Friday, February 07, 2003

War on Iraq: A comedic tragedy

EGGS all over Powell's face, and it's all because of Tony Blair.

At the U.N. Security Council presentation Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell singled out a 19-page dossier on Iraq, prepared by the British government, as a "fine paper... which describes in exquisite detail Iraqi deception activities." Sorry Powell, you stepped on the Brits' banana peel.

The dossier, which Blair's office claimed to have based on "intelligence material", has been exposed as a piece of plagiarised work! It butchered from three sources, including outdated materials (12 years old!) and an article by an American post-graduate student. None of these sources is acknowledged. The Guardian, my favourite U.K. broadsheet, headlined it as a sham. Military analysts and opposition politicians in the UK described the copying as "scandalous". The Mirror UK says it's a rip-off.

"The British government's dossier is 19 pages long, and most of pages 6 to 16 are copied directly from that document word for word, even the grammatical errors and typographical mistakes," said Glen Rangwala, a lecturer in politics at Cambridge University.

The Guardian: "Evidence of an electronic cut-and-paste operation by Whitehall officials can be found in the way the dossier preserves textual quirks from its original sources. One sentence in Dr (Ibrahim al-)Marashi's article includes a misplaced comma in referring to Iraq's head of military intelligence during the 1991 Gulf war. The same sentence in Downing Street's report contains the same misplaced comma."

After UK's Channel 4 News exposed the blunder, Blair's office said the report was "accurate" and that the government never claimed exclusive authorship.

Sounds very much like Clinton: "I smoked (pot), but I didn't inhale."

Compare the key documents:
The government's paper
The academic's paper

* * *

AS U.S. WEIGHS its options on Iraq, George Bush is getting prepared for cyber-warfare. Washington Post reported that the president has signed a secret directive ordering the government to develop, for the first time, national-level guidance for determining when and how the U.S.would launch cyber-attacks against enemy computer networks. Another pre-emptive action?

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was in Germany Friday where he remarked the country's anti-war stance put it on a par with Libya and Cuba. He faces a hostile reception from German politicians and peace activists.

The U.S. government - Attorney General John Ashcroft, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and FBI Director Robert Mueller - raised the national threat level from "yellow" to "orange," indicating a "high risk of terrorist attacks". Orange is the second-highest level in the color-coded system.

Read the transcript.

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Thursday, February 06, 2003

Book battle in Japan

BOOK publishers in Japan are blaming library boom for killing their business, reports Newsweek February 3 edition.

Due to the chronic economic slump, Japanese are buying less books, but they pack the public libraries especially on weekends. While the number of books libraries lend out - free of charge - doubled to 546 million in the past decade, book sales in 2001 managed to cash in US$7.9 billion, down by 13% from 1996.

As public libraries stock multiple copies of popular titles, they pose unfair competition to the publishers and affected their sale. In the past, publishers said they have been losing grounds to videogames, mobile phones, music CDs and used bookstores. So, now the publishers are asking libraries not to lend out popular new titles for six months. They also ask for the authors to get paid for the books the libraries loan out. The tussle between the publishers and the libraries is still on.

It is noted that public lending rights are observed in the U.K.. The rate per loan is about US$0.07, and the most an author can earn in one year is restricted to a maximum of US$9,800. More than 17,000 British authors benefitted under this plan last year.

Probably, Malaysia won't face such a problem. Because our people don't read that much.

* * *

WEDNESDAY, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell - hawkish Bush's most prominent dove - presented an exhaustive account of Iraq’s weapons programs to the UN Security Council, calling for quick military action. He was greeted with lukewarm response.

Newsweek said the seating plan of the Security Council chamber itself made the politics of the moment crystal clear. European nations remained unmoved, while UN Security Council remains divided.

Click here for the 45-slide presentation by Powell.

* * *

REPERCUSSION starts to creep in of U.S. Senator (D-CA) Barbara Boxer's statement delivered January 28 on the Senate floor in advance of the President's State of the Union address:

So, except for Iraq, the emerging Bush Foreign Policy Doctrine appears to be a policy of "designed neglect": disengage from the world's problems and wait for the next crisis to come along. This modus operandi is already causing serious unrest in Latin America and the Middle East.

Meanwhile, North Korea Thursday warned of "total war" if the United States attacked its nuclear complex.

Breaking News alert from CNN at 6.34am as I blogged this entry: State Department issues worldwide caution to Americans abroad, warning of heightened threat of terror attacks including possible use of chemical or biological agents.

* * *

PM-IN-WAITING Abdullah Ahmad Badawi will have a big headache come October.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad quashed rumours of general election being held before his exit, and Pak Lah has to decide on the date - after he steps down. He also announced there would be no cabinet reshuffle until the final curtain (Dr Ling Liong Sik saved by the bell?). Retired Judge Harun Hashim said when PM resigns, the entire Cabinet should quit with him.

The Ku Li - Najib Factor: Quite a problem. According to grapevine, Pak Lah has some plan for Muhyiddin Yassin. Najib Tun Razak is courting Tengku Razaleigh to be his Number One.

