Malaysia can’t afford a botched handling of MH17


July 20, 2014

MY COMMENTWe have been hit by two tragedies, MH 370 and MH 17 a few days ago,Din Merican both within a space of four months. MH370 is still shrouded in secrecy and  it is a public relations disaster; our leaders and public and security officials handled the foreign media poorly. MH17 was brought down by Russian made missiles in the hands of Ukrainian rebels backed by  Prime Minister Putin’s government. Our political leaders and officials are again in the eyes of media. Let them handle the situation better this time.

Those who are behind this dastardly violence must be brought to account. Our diplomats and those of countries which lost their citizens and the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon must act in concert to ascertain the facts about the downing of this ill-fated 777 aircraft. At home, the new Transport Minister has to ensure that there are no cover-ups, blame games, excuses, and conflicting or contradictory statements. Please provide facts as they come to light, and do it well and ensure that there are no fumbles.

I am glad that our Prime Minister has allowed debate in our Parliament on MH37. I hope Parliamentarians on both sides of Dewan Rakyat can be rational and constructive in their deliberations so that we can achieve consensus on what we should do to restore national self confidence and pride in our national flag carrier, Malaysian Airlines.

No shouting matches please. Bung Mokhtar types must not be allowed to disrupt the debate or make fools of themselves. In this time of national crisis, UMNO-BN and Pakatan Rakyat must stand together. The debate should result in a plan of action for the government. To nudge the debate along orderly lines, there should be a White Paper to Parliament on MH17 in which the government can present its views on what it has its mind to deal with the aftermath of MH 17.Din Merican

http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-07-18/malaysia-can-t-botch-another-air-tragedy

Malaysia can’t afford a botched handling of MH17

by William Pesek (07-18-14)

There’s nothing funny about Malaysia Airlines losing two Boeing 777s and more than 500 lives in the space of four months. That hasn’t kept the humor mills from churning out dark humor and lighting up cyberspace.

Liow_Tiong_Lai-MH17_PC

Actor Jason Biggs, for example, got in trouble for tweeting: “Anyone wanna buy my Malaysia Airlines frequent flier miles?” A passenger supposedly among the 298 people aboard Flight 17 that was shot down over eastern Ukraine yesterday uploaded a photo of the doomed plane on Facebook just before takeoff in Amsterdam, captioning it: “Should it disappear, this is what it looks like.”

That reference, by a man reportedly named Cor Pan, was to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, whose disappearance in March continues to provide fodder for satirists, conspiracy theorists and average airplane passengers with a taste for the absurd. On my own Malaysia Air flight last month, I was struck by all the fatalistic quips around me — conversations I overheard and in those with my fellow passengers. One guy deadpanned: “First time I ever bought flight insurance.”

MH17 CrashThere is, of course, no room for humor after this disaster or the prospect that the money-losing airline might not survive — at least not without a government rescue. This company had already become a macabre punch line, something no business can afford in the Internet and social-media age. It’s one thing to have a perception problem; it’s quite another to have folks around the world swearing never to fly Malaysia Air.

Nor is no margin for mistakes by Malaysia or the airline this time, even though all signs indicate that there is no fault on the part of the carrier. The same can’t be said for the bumbling and opacity that surrounded the unexplained loss of Flight 370. Even if there was no negligence on the part of Malaysia Air this week, the credibility of the probe and the willingness of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government to cooperate with outside investigators — tests it failed with Flight 370 — will be enormously important.

As I have written before, the botched response to Flight 370 was a case study in government incompetence and insularity. After six decades in power, Najib’s party isn’t used to being held accountable by voters, never mind foreign reporters demanding answers. Rather than understand that transparency would enhance its credibility, Malaysia’s government chose to blame the international press for impugning the country’s good name.

The world needs to be patient, of course. If Flight 370’s loss was puzzling, even surreal, Flight 17 is just MH 17plain tragic. It’s doubtful Najib ever expected to be thrown into the middle of Russian-Ukraine-European politics. Although there are still so many unanswered questions — who exactly did the shooting and why? — it’s depressing to feel like we’re revisiting the Cold War of the early 1980s, when Korean Air Flight 007 was shot down by a Soviet fighter jet.

More frightening is how vulnerable civilian aviation has become. Even if this is the work of pro-Russian rebels, yesterday’s attack comes a month after a deadly assault on a commercial jetliner in Pakistan. One passenger was killed and two flight attendants were injured as at least 12 gunshots hit Pakistan International Airlines Flight PK-756 as it landed in the northwestern city of Peshawar. It was the first known attack of its kind and raises the risk of copycats. The low-tech nature of such assaults — available to anyone with a gripe, a high-powered rifle and decent marksmanship — is reason for the entire world to worry.

The days ahead will be filled with post-mortems and assigning blame. That includes aviation experts questioning why Malaysia Air took a route over a war zone being avoided by Qantas, Cathay Pacific and several other carriers. The key is for Malaysian authorities to be open, competent and expeditious as the investigation gains momentum. Anything less probably won’t pass muster.

