24 June 2014

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TMI

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 did not climb to 13,700m then dive below 7,000m before it vanished, international investigators said, contradicting earlier reports based on Malaysia’s military radar data.

The New York Times reported today investigators discovered the jet had not soared and swooped as they believed earlier, but remained in controlled flight for hours after contact was lost, until it ran out of fuel over the southern Indian Ocean.

It said they concluded this after a re-examination of the military radar data and the pings the aircraft exchanged with an Inmarsat satellite over the Equator showed that the radar’s altitude readings? appeared to be incorrect.

An international review found Malaysia’s radar equipment had not been calibrated with enough precision for the readings to be accurate, the NYT said.

While many military radar can detect altitude and give accurate readings of an aircraft’s location, speed and direction, the equipment must be recalibrated regularly and carefully according to local atmospheric conditions, it said.

“The primary radar data pertaining to altitude is regarded as unreliable,” Angus Houston, the head of the Joint Agency Coordination Centre, was quoted as saying.

The radar tracked MH370 as it veered off its scheduled flight path over the Gulf of Thailand and flew west across the peninsula and Strait of Malacca.

The ?plane then passed beyond the radar’s range near the northern tip of the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

The radar readings suggested the plane soared above its certified maximum altitude of 13,700m, then dipped low over the ranges of Malaysia, before climbing back to 7,000m or higher over the Strait of Malacca.

But Houston told the NYT that he doubted whether anyone could prove the plane had soared and swooped the way initial reports suggested.

“There’s nothing reliable about height,” Martin Dolan, the chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, was quoted as saying in the report.

The report said dismissal of the radar altitude data prompted a change in the focus of the search, as the plane’s fuel would have lasted longer if it maintained a steadier altitude.

Data from the pings, or the electronic handshakes, led investigators to conclude that the aircraft came down in the ocean west of Australia along what is called the seventh arc, the area of the final handshake with the plane.

“Everyone agrees that is where the aircraft ran out of fuel,” said Dolan in the report.

Officials said the search would now move hundreds of kilometres southwest across the arc, after the Australian government had scoured the northeast end based on the conclusion that the jet had burned a great deal of fuel.

The New York Times said the specifics were still being finalised, but the new search zone was likely to be an area about 640km long and some 97km wide.

This was based on the assumption that the plane was being flown by its? autopilot, which was unable to control the plane when the engine stopped and would have caused the plane to stall and fall into the ocean.

21 June 2014

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Foreign Policy

rom 2001 until sometime around 2006, the United States followed the core neoconservative foreign-policy program. The disastrous results of this vast social science experiment could not be clearer. The neoconservative program cost the United States several trillion dollars and thousands dead and wounded American soldiers, and it sowed carnage and chaos in Iraq and elsewhere.

One would think that these devastating results would have discredited the neoconservatives forever, just as isolationists like Charles Lindbergh or Robert McCormick were discredited by World War II, and men like former Secretary of State Dean Rusk were largely marginalized after Vietnam. Even if the neoconservative architects of folly are undaunted by failure and continue to stick to their guns, one might expect a reasonably rational society would pay them scant attention.

Yet to the dismay of many commentators — including Andrew Bacevich, Juan Cole, Paul Waldman, Andrew Sullivan, Simon Jenkins, and James Fallows — neoconservative punditry is alive and well today. Casual viewers of CNN and other news channels are being treated to the vacuous analysis of Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, and Bill Kristol.

More worrisome still: It seems to be having some impact, insofar as President Barack Obama appears to have bowed to pressure and dispatched 300 U.S. military advisors to help the incompetent and beleaguered Maliki government in Iraq. As usual, Obama seems wary of a new quagmire and seeking to limit U.S. involvement, but he’s taken the first step onto the slippery slope and will face additional pressure to do more if this initial move does not succeed.

What’s going on here? Others have eviscerated the logic of the neocons’ latest campaign for war, and you can read any of the commentaries listed above for powerful rejoinders to the neocons’ latest spate of bad advice. Or you could take a quick look at Barry Posen’s recent piece in Politico, which provides a useful caution to the neocons’ all-too-familiar saber-rattling.

But given their past failures, what explains neoconservatism’s apparent

But given their past failures, what explains neoconservatism’s apparent immunity from any degree of accountability? How can a group of people be so wrong so often and at such high cost, yet still retain considerable respect and influence in high circles? For America to pay the slightest heed to neoconservatives is like asking Wile E. Coyote how to catch the Road Runner, seeking marital advice from the late Mickey Rooney, or letting Bernie Madoff handle your retirement portfolio.

As near as I can tell, the strange mind-boggling persistence of neoconservatism is due to four interrelated factors.

No. 1: Shamelessness

One reason neoconservatism survives is that its members don’t care how wrong they’ve been, or even about right and wrong itself. True to their Trotskyite and Straussian roots, neoconservatives have always been willing to play fast and loose with the truth in order to advance political goals. We know that they were willing to cook the books on intelligence and make outrageously false claims in order to sell the Iraq war, for example, and today they construct equally false narratives that deny their own responsibility for the current mess in Iraq and portray their war as a great success that was squandered by Obama. And the entire movement seems congenitally incapable of admitting error, or apologizing to the thousands of people whose lives they have squandered or damaged irreparably.

Like Richard Nixon or Silvio Berlusconi, in short, the neoconservatives keep staging comebacks because they simply don’t care how often they have been wrong, and because they remain willing to do or say anything to stay in the public eye. They also appear utterly indifferent to the tragic human consequences of their repeated policy failures. Being a neoconservative, it seems, means never having to say you’re sorry.

