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