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Meet Hamid Karzai and learn about the Orange County lawsuit that has nuclear wonk scurrying in D.C.

Trotline 

Moratorium Mileposts
The number of innocent Americans sentenced to death and later freed has hit 100. Last month, Ray Krone walked out of an Arizona prison after spending 10 years behind bars--three of them on death row--for a murder he didn't commit. The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty reports that DNA evidence finally proved another man killed waitress Kim Ocona--a crime for which Krone had been convicted twice (the second conviction earned him a life sentence).In North Carolina, four innocent people have been sentenced to death and later proved innocent. One of them--Charles Munsey--died of cancer before he could be freed. An official roster of "persons removed from death row" can be found at the state Department of Correction's Web site, www.doc.state.nc.us. Reasons for the "removals" range from suicides to commutations to new trials to executions.

While Krone's release is a positive development, local death penalty foes say it's hardly cause for celebration. "I've met a lot of these 100 people," says Stephen Dear, head of the Chapel Hill-based People of Faith Against the Death Penalty. "And anybody who points to the fact that these people are released and the system is exonerated are completely ignorant of the devastation this has wreaked on them and their families."

More encouraging, Dear says, is the progress being made by national and statewide campaigns for a moratorium on the death penalty. The same day Krone was released, Norlina--a small town in Warren County near the Virginia border--became the 70th local government nationwide and the 18th in North Carolina to pass a resolution calling for a halt to executions. (The latter number has since grown to 19.) In addition, 256 North Carolina business and congregations have approved moratorium resolutions, Dear says, including North Carolina State University's student government.

Raleigh and Wilmington are the only two major cities that haven't signed onto the statewide moratorium drive. Margaret Toman, who heads the Wake County Coalition for a Moratorium Now, cites a learning curve for organizers and the "politics" of the capital city as major obstacles in Raleigh. "We are currently organizing in South Raleigh and that's proving to be a very energetic thing," she adds. "They're really gathering speed."

Next stop, the General Assembly--although not this session. Instead, moratorium backers have their eyes on 2003 for a formal legislative push to stop executions while concerns about the system's fairness can be studied.
--Barbara Solow

New Life for Second Worst Motel?
A week ago, our writer Randall Williams named King's Motel in South Raleigh the area's second worst, citing its location in the shadows of a dog food plant and near a porn shop on South Wilmington Street (see "The Search for the Worst Motel in the Triangle"). The building itself is not in bad shape, however, according to Debra King (no relation), executive director of CASA, which stands for Community Alternatives for Supportive Abodes. CASA, a nonprofit group, wants to convert it into 30 single-room occupancy units, one for a resident manager and the other 29 for people who need low-cost housing. Some of the units would be rented to folks with mental illnesses who are making the transition from a hospital or clinic setting--or a shelter--to community residence. That's CASA's basic mission. But in this case, it would seek to mix transitional tenants with others who simply have little in the way of income.

King has a commitment from Wake County for $250,000 toward the purchase and renovation costs, and it is seeking a similar amount from the city of Raleigh. With county and city backing, she's confident the state will kick in the rest of the needed $850,000, giving us affordable housing for just $28,500 per unit.

Trouble is, South Raleigh doesn't want it. It doesn't want the King's Motel, either, mind you, but replacing it with more subsidized housing in an area that has more than its share of the city's subsidized housing already strikes the community as "piling on," says Nicole Sullivan, who chairs the community's Citizens Advisory Council.

Moreover, Sullivan says, "there are issues of trust here." The city and county said, for example, that the homeless shelter directly opposite King's Motel on South Wilmington was only temporary--then they built a permanent one on the same site.

Mayor Charles Meeker and the City Council's Budget and Economic Development Committee heard the same story from virtually everyone who spoke last week at a special meeting on the CASA project in South Raleigh. Sullivan and the other neighbors didn't so much close the door on the idea as make it clear that, if they're going to take more of the city's burdens, they'll want some goodies--"other redevelopment investments and services," as Sullivan put it--to sweeten the deal.