MH 370 and MH 17 taught us never to take things for granted


July 20, 2014

MH 370 and MH 17 taught us never to take things for granted

by Neil Khor (07-19-14)@http://www.malaysiakini.com

MASPride of Malaysia dented by Tragedy

COMMENT: The loss of 298 lives as MH 17 was shot down over Ukraine has come too soon on the heels of the loss of MH 370. An airline that had a near perfect record for the past 30 years since its inception is now suddenly the most blighted in the aviation industry.

Crying for Loss of Loved OnesThe manner in which we recover, and there is no doubt that we will, shall determine our collective destiny as a nation. Like many Malaysians, I was in shock and disbelief at midnight on Thursday as news of the loss of MH17 filtered through social media. Since the loss of MH 370, I have made it a point to fly MAS whenever possible come what may.

I have grown up with MAS, as a toddler traveling from Penang to Singapore in the 1970s right through my student days at UM, when the airline was kind enough to extend to students with AYTB (Asian Youth Travel Bureau) cards tremendous discounts allowing us to go home on the cheap.

In those days, it was a grueling nine-hour bus ride down Malaysia’s trunk roads from Kuala Lumpur to Penang. A MAS flight not only provided comfort and speed, it assured that students got home safely.

Like the airline, those of us born in the 1970s, have come of age to find a world changed beyond all recognition. It is not that we cannot adapt to change but the changes have come so rapidly and so brutally that nobody has had the time to make sense of it all. We may have been brought up to believe in God and Country (Rukunegara) but globalisation have altered our allegiances.

Similarly, the aviation industry, too. has not fared too well in this globalised world. The pacific period, from the 1960s to 2000, is over.

In those days, emerging nations like Malaysia personified themselves through national airlines. We broke away from Singapore to form MAS, which not only flew the flag but also assumed the burden of unprofitable but necessary domestic routes. The growing up years was characterised by good service, which by the 1980s, was amongst the best in the world.

Flying on MAS was a privileged and entire families would go to the airport to receive or send relatives off. It was definitely not the era of “everybody can fly” but rather “now you have arrived”. Cheap fossil fuels and better-designed plans made flying cheaper and more accessible. By the time the budget airlines appeared in the sky, the entire attitude towards aviation had changed as well.

MH17 Crash Site2 National carriers had to compete like any other in the industry resulting in spectacular bankruptcies, including that of Japan Airlines! With this fundamental change, attitudes towards flying also transformed. Malaysian society changed the most in the last 15 years. The Internet continues to be a great leveler. No single Prime Minister, no matter how powerful, can decide with impunity or set the tone of discussion on national issues like Dr Mahathir Mohamad.In short, MAS like many other “national” organisations has continued to come up short, never meeting the rising tide of expectations. Since September 11, 2002 when two planes slammed into New York’s Twin Towers, air travel has never been the same. I remember traveling from Minneapolis to Louisville in Kentucky with a guide dog as a fellow passenger.

There was hardly any security with checkpoints that were no more stringent than at a bus stop.  That was in 1999 but today the US is imposing full body scans, check-ups on laptops and security scanning of mobile phones. Soon security procedures will take as long as inter-continental flights in all major airports.

From the sad and painful experience of losing MH370, we have learned that the aviation industry itself has not kept up with technological change, with planes entering blind spots and much dependent on 1940s radar technology. There is also very little improvement on how to track planes to ensure better monitoring. Till this day, black box technology still relies on batteries that only last a maximum of 30 days.Now four months onwards, we have lost MH17, which was shot down by a surface-to-air missile over a route that was deemed officially safe by the IATA. Yes, some airlines have avoided this route over the Ukraine but many airlines flying from Europe to Asia were using this prescribed route.

Political maturity in short supply

How high an airplane fly is also dictated by the air traffic controller of the country whose territory one is flying across presumably they know what other flying objects will be flying over their airspace at the same time. As someone who flies on MAS, Emirates and SIA regularly from Malaysia to Europe, this route above the Ukraine is very familiar.

I have also flown frequently to neighbouring Georgia, crossing the Caspian and Black seas. There was really no way to have anticipated that a civilian plane would be shot down. If the European authorities had red-flagged the area as two other Ukrainian military aircraft had been shot down, they should have banned all commercial flights over Ukraine airspace.

Having lost two aircraft involving the loss of more than 500 souls is a very bitter pill for Malaysians to accept. For the longest time we have developed and made giant progressive strides forward. Yes, political maturity is still an on-going battle.

Religious and racial extremism is on the rise but most of us have enough to eat, some even able to share with the less fortunate by supporting soup kitchens.

Never take things for grantedMalaysia is still a great country, blessed with natural resources and a cultural diversity that is the envy ofMH17 Crash site 2 the world. But the loss of our two MAS flights has taught us never to take things for granted. Whilst we can plan and make the best preparations, we cannot foresee how these plans will unfold.

