Saturday, January 31, 2009

Angry Over Use of Foreign Workers - Malaysiakini

LONDON — Angered that skilled construction jobs have gone to workers from elsewhere in the European Union, British labor unions organized a patchwork of walkouts and protests on Friday at oil refineries, power stations and other petrochemical and energy-processing plants across the country.

The disruption underscored rising fears of labor unrest across Europe — and renewed pressure from unions for a retreat from the European Union’s rules on open labor markets — as job losses across the Continent mounted into the hundreds of thousands with the global financial crisis.

The walkouts in Britain involved at least a dozen plants in England, Wales and Scotland, with as many as 2,000 workers setting up picket lines and no reports of violence.

More than a million people took to the streets of France on Thursday in protests over President Nicolas Sarkozy’s economic policies, which many participants said protected banks but not jobs. Widespread violence in Greece last month was attributed, in part, to economic stagnation.

But the British protests, though comparatively small and mild, could be a warning of greater trouble ahead. Since the upheavals of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s union-fighting years, when Britain last experienced unrest involving battles between picketing workers and the police, the country has had nearly 25 years of relative labor peace.

That helped Britain develop from the “sick man of Europe,” as it became known in the 1970s, to a position in the last decade in which government ministers and business leaders liked to boast that Britain had the most prosperous economy of any major European nation. Union wages rose rapidly, and hundreds of thousands of workers poured in from other parts of Europe to fill jobs that found no British takers.

But the walkouts that began this week at the massive Lindsey Oil Refinery, on the Humber River estuary 175 miles north of London, and the rapid spread of the protests to other plants across the country, suggested that the days when unions acquiesced to large-scale labor migration may be over.

The protests at the Lindsey plant were echoed on Friday by sympathy strikes and protests at the Grangemouth oil refinery near Glasgow; the Aberthaw power station near Barry in south Wales; the Wilton refinery on Teesside, near Newcastle in northern England; and at least nine other plants across the country. At each site, union leaders cited a pattern of British job losses to foreign workers.

At the Lindsey plant, which is owned by Total, a French company, about 400 union members hoisted placards saying, “Put British Workers First.” They demanded that Total order an Italian electrical contractor, Irem SpA, to send home 100 foreign workers who had been brought in to fill skilled jobs on an expansion of the refinery. The dispute’s significance— and the problem it represents for Britain’s Labor Party government, a strong supporter of a European-wide labor market — was underscored when reporters pressed Prime Minister Gordon Brown on the issue on Friday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

As he gave a speech in which world leaders were urged to shun protectionism as an answer to the financial crisis, Mr. Brown struggled to finesse the imperative he faces as Labor’s leader to maintain the support of the unions that largely finance his party. “The thing we know about protectionism is that it protects nobody, and least of all the poor,” he said.

But when asked about the walkouts in Britain and the unions’ demands for changes in European laws and regulations that have allowed large-scale labor migration, Mr. Brown was noncommittal. “I understand that people are anxious about jobs across the country,” he said, “but we are doing everything we can.”

Mr. Brown, in some ways, will be hard-pressed to separate himself from the unions’ demands for a British-first employment policy. Not long after becoming prime minister in 2007, he told the Labor Party’s annual conference that he would “create British jobs for British workers,” a populist promise that critics said at the time conflicted with Britain’s obligation under European Union laws.

Precise figures for the number of citizens of other European Union nations working in Britain are hard to obtain, but organizations representing migrants from just one country, Poland, said recently that they think 600,000 Poles are still working legally in Britain, despite the departure of tens of thousands of others disillusioned by the slump in the pound’s value against the Polish currency, the zloty.

Total, the Lindsey plant’s owner, said in a statement on Friday that it had operated the refinery without major labor disruptions for 40 years, with a permanent work force of 550, mostly Britons. It said that Irem’s foreign workers were employed only for the duration of the plant expansion, on the same pay scale as Lindsey’s workers.

But union leaders and local Labor politicians were not appeased. Shona McIsaac, a Labor member of Parliament, said that Irem’s employment of the non-British workers was “like a red flag to a bull for people in our community who are out of work and who have skills that could be used for this project.” - NYP

500000 Malaysians banned from travelling overseas - Malaysiakini

PUTRAJAYA, Jan 31 — Thirteen per cent of Malaysians holding valid international passports have been put on the list of individuals banned from travelling overseas by the Immigration Department.

Department director-general Datuk Mahmood Adam advised people to check from its website to see whether they are on the list before making any travel arrangement.

He said people could check the list with effect from February.

He said in an exclusive interview with Sin Chew Daily that among the 6.7 million holders of valid international passports in the country, about 500,000 or 13 per cent have been blacklisted by the department.

He said these people either have not paid their income tax and PTPTN arrears, or are involved in criminal cases, bankruptcies, commercial conflicts, divorces or custody right cases.

Mahmood said passport holders can visit the department's website at

But to protect the passport holders' privacy, no information on the reasons for the ban would be provided online, as anyone could key in other people's MyKad numbers.

Those who have been banned from travelling overseas are advised to visit the nearest Immigration Department office to enquire why they have been put on the list. — Sin Chew Daily

Guan Eng challenges Tee Keat - Malaysiakini

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 31 —DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng wants the Transport Minister to state clearly the federal government's stand on the controversial deal to build a new, separate airport for low-cost airlines in Labu, Negri Sembilan.

Previously, Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat announced the proposed Labu low-cost carrier terminal (LCCT) project had been given the green light by the Cabinet.

Yesterday, the Deputy Prime Minister called off the deal.

Lim expressed concern over the way the matter was being treated.

"This is a very big issue, not only because of the cost of the project but because of its implications as well. Now we are confused. Who is actually in charge?" Lim asked.

"Next time, if there are any questions on airports or transport, do we go to him or do we go to Najib and bypass Ong Tee Keat?" he asked.

Lim also wanted Ong to explain the federal government's reasons for building a new airport in an isolated location, saying that the suggested place did not "make economic sense".

He noted that AirAsia boss Datuk Tony Fernandes has accused Malaysia Airports Holding Berhad (MAHB) of being a "stumbling block" to the growth of the air transport industry.

But he also noted there was a need for a new LCCT to help boost economic growth and suggested that Penang can be the "logistics hub for the Northern Corridor Economic Region" as it is also the "gateway" to tri-lateral relations among the golden triangle of Malaysia-Thailand-Indonesia.

"I think Tony Fernandes feels he has not been given support. I think the government should give him that support," Lim said.

"If MAHB is the stumbling block, then they must facilitate and not block," he added.

MB: Selangor still waiting for Syabas audit response - Malaysiakini

SHAH ALAM, Jan 31 — The Selangor government is urgently waiting for a response from the Energy, Water and Communications Ministry on the audit report on water concessionaire Syabas Bhd, said Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim.

"We wrote a letter more that a month ago to the minister concerned (Datuk Shaziman Abu Mansor) but have yet to get a reply. This is quite urgent because we need to resolve not only the concession awarded to Syabas but also on the restructuring of water industries in Selangor," he told reporters after Kolej Antarabangsa Industri Pendidikan Selangor (INPENS) 13th convocation today.

Khalid said this when commenting on a report in The Sun newspaper yesterday that the audit revealed Syabas had allegedly breached several terms of the concession agreement.

The Selangor government wants the 30-year concession awarded to the company to supply clean water to consumers in the state to be terminated because of this.

According to the newspaper report, the audit found the company had allegedly not observed certain important provisions for the awarding of contracts, among others.

The audit was a requirement before the company could be allowed to implement a tariff hike scheduled for Jan 1 this year. That has since been deferred as the Pakatan Rakyat state government is still in negotiations with the federal government on management of water assets and related issues. — Bernama

No action against Idiot Ahmad Ismail - Malaysiakini

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 31 — Datuk Ahmad Ismail, the man who put race relations on a knife’s edge with his comments about Chinese in Malaysia in August last year, will remain a free man — for the time being.

The police have wrapped up investigations into a sedition charge against him but thanks to the intervention of senior party leaders, the veteran Penang Umno politician is not likely to see the inside of the courtroom anytime soon.

Umno sources told The Malaysian Insider that several delegations of party officials from Penang made representations to the Umno leadership on behalf of Ahmad over the past week, arguing that he has already paid a severe price for calling Chinese “immigrants’’ and “squatters’’ during a political rally in the run-up to the Permatang Pauh by-election.

Ahmad was suspended from holding any positions in Umno for three years by the party’s supreme council. His supporters also pointed out that charging him in court would merely re-ignite debate on race and religious issues and further complicate relations between component parties in Barisan Nasional.

Party officials were also concerned on the impact action against Ahmad could have on the fluid political situation in Umno.

“There is still a concern that some state assemblymen and MPs may be considering jumping over to the opposition. Ahmad Ismail is a popular figure in Umno. He may be vilified outside the party but among party members, there is a great deal of respect for standing up for Malay rights,” said a party official.

Earlier this week, The Malaysian Insider reported that the police had completed their probe into the Umno warlord and that the Attorney-General’s Chambers was on the cusp of ordering that the politician be charged with sedition.

News of this impending action filtered to the party rank and file in Penang and they made a beeline to Putrajaya to plead and cajole on behalf of Ahmad.

PBRS proposes common stand against defections - Malaysiakini

KOTA KINABALU: Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS) is calling for a common stand to be taken by Barisan Nasional and the Opposition against accepting elected representatives who defect from their parties.

Voicing his party’s support for an “anti-hopping” law, PBRS president Tan Sri Joseph Kurup said a pact against crossovers between Barisan and the Opposition would be a viable alternative to any legislation requiring an elected representative to quit his seat if he resigned from the party he represented when he was elected.

He said an anti-hop law would require amending the Federal Constitution which requires two-thirds of Parliament support, adding that Barisan “does not have the numbers.”

“Perhaps if the Opposition is willing to support such an amendment, this law could become reality,” Kurup said after his party’s closed-door convention here Saturday.

Umno vice-president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said on Friday that Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) president Datuk Joseph Pairin Kitingan’s call for the anti-hop law had some merit.

Pairin had called for amendments to be made to the federal and the various state constitutions for anti-hop law provisions to ensure political stability.

His remarks came in the wake of a statement by Umno supreme council member Datuk Seri Rais Yatim, who said Bota assemblyman Datuk Nasruddin Hashim should be made to quit his seat after ditching the party for Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).

