Mat Zain: Any DPP can charge the Attorney-General with Abuse of Power

September 30, 2011

Mat Zain: Any DPP can charge the Attorney-General with Abuse of Power

By Shannon Teoh

A former senior police officer called today on deputy public prosecutors to show the “courage and will” to charge the Attorney-General with abuse of power.

Datuk Mat Zain Ibrahim dismissed the notion that Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail is the sole Public Prosecutor as section 376(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) allows his subordinates to bring criminal charges against anyone to court.

“Any DPP has the power to prosecute the A-G if they want to, anyone amongst them who has the courage and will. No one can stop them, not even the prime minister,” the retired city criminal investigation chief said.

Mat Zain has repeatedly accused Abdul Gani of abuses of power, beginning with the 1998 Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s black eye. He has also claimed that an independent three-man panel had investigated criminal allegations against the A-G and one of them concluded the A-G had tampered with three expert reports in the black eye RCI.

“After all, it was just a DPP and not the Solicitor-General or the head of the Prosecution Department of the A-G’s Chambers who closed the investigation on the A-G,” Mat Zain said in a statement today.

Section 376(3) of the CPC states that “the Public Prosecutor may appoint fit and proper persons to be Deputy Public Prosecutors who shall be under the general control and direction of the Public Prosecutor and may exercise all or any of the rights or powers vested in or exercisable by the Public Prosecutor by or under this Code or any other written law except any rights or powers express to be exercisable by the Public Prosecutor personally and he may designate any of the Deputy Public Prosecutors as Senior Deputy Public Prosecutors.”

Mat Zain, who headed investigations into Anwar’s black eye, has also called for Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to either form an RCI or a tribunal to investigate Abdul Gani’s conduct.

“If for some strange reasons the Cabinet considers that deceiving, misleading and insulting the Agong and government so blatantly is still a non-issue, then we are in serious trouble,” he said today.

Khalid Samad wins defamation suit against Utusan

September 30, 2011

Khalid Samad wins defamation suit against Utusan

by Hafiz
Sep 30, 11

The Kuala Lumpur High Court has found Utusan Malaysia culpable of libel in publishing a statement incriminating of Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad (left). However, Justice Dr Prasad Sandosham Abraham said Khalid was only entitled to a nominal sum as the court is perplexed over why Bandar Baru Kulim MP Zulkifli Nordin is not named as a defendant.

Justice Dr Prasad Sandosham Abraham said the plaintiff (Khalid) has been successful in proving the statement, which was taken from Zulkifli’s blog, was wrong. “The court rejects the defence of qualified privilege as living in Malaysia we have to subscribe to the sensitivity of all races unlike laws in Australia or the United Kingdom,” he said in his oral judgment.

“All the defendants’ are guilty of downloading the article from the blog without checking the contents (on its sensitivity).”

Sandosham has fixed Oct 11 to hear submission on damages. He said the court found calling someone as Abu Jahal and as a kafir (infidel) is the highest defamation in its mind.

In the suit filed last year, Khalid from PAS, named Utusan Malaysia and Mingguan Malaysia group editor-in-chief Aziz Ishak and the publisher of Utusan Malaysia and Mingguan Malaysia as defendants.

The Shah Alam MP claimed that on September 11, 2009, Aziz, as the Group Editor-in-Chief for both newspapers, with malice, had allowed the publication and printing of defamatory words on him on the front page of the newspapers.

He also claimed that the article entitled ‘Zulkifli bidas Pak Janggut‘ (Zulkifli admonishes Bearded Man) directly or indirectly referred to him even though his name was not mentioned.

‘Media must be sensitive’

Justice Prasad in his judgment said the article has to be taken in its full context as Khalid is the MP for Shah Alam. At that time, two years ago, there was a dispute over a relocation of a temple in Shah Alam.

The judge noted a tremendous departure from the principle of “qualified privilege” in the reasoning which had been mostly cited by the media. “The court is mindful of the fact that we cannot use the reasoning of the Western courts especially in the United Kingdom, Australia and also Canada.”

“I have to adopt the judgment made by former Federal Court judge Gopal Sri Ram in that the media should take into consideration the sensitivities of other races and religions in part due to the nature of Malaysia being made up of so many races. We have to take into consideration of the sensitivities of the people and of diverse races,” he said.

Justice Prasad said the article contains defamation as the court finds that the media cannot say they are practising freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of the media as there is a limitation to it.

“In this case, there is some degree of culpability of libel on the part of the publisher and the defence of qualified privilege is not tenable,” he said.

‘Why no action on Zulkifli?’

The judge also commented that the court find it perplexing that Zulkifli is not named in the defamation suit. “Why is Zulkifli (right) not sued? Was it because he was in the same party (coalition) before he had left? The plaintiff (Khalid) did not even ask for the removal of the blog posting which should have been done,” he said.

“I do not know whether this is done accidentally,” he said. Justice Prasad informed the parties that he will write a full judgment on the issue and what he is giving today are the broad grounds.

Utusan Melayu (M) Bhd, which is the publisher of the UMNO-owned daily, was represented by lawyer Mohan Kumar while Azhana Mohd Khairudin appeared for Khalid.

Man Is a Cruel Animal

September 30, 2011

Man Is a Cruel Animal

By Chris Hedges ( 12-22-08)

It was Joseph Conrad* I thought of when I read an article in The Nation magazine this month about white vigilante groups that rose up out of the chaos of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans to terrorize and murder blacks. It was Conrad I thought of when I saw the ominous statements by authorities, such as International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, warning of potential civil unrest in the United States as we funnel staggering sums of public funds upward to our bankrupt elites and leave our poor and working class destitute, hungry, without health care and locked out of their foreclosed homes. We fool ourselves into believing we are immune to the savagery and chaos of failed states. Take away the rigid social structure, let society continue to break down, and we become, like anyone else, brutes.

Conrad saw enough of the world as a sea captain to know the irredeemable corruption of humanity. The noble virtues that drove characters like Kurtz in Heart of Darkness into the jungle veiled abject self-interest, unchecked greed and murder. Conrad was in the Congo in the late 19th century when the Belgian monarch King Leopold, in the name of Western civilization and anti-slavery, was plundering the country. The Belgian occupation resulted in the death by disease, starvation and murder of some 10 million Congolese. Conrad understood what we did to others in the name of civilization and progress.

And it is Conrad, as our society unravels internally and plows ahead in the costly, morally repugnant and self-defeating wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, whom we do well to heed.

This theme of our corruptibility is central to Conrad. In his short story “An Outpost of Progress” he writes of two white traders, Carlier and Kayerts, who are sent to a remote trading station in the Congo. The mission is endowed with a great moral purpose—to export European “civilization” to Africa. But the boredom and lack of constraints swiftly turn the two men, like our mercenaries and soldiers and Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, into savages. They trade slaves for ivory. They get into a feud over dwindling food supplies and Kayerts shoots and kills his unarmed companion Carlier.

“They were two perfectly insignificant and incapable individuals,” Conrad wrote of Kayerts and Carlier, “whose existence is only rendered possible through high organization of civilized crowds. Few men realize that their life, the very essence of their character, their capabilities and their audacities, are only the expression of their belief in the safety of their surroundings. The courage, the composure, the confidence; the emotions and principles; every great and every insignificant thought belongs not to the individual but to the crowd; to the crowd that believes blindly in the irresistible force of its institutions and its morals, in the power of its police and of its opinion. But the contact with pure unmitigated savagery, with primitive nature and primitive man, brings sudden and profound trouble into the heart. To the sentiment of being alone of one’s kind, to the clear perception of the loneliness of one’s thoughts, of one’s sensations—to the negation of the habitual, which is safe, there is added the affirmation of the unusual, which is dangerous; a suggestion of things vague, uncontrollable, and repulsive, whose discomposing intrusion excites the imagination and tries the civilized nerves of the foolish and the wise alike.”

The Managing Director of the Great Civilizing Company—for as Conrad notes “civilization” follows trade—arrives by steamer at the end of the story. He is not met at the dock by his two agents. He climbs the steep bank to the trading station with the captain and engine driver behind him. The director finds Kayerts, who, after the murder, committed suicide by hanging himself by a leather strap from a cross that marked the grave of the previous station chief. Kayerts’ toes are a couple of inches above the ground. His arms hang stiffly down “… and, irreverently, he was putting out a swollen tongue at his Managing Director.”

Conrad saw cruelty as an integral part of human nature. This cruelty arrives, however, in different forms. Stable, industrialized societies, awash in wealth and privilege, can construct internal systems that mask this cruelty, although it is nakedly displayed in their imperial outposts. We are lulled into the illusion in these zones of safety that human beings can be rational.

The “war on terror,” the virtuous rhetoric about saving the women in Afghanistan from the Taliban or the Iraqis from tyranny, is another in a series of long and sordid human campaigns of violence carried out in the name of a moral good.

Those who attempt to mend the flaws in the human species through force embrace a perverted idealism. Those who believe that history is a progressive march toward human perfectibility, and that they have the moral right to force this progress on others, no longer know what it is to be human. In the name of the noblest virtues they sink to the depths of criminality and moral depravity. This self-delusion comes to us in many forms. It can be wrapped in the language of Western civilization, democracy, religion, the master race, Liberté, égalité, fraternité, the worker’s paradise, the idyllic agrarian society, the new man or scientific rationalism. The jargon is varied. The dark sentiment is the same.

Conrad understood how Western civilization and technology lend themselves to inhuman exploitation. He had seen in the Congo the barbarity and disdain for human life that resulted from a belief in moral advancement. He knew humankind’s violent, primeval lusts. He knew how easily we can all slip into states of extreme depravity.

“Man is a cruel animal,” he wrote to a friend. “His cruelty must be organized. Society is essentially criminal,—or it wouldn’t exist. It is selfishness that saves everything,—absolutely everything,—everything that we abhor, everything that we love.”

Conrad rejected all formulas or schemes for the moral improvement of the human condition. Political institutions, he said, “whether contrived by the wisdom of the few or the ignorance of the many, are incapable of securing the happiness of mankind.”

He wrote “international fraternity may be an object to strive for … but that illusion imposes by its size alone. Franchement, what would you think of an attempt to promote fraternity amongst people living in the same street, I don’t even mention two neighboring streets.”

He bluntly told the pacifist Bertrand Russell, who saw humankind’s future in the rise of international socialism, that it was “the sort of thing to which I cannot attach any definite meaning. I have never been able to find in any man’s book or any man’s talk anything convincing enough to stand up for a moment against my deep-seated sense of fatality governing this man-inhabited world.”

Russell (left) said of Conrad: “I felt, though I do not know whether he would have accepted such an image, that he thought of civilized and morally tolerable human life as a dangerous walk on a thin crust of barely cooled lava which at any moment might break and let the unwary sink into fiery depths.”

Conrad’s novel “Heart of Darkness” ripped open the callous heart of civilized Europe. The great institutions of European imperial powers and noble ideals of European enlightenment, as Conrad saw in the Congo, were covers for rapacious greed, exploitation and barbarity. Kurtz is the self-deluded megalomaniac ivory trader in “Heart of Darkness” who ends by planting the shriveled heads of murdered Congolese on pikes outside his remote trading station. But Kurtz is also highly educated and refined.

Conrad describes him as an orator, writer, poet, musician and the respected chief agent of the ivory company’s Inner Station. He is “an emissary of pity, and science, and progress.” Kurtz was a universal genius” and “a very remarkable person.” He is a prodigy, at once gifted and multi-talented. He went to Africa fired by noble ideals and virtues. He ended his life as a self-deluded tyrant who thought he was a god.

“His mother was half-English, his father was half-French,” Conrad wrote of Kurtz. “All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz; and by-the-by I learned that, most appropriately, the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs had entrusted him with the making of a report, for its future guidance. … He began with the argument that we whites, from the point of development we had arrived at, ‘must necessarily appear to them [savages] in the nature of supernatural beings—we approach them with the might as of a deity,’ and so on, and so on. ‘By the simple exercise of our will we can exert a power for good practically unbounded,’ etc., etc. From that point he soared and took me with him. The peroration was magnificent, though difficult to remember, you know. It gave me the notion of an exotic Immensity ruled by an august Benevolence. It made me tingle with enthusiasm. This was the unbounded power of eloquence—of words—of burning noble words. There were no practical hints to interrupt the magic current of phrases, unless a kind of note at the foot of the last page, scrawled evidently much later, in an unsteady hand, may be regarded as the exposition of a method. It was very simple, and at the end of that moving appeal to every altruistic sentiment it blazed at you, luminous and terrifying, like a flash of lightning in a serene sky: ‘Exterminate all the brutes!’

