Saturday, July 4, 2009
The Islamic Republic of Iran has only had two supreme leaders in its 30-year history.
For the first 10 years, the Islamic Revolution’s founder, Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khamenei, was the supreme leader and was unquestionably accepted as such by the ruling clerical establishment.
For the last 20 years, the supreme leader has been Ali Khamenei, a man who has never enjoyed that unquestioned status.
Khamenei’s problems stem from the fact that he was an unlikely choice from the beginning. He did not have the religious preeminence that underpinned Khomeini’s central concept for an Islamic state: that it be led by the country’s most learned Islamic jurist.
And his announcement as successor came only after the Khomeini’s death, making him appear to be a last-minute choice.
Now, with Khamenei ailing, the succession question looms again. But there is no charismatic revolutionary founder to tell the electoral body – the Assembly of Experts – what to do, and the assembly itself is riven by factional divides.
How Much Of A Voice?
The greatest divide is over how much of a republic the Islamic republic should be. Or, in other words: How much of a voice should the people have in a country that officially is a constitutional theocracy?
The Jamkaran mosque near Qom
In Qom, the heart of the clerical establishment, there is considerable sentiment that the theocracy should be subordinate to the constitution and sovereignty of the people.
For this reason, some prominent clerics have defended the right of opposition supporters to challenge the June 12 presidential results even though the supreme leader endorsed Mahmud Ahmadinejad as president-elect the moment the Interior Ministry announced the results.
One is Qom-based reformist cleric Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Ayazi.
“[A number of clerics] in Qom believe that the way the election was conducted was not correct and healthy. Therefore, they called for an investigation by an independent group," Ayazi told RFE/RL's Radio Farda recently.
"Many believed, because of the evidence, that there was massive manipulation in the June 12 vote. Therefore, the statement by Ayatollah Taheri, who is one of Isfahan’s most prominent clerics, is also in the same line, and I think it was natural for the clerics to defend people’s rights,” he said.
Ayatollah Taheri, the former prayer leader of Isfahan, is a long-time critic of Khamenei and called the reelection of Ahmadinejad illegitimate and tyrannical.
Former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
The existence of such strong questioning of the supreme leader’s stance in immediately endorsing Ahmadinejad may seem ironic in the heart of Iran’s clerical establishment. But it is in line with the Shi’ite clergy’s historical reluctance to take part in politics, despite the Islamic republic’s theocratic structure.
The divide in Qom over the delicate balance between theocracy and constitutional rule makes the next choice of a supreme leader an extremely threatening one for Iran’s hard-liners now in power.
It means there is no guarantee the next elected supreme leader will be in the same mold as Khamenei.
Potentially worse still for some hard-line leaders, there are strong personality clashes that could work against their interests.
The current head of the Assembly of Experts is Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who lost a presidential bid against Ahmadinejad in 2005 and is believed to have backed opposition candidate Mir Hossein Musavi in a bid to prevent a second Ahmadinejad term.
Ahmadinejad attempted in his 2005 campaign to tar Rafsanjani’s family as business profiteers. In the crisis over last month’s election, government-controlled security forces arrested several Rafsanjani family members, including his daughter, in an apparent attempt to pressure Rafsanjani to abandon Musavi.
Earlier this year, the ultra-conservative cleric Ayatollah Muhammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi -- who is closely associated with Ahmadinejad -- lost an attempt to wrest the chairmanship of the Assembly of Experts from Rafsanjani. He got less than half as many votes as Rafsanjani.
All this makes Qom a difficult place for any hard-line bid to skew the selection process. And it makes it plausible that hard-liners might look for alternate avenues to Qom if they want to be sure their current dominance is not compromised in the future.
Ayatollah Muhammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi
One alternative is Tehran and enough of a creeping coup over the next four years to put them clearly in a kingmaker’s position.
The softest approach could be to use the dominance of the government and its security branches to escalate the crackdown on reformists that began as a reaction to moderate President Mohammad Khatami and has continued with greater and lesser periods of intensity to this day.
This would be to weaken opponents in the clerical establishment further to assure that the Assembly of Experts elects a new supreme leader to order.
The most radical approach could be to try to gain the loyalty of the Revolutionary Guards. It is upon the Guards, the political wing of the country’s military, that the ultimate power and acceptance of a new supreme leader depends.
There is no guarantee any of these scenarios would produce success. But, ironically, the challenge in both – and the many options between – has been made easier by Khamenei’s own slow but steady shift of the regime’s power base from Qom to Tehran.
The reasons for the shift return to Khamenei’s own ambiguous standing in the clerical establishment. He is supreme leader, but he is widely regarded as flawed for the job. After Khamenei’s appointment, his supporters gave him a whirlwind promotion to ayatollah but that only increased the bitterness over his lack of religious credentials.
During his time in office, Khamenei has waged war on many rival ayatollahs, including using the government to stop them from receiving financial contributions from those members of the public who follow them as religious models, or "marjas." Today, Khamenei rarely visits Qom, underlining the strained relations.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Instead, the supreme leader has endorsed the hard-line camp in Tehran as it routs reformists – read republicans – both in the streets and the establishment.
The supreme leader’s hope appears to be to shore up his own power by masterfully playing Iran’s political factions against one another as he nominally remains above the fray.
But doing so, he has allowed the hard-liners to grow so powerful they are now increasingly in a position to think of shaping the state’s future themselves. With him. With a successor they choose. Or possibly even without a supreme leader altogether.
What would be the consequences of the hard-liners’ success?
It is impossible to foresee the full costs now. But with certainty they would include a more closed and insular Iran with a yet more authoritarian government.
This government – both out of conviction and to create a siege mentality at home -- would be yet more confrontational with the West than its precursor is today.
And there would be no way the people of Iran could vote it out of office.
An energy supply agreement was reached this week between Russian and Azerbaijani officials that is likely to rekindle serious questions about the fate of the European Union's prospective Nabucco gas pipeline.
The deal to restart the flow of Azerbaijani gas to Russia in January 2010 represents a breakthrough as both Moscow and the European Union court Baku in hopes of tapping its vast gas deposits to fuel favored pipeline projects to Europe.
Visiting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev noted after the signing ceremony on June 29 that Moscow and Baku were "very significant suppliers of energy resources" who would build on extensive oil cooperation with new cooperation in the gas sector.
"This is only the beginning," Medvedev said, "but I think it is a good beginning for improving our contacts and continuing to develop mutually beneficial cooperation in the gas sphere."
Gazprom chief Aleksei Miller and the head of the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijani Republic (SOCAR), Rovnag Abdullaev, signed the agreement but revealed few details.
What is clear is that Russia will start receiving Azerbaijani gas on the first day of 2010 and the amount will initially be a modest 500 million cubic meters per year.
Blow To Nabucco
Gazprom's Miller noted that his company "can buy gas quickly" from Azerbaijan, since their neighbor status means they have no need for third-party agreements on transit and there is already a pipeline connecting the two countries.
