Friday, March 28, 2003

This may vindicate Malaysian police and deputy Home Minister...

More Indian IT guys get the boot. The Netherlands become the third country, after Malaysia and Indonesia, which asked Indian information technology professionals to leave the host country because of 'irregularities' in their visas. A spokesman from software firm, i-flex solutions, said that 15 of its employees were interrogated by the Dutch authorities on Monday and 13 of them were asked to leave the Netherlands. The company started its operation in the Netherlands in 2001.

According to Times of India, the Indian Embassy at The Hague has sent a note to the Dutch Foreign Office stating that the Indians had not violated any laws, while the Indian National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom) is also in touch with the Dutch authorities to sort out the issue.

Another Times of India story says, on Wednesday, the British authorities arrested London-based Senthil Kumar, CEO of i-flex Solutions Ltd., at the request of the Dutch authorities. The paper says Kumar's arrest is an indication of the apparent tightening of visa regulations across Europe. Kumar remains in judicial custody.

On Thursday, Deputy Home Minister Zainal Abidin Zin said the Indian IT professionals who work here did not appreciative Malaysia's playing host to them. Scores of IT professionals were said to have left Malaysia after being mistreated during a police raid at the Palm Court condominium in Kuala Lumpur o­n March 9. Malaysia has sent apologies to the Indian government.

If you can't convince, confuse!

Nuances and distortion. Half-a-month ago, when I first blogged about Ng Yen Yen's questionable loyalty she peldged to the king and country while holding an Australian PR, I said I expected to hear debates aroused among fellow Malaysians on the notion of "Di mana bumi dipijak, di sana langit dijunjung".

What surprised me is UMNO, the custodian of the Adat Melayu (Malay customs) and Kesultanan Melayu (the institution of the Malay monarchy), has been most forgiving. Its mouthpieces - Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian didn't even raise a brow. It took a good two weeks before the issue is being given the perspective it deserves.

So far, only Pahang PAS wants her to resign as Raub Member of Parliament. It's acting Youth chief, Nasruddin Hassan, said her action was a serious offence that amounted to cheating, and urged the Pahang Barisan Nasional to take a strong stand on the matter. He also urged the Sultan of Pahang to intervene.

In between, there have been attempts to downplay, to discredit, to distract and to disceive Malaysians on a March 14 story in The Sun, where its deputy editor R. Nadeswaran put his byline that lent credence to the issue at hand:

Deputy Culture, Arts and Tourism Minister Datuk Ng Yen Yen was a permanent resident of Australia when she took the oath of loyalty to King and country when she was appointed a senator more than nine years ago.

She was a director from April 1992 until she resigned in May 1995. Ng took her oath of office as a senator in August 1993, but nine months earlier she had declared herself as a permanent resident of Australia in documents filed with the Australian authorities.

A notable opinion piece was by Juni Ewe who sent her letter parallelly to The Sun (March 20) and the NST (March 21):
Datuk Ng Yen Yen sacrificed her medical practice to be with her three children while they were studying overseas, a sacrifice which women and mothers understand.

As a leader she has given much of here time to champion causes and empower women into the mainstream of nation building.

As a deputy minister, she works hard and is instrumental to keeping tourist arrivals on an upward trend.

She is dynamic and dedicated to what she stands for. She is our role model - a caring mopther, a leader and a respected deputy minister.

The media has an important role and are duty-bound to raise issues of public interest. However, to crucufy a person for a personal decision made more than 10 years ago smacks of character assasination.

My friends in the advertising fraternity told me that Ewe earns her living as a PR (oops... Public Relations, not the other one) consultant, or spin-doctor in the American lingo. Recently, she has been returned as the vice president of the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents (4As), representing communications company Impact Challenger.

Perspective. In this blog March 16, I reconstructed Yen Yen's haunted past and the public embarassment she inflicted - more a disgrace to Chinese Malaysians, not herself - as to which country one would pledge allegiance and loyalty as one dispenses as she pleases. My readings, then, were that Yen Yen is classic case of The BFC Unchanged Melody (in exact order) about being a Chinese Malaysian:

Business ( $ ) comes first.
Family comes second.
Country is just by accident.

These were the elements which I said made her case:
  1. Ng teamed up with Soh Chee Wen, General (Rtd) Mohamed Ngah Said and two Australians to run stock-broking business via New South Wales-based company, Indo Pacific Securities Limited, from April 1992 through May 1995.

  2. Ng chose Tusmore, Adelaide, South Australia as her place of residence... living in Australia for approximately three years... and has undertaken substantial business activities concerned with the import of intellectual properties and commodities.

  3. Ng was granted and admittedly held an Australian PR from 1990 through 1995.

  4. Ng obtained the PR status to facilitate her frequent travelling to Australia to look after her three sons who "were in their early formative years and studying there".

  5. Ng and her husband realised the need to be with their children as frequently as possible to "ensure the parental bonding within the family, as well as to ensure that they develop a strong value system and strength of character". This need stopped by 1995, coinciding with her severance of business ties in Indo Pacific Securities Limited.... (and possibly cutting ties with Soh).

  6. Ng took her oath of loyalty to King and country, and oath of office as a senator in August 1993, with her PR papers materially tugged in her safe custody.

All these were given a deserving re-look yesterday, in the exact perspective I had anticipated. I hope Malaysian mass media - despite a general dysfuntion plagued by shrouding apathy in the Malay Press, political ownership of the Chinese and the reigning political expediency suffocating most English papers - will do justice to an issue of public interest. New Straits Times, March 28: Giving up Aussie PR was a no-brainer has this:
Datuk Dr Ng Yen Yen was actively promoting Australian investments to Malaysian businessmen when she was still a councillor with the Temerloh local authority (1983 - 1991), her former business partner Datuk Soh Chee Wen alleged today.

