq who, as they say, “come from money” one wonders, if it’s the kind of money Erik Prince comes from and whether or not, money and connections have the ability to influence decisions on who gets the high paid mercenary license to kill contract.

More curious is the question of how Erik Prince’s company came upon its latest financial windfalls that saw the company, founded in 1997, go from $1 million before 2001, to over $1 billion in awarded government contracts today, several million dollars of which arrived through what are called, single source or no bid arrangements.

A June 24, 2006 “Virginian Pilot” of Hampton Roads, Va., report raised questions about pull and influence among the top brass at Blackwater. In addition to the Erik Prince and his family connections to the Republican Party, the company’s President, Gary Jackson, gave money to some high powered Republican decision makers that included Rep.Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and Rep. Jerry Lewis, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

In addition, the company’s vice chairman, Coffer Black was the former director of the CIA’s counterterrorism unit. In fact, Black was in charge back in 2001 when Al Queda struck on 9/11. He later worked at the State Department joining Blackwater in 2005.

Another Blackwater official, Joseph Schmitz joined Blackwater’s parent company, Prince Group, as its Chief Operating Officer and general counsel in 2005. Schmitz is a former inspector general at the Defense Department, who at the time of the “Pilot” report, faced a congressional hearing inquiry into whether or not he had quashed two investigations of senior Bush Administration officials. As a Defense Department inspector, he was in charge of looking at fraud and waste in the Pentagon.

To be sure, individuals, companies and political action groups can raise and give money to whomever they like. And, individuals can, and often do, work in the private sector after leaving government. After all, that’s part of the modern American way. But as it looks with this case, the greater question has become, who benefits, and who loses in the end. With Blackwater, it would appear there are a few losers including the members of our military who aren’t getting $1,222 a day, the taxpayers, who are paying the difference for a private firm to protect state department officials and the people of Iraq who are subject to the whims of an armed security firm that appears to be engaging in questionable, possibly poorly trained and dangerous behaviors.

Not only should congress break out the shovels and start digging for answers, it had better start defining and explaining the rules, better yet, the ethics of how money gets dolled out. Along the way, questions should be raised on who and how anyone does, and if anyone ever should, benefit from a war that is wrecking the lives of our “volunteer” military members. These are the men and women who earn a penance in financial compensation in comparison to the high paid sharpshooters at Blackwater. For America’s military, if this all adds up to the answer it appears to be heading for, is an insult to their service since it has the appearance of labeling the private mercenary services of Blackwater, as an elite alternative to the available skills offered by our nation’s official guardians of security.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

House Democrats Slam Blackwater (FromCBS NEWS)

In written testimony, Prince insisted that his guards opened fire only after being shot at, but he never got the chance to say that because it is now a criminal case, reports CBS News national security correspondent David Martin....Link to Full story and video

Sunday, September 30, 2007

9/11 Is Over (Commentary by "New York Times" Columnist Thomas Friedman)

From 9/30/07 "New York Times" Op Ed-Columnist Thomas Friedman.
I honor and weep for those murdered on 9/11. But our reaction to 9/11 has knocked America completely out of balance, and it’s time to get things right again...9/11 has made us stupid.
Link to full text at NYT