In what could be a blow to hopes for the Nabucco project, Miller claimed that Gazprom has become a preferred buyer for the second half of Azerbaijan's offshore Shah Deniz gas field.
However, SOCAR spokesman Nizameddin Guliev dismissed the notion that the new deal has anything to do with Shah Deniz.
"We continue talks with potential buyers. We will consider all proposals," Guliev said, adding that there are no preferred buyers. "Talks with Turkey are ongoing."
Planners of the 3,300-kilometer Nabucco pipeline hoped to tap into the second phase of Shah Deniz, scheduled to start operations about the same time that Nabucco is due to be completed, in 2013.
But if Miller's claim turns out to be true, some or all of the gas Russia intends to buy from Azerbaijan could instead be bound for Moscow's rival project, the South Stream pipeline.
Current plans call for an initial 8 billion cubic meters of gas annually from Azerbaijan for Nabucco, an amount that should increase to 31 bcm as new suppliers join up, to be carried to Baumgarten, Austria.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said after the meeting with Medvedev that Azerbaijan is already producing 27 bcm annually and expects that figure to reach 30 bcm this year.
But Aliyev lamented that Azerbaijan is currently exporting gas to only four countries, with Russia about to become the fifth.
The Shah Deniz field is estimated to hold some 1.2 trillion cubic meters of gas, but Gazprom last year offered to buy all the gas that Baku was willing to sell.
Ilham Shaban, an Azerbaijan-based energy expert and the editor of the "Turan Energy" daily newsletter, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that while Baku has enough gas to sell to Russia and the EU, Brussels needs to start pushing forward with talks on Nabucco and the Shah Deniz field.
"If Europe doesn't move, it loses a deal," Shaban said, adding that it's logical that Azerbaijan wants to sell to multiple partners.
"I was surprised to learn that Gazprom was the only company that offered and reached a deal," Shaban said. "No Western company offered anything; Gazprom was the first."
Medvedev and Aliyev also suggested they were close to agreement on the legal status of the Caspian Sea.
The five littoral states -- which also include Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Iran -- are still debating whether the Caspian should be designated as a sea or a lake. If it is a sea, then each country receives a national sector extending from its coastline. If the Caspian is deemed a lake, then its resources enjoy a "condominium" status and must be shared equally between the five.
Kazakhstan is estimated to have nearly 60 percent of the Caspian's hydrocarbon resources in its sector, while Iran would have a mere 13 percent. Astana is therefore said to be pressing for "sea" status, while Tehran reportedly wants it designated a "lake." All the littoral states have gone ahead with developing oil and gas sites off their coastlines, though Iran has lagged far behind.
Two previous summits failed to resolve the matter, and a third is tentatively planned for Baku.
Medvedev and Aliyev's joint declaration referred to a "division of the seabed" and "southern sectors."
The unresolved status of the Caspian presents another potential obstacle to Nabucco, since phase two of that project foresees receiving gas from Turkmenistan and possibly Kazakhstan and/or Uzbekistan.
For that, a trans-Caspian pipeline would need to be built from Turkmenistan or possibly Kazakhstan, across the bottom of the Caspian to Azerbaijan.
Russia and Iran have both said in the past that they would oppose such a project on environmental grounds.
By Nikola Krastev
NEW YORK -- Ask Americans about their perceptions of Afghanistan, and they'll likely point to images of drug-trafficking, religious extremism, and war.
The organizers of a new exhibition at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art are hoping to change that.
Ancient Afghanistan was home to highly developed civilizations with distinctive styles of art. Located at the crossroad of major trade routes, Afghanistan through the centuries was host to invaders and nomads, all of whom left their mark on the country's cultural map.
The exhibition in New York -- titled "Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures From The National Museum, Kabul" -- presents a selection of works from four archaeological sites. Highlights include gold vessels from the Bronze Age; architectural elements from the Hellenistic city of Ai-Khanum; ivory sculptures, bronzes, and Roman glass from the city of Bagram; and turquoise-encrusted gold jewelry from the nomadic tombs at Tillya Tepe in northern Afghanistan. It runs from June 23 to September 20.
An Afghan headdress pendant
Most of the items on display had been in the collection of the Afghan National Museum in Kabul but were kept hidden in Afghanistan during the country's quarter-century of fighting between 1978 and 2003.
Waiting For Two Years
During that time, many art lovers inside and outside the country had become convinced they had been sold abroad or destroyed by the Taliban. In fact, they had been placed in crates and stored in the basements of several buildings in central Kabul, including the presidential palace.
Even when the Taliban was ousted in 2001, says exhibit curator Fredrik Hiebert, it took museum officials more than two years to feel trusting enough of the new Afghan government to reveal that the artifacts were safe.
“The artifacts, the treasures, of the Kabul Museum had been hidden in safe places in Kabul," Hiebert said. "Every time there was a rumor about these artifacts being sold or disappearing somewhere, [museum officials] never said anything. They never said 'yes' or 'no.' And that saved the treasures.
"So finally, in 2003 when they were ready to say, 'Yes, we have them,' it was a surprise to everybody -- the whole world.”
Not all Afghan artifacts have been that lucky. In 2008, the International Council of Museums published a "red list" of Afghanistan antiquities at risk -- artifacts from the country's pre-Islamic and Islamic periods that have been lost or stolen.
Police in Europe have been on high alert since 2004, when up to four tons of antiquities from Afghanistan were seized in illegal shipments. According to some reports, plundering from archaeological sites in Afghanistan has exceeded that in Iraq, and has often been violent. Police officers guarding archaeological sites have sometimes been murdered.
Someone Should See Them
Said Tayeb Jawad, Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States, says he has been actively involved in the process of recovering a number of his country's stolen artifacts.
A beaker depicting figures harvesting dates
"It is our first priority to have these items in the museum in Afghanistan," Jawad says. "But until we have the security that is needed in order to display these things, I don’t mind if they are displayed in a museum in London or Moscow or in Paris, so the rest of the world can see them and it’s clearly labeled as an item from Afghanistan. What I am more concerned about is when they end up in a vault of a personal collector and nobody sees them.”
Jawad says that during the Taliban's five-year rule, many priceless artifacts ended up in Pakistan.
“In the past, especially during the [rule of the] Taliban and others, some high-ranking officials of the Pakistan government -- including Army General [Nasseerullah] Babar -- were involved in collecting and purchasing these things," Jawad says. "In fact, sometimes they would send people in with clear instructions on what item to look for and to take out [of the country].
"But this kind of looting unfortunately takes place inside Pakistan, too. The same criminals have been doing it in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
Training Local Staff
Hiebert says the current New York exhibit is just the beginning of a five-year sponsorship program aimed at tracking down and returning stolen artifacts, and improving security in the National Museum in Kabul.
