Saturday, August 26, 2006
Cluster bombs raising troubling questions
Humanitarian groups have long opposed cluster bombs. These unique weapons consist essentially of canisters full of small grenades or bombs that are launched or dropped on a target and then spread their payload far and wide.
Sometimes all the little bombs are designed to blow up on impact. Sometimes they are made to lie in the dirt and wait for a passing soul to disturb them before they erupt. And sometimes, no matter how they are designed, they just don't explode. Instead, they lie around for weeks, months, years, until someone stumbles upon them, and then, with no warning, they can burst, killing long after the serious fighting of a battle is done.
The United Nations says it has identified 249 cluster bomb strikes in southern Lebanon and expects to find more than 300 by the time the counting is through. Thousands of the little bomblets are believed to be scattered around these sites, posing a very real and mortal danger to both the UN peacekeeping soldiers and the Lebanese civilians who are now moving back home.
Military forces say cluster bombs are essential, powerful weapons, capable of wiping out a group of men operating a rocket launcher or even disabling a small patrol of vehicles. Others say any weapon that can kill a child by accident many years after the weapon was deployed is simply too crude and too imprecise to be used by civilized nations.
When it comes the worldwide battle against terrorist and militant groups, what do you think: Are cluster bombs a necessary tool or an avoidable evil?
Friday, August 25, 2006
Why Oprah never had kids
SOWETO, South Africa -- "Hi Jeff," she said. "Glad you could make it. By the way, I watch you all the time."
These were the first words Oprah uttered to me as I held out my hand to greet her stepping off her van accompanied by her ever-efficient staff.
I was floored. Oprah knows who I am? I asked myself. And I had this whole introduction thing planned out. What a woman, disarming as ever, and ever the woman in charge. I liked her from the start, even more than I did watching her all these years on television.
We were in Soweto, a sprawling slum in Johannesburg, which actually stands for South West Township. Oprah seemed as comfortable here as she would be in a five star hotel. She walked right into the home of a couple of prospective students who had applied for entry into her exclusive Leadership Academy and had impressed her to the point she wanted to see where they lived and what their life was like.
As you can imagine, the two girls, cousins actually, were instant celebrities. "Oprah's come to our house," they kept saying. "Our friends will never believe us."
Their friends didn't need much convincing. Word in the townships spreads fast and even before Oprah had taken a tour of the two-room seven-person shack. Outside was like a market place with women ululating the famous freedom line of the 1980s, but with a new twist.
"Viva, Oprah Winfrey, Viva," one woman yelled followed by the chorus line "Viva" from the rest of the growing crowd.
"You've spent $40 million on the school so far," I began.
"$40 million and counting," she interrupted. "I think I'll stop at $50 million. You can build a good school for $50 million," she added.
Fifty-million dollars anywhere in the world is a lot of money. In South Africa, it's an almost unheard of amount, especially if it's being spent by one person for the benefit of others.
"The money means nothing to me," Oprah continued. "When I look at these girls, I see me. That's why I want to give them everything I didn't have growing up. These are the leaders of tomorrow's Africa."
The Leadership Academy, set on more than 50 acres of land just outside Johannesburg, is a site to behold. From the classrooms to the dormitories to the dining room to the library (complete with fireplace) to a 600-seat auditorium, where Oprah will be 'checking' up on her girls by video-conferencing, everything has been made to the highest standards.
"I want this school to be a reflection of me," she says. "I made a promise to Madiba and I intend to keep it." Madiba is the clan name given to former South African President Nelson Mandela. Back in 2002, Oprah asked Mandela what he wanted from her as a gift to the nation. He simply said, "Build me a school." And she did. School begins January 2, 2007.
It's Sunday afternoon and Oprah leaves for Chicago in a few hours. She's invited all 150 girls that have "made the grade" and will be attending her academy. The only thing is she hasn't told them this. She's invited them to an informal get-together. None of the girls suspect Oprah's up to her "old tricks." She springs the surprise.
"I called you all here today to let you know that you all be part of the first class of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy," she said.