Meanwhile, Kurup said his party was all geared should a by-election be called for the Pensiangan parliament seat after the Court of Appeal hearing scheduled for Feb 12 and 13.

Kurup won the Pensiangan seat unopposed, with about 19,000 mainly ethnic Murut voters, in the March 2008 general election, but an election court on Sept 8 declared the result null and void.

He has since appealed to the Federal Court.

Driest January in 10 years - Malaysiakini

SINGAPORE is experiencing an unusually dry spell and it looks like it may last another month.

This month has been the driest January in 10 years, without a decent shower across the island in a long while.

January is usually a wet month, with heavy showers that can last up to three days at a stretch.

So what happened?

Blame the unusual weather way up north. In Siberia, actually.

An annual accumulation of very cold dry air over Europe and Asia reaches its peak during winter, affecting weather patterns in the northern hemisphere.

That cold front occurred earlier than usual this time, said Professor Lim Hock, founding director of Temasek Laboratories at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

Its effects have included the unusually cold weather in Hong Kong, the sudden cold snap in parts of Thailand earlier this month, and the strong north-easterly winds over the South China Sea all the way to Singapore, he said.

The dry weather Singapore has experienced in January is usually associated with February, he added.

Helping to explain, the Meteorological Services Division of the National Environment Agency said the north-east monsoon has wet and dry phases - rain from late November to January, followed by dry weather in February.

This year, however, a shift in wind patterns kept the rain away from Singapore.

The weatherman cautioned against leaping to conclusions that the unseasonal dry spell is a sign that global warming is at Singapore's shores.

There is a difference between climate change and natural variations in climate that occur from year to year, the experts agree.

Associate Professor Matthias Roth from the NUS' department of geography said that one dry January did not make a trend.

'We have to analyse the weather patterns over the next 10 years to see if these trends are still evident,' he said.

For the record, 2004 saw the wettest January in 10 years with 600.9 mm of rainfall, well above the long-term average of 244 mm.

This month, however, only 38.3 mm of rainfall was recorded.

It has resulted in slightly lower water levels at Singapore's reservoirs, but the PUB said yesterday that there was no cause for concern.

Friday, January 30, 2009

MACC sets up special taskforce - Malaysiakini

PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has set up a special taskforce to conduct an internal investigation into allegations that an Umno division leader was assaulted by its officers during detention.

In a statement, MACC said the five members of the special taskforce were not from the commission to ensure that the investigation would be carried out independently and according to procedures.

“The MACC would not compromise and will come down hard on its officers if the allegations are true.

“The MACC gives its guarantee that the investigations would be carried out professionally and fairly,” it said.

The 46-year-old division leader from Maran, Pahang, had reported that he was punched in the head, shoulder and stomach during his four-day remand in Kuantan.

He also claimed that he was forced to strip naked, lie and roll on the floor besides being asked to do squats and sing the national anthem repeatedly.

In his report, he also claimed an officer pressed him against the wall and threatened to arrest his wife and ask her to strip if he refused to confess that he had handed money to Umno members.

He lodged his report at the Damansara police station on Jan 29.

The MACC in return, had lodged a report against the Umno leader for allegedly lodging a false report.

MACC deputy commissioner Datuk Abu Kassim Mohammad was reported saying that the division leader had threatened to lodge a report to smear MACC’s image before he was released.

“We hope the police will take immediate action on the report that was made. If the allegations are not true and slanderous, appropriate steps must be taken against the complainant who made a false report,” it said in a previous statement.

Muhyiddin for anti-hopping law - Malaysiakini

KOTA KINABALU: International Trade and Industry Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin supports the proposal for an “anti-hopping” law to ensure political stability in the country.

“It needs to be looked into again. It is not that we fear more will leave Barisan Nasional, but what is important is the question of principle,” he told reporters after attending a Chinese New Year open house at the residence of his deputy and Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) president Datuk V.K. Liew.

Muhyiddin, who is also Umno vice-president, said there was a need to look at it seriously taking into consideration the current political scenario.

“Personally, I do agree that we need to look again at the earlier provisions in the Federal Constitution.

“But, of course, it’s entirely up to Barisan leaders to see the rationale in amending the Constitution (to enable the enaction of the proposed anti-hopping law) and find out what the people think about it,” he said.

He was asked to comment on Parti Bersatu Sabah’s Datuk Seri Joseph Pairin Kitingan’s remarks Thursday that the time was ripe to amend the Federal Constitution to allow the enaction of such a law. -- Bernama

Make stimulus package disbursement transparent - Malaysiakini

KUALA LUMPUR, Fri: The disbursement of only 70 percent of the RM7 billion economic stimulus package raises concern as it important for all the funds to be released urgently to counter the harsher adverse effects of the downturn and even a recession, says an economist.
In the interest of greater transparency and accountability, it is also necessary for the government to openly state how funds for the 2,224 education projects, 2,443 health projects, the 20,000 low cost houses and other infrastructure projects were allocated, the president of Transparency International Malaysia, Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam, said today.

“The public need to be assured that the due processes of good governance are being observed to raise confidence and credibility in the governance especially at this time of economic and financial strain and stress,” he said in a statement today.

Budget deficit will increase through the first and particularly the second stimulus package, but this will be acceptable only if all the necessary safeguards are taken to prevent corruption and wastage of public funds, he said.

He also expressed hope that the newly-formed projects monitoring unit will exercise prudential management of these wide range of projects expected to be implemented expeditiously and efficiently.

Ramon added that the second stimulus package should come out well before the next budget for 2010, if the stimulus package is to take place effectively.

“There are hundreds of projects that can introduced to meet the basic needs of the rakyat, not only in the rural areas but also the poor urban pockets in our large towns,” he said.

“There is some feeling on the ground that the government is still quite relaxed about the dangers of a possible severe slowdown or recession that may hit us sooner than later,” Ramon said. -BERNAMA

In Malaysia: Raju is a Raja - Malaysiakini

HYDERABAD, Jan 30 — Barely two days after Ramalinga Raju confessed about fraud in Satyam, the Malaysian Human Resource Minister Datuk Dr S. Subramaniam, who was attending the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Chennai, was forced by the Malaysian press to make a statement on the Satyam issue. The minister only said that Raju's fraud was a great matter of concern for Malaysia.

If you are wondering why the minister was compelled to give a statement by the local press, then don't be surprised: Raju's name in Malaysia is as well known as those of key businessmen and ministers there. The creator of jobs, the best paymaster and the man playing a key role in Malaysia's IT story are among the many identities Raju has in the country.

Satyam associates who have visited Malaysia say they were surprised at how Raju's name commanded respect. "The government, the people... they all looked up to him. Raju was treated as god there,'' said a senior associate.

Raju's Malaysian connection is not a recent one. Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's visited the Satyam campus in Hyderabad in 2002. The next PM, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, also signed many government agreements with Raju.

"This is because Raju created a huge Satyam name there. He picked up the best SAP talent and Satyam was considered as a good paymaster,'' says a senior Satyam associate. The Satyam founder recruited fresh graduates from over 20 universities in Malaysia and carried out a nationwide plan to develop IT talent under the “Campus Link” programme, a government initiative there.

In February 2008, Satyam had announced that the firm would set up a 15-acre campus in Cyberjaya, about 50km south of Kuala Lumpur, which would be the largest campus in Malaysia and provide high-end services to a range of customers. The firm already has an office in Cyberjaya.

Little wonder then that ever since the news of Raju's fraud broke out, Malaysian newspapers have been following the developments very closely, reporting extensively on the issue much like the Indian media.

Raju consistently maintained his commitment to the Malaysian community through Satyam's website and messages such as, "Satyam believes in nurturing local talent to catalyse IT progress in Malaysia''.

And barely two months before his inflated balance sheet confession, Raju acquired a software development centre of Motorola in Malaysia.

Apart from expanding Satyam's IT empire, Raju also found a “land” connect with Malaysians, who share the same passion for land as Indians. Industry observers say it is hardly surprising to find Ng Ching Meng's name figuring in the IT department's list of individuals in the Satyam group as they speculate whether Raju could have used Ng’s local identity for land dealings there. — The Times of India

Sarawak the key to mood for change - Malaysiakini

SYDNEY, Jan 30 — Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud drives a cream Rolls-Royce, wears a gem the size of a walnut on his ring finger and is said to have once paid US$2 million (RM7 million) for a piano owned by Liberace.

The Chief Minister of Sarawak, like the late American entertainer, is certainly flamboyant and he's been well rewarded for his 28-year rule of the resource-rich province. But his time at the top is coming to an end.

Having celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary last week, the man known as the "White Haired Raja" has begun talking about succession. The likely departure of the 72-year-old is sure to shake up local politics in Sarawak, but it could also have a profound impact at the national level.

The theory is that if Taib were to step down, fresh elections could be required in the state, as any successor would lack the influence to hold the local legislature together. This is an opportunity for national Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and his three-party coalition, which has been working hard for some time to woo voters outside Peninsular Malaysia.

If Anwar's PKR and its allies were to control the Sarawak state assembly, analysts believe it would be only a matter of time before MPs from Sarawak tapped the public mood and crossed the floor in Kuala Lumpur. This would hand the government to Anwar and bring about the biggest political change in Malaysia since independence in 1957.

Such a scenario is some way off, but it's the one confronting prime minister-in-waiting Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

That's why his government pulled out all stops to win a by-election in the state of Terengganu on Jan 17. It failed, handing another seat to the opposition, but the contest in the country's north-east is a case study of what to expect when the battle for Sarawak begins.

Even by Malaysia's lofty standards of political patronage, the Kuala Terengganu by-election was expensive. Najib and his ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, desperate to arrest its electoral fortunes, tried to spend its way to victory. The numbers are both appalling and beguiling.

All told, Najib, who is expected to take over from Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in March, handed out A$4.4 billion (RM10.5 billion) to voters. That works out at nearly A$55,000 for each voter in the seaside electorate. The big-ticket items were the establishment of a A$4.2 billion trust to manage the state's oil revenue and the well-timed handover of A$169 million in petroleum royalties.

But this was not the headline act. In a ceremony the local press described as "controversial", Najib Razak handed out A$25 million in government contracts to 600 local firms at a party rally. Even more cynically, the government gave A$21 million to Chinese schools in the district, just as it looked like the parents of these students would determine the election.