An important goal, he says, is to train the local Kabul staff in museum administration and art preservation.
“Training, training for the Afghans. Can you imagine a museum that’s been closed for 25 years?" Hiebert asks. "The museum director didn’t have access to any of his colleagues. The curators didn’t have anything to curate. The photographers didn’t have any objects to photograph.
"So now our job is very serious. We have to help build the capacity in Afghanistan so that they can show these artifacts to the most important group -- Afghans and Afghanistan itself.”
By Farangis Najibullah
As Pakistan continues large-scale military operations against Taliban militants in the country's northwest and the United States ratchets up its troop presence in Afghanistan, a recent comment by Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev captured in a nutshell the speculation these efforts are causing in Central Asia.
Speaking on June 8, Bakiev warned of the encroachment of Taliban militants.
After noting the "seriousness" of the situation in both Pakistan and Afghanistan Bakiev asked, "If the conflict against the Taliban further deepens in Afghanistan, then toward which direction would they escape? God save us, but they would [move] toward Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan."
Kyrgyzstan has recently increased security measures along its frontiers with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan -- through which militants from Afghanistan would presumably have to travel -- by stationing additional troops in border areas.
But the Kyrgyz president is not alone among Central Asian leaders in pointing to growing security threats allegedly coming from the south.
Uzbekistan has started digging trenches alongside its borders with Kyrgyzstan, with the stated aim of preventing religious extremists from penetrating its territory.
Uzbekistan has repeatedly claimed that any militant infiltrating into Uzbek territory would cross its border through Tajikistan.
But while Tajikistan has vehemently rejected the possibility of the Taliban ever seeking safe haven on its territory, a legacy of Tajiks' support for Afghanistan's ethnic-Tajik mujahedin, a recent antidrug operation in eastern Tajikistan fueled public fears of a crackdown on Islamic strongmen.
Meanwhile, the Russian-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) has discussed creating a rapid-reaction force to counter the threat of militants entering the region from Afghanistan.
Many analysts, however, see fear mongering behind the increased talk of security, and say the prospects of the Taliban moving into Central Asia is minimal, if not unrealistic.
Much of the security-risk argument depends on lumping the Taliban with other militants, including those originating in Central Asia, who are believed to have found sanctuary in Pakistan with the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and others.
Their exact number is unknown, with different sources giving vastly different estimates ranging from the hundreds to the thousands.
IMU Threat, Real Or Imagined?
Among them are followers of a key adversary of governments in Central Asia -- the banned extremist group Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). IMU fighters reportedly fled to Afghanistan in the 1990s and fought alongside Al-Qaeda when U.S.-led coalition forces entered the country in 2001.
Some IMU fighters were reportedly killed in the fighting, and after the Taliban regime was ousted, others were believed to have fled to Pakistan's tribal areas, where the Taliban also regrouped.
Since then, the IMU has remained largely inactive, although officials in Central Asia have from time to time linked various terrorist acts to IMU followers or its alleged splinter groups.
Considering that the backing of the local population was a key factor in the Taliban's survival in Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal areas, it is unlikely that the predominantly ethnic-Pashtun Taliban would find sympathy among locals in Central Asia.
In Tajikistan, specifically, both the government and public opinion were widely supportive of Afghanistan's ethnic-Tajik mujahedin in the war against the Taliban. Al-Qaeda's assassination of ethnic-Tajik military commander Ahmad Shah Mas'ud the day before on September 9, 2001, also remains fresh on the minds of Tajiks.
Aleksei Malashenko, an expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Moscow, says Kyrgyzstan's Bakiev and other regional leaders exaggerate security risks to pursue their own agendas.
"It's a complex double game played by Central Asian leaders," Malashenko says. "Bakiev reckons that Taliban dangers could serve as a pretext to tighten the screws inside Kyrgyzstan. When there is a threat coming from outside, people usually consolidate around the government."
Malashenko says Bakiev could be playing both sides of the fence between Russia and the United States. He also suggests that the Kyrgyz leader may be seeking to use the alleged Taliban threat as an excuse to renew the U.S. lease of an air base used as an air bridge for operations in Afghanistan.
Is Kyrgyzstan's Bakiev looking for a reason to renew the U.S. lease at Manas?
Earlier this year, the Kyrgyz government gave the United States six months to leave the Manas base outside Bishkek. Bakiev made the announcement during a trip to Moscow in February, citing financial reasons as a key factor.
During the same trip, Bakiev secured a package of Russian loans and investment worth some $2 billion, prompting speculation that Moscow was behind Bishkek's decision to close down the U.S. base.
Afterward, there were reports of Bishkek allegedly having second thoughts about closing down Manas, and of the United States trying to renegotiate financial terms of the lease.
Adding to speculation that discussion on the matter is not dead was the announcement by Bakiev's office on June 11 that U.S. President Barack Obama had sent a personal message to Bakiev thanking Kyrgyzstan for its support of the U.S.-led military operation in Afghanistan.
The United States is also reportedly planning to send a high-level delegation to Bishkek to discuss further cooperation.
Kyrgyz officials, however, have denied the reports, saying their decision on Manas is not reversible.
However, the latest developments also follow on Bakiev's announcement earlier this week that Afghan President Hamid Karzai had asked him to keep Manas open. Bakiev suggested the issue should be discussed during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit that opens next week.
In highlighting the Taliban threat on June 8, Bakiev also said member states of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the Commonwealth of Independent States should discuss such issues as well.
But Miroslav Niyazov, the former secretary of Kyrgyzstan's Security Council, says that if there is any threat that involves extremism, it would come from inside Kyrgyzstan itself.
Niyazov says Kyrgyzstan ranks last in "all social and economic measurements" among the former Soviet states, and that people in the country also lack confidence in government institutions because they don't appear to work in the public interest. He says this generates public frustration and sympathy for "any radical movement."
At the same time, Niyazov insists that threats coming from Afghanistan cannot be underestimated. Although it is a "bit premature" to say there is a direct danger posed to Central Asia by the Taliban, Afghanistan "still remains a source of extremism and drug trafficking for our countries," he says.
Echoing the general public's feelings in the region, Niyazov believes that as long as peace and stability is not restored in Afghanistan, it will always -- one way or the other -- pose a threat to Central Asian stability.
Trinity Church, the iconic institution on Wall Street, offers counseling for those suffering the effects of the economy.
Reverend Dr. James Herbert Cooper is the rector of Trinity Church. He's on "The Takeaway" and talks to host John Hockenberry about how his church is helping those affected by the economy by offering counseling on dealing with stress and looking for a new job: "Using the resources of [the] Psychotherapy and Spirituality Institute to provide programs on life in uncertain times and managing vocation ... or job transition ..."
According to Reverend Cooper Trinity Church serves, " ... the average person who feels that this is a circumstance that is out of their control -- and is out of control -- and they're looking for some place of beginning a step of recapturing control of their own lives in a very old church ... sitting at the head of Wall Street, for those in that neighborhood is an iconic symbol of that hope."