Soh said Dr Ng, whose allegiance to the country was recently questioned for being an Australian permanent resident when she was sworn in as a Senator in 1993, had even advised him on several acquisitions, including Indo Pacific Securities.

Asked if he was aware that Dr Ng was an Australian permanent resident when she was made a Senator in 1993 and if he had advised her to give it up, Soh said:

“It was a no-brainer. One had to make a choice. You either keep your PR or give it up before swearing in as a senator.”

March 20, de facto Law Minister Dr Rais Yatim Rais said it is 'morally untenable' though not legally wrong, for Yen Yen to be a foreign PR while holding a public office whether "it was because of her children or business efficacy". Yesterday, Yen Yen gave it a spin by saying "even Dr Rais Yatim has said I have not breached any criminal code. I have not done anything wrong."

Meanwhile, Soh Chee Wen lodged a police report yesterday following Press reports in January that Austrian businessman Franz Christoph Heldwein had dealings with him (Soh) and Dr Ling in 1997. Soh's report confirmed Heldwein's claims that Dr Ling had offered to procure classified maps of the country for Heldwein.

He also accused two MCA party leaders, including a Minister, of unlawfully using public funds for their personal interests and challenged the MCA disciplinary board to act against him for publicly making the claim.

Read how the local press handled the news angles differently:
Malaysiakini (Only The News That Matters):
Money Politics and Ling-Heldwein deal, Yen Yen's PR controversy.

New Straits Times (All The News That Matters):
Money Politics and Ling-Heldwein deal, Yen Yen's PR controversy.

The Star (The People's Paper):
Money Politics and Ling-Heldwein deal, business disputes.

The Sun:
Money Politics and Ling-Heldwein deal, Yen Yen's PR controversy. (Not available online)

Utusan Malaysia: None online.

Berita Harian:
Yen Yen's PR controversy (Pahang MCA Youth wants Ng investigated)

Do we call this a communal or national quagmire?

Incinerator: Ebara's tainted record in Japan

Questionable records. Background of Ebara Corporated, the Tokyo-based company awarded the RM1.5 billion Broga incinerator contract by our government before an EIA is available, is being unearthed.

A Malaysiakini reader pointed to a March 2000 report which said the Kanagawa prefectural government and the city of Fujisawa inspected the incinerator Ebara built and operated and found it dumped high levels of dioxins into the Hikiji river. This brought up a case example of why we must look at more than just dioxin air emissions. The stark fact: Dioxons contaminated river and water source.

Grassroots response. People's fear of incinerator has been compounded by contradictory and piecemeal information dished out by the government itself. As groundswell of dissent developed, the federal and state governments, and incinerator companies resort to labelling the people as opponents with selfish reasons. The standard argument has been by calling them people with "not-in-my-backyard" or 'nimby' attitude.

The Broga/Semenyih No Incinerator pro tem action committee chairperson Halil Hussain, an academic and a Broga resident, said the committee is serious about taking up the issue to the national level, especially in promoting alternative methods to waste incineration. "Our o­ne and o­nly objective is very simple, that is, to have no incinerators anywhere in the country," he said.

Malaysiakini's Claudia Theophilus has a good account of opposing claims over the incinerator technology. Her sources includes a general information pamphlet attributed to Ong Ka Ting's Housing and Local Government Ministry, inputs from Greenpeace International senior scientist Dr Pat Costner, Greenpeace Japan toxics campaigner Junichi Sato, and the southern coordinator of the Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance/Global Alliance for incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) and Greenpeace Philippines, Von Hernandez. Click here.

Another reader wrote to Malaysiakini, compiling the comical responses from the government officials, in the stereotype of the mayor from Kajang municipality, within which Broga is located. Click here.

I shall await eagerly to see how Ka Ting will come clean on this. The menu is set, it's just a matter of how he will cook the meal to feast the boss. Left-overs are for the subjects under rule.

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Hacking of Al-Jazeera website: The How and (possible) Why

US Patriots at work. The, a not-for-profit organisation which seeks a regime change in the US in 2004, has this headline: US Led Hackers Cyber-terrorism on Al-Jazeera

Separately, here's an Associated Press story picked up by of Quebecor Media:

Hackers on Thursday (March 27 ET) replaced the English-language Web site for Arab satellite television network Al-Jazeera with a U.S. flag and the message "Let Freedom Ring". Hours later, the site was hacked again by others.

Hackers calling themselves the "Freedom Cyber Force Militia" earlier hijacked Internet traffic destined for Al-Jazeera's Web site and redirected it to a different Web page on computers operated by Networld Connections Inc., an Internet provider in Salt Lake City. That site was shut down hours later.

The likely hacking technique, called "DNS poisoning", fools traffic-directing computers across the Internet, similar to vandalizing exit signs on an interstate to misdirect travelers. It is relatively difficult to defend against.

Internet records show the Web directories sending traffic to Al-Jazeera's site were changed early Thursday, apparently without authorization.

The page later removed also included the message, "God bless our troops" signed by a self-described "Patriot". There was no response to an e-mail sent to an address on the Web page.

Hours later, the site was redirected again to another Internet provider with the message that it was "taken over by Saimoon Bhuiyan".

The Why. The Register UK has this story: Al Jazeera's web site - DDoSed or unplugged?, as relayed by Mercedes Sanchez of Online Writing List:
The Register is arguing that Al-Jazeera's new Web site, reportedly taken down by a hack attack (see related brief excerpted from the AP story, above), may have actually been unplugged by its host.

