Doctor who aided CIA find Osama bin Laden is sentenced to prison

The Pakistani medical official who ran a fake CIA vaccination programme to help find Osama bin Laden has been jailed for 33 years.

A spokesman for Khyber Agency, an administrative unit in Pakistan’s restless frontier, said Dr Shakil Afridi would face decades in jail – despite calls from senior US officials to release the man who helped with efforts to track down the al-Qaida chief.

The tough sentence for the former surgeon general of Khyber will be taken as another sign of the terrible state of US-Pakistan relations.

Also a sign of the terrible state of what passes for justice in Pakistan.

And it will further alarm western critics of Pakistan who say the country has put far more effort into trying to understand how US spies and special forces were able to plan and launch the Bin Laden raid than into how the al-Qaida leader was able to remain for so long in the Pakistani army garrison town of Abbottabad.

The sentence was announced just days after Barack Obama snubbed the Pakistani president, Asif Ali Zardari, by refusing to hold a formal meeting with him at the NATO conference in Chicago…

There had been hopes that Afridi would eventually be quietly released after the controversy surrounding the Bin Laden raid had subsided…

With friends like this…

Why not take something like 10% of the money we waste by handing it over to the Pakistan government – and just use it to bribe the Pakistan and Afghan Taliban? Let them divvy it up among local gangsters.

Gay penguin couple gets an egg of their own

Every spring for six years Gentoo penguins Inca and Rayas have lovingly built a nest together, only to find that no eggs arrive to fill it. It doesn’t seem to have dawned on the couple that both of them are male.

But after the repeated heartbreak of watching other penguins become parents and raise their young, the “gay” couple finally have something to celebrate after their keepers gave them an egg of their own to care for.

Rather than questioning how the improbable scenario arose, the inseparable pair has seized their one chance at fatherhood with the zeal of a couple who know they may not get another.

Inca has taken on the “female” role of incubating the donated egg, obtained by keepers a month ago, and stoically remains atop his prize for most of the day, refusing the temptation to dip his feathers into the water.

His partner Rayas, meanwhile, keeps a watchful guard over the nest while eating whatever he can fit in his beak in preparation for the traditional male job of feeding his young with regurgitated fish…

Yolanda Martin, who cares for the pair, said: “We wanted them to have something to stay together for – so we got an egg. Otherwise they might have become depressed.”

Ms Martin said it was “lovely” to be able to cheer people up but emphasised that the penguins are not actually gay – they are just the best of friends.

You know, it really doesn’t matter what defines the characteristics of the bond between the two penguins. Just like life among humans, getting along with each other is more important than satisfying boundaries defined by someone else.

Yes, life and death issues are different; but, I’m not talking about the end of the world.

Tea Party Victory = Global defeat for the United States

You wouldn’t expect much interest beyond the United States, or even beyond his own state, when an 80-year-old conservative legislator, who has already served six terms, loses his party’s endorsement to run yet again. But the crushing defeat of Senator Richard Lugar in the recent Indiana Republican primary, in a Tea Party-supported campaign of shocking mindlessness, has reverberated in capitals around the world, including my own.

Gareth Evans, Australia’s foreign minister for eight years and President and Chief Executive of the International Crisis Group from 2000-2009, is currently Chancellor of the Australian National University…

On most issues, Lugar is and always has been a natural conservative…The problem for Lugar was two-fold. First, he was of the old school that instinctively embraced compromise across party lines in the Senate on crucial issues, in order to avoid the kind of gridlock that is always potentially endemic in a presidential system (unlike a parliamentary one), where the elected executive has no guaranteed majority in the legislature. If party lines are strictly maintained, US presidents may be unable to pass any legislation at all, or to make any judicial or other senior appointments…

At a personal level, I am also afraid that Lugar’s defeat may be the end of an era of enormously attractive and distinctive civility in the way that America’s most senior legislators conducted themselves. As Australia’s foreign minister, and a global NGO head, I met Lugar many times, and, whether or not we agreed on issues, he was always a model of gentle courtesy.

I can’t help but compare that to the occasion, not so long ago, when I accompanied my then co-chair of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, former Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, in a call on Jon Kyl, the most ideologically fierce Senate opponent of Obama-style arms control. On my arrival in his office, a senior Kyl staffer, after consulting the senator, said brusquely: “We only agreed to talk to the Japanese, not you. Would you please leave?”

There was nothing like a perfectly understandable, “Sorry, we misunderstood, and are only prepared now for a bilateral session. Can we see if we can possibly reschedule a joint meeting later?” I suppose that I should be grateful that he said “please.” But it’s the kind of experience that I had never had before in Washington, and I fear that it’s not unique.