In the case of MAS, some hard decisions may have to be taken to make it viable again. There is no loss of face if we have to start again from scratch. To all those who have lost friends, families and loved ones in MH370 and MH17, my most heartfelt and sincere condolences.

Malaysians the world over are united in grief and sorrow. But I am sure we will emerge stronger and better, at least strive to be better people to ensure a stronger nation going forward.

NEIL KHOR completed his PhD at Cambridge University and now writes occasionally on matters that he thinks require better historical treatment. He is quietly optimistic about Malaysia’s future.
 

 

 

Our World is beyond George Orwell’s Worst Nightmare


July 13, 2014

Our World is beyond George Orwell’s Worst Nightmare

by John Pilger (07-11-14)@www.alternet.org

In politics as in journalism and the arts, it seems that dissent once tolerated in the “mainstream” has regressed to a dissidence: a metaphoric underground…Today’s grand illusion is of an information age when, in truth, we live in a media age in which incessant corporate propaganda is insidious, contagious, effective and liberal.–J. Pilger

John PilgerThe other night, I saw George Orwell’s 1984 performed on the London stage. Although crying out for a contemporary interpretation, Orwell’s warning about the future was presented as a period piece: remote, unthreatening, almost reassuring. It was as if Edward Snowden had revealed nothing, Big Brother was not now a digital eavesdropper and Orwell himself had never said, “To be corrupted by totalitarianism, one does not have to live in a totalitarian country.”

Acclaimed by critics, the skilful production was a measure of our cultural and political times. When the lights came up, people were already on their way out. They seemed unmoved, or perhaps other distractions beckoned. “What a mindfuck,” said the young woman, lighting up her phone.

As advanced societies are de-politicised, the changes are both subtle and spectacular. In everyday discourse, political language is turned on its head, as Orwell prophesised in 1984. “Democracy” is now a rhetorical device.  Peace is “perpetual war.” “Global” is imperial. The once hopeful concept of “reform” now means regression, even destruction. “Austerity” is the imposition of extreme capitalism on the poor and the gift of socialism for the rich: an ingenious system under which the majority service the debts of the few.

In the arts, hostility to political truth-telling is an article of bourgeois faith.  “Picasso’s red period,” says an Observer headline, “and why politics don’t make good art.” Consider this in a newspaper that promoted the bloodbath in Iraq as a liberal crusade. Picasso’s lifelong opposition to fascism is a footnote, just as Orwell’s radicalism has faded from the prize that appropriated his name.

A few years ago, Terry Eagleton, then Professor of English literature at Manchester University, reckoned that “for the first time in two centuries, there is no eminent British poet, playwright or novelist prepared to question the foundations of the western way of life”. No Shelley speaks for the poor, no Blake for utopian dreams, no Byron damns the corruption of the ruling class, no Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin reveal the moral disaster of capitalism. William Morris, Oscar Wilde, HG Wells, George Bernard Shaw have no equivalents today. Harold Pinter was the last to raise his voice.  Among the insistent voices of consumer- feminism, none echoes Virginia Woolf, who described “the arts of dominating other people … of ruling, of killing, of acquiring land and capital”.

At the National Theatre, a new play, Great Britain, satirises the phone hacking scandal that has seen journalists tried and convicted, including a former editor of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World. Described as a “farce with fangs [that] puts the whole incestuous [media] culture in the dock and subjects it to merciless ridicule”, the play’s targets are the “blessedly funny” characters in Britain’s tabloid press. That is well and good, and so familiar. What of the non-tabloid media that regards itself as reputable and credible, yet serves a parallel role as an arm of state and corporate power, as in the promotion of illegal war?

The Leveson inquiry into phone hacking glimpsed this unmentionable. Tony Blair was giving evidence, complaining to His Lordship about the tabloids’ harassment of his wife, when he was interrupted by a voice from the public gallery. David Lawley-Wakelin, a film-maker, demanded Blair’s arrest and prosecution for war crimes. There was a long pause: the shock of truth. Lord Leveson leapt to his feet and ordered the truth-teller thrown out and apologised to the war criminal. Lawley-Wakelin was prosecuted; Blair went free.

Blair’s enduring accomplices are more respectable than the phone hackers. When the BBC arts presenter, Kirsty Wark, interviewed him on the tenth anniversary of his invasion of Iraq, she gifted him a moment he could only dream of; she allowed him to agonise over his “difficult” decision on Iraq rather than call him to account for his epic crime. This evoked the procession of BBC journalists who in 2003 declared that Blair could feel “vindicated”, and the subsequent, “seminal” BBC series, The Blair Years, for which David Aaronovitch was chosen as the writer, presenter and interviewer. A Murdoch retainer who campaigned for military attacks on Iraq, Libya and Syria, Aaronovitch fawned expertly.

Since the invasion of Iraq – the exemplar of an act of unprovoked aggression the Nuremberg prosecutor Robert Jackson called “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole” — Blair and his mouthpiece and principal accomplice, Alastair Campbell, have been afforded generous space in the Guardian to rehabilitate their reputations. Described as a Labour Party “star”, Campbell has sought the sympathy of readers for his depression and displayed his interests, though not his current assignment as advisor, with Blair, to the Egyptian military tyranny.

