Saturday, March 05, 2005


Attempted murder of Italian journalist?

The U.S. still has not answered the many questions surrounding the killings of journalists in Iraq, though right-wing bloggers were able to silence CNN's Eason Jordan for suggesting that some of the journalists had been targeted. But the killing of the Italian secret service agent accompanying freed journalist Giuliana Sgrena of the Communist daily Il Manifesto has brought the matter front and center, at least in the foreign press.

Sgrena's partner now claims that the shooting was deliberate. According to a Turkish Press report based on a story from Agence-France Presse (AFP)—

The companion of freed Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena on Saturday leveled serious accusations at US troops who fired at her convoy as it was nearing Baghdad airport, saying the shooting had been deliberate.

"The Americans and Italians knew about (her) car coming," Pier Scolari said on leaving Rome's Celio military hospital where Sgrena is to undergo surgery following her return home.

"They were 700 meters (yards) from the airport, which means that they had passed all checkpoints."

Regarding the checkpoint that the U.S. has alleged that the car was approaching, ANSA news agency (via AFP) reports

Sgrena, the 56-year-old correspondent of the communist daily Il Manifesto, told Italian investigators the US troops` intense fire had been in no way justified by the speed of her car, ANSA news agency said.

"Our vehicle was running at normal speed which could not be misunderstood," she said, rejecting US fears of a possible suicide attack.

"It wasn`t a checkpoint but a patrol which immediately opened fire after they trained their light on us," Sgrena said. [emphasis added]

Philip Willan Rome of the Guardian's Observer also gives an account—

The US Army claimed the Italians' vehicle had been seen as a threat because it was travelling at speed and failed to stop at the checkpoint despite warning shots being fired by the soldiers. A State Department official in Washington said the Italians had failed to inform the military of Sgrena's release.

Italian reconstruction of the incident is significantly different. Sgrena told colleagues the vehicle was not travelling fast and had already passed several checkpoints on its way to the airport. The Americans shone a flashlight at the car and then fired between 300 and 400 bullets at if from an armoured vehicle. Rather than calling immediately for assistance for the wounded Italians, the soldiers' first move was to confiscate their weapons and mobile phones and they were prevented from resuming contact with Rome for more than an hour.

Enzo Bianco, the opposition head of the parliamentary committee that oversees Italy's secret services, described the American account as unbelievable. 'They talk of a car travelling at high speed, and that is not possible because there was heavy rain in Baghdad and you can't travel at speed on that road,' Bianco said. 'They speak of an order to stop, but we're not sure that happened.' [emphasis added]

During the confiscation of weapons and cell phones, you would think that even the linguistically challenged Americans would have been able to distinguish Italians from Iraqis. It doesn't help the American cause that one of the Italian agents was actually on the phone with someone in Berlusconi's office when the shooting broke out.

These allegations are getting coverage in the Australian and British press but the American media are remarkably silent. Tracy Wilkinson of the LA Times, however, has advanced the story a bit—

It remained unclear whether the Italians notified the Americans at the airport that they were en route. Scolari, who was not in the car but has been with Sgrena since the shooting, said the Italians had informed U.S. officials of their plans and had cleared one of the several checkpoints that lead to the airport. But that could not be independently verified. Additionally, the plane picking up Sgrena was a special Italian military flight whose landing would have been known at some level of the U.S. military.

In Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, Lt. Col. Clifford Kent, a spokesman for the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division, said the military was "aggressively investigating" the incident. But he declined to comment on the exact location of the checkpoint in question, whether the military had been informed that Sgrena's car was en route to the airport for the special flight, or if that information had been passed down to the relevant checkpoints. [emphasis added]

But the Times account only notes that "An Italian journalist ... raised questions about the official U.S. explanation of the shooting" without any mention of the allegation that the U.S. wanted to silence Sgrena because of the work she was doing up to the time of her kidnapping.

The Observer report notes—

Pier Scolari, Sgrena's partner who flew to Baghdad to collect her, put an even more sinister construction on the events, suggesting in a television interview that Sgrena was the victim of a deliberate ambush. 'Giuliana may have received information which led to the soldiers not wanting her to leave Iraq alive,' he claimed.