In the end, they didn't and the government lost because Malay voters deserted it, while the ever-cautious Chinese either sat out the election or voted for the opposition. And while a 2.5 per cent swing against the government is hardly a landslide, the by-election loss would be very worrying for Najib given the amount of money thrown at the problem.

"The government's traditional strategy of just buying votes failed," said political analyst Wong Chin Huat, who lecturers at Monash University's campus in Kuala Lumpur. "The win by the opposition showed the mood for change still exists in Malaysia."

This mood for change is also breaking down traditional rivalries in a country long divided by race and religion. The opposition coalition won in Terengganu despite fielding a candidate from the deeply conservative Pas. Not only did Pas gain more secular Malay voters, thanks to a moderating of its language, but it also did not scare off the Chinese.

This was despite Najib and the government doing their best to stoke racial and religious tension.

The victory is also a direct result of Anwar being able to hold together a coalition containing Pas, the Chinese moderates of the DAP and his own multiracial PKR. It is, to say the least, a diverse coalition, united in many ways only by its hatred of a government that has ruled Malaysia since independence.

Finding common ground will be the challenge if the opposition ever comes to power, but for now it's still focused on how to get there. Sarawak holds the key, and while patronage failed the government in Terengganu, it has long held sway in Borneo. — Australian Financial Review

When law enforcers become law breakers - Malaysiakini

JAN 30 — The death of A. Kugan has grabbed headlines and shocked the nation. The continuing controversy around his death under suspicious circumstances in police custody is just another sad symptom of the dysfunctions that plague our country: those who enforce the law have become the law breakers. The British bequeathed us an effective civil service, a proud judiciary, and a capable police force. Thanks to decades of disrespect and apathy, none of these institutions can now hold their heads high.

For years we have all known that our once efficient civil service was slowly breaking down. Money or connections slowly but surely became a necessity to get past any government red tape. Long lunch breaks and poorly staffed offices became the norm. When Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi took over in 2003, there was actually a sigh of relief just because he was willing to acknowledge the immense problems that plague our once erstwhile civil service.

The judges, who supposedly arbitrate the law without fear or favour, have only seen their reputation tarnished more and more over the years. Even before the constitutional crisis of 1988, our best judges were reluctant to uphold the basic rights our Federal Constitution guarantees us; as our Foreign Minister Datuk Rais Yatim documents in his PhD thesis “Freedom Under Executive Power in Malaysia” in 1988 just affirmed what had been the true state of things all along: what the executive wants, the executive will get, the rights of Malaysians and the rule of law be damned.

As for the police, it has likewise been a similar tale of sliding into ignominy. It is hard for someone from my generation to believe, but there was a time when you could trust the men and women who swore to enforce the law of our land. Throughout the communist emergency, and for years afterwards, our brave Royal Malaysian Police force served and protected us from calamity after calamity. But as the civil service grew lax about its work, and as the courts began to be corrupted, there was nothing to be done. The police have now fallen to the level where the only thing we expect when stopped by an officer is to be asked for a bribe, and where we are wont to suspect wrongdoing whenever the police are involved.

Kugan’s case is the straw that broke the camel’s back. Just as the Anti-Corruption Commission’s investigations revealed massive corruption throughout the public sector, and just as the Royal Commission of Inquiry confirmed that the top arbitrators of our laws were blatantly swindling the people and perpetuating injustice, we are now seeing a backlash against the police force’s betrayal of our trust. The Malaysian people have had it with the tarnishing and tainting of the institutions we were once so proud of.

Home Minister Datuk Syed Hamid Albar’s characterisation of this as the public’s irrational belief that the police are always demons and criminals are always heroes only demonstrates how out of touch our government is with the laws and institutions it supposedly administers. It is precisely because we want our police to be our heroes that we are making such a ruckus. Are we to now say that Malaysians hate elections, because two years ago they took to the streets to protest the clearly biased way in which we conduct our democracy?

If the people of Malaysia can no longer trust the men and women who have sworn to uphold and enforce the laws of our land, the problem is not with the people. The problem lies with the people’s government — the government that has chosen again and again to ignore the corruption of our most basic and cherished institutions. Just as it opted so many times in the past to hush up rumours of corruption in the civil service and judiciary, the government is once again trying to silence a simple fact: Malaysians no longer trust the institution of the police.

A country cannot long function without institutions it can place its trust in. As soon as we become dependent on the personal goodwill of those in power, instead of being able to trust in the impartiality and objectiveness of our institutions, we find ourselves living under tyranny instead of democracy. The Malaysian people have spoken loudly and clearly, again and again: we want our democracy. We want our cherished institutions back. We want to be proud of our civil service, of our courts, of our policemen and women once more.

As long as the government continues to ignore the dissolution of our institutions, it can continue to count on the Malaysian people giving it a sound whipping at the ballot box and on the streets. This is our country; these are our institutions. If you refuse to uphold the laws and the Constitution you have sworn to uphold, if you insist on betraying the trust which we have placed in you, you will get what is coming to you.

By: John Lee a second-year student of economics at Dartmouth College in the United States. He has been thinking aloud since 2005

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Ha ha ha Abdullah Badawi disappointed - Malaysiakini

IPOH: Bota assemblyman Datuk Nasarudin Hashim has put his self-interest above that of Umno’s struggles, party president Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said.

Expressing his disappointment over Nasarudin’s decision to defect to PKR, Abdullah described the assemblyman as being “weak.”

“If you are strong, you will face up to all challenges that come your way,” he told reporters in Ayer Kuning, about 50km from here, after launching the Rural Action Plan on Thursday.

“As a party member or leader, you are bound to face problems and have to make sacrifices. But if you are willing to continue with the party’s struggles, you will enjoy the fruits of your labour later.”

Speaking of his own experience, the Prime Minister said he had faced problems when he was left with no positions in the party before.

“But I did not turn it into an issue and sulk and leave the party. I did not leave the party when I was facing problems as all my struggles were for the party,” he said, adding that he continued with his struggles with the party till now.

“If I were to resign, I would not be here today (at the event),” he pointed out.

On Perak Umno liaison committee chief Datuk Seri Mohammad Tajol Rosli Ghazali’s decision to step down as Perak Umno chief, Abdullah said the Pengkalan Hulu assemblyman made the decision as he wanted to assume responsibility for Nasarudin’s defection.

“He (Tajol) is a man with heavy responsibilities. He felt that Nasarudin’s action should not have taken place,” he added.

Have anti-hop laws in constitution - Malaysiakini

KOTA KINABALU: Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) is calling for amendments in the Federal and state Constitutions for “anti-hop laws” to be included.

Party president Datuk Joseph Pairin Kitingan said this would ensure that elected representatives would have to quit their seats if they switched parties.

“These provisions would also ensure that the principle of honesty and sincerity in joining a political party and the ‘social contract’ between voters and their candidates is properly crystallised,” he said Thursday.

In 1986, the then PBS-led State Government adopted an amendment in the Sabah Constitution requiring assemblymen to vacate their seats if they resigned or were expelled.

However, in 1992, the High Court declared the anti-hop law unconstitutional as it went against the freedom of association as enshrined in the Federal Constitution.

Pairin said Thursday the time was right for Parliament to adopt a similar anti-hop law.

“As we are enter the next phase of our nation building programme, at this period of global economic recession, all political leaders should give serious consideration to having the anti-hop law in our constitution,” he added.

Tajol Rosli to quit as Gerik Umno chief -Malaysiakini

KAMPAR: Perak Umno liaison chairman Datuk Seri Tajol Rosli Ghazali will quit as Gerik Umno division chief on March 29.

He also announced on Thursday that he would not be contesting a Supreme Council seat at the party elections from March 24-28.

Tajol Rosli, an Umno Supreme Council member, was reported to have submitted his letter of resignation as Perak Umno liaison chairman to party deputy president and Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak on Monday.

On Thursday, he hit out at a newspaper for reporting that he had resigned from the post (Perak Umno liaison chairman), calling the action unethical.

When asked to verify the report, Tajol Rosli said: ”I had not given any press statement on the matter, so the information did not come from me. It was a closed-door meeting with (Umno) members,” he said.

On some Perak Umno assemblymen blaming his leadership for the internal problems in Perak Umno, he said: “I take responsibility. I have to accept what they say.”

Worst yet to come - Malaysiakini

SINGAPORE'S Finance Minister has warned that the worst of the credit crunch is yet to come.

The world's biggest banks still have toxic assets on their balance sheets, which are clogging up their ability to lend, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam said in an interview with Bloomberg Television on Wednesday.

The finance ministry oversees Government of Singapore Investment Corp. and Temasek Holdings Pte, each managing more than $100 billion. The state-owned funds invested about US$24 billion (S$36 billion) in UBS AG, Citigroup Inc. and Merrill Lynch & Co in the past 14 months, said Bloomberg,

Banks are still focusing on replenishing capital 'and estimates of the extent of bad assets on their books are still on the upswing,' said Mr Tharman. 'We haven't seen the worst yet.'

Bank losses worldwide from US-originated bad assets may reach US$2.2 trillion, the International Monetary Fund said on Wednesday, more than the US$1.4 trillion it predicted in October. US President Barack Obama's administration and federal regulators are considering setting up a 'bad bank' that would absorb illiquid assets from otherwise healthy financial firms.

Governments across Europe have injected capital into banks to ensure that lending to companies and consumers doesn't freeze up. European Union regulators yesterday approved France's plan to increase its funding for recapitalisation of banks including

BNP Paribas SA and Societe Generale SA to 11 billion euros (S$21.6 billion), from an initial proposal for 10.5 billion euros.

Ireland's government last month said it would invest 2 billion euros in Allied Irish and Bank of Ireland, the country's biggest lenders.

'Foot the bill'

'It's right that governments are focusing on recapitalisation in the West and they're trying their best to incentivise new lending,' Mr Tharman said. 'It's too early to say how successful this will be. Governments have to take more risk, and that means taxpayers have to be willing to foot part of the bill.'

The IMF report released on Wednesday signalled that writedowns and losses at banks totaling US$1.1 trillion so far are only half of what's to come. Losses on that scale would leave banks needing at least US$500 billion in fresh capital to restore confidence in their balance sheets, the fund said.

Singapore's leaders have defended the performance of the city's state-owned investment companies after a plunge in the value of their stakes in Citigroup, Merrill Lynch and other global banks.

