Morning Report: July 27, 2005

Shuttle launch successful, but debris under scrutiny. Voice of America reports: 'The space shuttle Discovery successfully blasted into orbit Tuesday morning, but there are questions about some debris which fell from the spacecraft on take-off. ... As the shuttle roared into orbit on its 12-day mission, video images showed debris falling away. But it wasn't immediately clear if the spacecraft's sensitive outer skin had been jeopardized. At a news conference late Tuesday, NASA officials said a piece of tile may have come off during liftoff. Tiles have been lost on take-off during previous flights, without causing any trouble during re-entry. ... NASA officials say they will study the tapes carefully to see if the spacecraft sustained any damage.' Rand Simberg has more: 'I'm quite certain that NASA has an extensive data base of tile damage from every single flight, organized by section of the orbiter in which it occurred (and if they don't, someone should certainly be keelhauled across Atlantis), and are even now scouring it to see if there was similar damage in a similar location on some previous flight, including notes of any structural insult observed when the offending tile was removed and replaced. That, and perhaps a closer inspection by EVA, will determine the resolution of this.' Read the full post at the link. (VOA, Transterrestrial Musings)

Bird flu cause for worry? Winds of Change has this to say on a potential epidemic of avian flu (commonly called "bird flu"): 'Some of our readers will recall (a) China's dismal record of inaction and cover-up with SARS; (b) The 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic that killed 20-50 million people; (c ) Winds' article about global democracy promotion as a global development policy; it pointed out the inherent and inevitable failings of planned/ authoritarian socieites, and specifically noted their inability to react to things like avian flu pandemics as a key example of what we were talking about. It seems the chickens may be coming home to roost a little earlier than we'd hoped. Reader Eric Kansa of the Alexandria Archive Institute writes in to say: "I want to direct your attention toward avian flu, an issue that, given its scope and potential consequences, receives very little attention both in the traditional press and blogosphere. I've been following this for some time, basically the World Health Organization is doing everything NOT to raise the alert level from stage 3 to stage 5 or 6, and has tried to explain away clear cases of human-to-human transmission (these cases mean we're at Stage 5 at least). There are also LOTS of rumors China is covering up an outbreak of Stage 6 human-to-human bird flu. ... The upshot: A pandemic can breakout any time now, especially as we move into the fall (weather changes and bird migration become more favorable to flu transmission). This is really urgent." ' Joe Katzman continues: 'If we really want to "plan" for a dynamic scenario like this and get a fast fix out there, however, there's a simpler way: don't depend on a huge, elaborate system, but on fast point defense and overlapping measures. Spend about $1 million, and ship copies of SimOutbreak to every key official all around the country. In a scenario like this, fast and informed local reaction will be worth hundreds of millions in backup infrastructure. Include law enforcement and first responders in the distribution - they'll probably be the first to see the signs. Have cities like my Toronto, hit hard by SARS, share plans and lessons learned. Spend a bit of time following this yourself, on a personal level, and think about what your contingency plans might be re: your family. Spread the word. Write your representatives. Point out that the WHO is soft-pedaling this, and may fail entirely.' Read the full post for details and links. (Winds of Change)

Iraqi draft constitution raises concerns. The draft text for Iraq's new constitution doesn't sit well with Omar at Iraq the Model: 'This morning, Al-Sabah had the exclusive right to publish the current draft of the constitution. This draft will be submitted to the national Assembly to get the Assembly's approval before putting it to the October referendum. ... [Excerpted text, with Omar's comments in brackets] 1-the republic of Iraq (the Islamic, federal) is a sovereign, independent country and the governing system is a democratic, republican, federal one. [The Islamic republic of Iraq!? NO WAY.] 2-Islam is the official religion of the state and it is the main source of legislations and it is not allowed to make laws that contradict the fundamental teachings of Islam and its rules (the ones agreed upon by all Muslims) and this constitution shall preserve the Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi people (with its Shea't majority and its Sunni component) and respect the rights of all other religions. [This is the deadliest point if approved; Islam or any religion cannot and must not be the main source of legislation.] 9-The family is the basis of the community and the state preserves the family's genuine Iraqi identity that is based on patriot, religious and ethical values and the state also is responsible for protecting maternity and childhood and looks after the youths and provide the appropriate environment to assure the development of their skills and capabilities. [I don't know for sure what they mean by saying "the state preserves the family's genuine Iraqi identity that is based on patriot, religious and ethical values" but it doesn't sound great anyway.] ...' Read the full post for text and links to Arabic text; also be sure to follow the reader discussion in Comments. (ITM)