No. 2: Financial Support

The second source of neoconservative survival is money. In America’s wide-open policy arena, almost anyone can be a player, provided they have the resources to keep people employed and give them platforms and institutions from which to operate. Instead of becoming marginalized within the Beltway scene, the neocons who drove America over the brink in 2003 continue to be supported by an array of well-funded think tanks, magazines, and letterhead organizations, including the Weekly Standard, American Enterprise Institute, Carnegie Endowment, Council on Foreign Relations, Institute for the Study of War, Hudson Institute, and several others. If someone can screw up as repeatedly as Elliott Abrams and still land a well-funded senior fellowship at CFR — then bad advice will continue to enjoy a prominent place in American policy discourse.

No. 3: A Receptive and Sympathetic Media

Neoconservatives would have much less influence if mainstream media didn’t continue to pay attention to them. They could publish their own journals and appear on Fox News, but the big force multiplier is their continued prominence in places like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and other outlets. Neocons continue to have frequent access to op-ed pages, and are commonly quoted by reporters on a range of foreign-policy issues.

This tendency is partly because some important members of the mainstream media are themselves neoconservatives or strongly sympathetic to its basic worldview. David Brooks of the New York Times, Charles Krauthammer and Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post, and Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal are all card-carrying neoconservatives and were, of course, prominent voices in the original pro-war camp.

The Times even hired Kristol to write an op-ed column back in 2005 — after Iraq had already gone south — and he might still be doing that today if his columns hadn’t been so dull and sloppy.

But it’s not just the neoconservatives’ continued presence in the mainstream press.

Neoconservatives continue to exercise influence because the rest of the U.S. media is obsessed with “balance,” and because lackadaisical reporters know they can always get a hawkish neoconservative quote to balance whatever they are being told by the Obama administration or by more dovish voices. As long as reporters think balance matters more than accuracy, neoconservatives will still find plenty of places to peddle their particular version of foreign-policy snake oil.

No. 4: Liberal Allies

The final source of neoconservative persistence is the continued support they get from their close cousins: the liberal interventionists. Neoconservatives may have cooked up the whole idea of invading Iraq, but they got a lot of support from a diverse array of liberal hawks. As I’ve noted before, the only major issue on which these two groups disagree is the role of international institutions, which liberals view as a useful tool and neoconservatives see as a dangerous constraint on U.S. freedom of action. Neoconservatives, in short, are liberal imperialists on steroids, and liberal hawks are really just kinder, gentler neocons.

The liberal interventionists’ complicity in the neoconservative project makes them reluctant to criticize the neoconservatives very much, because to do so draws attention to their own culpability in the disastrous neoconservative program. It is no surprise, therefore, that recovering liberal hawks like Peter Beinart and Jonathan Chait — who both backed the Iraq war themselves — have recently defended neoconservative participation in the new debate over Iraq, while taking sharp issue with some of the neocons’ position.

The neoconservative-liberal alliance in effect re-legitimates the neoconservative world view, and makes their continued enthusiasm for U.S.-led wars look “normal.” When the Obama administration is staffed by enthusiastic proponents of intervention like Samantha Power or Susan Rice, and when former Obama officials like Anne-Marie Slaughter are making neocon-like arguments about the need to send arms to Syria, it makes neoconservatives sound like a perfectly respectable faction within the broad U.S. policy community, instead of underscoring just how extreme and discredited their views really are.

The zombie-like ability to maintain influence and status in the face of overwhelming evidence tells you that F. Scott Fitzgerald was wrong: There are in fact an infinite number of “second chances” in American life and little or no accountability in the U.S. political system. The neocons’ staying power also reminds us that the United States can get away with irresponsible public discourse because it is very, very secure. Iraq was a disaster, and it helped pave the way to defeat in Afghanistan, but at the end of the day the United States will come home and probably be just fine. True, thousands of our fellow citizens would be alive and well today had we never listened to the neoconservatives’ fantasies, and Americans would be more popular abroad and more prosperous at home if their prescriptions from 1993 forward had been ritually ignored. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis would be alive too, and the Middle East would probably be in somewhat better condition (it could hardly be worse).

What, if anything, might reduce the neoconservative influence to its proper dimension (that is to say, almost nil)? I wish I knew, for if the past ten years haven’t discredited them, it’s not obvious what would. No doubt leaders in Moscow and Beijing derive great comfort from that fact: For what better way to ensure that the United States continues to lurch from crisis to crisis, and from quagmire to quagmire? Until our society gets better at listening to those who are consistently right instead of those who are reliably wrong, we will repeat the same mistakes and achieve the same dismal results. Not that the neoconservatives will care.

21 June 2014

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TMI

Ketua Umum PKR Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim (gambar) enggan melayan permohonan pengendali blog Papa Gomo yang mahu membayar ganti rugi secara ansuran sebanyak RM100 sebulan.

Enggan mengulas lanjut, Anwar sebaliknya meminta Umno sendiri yang menyelesaikan masalah itu.

“Jangan tanya saya, tanya pemimpin Umno yang taja dia,” katanya kepada pemberita selepas menyampaikan ceramah Asian Renaissance di Puchong, hari ini.

Mahkamah Tinggi Kuala Lumpur semalam menolak permohonan Wan Muhammad Azri Wan Deris menangguhkan bayaran ganti rugi sebanyak RM800,000.