GIC, which manages the country's reserves, invested about $18 billion in UBS and Citigroup since December 2007. Temasek, which has a $130 billion portfolio, increased investments in Merrill Lynch and Barclays Plc as the credit market collapsed in 2007 and 2008.

Temasek was the biggest shareholder in Merrill Lynch before the securities firm was taken over by Bank of America Corp. It is also the largest shareholder of banks including London-based Standard Chartered Plc and Singapore's DBS Group Holdings Ltd, and has holdings in India's ICICI Bank and other lenders in Indonesia, South Korea and Pakistan.

Temasek and GIC remain 'well diversified' enough in their portfolios to offer the long-term returns the government seeks, Mr Tharman said.

'We would be very worried if global banks comprise a large proportion of the portfolios of GIC or Temasek, or for that matter, any of the highly vulnerable industries globally,' the minister said. 'But these are diversified portfolios.'

Temasek and GIC have performed 'credibly by international standards,' he said. Temasek had an average 18 per cent annual return on investment since its inception in 1974. GIC said in September that annual returns in the past 20 years averaged 7.8 per cent in US dollar terms, compared with about 6 per cent for the MSCI World Index.

GIC last year also said it's boosting investments in emerging markets, private equity and other asset classes to raise returns after cutting back stocks and holdings in developed nations.

'I'm comfortable with the actions both Temasek and GIC have taken early in this crisis to reduce risk, to move into more liquid asset allocation and to prepare for opportunities in this downturn,' Mr Shanmugaratnam said. 'We've got to make sure we maintain that record of prudent investments for the portfolio as a whole, diversifying risks, and being prepared for crises from time to time.' - snst

Scrapping Umno wings too drastic: Najib - Malaysiakini

KUALA LUMPUR: Umno has no plans to abolish its Putera and Puteri wings as suggested by the party’s disciplinary board, said Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

“The suggestion is too drastic a measure and would create a huge impact on future leadership,” he said at the launch of the Peugeot 308 here on Thursday.

It would also deprive Umno of the opportunity to build up leaders from within, he said.

The structure for the wings has existed since the beginning and they play an important role, he added.

On Wednesday, Umno disciplinary board chairman Tan Sri Tengku Ahmad Rithauddeen suggested Umno revamp by abolishing the three main party wings (including Youth and Wanita) and Putera Umno to ensure that corruption within the party was totally eradicated.

He said the problem of money politics and vote-buying could be eradicated by making Umno a singular organisation.

“If the problem is with money politics, then it would be better for us to strengthen enforcement and our value system,” Najib said.

Meanwhile, Putera Umno chief Datuk Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim said that Putera is not a wing but a bureau under Umno Youth.

“Putera is still relevant to Umno and should not be abolished as it would only weaken the party,” he said.

“It is an avenue for the younger generation and abolishing it would only alienate them,” he said.

Nevertheless, he said Putera would abide by whatever decision the Umno supreme council makes over the issue. - thestar

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Kugan buried: questions linger - Malaysiakini

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 28 — Suspected car thief A. Kugan was finally buried at 5.30pm today after mourners circled his casket and conducted last rites at the Puchong Batu 14 cemetery, eight days after his death in a police station reignited a public outcry about custodial deaths.

The 22-year-old was laid to rest after his hearse and thousands of mourners travelled 20km through hot sun and driving rain from the University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) to the USJ8 police station where he died before finally making its way to the cemetery.

The Selangor government has undertaken the costs of the funeral on "humanitarian grounds", Kapar MP S. Manickavasagam said, adding he had thanked Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim for the gesture.

During the funeral procession, thousands of mourners who accompanied his grieving family and several lawmakers had shouted "Polis Pembunuh" and "We want Justice" with some unfurling banners that said "Polis Pembunuh Berlesen".

The crowd slowed traffic in Puchong and brought it to a standstill in front of the USJ8 police station where a police helicopter hovered overhead during brief family prayers.

The crowd also shouted the name of Hindraf leader P. Uthayakumar and the outlawed organisation before leaving the police station as police watched but did not take action.

"The attendance shows the outrage of the public. I hope the Barisan Nasional government takes heed," said Sivarasa Rasiah, who is Subang MP, while joining the funeral procession.

"Eleven (policemen) have been identified but no arrest. This is telling the public that there is a double standard when investigating policemen," he added.

Despite some antagonism from the crowd, police had provided escort for the procession that began from the University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) at 1.45pm. During the journey to the police station, the crowd had cheered the police "Polis bagi escort" while others blasted the police, shouting "Polis pembunuh Kugan".

Police had earlier arrested five men wearing Hindraf T-shirts as they threw a tight cordon around the medical centre for the suspected car thief's funeral. They only allowed some 50 people, including family and several lawmakers, to claim Kugan's body.

Lawyer Gobind Singh Deo said family and friends paid respects at the mortuary five at a time. Police had earlier chased away reporters and nearly 100 supporters around the mortuary waiting to pay respects.

The Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) and Light Strike Force had cordoned off the teaching hospital this morning but crowds, responding to text messages, have turned up for the funeral procession. Several tried to go through the barricade but police ordered them to disperse.

Police arrested two men when the crowd was dispersing just after noon. The government had banned the Hindraf movement last year, making all its symbols illegal, after it organised a massive protest in November 2007. Five Hindraf leaders are under ISA detention.

Another two were arrested later for inciting the crowd, police said. They also wore Hindraf T-shirts.

The latest arrest is Hindraf legal adviser R.S. Thanendran, who also wore a Hindraf T-shirt.

"I don't see why anyone has been arrested. We are not here to make trouble," Gobind, who is also Puchong MP, told reporters.

"They are just here to pay last respects," said Kapar MP S. Manikavasagam, who said he will lodge a police report against Selangor police chief Datuk Khalid Abu Bakar for making conflicting statements over Kugan's death.

Kugan, a 22-year-old insurance claims executive, was arrested on Jan 14 for allegedly being involved in a luxury car-theft ring. He died on Jan 20 after drinking some water, police claimed. An initial autopsy said he died of "fluid in the lungs".

But the Attorney-General's Chambers has classified the case as murder after an outcry by the family and lawmakers, and a second autopsy over the weekend found external injuries and phlegm in his lungs.

The family and authorities are waiting for detailed toxicological and tissue tests in the final autopsy report.

Critics have said Kugan's death is the latest in custody deaths in Malaysia, mostly among Indians detained by police.

In 2007, then Internal Security Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had stated there were 106 deaths in custody between 2000 and 2006. No updated statistics have been issued since then.

Lawyer N Surendan disagreed that it was a racial issue, saying it affected all Malaysians. "Deaths in detention happen to all races," he said.

Eleven police personnel from the USJ8 Taipan police station have been transferred to desk duties pending the outcome of the investigations. A special police team from the Bukit Aman federal headquarters is probing the case and authorities expect to make charges within a week. - By Shannon Teoh and Neville Spykerman (MalaysiaInsider)

Hishammuddin: Compromise on contest possible - Malaysiakini

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 28 — The suggestion by the Besut Umno division that candidates for the party’s deputy presidency compromise to avoid a contest is not a far-fetched one, said Umno Youth chief Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein.

He said the matter was not impossible as that was Umno’s way and that due consideration for determining the party’s leadership was not just Umno’s or the Barisan Nasional’s matter but should be a comprehensive matter.

“If there is something that can be discussed, we should discuss it, and what needs to be distributed after March we should distribute now,” said Hishammuddin who is in Mecca to perform the umrah.

Hishammuddin said this when commenting on the Besut Umno division’s suggestion that the candidates for the party’s deputy presidency and the vice-presidents’ post compromise ahead of the party’s polls in March.

In the same statement, Hishamuddin also commented on the suggestion by Umno’s discipline board’s chairman, Tan Sri Tengku Ahmad Rithaudeen Tengku Ismail, that the party restructure its organisation by abolishing its wings if it really wanted to do away with money politics.

Hishammuddin said the call was not acceptable and was impractical to implement.

“I respect him as an experienced veteran but in all humility I feel the suggestion is not right. If that were to happen it would portray that we are faced with great pressure.

“Party members have been in the wings from very early on. Several roles have been played effectively by the wings and we have seen a good organisational structure,” he said.

Hishammuddin said Tengku Ahmad Rithaudeen may have his own opinions and reasons on the matter but to resolve the matter there was no short-cut. — Bernama

Over 8,000 traffic summonses issued in Penang - Malaysiakini

GEORGE TOWN: Over 8,000 summonses have been issued to motorists and motorcyclists in Penang for various traffic regulations since Jan 19, the first day of Ops Sikap 19.

Penang police traffic operations chief Deputy Supt K. Wari said the majority of them were for speeding, while the rest were for offences such as parking haphazardly and obstructing traffic, and not wearing seat belts.

The current Ops Sikap, conducted in conjunction with Chinese New Year, will end on Feb 2.

DSP Wari said since it was the festive period he hoped the public would co-operate with the police and park their vehicles at designated parking lots, especially at tourist spots.

Umno suspends two members - Malaysiakini

KUALA LUMPUR: The Umno disciplinary board suspended two members, one of them a blogger, and issued warnings against three others for breaching the party’s code of ethics.

The heaviest penalty was handed to Batu Puteri Umno chief Nor Aisah Rajab, who was given a two-term or six-year suspension, effective Jan 23.

Board chairman Tan Sri Tengku Ahmad Rithauddeen said Nor Aisah was found guilty of slander for lodging a false complaint on money politics against another party member.

Taiping Umno Youth member Muzamir Ismail was suspended a year, effective Jan 23, for posting a slanderous picture of a leader on his blog. Although he had later apologised for his action, Tengku Ahmad said the penalty remained in place.

Zaidi Mohd Said from the Permatang Pauh division, Shaidan Hashim (Langkawi) and Zailan Mokhtar (Bukit Bintang) were given warnings.

Nine other members were found innocent of charges laid against them: Datuk Nawawi Ahmad, Kasa Hamzah and Shahberi Halim from the Langkawi division; Mohd Jais Sarday and Mazlan Ahmad (Kluang); Hamidah Osman (Gopeng); Noorazamuddin Ahmad and Mohd Rodzi Abdul Rahman (Permatang Pauh); and Norman Mohamad Nor (Rasah).

Tengku Ahmad said the board had received 976 complaints from 2007 to Jan 28 this year.

“Sixty-five members were given show-cause letters, of which 30 were found guilty, and 33 were innocent.

“Two other cases were handed over to the Umno supreme council for further action.