As Iraq is dismembered as a consequence of the Blair/Bush invasion, a Guardian headline declares: “Toppling Saddam was right, but we pulled out too soon”. This ran across a prominent article on 13 June by a former Blair functionary, John McTernan, who also served Iraq’s CIA installed dictator Iyad Allawi. In calling for a repeat invasion of a country his former master helped destroy , he made no reference to the deaths of at least 700,000 people, the flight of four million refugees and sectarian turmoil in a nation once proud of its communal tolerance.

EyeWatch out someone’s snooping

“Blair embodies corruption and war,” wrote the radical Guardian columnist Seumas Milne in a spirited piece on 3 July. This is known in the trade as “balance”. The following day, the paper published a full-page advertisement for an American Stealth bomber. On a menacing image of the bomber were the words: “The F-35. GREAT For Britain”. This other embodiment of “corruption and war” will cost British taxpayers £1.3 billion, its F-model predecessors having slaughtered people across the developing world.

In a village in Afghanistan, inhabited by the poorest of the poor, I filmed Orifa, kneeling at the graves of her husband, Gul Ahmed, a carpet weaver, seven other members of her family, including six children, and two children who were killed in the adjacent house. A “precision” 500-pound bomb fell directly on their small mud, stone and straw house, leaving a crater 50 feet wide. Lockheed Martin, the plane’s manufacturer’s, had pride of place in the Guardian’s advertisement.

The former US Secretary of State and aspiring President of the United States, Hillary Clinton, was recently on the BBC’s Women’s Hour, the quintessence of media respectability. The presenter, Jenni Murray, presented Clinton as a beacon of female achievement. She did not remind her listeners about Clinton’s profanity that Afghanistan was invaded to “liberate” women like Orifa. She asked  Clinton nothing about her administration’s terror campaign using drones to kill women, men and children. There was no mention of Clinton’s idle threat, while campaigning to be the first female President, to “eliminate” Iran, and nothing about her support for illegal mass surveillance and the pursuit of whistle-blowers.

Murray did ask one finger-to-the-lips question. Had Clinton forgiven Monica Lewinsky for having an affair with husband? “Forgiveness is a choice,” said Clinton, “for me, it was absolutely the right choice.” This recalled the 1990s and the years consumed by the Lewinsky “scandal”. President Bill Clinton was then invading Haiti, and bombing the Balkans, Africa and Iraq. He was also destroying the lives of Iraqi children; Unicef reported the deaths of half a million Iraqi infants under the age of five as a result of an embargo led by the US and Britain.

The children were media unpeople, just as Hillary Clinton’s victims in the invasions she supported and promoted – Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia — are media unpeople. Murray made no reference to them. A photograph of her and her distinguished guest, beaming, appears on the BBC website.

In politics as in journalism and the arts, it seems that dissent once tolerated in the “mainstream” has regressed to a dissidence: a metaphoric underground. When I began a career in Britain’s Fleet Street in the 1960s, it was acceptable to critique western power as a rapacious force. Read James Cameron’s celebrated reports of the explosion of the Hydrogen bomb at Bikini Atoll, the barbaric war in Korea and the American bombing of North Vietnam. Today’s grand illusion is of an information age when, in truth, we live in a media age in which incessant corporate propaganda is insidious, contagious, effective and liberal.

In his 1859 essay On Liberty, to which modern liberals pay homage, John Stuart Mill wrote: “Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the means justified by actually effecting that end.” The “barbarians” were large sections of humanity of whom “implicit obedience” was required.  “It’s a nice and convenient myth that liberals are peacemakers and conservatives the warmongers,” wrote the historian Hywel Williams in 2001, “but the imperialism of the liberal way may be more dangerous because of its open-ended nature: its conviction that it represents a superior form of life.” He had in mind a speech by Blair in which the then prime minister promised to “reorder the world around us” according to his “moral values”.

Richard Falk, the respected authority on international law and the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine, once described a “a self-righteous, one-way, legal/moral screen [with] positive images of western values and innocence portrayed as threatened, validating a campaign of unrestricted political violence”. It is “so widely accepted as to be virtually unchallengeable”.

Tenure and patronage reward the guardians. On BBC Radio 4, Razia Iqbal interviewed Toni Morrison, the African-American Nobel Laureate. Morrison wondered why people were “so angry” with Barack Obama, who was “cool” and wished to build a “strong economy and health care”. Morrison was proud to have talked on the phone with her hero, who had read one of her books and invited her to his inauguration.

Neither she nor her interviewer mentioned Obama’s seven wars, including his terror campaign by drone, in which whole families, their rescuers and mourners have been murdered. What seemed to matter was that a “finely spoken” man of colour had risen to the commanding heights of power. In The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon wrote that the “historic mission” of the colonised was to serve as a “transmission line” to those who ruled and oppressed. In the modern era, the employment of ethnic difference in western power and propaganda systems is now seen as essential. Obama epitomises this, though the cabinet of George W. Bush – his warmongering clique – was the most multiracial in presidential history.