*Joseph Conrad (born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski  is regarded as one of the great novelists in English, although he did not speak the language fluently until he was in his twenties (and then always with a marked Polish accent). He wrote stories and novels, predominantly with a nautical setting, that depict trials of the human spirit by the demands of duty and honour. Conrad was a master prose stylist who brought a distinctly non-English tragic sensibility into English literature[ While some of his works have a strain of romanticism, he is viewed as a precursor of modernist literature. His narrative style and anti-heroic characters have influenced many authors.–wikipedia

Iran at a Crossroads

September 30, 2011

Iran at a Crossroads

By Kamran Bokhari (09-27-11)

Geopolitically, a trip to Iran could not come at a better time. Iran is an emerging power seeking to exploit the vacuum created by the departure of U.S. troops from Iraq, which is scheduled to conclude in a little more than three months. Tehran also plays a major role along its eastern border, where Washington is seeking a political settlement with the Taliban to facilitate a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The Islamic republic simultaneously is trying to steer popular unrest in the Arab world in its favor. That unrest in turn has significant implications for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an issue in which Iran has successfully inserted itself over the years. The question of the U.S.-Iranian relationship also looms — does accommodation or confrontation lie ahead? At the same time, the Iranian state — a unique hybrid of Shiite theocracy and Western republicanism — is experiencing intense domestic power struggles.

This is the geopolitical context in which I arrived at Imam Khomeini International airport late September 16. Along with several hundred foreign guests, I had been invited to attend a September 17-18 event dubbed the “Islamic Awakening” conference, organized by the office of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Given the state of Iranian-Western ties and my position as a senior analyst with a leading U.S.-based private intelligence company, the invitation came as surprise.

With some justification, Tehran views foreign visitors as potential spies working to undermine Iranian national security. The case of the American hikers jailed in Iran (two of whom were released the day of my return to Canada) provided a sobering example of tourism devolving into accusations of espionage.

Fortunately for me, STRATFOR had not been placed on the list of some 60 Western organizations (mostly American and British think tanks and civil society groups) banned as seditious in early 2010 following the failed Green Movement uprising. Still, the Iranian regime is well aware of our views on Iranian geopolitics.

In addition to my concerns about how Iranian authorities would view me, I also worried about how attending a state-sponsored event designed to further Iranian geopolitical interests where many speakers heavily criticized the United States and Israel would look in the West. In the end, I set my trepidations aside and opted for the trip.

Geopolitical Observations in Tehran

STRATFOR CEO and founder George Friedman has written of geopolitical journeys, of how people from diverse national backgrounds visiting other countries see places in very different ways. In my case, my Pakistani heritage, American upbringing, Muslim religious identity and Canadian nationality allowed me to navigate a milieu of both locals and some 700 delegates of various Arab and Muslim backgrounds. But the key was in the way STRATFOR trains its analysts to avoid the pitfall that many succumb to — the blurring of what is really happening with what we may want to see happen.

The foreigner arriving in Iran immediately notices that despite 30 years of increasingly severe sanctions, the infrastructure and systems in the Islamic republic appear fairly solid. As a developing country and an international pariah, one would expect infrastructure along the lines of North Korea or Cuba. But Iran’s construction, transportation and communications infrastructure shares more in common with apartheid-era South Africa, and was largely developed indigenously.

Also notable was the absence of any visible evidence of a police state. Considering the state’s enormous security establishment and the recent unrest surrounding the Green Movement, I expected to see droves of elite security forces. I especially expected this in the northern districts of the capital, where the more Westernized segment of society lives and where I spent a good bit of time walking and sitting in cafes.

Granted, I didn’t stay for long and was only able to see a few areas of the city to be able to tell, but the only public display of opposition to the regime was “Death to Khamenei” graffiti scribbled in small letters on a few phone booths on Vali-e-Asr Avenue in the Saadabad area. I saw no sign of Basij or Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps personnel patrolling the streets, only the kind of police presence one will find in many countries.

This normal security arrangement gave support to STRATFOR’s view from the very beginning that the unrest in 2009 was not something the regime couldn’t contain. As we wrote then and I was able to see firsthand last week, Iran has enough people who — contrary to conventional wisdom — support the regime, or at the very least do not seek its downfall even if they disagree with its policies.

I saw another sign of support for the Islamic republic a day after the conference ended, when the organizers arranged a tour of the mausoleum of the republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. We visited the large complex off a main highway on the southern end of town on a weekday; even so, numerous people had come to the shrine to pay their respects — several with tears in their eyes as they prayed at the tomb.

Obviously, the intensity of religious feelings varies in Iran, but a significant stratum of the public remains deeply religious and still believes in the national narrative of the revolutionary republic. This fact does not get enough attention in the Western media and discourse, clouding foreigners’ understanding of Iran and leading to misperceptions of an autocratic clergy clinging to power only by virtue of a massive security apparatus.

In the same vein, I had expected to see stricter enforcement of religious attire on women in public after the suppression of the Green Movement. Instead, I saw a light-handed approach on the issue. Women obeyed the requirement to cover everything but their hands and faces in a variety of ways. Some women wore the traditional black chador. Others wore long shirts and pants and scarves covering their heads. Still others were dressed in Western attire save a scarf over their head, which was covering very little of their hair.

The dress code has become a political issue in Iran, especially in recent months in the context of the struggle between conservative factions. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has encountered growing opposition from both pragmatic and ultraconservative forces, has come under criticism from clerics and others for alleged moral laxity when it comes to female dress codes. Even so, the supreme leader has not moved to challenge Ahmadinejad on this point.

Ahmadinejad and the Clerical-Political Divide

In sharp contrast with his first term, Ahmadinejad — the most ambitious and assertive president since the founding of the Islamic republic in 1979 — has been trying to position himself as the pragmatist in his second term while his opponents come out looking like hard-liners. In recent months his statements have become less religiously informed, though they have retained their nationalist and radical anti-Western tone.

For example, his speech at the conclusion of the second day of the conference on the theme of the event, Islamic Awakening, was articulated in non-religious language. This stood in sharp contrast to almost every other speaker. Ahmadinejad spoke of recent Arab unrest in terms of a struggle for freedom, justice and emancipation for oppressed peoples, while his criticism of the United States and Israel was couched in terms of how the two countries’ policies were detrimental to global peace as opposed to the raw ideological vitriol that we have seen in the not too distant past.

But while Iran’s intra-elite political struggles complicate domestic and foreign policymaking, they are not about to bring down the Islamic republic — at least not anytime soon. In the longer term, the issue at the heart of all disputes — that of shared governance by clerics and politicians — does pose a significant challenge to the regime. This tension has existed throughout the nearly 32-year history of the Islamic republic, and it will continue to be an issue into the foreseeable future as Iran focuses heavily on the foreign policy front.

Iran’s Regional Ambitions

In fact, the conference was all about Iran’s foreign policy ambitions to assume intellectual and geopolitical leadership of the unrest in the Arab world. Iran is well aware that it is in competition with Turkey over leadership for the Middle East and that Ankara is in a far better position than Iran economically, diplomatically and religiously as a Sunni power. Nevertheless, Iran is trying to position itself as the champion of the Arab masses who have risen up in opposition to autocratic regimes. The Iranian view is that Turkey cannot lead the region while remaining aligned with Washington and that Saudi Arabia’s lack of enthusiasm for the uprisings works in Tehran’s favor.

The sheer number of Iranian officials who are bilingual (fluent in Persian and Arabic) highlights the efforts of Tehran to overcome the ethno-linguistic geopolitical constraints it faces as a Persian country trying to operate in a region where most Muslim countries are Arab. While its radical anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli position has allowed it to circumvent the ethnic factor and attract support in the Arab and Muslim worlds, its Shiite sectarian character has allowed its opponents in Riyadh and elsewhere to restrict Iranian regional influence. In fact, Saudi Arabia remains a major bulwark against Iranian attempts expand its influence across the Persian Gulf and into Arabian Peninsula, as has been clear by the success that the Saudis have had in containing the largely Shiite uprising in Bahrain against the country’s Sunni monarchy.

Even so, Iran has developed some close relations across the sectarian divide, something obvious from the foreign participants invited to the conference. Thus in addition to the many Shiite leaders from Lebanon and Iraq and other parts of the Islamic world, the guest list included deputy Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzook; Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) chief Ramadan Abdullah Shallah; a number of Egyptian religious, political, intellectual and business notables; the chief adviser to Sudanese President Omar al Bashir as well as the leader of the country’s main opposition party, Sadiq al-Mahdi; a number of Sunni Islamist leaders from Pakistan and Afghanistan, including former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani whom I had the opportunity of speaking with only two days before he was assassinated in Kabul; and the head of Malaysia’s main Islamist group, PAS, which runs governments in a few states — just to name a few.

Tehran has had much less success in breaching the ideological chasm, something evidenced by the dearth of secular political actors at the conference. Its very name, Islamic Awakening, was hardly welcoming to secularists. It also did not accurately reflect the nature of the popular agitation in the Arab countries, which is not being led by forces that seek revival of religion. The Middle East could be described as experiencing a political awakening, but not a religious awakening given that Islamist forces are latecomers to the cause.

A number of my hosts asked me what I thought of the conference, prompting me to address this conceptual discrepancy. I told them that the name Islamic Awakening only made sense if one was referring the Islamic world, but that even this interpretation was flawed as the current unrest has been limited to Arab countries.

While speaker after speaker pressed for unity among Muslim countries and groups in the cause of revival and the need to support the Arab masses in their struggle against autocracy, one unmistakable tension was clear. This had to do with Syria, the only state in the Arab world allied with Iran. A number of speakers and members of the audience tried to criticize the Syrian regime’s efforts to crush popular dissent, but the discomfort this caused was plain. Syria has proven embarrassing for Iran and even groups like Hezbollah, Hamas and PIJ, which are having a hard time reconciling their support for the Arab unrest on one hand and supporting the Syrian regime against its dissidents on the other.

The Road Ahead

Attending this conference allowed me to meet and observe many top Iranian civil and military officials and the heads of Arab and other Muslim non-state actors with varying degree of relationships with Tehran. Analyzing them from a distance one tends to dismiss their ideology and statements as rhetoric and propaganda. Some of what they say is rhetoric, but beneath the rhetoric are also convictions.

We in the West often expect Iran to succumb to international pressure, seek rehabilitation in the international community and one day become friendly with the West. We often talk of a U.S.-Iranian rapprochement, but at a strategic level, the Iranian leadership has other plans.

While Iran would like normalized relations with Washington and the West, it is much more interested in maintaining its independence in foreign policy matters, not unlike China’s experience since establishing relations with the United States. As one Iranian official told me at the conference, when Iran re-establishes ties with the United States, it doesn’t want to behave like Saudi Arabia or to mimic Turkey under the Justice and Development Party.

Whether or not Iran will achieve its goals and to what extent remains unclear. The combination of geography, demography and resources means Iran will remain at the center of an intense geopolitical struggle, and I hope for further opportunities to observe these developments firsthand.

Read more: Geopolitical Journey: Iran at a Crossroads | STRATFOR

A Free Lunch for America

September 29, 2011

A Free Lunch for America

by J. Bradford DeLong


Former US Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers (left) had a good line at the International Monetary Fund meetings this year: governments, he said, are trying to treat a broken ankle when the patient is facing organ failure. Summers was criticizing Europe’s focus on the second-order issue of Greece while far graver imbalances – between the EU’s north and south, and between reckless banks’ creditors and governments that failed to regulate properly – worsen with each passing day.

But, on the other side of the Atlantic, Americans have no reason to feel smug. Summers could have used the same metaphor to criticize the United States, where the continued focus on the long-run funding dilemmas of social insurance is sucking all of the oxygen out of efforts to deal with America’s macroeconomic and unemployment crisis.