“Most of the cases involved members who had acted as agents for other members and had been found to have breached party disciplinary rules,” he told reporters at the Umno headquarters here Wednesday.

To a question, Tengku Ahmad said the board’s activities were different from that of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

However, the board would carry out additional investigations on a case-by-case basis when Umno members are detained by the MACC.

He added that the board investigates ethics-related issues, while the MACC is involved in criminal cases.

Tengku Ahmad also said Umno would hand over its own cases to the MACC if need be.

“We depend on our own investigations and not just what is done by the MACC. We also don’t have the full arsenal of MACC weapons at our disposal, such as the power to interrogate someone.

“We may meet up with MACC to exchange ideas and recommendations to help clean up the party though,” he added.

Scrap Umno wings to fight graft - Malaysiakini

KUALA LUMPUR: Umno should revamp by abolishing the three main party wings and Putera Umno to ensure that corruption within the party is totally eradicated, the Umno disciplinary board said.

Its chairman Tan Sri Tengku Ahmad Rithauddeen said the problem of money politics and vote-buying could be eradicated by making Umno a singular organisation.

He added that it had received information of money politics in Putera and Puteri Umno, but no report had been lodged with the board.

“Do we really need Puteri Umno and Putera Umno? The party also needs to consider Umno Youth and Wanita wings too.

“There is no women’s association in the Labour or Conservartive parties in England.

“When there are more contests, such problems (money politics) will continue to exist,” he added.

Tengku Ahmad advised Umno members to think of their responsibility to the party and the country.

“My feeling is that if you want to reduce the problem of money politics and contests for posts, it will be better if these wings were to be abolished.

“I must also say that the consequences of the quota system is very bad,” he told reporters at the Umno headquarters here Wednesday, referring to the fact that those who wish to contest in party polls had to get a certain number of nominations first.

Tengku Ahmad said that Puteri Umno and Putera Umno members were youngsters and teenagers. “They are too young. There’s no need to expose them to politics at too young an age.

“They need to concentrate on their studies and their careers. They shouldn’t get too involved in politics. It is not their time yet,” he said.

Kugan funeral: Crowd gets emotional - Malaysiakini

SUBANG JAYA: The funeral procession of A. Kugan, whose death in police custody has galvanised civil society, became emotional during prayers at the police station where he died.

The procession from the Universiti Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) mortuary in Petaling Jaya reached the Taipan police station here at about 2:50pm Wednesday.

After short prayers, some people in the crowd brought out banners and posters, against earlier directives of the authorities, and began shouting accusations at the police.

Deputy Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar on Monday said police would not allow any carrying of banners or posters during Kugan’s funeral.

He said the funeral should not be politicised or turned into a racial event.

He warned groups who were not involved to stay out of the funeral procession.

“The body should be brought straight from the mortuary to the crematorium in Puchong,” he said.

Ismail said that if Kugan’s body was taken elsewhere, it would be considered an illegal gathering and the police would take action.

However, when faced with the angry crowd on Wednesday, the police kept calm and continued directing traffic.

The procession finally left a little after 3:00pm to proceed to the crematorium at Puchong, where the suspected car thief will finally be laid to rest, leaving in his wake disturbing questions about police abuse.

Five men were arrested earlier at UMMC. First, police detained two men who tried to get through a barricade at the mortuary despite orders to disperse.

Two more were detained at about 1:40pm by plainclothes policemen for allegedly trying to incite the crowd.

The four were wearing t-shirts depicting the outlawed Hindu Rights Action Force movement, or Hindraf. The fifth is believed to be former Hindraf coordinator R.S. Thanendran.

The first arrests, made at the UMCC entrance about 12.15pm, came after Brickfields OCPD Asst Comm Wan Abdul Bari Wan Abdul Khalid had made an announcement asking the crowd disperse.

He gave the crowd up till a count to 10 to disperse, failing which he said arrests would be made. He then ordered his men to arrests the two.

They have been taken to the Brickfields police headquarters for questioning, ACP Wan Abdul Bari said.

At about 1:25pm, FRU officers came to the front of the mortuary and forced press photographers away from the scene.

Earlier at 12:45pm, Puchong MP Gobind Singh Deo, Kapar MP S. Manikavasagam, Teluk Intan MP M. Manogaran, Penang Deputy Chief Minister (II) Dr P. Ramasamy and the family’s lawyer N. Surendran arrived but were denied entry into the mortuary by a UMMC security officer.

A heated exchange ensued before they were allowed in, together with Kugan’s parents and two other relatives.

Relatives and friends were then allowed entry into the mortuary where Kugan’s body is being kept, but only in batches of five.

At a hastily-convened press conference at the scene, Manikavasagam denied online rumours that the funeral procession was going to proceed to the Kuala Lumpur City Centre to hold a demonstration.

Instead, he clarified, the procession would first proceed to Subang Jaya where a five-minute prayer would be held at the Taipan police station in which Kugan was killed, before proceeding to Puchong for the funeral rites.

Meanwhile, Gobind said they were not there to cause trouble and blamed the police for blowing things out of proportion.

“We’re just here to show our support,” he said. “We’re just here to claim the body and allow Kugan’s funeral to proceed.”

Gobind also said that the second post-mortem report has been completed but the doctor who conducted it had yet to reveal anything.

Later, Seputeh MP Teresa Kok arrived as well.

Members of the Field Reserve Unit (FRU) and the Light Strike Force were deployed early Wednesday to Jalan Universiti to prepare for the funeral procession.

The suspected car thief had died while being questioned by police on Jan 20.

The units were placed there in anticipation of a large crowd for the procession that will begin at UMMC and proceed to Puchong, Petaling Jaya police chief Asst Comm Arjunaidi Mohamed said earlier.

Members of the public should not join in any illegal gathering and police will take stern action, he added.

Kugan’s family had arrived at the scene a little after 12 noon.

His uncle, Ravi Roy, 42, had earlier told the media said that the family was not blaming the police force for Kugan’s death, but was merely seeking the truth.

“We are not blaming the entire police force, all we want is for the people who are responsible to be brought to justice,” he said at the Bandar Kinrara home here of Kugan’s parents on Monday.

UMMC conducted the second post-mortem on kugan last Sunday.

The 22-year-old collapsed and died inside the Taipan police station in Subang Jaya on Tuesday last week. The initial post-mortem revealed that he had died due to fluid in his lungs, but Kugan’s family entered the Serdang Hospital mortuary that same day and took photographs of his body, which showed severe bruising.

They demanded a second post-mortem, although that report is not out yet.

While initially saying no foul play was involved, police have now reclassified the case as murder for the purpose of investigation, at the urging of the Attorney-General.

Kugan funeral procession: Two arrested - Malaysiakini

PETALING JAYA: Police detained two men who tried to get through a barricade at the Universiti Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) despite orders to disperse, as a large crowd began to gather Wednesday to take part in the funeral procession of A. Kugan.

Two more were detained at about 1:40pm by plainclothes policemen for allegedly trying to incite the crowd.

All four were wearing t-shirts depicting the outlawed Hindu Rights Action Force movement, or Hindraf.

The first arrests, made at the UMCC entrance about 12.15pm, came after Brickfields OCPD Asst Comm Wan Abdul Bari Wan Abdul Khalid had made an announcement asking the crowd disperse.

He gave the crowd up till a count to 10 to disperse, failing which he said arrests would be made. He then ordered his men to arrests the two.

They have been taken to the Brickfields police headquarters for questioning, ACP Wan Abdul Bari said.

At about 1:25pm, FRU officers came to the front of the mortuary and forced press photographers away from the scene.

Earlier at 12:45pm, Puchong MP Gobind Singh Deo, Kapar MP S. Manikavasagam, Teluk Intan MP M. Manogaran, Penang Deputy Chief Minister (II) Dr P. Ramasamy and the family’s lawyer N. Surendran arrived but were denied entry into the mortuary by a UMMC security officer.

A heat exchange ensued before they were allowed in, together with Kugan’s parents and two other relatives.

Relatives and friends were then allowed entry into the mortuary where Kugan’s body is being kept, but only in batches of five.

At a hastily-convened press conference at the scene, Manikavasagam denied online rumours that the funeral procession was going to proceed to the Kuala Lumpur City Centre to hold a demonstration.

Instead, he clarified, the procession would first proceed to Subang Jaya where a five-minute prayer would be held at the Taipan police station in which Kugan was killed, before proceeding to Puchng for the funeral rites.

Meanwhile, Gobind said they were not there to cause trouble and blamed the police for blowing things out of proportion.

“We’re just here to show our support,” he said. “We’re just here to claim the body and allow Kugan’s funeral to proceed.”

Gobind also said that the second post-mortem report has been completed but the doctor who conducted it had yet to reveal anything.

Later, Seputeh MP Teresa Kok arrived as well.

Members of the Field Reserve Unit (FRU) and the Light Strike Force were deployed early Wednesday to Jalan Universiti to prepare for the funeral procession.

The suspected car thief had died while being questioned by police on Jan 20.

The units have been placed there in anticipation of a large crowd for the procession that will begin at UMMC and proceed to Puchong, Petaling Jaya police chief Asst Comm Arjunaidi Mohamed said earlier.

Members of the public should not join in any illegal gathering and police will take stern action, he added.

Kugan’s family had arrived at the scene a little after 12 noon.

His uncle, Ravi Roy, 42, had earlier told the media said that the family was not blaming the police force for Kugan’s death, but was merely seeking the truth.

“We are not blaming the entire police force, all we want is for the people who are responsible to be brought to justice,” he said at the Bandar Kinrara home here of Kugan’s parents on Monday.

Kugan’s body is currently at the UMMC mortuary, where a second post-mortem was conducted last Sunday.

The 22-year-old collapsed and died inside the Taipan police station in Subang Jaya on Tuesday last week. The initial post-mortem revealed that he had died due to fluid in his lungs, but Kugan’s family entered the Serdang Hospital mortuary that same day and took photographs of his body, which showed severe bruising.

They demanded a second post-mortem, although that report is not out yet.

While initially saying no foul play was involved, police have now reclassified the case as murder for the purpose of investigation, at the urging of the Attorney-General.

Earlier, Deputy Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar said police would not allow any carrying of banners or posters during Kugan’s funeral.

He said the funeral should not be politicised or turned into a racial event.

He warned groups who were not involved to stay out of the funeral procession.