The Anwar Factor: Speculation that jailed former deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim may be freed o­n April 14 is causing excitement in opposition circles. Malaysiakini says this is technically possible as by then Anwar would have served two-thirds of his six-year jail sentence for corruption.

His lawyers are working to file an application for a stay of execution o­n his nine-year jail sentence for sodomy. They will also file an application for bail pending the outcome of the appeal - now before the Court of Appeal - against the charges.

More tests for Pak Lah: Bernama: Dr Mahathir will go o­n leave in March and April, and his deputy will be acting prime minister during this period.

Fingers crossed for many politicians from both sides of the fence.

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Wednesday, February 05, 2003

European press chides Wall Street Journal for hawkish journalism...

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) is noted for its persistent stance since the 1991 Gulf War, which calls for the removal of Saddam Hussein. There's also no doubt about WSJ having strong connections within the White House for its news sources. Political supernovas, and has-beens like senior Bush's Secretary of State James A. Baker III (The case for military action in Iraq is now conclusive), write in its Opinion/Editorial (Op-Ed) pages. Some simply call the paper hawkish.

January 30, WSJ published a statement titled "United We Stand", co-written by the heads of government from eight countries which it bragged as the New Europe. The letter was authored by prime ministers Jose María Aznar (Spain), Jose-Manuel Durão Barroso (Portugal), Silvio Berlusconi (Italy), Tony Blair (the U.K.), Vaclav Havel (Hungary), Peter Medgyessy (Poland), Leszek Miller (Denmark), and Czech president Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

All eight co-authors of the letter, anchored by Michael Gonzalez, WSJ Europe's editorial page deputy editor, pledged their solidarity behind George Bush. WSJ says the views of the Continent's pro-American majority weren't being heard, and implied that Germany and France, two countries still resisting Bush's war overtures, could not speak on behalf of the entire Europe.

That aroused strong reactions from notable press in Germany and France. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, labelled as "normally serious", ended its January 31 report with a probing question: "Did The Wall Street Journal really come up with the idea to suggest a declaration by the eight leaders, or did someone lend a helping hand?"

The French newspaper Liberation, wrote that, "The very strong links between The Wall Street Journal and the 'hawks' of the Bush Administration also raise the question of the role Washington played in the initiative."

WSJ responded February 3 with the article "The Op-Ed Alliance", saying that it scooped the statement from the eight heads of government entirely on its own. Columnist Dan Gillmor cast strong doubt ("Impossible to believe"!), saying WSJ's editorial page doesn't just have sources inside this government. It is very much part of the enterprise.

As a regular reader of WSJ Op-Ed pages, I don't take it too easy with its opinions and leader stories. But I must confess I truly admire what it declared, shamelessly, that "The Wall Street Journal stands accused of committing journalism. We plead guilty."

"We admit to committing journalism. And if our critics want to accuse these pages of having so much clout that we can dictate policy to eight European heads of state, we will humbly accept.

Editors at The Star, the NST, Utusan Malaysian and Berita Harian should learn from this. It's not a sin to make a stand, whichever way their masters may dictate. But it's certainly shameful for not having the courage to stand accused for what they print.

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Tuesday, February 04, 2003

More helpings of U.S. supremacy and systemic malfunction

TALK OF U.S. supremacy and systemic malfunction, there are two other domains where it will be put to severe test.

MILITARY SUPREMACY: Secretary of State Colin Powell promised to provide a "compelling demonstration" to the UN Security Council, scheduled later today, that Saddam Hussein "is concealing the evidence of his weapons of mass destruction". Powell will use the power of multimedia for his presentation: photographs of mobile biological weapons and transcripts of overheard Iraqi conversations. He will try to sway a skeptical world with back-up by top CIA officials.

However, he said he would not present a "smoking gun" just yet.

Helping to push Powell's sail, chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix warned it's "five minutes to midnight'', and pleaded with the Iraqi government to produce evidence about its weapons programs without further delay.

Meanwhile, CNN reported the Pentagon has launched an investigation into allegations of possible misconduct by Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the head of U.S. Central Command and the man who would lead U.S. forces in the event of a military strike on Iraq.

SOFTWARE SUPREMACY: Microsoft warns Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) of the threat of Open Source - not to the world, but to its own business model.

In its latest 10-Q quarterly filing with the SEC, Microsoft says it may in the future be forced to lower its software prices as a result of the growth of open source.

According to Microsoft, the threat includes "recent efforts by proponents of the open source model to convince governments worldwide to mandate the use of open source software in their purchase and deployment of software products", a trend that also takes hold in Malaysia.

Last June, the German government announced that it was moving to standardize on Linux and an open-source IT model at the federal, state and communal levels. But, Germany is not to be taken as a first-mover. There are more than 75 Open Source/Linux adopters among government agencies, ranging from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Air Force and Pinellas County, Fla., and agencies in the governments of China, Singapore and Australia. It's a living list that keeps growing.

Perhaps, it would do Microsoft some good if it cares to take stock of its root problem: A traditional business model that is based on customers paying to license its software. The controversial Licensing 6 and Software Assurance program, which it implemented last year, has also alienated many of its largest customers.