The site "drew immediate hack attacks, but this has been swiftly followed up by the disappearance of the site's DNS records," The Register writes. It adds, "considering the timing one is also drawn to the possibility that something involving a Big Red Switch might have been involved." Al-Jazeera's IT manager Salah Al Seddiqui said before the site's removal that according to its vendor in Qatar "U.S.-based DataPipe could no longer host its site from the end of this month," and that the site's servers would be transferred to Europe.

The Al-Jazeera London office told The Register that the site was unavailable because of heavy demand, and that the U.K. branch was waiting for an update from its Qatar headquarters.

The Register is speculating the site has no chance of being accepted by U.S. providers, due to its being criticized for screening shocking pictures of dead British and U.S. soldiers. "So it's perfectly possible that someone along the line decided, owing to pressure and/or common prudence, not to continue involvement with the company," the technology news Web site writes.

The Register goes on to argue that, if Al-Jazeera's Web site wouldn't have disappeared, the U.S. government would have probably gotten involved to shut it down.

Still, The Register recognizes it is also possible that the site was vulnerable to attack, and "the disappearance of the DNS was therefore a consequence of the attack, ... although it has also been suggested to us that the company's DNS did not come under an insupportable load during the attacks."

Mainstream news portals from the US - Washington Post, TechCentral - to UK, Switzerland, Africa, Arab and Australia have carried this story. More reports on this topic can be found at Google News.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

If you have to lie, learn be a professional liar

Ready, Shoot, Aim! In the Parliament, as recorded in the Hansard March 25, 2003, Minister of Housing and Local Government Ong Ka Ting gave an undertaking that the government will not start the Broga incinerator project until the approved EIA is available. (see screenshot below)

On the quiet, the governement is reported to have issued the Purchase Order (PO) for the incinerator to Tokyo-based Ebara Corporation - a company that a Japanese researcher claimed to have o­ne of the worst operational records for incinerator plants in Japan.

Is it a classic case of Ready, Shoot then Aim? Or somebody is too eager to release the fund for mobilisation of the project?

Verify Ong's statement in the Parliament recorded on Page 19 of the Hansard (PDF) which can be downloaded here. Links to the story:

Insights from Malaysiakini:

In a press release dated Feb 7 issued in Japan, the company announced the Malaysian government’s order to purchase ‘gasification fusion furnace equipment’ for the world’s largest-capacity incinerator plant to dispose of city refuse.

The press release also mentioned Selangor as the site for the incinerator, confirming the state government's earlier announcement.

It named Kuala Lumpur-based engineering company, Hartasuma Sdn Bhd, as the leading partner in the project consortium. However, the value of the purchase order was not stated.

When contacted, the project team's leading consultant Toshio Yano of Yachiyo Engineering Co Ltd refused to confirm the matter, referring malaysiakini to the Housing and Local Government Ministry instead.

The ministry is the developer or lead agency for the Broga incinerator because municipal solid waste management falls under its jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, a Japanese anti-incinerator activist pointed out that the news of the purchase order has o­nly been reported in Japan and not in Malaysia.

Junichi Sato of Greenpeace Japan said he read of Ebara winning the bid in Malaysia in a Japanese newspaper.

"However, as a public-listed company in Japan, Ebara is legally required to inform its shareholders of the project through the local media."

Setsuko Yamamoto, a researcher and author of two o­n the hazards of incinerators, told forum participants that Ebara is known for exporting its incineration technology to Asian countries.

"It has o­ne of the worst operational records for incinerator plants in Japan, remaining silent o­n the disasters and accidents which have occurred over the years," she alleged.

Accusing the company of flaunting Japan's laws and risking public safety and health, Yamamoto claimed, for instance, that an explosion occurred 30 minutes into a trial run at o­ne of its incinerators.

Click here to view archive of how people from Kampung Bohol, Puchong organised themselves to have the original incinerator relocated.

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Dinesh, Al-Jazeera, and New Media

Embedded links. I noticed Dinesh Nair's blog (introduced by the blogger as a website) now features more "embedded" (buzzword of the month!) links to the subjects he examined. That helps. I don't have to google that often to navigate around. Today, he wrote to MyWordUp mailing list to the cheers of those who are not content with the al-jazeera feed on ASTRO. The Pan-Arab TV - whose reporters were banished from covering NYSE and Nasdaq Stock Market - is available on the net via a realvideo stream from the Netherlands. He announced:

"A bunch of us are working on multicasting that stream from a Malaysian server. if anyone is on a fairly robust streamyx connection and would like to be a part of this multicast network, get in touch with me."

He also has this observation:
With the emergence of the first war covered by mainstream Internet and the proliferation of warblogs, we're seeing the much promised freedom of information and independent publishing. My friend Jeff Ooi likes to call it New Media, but I usually abstain from that phrase for it denotes a scenario which has yet to happen. The Internet is here and it is in your face. WiFi, blogging and pervasive computing will define the milestones of our generation. It's something we built and it will be our legacy to the planet.

Perhaps I have watched Forrest Gump too many times, backward. Or perhaps new is just a temporal reflection of time. But this generation is something my father wouldn't have believed it could happen in our lifetime.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Malaysian blogs mentioned in JD's New Media Musings

Weblog advocacy. Though weblogs originated and thrive in the West, the blogosphere is omnipresent.