“Saya cuba mohon dengan mahkamah untuk bayar RM100? sebulan kepada Ketua Pembangkang Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim kerana sekarang hanya bekerja sebagai nelayan,” katanya dipetik laporan media semalam.

Wan Muhammad Azri turut mengaku sudah menjual saham miliknya di KL POS Media & Production Sdn Bhd.

Pada 28 Februari lalu, Pesuruhjaya Kehakiman Mahkamah Tinggi Rosilah Yop memerintahkan Wan Muhammad Azri membayar ganti rugi sebanyak RM800,000 dan kos RM50,000 kepada Anwar berhubung penyiaran perkataan fitnah dan meletak imej mengaitkan Anwar dalam video seks dalam blog miliknya.

Rosilah dalam penghakimannya berkata, daripada keterangan yang dikemukakan, terbukti Wan Muhammad Azri adalah blogger Papa Gomo dan menerbitkan kenyataan fitnah.

Anwar memfailkan saman terhadap Wan Muhamamad Azri pada 21 Mac tahun lalu dengan menuntut ganti rugi berjumlah RM100 juta kerana mendakwa Wan Muhammad Azri menyiarkan empat siri perkataan fitnah di laman blog berkenaan pada 16, 17, 19 dan 20 Mac 2013.

Dalam perkembangan lain, Ahli Parlimen Lembah Pantai Nurul Izzah Anwar ketika diminta mengulas mengenai kesihatan Anwar berkata, ayahnya tidak mengalami apa-apa simptom penyakit yang serius.

Nurul Izzah berkata, Anwar hanya menjalankan pemeriksaan kesihatan biasa di Institut Jantung Negara di Kuala Lumpur dan dibenarkan keluar wad pagi tadi.

“Dia cuma mengalami jangkitan paru-paru selepas beberapa hari batuk dan tidak sihat.

“Doktor cuma menasihatkannya supaya banyakkan berehat,” katanya.

20 June 2014

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The Economist

State capitalism continues to defy expectations of its demise

IT IS now 25 years since Francis Fukuyama published “The End of History?” and ignited a firestorm of debate. Today there are many reasons for thinking that he was wrong about the universal triumph of liberalism and markets, from democracy’s failure in the Middle East to the revival of religious fundamentalism. But one of the most surprising reasons is the continuing power of the state as an economic actor: far from retiring from the business battlefield in 1989, the state merely regrouped for another advance.

Survey the battlefield today and you can see state capitalism almost everywhere. In China companies in which the state is a majority shareholder account for 60% of stockmarket capitalisation. In Russia and Brazil companies in which the state has either a majority or a significant minority stake account for 30-40% of capitalisation. Even in such bastions of economic orthodoxy as Sweden and the Netherlands state-owned enterprises (SOEs) account for 5% of market capitalisation. The Chinese and Russian governments show little sign of wanting to surrender control of the commanding heights of the economy. Privatisation seems to have ground to a halt in Brazil and in India (though its new government may revive it). There has been talk of the French government taking a stake in Alstom or part of its business—adding to the stakes it and Germany hold in Airbus and the one France recently took in Peugeot.

What should one make of the revival of state capitalism? Opinions vary wildly. Some praise it as a superior form of capitalism while others treat it as a mere way-station on the road to proper capitalism. One of its most ardent proponents, Vladimir Putin of Russia, somehow keeps a straight face when claiming there is no state capitalism in his country. Some see SOEs as money pits whereas others think they are pretty good investments: Morgan Stanley, a bank, reckons that, together, shares in listed SOEs in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America did better than stockmarkets as a whole between 2001 and 2012.

“Reinventing State Capitalism”, a new book by Aldo Musacchio of Harvard Business School and Sergio Lazzarini of Insper, a Brazilian university, sheds fresh light on the question. It notes that the old model of Leviathan-as-entrepreneur, in which the state owned companies outright and ran them by ministerial diktat, was largely swept aside by the privatisation wave of the 1980s and 1990s, when governments realised that they could make money out of their companies rather than constantly bailing them out. But instead of swimming off into the blue ocean Leviathan reappeared in three disguises—as a majority or minority shareholder and as an indirect investor.

In the first form, which is particularly popular in China, the state submits an SOE to the governance standards and investor scrutiny that come with a stockmarket listing while retaining the bulk of the shares. In the second, which accounts for about half of SOEs, the state retains just enough influence, through its minority stake, to swing some important decisions. In the third, the state seeks to invest in companies—including ones not previously government-linked—through public development banks (of which there are currently 286 in 117 countries), sovereign-wealth funds, pension funds and other vehicles. For instance, India’s Life Insurance Corporation is the largest stockmarket investor in the country, with about $50 billion invested as of September 2011.

How successful has Leviathan been in these new incarnations? Messrs Musacchio and Lazzarini go out of their way to be fair. They point out that new-style SOEs more closely resemble true private-sector firms than old-fashioned nationalised industries: they are run by businesspeople not political hacks, and no longer have bloated workforces. The authors argue that good governance can overcome the classic problems of state ownership: Statoil of Norway is one of the world’s best-run firms. And they observe that Leviathan can also bring benefits to the private sector: for example, it can provide long-term investment in countries that have shallow or dysfunctional capital markets.