“The body should be brought straight from the mortuary to the crematorium in Puchong,” he said.

Ismail said that if Kugan’s body was taken elsewhere, it would be considered an illegal gathering and the police would take action.

He said that the police would be on stand-by to ensure that the funeral proceeded smoothly.

Report officers who demand kickbacks - Malaysiakini

KUALA SELANGOR: Entrepreneur and Cooperative Development Minister Datuk Noh Omar has urged members of the public to lodge complaints against any of his officers who demand kickbacks.

Noh said he had recently received feedback that some of his ministry officials had allegedly asked for “commissions” to facilitate quick loan approvals.

“I have been told that those who pay these commissions receive quick approvals of their loan applications, while those who do not pay are made to wait,” Noh told a press conference Tuesday evening after giving away prizes to top students at his Tanjong Karang parliamentary constituency.

He said those who had fallen prey to these unscrupulous officers should do what is right by reporting them to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

Noh also said there was nothing to fear as the MACC would offer them protection if they decide to blow the whistle on officers who demanded bribes from them.

“Unless necessary measures such as these are taken, the allegations would merely remain allegations as no one has come-up with any evidence so far,” he said.

“I will not tolerate any corrupt officers in my ministry,” he added. - thestar

Book on ministers and their contributions Malaysiakini

PUTRAJAYA: A total of 117 politicians have served as Cabinet ministers from 1955 to January last year, and many have played an integral role in formulating the country’s policies, realising ideas and dreams, as well as in nation building.

Now you can find out more about these individuals with the launch of the book Malaysian Ministers 1955-2008 by Koperasi Belia Nasional Berhad, launched by Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi Tuesday night.

The Prime Minister paid tribute to these Cabinet ministers, whom he said had made tremendous contributions to the nation and to all Malaysians, irrespective of race or religion.

“As a country which practices democracy, we have proven many times that it is the people who chose their leaders.

“I believe this book will be an important historical document, not only for leaders but for the people, particularly future generations,” he said in his speech which was read by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

Abdullah also expressed hope that the book would serve as guidance to future leaders on how best to serve the people by emulating the contribution and sacrifices made by their predecessors. - The Star

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Lim asks Federal Govt to approve RM500m allocation - Malaysiakini

GEORGE TOWN: Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng on Tuesday again called on the Federal Government to approve a RM500mil allocation to the state so that big projects that had already been plannned could be carried out.

“I hope Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi will approve the sum to enable the monorail and Penang Outer Ring Road projects and the Second Penang Bridge, which is underway, to be successfully completed,” he said at the Penang Chinese Town Hall’s Chinese New Year open house here.

He said the projects would be of great benefit to the people of Penang.

Also present were Penang Yang Dipertua Negeri Tun Abdul Rahman Abbas, PCTH chairman Tan Sri Lim Gait Tong, Gerakan president Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon and Penang MCA chairman Datuk Liow Tiong Lai. -- Bernama

Feuding state BN parties look to mend ties - Malaysiakini

GEORGE TOWN: The Year of the Ox could see mended ties between two feuding Barisan Nasional component parties in Penang.

Penang Umno secretary Datuk Azhar Ibrahim is hoping for strengthened ties between the state’s Umno and Gerakan parties, he at a Gerakan Chinese New Year open house.

“As Barisan component parties, Umno and Gerakan have had a strong relationship at the federal level that has been built over many years.

“What has happened are just problems within the party, which are common,” he said.

On Sept 8 last year, Penang Gerakan broke off ties with the state Umno at the height of the controversy over racist remarks by then Bukit Bendera Umno division chief Datuk Ahmad Ismail.

Penang Gerakan chief Datuk Dr Teng Hock Nan said then that the party would wait for new leaders to take over Umno before deciding whether to resume the relationship.

Gerakan had ticked off Ahmad for making racist comments during campaigning for the Permatang Pauh by-election in August last year.

Ahmad instead asked Barisan Nasional to sack Gerakan from the coalition for allegedly causing chaos among component parties and wanted the then Gerakan acting president Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon to be stripped of the Penang Barisan chairman’s post.

His supporters even tore down and ripped apart a picture of Dr Koh at a press conference.

Penang Gerakan then cut off ties with Penang Umno.

A defiant Ahmad was suspended on Sept 10 last year and stripped of all Umno posts for three years following the controversy.

“Umno has never severed ties with Gerakan and has always respected other component parties.

“We hope that with the New Year, our ties can be strengthened,” Azhar said.

When asked about the issue, Dr Koh -- now Gerakan president -- said the olive branch offered by the state Umno leaders was a sign of a good start for both parties this Chinese New Year.

“Although at the national level in the context of Barisan Nasional, both parties enjoy a very strong relationship, in Penang it would take some time for us to mend ties.

“However, I see this as a good start for both parties to foster a better relationship with the arrival of the New Year,” he told reporters after attending the Penang Chinese Town Hall Chinese New Year open house.

The former state premier had also been seen tossing yee sang with Umno assemblymen Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahaya and Muhamad Farid Saad earlier in the day. -- the star

We just want to see justice done - Malaysiakini

PUCHONG: The family of suspected car thief A. Kugan who died in police custody last Tuesday just wants to see justice done and the truth surrounding his death come to light.

His uncle, Ravi Roy, 42, said that the family was not blaming the police force for Kugan’s death, but was merely seeking the truth.

“We are not blaming the entire police force, all we want is for the people who are responsible to be brought to justice,” he said at the Bandar Kinrara home here of Kugan’s parents on Monday.

Kugan collapsed and died during questioning at the Taipan police station in Subang Jaya on Dec 20. An initial post-mortem wrote off his death as involving “no foul play,” saying he had died due to fluid in his lungs but not offering an explanation of how this happened.

However, after Kugan’s family entered the Serdang Hospital mortuary that same day and took photographs of his body, which showed severe bruising, the Attorney-General asked police to re-classify the case as murder.

A second post-mortem was conducted last Sunday, although the report is not out yet.

The 22-year-old is scheduled to be buried at the Puchong crematorium at 2pm on Wednesday. Ravi said the family has been waiting anxiously to lay him to rest as they felt uncomfortable keeping the body in a mortuary for so long.

“However, we had no choice as his body is the only evidence we have on what happened to him,” he said.

Although relieved at finally being able to bury Kugan’s body, Ravi said the family would not rest until those responsible are identified and brought to justice.

On the support received from various politicians and members of the public, Ravi said that it has helped them get through these tough times.

“We would like to thank everyone who have shown their support to us and Kugan,” he told reporters.

At around 3pm Monday, a flurry of VIPs, including PKR adviser Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, visited Kugan’s family.

Obama to visit Pentagon - Malaysiakini

Mr Obama (left) also said that White House officials would also sit down with General David McKiernan, who commands Nato forces and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. -- PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON - PRESIDENT Barack Obama is set to head to the Pentagon in the next few days to discuss policy options and developments in Iraq with top military and civilian defense officials, his spokesman said on Monday.

Mr Obama has already sat down the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and General David Petraeus, head of US Central Command since he was sworn in as president last week.

Living up to a key campaign promise, Mr Obama directed the generals to start formulating a plan to get most US combat troops out of Iraq within 16 months.

'The next step in that process will be going to meet directly with commanders and planners at the Pentagon,' said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.

He also said that White House officials would also sit down with General David McKiernan, who commands Nato forces and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.

Mr Obama has pledged to boost US forces in the country, amid deteriorating security.

He argued last week that the war in Afghanistan could not be separated from the volatile border area with Pakistan, where Al-Qaeda and Taleban elements have regrouped, in the central front in the US struggle against terrorism. -- AFP

Monday, January 26, 2009

End up dead in the lockup - Malaysiakini

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 26 — The family of Kugan Ananthan, today, lashed out at police for hiding behind a wall of silence, over the death of the 22-year-old suspected car-thief.

Kugan’s uncle V.Raviroy said the police have yet to offer an explanation or apology over what had happened and have continued to keep the family in the dark.

The 42-year-old businessman said the family’s anguish started when Kugan disappeared on Jan 14.

“The police never informed us that he was arrested and we only heard about it from an anonymous caller,” Raviroy told The Malaysian Insider.

Even then, the police refused to disclose where he was being detained.

Raviroy claims that Kugan died at 11am on Jan 20 at the Taipan USJ police station but the family was only informed at 9pm by a group of plain-clothed detectives who came to their home in Kinrara, Puchong.

“All they said was that he had died and his body was at the University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC).

However when the family arrived at the mortuary at UMMC, they were told Kugan’s body was at the Serdang Hospital.

“Look what they have put us through,” he said.

Raviroy said whatever Kugan was accused of doing; he did not deserve to die.

“Kugan was only 22, he had his whole life ahead of him, why did he end up dead in the lockup,” he lamented

He said Kugan worked for an insurance claims company and did not have a police record.

Raviroy said the family had lost confidence in the police force, which did not want to allow them to have a second post-mortem.

He was especially critical of the Selangor police chief Datuk Khaild Abu Bakar who he claimed kept issuing statements to the Press but never once came to meet the family or offer an explanation.

“What we know so far about the case is what we read in the newspapers, neither Khalid nor his officers have come to see us.”

Raviroy said they will claim Kugan’s body on Wednesday and he will be cremated at the Puchong Batu 14 crematorium at 2pm.
By Neville Spykerman - MalaysianInsider

Yoga ban for Indon Muslims - Malaysiakini

JAKARTA - MUSLIMS in Indonesia are now banned from practicing yoga that contains Hindu rituals like chanting, but will continue to be allowed to perform it for purely health reasons, the chairman of the country's top Islamic body said on Monday.

Cleric Ma'ruf Amin said the Ulema Council issued the non-binding ruling following weekend talks attended by hundreds of theological experts in Padang Panjang, a village in West Sumatra province.

Although the ruling is not legally binding, most devout Muslims are likely to adhere to it - as they consider it sinful to ignore a fatwa.

The Ulema Council decided on the ban, which follows a similar edict in neighboring Malaysia, over concerns that the faith of Muslim yoga practitioners would be weakened if they take part in Hindu rituals like chanting mantras, Amin said.

'Those who perform yoga purely for health reasons or sport will not be affected,' Mr Amin said. 'We only prohibit activities that can corrupt Islamic values.'