March 26, Joseph D Lasica, who writes New Media Musings blog, mentioned about Blogging efforts in Malaysia, linking to The Star In-Tech feature story headlined: Blogging: New form of journalism, which cited US bloggers Dan Gillmor, Nick Denton and Rebecca Blood, among others. He said:
Great to see weblogs taking root in places like Malaysia where there's less of a robust tradition of press freedoms.

Oon Yeoh, who blogs for online media is also mentioned.

Key message of this war, Salam Pax

A glow in war ruins. When I blogrolled Raed @Baghdad at the onset of the war, little did I know the blogger would become a cult celebrity in blogosphere. Yesterday, Raed become headlines of most mainstream media and web portals around the world under the callsign: Salam Pax. It's simply an Arabic and a Latin word put together. Both mean PEACE.

His journal entries seem to imply that he was blogging from the heart of Baghdad, chronicling wry accounts of daily life in a city under U.S. bombardment. By the earliest days of the war (today being the 8th), he has developed a large following beyond the blogosphere and into the entire world wide web. Many feared for his life when he suddenly stopped blogging over the last weekend. He could face double perils as he has been speaking vocally against the military invasion, and he riled at Saddam Hussein and the Baathist leaders.

But he came back on line on Monday after a two-day break because of interruptions in Internet access. Oon Yeoh blogged this yesterday. Jeff Jarvis called Salam Pax 15 gigabytes of fame:

Leave it to today's instant media onslaught to turn Salam Pax into an overexposed star before we all even get to meet him.

Stories about him are everywhere: CNN, Der Spiegel, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and every local paper that does a story on weblogs.

I only hope that all the efforts to get closer to him, identifying his career and even his ISP, does not let Saddam's SS identify him before we get to meet him.

Click Google News here, and you will see whose radar screens Salam Pax has gone into.

The equation has changed. I believe this war has defined the power of weblog as a real-time information repository thriving in an editor-free zone. It makes the web and New Media a definitive mode of info delivery. The equation has changed.

Even The Star's New York-based editor Johan Fernandez wrote about blogs, that the rapid evolution of this form - blogs - over the last week underscores the thirst for information that at least appears unfiltered by anchors and editors of the traditional media. US folks' distrust in the mainstream media in the coverage of the ongoing invasion of Iraq is being voiced openly not only by anti-war advocates but also by the ordinary man in the street. Johan made special mention about The Agonist.

On Tuesday, Oon Yeoh blogged in Transition about the interaction between Andrew Sullivan, leading New Media columnist, and Thomas Friedman, leading print media columnist, as an indication of the growing influence of blogs in the US:
In one of his blogs this week Sullivan criticised Friedman (probably the most popular print columnist in the country), for calling the U.S. war in Iraq a "unilateral exercise of U.S. power." (It should be mentioned that Friedman is in favour of the war).

Friedman replies, and Sullivan posts it on his blog... (please read Friedman's reply in its entirety if you have time):

Sullivan concludes his posting on Friedman's reply by commenting: "Fair enough. But I would also say this about the multilateral left. If you're so keen on allies, it would behoove you not to ignore and insult the ones we have, while pining for those we could never get. That doesn't usually apply to Friedman. Despite some disagreement, he's clearly a good guy in this war."

That's precisely the point about Information Freedom. I can't agree more with Oon on this count, that blogs change the equation in how we decide whose news we read, whose spin we believe.

Meanwhile, if you have time, go over to to see how this war is being debated in "friendly fires" among Malaysians who reside in the country and overseas. They question the US ground for war, about its legality, justification, and now its legitimacy as Kofi Annan said early this morning.

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DoS attacks and surged traffic crippled Al-Jazeera English site

Hackers attacks. An Associated Press report datelined New York said the English website of Al-Jazeera - launched on Monday (US time) - came under Denial-of-Service (DoS) attacks yesterday. Making things worse, traffic surged almost four times more than expected, according to Nabil Hegazi, assistant to the website's managing editor.

At first, I thought traffic must have been so huge its server speed went from normal to extremely slow in from 6.00pm last night. But its sys-admin from Horizons Media and Information Services, based in Qatar, said the attack began Tuesday morning local time. He could not estimate when the site would be fully available again. Roopak Patel, a senior analyst at Keynote Systems Inc., a San Mateo, California, company that tracks Web performance, said four out of five locations in the United States were unavailable during the reported outage..

Al-Jazeera's servers are spread across France and the US , but only the U.S. servers were affected. However, a Calgary (Alberta)-based security consultant said a study of Internet addresses related to Al-Jazeera's U.S. servers indicated a technical problem other than hackers' attack.

What happened?

Big GOP donors invited to secret bid of Iraq contracts

Cronyism in pure American flavour. A continuation to my earlier posting on Bush's war budget. We now understand that of the US$74.7 billion requested, only US$3.5 billion (US$2.5b for relief fund and US$1b for oil well repairs) will go to the Iraqi for accommodating a war for the US. The balance of US$69.2 biliion will possibly go to funding the war, the CIA and willing allies.

Here's a piece of riveting news about who will get the contracts to enter post-war Iraq and squander its people. ABC News March 22 reported it has obtained a copy of a 99-page contract worth $600 million for the rebuilding of Iraq. And biddings done in secrecy began weeks before the first bombs dropped in Iraq.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is the agency administering the contract biddings. It is an independent federal agency that receives overall foreign policy guidance from the State Department headed by Colin L. Powell.

The USAID contract is filled with details about plans to construct Iraqi schools, airports, roads, bridges, hospitals, power plants and more. But other details are being shielded by the USAID, which chose to conduct the bidding in secret. In US, the secret bidding is legal, but controversial. ABC News said:

Normally, USAID puts out contracts on the Internet, and any company can bid. But to move this through quickly, the agency said it went to firms with track records and security clearances. It asked seven - about half the number that normally would have sought the business - to bid.

