Tok Guru Nik Aziz: People First Always

October 31, 2010

Tok Guru Nik Aziz: People First Always

by Terence

COMMENT Anniversaries are not what they are cracked up to be for reason of the phenomenon of ‘historical body-snatching’.

Whenever some anniversary occurs, there is a scramble to appropriate the occasion for the benefit of some contemporary cause or the glorification of some contemporary leader. This can introduce much confusion into present-day political discussion.

Fortunately, no appropriation or confusion occurred when one anniversary came by 10 days ago simply because there was no public marking of it.  It passed without fanfare, which was in a way revealing of the person to whom the anniversary occurred.

This was the 20th anniversary in the office of Kelantan Menteri Besar Nik Aziz Nik Mat, the PAS spiritual leader. Twenty years is a long time for someone to be in charge of a political office, though not by BN standards.

Last year S Samy Vellu completed 30 years as head of MIC and next March, Taib Mahmud will mark 30 years as chief minister of Sarawak. Among BN tenancies, they are the two longest though by no means singular. UMNO’s Dr Mahathir Mohamad was prime minister for 22 years and Gerakan’s Dr Lim Chong Eu was chief minister of Penang for 21 years.

Tenures are inherently limited for occupants of political office from Pakatan Rakyat; the dynamic Mohd Nizar Jamaluddin of PAS lasted a mere 11 months. Though DAP’s Lim Guan Eng is seemingly secure in the saddle in Penang, the relentless buffeting he gets from UMNO suggests that either he is in danger of collapsing in a heap or he is doing so well that his adversaries cannot abide the thought.

Selangor’s MB from PKR, Khalid Ibrahim, may be less bedeviled. Unlike Guan Eng, however, Khalid has to tamp down opposition not only from without but also within.

Self-imposed austerity

All this provides perspective which enables a quick distillation of the essence of Nik Aziz, 69, as a leader. His is a leadership based on exceptional moral stature.  In a period of national history when every BN leader of protracted tenure is seen as well heeled – indeed some obscenely so – Nik Aziz has not waxed rich on the benefits of office. For that alone, he deserves to be canonized.


Seri Perdana, Putrajaya

Take a look at the modest house he had lived in the last 20 years and put against that the current Budget’s allocation for refurbishment to the prime minister’s residence in Putrajaya.

One depicts the spartan lifestyle of its occupant; the other reflects the penchant for extravagance that characterises the set from which the PM comes.

Self-imposed austerity is not the Tok Guru’s only strength. Sustained by certitudes of faith, the moral clarity of his vision stands fore and aft of the man. In an era when prevarication is the norm with political leaders, there’s no gray tincture to the positions Nik Aziz takes. He is surface straight through.

It was this clarity of moral vision that set him implacably against any collaboration with UMNO. Had it not been for his opposition, a defining moment in our current history would have been lost to the forces of reaction. The clarity of his moral vision and his unostentatious poverty of lifestyle mark Nik Aziz’s two decades in office as a political tour de force that posterity is certain to honour.

PKR No.2 Contest: Outcome too early to tell

October 31, 2010

PKR No.2 Contest throws up an acid test

by Terence Netto @

COMMENT A nice contrarian test of authenticity suggests itself after day one of the first weekend of the historic direct election of principal office-bearers of PKR.

Three more weekends of balloting follow in this first-ever enactment of the one-member-one-vote franchise in Malaysian politics. Truly, the very thought staggers the imagination. However, thus far the script for the prelude to the actual balloting has been unedifying. It has resembled the melodrama of soap operas than the mundane histrionics of political process.

That is why the disclosure at the end of day one that deputy presidential aspirant Zaid Ibrahim is in the lead is propitious grounds for the application of a test of sincerity that would redeem things somewhat: let’s see if his faction sustains their critical scrutiny of the electoral process and queries its “irregularities” even as he leads.

On the other side, let’s see if rival candidate for the No 2 post, Azmin Ali, in trailing in the tally of votes, keeps his cool about the electoral process, as he has thus far, and disdains to accuse the other side of resorting to underhand tactics even as he lags.

An unedifying prelude

Why the contrarian test to establish sincerity and authenticity? This is because the prelude to the actual balloting has been marked by the tendency of life to imitate art, something that’s bad for politics. It leads to exhaustion, suggests that political life is not serious, and that the PKR arena is marred by hamsters and clowns.

An unedifying prelude, if the two prime deputy presidential contestants measure up to this contrarian test, would be followed by a redemptive conclusion – just what proponents of the one-member-one-vote school argue is the elevating thing about the ‘vox populi vox dei’ theory of democratic governance.

Of course, the best test of the sequel to the deputy presidential contest would be the credible accommodation of the losing side by the winning one. That would be a test of the imagination of the most creative sort, possible when art imitates life.

Galas: The Gobbling of the Goodies

October 31, 2010

Bridget Welsh on Galas By-Election:The Gobbling of the Goodies

In this large rural constituency of Kelantan (Galas), the mood appears calm. The by-election has gotten off to a slow start, with limited posters and modest turnout at ceramahs, where enterprising Kelantanese entrepreneurs and outside supporters outnumber the local crowds.

From the onset, there is a sense of fatigue as the 12th by-election in two years unfolds. All sides say the contest in this traditional UMNO seat is close, but given the small PAS majority of 646 votes – less than 10 percent – and the resource edge that gives the Barisan Nasional (BN) weight in such a concentrated by-election, the BN has the advantage.

The bottom line is that UMNO needs the victory more, and if they lose the contest, it will be the result of their own internal squabbling.

A Malay heartland

Before outlining the five main factors that will shape the result, allow me to introduce some of the key features of this ‘ulu’ constituency in the heartland of West Malaysia. Galas is overwhelmingly rural, with limited access to many of its most remote areas, especially among the Orang Asli communities.

The intensive development of government infrastructure around Gua Musang town has increased the number of civil servants, who join the majority local Malay community – engaged in rubber production and small businesses – as voters.

There are two small pockets of Chinese voters, concentrated in the new village of Pulai comprised largely of Hakka, and in the town, which includes a combination of Hokkien and Hakka voters. The Chinese Malaysians are engaged in farming, small business, and importantly, saw-milling as the area undergoes massive environmental change with its nearby forests all but depleted.

Lorries clog the roads coming into the town, filled with Malaysia’s remaining logs as the sales fill someone’s pockets. The sheer beauty of the landscape – the wonderful rock formations, river streams and dense vegetation – complements the warm hospitality of the local communities who welcome you into their homes without hesitation, similar to the era of old Malaysia.

Galas in many ways represents this blend of the new and the old, the development of modern infrastructure and services, including a new sports stadium opened just two days before nomination, and rural concerns over land.

Traditional kampong houses co-exist with pockets of wealthier housing developments, especially near the route south to Cameron Highlands. Despite its remoteness, the area is connected, with highway access north to Kota Bharu and south to Perak.

The town is wired, although Internet use beyond the town center is sparse. With a young population, voters under 40 comprise 43 percent of the electorate (almost half), there is also concern with jobs and salaries, as average wages range from RM500 for labourers to RM2,500 for civil servants.

Those under 30 comprise 19 percent. The ethnic blend of this constituency – 61.5 percent Malays, 19.7 percent Chinese, 17 percent Orang Asli, 1.5 percent Indian and 0.3 percent Others – showcases the diversity of the rural heartland.

It many ways, this large constituency is a fitting fight for the country’s heartland between two traditional rivals, PAS and UMNO.

Ghost of 46 and UMNO ‘win-win’ dynamic

In one of the enclaves near town there is a stone representing the spirit of 46. It is now faded, but the

The Ku Li Factor in Galas

sentiment it represents persists. Gua Musang is Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah’s political base. It is where he launched the splinter party of 46 and where he continues to be the political conscience of UMNO, fighting for a return to statesmanship and honour for the party.

Ku Li, as he is fondly known in the constituency, has been seen as an advocate for Kelantan and for a better UMNO. For his individuality and his principles, he is resented. It is clear that there are those in UMNO who want him gone and some see this as an opportunity to kill him off.

This by-election is a test for this veteran politician, as a victory for UMNO and for his chosen candidate will signal that he can deliver for the party when it is needed. The daggers from behind are out, however, as even a little movement in the voters can lead to a loss – a fact that is not lost among those who see this by-election as an opportunity to silence the voice of dissent.

It is no wonder that many UMNO leaders are confident in Galas. Either option is a ‘win’. If they win the polls then they can build momentum and break the stalemate between Pakatan Rakyat and UMNO, adding one to the BN side. If they lose the contest, then, at last, the leader of spirit of 46 will no longer be a force for change from within. This contest is a ‘win-win’ for UMNO. For Ku Li, it is another chance to show his national relevancy as a leader.

Oil goblin and PAS ‘lose-lose’ dynamic

It is important to understand that Galas is not a PAS stronghold. This state seat victory was part of the 2008 tsunami, and part of the PAS pick-up as part of the opposition in mixed seats.

The deceased state assemblyman was ill and did not build up the grassroots for the party over the last two years. This contest, like Manek Urai in 2009, will not affect the balance of power in Kelantan. Thus, it is not a surprise that the PAS campaign lacks focus and drive. There is a noticeable lack of local leadership as PAS’ faithful have come in to be the worker bees for the contest, with limited connections locally.

More substantively, this is another test in a multi-ethnic seat, similar to Bagan Pinang. It will test the party’s ability to cooperate with its coalition partners and its strength in non-Malay areas. It is a test of how comfortable the party is with a multi-ethnic umbrella in the rural settings.

There is a sense that PAS, like the rest of Pakatan, are repeating the same message – change – without clear substantive messages to the voters. The messages are ad-hoc, without a clear framework. They are almost as stale at the development mantras and chorus of ’19 years is enough’ that UMNO has adopted.

The focus is on winning protest votes, not necessarily new voters connected to positive messages. Few realise that the time for rhetoric for Pakatan has passed, as increasingly more voters want a clear picture of how the ideals are to be translated into substance. The voters want the spirit of change and campaign promises to be realised.

To realise the development goals, many at the state level in Kelantan PAS know they need money. This is where the oil goblin comes in – they want the royalty. Razaleigh has been the strongest advocate for the oil royalty for the state. PAS has been careful not to attack him directly as they know they still need his support.

While the climate has changed with the new sultan, who is seen not to be supportive of Razaleigh as he is seen to be aligned to others in the royal camp, the fact remains that this impoverished state needs resources. PAS in Kelantan has benefited from leaders within Umno such as Kelantan party chief Mustapha Mohamed and Razaleigh, who have not ignored the state’s interest.

For PAS, the election is a ‘lose-lose’ dynamic. A loss for UMNO will lose the support of a person who has been in the middle ground and been concerned for national and state interests. A loss for PAS has repercussions for its political base in Kelantan.

While a ‘deal’ is highly unlikely, despite rumours, since it would go against the overall wishes of the leadership and ultimately would be difficult to enforce, PAS has been put into a difficult position. A close result will allow all sides to save face.

The gobbling of the goodies

One factor that is always at play in a by-election is money. The record stream of by-elections has depleted party coffers, but the BN has already shown its financial superiority. It has won the poster war, featuring less-than-flattering photos of Prime Minister Najib Razak and an extremely youthful Razaleigh.

The financial advantage will yield results in this constituency, given the large number of people. In Manek Urai, it contributed to a gain of 1,287 votes, more than 10 percent, in support for the BN. In Galas, it will likely yield more in an even slimmer original majority. Recall that in Manek Urai, the majority was 1,352 originally and this led to the slim win of 65 votes for PAS.

The main reason money will have an impact is that the level of poverty and income disparities are sharp. This is most acute in the Orang Asli community where the offers of goodies will hit home. The votes are value for money unfortunately when compared to the other communities, as comparatively lower level of investment can insure votes.

The real issue that persists is land. Here is where PAS’ strength is in the Malay areas and it has been less successful among the Orang Asli communities. UMNO is already pushng home the land issue, raising questions about whether the Orang asli communities are being fairly treated. The land issue here is closely connected to development and both the state and national governments share responsibility in this multiple jurisdictions problem.

Both sides are using to land issues in all communities, and all the while small and larger rewards are coming. The development project promises are also part of the equation. Drawing from the swing in Manek Urai, PAS faces an uphill battle managing the flow of goodies. This is despite the call to reduce distribution and vote ‘persuasion’.

Youth lean towards BN

The usual national pattern is that younger voters are increasingly voting for Pakatan, especially Malays. Galas appears to be not the norm.

The younger voters who comprise the deciding votes are concerned with jobs. They want increasing development and opportunities. Many tend increasingly to be leaning toward the BN, which is portraying itself as bringing in more employment and connections, and see Ku Li as part of the answer to their needs.

It is clear that the level of political awareness and connection to Pakatan among Galas youth is much less than in other areas. Here is where the remoteness shapes the terrain. Many young people in Galas are non-political, and are less concerned with political ideals than the economic marketplace. They want the goods, not promises. They are the ‘Me Generation’, wanting to take advantage of the by-election as much as possible.