Indonesia is a secular nation of 235 million people, 90 per cent of whom are Muslim. Most practice a moderate form of the faith, but a vocal extremist fringe has gained strength in recent years. -- AP

$100b Privatization Projected - Malaysiakini

TEHRAN, Jan 25 (Dispatches) - Economy Minister Shamseddin Hosseini said the involvement of domestic and overseas Iranians is needed to turn challenges into opportunities.

Hosseini added that Article 44 of the constitution (which seeks large-scale privatization) has created proper opportunities for domestic and foreign investors, Fars News Agency wrote.

"The value of privatization has been assessed at $100 billion, of which $60 billion will be privatized in the next six years," he said.

The privatization process is underway in the sectors of oil, gas, petrochemicals and telecommunications.

The minister noted that although the Iranian economy is less affected by the global credit crunch, it has been affected due to its relations with world trade.

Hosseini stressed that the Iranian bourse did not suffer and witnessed a 25-percent growth during March-September 2008.

He said that with the reduction in oil price, the global crisis has affected the bourses of many countries.

"The ministers of economy, foreign affairs, oil and industries as well as the governor of the Central Bank of Iran and vice president are in charge of studying the global financial crisis and its effects on Iran's economy," he said.

Hosseini added that the Economy Ministry has prepared a rescue package to encounter the crisis, which calls for supporting the capital market, production market, bourse brokerages and foreign investments.

Obama Envoy Going to Middle East - Malaysiakini

BEIT-UL-MOQADDAS, Jan 25 (Dispatches) – US President Barack Obama's special envoy to the Middle East will go to the Israeli-occupied territories Wednesday for talks on keeping alive a fragile Gaza cease-fire and reviving Mideast negotiations, a Zionist foreign ministry official said Saturday.

It is the new administration's first direct move into Mideast peace efforts.
George J. Mitchell will meet with Zionist Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and senior Zionist officials, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because Washington has not officially announced the trip.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton introduced Mitchell in his new role Thursday. His appointment is seen as signaling a renewed push under the Obama administration for a resolution to the Arab-Zionist conflict.

Mitchell will also visit Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and caretaker Prime Minister Salam Fayyad at their headquarters in the West Bank, the official said.
The official said Mitchell will discuss restarting Zionist-Palestinian peace talks after Israel's three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip, and ways to impose an effective arms blockade against the Hamas who rule Gaza and have been firing rockets into Israel for years.

The arms embargo and the opening of the blockaded territory's borders are key to sustaining separate cease-fires by Zionists and Hamas.

In Washington, the White House and State Department declined to comment, but diplomats familiar with Mitchell's travel plans said he would visit Israel and the West Bank with possible stops in Egypt and Jordan on a tour that could last eight to 10 days.

His exact itinerary is not yet settled, the diplomats said, but he will be working to secure an Israel-Hamas cease-fire, improve the humanitarian situation for Gazans and gauge prospects for continuing the peace process.

George Mitchell, US President Barack Obama's newly named Special Envoy to the Middle East, stands after the announcement at the State Department in Washington, DC.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Google no longer best workplace | Malaysiakini

SAN FRANCISCO - CALIFORNIA technology firm NetApp has taken Google's crown as best company to work for in 2009, according to an annual Top 100 list published by Fortune Magazine.

Google held the Fortune title of 'Best Company to Work For' for two years, knocking biotech drug firm Genentech from the top spot in 2007.

Google sank to fourth place in rankings published in the February 2 issue of Fortune. St. Louis-based brokerage Edward Jones was second followed by Boston Consulting, a management consulting firm.

Silicon Valley insiders speculated the sag in Google's status could be related to cost-cutting measures such as the cancellation of an annual ski outing for the northern California Internet giant's snow-loving employees.

The magazine noted that Google attracts 770,000 job applicants yearly, despite having done away with 'frills' such as afternoon tea.

Fortune praised NetApp for a 'legendary egalitarian culture' and down-to-earth management ethos.

Rather than business plans, workers at the company specialising in data management and computer storage draft 'future histories' describing their visions for coming years, according to Fortune.

Worker benefits reportedly include paid days for volunteer work, cash to supplement adopting children and medical coverage for family members with autism.

Veteran network-equipment company Cisco in the heart of Silicon Valley ranked sixth on the list, while its neighbor Adobe Systems was listed in 11th place.

The rankings are done by San Francisco's Great Place to Work Institute, which reportedly surveyed more than 81,000 employees from 353 companies. -- AFP

M'sia orders murder probe | Malaysiakini

KUALA LUMPUR - MALAYSIA'S top prosecutor has ordered a murder probe into the death in police custody of a suspected car thief after family members stormed a morgue to get evidence he was killed, reports said.

Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail told the New Straits Times he had ordered a murder investigation into the death of 22-year-old A. Kugan who died Tuesday during questioning over vehicle thefts in central Selangor state.

'We agreed that the incident be classified as murder as there were bruises on the body,' Mr Abdul Gani told the paper on Saturday after being shown photographs of the body taken by family members and papers by deputy police chief Ismail Omar.

'If investigations reveal that he died from being assaulted, then those responsible will be charged with murder,' he added.

The paper said an initial autopsy reported Kugan died of 'fluid in the lungs' but this did not satisfy family and friends who on Thursday barricaded themselves in the state morgue in order to take photos of the remains.

The family said pictures of the bruised corpse cast doubt on the original findings and police on Sunday agreed to a second autopsy, according to the Star daily.

The Malaysian Bar Council has urged a probe by an independent panel.

'This is not the first custodial death in recent years and our fear is that it will not be the last,' council president Ambiga Sreenivasan said in a statement.

Watchdog groups say Malaysian police have a reputation for violence against suspects with rights group Suaram reporting at least seven deaths in police custody last year. -- AFP

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Time Barisan woke up and fixed what is wrong - Malaysiakini

After its humiliation in Kuala Terengganu, Barisan Nasional has no choice but to face the facts: the people of Malaysia are not happy with their Barisan-led government. Ever since the March general election, Barisan has been tearing itself apart in petty struggles instead of doing any serious soul-searching. The coalition had practically every conceivable advantage in the recent by-election; that in spite of this they lost speaks to a fundamental unhappiness with our government, and nothing short of sweeping reform, whether from within or without Barisan, will change this.

Post-March 8, Barisan leaders posited all sorts of reasons for their defeat. MCA leaders blamed concern about religious freedom and ethnic relations. Umno leaders cited Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s poor leadership. MIC leaders suddenly found the heart to say something about the problems faced by working-class Indians. Gerakan and PPP politicians voiced the need for greater freedom of expression and a more open government. But instead of uniting around any sort of coherent agenda based on these problems raised by Barisan component parties, the coalition has tried to maintain business as usual, as if March 8 changed nothing.

In the meantime, every indication since March 8 has been that anti-Barisan sentiment is growing, not abating. Polls and surveys consistently show significant dissatisfaction with our leadership that cuts across race, religion, and class. In the Permatang Pauh by-election a few months after March 8, voters sent the Barisan candidate packing with a larger majority for Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. With nearly a year since the general election, the Kuala Terengganu by-election presented the best chance for Barisan and its incoming leader Datuk Seri Najib Razak to prove themselves.

Yet in spite of nearly every imaginable advantage, Barisan went home defeated. By-elections have traditionally been their strong suit; political celebrities of all kinds come in to shower voters with attention and promises of goodies. Vote-buying and extensive “phantom voter” operations have not been unheard of in the past, and this time round was no exception. The seat was not an opposition stronghold, and had previously been held by a deputy minister in the Barisan government. The upcoming Chinese New year holiday a mere week after polling (when most people would usually come home) and the fact that this was just a by-election were both factors depressing turnout among younger and urban voters, groups likelier to vote for the opposition. If Barisan’s plan to stay the course was working, surely Kuala Terengganu would be the place to prove it; prior to March 8, all these factors combined would have been enough to give Barisan a landslide victory. And yet in the face of all this, the Pakatan Rakyat candidate won with a larger majority than the Barisan candidate had on March 8.

That Barisan can no longer even win a simple by-election speaks volumes about how far and fast its political stock has fallen. No matter how slick the Barisan operation is, the simple fact is that voters are upset with very fundamental issues, and no longer fear to make their unhappiness clear. What has Barisan done to address economic and ethnic inequities? What has Barisan done to promote a level economic playing field for all Malaysians, instead of favouring the politically-connected? How is Barisan making our government more efficient and transparent? How is Barisan shoring up the credibility, power and respect of our national institutions? Barisan has proven unable to reassure voters that it is addressing these issues, and this is in large part because it really is not addressing them.

Some credit is due to Abdullah; he has done his best, as little as it may be, to push a reform agenda of sorts forward after the March electoral upset. But many of his boldest reforms have been stymied by stubborn and unrelenting Barisan political warlords, especially those from Umno. There has been no coherent plan or agenda for these reforms, which have appeared piece by piece, without any sense of how they fit into a larger scheme to address the issues which resonate with the Malaysian electorate. Barisan might claim it has done it best; that may even be true; but Barisan’s best so far is simply not good enough.

If our Prime Minister-to-be Najib wants to cement his party’s tenuous grip on power, and find his place in history, there is no better place to start than finally addressing the needs of the people of the country he has sworn to serve. The haphazard patchwork of reforms and absence of any real plan to address the underlying problems our country faces are slowly but surely bleeding Barisan dry. Najib is on track to lead his party to a resounding defeat in the next general election. If he wants to arrest the seemingly inevitable decline, Najib has to shake Barisan out of its denial and map out a path to reform for our country and our government.

That is what Najib and Barisan must do; whether they will do it is a completely different kettle of fish. Barisan has had over 10 precious months to get started on its roadmap to reform, and it has completely wasted them. Before the election, the Pakatan parties already had a clear message about what‘s wrong with the country and how to fix it. Today, nearly a year later, Barisan still doesn’t have a clue. For the sake of our country, I hope they wake up soon. If Barisan does not get things in gear now, it will be Pakatan that gets the ball rolling when it wins the next general election.

Written by: John Lee, a second-year student of economics at Dartmouth College in the United States.

MUST READ The solvency doctrine

JAN 24 — To restore American power, Barack Obama needs a foreign policy that recognises its limits.

When it comes to predicting a President's foreign policy, there are basically two ways to go: you can look at the guy, or you can look at the world.