Finally, the AFP story with which we began tells us—

"Giuliana had information, and the US military did not want her to survive," he [Scolari] added.

When Sgrena was kidnapped on February 4 she was writing an article on refugees from Fallujah seeking shelter at a Baghdad mosque after US forces bombed the former Sunni rebel stronghold.

The Independent offers another quote from Scolari (whom they identify as Piero Colari)—

There are only two explanations, either it was an ambush or those soldiers were complete idiots.

It should be noted that these possibilities are not mutually exclusive.

Friday, March 04, 2005


Fishbowl DC gets press pass

Fishbowl DC just announced this evening that they will be given a press pass for Monday's press briefing. It only took them five days. Whacha wanna bet the internet helped a lot on this one?

Previous post
Getting a daily press pass from the White House—or not


If this is true ...

Via InformationClearingHouse, Xinhua news is reporting
ANKARA, March 3 (Xinhuanet) -- Turkey has deployed 1,357 military personnel in northern Iraq to fight against members of the outlawed Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), said Turkish National Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul on Thursday.

Gonul was quoted by semi-official Anatolia News Agency as saying, "Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) have deployed 1,357 personnel in northern Iraq to fight against the PKK, gather information regarding the developments in the region and work as liaison officers under US forces in Kirkuk, Mosul and Tal Afar."

He added that such cross-border operations have been staged to pursue the terrorists in northern Iraq since 1992.

It looks as if Condi Rice gave a wink and a nod to Turkish entry into the conflict during her recent visit there.

Here's what the Voice of America was putting out at the end of her visit—

At a closing news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, Ms. Rice reiterated the U.S. commitment to the unity and territorial integrity of Iraq, an implicit rejection of Kurdish statehood, and to an Iraq, in which all its religious and ethnic factions are welcome and respected.

Who could have guessed that "territorial integrity" would allow for invasion by neighboring powers? But this is the Bush administration. They'll say anything.

She also said she told her Turkish hosts that Iraq's territory should never be a place from which terrorism can be committed against its neighbors.

"Indeed, from the American point of view, whatever terrorist organizations wish to perpetrate crimes against populations have to be treated the same," she said. "Whether it is the al-Qaida, the PKK, or the Palestinian rejectionists, terrorism is simply not an acceptable tool in the modern world, and I wanted to be certain that the minister and his colleagues knew of America's commitment to rid the region of terrorism, including terrorism that might take place from the territory of Iraq."

Ms. Rice noted that the State Department has long listed the PKK as a terrorist organization.

Members of the group found refuge in northern Iraq before the U.S.-led invasion, and have declared an end to a five-year-old unilateral cease-fire with Turkey.

"Stark warning" to other countries of the region is the way this was reported. But that she would say "including terrorism that might take place from the territory of Iraq" is astonishing. Considering the actual situation on the ground in Iraq, this must have appeared as quite a threat to the evil-doers—or quite a reassurance to the Turks.

In an interview with Turkey's NTV news channel, the secretary of state stopped short of pledging U.S. military action against the PKK, citing a difficult security situation in the north and the Iraqi insurgency.

We're sorry, but we have our hands full, guys.

But she said the United States is determined to work with the Iraqis and with Turkey to make sure that the PKK cannot act, and said Turkey should understand what she termed the United States' absolute commitment on this.

And since we've just said that we regard the PKK as the equal of all those other terrorist groups we're fighting (even though we ourselves are not going to fight them), we will understand completely if y'all decide to do something about it. We are absolutely committed to this.

Expect a lot of "We're working with the Turkish government to resolve the situation" in the next few days—if any questions are raised, that is.

The Turks seem to have been coming and going from Iraq as they please for some time. Perhaps Rice's purpose was to give the appearance of ratifying that which cannot be avoided. And the Turkish government is now making their presence in Iraq "official."


Off to a late start

A busy morning. Hope to post later today. Enjoy.

Quote of the Day

Like the Jungian popularizer Joseph Campbell, those who lust after the stories of strange gods cannot bear the exclusivity of the Hebrew story.
—Spengler, writing of T.S. Eliot's hatred of the Jews

Thursday, March 03, 2005


Getting a daily press pass from the White House—or not

Since Gannon/Guckert managed to obtain a daily press for almost two years, it is important to understand the process.