What this means is that the usual numerical projections do not offer PAS a boost. Gains in the number of voters here do not necessarily strengthen the chances for the opposition. PAS’ support is stronger among older voters where land issues were resolved when it came into power in Kelantan 19 years ago.

Haunting messaging

The BN continues to harp on the same old theme of how long PAS has been in power. Their messages in the campaign so far are stale and similarly inconsistent. The focus has been on a house-to-house campaign, but what they are offering is same old, same old. Voters in Galas are not clearly being offered alternative reasons to consider both sides.

This is where patronage has increasing salience – why not take the money when there is nothing new – and makes for a staid election. Some say nothing much will change, as the election is viewed as low impact. The only people that are happy are the businesses who are racking in their annual incomes in the short campaign period.

The candidates on both sides have not yet substantively increased the quality of the discussion. PAS candidate Dr Zulkefli Mohamad is warm, but non-communicative. He remains shell-shocked in the campaign, uttering few words.

The UMNO candidate’s experience in business has made him more articulate, and Abdul Aziz Yusof  is more comfortable with the media and has offered some ideas, but not consistently. He is seen as Ku Li’s choice. Both candidates will be expected to offer more as the campaign progresses, as the contest will not just come down to the party loyalties but candidate performance.

Not an easy choice

Beyond the goodies, the candidates and stale messaging, voters in Galas will decide if they want to strengthen Pakatan or remain committed to their own UMNO national leader, Tengku Razaleigh.

It is a vote for change from outside or change from within. It is not an easy choice, as doubts exist on all sides about the possibilities of change. Najib this time round has not made the campaign about his leadership, but let a party critic face his own music.

As the campaign evolves and gains momentum, Galas voters will decide who offers the most in a contest that for many in the constituency is not clearly seen as part of the national picture. Whether it is the ghost, the goblin or the goodies that play out is still yet to be seen, but all are at play as this campaign evolves.

My money is on the goodies, a close result and ultimately a BN victory.

DR BRIDGET WELSH is associate professor of political science at Singapore Management University. She was in Galas to observe the by-election. Dr. Welsh can be reached at

A Message for PERKASA and its Patron

October 30, 2010

Misconstruing the Malaysian Constitution

by Dr. Chandra Muzaffar

MISINTERPRETATIONS of and misconceptions about the Constitution have exacerbated ethnic tension and soured race relations in the country. Several issues have come to the fore lately. 

A few weeks ago, a politician alleged that the concept of 1Malaysia is against the Constitution since it promotes equality among the communities. Actually, the Constitution embodies an article on equality. Article 8 (1) states that “all persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law”. Discrimination is prohibited except when it is expressly authorised in the Constitution. Provisions pertaining to the special position of the Malays and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak would be an example.

However, “special position” — it is seldom appreciated — is also about equality. It was incorporated into the Constitution to protect the well-being of the abysmally poor indigenous Malays in the wake of the conferment of citizenship upon more than a million recently domiciled Chinese and Indians by the Malay rulers and the Umno elite on the eve of Merdeka. In other words, special position — like other affirmative action policies elsewhere – is meant to address gross ethnic inequalities.

There are also misconceptions about Article 153. The article is not just about the special position of the Malays and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak. Article 153 (1) also makes it “the responsibility of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to safeguard… the legitimate interests of the other communities in accordance with the provisions of this Article”.

The provisions of Article 153 go out of the way to ensure that while the special position of the Malays and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak is protected in public service, in the granting of scholarships, in education, in trade and in business, the legitimate interests of the other communities are also safeguarded. This balance in Article 153 is seldom highlighted.

There is another misunderstanding about Article 153 that should be set right. The article does not provide for a 30 per cent quota in equity capital for Malays and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak. That is part of the New Economic Policy and subsequent policies, but it is not stated in the Constitution. Neither does the Constitution provide for the establishment or continuation of Chinese schools in the national education system as some politicians and media commentators have argued recently.

There is no such provision in either Article 12 which deals with rights in respect of education or in Article 152 that focuses on the national language. What Article 152 (1) contains are two sub-clauses that read:

* no person shall be prohibited or prevented from using (other than for official purposes) or from teaching or learning any other language; and,

* nothing in this clause shall prejudice the right of the Federal Government or of any state government to preserve and sustain the use and study of the language of any other community in the federation.

There is no need to emphasise that teaching, learning, preserving and sustaining a language can take place within a Bahasa Malaysia-based school system that provides ample scope for studying Chinese, Tamil, Arabic or any other language. Nonetheless, it should be reiterated that Chinese and Tamil primary schools are part of the national education system today, and their status is protected by the law and policy.

The Education Act 1996, for instance, makes it the duty of the education minister to provide primary education at government and government-aided schools.

Another misconception being propagated by certain individuals is that when Sabah and Sarawak (together with Singapore) joined Malaya to form Malaysia in 1963, a new nation came into being which ipso facto rendered irrelevant some of the defining Malay characteristics of the earlier Malayan state. Whatever the political rhetoric that prevailed before the formation of Malaysia, this is a view that has no basis in the Constitution.

The Constitution makes it very clear that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is also the Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Sabah and Sarawak (he appoints the governor of the two states), Bahasa Malaysia is the national language of the two states and Islam their official religion. Special position also applies to the natives of Sabah and Sarawak.

Besides, Article 1 (2) spells out lucidly that Sabah and Sarawak are states in the federation like the other 11 states. Of course, the Constitution confers additional rights and powers upon the two states, given their history and the circumstances of their membership in the federation.

If Malaysia in 1963 was a new nation, why didn’t we reapply to join the United Nations? The truth is Malaysia is, to all intents and purposes, an extension of Malaya.

What is important is to ensure that the rights of all states, especially Sabah and Sarawak, are protected and respected in the expanded federation.

It is a pity that such issues that impinge upon the fundamental character of the nation and the structure of the Constitution are being raised with increasing frequency. Ignorance is not the only explanation. It is part of the intensification of communal politics in the past few years which, if we are not careful, may push us all over the precipice.

Dr Chandra Muzaffar is Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Yayasan 1Malaysia and Noordin Sopiee professor of global studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang

The State of Conservatism in the US

October 30, 2010

The State of Conservatism

by Christopher Caldwell*

Within the space of a week last summer, one judge in Arizona, ruling in a suit brought by the Obama administration, blocked a provision in a new state law permitting police officers to check the status of suspected illegal immigrants, while another blocked the implementation of a California referendum banning gay marriage. The two decisions imposed liberal policies that public opinion opposed. These things happen, of course. Congress had acted contrary to measurable public opinion when it passed health care reform in March. What made the two judicial rulings different was that both seemed to challenge the principle that it is the people who have the last word on how they are governed.

American conservatives, most notably the activists who support various Tea Party groups, have a great variety of anxieties and grievances just now. But what unites them all, at least rhetorically, is the sense that something has gone wrong constitutionally, shutting them out of decisions that rightfully belong to them as citizens. This is why many talk about “taking our country back.”

If polls are to be believed, conservatives should have no difficulty taking the country back or doing whatever else they want with it. Gallup now counts 54 percent of likely voters as self-described conservatives and only 18 per cent as liberals. More than half of Americans (55 per cent) say they have grown more conservative in the past year, according to the pollsters Scott Rasmussen and Doug Schoen in their new book, MAD AS HELL: How the Tea Party Movement Is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System (Harper/HarperCollins, $27.99).

America’s self-described conservatives, however, have a problem: They lack a party. While the Tea Party may look like a stalking horse for Republicans, the two have been a bad fit. Insurgents have cut a swath through Republicans’ well-laid election plans. They helped oust Florida’s party chairman. They toppled the favored candidates of the party establishment in Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, New York, South Carolina, Utah and elsewhere.

More than 70 percent of Republicans embrace the Tea Party, but the feeling is not reciprocated. If conservatives could vote for the Tea Party as a party, they would prefer it to the Republicans, according to Rasmussen. (Lately, Rasmussen’s polling, more than others’, has favored Republicans. Not coincidentally, perhaps, it has picked up certain recent shifts earlier and more reliably — like the surge that won the Republican Scott Brown the late Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat in January.) Much of the Tea Party is made up of conservative-leaning independents.

The journalist Jonathan Rauch has called these people “debranded Republicans,” and they are debranded for a reason — 55 percent of them oppose the Republican leadership. While Republicans are likely to reap all the benefit of Tea Party enthusiasm in November’s elections, this is a marriage of convenience. The influential conservative blogger Erick Erickson of, insists that one of his top goals is denying the Republican establishment credit for any electoral successes.

Hence the Republicans’ problem. After November, the party will need to reform in a conservative direction, in line with its base’s wishes, and without a clear idea of whether the broader public will be well disposed to such reform. How Republicans wound up in this situation requires one to state the obvious. Well before George W. Bush presided over the collapse of the global financial system, a reasonable-sounding case was being mustered that he was the worst president in history.

Foreign policy was the grounds on which voters repudiated him and his party, starting in 2006, and President Obama’s drawdown of forces in Iraq may be the most popular thing he has done. But foreign policy is unlikely to drive voters’ long-term assessment of the parties. The Iraq misadventure was justified with the same spreading-democracy rhetoric that Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright and other Democrats used to justify interventions in Haiti and the Balkans in the 1990s. President Obama’s difficulties in resolving Afghanistan and closing Guantánamo show that Bush’s options were narrower than they appeared at the time.

Republicans’ future electoral fortunes will depend on domestic policy and specifically on whether they can reconnect with “small-c” conservatism — the conservatism whose mottoes are “Neither a borrower nor a lender be” and “Mind your own business,” and the opposite of which is not liberalism but utopianism. The Bush administration was a time of “big-C” Conservatism, ideological conservatism, which the party pursued with mixed results. As far as social issues were concerned, this ideology riveted a vast bloc of religious conservatives to the party, and continues to be an electoral asset (although that bloc, by some measures, is shrinking). Had gay marriage not been on several state ballots in 2004, John Kerry might now be sitting in the White House.

Ideological conservatism also meant “supply-side economics” — a misnomer for the doctrine that all tax cuts eventually pay for themselves through economic growth. The problem is, they don’t. So supply-side wound up being a form of permanent Keynesian stimulus — a bad idea during the overheated years before 2008. Huge tax cuts, from which the highest earners drew the biggest benefits, helped knock the budget out of balance and misallocated trillions of dollars. To a dispiriting degree, tax cuts remain the Republican answer to every economic question. Eric Cantor, potentially the House majority leader, told The Wall Street Journal that if Democrats went home without renewing various Bush-era tax cuts (which they did), “I promise you, H.R. 1 will be to retroactively restore the lower rates.”

Until recently, supply side was political gravy for Republicans. It confirmed the rule that in American politics the party most plausibly offering something for nothing wins. In the 1980s, the New York congressman Jack Kemp was the archetype of an ambitious, magnanimous, “sunny” kind of Republican who let you keep more of your taxes while building more housing for the poor. Democrats who questioned the affordability of these policies sounded like killjoys. In a time of scarcity like our own, calculations change. Today your tax cut means shuttering someone else’s AIDS clinic. Your welfare check comes off of someone else’s dinner table.

Deficits in the Obama era are a multiple of the Bush ones, and the product of a more consciously pursued Keynesianism. But that does not absolve Republicans of the need to find a path to balancing the budget. With some exceptions — like Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, a Kemp protégé who has laid out a “Road Map” for reforming (i.e., cutting) Social Security in coming generations — Republicans have not adjusted to zero-sum economics. There is certainly no credible path to budget balance in the “Pledge to America” released in late September.

Yet the case against supply-side economics can never be airtight or decisive, and Republican tax promises will probably help the party this year. That is because taxes are not just an economic benchmark, but a political one. The public should not expect more in services than it pays in taxes. But the government should not expect more in taxes than it offers in representation. And the number of Americans who feel poorly represented has risen alarmingly during the Obama administration.

Americans’ feelings toward the president are complex. On the one hand, there is little of the ad hominem contempt that was in evidence during the Clinton and Bush administrations. There are no campaign spots showing a Congressional candidate’s face morphing into Obama’s. But the president’s ideology, fairly or not, has provoked something approaching panic. Not many Americans agree that Obama is a closet totalitarian, as the Fox News host Glenn Beck has claimed. But they have serious misgivings of a milder kind.

In retrospect it looks inevitable that Republicans would have been punished by voters in 2008; but until Lehman Brothers collapsed in mid-September of that year, it was far from certain they would be, despite strong Democratic gains in the 2006 elections. Independent and Republican voters wanted an assurance that Senator Obama would not simply hand over power to the Democratic Party. He consistently provided it. The centerpiece of his campaign was a promise of post-partisanship. He introduced himself as a Senate candidate in 2004 at the Boston convention, deriding as false the tendency of pundits to “slice and dice our country into red states and blue states” — a bracingly subversive thing to do at a partisan convention. He praised Ronald Reagan.

And in 2008 he got more than 52 percent of the vote, a higher percentage than many political consultants thought possible for a Democrat. That means he came into office unusually dependent on the good will of independents and Republicans. And yet, once in power, the president set to work enacting the agenda of the same Congressional Democrats he had implied he would keep at arm’s length. No president in living memory has compiled a slenderer record of bipartisanship.