As the Iraqi city of Mosul fell to the jihadists of ISIS, Obama said, “The American people made huge investments and sacrifices in order to give Iraqis the opportunity to chart a better destiny.” How “cool” is that lie? How “finely spoken” was Obama’s speech at the West Point military academy on 28 May. Delivering his “state of the world” address at the graduation ceremony of those who “will take American leadership” across the world, Obama said, “The United States will use military force, unilaterally if necessary, when our core interests demand it. International opinion matters, but America will never ask permission …”

In repudiating international law and the rights of independent nations, the American President claims a divinity based on the might of his “indispensable nation”. It is a familiar message of imperial impunity, though always bracing to hear. Evoking the rise of fascism in the 1930s, Obama said, “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fibre of my being.”  Historian Norman Pollack wrote: “For goose-steppers, substitute the seemingly more innocuous militarisation of the total culture. And for the bombastic leader, we have the reformer manqué, blithely at work, planning and executing assassination, smiling all the while.”

In February, the US mounted one of its “colour” coups against the elected government in Ukraine, exploiting genuine protests against corruption in Kiev. Obama’s national security adviser Victoria Nuland personally selected the leader of an “interim government”. She nicknamed him “Yats”. Vice President Joe Biden came to Kiev, as did CIA Director John Brennan. The shock troops of their putsch were Ukrainian fascists.

For the first time since 1945, a neo-Nazi, openly anti-Semitic party controls key areas of state power in a European capital.  No Western European leader has condemned this revival of fascism in the borderland through which Hitler’s invading Nazis took millions of Russian lives. They were supported by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), responsible for the massacre of Jews and Russians they called “vermin”. The UPA is the historical inspiration of the present-day Svoboda Party and its fellow-travelling Right Sector. Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok has called for a purge of the “Moscow-Jewish mafia” and “other scum”, including gays, feminists and those on the political left.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States has ringed Russia with military bases, nuclear warplanes and missiles as part of its Nato Enlargement Project. Reneging on a promise made to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990 that Nato would not expand “one inch to the east”, Nato has, in effect, militarily occupied eastern Europe. In the former Soviet Caucasus, Nato’s expansion is the biggest military build-up since the Second World War.

A Nato Membership Action Plan is Washington’s gift to the coup-regime in Kiev. In August, “Operation Rapid Trident” will put American and British troops on Ukraine’s Russian border and “Sea Breeze” will send US warships within sight of Russian ports. Imagine the response if these acts of provocation, or intimidation, were carried out on America’s borders.

In reclaiming Crimea — which Nikita Khrushchev illegally detached from Russia in 1954 – the Russians defended themselves as they have done for almost a century. More than 90 per cent of the population of Crimea voted to return the territory to Russia. Crimea is the home of the Black Sea Fleet and its loss would mean life or death for the Russian Navy and a prize for Nato. Confounding the war parties in Washington and Kiev, Vladimir Putin withdrew troops from the Ukrainian border and urged ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine to abandon separatism.

In Orwellian fashion, this has been inverted in the west to the “Russian threat”. Hillary Clinton likened Putin to Hitler. Without irony, right-wing German commentators said as much. In the media, the Ukrainian neo-Nazis are sanitised as “nationalists” or “ultra nationalists”. What they fear is that Putin is skilfully seeking a diplomatic solution, and may succeed. On 27 June, responding to Putin’s latest accommodation – his request to the Russian Parliament to rescind legislation that gave him the power to intervene on behalf of Ukraine’s ethnic Russians – Secretary of State John Kerry issued another of his ultimatums. Russia must “act within the next few hours, literally” to end the revolt in eastern Ukraine. Notwithstanding that Kerry is widely recognised as a buffoon, the serious purpose of these “warnings” is to confer pariah status on Russia and suppress news of the Kiev regime’s war on its own people.

A third of the population of Ukraine are Russian-speaking and bilingual. They have long sought a democratic federation that reflects Ukraine’s ethnic diversity and is both autonomous and independent of Moscow. Most are neither “separatists” nor “rebels” but citizens who want to live securely in their homeland. Separatism is a reaction to the Kiev junta’s attacks on them, causing as many as 110,000 (UN estimate) to flee across the border into Russia. Typically, they are traumatized women and children.

Like Iraq’s embargoed infants, and Afghanistan’s “liberated” women and girls, terrorised by the CIA’s warlords, these ethnic people of Ukraine are media unpeople in the west, their suffering and the atrocities committed against them minimised, or suppressed. No sense of the scale of the regime’s assault is reported in the mainstream western media. This is not unprecedented. Reading again Phillip Knightley’s masterly The First Casualty: the war correspondent as hero, propagandist and myth maker, I renewed my admiration for the Manchester Guardian’s Morgan Philips Price, the only western reporter to remain in Russia during the 1917 revolution and report the truth of a disastrous invasion by the western allies. Fair-minded and courageous, Philips Price alone disturbed what Knightley calls an anti-Russian “dark silence” in the west.