Garrett M. Graff of FishBowlDC, "a gossip blog about Washington, D.C. media" has been trying to obtain such a pass so that he may report on—what else?—the White House's morning press gaggle.

He has been posting the blow-by-blow details, so to speak.

Here's his scoreboard after two days' effort:

Fishbowl: 0
White House: 2

Phone Calls: 10 (includes two calls to the Press Office to check on the gaggle time)
Trips to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: 1

Humiliation Factor: Low
Frustration Factor: Medium (Rising)

This should be fun to watch.


Controlling politics on the internet: A Must-Read

I've been expecting the government to attempt to control the internet, but wasn't sure of the mechanism. It seems that it may be through the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, if Declan McCullagh's interview with Bradley Smith of the Federal Election Commission is to be believed.

Some low points of the story—

Bradley Smith says that the freewheeling days of political blogging and online punditry are over.

In just a few months, he warns, bloggers and news organizations could risk the wrath of the federal government if they improperly link to a campaign's Web site. Even forwarding a political candidate's press release to a mailing list, depending on the details, could be punished by fines.

In 2002, the FEC exempted the Internet by a 4-2 vote, but U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly last fall overturned that decision. "The commission's exclusion of Internet communications from the coordinated communications regulation severely undermines" the campaign finance law's purposes, Kollar-Kotelly wrote.

Smith and the other two Republican commissioners wanted to appeal the Internet-related sections. But because they couldn't get the three Democrats to go along with them, what Smith describes as a "bizarre" regulatory process now is under way.

Since this is coming from a Republican commissioner, I presume there is a hidden agenda here. One of them is not too difficult to spot—

So if you're using text that the campaign sends you, and you're reproducing it on your blog or forwarding it to a mailing list, you could be in trouble?

Yes. In fact, the regulations are very specific that reproducing a campaign's material is a reproduction for purpose of triggering the law. That'll count as an expenditure that counts against campaign finance law. [emphasis in original]

This certainly describes Jeff Gannon/James Guckert's reporting for Talon News. But Talon News is not a blog. According to the White House, Talon News is a legitimate news organization.

Nevertheless, it is clear that there is serious confusion as to the nature of blogs, what constitutes "publishing" and a host of other questions. And it is a confusion that cynics on both sides of the political aisle will seek to exploit.

This is a topic to watch!


Quote of the Day

This ought to be the Democrats’ moment, as the president’s Social Security proposal crashes against the wall of the public’s deep doubts. Support for the president’s proposal has fallen to 36 percent and perhaps even lower, depending on question wording. Worse for the president, 40 percent of voters strongly oppose his plan, rising to 63 percent among seniors. Congressional Democrats are now winning voters over 45 years by 12 points, according to the NPR survey, after faltering badly among aging voters just 4 months earlier. But Bush’s plan is not that popular with younger voters who divide evenly on it.

So, we ask progressives to consider, why have the Republicans not crashed and burned? Why has the public not taken out their anger on the Congressional Republicans and the president? We think the answer lies with voters’ deeper feelings about the Democrats who appear to lack direction, conviction, values, advocacy or a larger public purpose.
—Democracy Corps (Carville, Greenburg & Shrum) memo [PDF format] A local news search engine

For my readers in the U.S. I'd like to call attention to a search engine that I've just learned about. It's been around for two years, but then I'm a little slow out of the starting gate.

According to Fred Barnako's Internet Daily e-newsletter, scours 150,000 Web news sources every 30 minutes. By entering a zip code, city name, keyword, or topic, you receive citations tailored to your interest. This means that if you're into celebrities, there are 50,000 pages for 50,000 stars. If you live in Great Falls, Virginia, one Topix page will give you pertinent stories from a dozen local and national newspapers, Web logs, and Web sites.

"Try doing a news search on your home town in Google News. It's pretty tough," Skrenta said. "But we can bring it down to a four-block-square area, because we have 30 thousand feeds, for every city and town in the U.S. and for every country, too."