It is often said in the president’s defense that Republican obstructionism left him no choice. Today, this is true — and it has put an end, for now, to the productive part of his presidency. But it was not true at the time of the stimulus in early 2009, when the president’s poll numbers were so stratospherically high that it appeared risky to oppose him on anything.

Republicans certainly cannot be blamed for the way Democrats passed their health care bill. Whether or not the deal-making and parliamentary maneuvering required to secure passage was unprecedented, it was unprecedented in the era of C-Span and blogs, and many voters found it corrupt. The president’s legislative program has been bought at a huge price in public discontent. The expression “picking up nickels in front of a steamroller” has been used to describe a lot of the gambles taken by A.I.G. and other companies on the eve of the financial crisis. It describes the president’s agenda equally well.

It is vital to understand where this steamroller is coming from. According to Gallup, support for Obama has fallen only slightly among Democrats, from 90 percent to 81 percent, and only slightly among Republicans, from 20 percent to 12 percent. It is independents who have abandoned him: 56 percent approved of him when he came into office, versus 38 percent now. The reason the country is getting more conservative is not that conservatives are getting louder. It is that people in the dead center of the electorate are turning into conservatives at an astonishing rate.

The frustration and disappointment of these voters is probably directed as much at themselves as at their president. There were two ways to judge Obama the candidate — by what he said or by the company he kept. The cable-TV loudmouths who dismissed Obama right off the bat were unfair in certain particulars. But, on the question of whether Obama, if elected, would be more liberal or more conservative than his campaign rhetoric indicated, they arrived at a more accurate assessment than those of us who pored over his speeches, parsed his interviews and read his first book.

Some wish the president had governed more to the left, insisting on a public option in the health care bill and pushing for a larger stimulus. But those people make up only a small fraction even of the 18 percent of voters who call themselves liberal. In a time of growing populism and distrust, Republicans enjoy the advantage of running against the party of the elite. This seems to be a controversial proposition, but it should not be.

It is not the same as saying that Democrats are the party of elitism. One can define elitism as, say, resistance to progressive taxation, and make a case that Republicans better merit that description. But, broadly speaking, the Democratic Party is the party to which elites belong. It is the party of Harvard (and most of the Ivy League), of Microsoft and Apple (and most of Silicon Valley), of Hollywood and Manhattan (and most of the media) and, although there is some evidence that numbers are evening out in this election cycle, of Goldman Sachs (and most of the investment banking profession). That the billionaire David Koch’s Americans for Prosperity Foundation supports the Tea Party has recently been much in the news. But the Democrats have the support of more, and more active, billionaires. Of the 20 richest ZIP codes in America, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, 19 gave the bulk of their money to Democrats in the last election, in most cases the vast bulk — 86 percent in 10024 on the Upper West Side. Meanwhile, only 22 percent of non-high-school educated white males are happy with the direction the country is going in. The Democrats’ overlap with elites leaves each party with a distinctive liability. The Democrats appear sincerely deluded about whom they actually represent. Democrats — who would have no trouble discerning elite solidarity in the datum that, say, in the 1930s the upper ranks of Britain’s media, church, business and political institutions were dominated by Tories — somehow think their own predominance in similar precincts is . . . what? Coincidence? Irony?

Republicans, meanwhile, do not recognize the liability that their repudiation by elites represents in an age of expertise and specialization — even in the eyes of the non-elite center of the country. Like a European workingman’s party at the turn of the last century, the Republican Party today inspires doubts that it has the expertise required to run a large government bureaucracy. Whatever one thinks of Obama’s economic team, and Bill Clinton’s before it, the Bush White House was never capable, in eight years, of assembling a similarly accomplished one. Nor is there much evidence that Republicans were ever able to conceptualize the serious problems with the nation’s medical system, let alone undertake to reform it on their own terms. “Democrats and Republicans agree that our health care system is broken in fundamental ways,” Eric Cantor notes in YOUNG GUNS: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders (Threshold, $15), a campaign book he has written with Paul Ryan and Representative Kevin McCarthy of California. Well, great. But for years now, Republicans discussing the availability and cost of health care have been like a kid who, when asked why he hasn’t cleaned up his room, replies, “I was just about to!”

It is in the context of class that Sarah Palin’s two-year career on the American political scene is so significant. She “almost seemed to set off a certain trip wire within the political class regarding access to power,” as Rasmussen and Schoen put it. But it is not an ideological trip wire. The Alaska governorship that catapulted Palin onto the national scene requires dealing with oil executives and divvying up the money from their lease payments. It is a job for a pragmatist, not a preacher. Palin has sometimes opposed big government and sometimes favored it, as became clear when journalists discovered that, contrary to Palin’s claims, she had been slow to oppose the wasteful Alaskan “Bridge to Nowhere,” which became a symbol of federal pork.

The controversies over Palin are about class (and markers of class, like religiosity), not ideology. She endorsed several underdog insurgent candidates who wound up winning Republican primaries in the spring and summer. How did she do that, when few observers — no matter how well informed, no matter how close to the Republican base — had given them a chance? Either Palin is a political idiot savant of such gifts that those who have questioned her intelligence should revise their opinion or, more likely, she is hearing signals from the median American that are inaudible to the governing classes — like those frequencies that teenagers can hear but adults can’t.

This talent alone does not make Palin a viable national leader. But until Republican politicians learn to understand the party’s new base, Palin will be their indispensable dragoman. After November’s election, the party will either reform or it will disappoint its most ardent backers. If it reforms, it is unlikely to be in a direction Palin disapproves of.

In The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It (American Spectator/Beaufort, paper, $12.95), Angelo M. Codevilla, an emeritus professor of international relations at Boston University who formerly was on the staff of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, gives a very interesting, conservative account of class politics. Codevilla sees the country as divided into “the Ruling Class” and “the Country Class,” who “have less in common culturally, dislike each other more and embody ways of life more different from one another than did the 19th century’s Northerners and Southerners.” Codevilla’s terms are often frustratingly vague. The Ruling Class, in his definition, includes top Democrats as well as Bush Republicans, despite their many differences; the Country Class seems sometimes to mean the passive remainder of the country, and sometimes the vanguard of ideological insurgents.

And yet Codevilla captures the texture of today’s conservative grievances with admirable boldness and convincing exactitude. Slights are harder to tolerate than exactions, he finds: “Day after day, the Ruling Class’s imputations — racist, stupid, prone to violence, incapable of running things — hit like artillery cover for the advance of legislation and regulation to restrict and delegitimize.” This is a polemic, and people wholly out of sympathy with conservatism will dislike it. But Codevilla makes what we might call the Tea Party case more soberly, bluntly and constructively than anyone else has done.

Codevilla takes seriously the constitutional preoccupations of today’s conservative protesters and their professed desire for enhanced self-rule. He sees that the temptation merely to form “an alternative Ruling Class” in the mirror image of the last one would be self-defeating. Americans must instead reacquire the sinews of self-government, he thinks. Self-­government is difficult and time-­consuming. If it weren’t, everyone would have it. The “light” social democratic rule that has prevailed for the past 80 years has taken a lot of the burdens of self-government off the shoulders of citizens. They were probably glad to be rid of them. Now, apparently, they are changing their minds.

Codevilla has no illusions about their prospects for success. Americans are not in the position to roll back their politics to before the time when Franklin D. Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson or whoever-you-like ran roughshod over the Yankee yeomanry. Town, county and state governments no longer have much independent political identity. They are mere “conduits for federal mandates,” as Codevilla puts it. He notes that the 132 million Americans who inhabited the country in 1940 could vote on 117,000 school boards, while today a nation of 310 million votes in only 15,000 school districts. Self-rule depends on constitutional prerogatives that have long been revoked, institutions that have long been abandoned and habits of mind that were unlearned long ago. (Not to mention giving up Social Security and Medicare benefits that have already been paid for.) “Does the Country Class really want to govern itself,” Codevilla asks, “or is it just whining for milder taskmasters?”

We will find out soon enough. With a victory in November, Republicans could claim a mandate to repeal the Obama health care law and roll back a good deal of recent stimulus-related spending, neither of which they’ve made any pretense of tolerating. But achieving the larger goal — a citizenry sufficiently able to govern itself to be left alone by Washington — will require more. The Republican Party’s leaders will need to sit down respectfully with the people who brought them to power and figure out what they agree on. If Republicans make the error that Democrats did under President Obama, mistaking a protest vote for a wide mandate, the public will turn on them just as quickly.–

*Christopher Caldwell, a senior editor at The Weekly Standard, is the author of “Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West.”

The State of Liberalism

October 30, 2010

The State of Liberalism

by Jonathan Alter*

It’s a sign of how poorly liberals market themselves and their ideas that the word “liberal” is still in disrepute despite the election of the most genuinely liberal president that the political culture of this country will probably allow. “Progressive” is now the self-description of choice for liberals, though it’s musty and evasive. The basic equation remains: virtually all Republican politicians call themselves conservative; few Democratic politicians call themselves liberal. Even retired Classic Coke liberals like Walter F. Mondale are skittish about their creed. “I never signed up for any ideology,” he writes in his memoirs.

That would be fine (people are sick of labels) if clarity weren’t such an obvious political advantage. Simple ideology routinely trounces nuanced pragmatism, just as emotion so often beats reason and the varsity fullback will most likely deck the captain of the debate team in a fistfight. For four decades, conservatives have used the word “liberal” as an epithet, while liberals have used “conservative” defensively (“I’m a little conservative on . . .”). And Fox fans range out of factual bounds (“death panels”) more than their NPR-­listening counterparts in the liberal “­reality-based community” (a term attributed to a Bush White House aide by the author Ron Suskind).

Liberals are also at a disadvantage because politics, at its essence, is about self-interest, an idea that at first glance seems more closely aligned with conservatism. To make their more complex case, liberals must convince a nation of individualists that enlightened self-interest requires mutual interest, and that the liberal project is better constructed for the demands of an increasingly interdependent world.

That challenge is made even harder because of a tactical split within liberalism itself. Think of it as a distinction between “action liberals” and “movement liberals.” Action liberals are policy-oriented pragmatists who use their heads to get something important done, even if their arid deal-making and Big Money connections often turn off the base. Movement liberals can sometimes specialize in logical arguments (e.g., Garry Wills), but they are more often dreamy idealists whose hearts and moral imagination can power the deepest social change (notably the women’s movement and the civil rights movement). They frequently over­indulge in fine whines, appear naïve about political realities and prefer emotionally satisfying gestures to incremental but significant change. Many Democrats are an uneasy combination of realpolitik and “gesture politics,” which makes for a complicated approach toward governing.

As Senator Al Franken says of the Republicans: “Their bumper sticker . . . it’s one word: ‘No.’ . . . Our bumper sticker has — it’s just way too many words. And it says, ‘Continued on next bumper ­sticker.’ ”

Action liberalism has its modern roots in empiricism and the scientific method. Adam Smith was the original liberal. While “The Wealth of Nations” (1776) has long been the bible of laissez-faire conservatism, Smith’s first book, “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” (1759), pioneered liberal ideas of social and moral inter­dependence. By today’s standards, Abraham Lincoln’s support for large-scale government spending on infrastructure and appeals to “the better angels of our nature” would qualify him as a liberal. In the 20th century, progressives cleaned up and expanded government, trust-busted on behalf of what came to be known as “the public interest,” and experimented with different practical and heavily compromised ways of addressing the Great Depression.

The quintessential example of the pragmatic core of liberalism came in 1943, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced that “Dr. New Deal” had become “Dr. Win the War.” Roosevelt believed that the ends of liberalism — advancing democracy, expanding participation, protecting the environment and consumers (first promoted by a progressive Republican, Theodore Roosevelt), securing the vulnerable — were fixed, but that the timing and means of achieving them were highly negotiable, a distinction that often eludes modern liberals.

Whatever F.D.R.’s advantages over President Obama in communicating with the public, they share an unsentimental emphasis on what’s possible and what works. Both men, for instance, rejected the urgent pleas of some liberals to nationalize the banks and tacked toward their goals rather than standing ostentatiously on principle. Roosevelt was criticized by New Deal liberals in 1935 for allowing Congress to water down the Social Security bill before passage. Sound familiar?

Many movement liberals consider such concessions to be a sellout, just as they thought President Bill Clinton sold out by signing welfare reform in 1996. It’s important to criticize parts of Obama’s performance where merited — he didn’t use his leverage over banks when he had it — but some liberal writers have gone further, savaging his motives and integrity. Roger D. Hodge’s book is called THE MENDACITY OF HOPE: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism ­(Harper/HarperCollins, $25.99), as if Obama’s corporate fund-raising and failure to live up to the unrealistic expectations of purist liberals made him and his team puppets and liars. Hodge says the fact that Obama is “in most respects better” than George W. Bush or Sarah Palin is “completely beside the point.” Really? Since when did the tenets of liberalism demand that politics no longer be viewed as the art of the ­possible?