Meeker told the 40 folks who came that if they decide the project isn't good for South Raleigh, the city won't force it on them. On the other hand, there are two CASA houses close by his own, Boylan Avenue house, he noted. And his wife, Ann McLauren, is on CASA's board of directors, though "she has not told me one way or the other what to do." That got a laugh, but it also prompted neighborhood activist Mildred Flynn to say that while Boylan Heights and South Raleigh do their share, "there are communities out in North Raleigh that don't get nothin'."
--Bob Geary

Orange County Lawsuit Spotlights Nuclear Denial
Does it seem like Orange County is tilting at windmills in its lawsuit against CP&L (now part of Progress Energy) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission? Except that in this case it's not windmills, but the nuclear waste storage pools at the utility's Shearon Harris plant? Not so, says Dr. Robert Alvarez, who came down from Washington, D.C., last week to say that the county's efforts, far from being futile, helped force the NRC "to make some serious concessions"--post-Sept. 11--about the risks involved in using pools of water to cool off thousands of densely packed, highly radioactive fuel assemblies. Just getting the NRC to acknowledge that there's any danger at all was a big step forward. "The problem is pretty simple," Alvarez says. "We have a system that is in denial."

Alvarez should know. When he was part of the system, he was in denial.

In the mid-'90s, Alvarez headed the U.S. Department of Energy's risk-assessment office. Back then, he says, he focused on decontaminating nuclear weapons plants and disposing of old warheads. When a report came in about the terrorist threat to nuclear power plants, he shelved it without paying much attention. It was "abstract."

Similarly, when CP&L moved, three years ago, to open two more storage pools at Shearon Harris on top of the two already in use, Orange County asked the NRC to hold hearings and weigh the risks if the pools were destroyed. "Could never happen," the utility said. Even if terrorists attacked? "Remote and speculative," CP&L replied.

The NRC agreed, which is why no hearings were conducted. "The NRC has become the captive of the industry," Alvarez says. "It's a profoundly corrupt situation" that, since the NRC is an independent agency, only Congress can remedy.

Still, the NRC has been forced to acknowledge that waste-storage pools like the ones at Shearon Harris are in buildings vulnerable to air attacks, and that there's more than a remote chance that, if the pools ever lose water and a fire starts, it could be impossible to put it out. That's what Orange County's expert witnesses wanted to tell the NRC in the Shearon Harris case but were told not to bother.

"The NRC basically had to eat it with Gordon Thompson," Alvarez says.

Dr. Gordon Thompson, the nuclear expert who would have been Orange County's star witness, has been telling anyone who will listen that packing too many used-fuel assemblies into a single pool risks catastrophic consequences for a very simple reason: If one catches fire, there's a good chance they all will.

Alvarez himself isn't in denial any more. Since Sept. 11, he says, he's looked closely at the risks associated with nuclear plants and what could be done to reduce them. Closing the plants isn't likely to happen and wouldn't reduce the risks much anyway until they were fully decommissioned, he says. But closing the waste pools and storing spent-fuel assemblies in dry, concrete casks would. "The safe storage of spent fuel is on the very top of the list of what would help," he says.

The Orange County Commissioners, with some backing--if not much financial help--from Chatham and Durham counties, is pushing the dry-cask idea developed by the environmental group N.C. WARN. It calls for the casks to be separated from each other by earthen berms, which would virtually eliminate the risk of a fire in one jumping to another and have the secondary benefit of making it harder for terrorists to hit the first one.

What CP&L says to this is ... Well, the company used to say that buying a lot of casks would be a waste of money since there was no chance of a pool fire ever happening. What it says now, we don't know. While Alvarez came from Washington to address 200 folks who came out for a meeting organized by the Orange County Division of Emergency Management ... called to talk about what happens if ... CP&L chose not to send someone over from Raleigh to participate.

Neither did the Easley administration, for that matter. Orange officials asked the state Division of Emergency Management to take part, but they declined, apparently on instructions from the top of the state Department of Crime Control and Public Safety. That disappointed Nick Waters, the county's emergency chief, who wondered what it was the state didn't want to tell us. "It seems to me that if their positions were defensible and their plans so solid, they would have come and told us that," Waters said.
--BG

Prison Priorities
In the recent profile of Gloria Lowe and Mission House (see "Home for Good," April 24), reporter Linda Ray noted how the state of North Carolina doesn't study "the effects of treatment and transition support" on curbing recidivism among those released from the state's prisons. In other words, while the N.C. General Assembly continues to throw millions at the construction of new prisons, it's not bothering to study how places like Mission House can help reduce the state's prison population.According to the nonprofit Institute on Money in State Politics, the prison priorities of the state's lawmakers could be influenced by the private prison industry. In a recent press release, the institute notes how "The North Carolina Legislature approved Senate Bill 25, authorizing the state to contract with private firms for building two new prisons that the state will then buy back. The legislators who sponsored SB25 received $3,700 in political gifts from proponents of the legislation."