The US government can currently borrow for 30 years at a real (inflation-adjusted) interest rate of 1% per year. Suppose that the US government were to borrow an extra $500 billion over the next two years and spend it on infrastructure – even unproductively, on projects for which the social rate of return is a measly 25% per year. Suppose that – as seems to be the case – the simple Keynesian government-expenditure multiplier on this spending is only two.

In that case, the $500 billion of extra federal infrastructure spending over the next two years would produce $1 trillion of extra output of goods and services, generate approximately seven million person-years of extra employment, and push down the unemployment rate by two percentage points in each of those years. And, with tighter labor-force attachment on the part of those who have jobs, the unemployment rate thereafter would likely be about 0.1 percentage points lower in the indefinite future.

The impressive gains don’t stop there. Better infrastructure would mean an extra $20 billion a year of income and social welfare. A lower unemployment rate into the future would mean another $20 billion a year in higher production. And half of the extra $1 trillion of goods and services would show up as consumption goods and services for American households.

In sum, on the benefits side of the equation: more jobs now, $500 billion of additional consumption of goods and services over the next two years, and then a $40 billion a year flow of higher incomes and production each year thereafter. So, what are the likely costs of an extra $500 billion in infrastructure spending over the next two years?

For starters, the $500 billion of extra government spending would likely be offset by $300 billion of increased tax collections from higher economic activity. So the net result would be a $200 billion increase in the national debt. American taxpayers would then have to pay $2 billion a year in real interest on that extra national debt over the next 30 years, and then pay off or roll over the entire $200 billion.

The $40 billion a year of higher economic activity would, however, generate roughly $10 billion a year in additional tax revenue. Using some of it to pay the real interest on the debt and saving the rest would mean that when the bill comes due, the tax-financed reserves generated by the healthier economy would be more than enough to pay off the additional national debt.

In other words, taxpayers win, because the benefits from the healthier economy would more than compensate for the costs of servicing the higher national debt, enabling the government to provide more services without raising tax rates. Households win, too, because they get to buy more and nicer things with their incomes. Companies win, because goods and workers get to use the improved infrastructure. The unemployed win, because some of them get jobs. And even bond investors win, because they get their money back, with the interest for which they contracted.

So what is not to like? Nothing. How, you might ask, can I say this? I am an economist – a professor of the Dismal Science, in which there are no free lunches, in which benefits are always balanced by costs, and in which stories that sound too good to be true almost inevitably are.

But there are two things different about today. First, the US labor market is failing so badly that expanded government spending carries no resource cost to society as a whole. Second, bond investors are being really stupid. In a world in which the S&P 500 has a 7% annual earnings yield, nobody should be happy holding a US government 30-year inflation-adjusted bond that yields 1% per year. That six-percentage-point difference in anticipated real yield is a measure of bond investors’ extraordinary and irrational panic. They are willing to pay 6% per year for “safety.”

Right now, however, the US government can manufacture “safety” out of thin air merely by printing bonds. The government, too, would then win by pocketing that 6% per year of value – though 30 years from now, bondholders who feel like winners now would most likely look at their portfolios’ extraordinarily poor performance of over 2011-2041 and rue their strategy.

J. Bradford DeLong, a former assistant secretary of the US Treasury, is Professor of Economics at the University of California at Berkeley and a research associate at the National Bureau for Economic Research.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011.

As Scorn for Vote Grows, Protests Surge Around Globe

September 29, 2011

As Scorn for Vote Grows, Protests Surge Around Globe

by Nicholas Kulish

Published: September 27, 2011

MADRID — Hundreds of thousands of disillusioned Indians cheer a rural activist on a hunger strike. Israel reels before the largest street demonstrations in its history. Enraged young people in Spain and Greece take over public squares across their countries.

Their complaints range from corruption to lack of affordable housing and joblessness, common grievances the world over. But from South Asia to the heartland of Europe and now even to Wall Street, these protesters share something else: wariness, even contempt, toward traditional politicians and the democratic political process they preside over.

They are taking to the streets, in part, because they have little faith in the ballot box. “Our parents are grateful because they’re voting,” said Marta Solanas, 27, referring to older Spaniards’ decades spent under the Franco dictatorship. “We’re the first generation to say that voting is worthless.”

Economics have been one driving force, with growing income inequality, high unemployment and recession-driven cuts in social spending breeding widespread malaise. Alienation runs especially deep in Europe, with boycotts and strikes that, in London and Athens, erupted into violence.

But even in India and Israel, where growth remains robust, protesters say they so distrust their country’s political class and its pandering to established interest groups that they feel only an assault on the system itself can bring about real change.

Young Israeli organizers repeatedly turned out gigantic crowds insisting that their political leaders, regardless of party, had been so thoroughly captured by security concerns, ultra-Orthodox groups and other special interests that they could no longer respond to the country’s middle class.

In the world’s largest democracy, Anna Hazare, an activist, starved himself publicly for 12 days until the Indian Parliament capitulated to some of his central demands on a proposed anti-corruption measure to hold public officials accountable.

“We elect the people’s representatives so they can solve our problems,” said Sarita Singh, 25, among the thousands who gathered each day at Ramlila Maidan, where monsoon rains turned the grounds to mud but protesters waved Indian flags and sang patriotic songs.

“But that is not actually happening. Corruption is ruling our country.” Increasingly, citizens of all ages, but particularly the young, are rejecting conventional structures like parties and trade unions in favor of a less hierarchical, more participatory system modeled in many ways on the culture of the Web.

In that sense, the protest movements in democracies are not altogether unlike those that have rocked authoritarian governments this year, toppling longtime leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Protesters have created their own political space online that is chilly, sometimes openly hostile, toward traditional institutions of the elite.

The critical mass of wiki and mapping tools, video and social networking sites, the communal news wire of Twitter and the ease of donations afforded by sites like PayPal makes coalitions of like-minded individuals instantly viable.

“You’re looking at a generation of 20- and 30-year-olds who are used to self-organizing,” said Yochai Benkler, a director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. “They believe life can be more participatory, more decentralized, less dependent on the traditional models of organization, either in the state or the big company. Those were the dominant ways of doing things in the industrial economy, and they aren’t anymore.”

Yonatan Levi, 26, called the tent cities that sprang up in Israel “a beautiful anarchy.” There were leaderless discussion circles like Internet chat rooms, governed, he said, by “emoticon” hand gestures like crossed forearms to signal disagreement with the latest speaker, hands held up and wiggling in the air for agreement — the same hand signs used in public assemblies in Spain.

There were free lessons and food, based on the Internet conviction that everything should be available without charge. Someone had to step in, Mr. Levi said, because “the political system has abandoned its citizens.”

The rising disillusionment comes 20 years after what was celebrated as democratic capitalism’s final victory over communism and dictatorship. In the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, a consensus emerged that liberal economics combined with democratic institutions represented the only path forward.

That consensus, championed by scholars like Francis Fukuyama in his book “The End of History and the Last Man,” has been shaken if not broken by a seemingly endless succession of crises — the Asian financial collapse of 1997, the Internet bubble that burst in 2000, the sub prime crisis of 2007-8 and the continuing European and American debt crisis — and the seeming inability of policy makers to deal with them or cushion their people from the shocks.

Frustrated voters are not agitating for a dictator to take over. But they say they do not know where to turn at a time when political choices of the cold war era seem hollow. “Even when capitalism fell into its worst crisis since the 1920s there was no viable alternative vision,” said the British left-wing author Owen Jones.

Protests in Britain exploded into lawlessness last month. Rampaging youths smashed store windows and set fires in London and beyond, using communication systems like BlackBerry Messenger to evade the Police. They had savvy and technology, Mr. Jones said, but lacked a belief that the political system represented their interests. They also lacked hope.

“The young people who took part in the riots didn’t feel they had a future to risk,” he said. In Spain, walloped by the developed world’s highest official rate of unemployment, at 21 percent, many have lost the confidence that politicians of any party can find a solution. Their demands are vague, but their cry for help is plaintive and determined. Known as indignados or the outraged, they block traffic, occupy squares and gather for teach-ins.

Ms. Solanas, an unemployed online journalist, was part of the core group of protesters who in May occupied the Puerta del Sol, a public square in Madrid, the capital, touching off a nationwide protest. That night she and some friends started the Twitter account @acampadasol, or “Camp Sol,” which now has nearly 70,000 followers.

While the Spanish and Israeli demonstrations were peaceful, critics have raised concerns over the urge to bypass representative institutions. In India, Mr. Hazare’s crusade to “fast unto death” unless Parliament enacted his anti-corruption law struck some supporters as self-sacrifice. Many opponents viewed his tactics as undemocratic blackmail.

Hundreds of thousands of people turned out last month in New Delhi to vent a visceral outrage at the state of Indian politics. One banner read, “If your blood is not boiling now, then your blood is not blood!” The campaign by Mr. Hazare, 74, was intended to force Parliament to consider his anti corruption legislation instead of a weaker alternative put forth by the government.

Parliament unanimously passed a resolution endorsing central pieces of his proposal, and lawmakers are expected to approve an anti-corruption measure in the next session. Mr. Hazare’s anti corruption campaign tapped a deep chord with the public precisely because he was not a politician. Many voters feel that Indian democracy, and in particular the major parties, the Congress Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, have become unresponsive and captive to interest groups. For almost a year, India’s news media and government auditors have exposed tawdry government scandals involving billions of dollars in graft.

Many of the protesters following the man in the white Gandhian cap known as a topi were young and middle class, fashionably dressed and carrying the newest smart phones. Ms. Singh was born in a village and is attending a university in New Delhi. Yet she is anxious about her future and wants to know why her parents go days without power. “We don’t get electricity for 18 hours a day,” she said. “This is corruption. Electricity is our basic need. Where is the money going?”

Responding to shifts in voter needs is supposed to be democracy’s strength. These emerging movements, like many in the past, could end up being absorbed by traditional political parties, just as the Republican Party in the United States is seeking to benefit from the anti-establishment sentiment of Tea Party loyalists. Yet purists involved in many of the movements say they intend to avoid the old political channels.

The political left, which might seem the natural destination for the nascent movements now emerging around the globe, is compromised in the eyes of activists by the neo-liberal centrism of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. The old left remains wedded to trade unions even as they represent a smaller and smaller share of the work force. More recently, center-left participation in bailouts for financial institutions alienated former supporters who say the money should have gone to people instead of banks.

The entrenched political players of the post-cold-war old guard are struggling. In Japan, six Prime Ministers have stepped down in five years, as political paralysis deepens. The two major parties in Germany, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, have seen tremendous declines in membership as the Greens have made major gains, while Chancellor Angela Merkel has watched her authority erode over unpopular bailouts.

In many European countries the disappointment is twofold: in heavily indebted federal governments pulling back from social spending and in a European Union viewed as distant and undemocratic. Europeans leaders have dictated harsh austerity measures in the name of stability for the euro, the region’s common currency, rubber-stamped by captive and corrupt national politicians, protesters say.

“The biggest crisis is a crisis of legitimacy,” Ms. Solanas said. “We don’t think they are doing anything for us.” Unlike struggling Europe, Israel’s economy is a story of unusual success. It has grown from a sluggish state-dominated system to a market-driven high-tech powerhouse. But with wealth has come inequality. The protest organizers say the same small class of people who profited from government privatizations also dominates the major political parties. The rest of the country has bowed out of politics.

Mr. Levi, born on Degania, Israel’s first kibbutz, said the protests were not acts of anger but of reclamation, of a society hijacked by a class known in Hebrew as “hon veshilton,” meaning a nexus of money and politics. The rise of market forces produced a sense of public disengagement, he said, a feeling that the job of a citizen was limited to occasional trips to the polling places to vote.

“The political system has abandoned its citizens,” Mr. Levi said. “We have lost a sense of responsibility for one another.”

Ethan Bronner contributed reporting from Tel Aviv, and Jim Yardley from New Delhi.

A version of this article appeared in print on September 28, 2011, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: As Scorn for Vote Grows, Protests Surge Around Globe.

Memali: A Policeman Remembers

September 29, 2011

Memali: A Policeman Remembers

by Din Merican

I have just returned from the Royal Lake Club, Kuala Lumpur where I was at a Book Launch. I was given the honour to emcee the occasion.