Rumsfeld visits Iraq. Voice of America reports: 'Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is in Iraq for an unannounced visit with American and Iraqi officials. Secretary Rumsfeld arrived Wednesday morning, with a series of messages for the country's interim leaders. ... The defense secretary told reporters traveling with him that he would urge Iraqi leaders to do more to curb what Mr. Rumsfeld characterized as "harmful interference" from neighboring Syria and Iran.' Al-Sabah (July 27) adds: 'Defense Minister [Donald Rumsfeld] revealed a new plan to be conducted in Mosul, Falouja and Baghdad, well informed sources said.The minister said that his new plan was approved by the president himself, who expressed trust in the Iraqi forces efforts.The minister blamed Syria for neglecting Iraq's demands of halting the trespasses made by terrorists, affirming that the government has strong evidences of trespassers entering the borders via three points targeting Baghdad, however he warned Baghdad of such acts that may lead to including Damascus with the same fire.As for the situation in Tallafer, he made it clear that direct interference would cost civilian casualties, a matter that Iraqis do not prefer, but he said that indirect process of about 4 to 5 weeks would end the task with minimum civilian victims.He rejected proposals of recruiting militias as a joint force with the army force stressing that the ministry doors are open for all citizens to defend the country.Concerning border problem in Um Qasr with the Kuwaiti side, he advised the Kuwaitis to be patient for the current time and dialogue would be the path way for solving any problem, describing his visit to Teheran as peace message.' (VOA, Sabah)

Iran: Woman burns self on threat of return to prison. Free Iran quoting Iran Focus: 'A 30-year-old woman set herself on fire outside a justice department office in southern Iran on Monday evening, eye-witnesses reported. The unidentified woman was on temporary parole from prison in the southern city of Marvdasht and had gone to the justice department to request an extension of her prison leave. When her application was rejected, she attempted to commit suicide by setting herself on fire. She is reportedly in critical condition. A Marvdasht resident reached by telephone said it was rumored in town that the woman had been brutally treated by prison guards. Prison conditions in Iran have become the focus of international concern after the publication of a report by an internal investigative body of Iran’s judiciary. The report discovered serious cases of torture, solitary confinement, long-term detention without trial, and other abuses.' (Free Iran)

Iran: Two gay youths executed by hanging. The islamist entity continued its 26-year crime spree against the Iranian people with the hanging of two teenage boys. Free Iran reports: '(Amnesty International): On 19 July 2005, an 18-year-old, identified only as A. M. and a minor, Mahmoud A, were publicly hanged in the north-eastern city of Mashhad. According to reports, they were convicted of sexual assault on a 13-year-old boy and had been detained 14 months ago. Prior to their execution, the two were also given 228 lashes each for drinking, disturbing the peace and theft. (AFP): A Swedish gay rights group called on the government to immediately halt all deportations of homosexuals to Iran, saying two young men were hanged there this week for committing a "homosexual act." "There are clear examples that homosexuals are killed in Iran for their sexual orientation. I think the Swedish government is extremely cynical when it sends gays and lesbians back to Iran," Soeren Andersson, head of the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (RFSL), told AFP. The two men, one of whom was under 18 years of age, were hanged on Tuesday, officially for raping a 13-year-old boy at knife-point, but Andersson said it was possible that they had in fact only had sex with each other.' Read the thread for full details, links, and coverage from gay activist groups. (AI and AFP via Free Iran)