The girls scream and shout for joy for a good 15 minutes. Their parents too are screaming and shouting. Everyone's crying, Oprah's crying, I'm crying. It's an unbelievable scene. Then Oprah opens up in a way that surprised even her best friend, Gayle King, who was present and is part of the academy.
"Some people ask me why I never had children," Oprah says, adding, "Maybe this is the reason. So I can help bring up other peoples' children, your children. I want you to trust me to bring up your children and I promise I'll never let you down."
This time there's not a dry eye in the room. I'm bawling by now and wiping away tears on my sleeve. "You're such a cry baby," Graham, my cameraman, says. "I can't help it," is all I can offer.
"What you did back there was simply amazing," I tell Oprah afterwards. "You'd have done the same thing, Jeff. Remember, I've seen your stories on CNN."
I'm fighting back tears again. "Hey, give me a hug," she says. "Today is a good day, and I feel my life has come full circle."
Thursday, August 24, 2006
Fear creeps into Iran's streets
It is deceptively easy to find out what Iranians think about this nuclear dispute. When we travel around the city, we have no government minder and need no permission to go around and interview people on the streets. Only once since I've been here has a policeman come up to ask us what we are doing. One look at our accreditation kept him at bay.
But the real hurdle comes when the camera comes out, when people realize we are a Western television crew, and even more so, when they find out we are from CNN. Iranians are incredibly friendly and insightful people, but it can be difficult to get them to open up on camera. That said, you have to look at the nuances to get a real sense of what's going on here.
When we were last here a few months ago, everyone we spoke to, from the rich to the poor, from the moderates to the conservatives, told us they believed in their country's right to a civilian nuclear program. They felt insulted that the world wanted to withhold the chance from Iran to have nuclear energy produced by its own scientists. And there was a huge undercurrent of nationalist pride in the fact that Iranian scientists had figured out how to enrich uranium, that they would never have to be dependent on others to do that.
But now, with a new United Nations mandate to stop the program by the end of the month and in the immediate aftermath of the month-long conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, fear is creeping in to the Iranian streets.
In the past few weeks, I've been to all parts of Tehran.
In the blue-collar south, there remains defiance against the West. I was told repeatedly at a car parts market that Iran has endured sanctions before and can endure them again.
But in the north, university students spoke openly to us about their fear of the economic hardships Iran could soon face. Iran's youth make up the majority of Iran's population. The median age is 25. And there are large groups of college graduates who have no jobs. Inflation here keeps going up, so the economic situation is ripe for things to get dramatically worse if sanctions are imposed.
Iranians I've spoken to are aware that theirs is a government looking to flex its muscles, looking to gain international clout. And they know all of that is part of Iran's defiance against the West over the nuclear issue.
But now, international affairs could soon hit home in a very real way. Jobs could be lost. Prices could skyrocket. Gas could become too expensive for some to buy. And this prospect will prove to be the biggest test of domestic support for Iran's official position to continue its nuclear program. Are Iranians willing to follow their government and seemingly fight for this right whatever may come?
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Al Qaeda recruiters target Europe
In the years since 9/11, government officials say Al Qaeda has undeniably been hurt. The Taliban government in Afghanistan was crushed. Without the Taliban's protection, the leaders of Al Qaeda were put on the run, and the terror group's cells all over the world became isolated, no longer able to communicate or coordinate their attacks without serious danger of discovery.
But by almost all accounts, Al Qaeda is trying hard to recover, and security analysts say that effort involves intense recruiting in Europe.
Here is how it works: Terror leaders, who continue to operate largely out of Afghanistan and Pakistan, know that anyone traveling directly to the Western nations from any predominantly Muslim country will be scrutinized. So they are reaching out through personal connections and the internet to frustrated young Muslims in countries such as Britain and France, selling a message of Muslim victimization.
Once a recruit is found, he can be matched with a team, trained, and hardly raise on eyebrow when he hits the immigration line at a U.S. airport carrying the passport of the friendly nation in which he was born. At least, that is what terrorism analysts say.