Among the companies believed to be bidding are Bechtel, Fluor, Parsons, the Washington Group and Halliburton, Vice President Dick Cheney's old firm.

All are experienced. But in addition, all are generous political donors — principally to Republicans.

"We have never in our 40-year history spent this much money in one country in one year," said Andrew S. Natsios, USAID administrator.

Look out for that Dick. CNN reported Halliburton Group - noted, its qualification as "vice-president Dick Cheney's former company" stands out obtrusively - has been awarded the first contract in Iraq for immediate work before the war even concluded., portal for online advocacy groups, has this dossier on Dick Cheney when he was Halliburton's CEO and how government contracts increased by 91%.

Motley Fool has this information about Halliburton-Cheney connection. The information is largely available in public domain but presented in context:
A division of Halliburton (NYSE: HAL) named Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) has been awarded a contract from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to work in Iraq. The size of the contract was not disclosed, but estimates put it near $1 billion.

For now, Halliburton's KBR unit will douse oil fires in Iraq and repair the country's weakened or damaged oil production infrastructure, where possible. Responsibilities after the war are yet to be divvied out. Halliburton is also working with the U.S. government in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Jordan, and other countries under a 10-year contract from the Pentagon awarded in December 2001.

Halliburton is the first of many U.S. corporations that will surely be asked to help, and profit from, the rebuilding of Iraq. It is an especially conspicuous first awardee, however, because Dick Cheney was CEO of Halliburton until 2000. Upon entering the vice president's office, Cheney divested himself of his holdings, although he reportedly still receives about $1 million a year in compensation from the company.

CNN Money also reported that, separately, USAID late Monday awarded a $4.8 million contract to Stevedoring Services of America (SSA), a private company based in Seattle, to manage the Umm Qasr ports in southern Iraq which came under fierce US attacks on Sunday. The time taken between taking down an Iraqi town to awarding a contract was only less than 48 hours.

Non-US companies closed out. Tony Blair may regret sending British troops to serve alongside U.S. troops in Iraq and get killed in "friendly fires" repeatedly. The closed process had effectively blocked British companies, as well as any foreign firm, from bidding.

Also left out were international development groups, which historically have been essential to nation rebuilding because they emphasize the involvement of local people.

ABC News concluded in this tone and I have no reason not to agree:
The agency (USAID) says within a year, Iraqis will have better lives because of the rebuilding. But the secret bidding process makes it impossible to know how much better, or possibly worse, things might have turned out.

It also lends a pillar support to Samuel P. Huntington, who wrote the book of controversy: The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the New World Order (1996). A commentary:
The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion (to which few members of other civilizations were converted) but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do.


Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Longer war, give me more money

Heaven can wait, so can rebuilding Iraq. Now starts the Bush double-speak. Yesterday, the sixth day of Operation Iraqi Freedom or whatever the Yankees may call, Bush asked Congress for $74.7 billion to fund the war on Iraq. This was based on Pentagon estimates that the fighting will last only 30 days. US lawmakers and business community are awry.

Simultaneously, both the White House and the Pentagon insisted they had never suggested to the American public that the War on Iraq would be swift and sharp. Yesterday, both Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers denied that they had ever given anyone the impression of a short war. The U.S. was "much closer to the beginning than the end," Rumsfeld warned.

Today is Day 7 of the Allies' military aggression. Plans to shock and awe, and wrap the War in a swift and sharp military action on Iraq have evaporated. Analysts found Bush's request for supplementary budget does not add up. Guardian March 25 has the figures, and you need to look carefully where the money goes, not necessarily to the Iraqis:

As President George Bush today formally asks Congress for $75bn (£48bn) for the war in Iraq, his emergency request has already come under fire.

The proposal includes $63bn for the war itself - enough to keep American troops in Iraq for nearly five months - $8bn for international aid and relief, and $4bn for homeland security.

Of the $63bn for the war effort, $53bn will go towards the deployment of troops, $5bn to replenish weapons and $1.5bn in payments to Pakistan and others, and unspecified classified expenses, most likely for the CIA.

The $8bn for international relief and reconstruction in Iraq is notable in that most of that money is not even meant for Iraq, but for those countries deemed to have been helpful to the US war effort.

Iraq gets $3.5bn ($2.5bn in a relief fund and much of the rest for oil field repair), while the rest goes to Jordan, Israel, Pakistan, Egypt, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Colombia and some eastern European countries.

Despite all the headaches it has caused the White House, Turkey is slated to receive $1bn. The US had offered Ankara a $6bn aid package, hoping to win its agreement to station American troops on Turkish soil for a northern front.
So, there was a quid pro quo after all?

Don't think Americans are dumb. Taxpayers for Common Sense, a budget watchdog organisation, estimated that the costs of war would exceed $110bn in 2003, assuming the war ends before May. The group calculated that the military has already spent $1bn on cruise missiles, $380m on chemical protective suits and more than $100m on air combat missions.

But US is known for building comradeship, and passing the bucks around. Bush's administration has said that the war would cost less than the 1991 Gulf war, which came to more than $80bn. But in reality, the US paid only $9b on that occasion, as America's allies, notably Saudi Arabia, picked up the rest of the tab. Bear in mind, Gulf War I had widespread international support but starkly not this one.

Another thing is whether Bush's war plan was at all working. Guardian reported today: Doubts over the US-led military strategy in Iraq had intensified as several Gulf war commanders added their voices, charging that it was a mistake to send such a small main force to advance on Baghdad from the south.