In contrast, Open Source provides an alternative approach in answering to the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of IT. Software is produced and supported by global communities of programmers, with the resulting software and intellectual property licensed to end users at little or no cost. Source codes can be accessed, modified, enhanced and shared.

Interestingly, Microsoft's greatest Open Source threat may come from within.

According to research and consulting firm Meta Group Inc., Microsoft Corp. is predicted to begin moving some of its current proprietary application enablers, such as the components of its software-as-a-service .Net strategy, to the Linux environment in late 2004.

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Monday, February 03, 2003

Columbia tragedy and systemic malfunction

IF YOU THINK freedom of speech thrives in the USA, think harder.

New York Times reported: "When an expert NASA panel warned last year that safety troubles loomed for the fleet of shuttles if the agency's budget was not increased, NASA removed five of the panel's nine members and two of its consultants. Some of them now say the agency was trying to suppress their criticisms."

NASA, the country's pinnacle of space technology, is said to have developed institutional myopia and zero tolerance for dissent. When challenged, they shoot the messengers.

And there's no lack of hind-sight rhetorics and finger-pointing among law makers in the aftermath of the Columbia tragedy. New York Times ran an editorial which recounted NASA's "famous" attempt to cover up its shortcomings in the early stages of the 1986 Challenger investigation. It calls for an independent presidential commission and the Congress to conduct separate investigations.

Immediate future shuttle flights have been shelved while there are three cosmonauts still locked up in the International Space Station up in the outer space.

On the surface, the Columbia tragedy has put renewed focus on a series of government and independent reports that questioned the fitness of the aging shuttle fleet, the impact of scarce federal money, competing priorities and programs at NASA and a changing work force.

Deep beneath, it points to a systemic malfunction that slowly breaks up the perceived US supremacy in many areas.

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Sunday, February 02, 2003

Resignation calls:
Pak Lah getting embarrassed

STOP IT! The DPM said. Abdullah Ahmad Badawi wanted cabinet ministers and Barisan Narional elected representatives to stop making any more public announcement about their offer to resign. He said it was not proper because Dr Mahathir was still leading the country.

Political punters told me Pak Lah is not only getting embarrassed. He wouldn't want to be dragged into murky waters and become a casualty at this critical juncture of his political career.

January 26, Dr Mahathir Mohamad said it would be good for all party leaders to resign so that his deputy can make fresh appointments. There are both wisdom, and crouching tiger and hidden dragon in his words, observers said, the zen in which I don't really understand.

On Chinese New Year day, Gerakan president Dr Lim Keng Yaik suggested that all members of Dr Mahathir's cabinet resign when the Prime Minister retired in October to enable Abdullah, as the successor, to form his own cabinet. Dr Lim said this is in accordance with parliamentary principles and practices. He also said there was no point for leaders to express their intention to resign.

"If you want to go, then do it. This kind of statement is very destructive as it takes the focus away from the country. We are not near any election, so stop all these talks."

Sunday, Mingguan Malaysia interviewed former DPM Musa Hitam. He said if Dr M is bent on leaving, "it was probably time for others to do the same". New Straits Times highlights a common process practised in democracy: "According to political experts, in the United States, when a new president takes over, all the cabinet secretaries resign to enable him to choose his new, preferred line-up. But of course some of them would be reappointed."

Notably, many high-stake ministers and menteris besar considered Dr Lim's suggestion as merely his personal opinion. Those who have said they disagreed with Dr Lim's suggestion include Youth and Sports Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein, Works Minister S. Samy Vellu and Perak Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Tajol Rosli Ghazali. Even Awang Sulung, a ghost writer representing Utusan Malaysia's senior editors, offered the same view.

But clearly, all took the cue from MCA president Dr Ling Liong Sik who perfected the ‘leave-it-to-the-president syndrome' model.

* * *

THE WAR of nerves between Singapore and Malaysian media continues.

Straits Times Singapore's KL correspondent filed a story today, zooming in on Singaporeans' poor sex drive, the country's 'rising crime rate', and the thousands of its people who flocked to Malaysia over Chinese New Year.

Auteurs of such reports include NTV7, NST Group Editor-in-Chief Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad, Utusan Malaysia and The Star. Awang Sulung said in Mingguan Malaysia that the Singapore Government uses its media to 'make the water issue a people's dispute, but it's no more a government-to-government dispute'.

Meanwhile, two Singapore cabinet ministers said relations between Singapore and Malaysia are not beyond repair.

* * *

WAR ON IRAQ. Bush and Blair have been called several names but their own.

Jonathan Eyal, director of studies at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, referred to the war-chanting duo as a tale of dogs and tails. He said:
"The reality is that Mr Blair is neither America's poodle nor Europe's rottweiler. Yet, he remains just a tail, while the real dog is firmly on its feet in Washington."

Telekom Malaysia director/Celcom chairman Munir Majid wrote in his Sunday column in New Sunday Times, likening the duo as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid:
"Many will recall Sundance was a superb gun-fighter who followed Butch to his death."

Meanwhile, Peace Malaysia campaign is gathering force.

Peace Malaysia is a coalition of 237 NGOs. It is collecting one million signatures to be presented at the 13th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Kuala Lumpur.

Click here to submit your online signature.

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