Here is what I wonder: How can western nations bridge the gap to these disaffected Muslim minority populations and effectively innoculate them against these recruiting strategies? Or should the Muslim community in the West be doing more to help?
Did Santa Claus kill JonBenet?
Imagine trying to weed through hundreds, maybe thousands, of leads to figure out who killed JonBenet Ramsey. We've heard about some of the suspects over the years, including the Ramseys and their son, Burke. But I wanted to know who we hadn't heard much about, so I decided to look into who some of the previous suspects were and why they were cleared.
Two days before JonBenet Ramsey died, Bill McReynolds played Santa Claus at her home. After her death, investigators instantly became curious about McReynolds and his wife Janet, who had played Mrs. Claus. Back in 1997, McReynolds told a Colorado television station, "I know I didn't do it." But for investigators, there were too many eerie connections between the McReynolds and the Ramseys to just drop it.
Trip DeMuth, one of the original prosecutors on the case, told me that Santa Bill gave JonBenet a card that read: "You will receive a special gift after Christmas."
"Statements like that led me to have some sort of suspicion: What was going on between Santa Bill and JonBenet? Again, he is an individual who was involved with her, had an interest in her, was seen with her, shortly before the murder," DeMuth said.
Investigators were intrigued by the fact the McReynolds' daughter had been abducted 22 years before JonBenet's death ... to the day. And Janet McReynolds had written a play about a child who was molested in her basement, then murdered. The couple gave hair, handwriting and blood samples, but were eventually cleared thanks to DNA tests. Bill McReynolds died back in 2002.
Another man, Michael Helgoth, was also a prime suspect. He was a Colorado native who died shortly after the murder. But his death left more questions than answers.
It appeared to be a suicide. And what about the stun gun discovered next to his body? Investigators believe a stun gun had been used on JonBenet.
Prosecutor DeMuth told me this about Helgoth: "I remember that he had footwear that was consistent with the footprint evidence, he had a stun gun, he had reportedly made statements to a friend, very similar to the types of statements that we're hearing about today in the press with the arrest of John Karr. "
Even more strange, a baseball cap with the letters s-b-t-c was found near Helgoth's body. Those are the same letters found in the ransom note at the Ramsey home. DeMuth says he believes Helgoth's DNA was tested and didn't match up.
All of this leaves me wondering: Will John Mark Karr finally lead to closure in this case or just add himself to the list of names that never panned out?
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Polygamy supporters rally in Utah
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah -- Polygamy is part of the history of the Mormon Church. But since 1890, the church has repudiated it. As a matter of fact, Mormons are excommunicated from the church today if it is learned they are polygamists.
But there are by most accounts, many thousands of people who think the Mormon Church has gone against God's intentions by banning polygamy. However, these people have for the most part kept low profiles about their beliefs, since plural marriage is against the law and they fear arrest.
That's what made what just happened in downtown Salt Lake City so unusual. For the first time that anyone can remember, a large-scale demonstration supporting polygamy was held in the open -- a demonstration that was led by the children of polygamists.
Some 250 people turned out to a rally site just down the street from the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to express their support for polygamy.
Children as young as 10 took to the podium to declare that they and their parents have the religious right to practice polygamy and that they feel they live perfectly normal lives with multiple mothers and huge numbers of siblings. Children and teens came up to me saying they can't imagine living a childhood without having more than one mother.
Although polygamy is against the law (a felony in Utah), authorities say they won't arrest ordinary polygamists, although they do want to prosecute polygamists accused of molesting children, like Warren Jeffs.
There were husbands who attended the rallies with multiple numbers of wives. They stayed low-key out of habit. But one man did tell us he did not mind appearing on the news for the first time in his life because he wanted to show his support for polygamy rights. But he, like everyone else at the rally, did not use last names because of their long held fears.
The Mormon Church says these people can no longer consider themselves Mormon because they violate the church's rules. But these polygamists believe they are doing what the revered founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, would want them to do.