The vocal one was General Barry McCaffrey, who commanded the 24th Mechanised Infantry Division in the 1991 war. He is among the highest-profile of those arguing that the Pentagon erred by sending in an assault force a third the size used in Desert Storm, leaving the coalition's supply chain between Kuwait and the outskirts of Baghdad vulnerable to ambush.

Ironically, that strengthens Bush's case for more money to end the war quickly. It all just fits nicely into the script.

How was Day 7 of the War?

I have lost count. Did the promised quagmire at Najaf take place?

Over lunch yesterday, my boss told me what Bush stands for.
Beat Up Saddam Hussein.

Info Freedom: What does the boss think?

I expected this. When deputy Home Minister Chor Chee Heung offered his two-sen's worth on the subject on an official platform, we would assume it received official sanction. I expect nothing less than a public rebuttal from a consumate political animal like Lim Kit Siang. He had asked Chor's boss, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to make a stand on the government's position that "a Freedom of Information Act is not suitable for Malaysia. Kit thinks it is such an attitude which is responsible for the "First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality" Malaysian malaise.

Kit recalled Chor was given the memorandum for a free and responsible press by some 1,000 journalists on World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 1999, shortly before he was appointed to the "important and powerful office" of Home Minister. Four years have passed, nothing happened.

Those Seek-Change-by-Memorandum tactics don't seem to work for NGOs and politicians-in-doldrum who want change in many a thing in Malaysia. For veterans like Kit will have to change his strategy for political manoeuvres - he hasn't changed much over the years, has he? Or they themselves get changed and be blended into the sunset. There has been too much talk and people have become deaf of the noise and nuances.

Also, people may inherit genetic apathy in prolonged peace and comfort.

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Al-Jazeera's English website

This is the banner on Al-Jazeera's English website.

It just went live not too long ago. Traffic must be huge as server speed went from normal to extremely slow in the last 4 hours I surfed.

Thanks Steve Rhodes of Online-Writing List for the pointer.

Media's future in Malaysia

Dollah Kok Lanas and pre-emptive strike. NST Group Editor-in-Chief Abdullah Ahmad wrote himself into a headline by aping Bush's pre-emptive strike at media critics. He was said to have lost his cool and shouted at the paper presenters and participants during a discussion o­n media ownership at a national media conference in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

The outburst occurred during a panel discussion after the joint presentation by Dr Yeoh Seng Guan and V Gayathry o­n 'The impact of media values and media ownership o­n information access' - which touched o­n media ownership, values and professional journalistic ethics.

Abdullah was reported to have taken the salvo at the first available opportunity by yelling this:

"Why are you all so bloody obsessed with Umno, and not MCA or MIC?"

"Why is it that all Yeoh's references was o­n Umno's links with media, and nothing o­n MCA's open deal with the Star? Can he prove Umno's direct ownership of any newspaper?

"If you feel so frustrated (with the present newspapers), why don't you start your own newspapers?

"You just talk, talk, talk, but do nothing!"

Too bad, I wasn't at the conference, 'Future of the media in a knowledge society: rights, risks and responsibilities', organised by the United Nations Development Program and the research arm of, Strategic Analysis Malaysia. I had to check with fellow scribes who attended, and verified with reports by Malaysiakini. I also consulted Oon Yeoh, who was a panelist at the New Media session, and wrote in his blog, Transition.

Abdullah strongly made his point as he had insisted that the presenters prove that Umno, the main component in the country's ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, directly owned the 157-year-old broadsheet publication.

If not because of a twist in fate and history, Abdullah would have been a prime minister Malaysia did not have. Knowing who he is and what he has gone through in politics, I have but to offer my respect - in every sense - of what he said yesterday, and I excerpt from the Malaysiakini story:
He maintained that media business is a business with profit-making as the goal, and that people buy newspapers to be informed and educated, and in Malaysia, (they buy it) to be entertained.

Abdullah said media values were clear and simple.

"We are here to support the government and its efforts, and I believe all major newspapers and periodicals are the same in various degrees."

He said the implementation of such editorial policies should reflect clarity, fairness, honesty and integrity in the product. "Let the news-reading public declare their choices," he said.

Abdullah may say his paper is pro-government, but after years of reading the NST under Munir Majid, A. Kadir Jasin and now Abdullah 'The Diarist', I largely consider it a part of the Establishment itself.

Whatever said and done, I think his "pre-emptive strike" fulfilled his ends as his shouts had maimed the floor comprising journalists, journalism lecturers, human rights and community-based organisations, government officials and representatives from the IT sector to to shocked murmurs.

Yesterday, incidentially, I blogged on the subject of western media's stand in time of War on Iraq. What, then, is Malaysian media's stand in time of virtual peace? Obviously, the Establishment didn't say its present and future are any good.

Earlier at the conference, deputy Home Minister Chor Chee Heung said the country is not ready for freedom of information, and as such, a Freedom of Information Act is not suitable for the country. He added:
"A journalist wants full access to information, everything. But a policy-maker has to make sure that the country is governed well, that citizens from different backgrounds are well-protected and able to live in peace and harmony.

"Let no o­ne be irresponsible enough to start a fire," he said.

On the same topic, Malaysiakini editor-in-chief Steven Gan was quoted as saying that a Freedom of Information Act will be useful to minimise the confusion over the accessibility of information.

Gan said all Malaysians would agree that not all information should be made accessible to the public but the existing media laws do not state clearly the type of information which should be withheld. In a knowledge society, he added, the public must be taught not to believe whatever they read from o­ne source of information but to always look for different sources before making their judgement.