As far as how religious faith can help people in this current climate, Reverend Cooper says, "Helping people restore confidence in their own ability to live life, and to be blessed by God. I think the idea that all things always work out is not the basic theological doctrine. The basic theological doctrine is that God will be with us -- whether its in 9-11, or a hurricane, or in economic crisis -- that that's the primary promise. And out of that promise, by faith, we take some steps forward, and rebuild and come of the Ark and plant the stuff again, and get going."
The evolution-creationism debate heats up in the Muslim world -- what it means for Muslims on both sides of the debate.
Evolution has been a hot political topic in the United States for some time now. Typically it pits public school officials who want to teach evolution against Christian conservatives who don't. An article in the latest issue of the journal, "Science," suggests the evolution-creationist divide is about to emerge in the Muslim world. The article's author, astronomer Salman Hameed, talks to "The World's" Marco Werman about why the debate is heating up now, and implications for Muslims on both sides of the debate.
The creation story in Islam is similar to the Biblical creation story, according to Professor Hammed: "But unlike the Book of Genesis, it is not laid out in a chronological order, nor is it in one single place. Secondly, it has this six-day creation, but the length of the days is less ambiguous."
In his article, Professor Hammed explains why a serious debate among Muslims is just around the corner: "Now with the education levels rising, and access to the Internet, and exposure to the evolution-creation controversies in the U.S., the topic of evolution is coming to the forefront, and now people are wondering whether evolution is compatible with Islam or not.
"Currently the debate is being shaped by creationists in the Islamic world ... the most prominent one is ... in Turkey, and he links evolution with atheism and also with the West -- everything that is wrong with the West -- he ascribes that to the acceptance of evolution."
As for the wide-reaching consequences of this debate in the Muslim world: "We're talking about a sixth of the world's population. Muslims are already behind in science and technology. The next century is going to be the century of biology. And evolution is the bedrock -- the fundamental principle underlying all of biology -- if Muslims en masse reject evolution, that will make the chances of Muslims catching up in science even further removed..."
Einstein once said 'science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind' -- a look at the science-religion debate.
Albert Einstein died more than half a century ago, but there's still a raging debate over what he thought about religion. He once said "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." In this hour of "To the Best of Our Knowledge," what exactly did Einstein conclude about religion? Hear from leading scientists and religious scholars, including Richard Dawkins, Steven Weinberg and Elaine Pagels, as well as Einstein biographer Walter Isaacson.
Steve Paulson speaks with Richard Dawkins, Elaine Pagels, and Einstein biographer Walter Isaacson. David Lindorff wrote about two physicists’ interest in mysticism and alchemy. David Leavitt tells the story of mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. Father Thomas Keating talks about God and the contemplative life.
Steve Paulson speaks with several scientists, religious scholars and atheists about Albert Einstein's religious beliefs. We hear from Richard Dawkins, Elaine Pagels, and Einstein biographer Walter Isaacson who debate what Einstein meant by "god."
Jungian analyst David Lindorff is the author of "Pauli and Jung: The Meeting of Two Great Minds." He tells Anne Strainchamps about Pauli's therapy with Jung which focused on Pauli's dreams, and led the physicist to an interest in mysticism and alchemy.
David Leavitt is the author of a novel called "The Indian Clerk" which tells the story of Srinivasa Ramanujan, the uneducated Indian who amazed Cambridge University with his mathematical discoveries. Leavitt tells Jim Fleming how Ramanujan became friends with mathematician G.H. Hardy.
In Nigeria, one man is seeking to bridge the religious divide between Christians and Muslims -- by preaching "Chrislam."
It doesn't take much to spark religious violence in the West African nation of Nigeria. Just this past weekend, rioting erupted in the town of Bauchi after Muslims parked their cars in front of a church. Bauchi lies along a line between Nigeria's mainly Muslim north and the Christian south. Tensions in the region often spill over into violence, but one man is trying to bridge the gap. He preaches a liturgy that blends Christianity and Islam.
"The World" reporter Fred de Sam Lazaro filed this report from Lagos, Nigeria.
Of hundreds of small churches in Lagos, this likely is the only one that has both a Bible and a Qur’an on the lectern. The invocations come loudly from both. Practitioners of what the preacher calls ‘Chrislam’, fifteen hundred on some Sundays, see no religious fault line.
The minister – they call him ‘prophet’ – is Shamsuddin Saka. In English, translated into the Yoruba spoken by most congregants, he says Christians and Muslims are both children of Abraham.
Saka was born Muslim, and it was after returning from a Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca that he was inspired – he says instructed by God – to launch his new ministry: "That was about 19 years ago. I was praying and I [laid] down and the Lord told me, make peace between Christian and Muslim."
Saka said he writes letters to political leaders, and visits conflict areas when religious violence breaks out, urging reconciliation around common beliefs. But his most direct impact may be in the example he’s set in his own church with its blended liturgy.
It begins each Sunday morning with Qur’anic prayer. The prayer is intense, a trance-like frenzy similar to a Pentecostal Christian service. It climaxes with a sermon hitting repeatedly on the themes of prayerfulness and on the commonality between Islam and Christianity.
Unusual as this scriptural mix is, Ishak Akintola, a religion scholar at Lagos State University, says its spiritual basis is sound: "The Bible concentrates on teachings of love; that's what Jesus says in Matthew: Chapter Five, that you love your neighbor and you even love your enemy. Now you find the Qur’an saying exactly the same thing."
Islam was brought to West Africa by Arab traders ten centuries ago, Christianity by European colonization starting in the 15th century. Each has been interpreted and adapted to local needs and customs.
Mara Leichtman is an anthropologist at Michigan State University: "According to Islam, the prophet Muhammad was the final prophet, but certainly not the only prophet; and they believe in Jesus and all of the other prophets of Judaism and Christianity that came before the prophet Muhammad. So it’s nothing foreign to a Muslim to believe in Jesus, to pray in Jesus, to light a candle for the Virgin Mary, for example, as I've experienced Muslims do in churches in Senegal."
Many who come to ‘Chrislam’ are praying for what Saka calls deliverance – from illness, for example. Cawakalit Adecunji, who was born Muslim, came to Chrislam 15 years ago when she couldn’t have children: [TRANSLATED] "Now, I have children. I came and saw that miracles are performed. Those who didn't have children have children. Those who are lame are walking; those who are blind are seeing."
There is something of the health-and-wealth gospel here. God or Allah bestows miracles and riches on the faithful. Saka himself drives a late model Hummer, the gift of a couple of followers grateful for an answered prayer, he says. He’s aware that the shiny SUV could raise the eyebrows of a visitor in a land of extreme have and have-not, but he insists that he does not personally benefit from people who tithe in his church: "Listen to me: we don't collect much money. This is not my own source of income."