Memali: A Policeman Remembers is written by YM Tunku Muszaffar Shah, who was the OCPD Baling. Kedah from 1981-1986. Tunku Zain Al-Abidin, the founder of Institute of Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS),launched Memali the book.

Tunku Muszaffar’s book is a first hand account of a tragedy that continues to this day to haunt the conscience of law abiding and peace loving citizens. It promises to be a good read.

Why did the Police enter the village without firearms even when Bukit Aman was told by local intelligence personnel that the villagers were armed with machette and parangs and were willing to die to protect the leader, Ustaz Ibrahim Mahmood aka Ibrahim Libya?

Why were Policemen being asked to subject themselves to stupid risks. Why did the top brass in Bukit Aman ignore local intelligence? Why was the arresting party instructed to withdraw if the villagers resisted? In the ensuing encounter on November 19, 1985, what went wrong?  18 Malaysians were killed including Ibrahim Libya who had been using the Islamic cause as a front to help a group of politicians to seize power. This book attempts to answer these questions and more.

In browsing through the book this morning after the launch, I read  the Afterword by Senator YM Tunku Abdul Aziz bin Tunku Ibrahim. I wish to highlight two issues.

One, it was common knowledge then and now that  (Tun) Musa Hitam was the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs responsible for internal security and public order. His order to avoid any spilling of blood but why was the order ignored by those “bemedalled armchair warriors” in Bukit Aman (Tunku Aziz)?

Yes, why? Tan Sri Amin Osman, then the Acting Inspector General of Police, should answer this question.  According to Tunku Aziz:

“[T]he Royal Malaysian Police leadership must live up to the core principle of policing, and that is to protect life and property. It must not allow itself to be used as a political tool and thereby prostitute and compromise its tradition values of service in the public interest…The Memali incident is a good example of what could go wrong when the Police allow themselves to take operational orders from politicians. Policing and politics somehow do not mix well. They make stranger bedfellows.”(p.157)

Two, where was (Tun) Dr. Mahathir, a Kedahan admired by his country folks, when the Memali tragedy happened. I thought he was abroad visiting some country , perhaps on  a study mission. Wrong.  According to Tunku Aziz:

 “… Musa Hitam had to carry the blame for the massacre at Memali. Mahathir, who once berated Israel for fighting its wars by proxy, was himself not averse to letting others do the  dirty work for him. Mahathir the maverick is well known for his disappearing acts whenever an unpopular decision had  to be implemented.

On this particular occasion, it was put about at his behest that he was not in the country. He was in the country and was apprised  of developments by Musa Hitam and Mohamad Amin. Both pleaded with him not to leave on his official visit to China as the security and public order situation in Memali was looking decidedly dicey and dangerous.He was reminded by Musa that Kedah was, after all, his home state. Mahathir insisted that he had to go because the Chinese had made arrangements to receive him. So much for his sense of his public duty. When it came to getting out of a sticky situation, he knew all the dodges.”(p.156)

pg 156, Memali: A Policeman Remembers by Tunku Muszaffar Shah Bin Tunku Ibrahim.

After 26 years it is timely to reflect on Memali and come out with an unbiased account of the tragedy. The ball is in the government’s court.

September 29, 2011

OCPD:Bukit Aman made poor decisions in Memali

by Andrew Ong@
Sep 29, 11

A former district Police Chief involved in the Memali incident suggested that Bukit Aman national Police Headquarters had made poor decisions in its bid to arrest so-called militant PAS leader Ibrahim Mahmood, better known as Ibrahim Libya.NONEFormer Baling district police chief Tunku Muszaffar Shah Tunku Ibrahim (left), in his book ‘Memali: A Policeman Remembers‘, said the poor decision-making was the result of political interference and underestimation of the tenacity of Ibrahim’s followers. The bloody incident on Nov 19, 1985 resulted in the death of Ibrahim, 13 of his followers and four police personnel, after a second botched attempt to arrest him under the Internal Security Act (ISA) 1960.Muszaffar wrote that the top officers in Bukit Aman should never take orders from their “political masters” and reject requests that are not in line with police norms or procedures.

“The discretion and action of the police as to how they would go about doing their duty should be according to prevailing ground situations,” he wrote.

Musa Hitam’s Order

At the time, the Police were under the charge of Musa Hitam in his capacity as Home Minister. Dr Mahathir Mohamad was then the Prime Minister during the incident.

According to the White Paper tabled in Parliament in February 1986, the government justified attempts to arrest Ibrahim under the ISA by accusing him of establishing the Islamic Revolutionary Movement which aims to topple the federal government by force.

NONEAlthough Muszaffar did not document any examples of political interference, he did note that Musa had issued specific orders during the first botched arrest attempt on September 2, 1984.

In the book, Muszaffar said Musa had ordered Bukit Aman to ensure that the arresting party did not use force when arresting Ibrahim and withdraw should they encounter resistence.

Led by the district special branch chief, the arresting party went to Ibrahim’s home in Kampung Charok Puteh at 2.45am on that day, but withdrew after they were met by about a dozen people armed with sharpened bamboo poles and other weapons.

According to then Ibrahim follower Muhamad Yusof Husin’s account of the incident, which forms a chapter of the book, the botched first arrest attempt led to followers deciding to guard him from arrest.

Educating future commanders

Muszaffar also criticised then Bukit Aman leaders, including the then-acting Inspector-General of Police (IGP), who was not named, for underestimating the resistance which Ibrahim’s supporters would put up.

Attempts by a large police delegation to arrest Ibrahim at his home in November 1985 saw supporters attacking the police with firearms and sharp weapons, before the charismatic preacher was killed.

In the book, he described such superior officers as “armchair generals” who saw it fit to arrest Ibrahim at his bastion, knowing that his supporters were waiting and some of them had shotgun licences.

Speaking to reporters after the book launch at the Lake Club in Kuala Lumpur, Muszaffar said that his first-person account of the incident was an attempt to educate future police officers. He stressed that his account does not contradict the White Paper, which was also reproduced in full in his book.

“My book might upset some people but my purpose is to educate the young police commanders not to repeat the mistakes,” he said.

He said that he began the book project in 2009 after being heavily persuaded by his elder brother Tunku Aziz, who is the former vice-chairperson of Transparency International and now DAP vice-chairperson.

The Hudud Hubbub

September 29, 2011

The Hudud Hubbub

By Kapil []

Has PAS decided it is better to continue ruling a state or two than take a shot at running the country and maybe lose a state or two? It certainly looks like it when Nik Aziz Nik Mat reiterates his insistence on turning Kelantan into a medieval caliphate, complete with gibbets, stoning and amputations.

But why is the issue of implementation of hudud, which is after all a part of wider sharia, such an emotive issue that it has the potential to dramatically affect electoral fortunes? Why are the likes of Mahathir Mohamad, Chua Soi Lek, Nik Aziz, Lim Guan Eng and Karpal Singh so invested in this issue to issue rapid fire statements in this regard?

There are significant differences of opinion not only between PR and BN, but internally too between UMNO and the MCA, and between the DAP and PAS.Clearly while the image of Malaysian Islam is at stake, the issue goes beyond being an internal Muslim community debate.

At its core it is actually a debate between liberals and conservatives, tradition and modernity, regression and progress, and the state versus the individual.

While the concept and principles of hudud may be relatively benign, it is the eye-catching nature of the punishments that distort perception. Logically, is there a big difference in hanging people or beheading them, or between flogging people behind bars or in public?

The conflict arises because in the Western paradigm of progress, justice must shift broadly from a retributive to a rehabilitative paradigm. Therefore, the increasing anger in the developed world over the execution of convicts.

In a broad sense the liberal worldview sees itself as focused on individual liberty and as such humane, reformist and modern, and conservatives as barbaric, retributive and medieval.

The conservative worldview equally believes in the primacy of social good and that the modern condition of an absence of shared values is leading to a soulless world plagued by rising crime, greed and anarchy, the solution to which is in a return to original guiding principles that fostered social cohesion in an earlier time.

Therefore, the perception of the nature and impact of hudud depends on how well these differing worldviews mirror our own.

Conservatives, whether Muslim or otherwise, feel much more comfortable with the status quo than with change. In an era of rapid technological driven change and rising economic uncertainty, they look for reassurance in that which is perceived as timeless such as traditional occupations, traditional social and familial bonds, and traditional spirituality and religion.

For this group the answers to the problems of modernity are all around in a past based on a set of unchanging values, whether it is caning our children if they break the rules or in chopping off the hands of those who steal.

Liberals on the other hand want to deal with the uncertainties of modernity by advocating even more change. Broadly in Malaysia, this seems to boil down to the advocacy of reform in every sphere.

Reform the Police to reduce crime, reform the government to save the people and reform children through love. While we are at it why not just a general slogan of Reformasi?

But for a lot of everyday people the boundaries are not so clear cut. Especially in urban areas, people are forced to juggle the tight rope of both tradition and modernity.

The reaction to the very cosmopolitan demands of urban public life is often a retreat into tradition in our private lives. English at work and the vernacular at home, foreign holidays and balik kampung, respect for other races and faiths in public and looking down on them at home — these contradictions are real and present in what is termed Middle Malaysia.

This is why every politician recognises the power of this issue. Are rural voters who are comfortable with tradition more important the urban voters who have given up on the past in the quest for a brighter future? Or is it the large mass of people in between who handle these apparently contradictory philosophies quite easily in their daily lives the most important?

So advocating an Islamic state may be a no brainer in Kelantan, as is advocating developed nation status in 2020 in Kenny Hills, but what about ordinary people who want a combination of both?

For Middle Malaysia, the answer may lie in espousing the middle ground. Is there a way to hold on to what is best in Malaysian tradition, culture and faith in a way that does not make Malaysia look out of step with the developed world?

Is there an interpretation and vision of sharia law that does not make moderate Muslims and non-Muslims in Malaysia feel like they are beginning to resemble Afghanistan under the Taliban? Is there an interpretation of hudud within sharia that allows for a marriage between traditional Islamic jurisprudence with the modernist notion of punishment that emphasises rehabilitation rather than revenge?

Finally, the benchmark to measure the desirability of any kind of change to the justice system should be whether the change narrows the differences between Malaysians of different philosophical and spiritual persuasions instead of raising mistrust.

In this instance the Prime Minister seems to have gotten it right when he says the spirit of hudud is already present in Malaysian sharia law, without its extremes.

PAS, DAP and PKR and Others: Grow Up

September 28, 2011

PAS, DAP and PKR and Others: Grow Up

by Dr. Farish M. Noor

And so, as if Malaysians were not tired and jaded enough, the Hudud issue is back in the limelight in the country. It seems odd, to say the least, that an issue that dates back to the 1980s has been resurrected once again.

There are those who state that this time round it was not PAS that put the issue on the table, but that the Islamist party was merely responding to a challenge posed by its detractors (UMNO).

True though that may be, the fact is that PAS fell into the trap hook, line and sinker; and that as a result the deep ideological cleavages between PAS, PKR and DAP have come to the foreground once again.

This debate will never go away as it is a political debate, and as such will remain a political and politicised issue. To ask PAS to abandon the issue of Hudud and Shariah law is as odd as asking a Socialist party to abandon Socialism or a Conservative party to abandon Conservatism.

Islamism is, after all, the basis of PAS’s existence and why it came about, but perhaps the question can and should be re-framed thus: Granted that PAS is an Islamic party, how can it adapt and adopt its understanding of Islamism to suit the needs of the times?

What comes to mind is the Labour Party of Britain, and how it managed to come to power at last after five uninterrupted periods of rule under Margaret Thatcher and one term under John Major. For those of us living and working in the UK in the 1990s, it seemed as if the Labour Party was, by then, a relic of the past and that it ought to have been mothballed in some Museum of Natural History.

Yet the Labour party did re-bound, but only after some serious soul-searching and a heavy dose of realism and pragmatism that saw the demise of its old guard leaders like Neil Kinnock, Michael Foot, et. al. Under Tony Blair the Labour party was re-packaged and re-sold to the British electorate as ‘New Labour’ (which some might say was a case of old wine in new bottles, or new wine in old bottles.)

Tony Blair(right) and his advisers had, by then, realised that the social changes that had taken place in the UK were real, and that there were new constituencies to be catered to. They ultimately rejected the old Labour notion that political change had to come from a vanguard of the industrial working classes, and presented themselves as the Left alternative for the new urban middle-classes and professionals. This also meant abandoning once and for all the Labour party’s demand for the nationalisation of key national assets, and end of ‘envy taxes’ against the rich, and a more compromising attitude towards Capital.