Gan pointed out one facet of Malaysian Truth:
There were two realities in Malaysian society where the first is made up of people who discussed actively all sorts of issues "in coffee shops and other venues" and the second comprises the local media which keep silent over many issues deemed to be sensitive.

Hence, we get the level of information access and freedom we deserve.

Malaysiakini requires subscription for access to stories cited above. Subscribe here or view full text at BeritaMalaysia mailing list.

Monday, March 24, 2003

If only MIMOS is as simple as O & 1, bits & bytes...

May I ask again. Is there any provision in the corporatisation of Mimos Berhad, an ICT agency set up using taxpayers’ money, that allows it to mobilise idle funds to invest in foreign exchange through a corporate fund manager?

Take this as an illustrative example of how much we walk the talk o­n corporate governance as Mimos hit the headlines for many wrong reasons in recent months.

Malaysiakini ran my opinion piece (subscription required): Mimos clean-up long overdue yesterday. Full text available at BeritaMalaysia mailing list.

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In times of War, where do media stand?

Media's hawks and doves. Shortly before the War on Iraq broke, Editor & Publisher took a survey of the top 50 US newspapers' editorial positions, and discovered that most American newspapers finally took a clear stand on the issue - they continue to show a slight shift in the dovish direction.

The E&P found that 18 newspapers support war during the Monday week of March 10, while 24 want to give diplomacy more time. Of that cautious group of 24, eleven support extending the deadline for war for a short period, while 13 believe that inspections deserve much more time. They include Los Angeles Times and Washington Post. But The Boston Globe still has not made up its mind:

It is summed up in the title of its March 11 editorial: "Warring impulses." The Globe seemed to place itself along with "a lot of Americans" in what it called "the muddled middle" swinging between positions "daily, sometimes hourly... " before arriving at this conclusion: "There are no right answers yet."

Strongly dovish. Pro-peace papers, among which I read regularly, include The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times and The Sun of Baltimore.
Among the other notable changes, The New York Times, after much criticism for sending mixed signals, finally took a clear antiwar stance. "We believe there is a better option involving long-running, stepped-up weapons inspections," the Times wrote on March 9. "If it comes down to a question or yes or no to invasion without broad international support, our answer is no."

... The San Francisco Chronicle also emphasized the importance of global cooperation before war. "Bush's threat to make the United Nations irrelevant is a reckless and arrogant diplomatic act," they wrote on March 11. "In the midst of rapid globalization, we need the world just as much as it needs us."

No military action. Twelve papers opposed to immediate military action still believed a firm deadline would help spur Iraq's disarmament. Newspapers I am familiar with as a reader include USA Today, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Detroit Free Press, and San Jose Mercury News.

Hawks Ready to Fly. Eighteen other papers disagreed -- arguing that time had run out for Saddam Hussein -- although these papers sometimes differed in approach. They- again, those that I am familiar with as a reader - include: Newsday NY, The Seattle Times, The New York Post, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, The Dallas Morning News, and New York Daily News.

How About UK? The Guardian has this story:

The Hawks. There are six titles supporting war - The Telegraph, The Times, Daily Mail, The Sun, Daily Express and Star - which have a combined circulation on the latest count of 9.4 million.

The Doves. Three papers oppose war - The Guardian, The Independent and Daily Mirror - with a total sale of 2.7 million.

Sunday editions. The pro-war majority of the ten Sunday nationals is roughly the same - 10.3 million to 3 million.

The Observer, Guardian's Sunday edition, put up a surprisingly belligerent stance. As late as March 16, it was still pushing for a second UN resolution. By contrast, the Independent on Sunday, edited by Tristan Davies, has been the most ardently anti-war broadsheet of all, devoting its whole front page a week ago (March 9) to the subject, says Guardian.

In times of war, who will tell the truth? This is made even more complicated with the integration of media companies into the global military-industrial complex. In such circumstances, there is no willingness by such media organisations to challenge military might. Guardian's writer, Roy Greenslade, brings up a pertinent point:
The Guardian isn't part of a global company. The Independent is owned by one, though hardly a major example, but its precarious position has enabled its editor to assert his independence from its owner who, I understand, isn't at all happy with its anti-war crusade.

The Mirror isn't part of a multi-national company but its shares are widely spread and its largest investor in the US has openly disavowed its editorial line and applied some pressure to change it. It certainly opens a debate about the definition of a free press, does it not?.

Rightly or wrongly, the Malaysian press runs away from such dilemma. What we have are largely media owned by political parties, whose captains may have indirectly represented the government in dealing with weaponry manufacturers in the course of building the country's defence system. Is that an issue?

Sunday, March 23, 2003

It's so senseless

Wasted weekend. I virtually spent yesterday, a hard-earned Sunday, watching the satellite TV and surfing at the same time to get a feel of how this war is being fought with information pumping by the minute. Too bad, my home broadband (renamed Screamyx by now) was giving me 28 ~ 33 kilobit and 1 ~ 4 kilobyte per second conenctivity and download speed, so I got to watch more TV than read web pages.

The better stations have been BBC and Fox News (in mandarin over Phoenix, Channel 32 ASTRO). MSNBC which took over CNBC regular programming was nice but US-centric, so I didn't need too much of that for now. The better online news are "definitively" from the British broadsheets, Washington Post and New York Times, timely and balanced.

But all in all, one thing is in common. This war is senseless.

While waiting for the web pages to load, I hit overdrive and blogged on and on.

Random thoughts. Ng Yen Yen's PR issue would have been saved by Saddam's bells. Don't they know it's not about tending to her kids but the morality of pledging loyalty to the king and country to gain senatorship while holding an Australian PR?