The small change from collections didn’t make him a millionaire, he says; the real estate business did, long before he began this ministry. Even skeptics give Saka credit for forming this worship community, and for rediscovering the innate tolerance in a service that’s part Muslim, part Christian, and wholly West African
uth Carolina Governor Mark Sanford's admissions about his private life have raised as many questions as they have eyebrows. In one of his many puzzling statements, he said: "I am quite certain that there were a handful of instances wherein I crossed the lines that I shouldn't have crossed as a married man; but never crossed the ultimate line."
To get to the bottom of what the "ultimate line" means, "The Takeaway" talked to Audicia Ray, a professor of sexuality at Rutgers University and author of "Naked on the Internet: Hookups, Downloads, and Cashing in on Internet Sexploration"; and Debby Herbenick a research scientist at the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University. Herbenick is the author of the forthcoming book, "Because Its Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction."
Ray: "Its' not so much just about the idea of 'what is sex,' but also what is the ultimate line in violating relationship vows, especially in a marriage. So there's definitely a divide between what people consider that line to be in sex, and what that line is when you're violating what you agreed with your spouse."
Herbenick says that married couples think differently about the issue and don't really talk about it: "There's often very little shared understanding or shared meaning of what it really does mean to cross the line. So often you have one person who's done something, and the other partner may say, 'well you shouldn't have done that, that crossed the line, that went too far.' And the other one can sometimes claim ignorance."
She says about the Sanford situation, "It does seem that they had had some discussion earlier, at least with a few different reports, but it's really unclear if it was honest communication ... as often happens in couples, it's up for grabs whether or not what happened actually gave his wife real information about what he had been doing."
Statisics show that what men consider sex and what women consider sex varies radically by community, culture and currently accepted norms.
Ray: "I think the place where that can be bridged is where people need to talk more about what they consider sex and what they consider cheating."
Herbenick believes it's a moving target: "What someone considers sex, or cheating, or ok or not ok early in a relationship also changes, and people don't always inform their partners that their perspective has changed.
"And people often give themselves excuses, such as when they say that, 'well it's not just sex, I've fallen in love.' And now this is now a love story and being in love somehow gives you certain permissions that maybe you wouldn't have given yourself before."
powerful cleric said Friday that Iran will put British Embassy staffers on trial for fomenting postelection turmoil, a step that would likely increase Iran's isolation and alienate Western nations that have been trying to keep options open with Tehran despite its crackdown on protesters.
The announcement fueled calls in Europe for tougher action against Tehran. Britain is pressing for members of the European Union to pull their ambassadors out of Tehran to protest the staffers' arrests last week.
The standoff is a test of how far Iran's clerical rulers are willing to go to shore up their position at home after the wave of protests — even if they risk wrecking possibilities for dialogue between Tehran and the West, a major policy goal of President Obama that Tehran cautiously welcomed.
After quashing the street demonstrations, Iran's leadership has been trying to erase any lingering doubts about the legitimacy of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by portraying the unrest as sparked by foreign meddling, not by public anger over the June 12 election, which the protesters said was fraudulent. Prosecuting the detained Iranian members of the British Embassy staff could help boost its case before the Iranian public.
At the same time, the arrests test the U.S. and Europe's policy, which has so far been to avoid an overly harsh reaction to Iran's postelection crisis. The West has been wary of condemnations of Iran's leadership, in part for fear of undermining prospects for future talks with Tehran, particularly over its controversial nuclear program.
So far, the EU has taken an incremental approach. On Friday, a day after issuing a public call for the staffers' release, governments across the 27-nation bloc summoned Iran's ambassadors to present the demand in person.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said the EU's "escalatory approach to Iran was working."
But French President Nicolas Sarkozy said his country backs Britain's push for tougher action, "so that Iranian leaders will really understand that the path that they have chosen will be a dead end."
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said his country is "deeply concerned" about the personnel, who he said "have not engaged in any improper or illegal behavior." He said he would speak with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki about the issue.
Word of the trials came from Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, an ultra-conservative who is one of the most prominent figures in Iran's clerical leadership and is close to the country's supreme leader.
Jannati took a tough line in a sermon to thousands of worshippers attending Friday prayers at Tehran University, accusing Britain of being behind the protests.
London "designed a velvet revolution" to topple Iran's Islamic government and the detained staffers confessed to their role, he told the crowd, where some chanted slogans against the U.S. and Israel.
"In these events, their embassy had a presence," he said. "Some people were arrested. Well, inevitably, they will be put on trial."
He did not say how many staffers will be tried or on what charges. Earlier Iranian officials said all but one of the nine embassy personnel originally arrested had been released, but British officials say two are being held.
Government officials could not be reached on Friday for confirmation the staffers would be tried. Jannati does not hold a position in the government, but is the head of the Guardian Council, a powerful body in the clerical hierarchy that stands above the elected government.
The council oversees elections, and it carried out a partial recount which was ordered after Ahmadinejad's pro-reform rival Mir Hossein Mousavi cried fraud and said he was the victor. The recount ultimately upheld Ahmadinejad's election victory.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared the results would stand, and ruling clerics promptly called the elections "pure" and "healthy."
Giant protests erupted in Tehran and other cities over the results, but they were put down in a tough crackdown after Khamenei declared unrest would no longer be tolerated. Police say 20 "rioters" were killed during the violence. During his sermon, Jannati said seven or eight members of the paramilitary Basij militia were also killed. Basijis took a leading role in putting down the protests, often clashing with demonstrators.
There have been no street protests since Sunday, but Mousavi appears driven to maintain his opposition and even to raise the stakes. In a defiant statement on Wednesday, he said he considered the government illegitimate and demanded political prisoners be released. Still, he has been laying low, making no public appearances for days amid calls by many hard-liners for him to be prosecuted.
In major cities across Iran, clerics delivering Friday prayer sermons told worshippers to accept the supreme leader's ruling on the results, according to transcripts on the state news agency IRNA.
In the northern city of Rasht, Ayatollah Zeinolabedeen Ghorbani said "anyone still saying they don't accept the results ... should be ashamed of themselves as a believer and a Muslim."
Jannati's message in his sermon was clear — that supreme leader Khamenei had guided the country out of the crisis. "A nation that has rule by the cleric [the supreme leader] and the law does not leave a problem unsolved," he told the crowd.
He indirectly accused Mousavi of treason, pointing out that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, once said that "anyone disrupts unity has not only committed a sin but also has committed treason against the Islamic Republic and the system."
Jannati demanded that those involved in the protests "repent and ask God to forgive them."
French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced plans last week to ban Muslim women from wearing the burqa — a loose-fitting garment that covers women completely from head to toe, usually with mesh over the eyes.
"In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity," Sarkozy said. "The burqa is not a religious sign; it's a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement."