On 2 May, in Odessa, 41 ethnic Russians were burned alive in the trade union headquarters with police standing by. There is horrifying video evidence.  The Right Sector leader Dmytro Yarosh hailed the massacre as “another bright day in our national history”. In the American and British media, this was reported as a “murky tragedy” resulting from “clashes” between “nationalists” (neo-Nazis) and “separatists” (people collecting signatures for a referendum on a federal Ukraine). The New York Times buried it, having dismissed as Russian propaganda warnings about the fascist and anti-Semitic policies of Washington’s new clients. The Wall Street Journal damned the victims – “Deadly Ukraine Fire Likely Sparked by Rebels, Government Says”. Obama congratulated the junta for its “restraint”.

On 28 June, the Guardian devoted most of a page to declarations by the Kiev regime’s “president”, the oligarch Petro Poroshenko.  Again, Orwell’s rule of inversion applied. There was no putsch; no war against Ukraine’s minority; the Russians were to blame for everything. “We want to modernise my country,” said Poroshenko. “We want to introduce freedom, democracy and European values. Somebody doesn’t like that. Somebody doesn’t like us for that.”

According to his report, the Guardian’s reporter, Luke Harding, did not challenge these assertions, or mention the Odessa atrocity, the regime’s air and artillery attacks on residential areas, the killing and kidnapping of journalists, the firebombing of an opposition newspaper and his threat to “free Ukraine from dirt and parasites”. The enemy are “rebels”, “militants”, “insurgents”, “terrorists” and stooges of the Kremlin. Summon from history the ghosts of Vietnam, Chile, East Timor, southern Africa, Iraq; note the same tags. Palestine is the lodestone of this unchanging deceit. On 11 July, following the latest Israeli, American equipped slaughter in Gaza – 80 people including six children in one family — an Israeli general writes in the Guardian under the headline, “A necessary show of force”.

In the 1970s, I met Leni Riefenstahl and asked her about her films that glorified the Nazis. Using revolutionary camera and lighting techniques, she produced a documentary form that mesmerised Germans; it was her Triumph of the Will that reputedly cast Hitler’s spell. I asked her about propaganda in societies that imagined themselves superior. She replied that the “messages” in her films were dependent not on “orders from above” but on a “submissive void” in the German population. “Did that include the liberal, educated bourgeoisie?” I asked. “Everyone,” she replied, “and of course the intelligentsia.”

John Pilger‘s documentaries have won academy awards in both the U.K. and the U.S. His new film, “Utopia,” was released in Australia in January.

http://www.alternet.org/culture/our-world-far-beyond-george-orwells-worst-nightmare?paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

Gotta’ keep on learning


July 13, 2014

Schumpeternomics: Gotta’ keep on learning

by (Tan Sri) Dr. Lin See-Yan@www.thestar.com.my (07-12-14)

Lin See-YanI JUST returned from the summer meeting of the board of governors (on which I am a long-standing member) and the board of trustees of the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) in Makati, Manila. It celebrated its 45th anniversary…

To mark the occasion, AIM held its second Asian Business Conference against the backdrop of an emerging ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by 2015. It was well attended by a wide cross-section of Asian businesses, research institutes and universities, under the banner: “2015 Approaching: Priming for ASEAN Integration.”

I spoke at the strategic session on banking and finance with particular focus on the need for Asia (and indeed ASEAN) to keep on innovating to create a truly learning society, in order to maintain its competitive edge and remain relevant in an increasingly hostile and uncertain world. To survive, we just gotta’ keep on learning!

Technological progress

I learned early as a Harvard graduate student in the 1970s from no less than Nobel laureate Robert Solow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) down the Charles, that rising output and incomes can only come about in a sustained way from technological progress (TP), not from mere capital accumulation. Put simply, Solow repeatedly emphasised that TP comes from learning how to do things better; indeed, there’s always a better way.

As a practising banker and economist at Bank Negara after my PhD, I quickly undertstood that much of the productivity increases we see come from small incremental changes – they all add-up, other than the lumpy gains arising from dramatic discoveries or from unpredictable phenomena. It all starts with nurturing our education system and the process of its development to ensure youths are properly educated, not just in terms of literary, quantitative and scientific skills, but also with the right moral values and civic outlook.

Broadly, along what Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz (pic) has been advocating – it always makes goodJ Stiglitz sense “to focus attention on how societies learn, and what can be done to promote learning, including learning how to learn.”

Innovation and creative destruction

The seeds of the critical role of innovation in economic growth were first planted about a century ago by Harvard economist and political and social scientist Joseph Schumpeter, a contemporary of John M. Keynes. His economics (hence, Schumpeternomics) is based on the ability and capability of the market economy to innovate on its own.