Rightly or wrongly, the changes did pay off and Tony Blair did come to power in the end — but not without making serious and radical changes to the Labour party and its ideology.

Which raises the crucial question: to what extend does a political party have to make compromises and move to the mainstream middle-ground in order to be elected, or seen to be electable? Tony Blair’s reforms then were certainly not totally popular with the rank and file of the party, and he was also accused of selling out and compromising on some of the most fundamental tenets of Labour. But with hindsight, one might also argue that had these reforms not been undertaken, the party might never have come to power at all.

Which brings us to the present-day mess in Malaysia, and how the parties of the Pakatan Rakyat are floundering in a very public and embarrassing manner. One thing that can be said about the behaviour of PAS and DAP at least is that some degree of predictability has been institutionalised by now, rendering their behavior patterns as normalised.

We can say with some degree of certainty that if PAS was pushed on the questions of Islamic State, Hudud, and Shariah their response would be ‘yes’. We can also say with some certainty that if DAP is pushed on the question of Chinese vernacular schools it too would say ‘yes’.

But it is precisely because both parties will not compromise on the key red-button issues that directly affect their constituencies that we suspect that the Pakatan coalition is an instrumental one at best.

Hence the natural tendency to ask: What then, if they come to power? Continued protection and promotion of separate ethnic schools and limited Hudud law but only for/on Muslims? What sort of nation-building programme is this, and how does this diminish the apparent ethnic-linguistic-religious divide between the communities?

ALL the parties of Pakatan have to realise that grand-standing before their own constituencies is just wayang kulit and theatrics, and does little to educate the Malaysian public. Worse still, the predictability of their political behaviour and responses also means that one can easily manipulate these parties and get them to squabble among each other, as they are doing now, like puppets on a string. If they are really sincere about building this amorphous, nebulous multi-cultural Malaysia they seem to be talking about all the time, then ALL these parties have to realise that in coalition politics all actors have to make sacrifices and adjustments, and no-one should hog the limelight.

Furthermore parties like PAS should also remember that whatever ideological pyrotechnics they may employ may not necessarily translate into votes on polling day: In fact, if we were to look back at PAS’s history and its electoral performances, it would seem that PAS’s electoral performance has suffered whenever its own rhetoric reaches fever-pitch: In the early 1980s PAS’s rhetoric was decidedly revolutionary, with PAS leaders and writers even openly supporting the Iranian revolution and the Islamisation programme in Pakistan.

PAS leaders then engaged in what was called the ‘kafir-mengafir’ controversy, with men like Hadi Awang openly labeling the Islamic party’s opponents un-believers.This overheated rhetoric peaked with the Ibrahim Libya crisis, when the PAS leader Ibrahim Libya (left) was killed at the village of Memali in Baling,  Kedah.

Many PAS leaders then believed their cause to be just, and perhaps hoped that they would win big at the coming election as a result of the opposition they received from UMNO and the state security apparatus: But instead they lost, badly, and managed to secure only one miserable seat in Parliament, which effectively silenced the party for the next five years.

A similar outcome came about at the elections of 2004, when PAS had hoped to win big as it stood against UMNO that was then led by Abdullah Badawi. However in the years 2002-2003 PAS’s rhetoric had once again over-heated, as was made manifest at the ill-timed and ill-conceived demonstration in front of the US embassy in KL, in protest against the US-led invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The image of PAS members with banners proclaiming the “Taleban are our brothers” was an own-goal of gargantuan proportions, which reminded Malaysian voters that there were still such pro-Taliban elements within the Malaysian Islamic party, and that the demonised image of PAS was not some concocted media fiction.

To conclude on a pessimistic note that betrays my own irritation and frustration with all the politicians and political parties in this country, I can only ask that they think of the national interest for once, and less about their own ‘natural constituencies’.

Thus far we have been treated to a barrage of corruption scandals, slurs, abuse, threats, amateur heroics and all sorts of bongo-bongo nonsense that may be entertaining for some but not really constructive in dealing with real problems such as wage and income differentials, outflow of FDI, loss of competitiveness and the lingering worry about geo-strategic shifts and changes as Southeast Asia comes under the looming shadows of China, India and America.

Vainglorious talk and boasting about moral politics, grand visions and Hudud law do not really solve any of these problems — they merely add to the theatricality of our political culture which is fast becoming a joke to all. For heavens sake, politicians: Grow Up.

* Dr Farish A. Noor is a Senior Fellow at the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

Calling All Rebels

September 27, 2011

Calling All Rebels

By Chris Hedges (03-08-10)

There are no constraints left to halt America’s slide into a totalitarian capitalism. Electoral politics are a sham. The media have been debased and defanged by corporate owners. The working class has been impoverished and is now being plunged into profound despair. The legal system has been corrupted to serve corporate interests. Popular institutions, from labor unions to political parties, have been destroyed or emasculated by corporate power. And any form of protest, no matter how tepid, is blocked by an internal security apparatus that is starting to rival that of the East German secret police. The mounting anger and hatred, coursing through the bloodstream of the body politic, make violence and counter-violence inevitable. Brace yourself. The American empire is over. And the descent is going to be horrifying.

Those singled out as internal enemies will include people of color, immigrants, gays, intellectuals, feminists, Jews, Muslims, union leaders and those defined as “liberals.” They will be condemned as anti-American and blamed for our decline. The economic collapse, which remains mysterious and enigmatic to most Americans, will be pinned by demagogues and hatemongers on these hapless scapegoats. And the random acts of violence, which are already leaping up around the fringes of American society, will justify harsh measures of internal control that will snuff out the final vestiges of our democracy.

The corporate forces that destroyed the country will use the information systems they control to mask their culpability. The old game of blaming the weak and the marginal, a staple of despotic regimes, will empower the dark undercurrents of sadism and violence within American society and deflect attention from the corporate vampires that have drained the blood of the country.

“We are going to be poorer,” David Cay Johnston told me. Johnston was the tax reporter of The New York Times for 13 years and has written on how the corporate state rigged the system against us. He is the author of “Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense and Stick You With the Bill,” a book about hidden subsidies, rigged markets and corporate socialism. “Health care is going to eat up more and more of our income. We are going to have less and less for other things. We are going to have some huge disasters sooner or later caused by our failure to invest. Dams and bridges will break. Buildings will collapse. There are water mains that are 25 to 50 feet wide. There will be huge infrastructure disasters. Our intellectual resources are in decline. We are failing to educate young people and instill in them rigor. We are going to continue to pour money into the military. I think it is possible, I do not say it is probable, that we will have a revolution, a civil war that will see the end of the United States of America.”

“If we see the end of this country it will come from the right and our failure to provide people with the basic necessities of life,” said Johnston. “Revolutions occur when young men see the present as worse than the unknown future. We are not there. But it will not take a lot to get there. The politicians running for office who are denigrating the government, who are saying there are traitors in Congress, who say we do not need the IRS, this when no government in the history of the world has existed without a tax enforcement agency, are sowing the seeds for the destruction of the country.

A lot of the people on the right hate the United States of America. They would say they hate the people they are arrayed against. But the whole idea of the United States is that we criticize the government. We remake it to serve our interests. They do not want that kind of society. They reject, as Aristotle said, the idea that democracy is to rule and to be ruled in turns. They see a world where they are right and that is it. If we do not want to do it their way we should be vanquished. This is not the idea on which the United States was founded.”

It is hard to see how this can be prevented. The engines of social reform are dead. Liberal apologists, who long ago should have abandoned the Democratic Party, continue to make pathetic appeals to a tone-deaf corporate state and Barack Obama while the working and middle class are ruthlessly stripped of rights, income and jobs. Liberals self-righteously condemn imperial wars and the looting of the U.S. Treasury by Wall Street but not the Democrats who are responsible. And the longer the liberal class dithers and speaks in the bloodless language of policies and programs, the more hated and irrelevant it becomes.

No one has discredited American liberalism more than liberals themselves. And I do not hold out any hope for their reform. We have entered an age in which, as William Butler Yeats wrote, “the best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

“If we end up with violence in the streets on a large scale, not random riots, but insurrection and things break down, there will be a coup d’état from the right,” Johnston said. “We have already had an economic coup d’état. It will not take much to go further.”

How do we resist? How, if this descent is inevitable, as I believe it is, do we fight back? Why should we resist at all? Why not give in to cynicism and despair? Why not carve out as comfortable a niche as possible within the embrace of the corporate state and spend our lives attempting to satiate our private needs? The power elite, including most of those who graduate from our top universities and our liberal and intellectual classes, have sold out for personal comfort. Why not us?

The French moral philosopher Albert Camus (left) argued that we are separated from each other. Our lives are meaningless. We cannot influence fate. We will all die and our individual being will be obliterated. And yet Camus wrote that “one of the only coherent philosophical positions is revolt. It is a constant confrontation between man and his obscurity. It is not aspiration, for it is devoid of hope. That revolt is the certainty of a crushing fate, without the resignation that ought to accompany it.”

“A living man can be enslaved and reduced to the historic condition of an object,” Camus warned. “But if he dies in refusing to be enslaved, he reaffirms the existence of another kind of human nature which refuses to be classified as an object.”

The rebel, for Camus, stands with the oppressed—the unemployed workers being thrust into impoverishment and misery by the corporate state, the Palestinians in Gaza, the civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, the disappeared who are held in our global black sites, the poor in our inner cities and depressed rural communities, immigrants and those locked away in our prison system. And to stand with them does not mean to collaborate with parties, such as the Democrats, who can mouth the words of justice while carrying out acts of oppression. It means open and direct defiance.

The power structure and its liberal apologists dismiss the rebel as impractical and see the rebel’s outsider stance as counterproductive. They condemn the rebel for expressing anger at injustice. The elites and their apologists call for calm and patience. They use the hypocritical language of spirituality, compromise, generosity and compassion to argue that the only alternative is to accept and work with the systems of power.

The rebel, however, is beholden to a moral commitment that makes it impossible to stand with the power elite. The rebel refuses to be bought off with foundation grants, invitations to the White House, television appearances, book contracts, academic appointments or empty rhetoric. The rebel is not concerned with self-promotion or public opinion. The rebel knows that, as Augustine wrote, hope has two beautiful daughters, anger and courage—anger at the way things are and the courage to see that they do not remain the way they are. The rebel is aware that virtue is not rewarded. The act of rebellion defines itself.

“You do not become a ‘dissident’ just because you decide one day to take up this most unusual career,” Vaclav Havel said when he battled the communist regime in Czechoslovakia. “You are thrown into it by your personal sense of responsibility, combined with a complex set of external circumstances. You are cast out of the existing structures and placed in a position of conflict with them. It begins as an attempt to do your work well, and ends with being branded an enemy of society. … The dissident does not operate in the realm of genuine power at all. He is not seeking power. He has no desire for office and does not gather votes.

“He does not attempt to charm the public. He offers nothing and promises nothing. He can offer, if anything, only his own skin—and he offers it solely because he has no other way of affirming the truth he stands for. His actions simply articulate his dignity as a citizen, regardless of the cost.”

Those in power have disarmed the liberal class. They do not argue that the current system is just or good, because they cannot, but they have convinced liberals that there is no alternative. But we are not slaves. We have a choice. We can refuse to be either a victim or an executioner. We have the moral capacity to say no, to refuse to cooperate.

Any boycott or demonstration, any occupation or sit-in, any strike, any act of obstruction or sabotage, any refusal to pay taxes, any fast, any popular movement and any act of civil disobedience ignites the soul of the rebel and exposes the dead hand of authority. “There is beauty and there are the humiliated,” Camus wrote. “Whatever difficulties the enterprise may present, I should like never to be unfaithful either to the second or the first.”

“There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop,” Mario Savio said in 1964. “And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.”

The capacity to exercise moral autonomy, the capacity to refuse to cooperate, offers us the only route left to personal freedom and a life with meaning. Rebellion is its own justification.