Did Roman Polanski win any Oscars?

PoWs shown on al-Jazeera

Photo-finish for War Propaganda.

We caught you! Qatar-based Pan-Arab TV channel al-Jazeera screens video of prisoners said to be captured US soldiers. Was Geneva Convention breached?

You are late. What took you so long? In Safwan after U.S. Marines arrived, Ajami Saadoun Khlis, whose son and brother were executed under the Saddam regime, sobbed like a child on the shoulder of the Guardian's Egyptian translator. He mopped the tears but they kept coming. "You just arrived," he said. "You're late. What took you so long? God help you become victorious. I want to say hello to Bush, to shake his hand. We came out of the grave."

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Bush's war was 48 hours old when it 'began'

Rushing to War. Bob Woodward wrote an insightful piece in Washington Post today. You may say Bush practically tore up the original war plans and rushed into military attacks. Tony Blair was only informed shortly before the military attacks started.

The War on Iraq was not supposed to have been officially started as announced by Bush at 10.15pm ET March 19 (Malaysian time 11.15am March 20). The war was set for official announcement at 1.00pm ET Friday, March 21 (Malaysian Time 2.00am March 22). In other words, the war was brought forward by 48 hours.

Under the official war plan, designated "OPLAN 1003 V" and approved by the president, the 48-hour window was to enable 31 Special Operations teams - about 300 men - to begin pouring under cover of darkness into western and southern Iraq. Joining smaller contingents of U.S. Special Forces and CIA paramilitaries already in Iraq, the special operators would fan out to sever communications, take down observation posts and position themselves to prevent what the Bush administration most feared - moves by the Iraqi high command to use chemical or biological weapons, attack Israel with Scud missiles or destroy the country's oil fields - which many did not materialise.

Woodward, assisted by researcher Mark Malseed, has a revealing story about Bush's original war plan. The military attacks would start on March 21 ET, with massive airstrikes against Baghdad and other cities. Soon afterward, the president was to announce the start of the air war, and conventional ground forces were to cross the Kuwait border into Iraq nine hours later.

In the end, Bush acted on information presented by CIA Director George J. Tenet, and ordered an airstrike and cruise missile attack on the Baghdad complex, called Dora Farm, in an attempt - widely known as a decapitation attack - to kill Hussein and other senior members of the leadership.

Before that took place, Bush's War Council asked several questions: Was a direct attack on the Iraqi leader legal? Was Hussein really there?

To the first, administration lawyers determined that the Dora Farm compound where Hussein was located was a command-and-control facility subject to military attack, and since the war had begun, they determined an airstrike was legitimate. To the second, the intelligence was "damn good," in the words of one source Woodward quoted, and a consensus emerged that it was worth taking a shot.

But the plan failed. U.S. intelligence authorities, who believe Hussein and his sons were in the bunker during the attack, still have no definitive answer as to whether they were killed, injured, or escaped unharmed.

The rest was history. The president went on national television at 10:15 p.m. (Wednesday, March 19 ET) to announce the onset of war. In addition, on Thursday, the administration decided to move up the ground operation by 24 hours. It would commence 15 hours before the first large-scale airstrikes hit Iraq.

Progress so far. Day three of the US aggression saw mistakes and ground resistance creeping in. US Patriot missiles shot down "by mistake" a British RAF aircraft near Kuwait, attributing to malfunctioning of transponder on the Tornado. Bush started to remind his people that the war might be longer than expected.

War Plan. Woodward revealed that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Tommy R. Franks began drafting the blueprint for war as early as January 2002. Over the ensuing 14 months, the Pentagon planners came up with more than 20 versions of the plan. In all, Bush received a dozen detailed briefings as it evolved.

At about the same time, as the first phase of the war in Afghanistan was winding down following the ouster of the Taliban militia from power, the president signed a secret intelligence order authorizing the CIA to undertake a comprehensive program to remove Hussein. He authorized spending upwards of $200 million to support opposition groups and expand intelligence collection.

The first CIA paramilitary team secretly began operating in Iraq in June 2002 to gather intelligence and meet with and support opposition groups. Eventually the CIA deployed additional paramilitary teams and established links with Iraqis throughout the country, including Baghdad.

A feasible, credible version of OPLAN 1003 V was presented to the president last August, which subsequently saw the tussle between the hawks and seeming doves in Bush's administration. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was said to have strongly urged the president to go to the United Nations to build more international support for disarming Iraq. That gave Rumsfeld and Franks more time to fine tune their war plans.

Old School Journo. Woodward is my kind of old school journalist. I began following his writing in the mid 80's, after reading All The President's Men which put a perspective to the Watergate Scandal that brought down President Nixon. The famous informant, Deep Throat, remains till today as the best kept source in modern journalism.

Last November, he published Bush At War, which focuses on the three months following the September 11 terrorist attacks, during which the U.S. prepared for war against Taliban in Afghanistan, developed a policy of preemptive strike against Iraq, intensified homeland defense, and began a well-funded CIA covert war against terrorism around the world.

Woodward will appear as Tim Russet's guest at tonight's Meet The Press, 10.00pm to 12.00 midnight, CNBC Live (Channel 91 ASTRO) at the journalist roundtable. The hawk, Donald Rumsfeld, will meet Tim separately. I will try to locate the transcript next week. Catch them if you can. Or email your questions to the producer.

UPDATE: MSNBC programming has taken over that of CNBC, at least on Sunday, to provide live update on the War, hence Meet The Press was not available on Channel 91 ASTRO. Meaning we have to rely on the transcript of the interviews.