Hodge, formerly the editor of Harper’s Magazine, makes valid arguments about the failure of Democrats to undertake the essential liberal function of checking the excesses of capitalism. But the political scientists Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson are closer to the mark in their important new book, WINNER-TAKE-ALL POLITICS: How Washington Made the Rich Richer — and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class (Simon & Schuster, $27). Without rationalizing specific policy choices, they describe the “paradox” Obama confronted on taking office when the country faced a genuine risk of another depression: “how to heal a fragile economy without simply reasserting the dominance of the forces that had brought that economy to the brink of ruin.” It’s the healing part — preventing another depression — that voters often forget in their understandable rage over bailouts, almost all of which, by the way, have already been paid back.

In making the broader case that the rich have essentially bought the country, Hacker and Pierson zero in on two killer statistics. Over the last three decades, the top 1 percent of the country has received 36 percent of all the gains in household incomes; 1 percent got more than a third of the upside. And the top one-tenth of 1 percent acquired much more of the nation’s increased wealth during those years than the bottom 60 percent did. That’s roughly 300,000 super-rich people with a bigger slice of the pie than 180 million Americans. The collapse of the American middle class and the huge transfer of wealth to the already wealthy is the biggest domestic ­story of our time and a proper focus of liberal energy.

Arianna Huffington wasn’t exaggerating when she entitled her latest book THIRD WORLD AMERICA: How Our Politicians Are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream (Crown, $23.99). Poverty in the United States isn’t as bad as in the third world, but the disparity between rich and poor is far beyond that of other highly developed nations. While Huffington’s muscular tone fits the mood of today’s liberals, she insists on pivoting to the positive. After excoriating politicians, she cites innovative nonprofits that can help liberals feel less helpless.

The good news reported by Hacker and Pierson is that American wealth disparities — almost exactly as wide as in 1928 — are not the residue of globalization or technology or anything else beyond our control. There’s nothing inevitable about them. They’re the result of politics and policies, which tilted toward the rich beginning in the 1970s and can, with enough effort, be tilted back over time (emphasis added for impatient liberals). The primary authors of the shocking transfer of wealth are Republicans, whose claims to be operating from principle now lie in tatters. It doesn’t take feats of scholarship to prove that simultaneously supporting balanced budgets, status quo entitlement and defense spending, and huge tax cuts for the wealthy (the Republicans’ new plan) is mathematically impossible and intellectually bankrupt.

But of course Democrats, caught up for years in the wonders of the market, are complicit in the winner-take-all ethos. President Clinton and his Treasury secretary Robert E. Rubin played to the bond market, and many of their protégés later came to dominate the Obama administration. Hacker and Pierson call Rahm Emanuel types “Mark Hanna Democrats,” a reference to William McKinley’s campaign manager, who said: “There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money, and I can’t remember what the second one is.” Action liberals can explain that they opposed the ruinous 2001 Bush tax cuts and that their prodigious fund-raising is necessary to stay competitive, but large segments of their base are no longer buying it. They want a more bare-knuckle attack on Wall Street than Obama has so far offered.

But now the president is getting hit from both sides. In FORTUNES OF CHANGE: The Rise of the Liberal Rich and the Remaking of America (Wiley, $25.90), David Callahan points out that Obama raised more than John McCain in 8 of the 10 wealthiest ZIP codes in the United States. Callahan, the author of “The Cheating Culture,” notes that Hollywood money proves that rich donors don’t always push the parties to the right. It can also push the Democrats left on issues like the environment and gay rights. And yet in the months since he finished his book, many wealthy Obama supporters have grown disenchanted with what they see as the president’s “anti-business” language (he attacked “fat-cat bankers”). This was inevitable. “A benign plutocracy is still a plutocracy,” Callahan concludes. He quotes Louis Brandeis: “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” That’s as relevant today to liberal thinking as it was when Brandeis said it, decades ago.

On social issues, liberals have mostly won, with the public backing them on abortion, gay rights and other live-and-let-live ideas. That doesn’t necessarily make liberals more libertine (in fact, divorce rates are higher in red states than in blue). But it floats them closer to history’s tide. The great hope for the future of liberalism lies in the changing demographics of the country. With younger voters and Hispanics moving sharply into the Democratic column, Republicans are in danger of being marginalized as an old, white, regional party. The Tea Party energy might be seen in retrospect as the last gasp of the “Ozzie and Harriet” order, with Obama as the scary face of a different-looking America. (Why else did Tea Partiers not seem to care over the last decade about President Bush’s profligate spending?) For now, of course, it’s conservatives who have the mojo, and not just because the economy is so bad. Despite historic advances in 2008, liberals remain better at complaining than organizing, which is a big reason they may take a shellacking in November.

A couple of new books recall the story about the civil rights and labor leader A. Philip Randolph, who was visiting F.D.R. to push for a policy. “Make me do it,” the president is said to have replied. Roosevelt meant that his visitors should go out and organize and demonstrate, not just expect him to wave a magic wand. Liberals have a tendency to think that when the “right” person wins, order has been restored. The idea of permanent trench warfare between liberals and conservatives is an abstraction to them rather than a call to arms. One reason health care reform stalled in the summer of 2009 was that Tea Party forces turned up en masse at town meetings in swing districts while liberals stayed home, convinced that after electing Obama they were free to go on Miller Time.

The enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 was a bad experience for certain movement liberals. If conservatives were mindless in describing as “socialism” what was essentially a plan pioneered by Bob Dole, ­Howard Baker and Mitt Romney, liberals seemed strangely incapable of taking yes for an answer after more than 70 years of trying to expand coverage. They were right about the value of a public option, but wrong to attack Obama for not obtaining it when the votes were never there in the Senate. Many Democrats were ignorant of all the good things in the legislation (partly the fault of White House mistakes in framing the message) and politically suicidal in echoing Howard Dean’s infamous cry of “Kill the bill!” By the end of the process, voters were revolted by the notorious “Cornhusker kickback” and other smelly deals. If making laws is akin to making sausage (you don’t really want to know what goes into it), the stench from Capitol Hill spoiled everyone’s appetite for the liberal meal.

But somewhere Ted Kennedy is smiling. To the list of revealing Kennedy books, add Burton Hersh’s EDWARD KENNEDY: An Intimate Biography (Counterpoint, $32). Hersh, a Harvard classmate of the future senator, ignores much of his Senate career but makes good use of sources going back six decades to paint a personal portrait. While Hersh’s uncontrolled freight-train prose is loaded with often extraneous details, he nonetheless brings many of the old stories alive again. Kennedy was both the heart and the tactical brains of late-20th-­century liberalism, which won many small victories even as it fell out of fashion. Had he been vital in 2009 and able to work his charm across the aisle, senators in both parties agree, the health care debate would have been healthier.

In GETTING IT DONE: How Obama and Congress Finally Broke the Stalemate to Make Way for Health Care Reform (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s, $25.99), Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader, strips the color from that story in order to maintain his Washington relationships. But Daschle, forced by a tax problem to step down as Obama’s health care czar, has written, with David Nather, an exceptionally clear account of an exceptionally tangled piece of recent history. He’s especially good on why the credibility of Democrats depends on how skillfully they implement the bill over the next 10 years. Left unsaid is that Democrats in 2012 will face not just hostile Republicans favoring repeal but also cost controls on Medicare that will encourage conservatives to resume their pandering to the elderly, an approach long taken by liberals to retain power. Beyond the specifics of the bill, Daschle is obviously right that “health care has become a symbol of the deep divide in Americans’ feelings about the role government should play.”

In his Inaugural Address, Obama tried to define his view of that role when he said, “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.” This is a sensible definition of modern liberalism but also a bloodless and incomplete one, evoking Michael Dukakis’s claim that the 1988 presidential election was about “competence, not ideology.” That definitional dispute had first flared four years earlier, when Gary Hart mounted a stiff challenge to Walter Mondale for the Democratic nomination. Both have new books out.

Hart’s eccentric contribution, THE THUNDER AND THE SUNSHINE: Four Seasons in a Burnished Life (Fulcrum, $25), will remind readers why he and the presidency would have been an awkward fit. His bitterness over the sex scandal that ended his political career in 1987 hasn’t fully ebbed. As always, he tries to aim higher: Condoleezza Rice is in the index, but Donna Rice isn’t.

The book contains a sustained and ponderous “Odyssey” metaphor, with one chapter opening, “As he rises from his stony perch above the harbor, Ulysses tells his mariners that he is prepared to sail beyond the sunset.” Hart began his career as a 1960s movement liberal, a seeker and intellectual (he received a doctorate from Oxford in 2001, at the age of 64) with Homeric aspirations. He ruminates well about some of the essential differences between the American political creeds. Conservatives, by nature more skeptical, “accept that life is just one damn thing after another, that we are on our own, and it is up to us to make the most of it. But for those with a sense of commonwealth and common good, the shattering of dreams and hopes is always viewed more ­tragically.”

True enough, but it raises the question of why attaching emotion to politics makes conservatives stronger but often weakens liberals. In the years since Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, something soft has wormed its way into the heart of liberalism, a diffidence about the cut-and-thrust of politics. Carville-style fisticuffs are satisfying, but have not yet made it a fighting faith again.

Mondale’s memoir, THE GOOD FIGHT: A Life in Liberal Politics (Scribner, $28), written with David Hage, is, not surprisingly, more conventional than Hart’s, but he comes to terms more squarely with the limits of liberalism. Looking back at his early days in the Senate in 1965, at the peak of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society — what he calls the “high tide” of liberalism — Mondale says: “A lot of it was wonderful, overdue and much needed. But we also overstated what was possible.” He recalls the years in the wilderness, when “I wanted to talk about poverty and opportunity, but people wondered why I wanted to give away things for free.” Even in feeling vindicated by Obama’s election, he admits that “liberalism is still on trial.”

Especially when it comes to education. It’s encouraging that even a paleo­liberal like Mondale now believes that “we should weed out teachers who are unsuited to the profession” and that teachers’ union rules “must have flexibility.” There’s a great struggle under way today within the Democratic Party between Obama and the reformers on one side and, on the other, hidebound adult interest groups (especially the National Education Association) that have until recently dominated the party. If liberalism is about practical problem solving, then establishing the high standards and accountability necessary to rescue a generation of poor minority youths and train the American work force of the future must move to the top of the progressive agenda. Education reform is emerging as the first important social movement of the 21st century, a perfect cause for a new generation of ­idealists.

Where education might offer grounds for cooperation with conservatives, foreign policy almost certainly will not. After a long period of favoring interventionism to fight fascism and Communism, liberals have been doves since Vietnam, even in a post-9/11 world. If Democrats retain control of the House, they will pressure Obama hard next year to begin withdrawing from Afghanistan as promised. Chalmers Johnson, a noted scholar of Japan, has in recent years made a point of explaining how the Afghan freedom fighters the C.I.A. supported in the 1980s, when they were fighting the Soviet Union, are now the Taliban and Qaeda forces trying to kill Americans. In DISMANTLING THE EMPIRE: America’s Last Best Hope (Metropolitan/Holt, $25), he argues for a complete reordering of the national security state to save not just lives but treasure. While Obama won’t go as far as Johnson urges, a big tussle between the White House and the Pentagon is likely next year, when we’ll learn if neoconservatives can once again convince the country that liberals are “unpatriotic.”

The answer to that question — and to the immediate fate of liberal ideas — depends largely on the performance of one man, the president. Jeffrey C. Alexander’s intriguing argument in THE PERFORMANCE OF POLITICS: Obama’s Victory and the Democratic Struggle for Power (Oxford University, $29.95), a meticulous review of the 2008 campaign, is that his fellow sociologists have over­emphasized impersonal social forces at the expense of the theater of public life — the way politicians perform “symbolically.” It’s a prosaic call for a more poetic (or at least aesthetic) understanding of politics. Ideology must connect viscerally, or it doesn’t connect at all. Liberalism, like any idea or product, can succeed only if it sells.–

*Jonathan Alter, a columnist for Newsweek and an analyst for MSNBC, is the author of “The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope” and, most recently, “The Promise: President Obama, Year One.”

Frank Sinatra is Back for this Weekend Entertainment

Friends and Fellow Bloggers,

It is time again for us to sit back and relax after another hectic week following the UNMO General Assembly. October will soon give way to November and it will be cold in some parts of the World as autumn gives way to winter.

For starters, we welcome US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton who will be in Kuala Lumpur on Monday, November 1 for a brief visit with Malaysian leaders.

For us in Malaysia, we have in early November two exciting by elections, one in Galas, Kelantan and another in Batu Sapi (Sabah), which can be regarded as the curtain raiser to other elections  which may be held in 2011.

Dr. Kamsiah and I thought that in stead of a mixed bag of singers,we should feature one single voice. Yes, you’d probably guessed it–Frank Sinatra. Old Blue Eyes and Chairman of the Board is the Voice of the 20th Century.

Francis Albert Sinatra is from a unique generation of American balladeers that included Dean Martin, Sammy Davies Jr, Nat King Cole, Charles Aznavour (who appears here in duet with Frank rendering “You Make Me Feel So Young”) Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Vic Damone, Mel Tome and so many others. We truly hope you like our choice for your listening pleasure this weekend. –Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican.

Frank Sinatra–Fly Me to the Moon

PKR Elections 2010: Molly’s Nightmare

October 29, 2010

PKR Direct Election is neither clean nor fair

By Shazwan Mustafa Kamal@

Datuk Zaid Ibrahim’s aides demanded today for an immediate stop to the PKR elections following claims that several pro-Zaid divisions were unable to cast their votes.

Zaid’s aides said that they had received reports that four divisions which had either voted for Zaid or were “mobilised” to vote for him were unable to do so, resulting in party members in those divisions leaving the polling centres in “frustration.”

“Today is the first day of polling where thousands of party members are eligible to vote at the polling centres in several Kedah and Kelantan divisions, which should have begun at 10:00 am. However, we have received numerous reports that members were unable to vote at several divisions this morning and many have left in frustration.

“In light of these alarming logistical problems on the very first day of polling, we expect more serious problems ahead. Especially considering that there are only 10 divisions polling today and there will be 79 more divisions polling during this weekend,” said Rashid Azad Khan, Zaid’s election agent and Muhammad Firdaus Christopher, political aide to Zaid, in a joint statement today.

It is understood that the divisions affected are Kota Bharu, Tumpat, Langkawi and Alor Setar where ballot papers were either unavailable or had arrived at the polling centres only at noon. There were also complaints that newly registered PKR members today were already allowed to vote.

The allegations of chaos and discrepancies comes barely a day as PKR heads into its national party leadership elections, and adds to a mounting list of complaints and allegations of unfair voting tactics.

The statement also hit out at the party’s Central Elections Committee (JPP) which had been tasked with

Dr. Molly Cheah

ensuring a clean and smooth elections process. According to Zaid’s assistants, JPP chairman Dr Molly Cheah had informed them that she was no longer “involved” in PKR’s elections process and was also unaware of any briefings conducted late last night by the party secretariat.

“Although the JPP and party secretariat assured us that the election will be conducted professionally to ensure a free and fair election, the above problems have cast serious doubts on the entire election process. After discussing these problems with Dr Molly Cheah (the Chairperson of the JPP) this morning, we are now even more disturbed as she claims that she is no longer involved in the management of the election process. Indeed, she said that she has no knowledge of the briefing of the candidates and/or their election agents that was conducted at the eleventh hour last night by the party secretariat. She also said that she regrets the problems faced by voters at the divisions mentioned above but she is unable to do anything about it,” said the statement.

Zaid’s supporters also called for Dr Cheah to be replaced along with the party secretariat for failing to “perform their duties properly”, saying that the responsibility for monitoring the party elections should be handed to others who were capable of executing their duties.

“If the JPP and/or the secretariat proceeds without resolving these basic but fundamental issues, the party will lose the trust of its members and also damage its reputation as a party that fights for democracy and justice for all Malaysians,” added the statement.


PKR Leadership in Disarray

The hotly contested post for the party’s deputy presidency will see Zaid go against former Abim member Mustaffa Kamil Ayub and PKR veteran Azmin Ali, who is said to be Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s favourite.

Zaid, who is considered as a PKR outcast due to his growing criticisms against the party has made explicit insinuations that supporters of Azmin, his leading contender in the three-way deputy presidency race, were responsible for the hurdles he was facing in his tilt for the number two post.

The former UMNO politician has not minced his words since entering the fray for the deputy presidency, even rejecting outright Anwar’s warning to bypass UMNO-owned media like Utusan Malaysia and insisted that the paper’s relentless attacks against the PKR de facto leader could have stemmed from the boycott.

PKR has had a rough run in its first-ever direct party elections as some candidates have accused the party of vote rigging and fraud on the divisional polls level amid violence at some divisional elections.

Since divisional elections began on September 17, 13 divisions have been forced to postpone their meetings. The losers in the Kelana Jaya division polls had complained of vote rigging and fraud, citing alleged irregularities like unannounced changes in the list of the division committee.

Election results in Hulu Selangor had to be put on hold following allegations that the number of votes exceeded the number of voters while accusations of vote rigging also surfaced in the Tasek Gelugor division polls.

Malaysians on Fantasy Ride over Sodomy 2

October 29, 2010

Sodomy 2  Trial:  Ride into Fantasy

by Terence Netto

COMMENT The Sodomy 2 trial of Anwar Ibrahim has been awaiting its ‘Azizan moment’ and appears to have had it yesterday.

Real or Fantasy?

Azizan Abu Bakar was once a driver for Anwar’s wife, Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, and was a witness in the first sodomy trial in 1998-99 where he claimed in court testimony that he had been repeatedly sodomised by Anwar. Under cross-examination by Anwar’s lawyer, the late Christopher Fernando, he admitted three times while under oath that no such thing happened to him.

The next day, under re-examination by a prosecution lawyer, he retracted his admission of the day before. But in the courtroom of public opinion, the case of Sodomy I had collapsed. Though Anwar was found guilty and sentenced to nine years in prison, the trial had withered in credibility long before it eventuated in a guilty verdict.

Since then the ‘Azizan moment’ has come to signify the instant when from the clutter of witness testimony a shard emerges. This shard is what the judicial process is after in our criminal justice system: that in the crossfire of the adversary system, as each side presents its case, something like ‘legal truth’ emerges. On the basis of this ‘legal truth’, the guilt or innocence of the accused is established.

Hitting rock bottom?

In yesterday’s proceedings of Sodomy II, Dr Mohd Razali Ibrahim, one of three doctors who had examined the accuser, Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan, told the court under cross-examination by lawyer Sankara Nair that he found the complainant’s rectum empty.

Because Saiful had earlier testified in Sodomy II that he did not defecate for two days after he was sodomised by Anwar, the discovery by the examining doctor that his rectum was empty was startling.

Sodomy II didn’t have to arrive at its ‘Azizan moment’ yesterday for the case to have been divested of its credibility. That credibility, steadily shorn off the case by the prosecution’s refusal – upheld by the judge – to furnish the defence with the police and medical reports that are the normative requirements of due process, took another blow on Wednesday from the prosecution’s refusal – again sustained by the judge – to supply the clinical notes that Dr Razali made when first examining Saiful.

The doctor needed to look at them before he could respond to defence counsel Karpal Singh’s probing questions. But neither the prosecution nor the judge saw fit to refresh the doctor’s memory through recourse to his clinical notes.

There were moments in this case where from the standpoint of its credibility you think that it has hit rock bottom. Think again, because there would be another moment where you hear tapping from underneath. Sodomy II is a far way from bottom.

The Realmild Story: UMNO the owner?

October 29, 2010

UMNO the real owner of Realmild Sdn Bhd(?): Judgment on December 2, 2010

by Debra Chong@

When the High Court here hands down its judgment on the disputed sale price of Realmild Sdn Bhd’s shares on December 2, all eyes will be trained on the grounds — whether UMNO, the senior party in the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN), has been ruled to be the shadowy company’s real owner.

In taking their quarrel over the sale price of Realmild’s shares from a decade ago, former company directors Datuk Khalid Ahmad and Datuk Seri Abdul Rahman Maidin have showed how the political giant has fed and sustained its tight grip on power through control of several conglomerates starting from the early 1990s.

The suit was mooted by Khalid in March 2005 against his successor, Abdul Rahman, to claim RM10 million in payment for a block of the company’s shares.

But Abdul Rahman made a counter-claim to be refunded the RM5 million he already paid, after being told by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad that UMNO owned all Realmild’s shares and the appointed directors were only nominees acting in the party’s trust.

The nexus between UMNO and certain conglomerates has been revealed in the court hearing that started in August this year involving the past shareholders of Realmild, the shadowy company that took over media giant The New Straits Times Press (Malaysia) Bhd in 1993, and Malaysian Resources Corporation Berhad (MRCB).

A number of high-flying corporate figures have entered the witness stand, most notably Tan Sri Syed Anwar Jamalullail, younger brother to the Raja of Perlis Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Ibni Al-Marhum Tuanku Syed Putra Jamalullail who also held the position of Yang di-Pertuan Agong at the time of the contentious takeover.

Khalid is suing Abdul Rahman for RM10 million over the sale of a five per cent stake in the company in 1999, which took place during a shake-up and buy-out related to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s sacking from government. Abdul Rahman had paid RM5 million but later reneged on the remainder.

The silver-haired industry captain testified in court that Dr Mahathir, who was prime minister at the time of the buy-out, told him that the shares actually belonged to UMNO.

Abdul Rahman, a former Malay Chamber of Commerce Penang president, also claimed to have received instructions from Tun Daim Zainuddin and Tan Sri Nor Mohamad Yakcop had previously instructed him to undertake a management buy-out of MRCB by purchasing the 7,101,001 ordinary shares in Realmild.But Khalid maintained the five per cent stake was his own although he acknowledged that the majority stake was part of an “UMNO Trust”.

The other directors in Realmild then were former Berita Harian group editor Datuk Ahmad Nazri Abdullah, New Straits Times group editor Datuk Abdul Kadir Jasin, and Mohd Noor Mutalib, who replaced Khalid as NSTP managing director in February 1993.  Realmild, originally a RM2 company, was then already the majority shareholder of MRCB, which is now developing the KL Sentral commercial and transport hub in Brickfields.

Representing Khalid is lawyer Ahmad Fadzil Mohd Perdaus. Alex De Silva and Eugene Jeyaraj Williams acted for Abdul Rahman.

Introducing Andre Vltchek: The West Perfecting Its Techniques To Hurt China

October 29, 2010

The West Perfecting Its Techniques To Hurt China

by Andre Vltchek* (From Z)

Andre Vltchek at Plain of Jars, Laos

Have no illusions: the Nobel Peace Prize that has been awarded this year (2010) to Liu Xiaobo, the primary drafter of Charter 08, has nothing to do with human rights. It is a direct attempt to harm the largest non-Western economy and socio-political system in the world.

The West has absolutely no interest in human rights in China or anywhere else. How could it, considering that it is violating them on basically all continents, worldwide? Human rights are camouflaging the West’s support for every group of people willing to antagonize, fight against or destroy any country or state that is Communist or Socialist by name or by deeds.

Support for human rights is often synonymous with direct intervention in internal affairs, a hostile act against sovereign nation or with actually oppressing human rights or forcing a country to the brink of civil war. This approach had been ‘perfected’ in Nicaragua, Cuba and Chile, among many other places and it is now being put to work in an attempt to destabilize China.

‘Support for human rights groups’ helped to bring down Soviet Union, it destroyed at one point almost all revolutions and popular movements in Latin America (except in Cuba) and it was used as justification for some of the most horrid interventions (by the West), that included acts of mass murder/genocide against people of Vietnam and Laos.

Tactics that were at work – to first discredit and then destroy all Communist and Socialist, progressive and nationalist states, governments and movements including Soviet Union, Cuba, Nicaragua, North Korea, Chile, Tanzania, and recently Venezuela – are considered useful until this day. Now they are more refined, (more people and technology are involved) and much more effective than anytime in the past. After all, the task that Western global dictatorship defined for itself is tremendous: China – the most populated nation on earth.

The fact that China is historically peaceful, non-confrontational and very successful makes the task much more difficult. On top of it, China violates human rights much lesser than all Western allies in Asia Pacific including Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand and definitely much lesser than the West itself. After all, the West is presently (indirectly) involved in massacres in Congo/DRC (at least 5 million have died there), in destabilizing entire Horn of Africa and parts of Latin America and in aggressive wars in Iraq, Afghanistan to name just a few lethal adventures.

To discredit China takes enormous effort, but it seems that no task is too great for those in the West who would happily sacrifice the entire earth for their unbridled desire to control and rule.

Equipped with the ‘world language’, limitless funds and absolute access to, and control over, the media, Western propaganda planners are managing to twist facts and manipulate global public opinion. In the meantime, China is playing clean and fair, hoping that its good intentions, deeds and non-confrontationist attitude will win friends and allies. But in our world controlled by colonial and post-colonial empires with hundreds of years of experience in conquering and oppressing the planet – being good and peaceful is not always a guarantee for avoiding confrontation, even for survival!

The Western population is increasingly hostile towards China and it is not because it knows about it or understands it, but because of propaganda by which it is being bombarded day and night. Tens of thousands of men and women in media and academia have no other purpose in professional life than to bash China; to discredit it, to make it appear as evil. China bashing is now an excellent career, one of the best ways to get academic or research grants or rise in media corporate ladder.

Public has almost no alternative sources of information.  What Noam Chomsky calls “Manufacturing of Consensus” is now close to sad but ‘successful’ completion. Unless some people are very much determined to find alternative sources of information and unless they are fluent in searching for them (tiny minority of the population even in Europe and North America), they will be simply spoon-fed by thousand times repeated lies, manipulative half-truths and clichés about China, about non-Western and even Western (self proclaimed ‘democratic’) world. They will not have to search for their own world-view – it will be cooked and served to them as pre-cooked meal.

Almost no place on earth is free from propaganda produced by global Western regime. In Africa where China offers great alternative to Western plundering (by building schools, social centers, hospital, government buildings, roads and railways), many local people feel deep gratitude towards this enormous Communist country that says ‘it wants to be a friend to developing world’. In Kenya I heard testimonies of hundreds of workers on Chinese projects saying that they were ‘treated like human beings by foreigners for the first time’, and that they ‘never had to negotiate wages with the Chinese bosses as they were offered 3 times higher salaries than they expected right from the beginning’. However, more positively China gets involved in Africa (or in Oceania or in many other places in the world) more it has to face dark sarcasm and attacks of the Western media outlets that pervert and drag through dirt all attempts to create alternative world where solidarity and internationalism stands above pragmatic interests.

Local newspapers in Africa and elsewhere are overzealously printing pieces tailored for local consumption but designed and paid for from abroad. Journalists who join anti-Chinese choir get rewards – frequent trips abroad for ‘training’, awards and visas to the West. The same is happening in Oceania and in Southeast Asia. Temptations are too great, punishments for stepping out of line too harsh.

“People see concretely what China is doing”, explains Mwandawiro Mghanga, former Kenyan MP, member of Defense and Foreign Relations Committees, poet and prisoner of conscience under brutal pro-Western regime of former dictator Moi. “If you travel throughout the country, you’ll see Chinese constructing and building roads, stadiums and housing projects which are very good. They are also very closely involved with people in spite of all propaganda being spread by the West. The reality of what China is doing is being seen and appreciated by our citizens. But there is great pressure on Kenyan government not to cooperate with China. In fact, there is great hostility towards Kenya – the West is punishing this country for having relatively close ties with PRC.”

That’s the standard – the way we ‘democratically’ rule the world (we force, corrupt and if we find it necessary – depose the governments), but you hardly hear it from local politicians. And god forbid, do not associate these practices with violations of human rights or with infringing democracy abroad!

During Moi dictatorship, regime that can be described as politically and economically very ‘pro Western’), Mr. Mandawiro and tens of thousands of other Kenyan activists, opposition politicians and dissidents were savagely tortured. He stood firm, he fought for his country but he never received Nobel Peace Price.

Pramoedya Ananta Toer – the greatest Indonesian writer who spent more than ten years in Buru concentration camp – died without receiving Nobel Price for either peace or literature. Naturally, the concentration camp he was locked in was our own concentration camp – our ally Suharto who killed between 2 and 3 million people after 1965 US-sponsored coup built it. Most of those killed were Communists, people belonging to Chinese minority, opposition intellectuals, atheists and teachers! Before he passed away, Pramoedya shared with me his Marxist ideals and the fact that for decades he was defending people of Chinese minority in Indonesia. That had not qualified his for any Nobel Price. He was not even a member of ‘civil society’ or pro-Western NGO!

None of the men and women resisting beastly military dictatorship in Chile ever came close to receiving Novel Peace Price. Pinochet’s men were killing and raping on our (Western) orders. Why would one of our institutions give more than a million dollars to those who would want to stop the carnage? Instead, Nobel Peace Price was given to Henry Kissinger who was one of the masterminds of Chilean carnage.

Western institutions simply do not make mistakes, or at least not too many. The art of manipulation had been perfected throughout the centuries. Philosophy, logic and the language itself had all been twisted, while analytical thoughts were discouraged. Idols had been erected and analyzing them in depth was discouraged. Solzhenitsyn, former feudal lord Dalai Lama and now the new one: Liu Xiaobo! The same year the Nobel Price for Literature has been awarded to Maria Vargas Llosa, originally Peruvian, naturalized Spanish anti-Communist novelist who is definitely much more admired in Europe than in his native land.

And don’t you dare to ridicule the idols! Our press only dares to laugh at Muslim saints, not at our own. Manufacturing our heroes (read: ‘heroes’ who serve our political and economic interest) is sacred act that can never be ridiculed. Naturally, our media can and is expected to ridicule all iconic figures, symbols, even the songs of Latin American, Chinese or Russian revolution. In the meantime it wrapped our anti-Communist and anti-Left Wing ‘heroes’ in such velvety gowns and attach such divine auras and qualities to their existence that almost nobody who cares about his or her reputation, career or even safety would dare to analyze true motives behind actions of these saints!

You see, the President of Rwanda – Paul Kagame – is a good man and there can be no discussion about it. He did not attack his own country Rwanda from Uganda on several occasions; he did not kill hundreds of thousands of people in Congo and Rwanda (“Do you have proof – have you been there? Do you have footage of rapes and massacres?” Well, actually, I have some proof and some footage, but that is beside the point). If you disagree that Kagame is a good chap, you are ‘denying genocide’ of 1994. Why? – Well simply because he is our man; because his troops are for years killing on our behalf in DRC/Congo. Now that the UN Report claims that Rwanda and Uganda might have committed another genocide in Congo, we keep quiet, hoping that the storm will pass and that main ‘donors’ to the UN (us – the West – plus our former colony and present ‘ally’ – Japan) will manage to maneuver the UN to withdraw the document or at least to rephrase the findings – something that was already partially done, given that servile attitude of Secretary General of the UN – Ban Ki Moon. Do we give Nobel Peace prize to Rwandan opposition? Not in a blue moon, although their leaders were murdered, imprisoned and some disappeared before the recent Presidential elections. Mr Kagame is our friend and people like Tony Blair – former British PM – are his personal advisors! Mr. Tony Blair may one day get his Nobel Peace Prize, too, but definitely not Rwandan opposition.

Do we award Novel Peace Price to Thai dissidents? Our friendly Thai establishment recently murdered many of them – some were shot from the roofs by snipers; shot to their heads. (I have footage, I was there – do you want to see? Are you interested to see how friendly and peaceful were opposition Thai Red Shirts?) Of course, the Prime Minister who ordered the carnage is British-born and British-educated man. He is real gentleman, our gentleman. The US born Thai monarch may be, even according to the US press, the most corrupt king of 20th century, but he made sure that his country killed so many Communists and Leftists that we have no choice but to love him and to protect him from any criticism at home or abroad. He also helped us to bomb Vietnam and Laos, so who cares about human rights. Nobel Peace Price to Thai opposition? Get lost! Don’t make silly jokes!

Or maybe we should give Nobel Peace Price to poor indigenous Papuan freedom fighters? Their country was annexed by Indonesia with our help so our mining and logging companies could plunder it indefinitely, while Indonesian elites were and are building their mansions and employ dozens of drivers, gardeners and maids just for fun as they don’t know what to do with all that cash in their impoverished country. Even Western human rights organizations admit that more than 100 thousand Papuans were butchered so far. Suggesting one of them should be awarded Nobel Peace Price? Do you want to get on permanent blacklist of Western mass media, or what?

Then maybe we should consider giving Nobel Peace Price to defenders of democracy in Venezuela – to those people who heroically stood against military coup which was organized by the US and had one single purpose – to depose democratically elected President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez? Do you see it coming?

Let us seriously, once and for all, drop that ridiculous term – Human Rights! It is stained by invasions, interferences with internal affairs, by the military coups and consequent killing, torture and rape.

Or if we are not ready to drop it, let us apply it equally, to every state and to every situation. Let us determine who is the greatest violator of such rights! Let us also determine what the term ‘Human Rights’ means. What are the most basic human rights? Aren’t they those to life and to self-determination? And if they are, aren’t we the ones who violated most of them in an ancient and recent history?

Mr. Mwandawiro once declared that many of the NGOs, ‘civil societies’ and human rights organizations are often serving direct imperialist interests of the West in poor countries. They are Fifth Columns in Venezuela, in Cuba and in China – in fact in any country that we are failing to control. Naturally, not all of these organizations are some foreign implants, but many of them are and others are frequently bought and manipulated from outside.

It is natural that if the West would be at least fractionally serious about so called Human Rights, it would stop its own brutal aggressions and foreign wars, it would discontinue supporting the most appalling fascist dictatorships worldwide and it would restrain its companies that are regularly committing murder (direct and indirect) all over the planet – murder against mostly defenseless and poor people or, paradoxically, against the genuine defenders of local human rights.

To expect it would be, however, ludicrous! There is nothing altruistic in the Western system of power. The structure is extremely brutal and self-serving. It had no heart and no compassion – definitely no solidarity. It already triggered hundreds of wars and conflicts, taking lives of hundreds of millions of innocent people.

Peaceful and mighty China is naturally a danger to Western expansionism. The West is panicking. Its panic borders hysteria. It does not clearly know what it is doing. Western planners are using the same tactics to break China as they used to break Chile in 1973 and Indonesia in 1965. They are provoking it and pushing it to the corner as they did with Soviet Union and with Cuba. They try to disseminate propaganda, to discredit the system at home and abroad. They try interventions and infiltrations; they try bribes. They are attempting to isolate China, by encompassing Mongolia and other neighbors to its sphere, even attempting to seduce Vietnam to confrontational attitude towards its enormous neighbor. Nothing seems to work!

It is open and extremely hostile game. Its purpose is to isolate China, provoke it and finally break it, preferably internally.

But the West is dealing with the greatest culture on earth, with over 5.000 years of history. It is dealing with tremendous minds, with intellectuals and strategists – people they never encountered as antagonists before.

The most significantly, the Chinese dragon refuses confrontation! It listens to all this frustrating barking down below, to provocateurs and manipulators who ruled the world for centuries and who suddenly feel that they may lose! Chinese dragon listens but keeps walking his own way, certain of its course. For him or for her, the main goal is to lift all of its citizens out of poverty and by doing this – to show example to the rest of oppressed world how it could get on its own feet after centuries of subservience to Western colonial rulers. Despite what is said in Western media, the Chinese Dragon’s skin is rough, but it is not only big but also gentle and caring creature.

Despite some errors, the Chinese experiment is based on solidarity. Great majority of its citizens are supporting it and that is in essence proof of democratic core of the process. That’s how majority of Chinese people see it and that’s all that matters.

China will never again move according to Western puppet-masters. It was already invaded, divided, plundered and raped. Majority of its people will never again trust Western formulas. China has its own system and if its people will believe that it has to be modified, they will make sure to change it at their own pace. They will not need Westerners to tell them how and when to do it. There is no need for it: Western system is morally corrupt as the rest of the planet could testify (if it would be allowed to) and those nations that are free to study it independently are not necessarily eager to face its deadly embrace any longer.

The fury of the West is understandable. For the first time its guns, propaganda and destabilizing tactics seem to be useless and impotent. They do not appear to be able to conquer or to break China. Attempts are plentiful: read Chinese books translated and published in the West: ‘dissidents’ write 99 percent of them (almost exclusively, dissidents are being published in English). Still it does not work – China is in one peace and united. Sour and increasingly irrelevant former colony – Hong Kong – is allowed (by the West) to shape opinion of foreigners about the country of 1.4 billion inhabitants. It is no secret that Hong Kong bookstores, particularly those at its airport are carrying exclusively anti-Chinese propaganda. In the light of that, Chinese people inside China (PRC) have access to the much more diverse views about their country than those folks living outside and relying on English-language sources (almost all negative and hostile).

Other frustrating factor for the West is that very few Chinese people are willing to commit treason. In PRC there is no Suharto, no Yeltcin and no Pinochet in sight – no ‘leader’ or some general willing to sell his country for cash, for booze or for power.

China is patient. It is shockingly patient. The West would never tolerate such direct interventions. Imagine Communist China suddenly and openly supporting Communist Party of the United States that would be planning to overthrow the political system of the United States. In the US and in Europe hundreds of people end up in jail for much smaller ‘crimes’. Imagine China actively isolating the United States, bribing and antagonizing governments in Mexico and Canada. Or placing nuclear warheads just one hour flight from its capital!

It seems that citizens in Europe and North America are used to it when such injustice is done (by them) to any other country on earth, but would scream murder would it be directed against them. China seems to be aware of this pathological (Gustav Jung wrote many essays on the topic) mental state in the West – its inability to curb longing for control and dominance of the world. By all means, China is very patient and understanding, at least for now. It understands that the West has no way to control its longing for dominating the planet. But there should be a limit. All hostile attempts to destabilize the country should be met with determined resistance of the Dragon who should and will, would there be a need, defend its people and sovereignty.

Granting Nobel Peace Price (1.5 million dollars from the fund of inventor of dynamite) to Chinese opposition figure is grotesque. There are thousands of people resisting Western terror all around the world. They should be noted and rewarded first. Let’s not scream: “Neighbor has cockroach crawling on his floor” if we ourselves are living in a pigsties!

*ANDRE VLTCHEK – writer, filmmaker and journalist. Author of various fiction and non-fiction books including his latest novel “Point of No Return’ and non fiction book about neo-colonialism in South Pacific – “Oceania”. He lives and works in Asia and Africa.

Hillary will be in town soon

October 29, 2010

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to visit Kuala Lumpur

by Wong Choon Mei, Malaysia Chronicle

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will arrive in Kuala Lumpur on Monday as part of a two-week Asian tour and the buzz in the diplomatic circles is that she will not only be meeting Prime Minister Najib Razak, but also Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim who is poised to be jailed on flimsy sodomy charges ahead of snap general elections next year.

Indeed, speculation is growing that something might be afoot as the Obama administration has so far been seen as indifferent, even reluctant to take up the democracy cudgels in Southeast Asia, a region marked by many recalcitrant governments including Burma and Cambodia.

“We are not in a position to confirm Mrs Clinton’s schedule but we certainly hope that she will speak up for Anwar,” a top PKR official told Malaysia Chronicle.

Malaysian SOS

Like Thailand, Malaysia has been displaying severe signs of stress as it tries to adjust to unprecedented political competition at home.

Unable to beat off the advances made by Anwar’s Pakatan Rakyat coalition, Najib has begun shifting back to the hard line policies promulgated by former Malaysian dictator Mahathir Mohamad.

While the British-educated Najib has taken pains to portray himself as a ‘moderate’ during his overseas trips, he is actually the complete opposite once he is back. And nowhere did he exhibit this Jekyll-and-Hyde tendency more than at his UMNO party’s annual assembly held recently.

At that meeting, Najib sounded alarm bells far and wide when he declared “This country does not have equal citizenship”, clamped down discussion of racial rights, and also vowed to defend his hold on power at all costs.

“Even if our bodies are crushed and our lives lost, brothers and sisters, whatever happens, we must defend Putrajaya,” Najib had said.

Trial has gone out of control

At 57, Najib is some 6 years younger than Anwar – his arch rival from their UMNO days in the ’80s. Both had been shortlisted to be Mahathir’s deputy, but in the end, the more politically-savvy Anwar was chosen.

Although, they closed ranks and Najib later became part of Anwar’s clique, he was quick to abandon Anwar in 1998, when Mahathir sensing his grip on power was fading, decided to sack and jail his deputy on graft and sodomy charges.

Even then, there was worldwide condemnation for Malaysia and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, during a dinner function in Kuala Lumpur, even staged a protest walk-out. But it was only after spending 6 years in jail that Anwar was freed. Months after Mahathir’s retirement, the courts finally found the courage to acquit him in 2004.

The international rebuke for the latest sodomy trial are even harsher. Anwar has denied the charges and accused Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor of having plotted the conspiracy against him.

World figures from former Canadian premier Paul Martin to Recep Edrogan, Paul Wolfowitz to Richard Branson, have spoken up for Anwar. Lawmakers from Australian, Canada, U.K., U.S. and most recently the Inter-Parliamentary Union have expressed support for Anwar and pointed out the weaknesses inherent in the ongoing trial.

“It has probably reached a stage where Najib is no longer thinking logically about the trial. He seems to be thinking, if the Burmese junta can do it to Aung San Suu Kyi, why can’t I get away with Anwar here? Hopefully, someone can talk some sense to him,” said the PKR official.

Suharto debate has ripples for ours

October 28, 2010

Suharto debate has ripples for ours

by Terence Netto@

COMMENT A debate over whether former president Suharto should be included in the list of his country’s national heroes is presently raging in Indonesia and will have resonance for our country in the near future.


Two of a Kind

It’s not hard to predict that Malaysia too will come round to drawing up a similar list such that the merits of including Suharto in the Indonesian pantheon – which is hotly contested by critics of the dictator’s 32-year rule – will have relevance for our hypothetical list.

Indonesia’s Social Affairs Ministry draws up an annual shortlist of candidates to be added to the country’s official pantheon of national heroes, presently totalling 138. Suharto’s name was included in the list the ministry released earlier this month. Predictably, it triggered a heated debate in the media that is turning out to be an attempt to redefine the dictator’s legacy two years after his death and 12 after his fall from grace.

GOLKAR, the party Suharto set up to rubber stamp his dictatorship, is backing the campaign to have Suharto included for an obvious reason: it will give them a fillip in advance of the 2014 polls as the party is seen as the prime legatee of the Suharto era.

That era was one of economic development and social stability for a hitherto stagnant and chaotic nation, but the price paid was severe in terms of human right abuses and corruption.

Supporters of Suharto’s inclusion in the Indonesian list claim that the price was unavoidable for the progress made by this diverse and widely-dispersed archipelago under the dictator’s iron-fisted rule averted anarchy and assured the stability that made economic development possible.

Half a million people died in the bloodshed that followed Suharto’s takeover of Indonesia in the immediate aftermath of a abortive coup in 1965 led by the PKI (Indonesian Communist Party) with the collusion of ABRI (Indonesian armed forces) quislings.

This chapter of rampant violence was followed by successive episodes of bloodletting, albeit of a lesser scale, that marked the Suharto era from its inception in 1965-66 to its conclusion in 1998.  The half dozen generals who were killed in the 1965 coup are included in the national pantheon of heroes. Others included are revered names of the struggle for independence.

Gus Dur shortlisted too

This argument for Suharto’s inclusion offered by GOLKAR luminaries and other functionaries of the dictator’s era is the classic rationale for rule by authoritarians: the knife that spreads the butter must inevitably choke the pores of the bread.

Critics of the Suharto era are dismayed by his inclusion in the shortlist but they are enthused by the inclusion of the late Abdurrahman Wahid, a prime Islamic figure who served a stint as president in the democratic restoration that followed Suharto’s fall.

These critics claim that including Suharto will imperil the restoration of democracy and dishonour the thousands who suffered and died in the period of his rule.

They are also appalled that someone who was as immersed in financial corruption as Suharto is being considered for inclusion in a list of figures revered in the national memory for gifting the country with their blood, honour, and/or with intellectual and moral leadership.

While the debate is necessary as a defining moment in the ongoing Indonesian discourse on leadership and governance, one can’t help but recall the pertinence of some lines from German writer Bertolt Brecht in his renowned play, ‘The Life of Galileo’.

One of the characters tells Galileo, “Unhappy the land that has no heroes” to which the protagonist replies, “No, unhappy the land that needs heroes.”

Government is successful in fighting Big-C

October 28, 2010

Government is successful in fighting Big-C, says Minister-Senator Idris Jala

Although it might not have been significantly reflected in the Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perception Index (CPI), the government has been successful in fighting corruption, said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Idris Jala.

He was commenting on Malaysia maintaining its 56th position out of 178 countries in the TI International CPI this year – despite scoring a little less by 0.1 points, as compared to last year’s results.

While the score was not quite a case for celebration, he said it need not be seen as negative development. It reflected the nature of the CPI, rather than a lack of progress on the Government Transformation Programme (GTP)’s National Key Results Area (NKRA) of fighting corruption, Idris said in a statement to Bernama today.

Malaysia, ranked third amongst the South East Asian countries, after Singapore and Brunei, scored 4.4 points out of 10, ahead of Thailand with 3.5 (78th) and Indonesia 2.8 (110th).

Idris, who is also Performance Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU) chief executive officer, said that despite the slight dip, a closer look at the scoring for this year’s CPI showed an improvement in the perception of respondents under some of the constituent surveys, namely the IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook, the Political & Economic Risk Consultancy’s Asian Intelligence Newsletter, and the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report.

“This bodes well for the future, as we can infer that we are on the right track with the initiatives and efforts under this NKRA (national key result areas) so far,” he said.

Naming and Shaming of offenders

He said, in a move to learn and exchange best practices on tackling graft, Malaysia participated in regional and international anti-corruption conferences.  It will take part in the 14th International Anti-Corruption Conference in Bangkok between November 10 and 13.

Idris said the government had taken various steps, among others, to fight corruption. This includes setting up 18 special corruption courts and making amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code to ensure trials were completed expeditiously for a more successful outcome.

He said the government had also taken steps to “naming and shaming of offenders” under the Convicted Corruption Offenders Database on the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission website which collated relevant details of convicted corruption offenders.

To date, 222 offenders have been listed in the database on since it was created in February this year. Idris said efforts were also made to implement the Whistleblower Protection Act, which was passed early this year, by end of the year.

In terms of corruption in procurement, among the steps taken by the government was to create greater transparency, with 3,716 government contract tender awards now published in the MyProcurement portal at, he said.

Reaping Our Racial Harvest

October 28, 2010

Reaping Our Racial Harvest

Jalur Gemilang for All Malaysians united under God and King

by K.K.Tan

BOTH the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister stated just before the UMNO  General  Assembly last week that there should be no more discussion or debate about the social contract and other issues pertaining to race in our country. It was wishful thinking, for over the next two days, delegate after delegate at the Assembly, spoke out on racial issues. Outside the Assembly, the race debate raged on, especially over the Internet.

1Malaysia Message is not lost among UMNO Delegates

UMNO delegates, like others, should be allowed to speak out honestly on how they feel on the (race) issue without offending the sensitivities of others. The racial tone at this year’s assembly was milder or more conciliatory than previous years. The pre-assembly briefings by the party president, Youth and  Wanita leaders seem to have some effect in ensuring that the 1Malaysia message is not lost among its members.

Datuk Seri Najib Razak gave a strong assurance at this assembly that the special position of the Malays, as enshrined in the Constitution, cannot be taken away while reminding the members to respect the rights of the non-Malays as stated in the same Constitution. It may not seem much but what the prime minister did was significant. For the first time, he was openly addressing a major anxiety among many Malays, which has become a stumbling block to promoting 1Malaysia. Although his message has allayed the concern of his members, it would take much more to put the issue to rest once and for all.

Promoting Positive Race Relations

The issue is really HOW race debates should be conducted. In the interest of promoting positive race relations, we should not suppress genuine feelings from being expressed legitimately or “sweep them under the carpet”. Our government should let our people of all races express their honest fears or worries as long as they do not resort to racial slurs or insults. Our political leaders should reach out and engage with each other and also with all those with such genuine concerns in an open manner.

One can argue that it is a good sign of a more mature civil society that lately more people are speaking out honestly but sensitively on how they feel about race issues rather than just keeping such feelings to themselves and their loved ones.

We should not let a situation develop where there is a silent build-up of pent-up frustrations and anger until an explosive point. Neither should we be too free to allow the race debate to degenerate to a point of being destructive, abusive and derogatory. The government should enforce the “zero tolerance” against racial slurs and insults using our laws.

Race Relations Act?

They never let politics get in their way

If necessary, our policymakers should consider enacting a new and comprehensive law (such as a Race Relations Act) to curb cases of racial slur, abuse, instigation and other racialist or chauvinistic behaviour. We need to deal appropriately with the “spoilers” of racial unity who have a hidden agenda to instigate, provoke, divide and distract. In any kind of human relations, it is always harder to build goodwill and understanding but easy to undermine and destroy and these spoilers, who are present in every society, know it.

Today’s negative race relations can be mostly attributed to more than five decades of racial politicking since independence. We reap what we sow. It would be pointless for political parties, including those which are only multi-racial in name, to point fingers at each other for the deteriorated state of race relations.

Few people are questioning the rationale of having race-based parties at the time of independence as the state of social development among the various communities might have required such an arrangement for greater efficiency in representation and governance. But there was not much effort in promoting multiracial politics and little attempt to address the growing income disparity between the races in the post-Merdeka period until it reached a boiling point on May 13, 1969.

Social Justice and National Unity

Social justice is an essential element of national unity; the other two elements being equality and mutual respect. The formulation of the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1971, to address the social inequality and injustice by assisting the majority of the poor bumiputras to be more self reliant and competitive, was the first response to the May 13 crisis on the economic front. At the same time, on the political front, the formation of the 10-party National Front from the original three race-based parties of the Alliance to include multiracial parties (at least in name), signalled a move towards multiracial politics and representation.

However, for the next 40 years or so after that, not much was done by most political parties to move away from racial politics until recently. There were several attempts by the government to promote meritocracy and multiracialism such as the Bangsa Malaysia concept. The most promising one so far is 1Malaysia.

NEP to NEM: Politics of Inclusion

The progression from the NEP to the new NEM may have obstacles and challenges but the government must be determined and have the political will to see it through in an inclusive manner, without letting any sector feel a sense of loss or fear.

The NEP was perhaps one of the most noble and elaborate social engineering schemes ever proposed anywhere in the world at that time but its implementation was fraught with problems and abuses to a point that many people have accused it of being “bastardised”.

The part failure of one programme (NEP) should not be an excuse to deter the government from abandoning its objective of helping the poor of all races. Hopefully, the lessons learnt from the mistakes of the NEP would enable the NEM to better address the social inequalities and poverty without necessarily compromising the economic growth and competitiveness of the country.

The other political aspect of managing race relations is to steadily move away from race-based politics and representation. What might be politically expedient at the time of independence may not be so today. There is now a greater public recognition that intensive race-based representation in the long run is outdated, divisive and economically destructive for the country in facing the new challenges. It would certainly undermine our journey to achieve 1Malaysia.

Why can’t a Malaysian of a certain ethnic origin represent or speak out for the welfare of Malaysians of other ethnic origins. Why can’t the relative poverty of the bumiputras be equally the concern of others as well? Why must the representation of an ethnic group be monopolised by people of the same ethnicity? Such race-based political representation is not even stated in the constitution. The world of today and the new world of tomorrow would demand that we evolve towards multiracial or cross-racial representation sooner rather than later.

It would be a positive way forward for our emerging civil, plural and democratic society when all ethnic groups would be peacefully and respectfully divided with cross-racial unity and representation. In such a scenario, we would support, agree or disagree with each other based on policies, ideologies, principles and position on issues rather than just race.

