Wednesday, November 30, 2005

US buys positive Iraq news stories

A story by Jonathan S. Landay in the San Jose Mercury News shows how desperate the administration is for positive spin in Iraq:
U.S. Army officers have been secretly paying Iraqi journalists to produce upbeat newspaper, radio and television reports about American military operations and the conduct of the war in Iraq.

U.S. officials in Washington said the payments were made through the Baghdad Press Club, an organization they said was created more than a year ago by U.S. Army officers. They are part of an extensive American military-run information campaign - including psychological warfare experts - intended to build popular support for U.S.-led stabilization efforts and erode support for Sunni Muslim insurgents.

Members of the Press Club are paid as much as $200 a month, depending on how many positive pieces they produce.

Under military rules, information operations are restricted to influencing the attitudes and behavior of foreign governments and people. One form of information operations - psychological warfare - can use doctored or false information to deceive or damage the enemy or to bolster support for American efforts.

Many military officials, however, said they were concerned that the payments to Iraqi journalists and other covert information operations in Iraq had become so extensive that they were corroding the effort to build democracy and undermining U.S. credibility in Iraq. They also worry that information in the Iraqi press that's been planted or paid for by the U.S. military could "blow back" to the American public.

Eight current and former military, defense and other U.S. officials in Baghdad and Washington agreed to discuss the payments to Iraqi reporters and other American military information operations because they fear that the efforts are promoting practices that are unacceptable for a democracy. They requested anonymity to avoid retaliation.

"We are teaching them (Iraqi journalists) the wrong things," one military officer said.

Moreover, the defense and military officials said, the U.S. public is at risk of being influenced by the information operations because what's planted in the Iraqi media can be picked up by international news organizations and Internet bloggers.
I guess this shouldn't be a surprise. It's not as though they haven't been buying favorable press in the US, too.

See also San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times (which originally broke the story).

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Boycott Sony BMG Music?

And perhaps the rest of Sony and Bertelsmann if you feel particularly strongly about spyware.

An Information Week story discusses Eliot Spitzer's investigation and reaction:
Sony BMG Music's copy-protection woes continued Wednesday as New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's office berated the company for not making good on its promise to pull spyware-installing CDs from store shelves.
"It is unacceptable that more than three weeks after this serious vulnerability was revealed, these same CDs are still on shelves, during the busiest shopping days of the year," said Spitzer in a statement.

Spitzer's office sent investigators disguised as shoppers to several large music chains, including Virgin Megastore, FYE, Best Buy, Circuit City, Sam Goody, and Wal-Mart; the investigators were able to purchased copy-protected CDs at all the stores they visited.
See also Business Week and Freedom to Tinker (and its CD Copy Protection archive).




My employer has outsourced the administration of its 401(k) plan to TruSource, a division of Union Bank of California, N.A. This week I received annual enrollment material from TruSource. It contains generic blurbs about 401(k)s and retirement planning, in addition to material particular to our plan. Part of the latter is a summary page for each of the available investment options. These pages are clearly labeled "Copyright © 2005 Standard & Poor's, a division of The McGraw-Hill Companies."

The page for each fund contains a graph of "GROWTH OF $10,000." I think the format and content are specified by the SEC, and they are presumably automatically generated from some kind of database. For some reason, I happened to look more closely than usual at one of the charts, and noticed something odd about the labeling of the year axis, and started inspecting them all. Most of them contain dates in the 31st and 41st centuries!

For example, the chart for the Pioneer High Yield Fund "(SINCE 03/31/98)" is labeled with consecutive years

4098 3099 2000 1001 4001 4002 2003 1004 4004 3005

Apparently the dates escaped the notice of the humans (if any) at McGraw-Hill and TruSource who were in the loop in the preparation of these documents. It is interesting to speculate what combination of programming errors would yield this precise sequence of dates.



Friday, November 04, 2005

America's Gulag Archipelago

A Eugene Robinson Op-Ed, Out of a Bad Spy Novel, in the Washington Post makes me cringe in shame for our government.
It's not 1965, and these men are not Soviet or East German spymasters playing the role of villains in the Cold War. It's 2005, and the spy-novel men are American officials whose un-American treatment of prisoners in the war on terrorism has shamed our nation.

As reporter Dana Priest revealed in The Post this week, the Bush administration has held dozens of al Qaeda prisoners in secret prisons, with no regard to due process. It was a "small circle of White House and Justice Department lawyers and officials" who approved this archipelago of "black-site" detention centers, The Post reported.

These CIA-run prisons have been operated in eight countries, The Post said -- Afghanistan, Thailand, the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba and "several democracies in Eastern Europe." Officials prevailed upon The Post not to disclose the names of the European countries, citing national security concerns. The real reason, no doubt, was that if citizens of those countries knew their governments were hosting secret American prisons, they would surely object.
But, of course, we elected them. At long last, has our country no shame, no sense of decency at all?

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