Tuesday, January 4, 2000

for Y2K paid off

Bullet The issue: Billions of dollars were spent to upgrade computer systems and avert breakdowns when 2000 began.
Bullet Our view: The money was well spent and resulted in remarkably few glitches.

THE world didn't come to an end with the advent of the year 2000, and the computer apocalypse of Y2K didn't materialize. Mankind is left to slog ahead into the new century and (alleged) new millennium in much the same condition as on Dec. 31, 1999.

That is no accident. About $100 billion was spent to rid computer systems of the Y2K bug, which can affect older computers that read dates only by the last two digits of the year. They can malfunction if they misinterpret 00 as 1900 rather than 2000, with a potential for causing chaos. Fortunately few did.

No problems were reported in the most vital systems -- those that control the launching of U.S. and Russian intercontinental missiles. Elaborate precautions were taken to deal with potential glitches, the missiles stayed in their silos and the world breathed easier.

Almost as important as the lack of problems with intercontinental missiles was the smooth opening of banking systems worldwide yesterday. A spokes-man for the American Bankers Association said, "We're thrilled with how everything has gone."

John Koskinen, the federal government's chief Y2K adviser, called the smooth transition a "great gift" and worth the time and effort. He said the national Y2K center would soon begin scaling back operations.

There were problems, but they were relatively minor. For example, police testing the sobriety of drivers in Hong Kong had to enter birth dates on breath-testing machine because of an apparent Y2K malfunction.

The bug invaded a computer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Y-12 nuclear weapons plant in Tennessee but did not affect operations. Computers at courthouses in Naples and Venice in Italy listed prisoners due to be released Jan. 10 as having completed their terms Jan. 10, 1900.

Weather observations in part of mainland China had to be made by hand after the circuit board of a solar measuring device in the remote northwestern region of Ningxia failed to roll over to 2000.

In Tokyo, about a dozen small brokerages reported Y2K-related glitches in a record-keeping system. They were quickly fixed.

The heat went out in apartments for about 900 families in Pyongchon, South Korea.

Some people responded to the lack of disasters by wondering whether the whole thing was a hoax. We don't think so.

Business and government accepted the need to fix their computer systems before 2000 and they succeeded. It would be naive to think that all would have gone well without that massive effort.

There was an unintended additional benefit to the attention given the Y2K problem. Many organizations dealt with the problem by installing new computer systems. The upgrading should result in greater efficiency in many fields.

Helmut Kohl scandal

Bullet The issue: Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl has admitted receiving illegal political contributions but refuses to identify the donors.
Bullet Our view: Whatever happens to Kohl, democracy in Germany must be preserved.

FORMER German Chancellor Helmut Kohl left office last year as one of Europe's leading statesmen of the late 20th century. Now he is mired in a campaign-funding scandal that could destroy his reputation.

Kohl has admitted that he illegally accepted up to $1 million in secret cash contributions from 1993 to 1998.

He says he channeled the money to his party's organizations in eastern Germany -- the former Soviet satellite that he absorbed into the former West Germany to reunify the country. Kohl's Christian Democrats faced stiff competition in the East from the former Communists and Social Democrats.

Kohl has refused to identify the donors, saying he promised to keep their names secret. The suspicion is that the former chancellor offered favors in return for the contributions.

The scandal became more serious last Wednesday when prosecutors opened a criminal investigation against Kohl. There have been calls for a reform of party finance rules. The case has even been compared to Watergate.

Parliament President Wolfgang Thierse, the nation's No. 2 public official, blamed Kohl for creating "an atmosphere of suspicion, a climate of mistrust." Even members of Kohl's party, the Christian Democrats, joined in the criticism and urged him to break his silence. "We'll have to work a long time to restore trust," party official Hildegard Mueller said. "A lot has been destroyed, especially among the young generation."

Americans have just experienced their own scandal in the nation's highest office. Although the Senate refused to oust Bill Clinton from the presidency, the Lewinsky affair and Clinton's impeachment by the House have left lasting scars.

Al Gore's attempt in his quest for the Democratic presidential nomination to dissociate himself from the leader he has loyally served as vice president is probably a reflection of the backlash against Clinton.

Americans' faith in democracy is too strong to be destroyed by disillusionment with one leader. They seemed to take Richard Nixon's Watergate crimes and resignation in stride and shrugged off Clinton's infidelity and lies.

But Germany's democratic roots are not as deep as America's. That is why the Kohl scandal is causing concern for the future of democracy in his country, where there is already much cynicism about politicians' motives.

Democracy is bigger than any individual leader. Indeed, democracy imposes checks and balances on the assumption that no leader can be trusted with absolute power. Democracy in Germany must not rise or fall with Helmut Kohl.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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