Perspective 1 — which is part biography, part psychiatry — is more fun. The problem is that very often a President's past — and even his campaign rhetoric — is not prologue. In 1916, Woodrow Wilson pledged to keep the United States out of war; in 1940, Franklin Roosevelt promised to do the same. Richard Nixon spent his career as a die-hard anti-communist, but in the White House, he opened relations with China and ushered in d├ętente with the USSR. George W. Bush once said America shouldn't tell the world what to do.

Perspective 2 is more reliable. Instead of looking at the person and extrapolating out, you look at the world he inherits and work back in. The world deals the cards, and a President plays them as best he can.

Obama starts with a bad hand. The Bush Administration didn't just preside over the creation of a financial bubble; it helped build a foreign policy bubble as well. After 9/11, it acted as if America's power were virtually unlimited: our resources were infinite; our military was unstoppable; our ideology was sweeping the world. Bush and Dick Cheney were like homeowners who took on more and more debt, certain that they could cover it because the value of their home would forever rise. They toppled regimes in two countries with little history of competent, representative government. They defined the war on terrorism so broadly that it put the US in conflict not only with al-Qaeda but also with Hizballah and Hamas, with the Shi'ite theocracy in Iran and even with relatively secular autocracies like Syria's. They vowed to no longer tolerate dictatorships in the Middle East, which essentially committed the US to a policy of regime change towards not only our enemies but most of our allies as well.

America's military and ideological commitments grew and grew, far beyond our capacity to carry them out. And now the power bubble has popped. Militarily, savvy and savage guerilla movements have learned how to bleed us of money, lives and limbs. Economically, resources are scarce; it's hard to pay to transform the Middle East when we're deep in debt trying to prop up the Midwest. And ideologically, democracy no longer looks like the inevitable destination of all humankind.

In 1943, Walter Lippmann famously wrote that "foreign policy consists in bringing into balance, with a comfortable surplus of power in reserve, the nation's commitments and the nation's power." By that standard, US foreign policy is in Chapter 9. No matter what grand visions Obama may harbour to remake the world, the central mission of his foreign policy — at least at first — will be to get it out of the red. Call it the solvency doctrine.

The power deficit

The most attractive way to balance America's commitments and its power, of course, would be to increase the latter — to do the foreign policy equivalent of growing revenues rather than slashing jobs. But the harsh reality is that in the short term, Obama won't be able to dramatically boost US power. He can enlarge the armed forces, as he has pledged to do, but even if he increases the number of troops and repairs the tanks, the top military brass will still be far more reluctant to use them. So will the public, which wants out of Iraq and isn't that gung ho about an indefinite stay in Afghanistan either. As a result, America's ability to threaten new military action — against Iran, for instance, or in Darfur — has dramatically declined. Our hard power isn't what it used to be — and won't be again anytime soon.

When it comes to soft power — the power to persuade, not coerce — things are little better. True, anti-Americanism is abating as brand Obama rejuvenates brand USA. But popularity is not the same as power (ask Canada or Sweden). In the 1990s, American soft power was based on more than goodwill; it was based on economic and ideological hegemony. There was only one widely accepted path to prosperity — deregulated, American-style capitalism. And there was one central destination for a poor country seeking the investment and aid it needed to travel down that path: Washington. The US and its allies could dangle big financial carrots to get countries to do what we wanted — and turn the screws on those pariahs who held out.

That's no longer the case. American-style capitalism no longer looks as dominant now that Wall Street has blown up. The financial meltdown also means that for the foreseeable future, the US and its European allies will have less money to offer countries they want to influence. There's a lot in Obama's history and rhetoric to suggest he'd love a Marshall Plan-style effort to fight poverty and terrorism in failing states like Pakistan and Yemen. But finding the money is going to be much harder today than it was a few years back. And putting tough conditions on that money will be harder too, since poor countries can turn to China and get cash with fewer strings attached.

All of which is to say that getting to solvency will require reducing the other side of the ledger: the one that lists America's commitments overseas.

Subtracting enemies

The most obvious commitment Obama wants to liquidate, of course, is the war in Iraq. But how can the US draw down its troop levels without letting Iraq spiral out of control? The answer, at least in part, is to end another conflict: America's proxy war with Iran. Since Iran is the other big foreign power with influence in Baghdad, the US needs its help to prevent Iraq from sliding back into anarchy as we withdraw. A better relationship with Iran might also make it easier to achieve calm — if not peace — between Israel and its two non-state foes Hizballah and Hamas, since Tehran arms and bankrolls both terrorist groups.

Getting Iran's help in Iraq — and persuading it to give up its quest for a nuclear bomb — will require abandoning our efforts at regime change, muting our human-rights concerns and accepting an Iranian sphere of influence in the Persian Gulf. Obama's opponents will probably depict that kind of deal as defeatist, an admission of the limits of American power in the Middle East. But those limits already exist; the US just hasn't acknowledged them.

The solvency doctrine also has implications for America's other war, in Afghanistan. Obama wants to send tens of thousands of US and Nato troops there, expand the Afghan army and dispatch boatloads of Western civilians to help build a governmental infrastructure that actually works. He also wants a high-octane diplomatic push across the border into Pakistan, which al-Qaeda and the Taliban have made their home base.

But he still needs to define victory down. Afghanistan is bigger and more populous than Iraq, with harsher terrain and a literacy rate one-third as high. It has no real history of centralised government; a fictional border with Pakistan, which militants cross with ease; an economy based largely on drugs; and a leader who — although still popular in the US —is widely considered a disaster at home.

To make matters worse, public support for the Afghan war has grown noticeably soft. The reason is that to most Americans, the war in Afghanistan has always been principally a war against al-Qaeda — to retaliate for 9/11 and eliminate its safe haven — not a war to build a centralised, democratic state in the Hindu Kush, which is a far harder thing. Obama is right to increase America's military, economic and diplomatic muscle in Afghanistan and across the border in Pakistan, but that power surge will work only if he also sets more realistic expectations. Ultimately, the US will have to cut a deal — or lots of little deals — with the bad guys to flip those Taliban members who will renounce al-Qaeda from enemies to allies. That will mean empowering local warlords who don't truly report to Kabul and may not win any awards from the ACLU. But that's essentially what we've done over the past two years in Iraq, where the Bush Administration both temporarily increased American power and quietly downsized expectations so we were fighting a small number of jihadist terrorists rather than a large number of conservative tribesmen. Achieving solvency requires subtracting enemies, not only in Iraq and Iran but in Afghanistan too.

A downsized war

The best precedent for all this is what the US did in the wake of Vietnam. By the early 1970s, the containment of global communism had become a foreign policy bubble of its own. The US had committed itself to stopping virtually any leftist movement from taking power anywhere in the world. But in Vietnam, this ideological determination was exacting a toll in money and blood that the American public was no longer willing to pay.

Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan — each in a different way — responded by downsizing containment. Nixon opened up to China, which essentially meant the US was no longer trying to contain the Soviets alone. Carter told Americans not to panic every time leftists overran some banana republic. Even Reagan, although he funded anti-communist guerillas, refused to send US troops to battle communist rebels and regimes in Central America.

Today it's the war on terrorism that has proved too costly. Describing Shi'ite Iran and Sunni al-Qaeda as a unified terrorist threat when they loathe each other makes as little sense as treating China and the Soviet Union as a unified threat in the 1960s, when they were on the brink of war. Even Hamas and Hizballah are fundamentally different from al-Qaeda, since they're national movements, not global ones. They may be terrorists, but politically, socially and economically, they are deeply integrated into their local societies in a way al-Qaeda is not. Our long-term goal should be to transform them from militias into political parties, which means giving them a seat at the table, no matter how odious their ideology, if they give up their guns.

We've done it before. America won World War II and the Cold War not by taking on all the enemies of freedom at once but by shrewdly isolating our greatest enemies, even though that meant cutting deals with some pretty nasty guys. We beat Hitler by allying with Stalin, and we beat Moscow in part by allying with Beijing. Today we need to beat al-Qaeda with the help of Iran, elements of the Taliban, perhaps Syria and maybe one day even Hizballah and Hamas. We need to isolate the violent jihadists who want to attack America rather than isolate ourselves by defining the war on terrorism as America against the field.

The new agenda

Does restoring solvency mean abandoning our commitment to freedom? No, but it means not writing rhetorical cheques that we can't cash. America usually promotes liberty more successfully by luring autocracies into greater engagement with the West rather than by trying to quarantine them. What's more, America's greatest contribution to democracy's spread comes from the power of our example. By defining the war on terrorism as a permanent state of emergency during which human rights and civil liberties don't apply, Bush has harmed freedom's cause far more than his lofty speeches have boosted it. The solvency doctrine may seem coldhearted, but in the long run, restoring America's strategic balance can help restore its moral balance as well.

Finally, downsizing the war on terrorism is crucial to freeing up energy for other things. Since 9/11, the Middle East has swallowed American foreign policy. From Bangkok to Brazil, China has been winning friends and influencing people while the US fights endless wars in the basket cases of the world. Obama's personal story gives him a unique opportunity to remind people in Asia, Latin America and Africa why America can still inspire in ways China cannot. But he can do that only if he and his top advisers take the time to nurture relationships that the war on terrorism has distorted or eclipsed.

If he's very lucky and very good, Obama may be able to get US foreign policy out of the red by late in his first term. If the economy starts growing again, if the US troop presence in Iraq drops without a return to anarchy, if there's a real thaw with Iran and if the outlines of a political settlement take shape in Afghanistan, then Obama will have an opportunity to define his agenda rather than having America's weakness define it for him. If he has the chance, my guess is he'll revive a vision that has intrigued progressive Presidents since Wilson: collective security, the idea that ultimately America's security and prosperity are bound up with the security and prosperity of people across the globe. A collective-security agenda would start with global warming, the ultimate we're-all-in-it-together planetary threat. It might move from there to international financial regulation, so countries can better work together to keep world capitalism from running off the rails. Next might be a new nuclear compact, in which the current nuclear powers begin to disarm while wannabes agree to tighter inspections in return for better access to civilian nuclear power.

This would be a stark departure from the Bush Administration's us-vs-them, neo--Cold War approach to the world, and it would be far better received. It would still be hard to achieve, given that global power is far more diffuse today than it was in the late 1940s, the last time the US helped build a new international architecture for a new

world. But it would be an aggressive, farsighted agenda, launched by an America strong enough to play offence again. If Obama can make US foreign policy solvent, he'll do more than cut our losses. He'll give himself — and us — the power to dream again of a transformed world. — Time