But the authors nevertheless produce a lot of evidence that the new Leviathan retains some of the old one’s weaknesses. This is especially clear in Brazil, where two successive presidents from the Workers’ Party (PT), Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, have trampled on other shareholders’ rights in the name of the national interest. The government leant on Petrobras, the national oil company, to withdraw plans to raise the price of petrol in line with world prices. It engineered the removal of Roger Agnelli as boss of Vale, a privatised mining giant in which the national development bank, the BNDES, still owns a chunk, because it did not like his emphasis on exporting iron ore to China instead of building steel mills at home. This rise in interventionism has come just as the BNDES is losing itsraison d’être because of the deepening of domestic capital markets. Messrs Musacchio and Lazzarini demonstrate that under the PT the bank has got into the habit of lending money to already successful businesses that could easily have raised it from the markets—companies that, by the by, are also generous contributors to political campaigns.

The importance of timing

The implication of all this is not so much that Mr Fukuyama was wrong about the market in 1989 but that he was premature. The development of state capitalism over subsequent years has undoubtedly been extraordinary. But there are good reasons for still hoping that it is a way-station to a more fully private economy, not a new form of capitalism. The best SOEs have demonstrated that they can thrive without the guiding hand of the state—and the worst have proved that, however many market disciplines you impose upon them, they will still find a way of turning state capitalism into its ugly sister, crony capitalism.

20 June 2014

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Foreign Policy

Not long ago, stability and security in Iraq seemed possible. Maliki’s corruption shattered any hope of that.

When Mosul fell to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) on June 10, most Iraqis were, like the rest of the world, shocked. When two other cities fell days later with minimal resistance from the Iraqi security forces, the response was horror. How in just a matter of days could a cancerous, extremist organization defeat Iraq’s U.S.-trained security forces, which count more than 1 million personnel in their ranks and have received close to $100 billion in funding since 2006?

The truth is, nothing is surprising about the developments in Iraq right now. Nor was any of this inevitable.

Four years ago, Iraq finally had relatively good security, a generous state budget, and positive relations among the country’s various ethnic and religious communities after years of chaos following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. But Iraq’s political elites squandered this opportunity. Their corruption and hunger for power distracted them from emerging crises — like the rise of ISIS — and laid the groundwork for what is now taking place.

By 2008, al Qaeda-affiliated militias and death squads no longer swarmed the country from Samarra to Mosul as they had just two years before. U.S. officials, state security services, tribal forces, and some armed groups had forged an agreement to work together against the most extreme groups terrorizing Iraq’s population. The major roads in those areas were lined with the flags of the Awakening Councils, and local fighters had decided to protect ordinary Iraqis from al Qaeda. In time, the Iraqi military was deployed in all major cities and set up checkpoints every few miles.

Although unemployment, corruption, and failing public services were still major problems, ordinary Iraqis in the areas that had been dominated by al Qaeda still breathed a collective sigh of relief. They could go back to work, resume their studies, and relax outdoors without the constant ring of gunfire in the background. Families took their children to the river, where they swam and picnicked, while young men made regular trips to Kirkuk or Baghdad to stock up on local Iraqi beer.

There was also at this time a consensus that the Iraqi Army consisted of honorable, patriotic soldiers who treated local people with respect. The public had grown hostile toward al Qaeda and other insurgent groups and was siding with the state and its army. The atmosphere in small towns like Tikrit was relaxed, and people casually mixed with soldiers and police, exchanging jokes and pleasantries.

It was a new atmosphere and it was full of promise. Iraqis were demanding more from their politicians than mere survival. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki established a new political alliance, the State of Law alliance, which campaigned on a platform of re-establishing strong state institutions, reducing corruption, and providing adequate services to the people. The Iraqiya alliance, another large and newly formed coalition, backed a similar platform. The tantalizing prospects of establishing a new political environment and creating a stable state seemed within reach.

It never happened. Rather than consolidating these gains, several factors began working against Iraq’s national cohesion as early as 2010. Maliki’s government used “de-Baathification” laws, introduced to keep members of Saddam Hussein’s regime out of government, to target his opponents — but not his many allies, who also had been senior members of the Baath Party. The 2010 government formation process turned out to be yet another opportunity for politicians of all stripes to grant themselves senior positions which they could use to plunder the state. When tens of thousands of Iraqis took to the streets in February 2011 to protestcorruption, they were branded terrorists and were attacked and beaten by security forces and hired thugs. Dozens were killed and thousands arrested and tortured until the protests fizzled. Meanwhile, though terrorist groups were not operating as openly as before, hundreds of civilians continued to be killed every month, particularly in Baghdad, denying Iraqis in many parts of the country even a brief period of normalcy.

At that time, Maliki began referring to himself publicly as Iraq’s preeminent military leader. When the 2010 electoral results did not conform to his expectations, he demanded a recount in his “capacity as commander in chief.” When he forced senior anti-corruption officials from their positions, he once again inappropriately invoked his military credentials. He called officers on their mobile phones to demand specific actions or that individuals be arrested, circumventing the chain of command. After the new government was formed in November 2010, he refused to appoint ministers of the interior and of defense, preferring to occupy both positions himself. He appointed senior military commanders directly, instead of seeking parliamentary approval as required by the constitution.

There was also much talk about the prime minister’s special forces, including the Baghdad Operations Command. Groups of young men were arrested in waves, often in the middle of the night, and would be whisked to secret jails, often never to be seen again. Former Army officers, members of the Awakening, activists who complained too much about corruption, devout Iraqis who prayed a little too often at their local mosques — all were targeted. Many were never charged with crimes or brought before a judge. Under the pretext of trying to stop the regular explosions that blighted Baghdad, these individuals were subjected to severe abuse.