I recall reading his 1939 book Business Cycle: A Theoretical, Historical and Statistical analysis of the Capitalist Process, where he wrote “Without innovations, no entrepreneurs; without entrepreneurial achievement, no capitalist returns and no capitalist propulsion. The atmosphere of industrial revolutions – of “progress” – is the only one in which capitalism can survive.”

So, Schumpeter went about challenging conventional wisdom in three areas: (i) misplaced focus on competitive markets. He contended that what matters was “competition for the markets, not competition in the markets,” as rightly pointed out by Stiglitz. It is competition for the markets that drives innovation. Sure, this can (and do) result in the rise of monopolies; still this would lead to improved living standards over the long haul (eg. Microsoft, Nokia – acquired in 2013 by Microsoft). (ii) undue focus on short-run efficiency which can be detrimental to innovation over the long-term – classic example is helping “infant industries” learn.

But governments should not be in the game of picking winners; the market can do this better (witness Obama’s failed “clean energy” projects or Malaysia’s wasteful car-maker Proton). Sure, there are exceptions where government invests in research that has since led to development of the Internet and discovery of DNA with enormous social benefits.

Schumpeter

(iii) Innovation leads to creative destruction – it can (and do) wipe out inefficient industries and jobs. The Internet has turned businesses from newspapers to music to book retailing upside down. In their place, more efficient businesses have popped up. In his biography of Schumpeter – Prophet of Innovation, Thomas McCraw wrote: “Schumpeter’s signature legacy is his insight that innovation in the form of creative destruction is the driving force not only of capitalism but of material progress in general. Almost all businesses, no matter how strong they seem to be at a given moment, ultimately fail – and almost always because they failed to innovate. Competitors are relentlessly striving to overtake the leader, no matter how big the lead. Responsible business people know that they ignore this lesson at their peril.”

In 1983, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Schumpeter and Keynes, Peter F. Drucker proclaimed at Forbes that it was Schumpeter, not Keynes, who provided the best guide to the rapid economic changes engulfing the world, according to McCraw.

Higher education

The business of higher education has changed little since Plato and Aristotle taught at the Athenian Lyceum. With government patronage and support, close to 4 million Americans and 5 million Europeans will graduate this summer. Emerging nations’ universities are expanding even faster. I was told in Shanghai last month that China has added 30 million university places in the past 20 years.

Indeed, I do see a revolution coming for three main disruptive reasons:

  •  Rising costs – Baumol’s disease has set in, i.e. soaring costs reflecting high labour intensity with stagnant productivity; for the past two decades, costs have risen 1.6 percentage points above inflation annually.
  •  Changing demand – a recent Oxford study contended that 47% of occupations are now at risk of being automated and as innovation wipes out jobs and drastically change others, vast numbers will be needing continuing education.
  • Fast moving TP will change the way education is packaged, taught and delivered. MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) today offers university students a chance to learn from the world’s best and get a degree for a fraction of today’s cost. Harvard Business School will soon offer an online “pre-MBA” for US$1,500 (RM4,778)! The reinvention of universities will certainly benefit many more than it hurts. Elites like Harvard, MIT and Stanford will gain from this creative destruction process. Education is now a global digital market.

What then, are we to do

Corporate giants come and go in a competitive economy. Microsoft and Nokia used to rule the digital world. Now they don’t. No monopoly is permanent, unless enforced by government, which as everyone knows hardly changes, even as the rest of the world passes it by. In the United States, it is reported that the administration wants to prevent Apple’s iTunes and AppStore from abusing the network “lock-in” created by Apple’s tech ecosystem. But the judge has since ruled that “I want Apple to have the flexibility to innovate.” That’s something, isn’t it?

economics-poster-smallMy professor at Harvard, Nobel laureate Kenneth Arrow, used to extol about the importance of learning by doing. So, those who want to innovate, let them just do it – hopefully with no government intervention even though there is a compelling “infant” argument for industrial protection, which can be a double-edged sword when it comes to learning and innovating.

Most of the time, the infant seldom grows up. But reinventing the ancient institution of higher learning will not be easy. EdX, a non-profit MOOC founded (and funded) in May 2012 by Harvard and MIT, is now a consortium of 28 institutions worldwide. No one knows how big the online market will eventually be. It’s more akin to online airline-booking services – expanding the market by improving the customer experience.

Still, innovation at MOOC will definitely reduce the cost of higher education, grow market size but with widespread creative destruction collateral damage, and turn inefficient universities on their heads. MOOC estimates that university employment can fall by as much as 30% and 700-800 institutions can shut-down. The rest have to reinvent themselves to survive. Our learning society will change forever, whether we like it or not.

Former banker, Dr. Lin See-Yan is a Harvard educated economist and a British chartered scientist who writes on economic and financial issues. Feedback is most welcome; email: starbizweek@thestar.com.my. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

IMD (Switzerland) World Competitiveness Survey: Malaysia moves up to 12th position


July 8, 2014

IMD (Switzerland) World Competitiveness Survey: Malaysia moves up to 12th position

img_enewletter-issue7-01Malaysia  ranked 12 in List of 60 economies

Malaysia moved up the world competitiveness ranking again, securing a spot in the enviable top dozen and improving the country’s attractiveness to investors.