Those of us who come out of the religious left have no quarrel with Camus. Camus is right about the absurdity of existence, right about finding worth in the act of rebellion rather than some bizarre dream of an afterlife or Sunday School fantasy that God rewards the just and the good. “Oh my soul,” the ancient Greek poet Pindar wrote, “do not aspire to immortal life, but exhaust the limits of the possible.”

We differ with Camus only in that we have faith that rebellion is not ultimately meaningless. Rebellion allows us to be free and independent human beings, but rebellion also chips away, however imperceptibly, at the edifice of the oppressor and sustains the dim flames of hope and love. And in moments of profound human despair these flames are never insignificant. They keep alive the capacity to be human.

We must become, as Camus said, so absolutely free that “existence is an act of rebellion.” Those who do not rebel in our age of totalitarian capitalism and who convince themselves that there is no alternative to collaboration are complicit in their own enslavement. They commit spiritual and moral suicide.

The Idea of Justice: A Review

September 27, 2011

Book Of The Week: The Idea of Justice, By Amartya Sen

Reviewed by Ziauddin Sardar (08-21-09)

Take three kids and a flute. Anne says the flute should be given to her because she is the only one who knows how to play it. Bob says the flute should be handed to him as he is so poor he has no toys to play with. Carla says the flute is hers because it is the fruit of her own labour. How do we decide between these three legitimate claims?

There are no institutional arrangements that can help us resolve this dispute in a universally accepted just manner. Conceptions of what constitutes a “just society”, argues the Nobel Prize-winning economist and philosopher Amartya Sen (right) in this majestic book, will not help us decide who should have the flute. A one-dimensional notion of reason is not much help either, for it does not provide us with a feasible method of arriving at a choice.

What really enables us to resolve the dispute between the three children is the value we attach to the pursuit of human fulfilment, removal of poverty, and the entitlement to enjoy the products of one’s own labour.

Who gets the flute depends on your philosophy of justice. Bob, the poorest, will have the immediate support of the economic egalitarian. The libertarian would opt for Carla. The utilitarian hedonist will bicker a bit but will eventually settle for Anne because she will get the maximum pleasure, as she can actually play the instrument. While all three decisions are based on rational arguments and correct within their own perspective, they lead to totally different resolutions.

Thus justice is not a monolithic ideal but a pluralistic notion with many dimensions. Yet Western philosophers have seen justice largely in singular, utopian terms. Hobbes, Locke and Kant, for example, wove their notions of justice around an imaginary “social contract” between the citizens and the state. A “just society” is produced through perfectly just state institutions and social arrangements and the right behaviour of the citizens.

Sen identifies two serious problems with this “arrangement focussed” approach. First, there is no reasoned agreement on the nature of a “just society”. Second, how would we actually recognise a “just society” if we saw one? Without some framework of comparison it is not possible to identify the ideal we need to pursue.

Furthermore, this approach is of no help in resolving basic issues of injustice. How would you reason, for example, that slavery was an intolerable injustice in a framework that concerned itself with right institutions and right behaviour? How would we ensure that well-established and cheaply producible drugs were available to the poor patients of Aids in developing countries? When faced with stark injustice, the contractual approach turns out to be both redundant and unfeasible.

Much of Sen’s criticism is directed towards the liberal philosopher John Rawls, whose 1971 book, A Theory of Justice, has acquired the status of a classic. Sen’s gentle and polite deconstruction of Rawls shows him to be rather shallow and irrelevant. Rawls’s approach, based on specific institutions that firmly anchor society, demand a single, explicit resolution to the principle of justice. Stalin had similar ideas.

Rawls is not just authoritarian but also elitist and Eurocentric. Just as Mill had excluded “the backward nations”, women and children from his Essay on Liberty, Rawls openly acknowledges that the world’s poor have no place in his theory of justice. Indeed, the very “idea of global justice” is dismissed by Rawls and his cohorts as totally irrelevant. Moreover, the kind of “reasonable person” needed to produce a just society is found only in democratic, Western societies.

Given the limitations of Rawls’s theory of justice, why has he been turned into a demi-god? Sen does not tackle this question. But a viable answer is provided by the classical Muslim philosopher al-Razi, who declared that “the acquisition of knowledge and the practice of justice” go hand in hand. Justice acquires meaning and relevance, al-Razi argued, within socially conscious epistemologies. The opposite is equally true.

Theories of justice that exclude, by definition, the poor or issues of global injustices only perpetuate injustice. The main function of Rawls’s theory of justice, it seems, is to maintain the status quo, where injustice is not just simply a part of the system, but the system itself. That’s exactly why he is force-fed to students of social sciences.

Sen’s alternative is a realisation-focused approach to justice which concentrates on the real behaviour of people and its actual outcomes. Taking a cue from “social choice theory”, he wants us to focus on removing injustices on which we can all rationally agree.

There is nothing we can do about people dying of starvation beyond anyone’s control. But we can choose to do something about injustices that emerge from a conscious “design of those wanting to bring about that outcome”.

I see two problems with this. The “we” who choose must include those who consciously perpetuate injustice in the first place – ruthless corporations, hedge-fund managers and the like. Moreover, design need not be conscious. It can, for example, be unconsciously intrinsic in the theory itself.

Indeed, theory does sometimes serve as an instrument of injustice. Think of free-market capitalism, along with its theoretical underpinnings, including the mathematical modelling of sub-prime derivatives, where huge profits for the few are produced from the misery of others. To do something about the injustices perpetuated by the dominant model of economy, we need to tackle the tyranny of the discipline of economics itself.

Reading The Idea of Justice is like attending a master class in practical reasoning. You can’t help noticing you are engaging with a great, deeply pluralistic, mind. There were times, however, when I felt a bit unfulfilled. For example, we are temptingly informed that classical Sanskrit has two words for justice: niti, organisational propriety and behavioural correctness; and nyaya, which stands for realised justice.

In the Indian context, the role of the institutions, rules and organisations have to be assessed in the broader and more inclusive perspective of the world as it actually emerges. We are also told of Mughal Emperor Akbar’s idea that justice should be based on rational endeavour. But this is not elaborated. I also wanted to see some comparatively material on Islamic, Chinese and Latin American ideas on justice.

But these quibbles apart, this is a monumental work. “When people across the world agitate to get more global justice”, Sen writes, “they are not clamouring for some kind of ‘minimal humanitarianism”‘. They are sensible enough to know that a “perfectly just” world is a utopian dream. All they want is “the elimination of some outrageously unjust arrangement to enhance global justice”.

Ziauddin Sardar is the author of Reading The Quran (2011)

Conan O’Brien at Dartmouth Commencement 2011

September 27, 2011

Conan O’Brien at Dartmouth College

Here is what I consider a very good commencement address delivered with humour and good taste by  Conan O’Brien, who The Washington Post has called “the most intelligent of the late-night comics” at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, USA last June. Comedian Conan graduated Magna Cum Laude (with great honour) from Harvard.

I think he made his points towards the end of his address when he talked about dealing with failure, and taking different paths in life.–Din Merican

Valedictory to the Seniors

by  President Jim Yong Kim

Esteemed guests, members of our Dartmouth family and, of course, women and men of our undergraduate and graduate programs in the great Class of 2011. Our gathering here today is truly a celebration—one similar in shape to those taking place at colleges and universities across our nation—but one that is nonetheless very special here on this timeless Green. It’s a tradition that connects you with generations of Dartmouth students past and generations to come. And as you all know, at Dartmouth we do traditions better than anywhere else in the world.

But today is more than merely a rite of passage. We come together to celebrate what Dartmouth is and what it has prepared you to do. We stand at the center of a unique place in higher education. Dartmouth has an abiding belief in the empowering qualities of the liberal arts. We believe that what you’ve learned during these past four years—to reason clearly, to think independently, to solve problems elegantly, and to communicate effectively—these things have done more than just prepare you for success in whatever profession you choose. They have prepared you, and yes, I’ll say it again, to make the world’s troubles your own and, more than that, to work to achieve their resolution.

Four years ago, the class we honor today was welcomed to this enduring institution by my predecessor, President Jim Wright. We’re pleased to have Jim with us here today. Jim, I want to thank you for all that you’ve done for Dartmouth in your extraordinary four decades here.

President Wright and I, and indeed the faculty, the Trustees, and staff of our great institution, share a strong belief in the power of a liberal arts education. The diversity of thought and experience that are core to such an education allow us to identify the great issues of our age, to develop the skills needed to tackle them, and to make a lifetime of contributions to shape a better, brighter future.

But that belief is not universally shared. We live in a time when the very idea of a post-secondary education is being questioned. Educators, economists, and dropout billionaires are among those arguing that most of today’s 18-year-olds shouldn’t bother attending college at all. The economic recession and the increasing cost of education are bringing even more people to this point of view. So too are the rapid technological advances of our time and the emphasis on specialized, practical, and vocational skills in the world of commerce and business.

The liberal arts, it seems, are under siege as more and more humanities, social science, and arts programs are being cut across the country. These higher education institutions pursue research dollars focused on the so-called “practical disciplines” and are beginning to neglect the liberal arts.

Let me be clear: At Dartmouth, we will continue to invest aggressively in the liberal arts as the foundation of the undergraduate experience. We will also continue to support and expand our research efforts. Without great scholarship and groundbreaking research programs, we would lose our place among the great institutions of higher education in the world. But even more importantly, we would lose our way.

Dartmouth pioneered the teacher-scholar model, where the hearts and minds of faculty and students connect in the creation of knowledge, in the development of innovative ideas and creative practices, and in working together in service to society. This deep personal connection is, I believe, the foundation for success, both for our undergraduates and for our graduate students. Indeed, the students here today from our professional and graduate programs are proof incarnate that Dartmouth combines the best of a liberal arts education with the best of a leading research institution.

John Kemeny, Dartmouth’s President through the 1970s, understood this dual purpose well. Perhaps better than anyone of his generation, President Kemeny foresaw the role that computers would play in our lives. Yet, he also believed that creativity and judgment were the preserve of the human mind, and he believed that nothing developed those faculties more than an education grounded in the liberal arts. Nothing, he argued, prepared students to “think of the questions we do not yet have answers to” better than a well-rounded education that encompasses literature and language, philosophy, history, mathematics, science and the social sciences.

Why is that so? How does taking a class in art history, or religion, or philosophy prepare you to be an engineer? It is, as the scholar Louis Menand wrote recently in The New Yorker, because a liberal education teaches you “things about the world and yourself that, if you do not learn them in college, you are unlikely to learn anywhere else.” Arthur Kleinman, the founding father of medical anthropology and a teacher of mine, recognized this in his own education. He describes his involvement in an interdisciplinary humanities program that brought together professors and undergraduates at Stanford in the early 1960s to study a single year, 1905, in the history of Europe.

Dr. Kleinman points to that class as one of the most important intellectual experiences of his life. It shaped his moral sensibility and his approach to caregiving in its widest sense, both in his life’s work as a psychiatrist and anthropologist and in caring for his late wife Joan during her struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.

That speaks to the value of an education in what President John Sloan Dickey so aptly described as the liberating arts—the basis for a vision of the whole that allows us to see connections, to collaborate across the spectrum of knowledge, and to bring different disciplines and capabilities to bear in the pursuit of innovation and improvement.

Your liberal arts education will have an enduring impact on each one of you and the world you occupy. What you have accomplished here at Dartmouth, individually and as part of our community, will enrich your lives and empower you to make the world a better place.

Members of the Class of 2011: Four years ago you chose Dartmouth and Dartmouth chose you. We have learned from each other. The experiences you take from here, the friendships that will endure and the bond you’ve forged with your alma mater—they will always be a part of your life. In that same way, you too will always be a part of Dartmouth. You have brought your passion and individuality to our classrooms, our libraries, our fields, and performance halls, and you have challenged us to do better.

Sometimes that passion compelled you to challenge policies and decisions. I’m glad you did. You made us think again. We know that as wonderful as Dartmouth is, we can make it better and you helped us to do so. We thank you for that.

More than ever before in human history, the world is in need of your talents. There is vital work waiting to be done and I expect great things of you.

Since I know that we all respond best to clear expectations, here is exactly what I expect of you:

  • More PhDs than the Class of 2010, more JDs than the Class of 2009, and more MDs than the Class of 2008;
  • A President of the United States, or a president of one of the other 115 democratic nations in the world;
  • A Nobel laureate and a poet laureate;
  • CEOs of two Fortune 500 companies and 42 start-up companies;
  • A Grammy, two Emmys, and three Olympic medals; and
  • A permanent successor to Jay Leno.