By 2012, the atmosphere in Tikrit had changed. Joking with the police and the Army had ended. Tikritis were desperately looking for detained relatives, but information was almost impossible to obtain even for the best-connected. The relationship of trust that the Army had built with the general population was ruined by the special forces’ activities.

Then there was the corruption. The security sector, which had an annual budget greater than the budgets for education, health, and the environment combined, was subject to minimal oversight. Soldiers were enrolled and paid monthly salaries without reporting for duty. Overpriced and faulty equipment was procured using the laxest standards. Training sessions were financed on paper but never took place in practice. Appointments were politicized. Officers close to the prime minister’s office who failed to investigate leads on terrorist attacks were almost never held accountable for their actions. Even the most grotesque failures, including the military’s passivity in the face of regular attacks against Christians in Nineveh over a period of years, went unpunished. Morale among the rank and file was low, and there was very little desire to take risks on behalf of political elites who were viewed as wildly corrupt.

Against this backdrop, many of the armed gangs that had terrorized local populations from 2005 to 2007 now saw their opportunity to re-emerge. They still could not operate in broad daylight, but they understood that the security forces could be manipulated, and they identified the weakest link in each institution. Those officers who could most easily be bribed or who were willing to participate in illegal activities were brought on board; those who could be intimidated were threatened; and those who were most likely to interfere with their operations were targeted in their homes, to terrify their families.

By 2012, armed groups were once again mounting organized and coordinated attacks against major institutions in broad daylight. With time, the attacks became so frequent that several officers were targeted daily in Tikrit alone. A clear trend was developing, and nothing was done to address it. The city was suddenly too dangerous even for a short family visit, and ordinary people were once again locking themselves indoors.

The gust that eventually blew the security sector’s house of cards away came from the conflict in Syria, which had given al Qaeda a new lease on life. Shortly after Syria’s civil war began in 2011, the al Qaeda-affiliated fighters who had been forced to stop their operations in Iraq in 2008 remobilized and rebranded themselves as ISIS. They remained particularly active in Mosul, where they ran an incredible racketeering operation and continued to hit government forces hard.

When ISIS escalated with a full-on assault on Mosul this month, all of the Iraqi state’s pathologies came together in a perfect storm of corruption and incompetence. This left the city virtually defenseless. People in Mosul and soldiers have told me that a consensus has formed over the past few days that members of the military’s rank and file were ordered to abandon their posts either shortly before or at the start of ISIS’s assault. There is still significant mystery as to why the withdrawal took place at all. Rumors have been circulating. The most outlandish accusation is currently being made by Maliki and his allies, who haveaccused the Kurdistan Regional Government of colluding with ISIS against the Iraqi state.

The incompetence of the Iraqi security forces was further underscored in the days that followed the fall of Mosul. As the jihadists began to advance, residents in Tikrit, around 130 miles south, expected that ISIS would overrun their city at any moment. Anyone who has been to Tikrit knows that it would be extremely easy to fend off an invasion by ISIS gunmen, because there is essentially a single highway that runs through the city center. All that would have been needed to protect the city would have been to position a few armored vehicles with limited air support along the highway. Yet there was no reaction from Baghdad, which is just a two-hour drive away. Tikrit was seized in a couple of hours, and hundreds of Army recruits were taken hostage. Having been abandoned by their government, many of those individuals appear to have been executed.

The failures of Iraq’s governing class — and the U.S. occupation forces — to create even a single stable national institution will haunt the country for years to come. On the day Tikrit fell, Iraq suddenly changed: Violent government-backed militias were suddenly allowed to operate openly in Baghdad and Baquba, manning checkpoints and organizing security without any oversight. Senior Iranian military commanders landed in Baghdad to help organize the city’s defense. Finally, in an effort to rally his base against ISIS, Maliki called for volunteers to take up arms against the militants and extremists — ignoring the fact that the military’s problem was never a lack of manpower.

It was the clearest admission of failure possible. Maliki micromanaged the security forces for years, and in the end he didn’t even trust them, choosing instead to let foreign-backed militias and untrained volunteers defend the capital. Meanwhile, one week after Tikrit’s fall, Baghdad had done nothing to free it from ISIS, abandoning its citizens to their fate and allowing the militants to reinforce their positions free from interference.

The United States has made it clear that Washington now views Maliki’s government as part of the problem. “Iraqi leaders must rise above their differences and come together [to forge] a political plan for Iraq’s future,” President Barack Obama said in a press conference on Thursday. Secretary of State John Kerry is being dispatched to the Middle East to help bring about political reconciliation between Iraq’s factions. But the damage that the prime minister and his cronies have inflicted on Iraq cannot be undone. The end result of Iraq’s unending series of unforced errors will almost certainly be yet more flattened cities, hundreds of thousands more displaced, and yet more damage to its people’s sense of community. What solution could there be to prevent this tragedy, if the Iraqi political class will not admit to the smallest of errors?

20 June 2014

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TMI

Malaysians are a forgiving and easy lot – and therein lies a major problem.

Rubbish, drivel and lies are shovelled at us regularly by everyone from the Prime Minister downwards. There is little attempt to sound intelligent, competent or honest.

Take Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s written reply in Parliament to a question on the controversial seminar on Christian-bashing at UiTM on May 6.