The release goes on to note how Gov. Mike Easley received "$40,675 in campaign contributions from prison interests, leading the 14 Southern gubernatorial candidates in private-prison contributions."--David MadisonNot Appearing On Stage Tonight ... It was initially billed as another step in Raleigh Ensemble Players' master plan to make every major production fully integrated to people with physical disabilities--both on stage and off. But shadow-signing deaf actors simultaneously translating--and acting--the roles of speaking actors in Lebensraum were nowhere in sight on opening night.What happened to them "mirrors the complexity of living with a disability," according to disabled community activist Joy Weeber. Julia Leggett, REP's disabled community outreach director, told us that Christina Suggs, an experienced shadow-signer who worked with Raleigh Little Theater on its memorable May 2000 production of Jungalbook, had been slated to work on Lebensraum since June 2001.

But Suggs abruptly quit two weeks before rehearsals started. Attempts to find a replacement for her in limited time were ultimately unsuccessful--perhaps due in part to Mother Hicks, a second shadow-signed production going up at the same time at Raleigh Little Theater. (That interesting show closes this weekend; our review is in this week's theater calendar listings.)

"We tried everything to save the show from that standpoint," Leggett said, "but we ultimately didn't have the cast, or the time." A subsequent company press release says that REP has "learned that we need to pursue the deaf actors early in the year as we do with non-deaf counterparts."

Weeber calls the experience a microcosm for the experience of actually living with a disability. "In that world of interdependence, things go wrong; people don't always come through. And you have to learn to roll with that reality. Life ain't easy with a disability, and neither is doing arts around disability issues. You have to keep coming back."

REP has indicated its commitment to continue integrating its productions. Before Lebensraum, the company had used actors with physical disabilities in The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, and cast survivors of head trauma in their adaptation of Faulkner's That Evening Sun. All told, they are actions that bear a lot more significance than simply making the audience space universally accessible, which REP also did this year.

"So the first season didn't get to carry out its entire vision," Weeber noted. "The work they've been doing still filled a huge void. They've been doing gangbusters this year, and I think they're well positioned to use that as grounds for going forward."

Lebensraum, with its pruned cast and production concept, closes Saturday, May 11.
--Byron Woods

Why does the oil-friendly Bush administration like Hamid Karzai?

Perhaps it was impressed by his resume.
Translated by Chapel Hill writer Adam Gori

Position Interim leader of Afghanistan

Birth December 24, 1957

Place of Birth Kandahar, Afghanistan

Lineage Father was chief of the powerful Popolzai tribe and served as deputy and held several high-level posts during the rule of King Mohammad Zaher.

Ethnicity Pashtun (Note: Pashtun is the ethnic majority; Afghanistan would never accept a non-Pashtun leader.)

Education Master's degree in political science from a university in Simla, India

Experience UNOCAL Corporation, California Oil/Energy Company, El Segundo, California

Consultant/Adviser (1998) Negotiated with the Taliban regime for a U.S.-funded and controlled trans-Afghan oil pipeline. Though UnoCal lobbied for years for the pipeline through Afghanistan, the Taliban's connection with the bombing of U.S. embassies in Africa and the very existence of the Taliban regime made pipeline prospects ultimately impossible at that time.

Fomenter of Rebellion, Quetta, Pakistan
Freelance Fomenter (1998) In coordination and cooperation with the CIA, carried out a covert operation with the objective of igniting a popular uprising against the Taliban regime, which was harboring dangerous radical elements.

Taliban Regime
Taliban Ambassador to United Nations (1996) Refused this position offered to me by the Taliban, as radical Islamic elements had taken over the movement.

Afghan Government, Kabul, Afghanistan
Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of first Mujahideen government (1992) After the Soviets were defeated, held this position, although I am not a Mujahideen and, dismayed by the infighting for power among the corrupt Mujahadin leaders, I resigned this post. During my tenure in this position, established ties with British and other European and international leaders. Supported Taliban regime during this period, feeling the Taliban offered the most likely answer to the chaos in the country.

Self-employed, Quetta, Pakistan
Mujahedin Supporter (1980s) Left Afghanistan for Pakistan and aided the Mujahideen in their fight against the Soviet Union, channeling money, weapons, and supplies to the fighters in Afghanistan. At this time I forged the connections with the CIA, Vice President George Bush, and the Pakistani Inter Service Intelligence (ISI), that have allowed me to serve as reliable intermediary between Western interests and Afghanistan.

Send all digs, ribs, jabs, barbs and tips to: madison@indyweek.com or call David Madison at 286-1972 ext. 154.

Trotline is illustrated by V.C. Rogers.

  • Meet Hamid Karzai and learn about the Orange County lawsuit that has nuclear wonk scurrying in D.C.

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