Another day, another skirmish in the seemingly endless antitrust fight between Microsoft and the European Commission.

Brussels has threatened to impose fines of up to €2m daily on the software giant for failing to comply with its ruling two years ago over its Windows operating system. On Thursday, Microsoft was given a last chance to defend itself against the Commission’s allegations as a two-day hearing in Brussels opened.

Judging from the vitriolic exchanges of the past few weeks, Observer was bracing itself for some real fireworks. Microsoft had, after all, complained furiously that the Commission was trampling on its rights of defence, withholding key documents and even colluding with its rivals.

The group also called on the Commission to throw open the hearing to the public – clearly in the hope that European citizens would be aghast at the perfidious dealings of the regulator. Showing his irritation with the whole affair, a senior Brussels official bracing for the showdown yesterday declared that “the reason for this hearing is purely a media exercise for Microsoft”.

Or not, as it turned out. Karen Williams, the Commission’s hearing officer and ringmaster of the circus, called on all parties to “respect the confidentiality” of the hearing – forcing Microsoft to cancel the press briefing it had arranged during a lull in the proceedings.

Given that the two sides have been swapping the same tired arguments for weeks, the cancellation was perhaps no great loss.

Ped-dling a line

The controversy over White House-paid columnists planting stories in newspapers is nothing new. The latest edition of The Hill, a newspaper for Washington’s political junkies, carries an interview with Wes Pedersen, a US cold-war era propagandist. Pedersen worked for the defunct US Information Agency where he wrote columns under the pseudonyms Paul L. Ford and Benjamin West, usually alleging unrest in the Soviet empire. They were syndicated to hundreds of publications worldwide but banned from being used at home.

Pedersen told Observer on Thursday that he was a good propagandist: “I’ve always hated the term public diplomacy. It’s pretentious and really means nothing. It is a term that a small group of USIA officers, who felt they should have the same stature as “real” foreign service officers, concocted. Public diplomacy may wear striped trousers but it is still propaganda.”

At 83, Pedersen is still at work. He leaves the Public Affairs Council, the lobbyists’ lobbyist, in May to set up his own consultancy – under his own name.

Naughty from NYSE

Napoleon allegedly said one should never interrupt enemies when they are making a mistake.

That doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t snipe from the sidelines.

Hearing that the Nasdaq had withdrawn its offer to buy the London Stock Exchange, Observer’s man on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange could not help bringing up a reference to Nasdaq’s inglorious past as the home of meritless dotcom stocks that soared and tanked in the late 1990s.

“It looks like the LSE got nasdaqued,” he quipped, referring to a term coined when the bubble burst, meaning to be offered false promises that end up in smoke.

Nasdaq’s dotcom-chequered past is seen as the main reason for its place in the NYSE’s shadow, as well as for the bubble-sized chip on its chief executive’s shoulder as he attempts to steal the limelight.

So if Bob Greifeld decides that the LSE is worth more, far be it from the NYSE to stop him overpaying.

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