The International Institute for Management Development (IMD), a Switzerland-based top-ranked business school, lifted Malaysia to 12th position from 15th last year in a list of 60 economies.

“The improved rankings will renew interest and attract investments to the country,” IMD World Competitiveness Center director Professor Arturo Bris told the New Straits Times. The country also continues to be ahead of the United Kingdom (16th), Australia (@17th), Finland (18th), New Zealand (20th), Japan (21st) and South Korea (26th).

Malaysia, Bris said, improved its openness to foreign markets and attracted capital and investment at increasing rates.

In a separate statement, International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed saidMiti's Mustapa 12th position was Malaysia’s best performance in the past four years and reflected the progress of the Government Transformation Programme and the Economic Transformation Programme.

“Malaysia expects a much better performance in the next three to five years as more of its initiatives begin to bear fruit,” he said.

The Survey

The World Competitiveness Yearbook 2014 is the 26th publication since 1989.The findings are compiled each year by IMD’s World Competitiveness Center in a survey of 60 economies called the World Competitiveness Yearbook.

The yearbook analyses and ranks the ability of each nation to create and maintain an environment that sustains the competitiveness of enterprises.The survey rates at the availability of fixed telephone lines, broadband, railroad network, part-time employment market, illiteracy, medical assistance and other criteria.

The report is based on statistical data and perception data obtained through a survey that reviews 338 criteria in four categories:

  1. Economic Performance covers the domestic economy, international trade, international investment, employment and price.
  2. Government Efficiency looks into public finance, fiscal policy, institutional framework, business legislation and societal framework.
  3. Business efficiency looks at productivity and efficiency, the labour market, finance, management practices, attitudes and values.
  4. Infrastructure rates technological, scientific, health, environmental and educational infrastructure.

In the category of countries with gross domestic per capita of less than US$20,000 (RM64,300), Malaysia remained at the top among 29 economies. Among countries with populations above 20 million, Malaysia climbed up to 4th position from 5th last year.

In ASEAN, Malaysia remains number two after Singapore and ranked third in the Asia Pacific region compared with fourth last year, while Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines are fourth, fifth and seventh respectively.

Malaysia has consistently performed well in other international surveys, including being ranked 6th by the World Bank in Ease of Doing Business 2014, 24th in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2013-2014 and 32nd in the Global Innovation Index 2013 by INSEAD Business School.

Mustapa Mohamed:Malaysia’s Productivity grew by 2.3% in 2013


June 26, 2014

Mustapa Mohamed: Malaysia’s Productivity  grew by 2.3% in 2013

Report by BERNAMA dated June 25, 2014

Malaysia Productivity Report 2013-2014Malaysia registered a productivity growth of 2.3% last year to a productivity level of RM60,437 from RM59,064 in 2012

Based on the Productivity Report 2013/2014 which was launched today by the Minister of International Trade and Industry (Miti), Mustapa Mohamed, the growth has helped Malaysia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to expand 4.7% to RM786.69 billion in 2013, supported by a growth in employment of 2.3%.

MUSTAPA MOHAMAD 02In his speech at the launch, Mustapa (left) said the 2.3% growth in labour productivity compared to two per cent in 2012 could be attributed to the performance of key sectors of the economy, as well as technological progress, capital deepening and widening and the quality of labour.

“The launching of the Productivity Report for 2013/2014, in its 21 years running, strengthens the government’s agenda to enhancing the nation’s productivity. In this report, Malaysia Productivity Corporation (MPC) has emphasised the productivity framework which is based on shared Malaysian values of collaboration, coordination, communication and competency that drives national development agendas such as the Economic Transformation Programme, the Government Transformation Plan and the Malaysia Plans,” he said.

According to the Productivity Report, the services and construction sectors performed well in 2013, with labour productivity growing by 4.8% and 5.2% respectively. However, labour productivity in the agriculture sector declined by 3.5%.

The reported added that MPC made a few recommendations to address the issues facing Malaysia’s productivity goals such as how to nurture a competitive and productive mindset, promote incentives within targeted industries and strengthen regulatory review to boost national productivity.

Mustapa said Malaysia’s productivity growth surpassed that of many advanced economies, including Australia (1.4%), Japan (1.3%), Singapore (1.6%), South Korea (1.7%) and the United States (0.9%).

On another note, Mustapa said in the first three years of the Tenth Malaysia Plan (10MP) implementation, the average contribution of Total Factor Productivity (TFP) to the country’s GDP was 19.7%. He said in terms of labour’s contribution, the country needed to improve the quality of labour by strengthening policies and offer firms the right incentives to create modern jobs that will attract higher wages and increase productivity through the application of technology.

“Thus, all of us, including those in the government and representatives in trade unions and associations, must make a concerted effort to ensure higher growth with improvements in technology, research and development as well as investment in human capital,” he added.