Finally, I expect every single one of you to become engaged, thoughtful, and compassionate citizens of this complex world. Please believe me—we have prepared you for that and so much more.

The only barrier to your success is the boldness of your vision and the grandness of your dreams. Think big and shoot for the stars, but keep your feet firmly planted on the ground.

In all that you do:

  • Take with you the special spirit of this place;
  • Hold on to your ideals;
  • Hold fast to the bonds formed on this Hanover Plain—if I’ve learned anything from my two years of ethnographic research among that wonderful tribe called Dartmouth alumni, it is that the friends you’ve made here are precisely the people who will stay with you and keep you happy and healthy for the rest of your lives.

Cherish always what President Ernest Martin Hopkins so aptly called the “sweetness” of the relationships that constitute this great family we call Dartmouth.

Congratulations and Godspeed.

The Many Sides of Malaysian Prime Minister: But Never A Regular Guy

September 27, 2011

The Many Sides of Malaysian Prime Minister: But  Never A Regular Guy

by  Ismail Dahlan, Malaysia Chronicle

Prime Minister Najib Razak was in Penang over the weekend. He was riding a bicycle. He rode it for seven kilometres. He did not fall off the bike. However, minister in attendance and Gerakan president Koh Tsu Koon did fall off his bike and hit his head.

Tension, stress, gas, whatever it was, that’s what happened to Tsu Koon. Maybe he was feeling dizzy because in Selangor, he finally said somehing with a milligram of truth in it. Wisely, he told his Gerakan colleagues not to waste time fighting for seats there because for sure, they won’t win!

“Therefore, I urge those who are not chosen to contest to have an open heart and fully support the chosen candidates,” words to remember from Tsu Koon!

The House of Najib shaken by clumsy maneuvers

Such a faux pas and this is why Najib is now mulling once again, should he really have the 13th General Election in November or next year in March or April. And no, this is not in jest. And no, Najib did not scold Tsu Koon for his unguarded tongue, not when he himself had bungled, fumbled and dropped the ball in the ‘hudud’ issue.

Yes, UMNO is in uproar and the supreme council is frowning at him. They much prefer his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin’s smarter reply, Umno supports hudud but this not the right time. Rather than Najib’s grand but silly vow, hudud will never take place in Malaysia!

So while in Penang, Najib put on a cheery smile and cycled to forget his troubles. He then told an anecdote about how he used to ride his bike from his house in Lake Gardens to the Tanglin Hospital for nasi lemak when he was young.

He did not sing : I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride it where it where I like. But he would have, if he thought it would help get your vote.

Bicycle, nasi lemak and also first ticket to ride

Najib would have you believe that he is a regular guy. He rode a bicycle like you did. He ate nasi lemak like you did, and do. Najib forgets that regular people, however, did not live in Lake Gardens when they were young; particularly not in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Nor do regular people live there now.

He shouldn’t have mentioned where he lived in his story. It spoils his act, which is, of course, precisely what it is, an act. He will need time to polish it.

Other parts of his act, of late, include making prank-calls to people; and saying, “cool”. This is to endear him to the younger voters, who, I suppose Najib’s researchers tell him, like a Prime Minister who plays pranks. While we are about it, we would advise him to add “dude” to his list of words.

In fact, Najib was never a regular person. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and would never have to worry about making a living. Najib is also not “cool”; no matter how many silly pranks his handlers think up for him.

Consider on Saturday in Perak, he admitted that for the the first time in his life, he sat on a bus ride and it was not bad at all. Keeping him company was his wife Rosmah Mansor of the RM24 million diamond ring fame, and hangers-on Zambry Abdul Kadir and wife.

The Najib group hit the road from Tanjung Tualang town to Sekolah Kebangsaan Changkat Tin to attend a wedding. A pretty penny this bus ride would cost the people, because not many are aware of the extensive makeover of the interior, specially for him and Rosmah. And the mainstream media was, of course, not telling.

“I feel like crying when I saw this photo where it shows the PM took a bus to feel the hardship of the rakyat,” tweeted Abang Ahmad Kerdi, a former PAS candidate for Beting Maro, reeling in sarcasm.

Not cool

So, as PKR president Wan Azizah has said, the PM’s “not cool, not cool”.No, it is not cool to selectively prosecute your chief political opponent on trumped-up charges with the objective of locking him up so that you will win the election by default. It is cowardice. It is immoral. But it is not cool. Nor is it democratic.

It is not cool to try and wriggle your way out of testifying in court despite being issued with a subphoena. But this is precisely what Najib is trying to do. Because, we can only conclude, he does not want to be cross-examined in court. Cross-examinations are done for the purpose of establishing the truth. Why does Najib have a problem with this?

This is so not Cool

It is not cool to unleash Perkasa goons on a peaceful PAS ceramah and then go for a bicycle ride in Penang the next day. It was a tactic much favoured by Egypt’s Mubarak to unleash thugs on his political opponents and pretend he had nothing to do with it. And Mubarak was never “cool”.

Najib would be cool if he answered publicly, honestly and openly all questions related to the Altantuya case and the Scorpene scandal to a non-partisan interviewer. To this day, he refuses to do it. And it is too big and grey a cloud to be hanging unanswered over the Prime Minister of any self-respecting nation.

The list goes on, of course, but what is clear is that Najib and his doubtless well-paid advisers are trying to solve real issues using spin, tricks and smoke and mirrors. Image consultants cannot hide the real Najib, who is, without question, a Malaysian Hyde.

Malaysia Chronicle

KITA is prepared to be investigated by ROS

September 27, 2011

KITA is prepared to be investigated by ROS

Hafiz Yatim@
Sep 27, 11

Parti Kesejahteraan Insan Tanah Air (Kita) president Zaid Ibrahim said it is prepared to be investigated by the Registrar of Societies (ROS) over alleged irregularities in the party as claimed by some disgruntled members.

He also challenged the disgruntled people to hold an emergency party meeting if they claimed to have the numbers to oust him.

“If they can get 51 percent of the members’ support to hold the EGM, by all means go ahead. Unlike other party constitutions which require 75 percent support to hold an EGM, we are democratic. I do not want to lead the party forever and if they have the numbers they can ask to hold an EGM.”

Zaid (seated centre in photo), who was formerly a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, also denied that the party’s fate depended on the disgruntled members who have brought their complaints to the ROS.

“It is incorrect for The Star to use such headlines. Every action is done based on the party constitution and if they want to complain that is their right, but it is incorrect to suggest Kita’s fate is in their hands. We are prepared to be investigated if asked so by the ROS.”

Zaid said this during a press conference attended mostly by state KITA leaders to show their support. He implored the press not to believe much of what is being aired on Twitter and Facebook regarding the party.

KITA: Next Stop ROS

September 27, 2011

Kita woes: Next stop ROS

G Vinod | September 26, 2011

Abdul Latiff Tambi and Muhammad Firdaus Christopher will file a complaint with the Registrar of Societies (ROS) claiming that their sacking and suspension respectively from KITA were unconstitutional.

The duo would lodge the complaint with the ROS headquarters in Putrajaya tomorrow.On September 14, Latiff was sacked from the party while Firdaus was slapped with a six-month suspension a day earlier for allegedly tarnishing the party and its president Zaid Ibrahim’s image via Twitter and Facebook.

Their letters were signed by the party’s working secretary Masrum Dayat.Angered by the suspension, Firdaus criticised Zaid’s decision calling him a dictator. He also questioned Masrum’s credentials claiming that the latter was not even a KITA member.

At a press conference today, Latiff, the former working secretary, said they were compelled to go the ROS as there were attempts by certain quarters to label them as traitors.

“We were the ones who went around trying to establish the party and now we are branded as the bad guys,” he said, flanked by Firdaus and former KITA member Abdul Malik Shamsuddin.

Latiff said his sacking was unconstitutional as he was not given a chance to defend himself over the accusations. “I was accused of trying to sabotage Zaid and the party. However, I did not even receive a show- cause letter to state my case,” he added.

He also said while the party constitution empowered the party president to appoint the working secretary, it was silent on the secretary’s removal.

“And why should Mahsum sign my sacking letter? KITA had about 458 members as of August 19 and Mahsum is not registered as a member,” he added.

Firdaus also questioned the legality of his suspension, saying that it should be Latiff’s signature on his suspension letter, and not Mahsum’s. “My suspension is signed as of September 13. On that day, Latiff was still the working secretary. I believe that there is malice in my suspension,” he added.

‘Silencing dissent’

He then alleged that there was a deliberate attempt by some quarters in the party to silence dissent. Firdaus added that he had no personal problems with Zaid but was unhappy with the way the party was being managed.

“And we have no avenue to voice our dissatisfaction back then as no central committee meeting was called. Although some KITA leaders tried to mediate and resolve the matter, Zaid arrogantly rejected it, calling us mere party workers,” he said.

On their allowances, Firdaus admitted that both he and Latiff were receiving funds straight from Zaid’s pockets for some work but this stopped in June.

“He told us to source for funds for the party and take our allowances from there. However, it was not right to take party funds as our pay. Tell me which political party allows its central committee members to take its funds as salaries?” he asked.

Meanwhile, Firdaus also dismissed Zaid’s statement earlier today saying that unhappy party members could call for an emergency general meeting (EGM) if they were unhappy with his leadership.

Zaid had dismissed the growing dissent against his leadership, calling it a trivial issue and dared his critics to call for an EGM. The former law minister appeared undeterred by KITA central executive member Zahrain Zakariah’s threat to oust the former if he refused to apologise for his arbitrary decisions.

Calling Zaid a “clever man”, Firdaus said an EGM would only strengthen the former’s position in the party.“Most of the central committee members are from Kelantan, his home state. He can use the EGM to purge all remaining dissenters,” he said.

He also debunked Zaid’s claim that Zahrain was not a committee member, saying that he had a letter to prove otherwise.

“Zahrain was appointed to the position as of April 22. I have the meeting minutes with me,” he said.

KITA Chief Zaid Ibrahim responds to Critics

September 26, 2011

KITA Chief Zaid Ibrahim responds to Critics

by Stephanie Sta Maria | September 26, 2011

KITA Chief Zaid Ibrahim has finally responded to allegations that he is tyrannical and that he flouts party protocol, dismissing them as “trivial” and “untrue”.

A number of party leaders and ordinary members have been hammering him for more than a week for his recent controversial and solitary decisions, but in an interview with FMT Zaid refused to make a counter attack or defend himself with a vigour that would match theirs.

He invited his critics to back their accusations with proof and even suggested that they call an emergency general meeting to make good their threat to oust him.Zaid began courting internal dissent when he sacked central secretary Abdul Latif Thambi, treasurer Rashid Azad Khan and central executive committee member Muhammad Firdaus Christopher.

Latif strongly protested his sacking, which he said was punishment for his refusal to disclose the password to the party’s website. “Does it make sense for me to sack someone over a password?” Zaid said. “If I think the person is good for the party, why would I sack him?

“I’ve spent a lot of time and effort building this party; so I will not allow anyone to sabotage or hamper its progress. I have my reasons for doing things. And whether the issue is trivial or not is my decision because I’m the boss.

“When a secretary and a boss cannot see eye to eye, one of them has to go.” Zaid said Latif was merely an administrator and not a political ally or the “centre of political decision-making” that he imagined himself to be.

Firdaus has been steadily attacking Zaid on Facebook and Twitter since Zaid stopped paying his salary three months ago. Zaid denied Firdaus’s allegation that he had financial difficulties.

“We stopped paying his salary because the party has very little money,” Zaid explained. “I don’t have financial difficulties, but I don’t have a lot of money either.It was the same situation with Rashid, but he took it well.

“I told Rashid (right) the situation we were in and suggested that he find another job to supplement his income, which he did. That’s what Firdaus should have done, but he will never get a job now because people have seen his nasty streak.”

Asked why he had kept silent for so long in the face of Firdaus’s allegations, Zaid said he was giving him time to blow off steam and was hoping that he would “come to his senses” soon enough for a proper conversation.

However, he said, Firdaus (left) went too far when he began undermining KITA in an attempt to cast him in a bad light.