He said that it was an intellectual brainstorming session that should be viewed positively. According to him, the seminar on Allah and Christology was an academic programme to explain issues related to the use of the word Allah by non-Muslims.

“There were academic discussions and explanations on the pros and cons of the matter which were conducted harmoniously, in line with intellectual culture at institutions of higher learning.

“The facts and discussions in the seminar should be viewed positively as a form of intellectual brainstorming,” said Muhyiddin in reply to PKR’s Penampang MP Darell Leiking.

Facts. Discussions. Intellectual. Brainstorming.

All powerful words. Sadly, they were largely absent from the hate-mongering session at UiTM, the alma mater of none other than Datuk Ibrahim Ali.

In keeping with the bogus nature of the session, among the main speakers were a bogus Catholic priest and a bogus nun.

There is no record of Insan LS Mokoginta as a priest, said the Bishops Conference of Indonesia executive secretary Father Edy Purwanto.

But this small gap in his resume did not stop him for laying into Christians. Among the pearls of wisdom from the snake-oil salesman was this:

“Every Jesus follower should enter Islam. If not, it would be a betrayal to Jesus.”

There is also no record of Irena Handono as a nun. She spent a short time in a convent as a novice but misrepresented herself as a former nun.

Her contribution to intellectual discourse: “We shouldn’t wish Merry Christmas because it means that Jesus is reborn.”

And what about that other “intellectual” lecturer Masyud SM who said that the “Christian gospel is a fake gospel.”

The May 6 event was not an academic exercise, it was a hate-mongering session dressed up like a seminar. It was aimed at demonising Christians and Christianity and the speakers trotted out had as much intellectual heft or credibility as lint.

Muhyddin is being dishonest by trying to put a coat of respectability on this slam-fest. If the roles were reversed, would he have been so magnanimous.

Say a few non-Muslim non-governmental organisations organised a seminar and brought in some bogus speakers who then proceeded to tear into Islam, would Muhyiddin and the storm-troopers have accepted that initiative as an intellectual exercise.

We don’t believe so. They would have rioted.

In Malaysia, when we talk about each other’s religion, we must use words that heal, not hurt each other. That session on May 6 was designed to demonise and denigrate Christians and Christianity.

Muhyiddin’s written reply just continues the hurt. And to think, this man is the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia.

20 June 2014

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Malaysiakini

Universiti Teknologi Mara’s (UiTM) reply to allegations about overblown costs in privatised campus constructions is proof that the claims of abuse have merit, said PKR.

Pandan MP Rafizi Ramli in a statement today said that UiTM management’s reply in not denying the allegations of cronyism but only addressing the merits of private finance initiative (PFI), is in fact an affirmation.

‘UiTM’s media statement last night represents the first official response in a week after my expose…

“However, the UiTM management has not at all denied my expose regarding who the Umno cronies who are behind the concessions are.

“(In doing so), UiTM’s management  has in fact helped confirm that the facts regarding the cronies behind the concession companies and the increase in the cost that been brought up by me is true,” said Rafizi, who is PKR’s director of strategy.

Rafizi Ramli last Thursday alleged while the original cost for six UiTM campuses was only RM1.8 billion, the government will end up forking RM8.6 billion for all the six campuses after signing concession agreements to have private firms construct and manage them.

He noted that all the university could explain was that the PFI that the outsourcing entails would financially benefit UiTM.

Rafizi said the argument was flawed and listed a number of problems with UiTM’s reply.

‘No tender, lopsided contracts’

He said UiTM’s implementation of the private finance initiative (PFI) was flawed because it was awarded through direct negotiations instead of open tenders, and the awarding of contracts to inexperienced companies that seemed only to have been set up to clinch the contracts.

“The crony companies involved do not have experience in handling a big project. This will cause many problems like facilities not built according to specifications and improper maintenance during the execution of the project” said Rafizi.

He said it would also be a burden to the rakyat in the long run because of the allegedly lopsided deals, just as was Selangor’s experience with several other projects that Pakatan had been saddled with from the previous Umno government.

“Through this privatisation, the cost of construction has bloated to RM8.6 billion instead of the original cost of only RM1.8 billion.”

He said the rental that has to be paid by the university to the concessionaires this year alone has surpassed 14 percent of the allocated budget.

“When completed, the rental that has to be paid by UiTM to the concessionaire will be their biggest financial burden annually,” he said.

Rafizi warned this may eventually force UiTM to have to cut costs in various areas including sizing down their staff, cutbacks on upgrading of facilities and increasing student’s accommodation rent.

19 June 2014

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TMI

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim says he is now sure that the Malaysian Parliament is a “rubber stamp” for  Putrajaya after a motion to suspend a member of his party for six months was passed without a debate.

The opposition leader said the Pakatan Rakyat was not given a chance to debate the motion to suspend Padang Serai MP N. Surendran.

“It is now confirmed that the Parliament is a rubber stamp… when you suspend a member of parliament for six months without any debate,” he said, echoing what Surendran had said previously.

“We strongly protest the way Parliament was used. We (the opposition) cannot debate, cannot criticise or cannot reprimand,” he told reporters after staging a walkout from the chamber today.

Surendran was again suspended from Parliament for six months today for insulting the House and its Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia in a press conference on Monday.

He had just completed a six-month suspension on a similar charge of insulting the speaker in November last year, in a motion tabled by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nancy Shukri.