France has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe and has historically been at odds with this minority population. In 2004, the Muslim head scarf was banned in public schools, along with the Jewish skullcap and large Christian crosses, and in 2005 a series of riots erupted throughout the country fueled by the death of two North African immigrants. An estimated 5 million Muslims live in France, though few women wear burqas or niqabs, a similar garment that covers everything and leaves only a slit for the eyes.
The announcement by Sarkozy was met with mixed response from the Muslim community around the world. Mehded Maryam Sinclair is an American Muslim currently living in Amman, Jordan. She wears a niqab in public.
"Niqab is not required in my religion," Sinclair said. "But I choose it."
Sinclair explained she feels a closer connection with her faith when wearing the niqab, though she recognizes that it may be uncomfortable, or even threatening, for others when they see her in public.
"I think in society there is a collective brainwashing that goes on," Sinclair said. "When you see a woman with a head scarf, what's to be worried about? Why is it a big issue?"
But many Muslim women strongly disagree with Sinclair, and some even support Sarkozy's proposed ban.
"When you put a woman behind a burqa or a niqab or any kind of face covering, she is removed from society," said Mona Eltahawy, a syndicated columnist currently living in New York. "I don't know who that person is anymore."
Eltahawy was born in Egypt and wore a head scarf for nine years. She stopped covering her head at the age of 25, when she no longer believed it was required of her by her faith. She also rejects the notion of some, like Sinclair, that the more covered a woman's body, the closer connection she can have with Islam.
"I detest the covering of a woman's face because ... in a very disturbing way it associates increased piety with the disappearance of women from society," Eltahawy says.
The proposal by Sarkozy is set to be reviewed by a cross-party panel of 32 lawmakers. A decision is expected in six months.
Federal marshals took possession of disgraced financier Bernard Madoff's $7 million Manhattan penthouse on Thursday in a move that forced his wife to move elsewhere.
Proceeds from a sale of the property and its contents could be used to help reimburse those who lost billions of dollars investing with Madoff before he confessed to running a Ponzi scheme.
A federal official informed of Ruth Madoff's departure told The Associated Press that she asked to take a fur coat with her, but marshals wouldn't let her. She left carrying just a straw bag.
U.S. Marshal Joseph Guccione said the marshals arrived at the property at noon with a court order permitting them to take custody of the apartment and to make anyone living there move out.
Guccione said Madoff's wife, Ruth, had been advised in advance of the marshals' plans and was leaving the residence and surrendering all personal property.
"She will be leaving," he said at midday. "Restitution for the victims is the government's top priority."
Typically, the U.S. Marshals Service changes all locks and secures a property when it seizes a location.
By about 1 p.m., the 67-year-old Ruth Madoff had left. It was not immediately clear where she went to live.
"Ruth moved out voluntarily pursuant to the prior agreements we reached with the government," said her laywer, Peter Chavkin.
The 71-year-old Madoff was sentenced Monday to 150 years in prison. He pleaded guilty in March to charges that his investment advisory business was a multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme that wiped out thousands of investors and ruined charities.
Authorities said Madoff had carried out the fraud for at least two decades before confessing to his sons in December that his investment business was a fraud and that he had lost as much as $50 billion.
Last week, Ruth Madoff agreed to give up all of her possessions in return for a promise that federal prosecutors would not pursue $2.5 million not tied to the fraud. The money, though, is not protected from civil legal actions that might be pursued by a court-appointed trustee liquidating Madoff's assets or by investor lawsuits.
Ruth Madoff broke her silence Monday when she said in a statement that her husband "stunned us all with his confession and is responsible for this terrible situation in which so many now find themselves."
Before she agreed on a deal with the government to resolve her finances a week ago, Ruth Madoff had indicated through lawyers that she planned to try to keep the penthouse and an additional $62 million in assets as unrelated to the fraud.
Before the fraud was exposed, the Madoffs had homes in Palm Beach, Fla., the south of France and the tip of Long Island along with the midtown Manhattan penthouse. They also traveled by private jet and yacht.
The couple met at their Queens high school and married in 1959. Ruth Madoff worked with her husband when he started his financial business in 1960 and she reportedly still had an office near his when the fraud was exposed.
Madoff has said he operated his fraud without the knowledge of his family.
In a series of interviews between February and June of 2004, the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein told an FBI interrogator that he falsely let the world believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
Why? He feared revealing his weakness to Iran, the hostile neighbor he considered a bigger threat than the U.S.
Saddam also told George Piro, an FBI special agent, that he had used telephones only twice in the last 14 years, and moved his locations daily.
Those details are all among more than 100 pages of notes written by Piro, who interviewed Saddam after he was captured. The notes of the FBI interviews were made public by the National Security Archive, a non-governmental research institute.
Saddam told Piro that instead of relying on phones, he communicated by courier or met with his officials personally. "He was very aware of the United States' significant technological capabilities," the agent wrote in notes after one interview.
The former Iraqi dictator was captured nine months after the U.S. and its allies invaded Iraq in March 2003. Saddam was executed by hanging on orders of Iraq's successor government in December 2006.
The farm outside Tikrit where Saddam hid from U.S. forces before he was nabbed in December 2003 was familiar ground: He told Piro it was the same place he sought refuge 44 years earlier after taking part in a failed 1959 attempt to kill Iraq's then-president, Abd Al-Karim Qassem.
In a series of interviews between February and June of 2004, Saddam also told Piro that he falsely let the world believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction because he feared revealing his weakness to Iran, the hostile neighbor he considered a bigger threat than the U.S.
Saddam denied having unconventional weapons before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but refused to let U.N. inspectors search his country from 1998 until 2002. The inspectors returned to the weapons hunt in November 2002 but still complained that Iraq wasn't cooperating.
"By God if I had such weapons I would have used them in the fight against the United States," he told Piro.
Former President George W. Bush justified the invasion of Iraq in large part on the assertion that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and could provide them to terrorists. Saddam had used chemical weapons previously and the Bush administration maintained that he was pursuing biological and nuclear weapons. No such weapons were found after the war.
In the interviews, Saddam dismissed Osama bin Laden as a "zealot," said he had never personally met the al-Qaida leader and that the Iraqi government didn't cooperate with the terrorist group against the U.S.
The institute obtained the FBI summaries through a Freedom of Information Act request and posted them on its Web site Wednesday. The New York Daily News also wrote about the Hussein files last week after similarly obtaining summaries of the interviews through a FOIA request.
Saddam also said that the United States used the Sept. 11 terrorist attack as a justification to attack Iraq and said the U.S. had "lost sight of the cause of 9/11." He claimed that he denounced the attack in a series of editorials.
Saddam denied using body doubles, something the U.S. government said he did to elude his captors.
Piro earlier had described their talks in an interview with CBS's 60 Minutes last year. Saddam told him he had "miscalculated" former President George W. Bush's intentions and expected only a limited U.S. attack.