A generation from now, let us not look back and start pointing fingers at each other again for not doing the right things. If only we can all develop a positive and inclusive approach and outlook from now, we should be able to reap the beauty of our multiracial harvest by then.

*The writer, the CEO of a Kuala Lumpur-based think-tank and strategic consultancy firm, like many others, believes that there is only one race – the human race. He can be contacted at Comments:

1Malaysia: Action Plan Needed,says Kee

October 27, 2010

Turn 1Malaysia Into Action Plan

by Kee Thuan Chye

The Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) “is not a plan, it is an action-based program”. This is what its overseer, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Idris Jala, has been repeating to the point of overstatement. By this, he means a goal is identified, the action plan to achieve it is proposed, and an end-result is expected. Key target areas are tackled and objectives spelt out.

Why not extend this to 1Malaysia? Why not turn what is now virtually a nebulous concept into an action-based program? A program complete with the identification of goals and action plans to realize them?

How else does Prime Minister Najib Razak expect Malaysians to understand what 1Malaysia is? More important, how else does he expect to realize the aims of 1Malaysia?

After two years since Najib first gave us 1Malaysia, it still exists merely on the level of talk. Despite its declared intent of unifying the people, racial tensions have actually intensified. Politicians and civil servants have been guilty of making racist remarks, publicly and behind closed doors. Read comments in blogs and social media and you’ll see educated Malaysians of all races vying for the ‘Racist of the Year’ award.

Lately, some quarters have been seeking clarification of what 1Malaysia truly means. Among them are the UMNO clubs of California and Moscow.

Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, in a recent interview with the Chinese daily Sin Chew, said people still did not know what 1Malaysia means, and this had created confusion. He also said it “misleads the people into believing that [achieving unity] is a matter of simply repeating a slogan”.

Unless for some reason Najib wants to maintain the confusion, the sensible thing for him to do would be to spell out 1Malaysia in concrete terms. Given Idris’s experience in formulating the ETP, Najib could consider asking him to do the same for 1Malaysia and turn abstract rhetoric into an action-based program.

So far, Najib has made a few mentions here and there about the aims of 1Malaysia but he has said virtually nothing about how he intends to achieve them. As a citizen, I know precious little about the concept beyond what I heard from Idris Jala, when he addressed the National Congress on Integrity organized by UCSI on September 16.

He said 1Malaysia was about moving towards “accepting and celebrating our differences”, not just “tolerating” them. The key to achieving unity is the celebration of our diversity. He gave this formula:

Unity = Diversity + Inclusiveness

He said 1Malaysia called for society to undergo “behavioral changes” to move from tolerance to the celebration of diversity, and for us to “exhibit 1Malaysia values in our everyday lives”.

But how do we exhibit 1Malaysia values in our everyday lives when we are not sure what those values are, apart from their having to do with accepting differences and celebrating diversity? Even in intellectual terms, “accepting differences” and “celebrating diversity” are open to huge, intangible possibilities.

Idris gave one example from the world of football. He said the black British footballer John Barnes distinguished himself as an England player but the English did not put him on a pedestal, whereas the Dutch lionized Ruud Gullit even though he was of mixed ancestry.

This was not a good example, actually. Barnes was a good player but he wasn’t great. He was certainly not in the same league as Bobby Charlton or Bobby Moore or Gordon Banks. As for the celebration of Gullit as a Dutch icon, that’s just a simplistic illustration of achieving unity through such a means. Yes, it’s a start to look beyond race when we hail our heroes, but more than that, achieving national unity surely calls for a more concerted program.

1Malaysia could certainly be an action-based program if it identified problems like racism and set a related goal to eliminate it, complete with an action plan to bring racists to book, including mass media that invoke racial hatred.

On the constructive side, it could set a goal to build racial unity, complete with an action plan that details measures that would bring the different races together to learn about one another so they can accept their differences, and also to live and work together.

It could entail – I’m merely quoting possibilities – the creation of a single-stream education system, even a reform of the entire education system in order to depoliticize it; the complete removal of the category of “race” in all forms, official and otherwise; the closing-down of single-race agencies and institutions; the opening up of equal business and employment opportunities to all races; the organizing of projects to educate the masses on the celebration of diversity. Whatever fits the principles of acceptance and diversity.

Also important would be an action plan to educate the 1.3 million civil servants to embrace the program so that they exhibit the concretized 1Malaysia values in the daily dispensation of their official duties.

If these – and more – could be formulated – and implemented – we should see a real transformation. We should see Malaysian society undergoing behavioral changes.

But without a program, 1Malaysia will end up just a slogan, like the other slogans that came before it, such as Vision 2020, Bangsa Malaysia, Malaysia Boleh.

Vision 2020 was not an action-based program. It merely enumerated nine challenges that Malaysia would have to overcome to become a fully developed nation by the year 2020. Just looking at two of the stated challenges should convince anyone that it was painted with broad strokes:

The first of these is the challenge of establishing a united Malaysian nation with a sense of common and shared destiny. This must be a nation at peace with itself, territorially and ethnically integrated, living in harmony and full and fair partnership, made up of one ‘Bangsa Malaysia’ with political loyalty and dedication to the nation.

The seventh challenge is the challenge of establishing a fully caring society and a caring culture, a social system in which society will come before self, in which the welfare of the people will revolve not around the state or the individual but around a strong and resilient family system.

Vision 2020 wallowed in abstract rhetoric. No wonder even its proponent, Mahathir Mohamad, said last month that from the way things are going, it may not be achievable. He tried to blame the current government for not employing the right strategies, but the real pitfall is, Vision 2020 had no action plan to begin with.

If Najib wants to avoid the same trajectory for 1Malaysia, he should make it an action-based program. But this of course would call for supreme boldness on his part. And it would depend on how sincere he really is about 1Malaysia.

Does he really want to transform society? Does he really want to make us One? Does he have the will to overcome the obstacles that he knows he will encounter if he decides to push his program through? The proof of the desire is in the doing. To sum it up in one word: Action.

Is Pure Altruism Possible?

October 27, 2010

Is Pure Altruism Possible?

by Judith Lichtenberg*

Who could doubt the existence of altruism? True, news stories of malice and greed abound. But all around us we see evidence of human beings sacrificing themselves and doing good for others.

Remember Wesley Autrey? On Jan. 2, 2007, Mr. Autrey jumped down onto the tracks of a New York City subway platform as a train was approaching to save a man who had suffered a seizure and fallen.

A few months later the Virginia Tech Professor Liviu Librescu blocked the door to his classroom so his students could escape the bullets of Seung-Hui Cho, who was on a rampage that would leave 32 students and faculty members dead. In so doing, Mr. Librescu gave his life.

Still, doubting altruism is easy, even when it seems at first glance to be apparent. It’s undeniable that people sometimes act in a way that benefits others, but it may seem that they always get something in return — at the very least, the satisfaction of having their desire to help fulfilled. Students in introductory philosophy courses torture their Professors with this reasoning. And its logic can seem inexorable.

Contemporary discussions of altruism quickly turn to evolutionary explanations. Reciprocal altruism and kin selection are the two main theories. According to reciprocal altruism, evolution favors organisms that sacrifice their good for others in order to gain a favor in return. Kin selection — the famous “selfish gene” theory popularized by Richard Dawkins — says that an individual who behaves altruistically towards others who share its genes will tend to reproduce those genes.

Organisms may be altruistic; genes are selfish. The feeling that loving your children more than yourself is hard-wired lends plausibility to the theory of kin selection.

These evolutionary theories explain a puzzle: how organisms that sacrifice their own “reproductive fitness” — their ability to survive and reproduce — could possibly have evolved. But neither theory fully accounts for our ordinary understanding of altruism.

The defect of reciprocal altruism is clear. If a person acts to benefit another in the expectation that the favor will be returned, the natural response is: “That’s not altruism!”

Pure altruism, we think, requires a person to sacrifice for another without consideration of personal gain. Doing good for another person because something’s in it for the do-er is the very opposite of what we have in mind.

Kin selection does better by allowing that organisms may genuinely sacrifice their interests for another, but it fails to explain why they sometimes do so for those with whom they share no genes, as Professor Librescu and Mr. Autrey did.

When we ask whether human beings are altruistic, we want to know about their motives or intentions. Biological altruism explains how unselfish behavior might have evolved but, as Frans de Waal suggested in his column in The Stone on Sunday, it implies nothing about the motives or intentions of the agent: after all, birds and bats and bees can act altruistically. This fact helps to explain why, despite these evolutionary theories, the view that people never intentionally act to benefit others except to obtain some good for themselves still possesses a powerful lure over our thinking.

The lure of this view — egoism — has two sources, one psychological, the other logical. Consider first the psychological. One reason people deny that altruism exists is that, looking inward, they doubt the purity of their own motives. We know that even when we appear to act unselfishly, other reasons for our behavior often rear their heads: the prospect of a future favor, the boost to reputation, or simply the good feeling that comes from appearing to act unselfishly.

As Kant and Freud observed, people’s true motives may be hidden, even (or perhaps especially) from themselves. Even if we think we’re acting solely to further another person’s good, that might not be the real reason. (There might be no single “real reason” — actions can have multiple motives.)

So the psychological lure of egoism as a theory of human action is partly explained by a certain humility or skepticism people have about their own or others’ motives. There’s also a less flattering reason: denying the possibility of pure altruism provides a convenient excuse for selfish behavior. If “everybody is like that” — if everybody must be like that — we need not feel guilty about our own self-interested behavior or try to change it.

The logical lure of egoism is different: the view seems impossible to disprove. No matter how altruistic a person appears to be, it’s possible to conceive of her motive in egoistic terms. On this way of looking at it, the guilt Mr. Autrey would have suffered had he ignored the man on the tracks made risking his life worth the gamble.

The doctor who gives up a comfortable life to care for AIDS patients in a remote place does what she wants to do, and therefore gets satisfaction from what only appears to be self-sacrifice. So, it seems, altruism is simply self-interest of a subtle kind.

The impossibility of disproving egoism may sound like a virtue of the theory, but, as philosophers of science know, it’s really a fatal drawback. A theory that purports to tell us something about the world, as egoism does, should be falsifiable. Not false, of course, but capable of being tested and thus proved false. If every state of affairs is compatible with egoism, then egoism doesn’t tell us anything distinctive about how things are.

A related reason for the lure of egoism, noted by Bishop Joseph Butler in the 18th century, concerns ambiguity in the concepts of desire and the satisfaction of desire. If people possess altruistic motives, then they sometimes act to benefit others without the prospect of gain to themselves. In other words, they desire the good of others for its own sake, not simply as a means to their own satisfaction.

It’s obvious that Professor Librescu desired that his students not die, and acted accordingly to save their lives. He succeeded, so his desire was satisfied. But he was not satisfied — since he died in the attempt to save the students. From the fact that a person’s desire is satisfied we can draw no conclusions about effects on his mental state or well-being.

Still, when our desires are satisfied we normally experience satisfaction; we feel good when we do good. But that doesn’t mean we do good only in order to get that “warm glow” — that our true incentives are self-interested (as economists tend to claim). Indeed, as de Waal argues, if we didn’t desire the good of others for its own sake, then attaining it wouldn’t produce the warm glow.

Common sense tells us that some people are more altruistic than others. Egoism’s claim that these differences are illusory — that deep down, everybody acts only to further their own interests — contradicts our observations and deep-seated human practices of moral evaluation.

At the same time, we may notice that generous people don’t necessarily suffer more or flourish less than those who are more self-interested. Altruists may be more content or fulfilled than selfish people. Nice guys don’t always finish last.But nor do they always finish first. The point is rather that the kind of altruism we ought to encourage, and probably the only kind with staying power, is satisfying to those who practice it. Studies of rescuers show that they don’t believe their behavior is extraordinary; they feel they must do what they do, because it’s just part of who they are.

The same holds for more common, less newsworthy acts — working in soup kitchens, taking pets to people in nursing homes, helping strangers find their way, being neighborly. People who act in these ways believe that they ought to help others, but they also want to help, because doing so affirms who they are and want to be and the kind of world they want to exist.

As Professor Neera Badhwar has argued, their identity is tied up with their values, thus tying self-interest and altruism together. The correlation between doing good and feeling good is not inevitable— inevitability lands us again with that empty, unfalsifiable egoism — but it is more than incidental.

Altruists should not be confused with people who automatically sacrifice their own interests for others. We admire Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager who saved over 1,000 Tutsis and Hutus during the 1994 Rwandan genocide; we admire health workers who give up comfortable lives to treat sick people in hard places. But we don’t admire people who let others walk all over them; that amounts to lack of self-respect, not altruism.

Altruism is possible and altruism is real, although in healthy people it intertwines subtly with the well-being of the agent who does good. And this is crucial for seeing how to increase the amount of altruism in the world. Aristotle had it right in his “Nicomachean Ethics”: we have to raise people from their “very youth” and educate them “so as both to delight in and to be pained by the things that we ought.”

*Judith Lichtenberg is Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University. She is at work on a book on the idea of charity.