Speaking personally, I tend to be more aware of what is going on in Singapore than what is happening down the street. This is just not right, and with Topix maybe I can mend the error of my ways. Now, if they could just tell me what it all means ... has just turned profitable and gone into an alliance with the NY Times, so it should be around for a while until it gets snapped up by Google or whomever.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


Advance in virology: OPAL

Some good news for a change. A group of Australian researchers have announced the accidental discovery of a technique that boosts the immune system response to viruses—at least HIV and Hepatitis C.
The researchers initially set out to develop a technique for measuring the effectiveness of a HIV vaccine. They first extracted blood from previously vaccinated animals and then coated the cells with HIV peptide markers (a technique which only takes an hour to complete).

In a normal situation, when HIV or any virus infects a cell, it leaves behind tell-tale markers or peptides on the cell surfaces which tell the immune system that the cell is infected. In this study, the researchers did not infect the animals with HIV, but rather created the illusion to the body that these cells were infected because they had the tell-tale markers (peptides) on their surface.

When they injected this peptide-coated blood back into the vaccinated animals they found that it triggered a huge immune response.

“When we analysed HIV-specific immunity in the weeks following the assays (peptide-coating), a marked enhancement of virus-specific immunity was induced,” Associate Professor Kent says.

“The technique was also effective for boosting the immune response to Hepatitis C peptides and we believe that it could be refined for many different viral infections and cancers. We have also shown it can be used to induce immune responses against drug resistant forms of HIV. The OPAL technique is simpler than current cell-based vaccine techniques which usually require isolation of rare specialised cells from blood.”

It seems so obvious, now that they've found it.

Human studies are expected within two years.


Iraq metric: Investment risk

Continuing my effort to help Donald Rumsfeld find some "metrics" by which he may gauge how well the war is going, I find that The Economist has a measure that should be of interest to capitalists everywhere: investment risk. The Economist reports that
Iraq is a riskier destination for foreign investment than any of the emerging markets tracked ..., according to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a sister firm of The Economist. The EIU's country-risk ratings ... take account of 77 indicators of political stability and other measures of credit quality.

Iraq is hovering at 90% of "maximum risk."

The world must be getting safer for capital. Amazingly, of the 27 "emerging markets" that the EIU tracks, only the Philippines and Thailand have become riskier over the past year. They even find some marginal improvement in Iraq. I'd love to know in which of their 77 indices Iraq has shown improvement.

Investment risk in "emerging markets"

Related posts
Word of the day (metric)
Update on the Iraqi airlift (3/1/05)

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


The problem with and for liberals

Xymphora waxed eloquent today, speaking of Lebanon—
The neocons have got a good thing going with the Ukrainian model of taking over countries by using manipulated calls for 'democracy' and 'freedom'. After all, who is going to argue with the establishment of democracy? Liberals have exactly the same intellectual problem with this form of propaganda as they have with radical religious fruitcakes hiding behind the concept of liberal tolerance in order to preach their anti-liberal hatred.

And specifically—

The entire 'Orange' ruse is staged as a massive PR campaign, using both local and international mass media to create the illusion that all the people are united in a bottom-up plea for freedom. Of course, it is all an illusion. The removal of Syrian troops will just leave Lebanon open to occupation by Israeli troops, hardly an improvement for most of the population.

Update on the Iraqi airlift

Last December the Iraqi airlift began in earnest. Truckers were in short supply; supplies weren't making it through. In October, 23 U.S. soldiers famously refused to transport fuel but had to be forgiven rather than court-martialed.

Today I thought I'd see how the airlift is progressing. Though I have no data as proof, this appears to be largest sustained military airlift since the great Berlin airlift of the Cold War.

Why should you care? The reason I wrote about it at the time, as now, is that the airlift is one of those "metrics" that Donald Rumsfeld has such a hard time finding as to how well the war...I mean, pacification really going. It is also adding greatly to the cost of the war.

The mainstream media, however, are ignoring it. They prefer to focus on events involving personalities even as they do their best to cooperate with the Bush administration to put a smiley face on the war. Hence our recent news of progress concerns the capture of Saddam's half-brother (and how we're "tightening the noose" on al-Zarqawi)—which, in terms of its effect on the occupation, is even less meaningful than the capture of Saddam himself.