In the past, anguish at home and abroad about the quality of US governance – its apparent arrogance, mindless parochialism, and incapacity to deliver coherent, credible, and decent policy outcomes – has for the most part proved short-lived.

If American voters are bright enough, capable of sufficient perception of how we’ve been hustled by rather an old-fashioned populist barrage of lies and slogans – perhaps the United States might only become a grown-up partner of other nations with a civilized interest in progress. Perhaps we might begin to deal intelligently and in an informed manner with our own problems. There’s a grocery list that extends from civil rights to election reform long overdue to sort our political larder.

RTFA for the details of Gareth Evans feelings and analysis. Examine the perception of the United States from the other side of the social fences being rapidly erected around our borders. Reflect upon a new isolationism founded in imperial arrogance, greed, hatred and fear. Not what a nation in economic trouble needs. Not what any modern nation deserves.

Opposition to gay marriage hits record low after President Obama’s announcement of support

Public opinion continues to shift in favor of same-sex marriage, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, which also finds initial signs that President Obama’s support for the idea may have changed a few minds.

Overall, 53 percent of Americans say gay marriage should be legal, hitting a high mark in support while showing a dramatic turnaround from just six years ago, when just 36 percent thought it should be legal. Thirty-nine percent, a new low, say gay marriage should be illegal.

The poll also finds that 59 percent of African Americans say they support same-sex marriage, up from an average of 41 percent in polls leading up to Obama’s announcement of his new position on the matter. Though statistically significant, it is a tentative result because of the relatively small sample of black voters in the poll.

The poll comes two weeks after Obama unexpectedly endorsed same-sex marriage after a year and a half of “evolving” on the subject. Gay rights groups predicted the president’s announcement would have a far-reaching impact on public opinion, in part because Obama described how he came to his own decision, referring to his gay friends and the influence of his young daughters, Sasha and Malia.

“By speaking in very personal terms about his own journey, the president has helped to build a larger and stronger majority in support of full equality for committed gay and lesbian couples,” said Fred Sainz, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group that supports Obama’s reelection.

Seventy-one percent of Americans have a friend, family member or acquaintance who is gay, according to the Post-ABC survey, compared with 63 percent in 2010 and 59 percent in 1998.

More than anything else, this poll result reflects what can be accomplished by our elected officials demonstrating a wee bit of leadership, offering a taste of education from the platform we gave them. Way too rare an event in our nation’s seat of political power.

America’s elected officials rely more and more on popularity contests and reality show gamesmanship to get elected. Perish the thought they offer a programmatic platform where we might tick off the boxes and say, “yes – you worked hard at getting that issue resolved”. Instead, monthly emails arrive with self-pats-on-the-back for supporting the lowest common denominator bills – and little or nothing about conflicts or how they were confronted.

I thank Obama for getting up on his hind legs – for a change. He does well on the road. He opens up to real people, working people, the salt of the Earth when he’s on the road. He might try it a bit in his dealings with Congress critters. Certainly in an instance like this one, confronting a question of civil rights, he struck a responsive chord among American voters.

Unintended benefit: Vaccine protects against more than the flu

Giving the flu vaccine to pregnant women may bring significant benefits to their babies even before birth, a new study has found.

Canadian researchers studied the records of 55,570 mothers of singletons, of whom 23,340 were vaccinated during pregnancy from November 2009 through April 2010. Compared with unvaccinated mothers, women who got the shot during the 2009-10 H1N1 pandemic had fewer preterm births and stillbirths, and fewer undersize infants…

After adjusting for maternal age, smoking, hypertension and other factors, vaccinated mothers had a 27 percent decreased risk of delivering a baby before 32 weeks gestation, for example, and a 34 percent decreased risk of stillbirth.

The report, published in the June issue of The American Journal of Public Health, noted that during the H1N1 epidemic, pregnant women who had the flu were more likely than other flu patients to need hospitalization. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the flu vaccine for all pregnant women.

The lead author, Deshayne B. Fell, an epidemiologist with the Better Outcomes Registry and Network in Ottawa, said the vaccine is safe and effective. “We’re seeing no evidence of adverse fetal effects,” she said, “and some evidence that there’s a benefit.”

Unintended consequences tends to imply something dire to those of us who fritter away a portion of our lifetime studying political economics. It is a delight to witness the opposite in medicine and healthcare.

In truth, one of the positive topics I often get to blog about is exactly this sort of result as a side effect of basic research. That the positive is a side effect of a vaccine already proven a benefit to our species – is a double bonus.