19 June 2014

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A visibly agitated opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim told reporters, “It’s official. Parliament is indeed a rubber stamp,” after Padang Serai MP N.Surendran was suspended from the Dewan Rakyat for 6 months. He adds calling Parliament a rubber stamp is nothing new, as even Dr Mahathir Mohamad had uttered it when he was fighting with Tunku Abdul Rahman, but notes that no action was taken then.

16 June 2014

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New Yorker

The day after Islamic militants swept into Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, and several other enclaves along the Tigris River, the conquering army, called the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, posted a photograph on Twitter. It showed one of its fighters—a Chechen volunteer, the group said—opening the door of an American-made Humvee that it had seized from the Iraqi Army. The Humvee and the militant, the group said, had just arrived at an ISIS base in Syria, where, presumably, they were ready to be dispatched in the war there.

The border between Iraq and Syria may have effectively disappeared, but the dynamics driving the civil wars in those nations are not identical. In Syria, an oppressed majority is rising up; in Iraq, an oppressed minority. (The opposition fighters in both wars are mostly members of the Sunni sect.) Both countries just held elections: in Syria, the dictator, Bashar al-Assad, won in a display of empty theatre; in Iraq, where Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is expected to form a government for a third term, the elections were for the most part free. In Iraq, the dynamics driving the strife are largely Iraqi, and in Syria they are largely Syrian.

Even so, the events unfolding in Iraq point toward a much wider war, reaching from the Iranian frontier to the Mediterranean coast. The long open border between Iraq and Syria, and the big stretches of ungoverned space, has allowed extremists on each side to grow and to support one another. ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, two of the strongest groups fighting in Syria, were created by militant leaders from Iraq, many of whom had fought with Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia against the United States. The vast swath of territory between the Euphrates and the Tigris—from Aleppo, in Syria, to Mosul, in Iraq—threatens to become a sanctuary for the most virulent Islamist pathologies, not unlike what flourished in Afghanistan in the years before 9/11. Among those fighting with ISIS and Al Nusra are hundreds of Westerners, from Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and the United States. At some point, the survivors will want to go home; they will be well trained and battle-hardened.

The extremist groups dominating the fighting are beginning to take their war beyond the two countries that they now freely traverse. In January, ISIS carried out a car-bomb attack in Beirut near the offices of Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group that has been fighting on behalf of Assad. The Nusra front has also carried out attacks in Lebanon. Meanwhile, the number of Syrian refugees who have fled to that nation exceeds twenty per cent of its population, which is not something that a state as weak and as fractious as Lebanon can be expected to sustain. In Jordan, the presence of half a million Syrian refugees is putting an enormous strain on the fragile monarchy.

The revolutionary government of Iran looms ominously over it all. Iran has been decisive in supporting Assad, and its influence over Maliki, never small, has increased enormously since the departure of the last American forces in Iraq, in December of 2011. During the war, Iranian agents trained, armed, and directed a network of Shiite militias, which killed hundreds of American and British soldiers. Those same militias are evidently being readied to confront the Sunni onslaught in Iraq; thousands of their members have already been fighting for Assad in Syria. Iran’s intervention in Syria has also alarmed Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which have poured in guns and money to help the rebels. It is not difficult to imagine a multinational war, fought along a five-hundred-mile front, and along sectarian lines, waged ultimately for regional supremacy.

What can the United States do? It has already done quite a bit, of course. The invasion of Iraq, in 2003, by destroying the Iraqi state, empowered the Shiite majority—Maliki in particular. As long as American troops remained in Iraq, they could restrain Maliki and his Shiite brethren from their worst sectarian impulses. By the time the last troops departed, the civil war, which began in 2006, had been brought under control. But, in the two and a half years since the troops’ departure, Maliki has been free to pursue a stridently sectarian project, which has cut the Sunnis off from political power. He has alienated—even, in some cases, arrested—the most reasonable Sunni leaders and embarked on mass arrests of young Sunni men. In the process, Maliki has to a great extent driven the Sunnis back into the arms of the extremists. Indeed, in the sectarian calculus that now dominates Iraqi politics, Sunni unrest has worked largely in his favor, as it has allowed him to portray himself as the Shiites’ protector. The Iraqi state, built mainly by the Americans, is too feeble to resist the Sunnis’ efforts to break away.

For a time, in the waning months of the occupation, the White House and Maliki considered keeping some American troops in Iraq, in non-combat roles, ostensibly to train soldiers but also to help manage the nation’s politics. No deal was ever struck, and it’s difficult to imagine any appetite in Washington today for a substantial American reëntry into Iraq. But, with the militants nearing Baghdad, and the Iraqi Army faltering, President Obama will almost certainly feel compelled to act. Already, the U.S. has been rushing sophisticated weaponry to the Iraqi Army. The question now before the President is whether to take more significant steps, such as air strikes.

In Iraq, as in Syria, the choices are almost all bad, and the potential for American influence is limited. Syria appears to be headed toward an effective partition between predominantly Sunni and predominantly Alawite enclaves, and an impoverished, Somalia-like future where guns rule. In Iraq, the Kurds, the third big group, are taking advantage of the chaos by tightening their hold on Kirkuk and other disputed areas, in an effort to cement a future separate from that of the rest of Iraq. At the least, Iraq faces a future as a violent country, with a weak central government and many areas dominated by extremists. But things could get much worse than that.

Within a day after sweeping into Mosul, ISIS militants freed thousands of prisoners, looted bank vaults, and declared the imposition of Sharia law. From now on, the group said, unaccompanied women were to stay indoors, and thieves would be punished by amputation. The “divine conquest” of Mosul by a group of Islamic extremists is a bitter consequence of the American invasion. For now, there seems to be very little we can do about it.