"Hussein stated Iraq could have absorbed another United States strike, for he viewed this as less of a threat than exposing themselves to Iran," according to a June 11, 2004, FBI interview report.
by Peter Kenyon
For much of the world, the United Arab Emirates brings one picture to mind: Dubai, with its business model of explosive growth in this oil-rich part of the world. That growth produced a housing bubble that finally burst last year, sending investors scurrying for cover and laid-off workers scurrying for the airport.
But there are six other emirates in the UAE — perhaps none as important as the capital, Abu Dhabi, where the real oil wealth resides.
Development in Abu Dhabi has been restrained and orderly by Persian Gulf standards, and, thanks to heavy public spending, the special traffic lanes reserved for construction vehicles are every bit as crowded as they were before the global financial crisis hit.
Not that Abu Dhabi is immune to high-profile projects. In addition to outposts of the Louvre and Guggenheim museums, a Formula One racetrack is being built. Still, there are far fewer signs of the reckless pursuit of luxury and excess that marked Dubai's property boom. Since the downturn, Abu Dhabi has emerged as the potential savior of its glitzy, overextended neighbor.
Amid continued gloomy reports on the health of the global economy, Persian Gulf states continue to pour their oil wealth into infrastructure projects, keeping public sector construction afloat while private developers scramble to consolidate and cut costs. With oil prices hovering near $70 a barrel, Gulf states are in a relatively strong position to weather the downturn, but analysts warn that things are likely to get worse before they get better.
Tom Healy, an Irishman who now heads the Abu Dhabi stock exchange, says investors have absorbed last year's painful lesson that Gulf states are not immune to the global downturn.
In Abu Dhabi, Healy says, parts of the banking sector and private residential developers are suffering, but, by and large, the emirate's economy is chugging along.
"The vast majority of construction in Abu Dhabi is infrastructure, or government-run projects," he says. "The funds are there, they're continuing to build, and that's proceeding as normal. So the economy in Abu Dhabi is not exactly in the rude good health it was in before the crisis, but the crisis is not as obvious here as it is everywhere else."
On the floor of the Abu Dhabi exchange, investors keep one eye on their computer screens and the other on the two big boards tracking the day's trading. On this day, the lead economic story would be the latest sign of retrenchment among UAE mega-developers. The giant Emaar Properties is in talks to merge with three companies owned by another behemoth, Dubai Holding. Dubai's banks are also bracing for a wave of foreclosures as more workers are laid off.
Beyond the troubles in Dubai, though, economists still see positive fundamentals that may help the Gulf states ride out the crisis in better shape than many other economies.
Mary Nicola at Standard Chartered Bank says with oil trading in the range of $60-$70 a barrel, Gulf states have a new margin of comfort as they plow record levels of public spending into the economy to counter the private sector downturn.
"They had all initially budgeted for oil prices to be around $30-$45 a barrel. They are very conservative, but they also ... accounted for a deficit," she says. "However, now that oil prices have increased, we are likely still to see a deficit, given the fact that spending has increased and they are the largest, highest budgets in history, as of this year."
But Healy warns that the lesson of 2008 — that the UAE is not immune to global economic pressures — will be even more important to keep in mind this year.
"I think probably the biggest worry here would be the same as you'd experience in Europe, which would be that the markets would recover far too quickly and too strongly now, only to hit another dip later on in the year," he says. "I think there's another dip or two around before we finally come through this, and I think that anybody who thinks any one country can pull ahead of the other would be unfortunately naive."
In the meantime, frustrated drivers have another reason to complain. With rents still on the rise in Abu Dhabi, more and more workers are keeping their jobs there and moving to Dubai, where property prices are down at least 50 percent. The new commuters are adding that much more pain to the endless Emirati traffic jam
by Rachel Dornhelm
Michael Medina is nostalgic for the days when he had a job. Just ask him about where he used to work, and he gushes with enthusiasm.
"Stacey's Bookstore. That's No. 1, that's a wonderful ... it's the biggest bookstore I ever been to," Medina says. "A wonderful store. You can work as you want — long as you want."
Medina, 52, has developmental disabilities. He was working as a janitor at the independent bookstore that was a San Francisco institution for 85 years until it went out of business in March.
It's a tough time for anyone to find a job. And for adults with developmental disabilities — like autism and Down syndrome — it's even tougher. Advocacy groups estimate that two-thirds of the developmentally disabled are unemployed.
The recession is making it even more difficult for those who want to find a job because almost every state is considering slashing funding for programs that help to place people with disabilities in jobs.
Joy From A Day's Work
The routine at Stacey's Bookstore was very important to Medina. In fact, when Stacey's cut back on all of its employees' hours three years ago, Medina continued to work his longer shift despite repeated reminders.
"In my room I keep a picture from Michael — look at his smile; he is happy," says Gerta Medina, his mother. She's holding a picture of him at his old job at Stacey's. She's in her 70s and says she worries about her son's future.
"Oh! All the time, all the time," she says. "So that's why I would say a job is important."
She says they both cried when he lost his job.
Help From A Job Coach
Gerta Medina knows it's a tough market, but she's thankful that Michael has help finding a new job. He is a client of The Arc, a national nonprofit that offers support services to people with developmental disabilities.
Today, his job coach from The Arc, Nina Asay, is taking him to the law firm Hanson Bridgett for a job assessment.
Medina is filling in for a coffee attendant. The work includes clearing conference rooms and doing dishes.
Today, he's getting high marks for handling the fluctuating stress level.
"What happens if there are dishes in the sink right there?" Asay asks Medina.
"I put it in my cart," he answers.
"Put it in your cart. Correct," she responds.
Asay says this evaluation will help her figure out the ideal work environment for Medina.
"One person may say they like an office setting, but when you bring them to an office setting, it doesn't quite work out," she says. "So it's really nice that we have this site to assess our clients to see if they can fit in this setting."
Assistance That Could Dwindle
A few days later, Asay accompanies Medina to an interview for a janitor's job at a senior housing center. She gives him a last-minute pep talk.
"And also, if you still can't get it, you can always look to me and I can help with that as well," she tells Medina.
"That way I could ask you for your advice and ..." he says.
"Exactly. Like we did last time," Asay says. "That's what I'm here for, is to help you out. OK?"
But the kind of help Asay offers is at risk.
Peter Berns is executive director of The Arc of the United States, a group that supports about 122,000 people with developmental disabilities in finding general employment. That makes it the largest nonprofit network doing this work. Despite demand, Berns says there hasn't been enough funding to increase those numbers in years.
And now there's a danger of backsliding. The San Francisco chapter alone says it could lose $3 million — a third of its state funding — by September.
"So someone may find that they used to have a job coach to help them, and now the funding for that job coach isn't there anymore," Berns says.
These economic challenges are an additional hurdle. But the biggest obstacle to placing people in jobs is negative stereotypes, says John Kemp of the U.S. Business Leadership Network, a national organization that assists with hiring and retaining employees with disabilities.