Information is sparse but here's what I've found—

"The most dangerous highways in the world"

On February 8 carried an Air Force press release that suggests the airlift continues to grow, which is to say that the ground conditions continue to deteriorate—

Recently 250 additional U.S. truck drivers per week were removed from the dangerous roads of Iraq because of expanded air operations that deliver cargo directly from the United States to airfields in Iraq. This, combined with existing air operations, now removes about 1,280 convoy drivers per week from Iraqi roads.

“Many cargo operations were flying into airfields that were located in … the most dangerous areas of Iraq,” he said. “Truck convoys would then drive outward from these airfields across the most dangerous highways in the world in order to deliver supplies to the military forces. There had to be a smarter way to get supplies to our forces.”

Air Force officials increased the number of aircraft available to mitigate convoy operations, but, until now, the focus was not in the areas where truck drivers were facing their greatest threat.

Today, strategic airlift delivers cargo directly to several airfields capable of handling the large aircraft, officials said. A hub-and-spoke system has been established to re-fly cargo to smaller airstrips where C-130 Hercules aircraft can land, but more importantly, to locations where the largest concentration of military forces are assigned.

These initiatives have not eliminated all trucks on the roads within the Sunni Triangle, but air support has certainly mitigated the threat for at least 250 more truck drivers per week that once traversed the most dangerous roads in the world, officials said. [emphasis added]

Casualties of the airlift?

If the insurgents are trying to eliminate supply transport and if the U.S. has switched from ground to air, it would follow that the insurgents must be trying to affect the airlift operation.

I suspect that that is what the downing on January 31 of the British Hercules C-130 was about. The Hercules is a plane that can be used for the "spoke" portion of the hub-and-spoke operation mentioned above.

While the crash was widely reported for 24 hours, by February 4 there was only a brief mention that the British military "with the assistance of U.S. forces" had concluded their investigation. No word of their conclusions. But on February 9 AF Lt. Gen. Lance Smith, the deputy commander of US Central Command was quoted as saying—

I personally believe there may have been either hostile action or something that happened inside the aircraft, but I doubt that it was mechanical in nature, if you know what I mean.

Amplifying this, the Scotsman adds—

Smith said there have been reports that ground fire was seen in the area at the time of the crash, and this is being investigated by the British government.

He expressed doubt that a shoulder-fired missile brought down the C-130, but he left open the possibility that it could have been a radar-guided surface-to-air missile or small arms fire.

“I don’t believe that airplane went down from a missile,” he said, noting later that he was referring specifically to what the military calls a man-portable, or shoulder-fired, missile.

A radar-guided surface-to-air missile?

Iraqification of the airlift

I bet you haven't heard anything about the Iraqi air force. Well, believe it or not, there is one.

A US Central Command press release dated February 3 says,

Iraqi air force officials welcomed the arrival of two UH-1H Huey helicopters Feb. 1 to Taji Air Base.

The completely refurbished helicopters will provide airlift support and important troop-moving capabilities for the growing Iraqi air force command. A gift from Jordan, this is the first in a series of scheduled deliveries to occur during the next 12 months.

A total of 16 UH-1H aircraft are slated to arrive in Iraq by February 2006. The Iraqi flag is displayed on the fuselage of both aircraft.

Currently, 14 Iraqi pilots are fully trained and awaiting additional flight instruction from their U.S. advisory support team (AST) pilots. Flight training will continue for the next several months until all 48 Iraqi pilots are certified. In the meantime, maintenance training will commence for the engineers and ground crews.

So Jordan is buying Hueys for the Iraqis. Interesting. But that's not going to do much for the airlift operation.

To learn about that we must turn—of all places!—to the New York Jewish Times in an article that appeared sometime in mid-February—

Two days after their first training flight on a C-130 cargo plane, a crew from an Iraqi Air Force squadron were back in the cockpit for their first mission: flying Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi round trip from Baghdad to As Sulaymaniwah West.

The Iraqi pilot who flew the aircraft described the mission as a great honor, one he was grateful to participate in. Allawi arrived at the landing zone by helicopter and quickly greeted the Squadron 23 crew as he boarded the cargo plane.