10 June 2014

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9 June 2014

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by Mariam Mokhtar, Malaysiakini | 12:32PM Jun 9, 2014

With Cadbury’s reputation melting away like chocolate in the sun and possible losses of millions of ringgits, Najib Abdul Razak has finally reined in his chocolate warriors. In an effort to calm investors’ nerves, he instructed senior officials to issue reassuring statements about the Cadbury chocolate scare.

These men touted a long list of problems; sample contamination, prolonged sample storage time, lack of laboratory accreditation, incompetent laboratory staff and shoddy laboratory practices.

If these issues about contamination and DNA integrity sound familiar, you are right. We have heard them all before, in the Anwar Ibrahim Sodomy II trial and the prosecution’s appeal.

Despite all the shortcomings of the laboratory tests in the Cadbury fiasco, we are told, “The public should trust Jakim”. So, if we are expected to accept the failures of the chemistry laboratory, and the reasons for sample contamination by incompetent chemists in the Cadbury chocolate tests, why is Anwar’s legal team unable to use the same arguments in his appeal? Surely what is good for the goose should be also good for the gander.

In trying to placate an angry Muslim public and dropping investor confidence, the excuses given by Najib’s officials may have compromised the government’s own position, in relation to the Anwar Sodomy II case.

What else should we know about bad laboratory samples and work practices? What goes on behind the scenes which could shake our confidence? Why should we trust Najib and the government departments under his control?

In the Cadbury debacle, what role did a junior health official play in leaking the chocolate results? No junior official does things without instruction from above. Similarly, what role did the investigating officer (IO), Jude Pereira play in Anwar’s prosecution?

Are the allegedly pork-tainted Cadbury chocolates a political or a business fix-up? This cannot be a simple case of nefarious NGOs flexing their muscles, especially as there is talk of a chocolate company investing RM800 million in a factory in Johor. Some Muslims are becoming more hostile in their “defence” of Islam, with wedding raids, child abductions and Bible confiscations.

Ten days after ugly scenes involving Muslim NGOs, which threatened to punish Cadbury with violence, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Islamic affairs Jamil Khir Baharom announced in Utusan Malaysia, that a new test from the same batch of Cadbury chocolates showed no trace of porcine DNA and that the samples had been contaminated.

He said, “The previous result which were conveyed to the Health Ministry recently may have been contaminated.”

Contamination of the chocolate samples had possibly occurred because the samples had not been taken directly from the Cadbury factory and Jamil said that contamination could occur “if someone who consumed pork sneezed near the sample or if the samples shared the same storage areas as pork products”.

‘Second test not done’

The following day, Deputy Minister Hilmi Yahaya of the Health Ministry said that a second test had not been done on the chocolate sample, to confirm the presence of porcine DNA.

He said, “…apparently, it was not done and they kept the result for so long, three months is too long, then after that (it) came out in social media, which we never sanctioned” (sic).

Although the ministry’s laboratory could perform the tests, Hilmi said that the facility was not accredited to check on halal status.

Contrast these with Anwar’s Sodomy II trial and appeal, when his lawyer gave a long list of reasons why the semen samples from the anus of the complainant Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan were dodgy. If there is one lesson we must heed, it is that “If there is any doubt, then there is no doubt”.

Despite the arguments of Anwar’s defence team, at his appeal, the lead prosecutor, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, ignored them.

The DNA samples retrieved from the semen in Saiful’s anal cavity were in “pristine” condition, despite being 96 hours old, he submitted.

Degradation should have occurred with bacterial growth. Four days later, upon examination, the government chemist, Dr Seah Lay Hong, said that there was no degradation of the sample. Her response was that “degradation was of no concern to her”.

The Australian experts who gave evidence said that specimens which are collected 36 hours after the sexual act could not be relied on to give a good DNA analysis.

Anwar’s ‘Good Morning’ towel from the lock-up was contaminated and illegally obtained by the prosecution. Saiful’s rectal swab contained the DNA of a third male contributor.

Serious doubts were raised about the integrity of the samples and the manner in which they were stored. For over a day, the semen samples were simply put in a cabinet in the office of the IO. No explanation was given for the deviation from the standard operating procedure (SOP) for the treatment and storage of samples to be used as evidence. In a high profile case, like this, the SOP should have been followed particularly closely.

The plastic bag, holding the individual DNA sample containers, had been cut open. The receptacles did not have tamper-proof seals, so the containers could easily be opened and resealed. These lend doubt to the credibility which can be placed on the samples. Who would have had the opportunity and motive to cut open the plastic bag, holding the containers?

Why should we trust them now?

Why should the rakyat give Jakim and the Department of Health the benefit of the doubt? Why should we trust them now? They have repeatedly broken our confidence, in the past.

The problem of porcine DNA contamination has occurred several times before. We are not told what actually happened, how contamination occurred, and who was prosecuted. We are only told that the problem has been resolved.

That is why we demand to know the full details of pig DNA contamination which happened previously (Tabasco, Golden Churn butter, HP Sauce). Why should we allow ourselves, and legitimate businesses to be subject to blackmail in the future?

When it suits the government, the sample taken from Saiful’s bottom will be taken out of storage, and used to hound Anwar with the sole intention of compromising his political career, of breaking his will and that of the people whose only wish is to demand justice and good governance.

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