"The first response of the unenlightened employer is, 'No way. We have too many complex issues here, too many business processes that they will not be able to understand and execute,'" he says.
But Kemp says there are bright spots. Large national chains including Walgreens, McDonald's and Safeway continue to create opportunities for people with developmental disabilities.
And there's some good news for Medina, too. He was just offered a job as a bagger at the grocery chain Trader Joe's. He's already hard at work.
by David Folkenflik
As some newspapers are going out of business and many more are shedding costs, a lot of investigative journalists who have devoted years to exposing government corruption and corporate scandals are leaving their newsrooms.
While some have been given pink slips, others left on their own steam, bailing out for corporate or political PR jobs, teaching gigs or even new careers as private investigators.
Still others are seeking fulfillment in a different kind of public service. Take, for instance, the paths of Doug Frantz and Joel Sappell, two former journalists for the Los Angeles Times.
"The issue for me has always been ... Can I find a job where I can look myself in the mirror every morning before I go to work and say, 'I'm going to do good?' " says Frantz, a former L.A. Times reporter and managing editor.
Frantz is now chief investigator for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Back in Southern California, Sappell, who spent nearly three decades as a reporter and editor for the Los Angeles Times, is now a troubleshooter for Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.
Sappell is trying to use his reportorial skills to try to figure out what's not working in county government — and how to make it better.
"There's not many days when I come into this office when I don't remember exactly who I'm working for," says Sappell. "I'm working for the people, and I love that feeling ... I like knowing I'm doing something that's a pure, unadulterated public service."
Sappell loved reporting and editing, too. On one project, he and a partner took five years to reveal secrets of the Scientology empire. It paid off, but he says it took a toll.
"We had private detectives [follow us], we were sued four times along the way, my dog was poisoned, I was falsely accused of criminal assault," Sappell recalls. "There was a lot of stuff that went on during that period." (It should be noted that although Sappell's dog was poisoned on the same day he reported being threatened by a lawyer for the Scientologists, he acknowledges there was no proof they were involved.)
Sappell worked for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and the New York Daily News before joining the L.A. Times. He held a variety of jobs — city editor, local enterprise editor, executive editor of latimes.com, and back again to reporter — before deciding to leave the newspaper.
Sappell joined Yaroslavsky's office last year and says he's found he can have a more immediate effect: His inquiries helped Human Rights Watch and other advocacy groups goad the L.A. County Sheriff's office into counting the backlog of untested rape kits and to start processing them to identify possible suspects. (California's financial problems have slowed that effort down in recent days.)
Sappell says he has respect for many editors at the L.A. Times and elsewhere who are striving to do good work, but that the paper's ambitions were diminished.
"So much of a newspaper and its mission is about its heart and its identity. What does it stand for?" Sappell asks. "I felt that it was losing its bearings."
Los Angeles Times editor Russ Stanton disputes that charge, pointing to the paper's yearlong, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation of the fires that routinely threaten Southern California. He also noted recent enterprise reporting on gangs and schools.
"We're feeling the heat of the combination of the recession and the structural changes that are rolling through our industry," Stanton says. "But throughout it — and in the past two years in particular — we've maintained an unwavering commitment to do this kind of journalism."
Stanton says that with a smaller staff, investigative pieces are more likely to come from beat reporters. But he sees such enterprise work as something that will distinguish the L.A. Times from other outlets in a crowded media landscape.
Investigative journalists are just one element of the exodus from newspapers, which have taken a series of financial blows: Many companies have stopped advertising in print publications as circulation has fallen in recent years, and the economy has been brutal to remaining advertisers. Many major newspaper companies, including McClatchy, Gannett, Tribune and Lee, are struggling to make their debt payments. (The Tribune Co., which owns the L.A. Times, is in bankruptcy, as are the parent companies of big papers in Minneapolis and Philadelphia.)
There are no firm figures quantifying how many investigative journalists have left the business in the past few years. Officials at the professional association Investigative Reporters and Editors said they did not know.
Outside the profession, the title "investigative reporter" evokes the intensity of Al Pacino as former 60 Minutes producer Lowell Bergman, or the glamour of Robert Redford as the Washington Post's Bob Woodward. Inside the trade, investigative reporters are often characterized as self-indulged prima donnas.
In reality, a successful investigative reporter is dedicated, focused and patient — someone who can get sources to reveal things they didn't want public; who can apply computer analyses to endless public records; who can spend months tracking down every loose end to stitch together a coherent narrative.
Doug Frantz fits that bill. He has a pretty astonishing history as an investigative reporter and editor at the St. Petersburg Times, the L.A. Times and The New York Times. At one point, he did a series on nuclear proliferation and the Pakistani nuclear program — and wrote it without a single American source.
"U.S. intelligence's reputation was in tatters because of the inability to find nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq," Frantz says. "I wanted to do this story without any sort of taint."
After brief stints at the Wall Street Journal and then Portfolio magazine, Frantz said he looked around and didn't see a lot of appealing opportunities in journalism.
Instead, Frantz agreed to work for Sen. John Kerry on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Frantz says he had been impressed by Kerry, a Democrat, in the early 1990s, when Kerry helped lead a Senate inquiry into banking wrongdoings that involved other influential Democrats.
Frantz is no longer gunning to appear on the front page of the nation's big dailies, but to have a direct impact on national policy. His first report, published in May, is on Iran's nuclear program, and is surprisingly readable for a finding by a Senate committee.
"My first and highest responsibility there was to produce something that would inform Sen. John Kerry, my boss," Frantz says. "In a sense, everything I do and write is for an audience of one."
Frantz says once-great investigative papers like the L.A. Times and even its rivals are losing many of the very people who can do work like that.
But Brant Houston, former executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors, says he finds hope in an informal network of not-for-profit groups driven by the investigative muscle of former newspaper reporters.
For example, former Boston Globe reporter Walter Robinson now teaches journalism at Northeastern University; his students' stories have been published by the Globe. Three former Los Angeles Times reporters have joined Pro Publica, a new not-for-profit organization in New York City, and their work has appeared on the front page of the L.A. Times. And other, less heralded examples have sprung up around the country, and are connecting to established groups such as the Center for Investigative Reporting in California and the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C.
"This is a grass-roots effort that's happening around the country and really started to blossom last year," says Houston, now a professor at the University of Illinois.
On Wednesday, a coalition of not-for-profit media outlets — including NPR — announced the creation of what it's calling the Investigative News Network to harness this scattered energy. Among those on the new organization's board: Houston and Brian Duffy, a senior NPR editor who helps oversee enterprise reporting.
The Los Angeles Times' Stanton swears he's not outsourcing investigative reporting. But it may be that in the future, watchdog coverage is provided by a loose confederation of shrinking but still influential mainstream news outlets and more nimble newcomers.