“It’s a big job,” said the pilot, who asked not to be identified for security reasons. “It’s a great thing to do, and we appreciate the Americans help in getting us trained to do this.”

The Iraqi crew included an engineer, loadmaster and navigator along with the pilot. They just happened to be on the flight schedule when Allawi needed transportation, said Maj. Mike Frame, a U.S. Air Force pilot with the 777th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron who is training the Iraqis with five other U.S. crew members from the squadron.

Getting the crew members up to speed to fly C-130s wasn’t too difficult, Frame said. All have prior experience, they just didn’t have the opportunity to maintain or expand their skills until Saddam Hussein was no longer in power, he said.

“The crews are much better than we expected,” Frame said. “They just need some time to get acquainted with the new plane and new flying procedures.”

The Iraqi crew completed a training mission Feb. 9 – their first time ever in the cockpit of a C-130 – in which they flew five other crews from their Talil, Iraq-based squadron to Amman, Jordan. Four of the crews are going through training in Amman; the fifth continued on for Hercules simulator training in Little Rock, Ark.

The United States gave Iraq three C-130 cargo planes in January to help incorporate airlift capabilities into their Air Force. The planes were overhauled and given new exterior paint jobs, which included Iraqi flags on the tail sections. [emphasis added]

My prediction: It'll be a long time before one of those "Iraqi Air Force" C-130s leaves the ground without some U.S. military advisors near the cockpit.

In summary

Conditions for Iraqi land transport have not improved. The airlift has grown. The U.S. is making some effort to get the Iraqis involved in it, but it looks pretty inconsequential for the moment.

Now whether those refurbished C-130s that we're donating to the Iraqis have anything to do with the $4 billion contract awarded to Boeing and whether this is a way to keep a portion of the cost of the war away from the public eye by putting it into the military's budget is a topic for another post—if I ever get around to checking it out.

Related posts
Will kidnappings alter the Iraqi employment situation? (updated) (7/26/04)
Turkish hostage executed (8/2/04)
More Turkish companies vamoosing from Iraq (8/8/04)
Where's the ice cream truck? (8/16/04)
The Iraq airlift has begun (12/18/04)
The Loose Noose (2/26/05)


Statistic of the Day

As for pajama pants in particular, 33 percent of teen girls and 29 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 24 wear them as fully exposed outerwear.

29 percent of teen girls and 21 percent of women wear boxers as casual shorts or for sports and exercise.
—marketing survey by The NPD Group as reported by Kristen Kridel of NYT Regional

Monday, February 28, 2005


Google to practice self-censorship in Germany

According to Index for Free Expression,
Some of the subjects are expected - child pornography, racist and right wing extremist “hate” sites – some a little less obvious - treasonable conduct and glorification of violence among them. The system also allows people to nominate pages for censorship via an online form submission page.
The latter fact reminds me of this
With not much original reporting, I discovered that the latest big fine by the FCC against a TV network -- a record $1.2 million against Fox for its "sexually suggestive" Married by America -- was brought about by a mere three people who actually composed letters of complaint. Yes, just three people.
And this
In a speech written for a meeting at St Anne's College, Oxford, she [BBC Director of Television Jana Bennett] noted that that "it is now easy for relatively small numbers of protesters to organise what may appear to be mass protests". To cave in to protests could lead to Britain following the example of America, where last year's moral outrage over the Janet Jackson "Nipplegate" scandal has led to television networks steering clear of shows that could offend vocal lobby groups.

Bad idea of the century

(Via Taegan Goddard) U.S. News and World Report's "Washington Whispers" says
Congress is buzzing about a possible trade-off: Democrats will vote for a constitutional amendment allowing naturalized citizens to become president if Republicans vote to rescind the limit on presidents' terms.

Quote of the Day

We got into rooms we've never been in before. We got down on the floor of the Senate and prayed over Hillary Clinton's desk.
—Frank Wright, CEO of the National Religious Broadcasters, as reported by Max Blumenthal

Statistic of the Day

Though Muslims make up only 3 percent of the British population, more people attend Friday prayers than go to Sunday church.
—reported by Peter Ford in Christian Science Monitor

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