“But he won’t succeed because people with sense will know what he’s all about,” Zaid said. “And I’m not concerned with whatever he says anymore because he has not succeeded in doing any damage to the party or to me. Anyone who has worked with me before knows I’m not like that.

“But I’m not angry over the situation. What else can you do but move on? The more popular you are, the more people want to attack you so that they too can get in the news.”

Third Force

Zaid’s easygoing tone turned slightly to exasperation when the subjects of his apology to Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and his decision for the KITA Democracy Roadshow came up. He said he had apologised to Najib for doubting his political will to make reforms and he had announced the roadshow to garner support for the reform pledges.

Both these moves drew shock and ire from party leaders, who protested that they were not consulted or even informed. They said the apology and the roadshow conflicted with KITA’s position as a third force.

“There is no problem with my apology because it was made in a personal capacity over another statement that I made before KITA even existed,” Zaid said. “I’m not bowing to anyone. I just said that I was wrong in my assessment of Najib.

“When the party leaders make public statements, do I tell them what to say or reprimand them? So why should they do so when I say something? They should have more respect for their leader.”

Zaid justified his decision to hold a roadshow by clarifying that KITA was supporting what it felt was a right move by Najib and what he himself had long been fighting for.

“What’s wrong with that? What do you want me to do? Support Anwar Ibrahim, and then everything is okay? I’m not embarrassed by the roadshow, and I think opposition leaders should support Najib on this issue.”

Back into History: Tunku’s Legacy

September 25, 2011

Tunku’s Legacy

by Tunku Zain Al-Abidin Muhriz

February 8, 2009–“Every Malaysian should be reminded of what he had to go through to get the independence which they now enjoy.”

“Democracy must not exist in the mind only, but in substance, reality and in fact.”

“Malaysia must continue as a secular State with Islam as the official religion.”

These are not the words of a snarky activist. These are not the words of an irresponsible user of Twitter. These are not the words of a troublemaking blogger. These are the words of a prince born in Istana Pelamin in Alor Setar on this day in 1903. These are the words of a leader who defended democracy in our country like no other leader before or since. These are the words of a Muslim who served as the first Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Conference. These are the words of Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj.

A man whose legacy we celebrate here today as we launch the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs. We have chosen this day and this venue because ever since our inception as the Malaysia Think Tank London in 2006, we have time and time again turned to him for inspiration when events in our homeland seemed to have taken a turn in the wrong direction: a direction away from the nation he proclaimed as one founded upon the principles of liberty and justice.

And yet, if I were alive in the Fifties, I might not have supported the Tunku. I would likely have voted for Dato’ Onn Jaafar’s multiracial Independence of Malaya Party (IMP) or its successor, Parti Negara. But Tunku was a pragmatic man who understood that historical events had in time divided communities in Malaya by geography, ethnicity and language and that these divisions mattered.

Yet, in his speech upon taking office as President of UMNO, Tunku said: “We will not forget the other people for the part they have played for the prosperity of Malaya. The others will know that we are not so selfish or greedy as to disregard them or their interests. We have lived for 200 years with others, and we have lived at peace with them all. There has never been any clash between the races in Malaya.”

It is clear that Tunku was a proponent of Malay unity, but it was unity in conjunction with Malayan and Malaysian unity. Today, so many who champion “Malay unity” do so in opposition to perceived threats, for the purpose of intimidating others or for Machiavellian politics. I fear that this important distinction has been lost as the term has bandied about by those with divisive agenda.

Some in the older generation often reminisce that those were freer times when people judged each other less, and when unity had a more authentic meaning. A few months ago I had the opportunity to view archive video footage and photographs for a book I was producing in conjunction with another historical event.

What struck me was how ordinary Malayans of all races seemed perfectly at ease socialising, celebrating and mourning with one another. Of course, there are those who disagree that those were halcyon days, arguing that images of that time captured only the habits of the elite, and that May 13, 1969 proved that the appearance of multiracial cooperation was an illusion; a false veneer on a troubled country.

Today those troubles are attributed to underlying racial friction, but Tunku had a more nuanced view, taking into account underhanded political tactics and the desperation of the communists. But now it’s almost as if that narrative have been cast aside for the sake of justifying certain policies.

Well, I wasn’t around in the Fifties, but I was around in the aspiring times of the ’80s and ’90s, and I remember the plethora of slogans employed to cajole the population into productivity and optimism:

Cekap, Bersih, Amanah

Kepimpinan Melalui Teladan

Cemerlang, Gemilang, Terbilang

Mesra, Cepat, Betul

Work With Me, Not For Me

Saya Anti-Rasuah

And now of course we have:

1 Malaysia: People First, Performance Now

To my mind these are all mere reaffirmations of what was an articulate vision for the country from the moment Tunku read out the Proclamation of Independence. Despite these slogans, the standing of our institutions has withered. Tunku could never have imagined there to be such cynicism and distrust.

And this is the reason why we are today launching Ideas: to analyse and debate the ways to rejuvenate and reinvigorate the corridors of power – corridors which for the most part have been occupied by the successors of the party that Tunku once led: the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).

I was in Istana Besar in Johor Bahru a couple of weeks ago, and I had a look at the steps where the famous picture of the delegates of the Third Malay Congress in 1946 was taken. It was also where, sixty years later, Almarhum Sultan Iskandar famously reunited Pak Lah and Dr M at the sixtieth anniversary of UMNO.

Today the party continues to evolve in response to the changing landscapes, but competition amongst Malay politicians is nothing new. UMNO itself had to contend with Parti Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya (PKMM) before it and Parti Negara, PAS, Semangat 46 and PKR after it.

The big question now is whether the results of the March 8 2008 general elections are indicative of a new era where party preference is determined not by its ethnic tag, but its actual policy ideas. Those manifestoes might actually be being read. But it is worth reiterating that although we are passionately interested in public policy issues, Ideas is not a political party. There is so much cynicism about people entering politics these days: it’s about making money and dishing out contracts, and you will get judged and never be safe from smear campaigns.

I’d say that for the most part, seeking political office in Malaysia today is for the suicidal or the deranged – although I can assure you that the MPs and Senators present here today form the sane minority. No, what Ideas seeks to continue doing in its new guise is to strengthen those in all the political parties or none who believe in the fundamental precepts of Tunku’s vision.

Sadly, events have shown that there are a few who don’t. At the crux of our programme is a belief that the challenges of Malaysia can be overcome through the fresh application of the Tunku’s principles, and ideally from a leader as charismatic as the Tunku himself.

And his charisma was perhaps most evident in how he dealt with extremists within his own party.  When ultras within UMNO wanted to burn down the Lake Club for being too “white”, Tunku decided to become the Club’s President instead. Today there are those who want to burn down places of worship, and here Tunku’s words are visionary.

On the Fiftieth Anniversary of St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, he sent a note of congratulations saying: “All men of goodwill and peace must fight against poverty… I know that St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church is doing all it can to spread the message among Malaysians in all corners of this country and I have no doubt it will succeed. May I wish the church in the coming years all success and the blessing of God.”

And when he officially opened a seminar of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism, he said: “One day I hope that a Muslim religious body might join in, as the object of this organisation is very good and farsighted… it is the duty of each and everyone of us, living in this country, to ensure peace for all time.”

These messages are genuine and authentic. Tunku did not wait for churches to be attacked before approaching them to offer his support. And Tunku did not celebrate religious festivals for the mere sake of courting votes. Indeed, later on in the tour of the memorial you will see pictures of Tunku celebrating personal and official events, large and small, with diverse cross-sections of society from before he entered politics right up to his final days.

One of those pictures is him celebrating his 86th Birthday with Tengku Razaleigh and Lim Kit Siang. We have here today representatives from six political parties. It is testament to his enduring ability to unite. While many other so-called national heroes achieved independence through deliberately violent means, Tunku did his best to attain it through negotiation and constitutional means.

He was largely successful, but of course he had to contend with communist terrorists intent on destroying the new nation. On this, Tunku mused: “How many people in this country subscribe to the communist doctrine and ideology? We have seen that many countries are suffering from communist tyranny… The three main races that had built up Malaya… felt confident that they were able to run this country themselves, and they have chosen a way of life which is most acceptable and congenial to them, a way of life that they like best. It’s called democracy.”

And it was precisely this adherence to parliamentary democracy within a federal context that encouraged Sabah and Sarawak to help form the new Federation of Malaysia. Again, there were objections, and again, Tunku was prepared to fight for the democratic federation. On Malaysia Day Tunku proudly declared “people of many races in all the States of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah now join hands in freedom and unity. We do so because we know that we have come together through our own free will and desire in the true spirit of brotherhood and love of freedom.”

That word – freedom – is one so rarely used by politicians today, but Tunku used it again and again. Even his personal crest which you can see downstairs features the word “dibebaskan”. It is, I suggest, because the word has disappeared from our political vocabulary that we have taken it for granted, and enabled numerous intrusions into our lives which would not have been tolerated in the atmosphere of Merdeka.

In Tunku’s time there 13 Cabinet Ministers; today there are 30. This increase in the size of government has been accompanied by a casual authoritarianism, and it is in such times that we find ourselves asking again and again what the Tunku would have said.

What would the founder of the Muslim Welfare Organisation – Perkim – have said about the use of the word “Allah”?What would the founder of a traditional Malay dance troupe – the Penari Diraja – have said about the deliberate eradication of Malay culture by self-proclaimed puritans?

What would the architect of the Federation of Malaysia spanning the South China Sea have said about the condition of Federal-State relations? What would the first protem Chairman of the National Human Rights Society – Hakam – have said about the continual use of the Internal Security Act?

As Sharyn suggested, he would be blogging about these issues with a courage and consistency unseen today, and he would certainly be talking about freedom.

We are extremely privileged to have the support of three generations of Tunku’s descendants. Sharyn, your presentation highlighted the personal charisma and honesty of Tunku – qualities which are lacking in so many leaders today; qualities which enabled Tunku to win over so many sceptics and opponents.

52 years ago your great-grandfather raised his hand to the heavens to proclaim our Merdeka, with the support, approval and concurrence of my great-grandfather and his brother Rulers.Your Tok Tam recalled that 30 years after he and my Nyang served on the committee of the Malay Association of Great Britain, they shared a podium as first Prime Minister and first Yang di-Pertuan Agong of independent Malaya. Both were great believers in parliamentary democracy, and Tunku once summarised the role of the monarchy thus: “For us Malaysians, the throne has been looked upon as a guarantee of our freedom.  Freedom to worship, freedom to socialise and freedom to practice our political rights.”

And your Tok Tam also mentioned my Nyang Wan, Tunku Puan Besar Kurshiah, as one of the ladies who “showered him with money and jewellery” for the London mission to negotiate Merdeka.  Those were miserly times, brought to painful reality by the writings of Tan Sri Mubin Sheppard (left) and lately, the drawings of E. Yu.

But thankfully, he was able to retain some luxurious tastes from his time in England, and I’m pleased to say that after the tour, we will be tucking into some roast beef and Yorkshire pudding – one of his favourite dishes which he himself cooked.

Firstly, my two colleagues Wan Saiful and Wan Firdaus – we have gone a long way since our meeting in that dank room in 2006. Secondly, the advisors, fellows, staff, associates and interns who have helped us to get where we are today.

Thirdly, the generous donors without whom none of the above could have carried out their work.

Fourthly, the director of the National Archives Dato’ Haji Sidek , and all the staff of Memorial Tunku Abdul Rahman, for allowing us to use this fine venue.

Fifthly, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah – the man whom Tunku entrusted to continue the legacy of the Spirit of 1946 – for agreeing to speak today.  Tunku once observed: “Tengku Razaleigh is another member of the royal family who had been derided as an unwanted Tunku.  But if one remembers his work in Kelantan, one cannot help but admire him for what he did for Umno… Whether a person is a Tunku, a Syed or a Wan, he is the son of this country.  His rank or title should not be used to belittle his efforts in the service of the country.”

And finally, I would like to thank the family of Almarhum Tunku for gracing this event today. He described himself as “the happiest Prime Minister in the world leading the happiest people in the world,” and I hope that today is a happy occasion of remembrance and celebration. He was a prince I am proud to call: Ayahanda Merdeka.

* Tunku Zain Al-Abidin Muhriz is the founder of Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas)