INDIA: Only GOLD glitters


August 30, 2013

INDIA: Only GOLD glitters

By Suvashree Dey Choudhury

MUMBAI | Thu Aug 29, 2013 8:05am EDT

Gold Bullion

(Reuters) – India is considering a radical plan to direct commercial banks to buy gold from ordinary citizens and divert it to precious metal refiners in an attempt to curb imports and take some heat off the plunging currency.

A pilot project will be launched soon, a source familiar with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) plans told Reuters. India has the world’s third-largest current account deficit, which is approaching nearly $90 billion, driven in a large part by appetite for gold imports in the world’s biggest consumer of the metal.

With 31,000 tonnes of commercially available gold in the country – worth $1.4 trillion at current prices – diverting even a fraction of that to refiners would sate domestic demand for the metal. India imported 860 tonnes of gold in 2012.

“We will start a pilot project among some banks where we will allow them to buy back gold from individual households,” the source, an official familiar with the central bank’s gold policymaking, said. “This will start soon, we have discussed (it) with banks.”

The RBI will ask the banks to buy back jewelry, bars and coins for rupees. Lenders will have to offer better rates than pawn shops and jewelers to lure sellers.

Any talk of using the country’s gold to help meet India’s international obligations revives memories of a 1991 balance of payments crisis – when India flew 67 tonnes of gold to Europe as collateral for a loan to avoid a sovereign debt default.

Earlier on Thursday, India’s Trade Minister Anand Sharma said the central bank should look into the possibility of monetizing gold holdings. It was not immediately clear whether Sharma was referring to the 557.7 tonnes of gold the RBI holds in its own reserves, or gold in private hands. He did not give more details of how the proposal would work.

“I have not said there should be any mortgaging of the gold, or auction of the gold, that is incorrect. I have just said the RBI should look into … how they can benefit the people, particularly with regard to the bonds or the monetization,” Sharma said in response to a question in parliament.

Earlier this week in comments reported in the national media, Sharma said “even if 500 tonnes is monetized at today’s value it takes care of your CAD”, or current account deficit.

Selling gold reserves may sit badly with Indians, many of whom saw the 1991 sale as a public humiliation. The secret operation was only exposed after a vehicle carrying the first consignment of bullion broke down on its way to the airport from the central bank.

“It (pledging gold) will be a desperate measure, and it will send a very wrong signal to the entire country because all the time we’ve maintained that things are under control even though things are adverse,” said Madan Sabnavis, chief economist at CARE Ratings in Mumbai.

Such a sale would also dent international gold prices which took a hit earlier this year after Cyprus said it was considering selling its gold reserves to shore up its finances.

India has taken multiple steps this year to curb imports of gold, its second-biggest import after oil, including raising duty three times to 10 percent.

The rupee, the worst-performing emerging market currency in Asia this year, rebounded from a record low on Thursday after the RBI said it will provide dollars directly to state oil companies to shore up the currency.

In comments published by The Hindu newspaper last week, David Gornall, chairman of the London Bullion Market Association, said India could raise $23 billion by swapping gold for a payable currency for a period of its choice, while remaining the long-term holder of the gold.

Gold forms an essential part of a bride’s dowry in India and is considered auspicious as a gift or offering at religious festivals.

(Additional reporting by Siddesh Mayenkar in Mumbai, Rajesh Kumar Singh, Frank Jack Daniel in New Delhi; Writing by A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Amran Abocar and Neil Fullick)

Common Sense Economics


August 30, 2013

How about this for the morning–Common Sense Economics

DM latestThis is video is still relevant, says our mutual friend, Dr Phua Lai Kit and thanks to him I am sharing it with all who visit this blog.

Malaysia is in an economic mess and we need leadership that can deal with this reality. Markets are battering our currency; our stock market is heading south and forecasters are saying that our economy is slowing down (lower economic growth in 2014) and our national debt is seriously out of line, and I am concerned about the ability of our government to undertake counter-cyclical measures to boost domestic demand. Let us wait for Budget 2013-2014.  Markets are not excited about what will be in store for 2014. Get our politics, if we care for our country. And that means…..?–Din Merican.

Police take artwork over alleged religious insult


August 29, 2013

MY COMMENT: I am stunned after reading Aidila’s report.  How can a piece of art criticising President George W Bush’s invasion of Iraq be regarded as an insult to Islam? What has become of us, especially our Police? We seem to have lost our sense of perspective. It is perhaps too much to say that we are heading towards a Maoist Cultural Revolution which led China into an psychological abyss, only to be saved by Deng Xiao Peng in 1978. But we are getting close. We are being very touchy when it comes to Islam and race. It is time for Prime Minister Najib to rein in those over enthusiastic mullahs and the Police. –Din Merican

We are being very touchy when it comes to Islam and race. It is time for Prime Minister Najib to rein in those over enthusiastic mullahs and the Police.

We are being very touchy when it comes to Islam and race. It is time for Prime Minister Najib to rein in those over enthusiastic mullahs and the Police.

Police take artwork over alleged religious insult

by Aidila Razak@http://www.malaysiakini.com

Police have taken a piece from the M50 Selamat Hari Malaysia art exhibition as part of its investigation into an alleged religious insult by artist Anurendra Jegadeva.

The piece ‘I is for Idiot’, part of the ‘ABC For The Middle-Age Middle Classes’ body of work, was taken this afternoon from the Publika Mall where it is being displayed.

anurendra jegadeva m50 290813Curators have taken down the rest of Anurendra’s work, that was showing at the mall’s throrughfare, for safekeeping.

It is understood that a police report was lodged yesterday against the piece for an alleged insult to Islam, as it included Arabic words commonly used in Islamic prayer, which mean ‘In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful’.

Anurendra has not been detained but he may be called in to give a statement to Police on the matter tomorrow. The artist is expected to release a statement on the matter soon.

The work features a chimpanzee in a helmet and jacket riding a bicycle while in the background is a military pilot and the words “Mission Accomplished”.

Under the bicycle is a flag with red and white stripes, skull and crossbones and stars, and the Arabic words printed in mirror image.

NGO sees multi-layer of insults

However, Islamic NGO Muafakat which lodged the report, perceived the flag as the Malaysian flag and that the chimpanzee as a depiction of Islam or Muslims.  In his blog, Muafakat secretary-general A Karim Omar said that the work “appears to say that Islam is for idiots”.

anurendra jegadeva m50 290813He added that the Arabic words printed in mirror image “clearly show that the artist’s ill-intentions” as the works ‘J is for Jesus’ and ‘K is for Krishna’ “did not have any elements of insults”.

He said that police are investigating the matter under Section 298A of the Penal Code which deals with insults to religion.

The M50 Selamat Hari Malaysia show features 50 Malaysian artists, touching on a broad range of subjects including thorny issues of corruption and poor governance.

It is co-organised by Balai Seni Visual Negara, MapKL@Publika and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

Earlier, landscape artist Ng Sek San’s work Malaysian Spring which was adopted by pro-Pakatan Rakyat individuals in the lead-up to the 13th general election was not allowed to be part of the M50 show. As a compromise, his work is showing at the mall’s Art Row, next to the M50 exhibition along with two other artists.

Kuan Yew and the Malay Position


August 29, 2013

Kuan Yew and the Malay Position

by Dr. Chandra Muzaffar@www.nst.com.my

ONE MAN’S VIEW: By installing Stamford Raffles as its founder, Singapore marginalised its intimate link to the Johor-Riau sultanate

Lee-Kuan-Yew-book-singapore-060813_360_524_100

LEE Kuan Yew’s (LKY) Malaysia A Different Path in his One Man’s View of the World is important for a simple reason. It is a reflection of how an overwhelming majority of Chinese Malaysians and a sizeable number of Indian Malaysians feel about Malaysia. It is this feeling that expressed itself through the ballot box on May 5.

For these Malaysians, the greatest threat to inter-ethnic unity and harmony is Malay dominance. LKY alludes to “dominance of one race” (p. 162). He argues that when Singapore was part of Malaysia between 1963 and 1965, he fought for a “truly multiracial country”, a Malaysian Malaysia.

As he puts it in his book, “We had to go by the Constitution, which did not say that it was a Malay Malaysia but a Malaysian Malaysia.” (p. 160)

True, the Malaysian Constitution does not create a Malay nation if by that we mean an exclusive Malay entity. By conferring citizenship upon millions of non-Malays between 1948 and 1957, Malaya, later Malaysia, was destined to be a multi-ethnic nation.

Indeed, it was the Malay leadership itself, specifically the UMNO elite, that decided, for a variety of reasons, that citizenship, including jus soli (the automatic right of anyone born in a particular territory to citizenship), should be extended to the non-Malays.

If the Constitution embodies the concept of multi-ethnic citizenship while guaranteeing equality before the law for all Malaysians (Article 8), does it also endorse the idea of a Malaysian Malaysia as envisaged by LKY?

All the states in the Malay Peninsula and Singapore had their genesis in these sultanates. By acknowledging the role of the sultans, albeit as constitutional monarchs, the Constitution is emphasising the significance of historical continuity in the identity of the nation.

LKY has never been comfortable with this as illustrated by a paragraph from his latest book. He writes, “Between 1963 and 1965, as prime minister of Singapore, I had to attend meetings of the Council (sic) of Rulers in Malaysia.

“The rulers who attended would all be Malays, dressed in uniforms and accompanied by their sword bearers. All the chief ministers had their traditional Malay dresses on and I was the sole exception. This was not mere symbolism. It was to drive home the point: this is a Malay country. Never should you forget that.” (p. 160).

LKY as prime minister of the independent state of Singapore installed the British colonial administrator, Stamford Raffles, as its founder.It marginalised the island’s intimate link to the Johor-Riau sultanate and the larger Malay world.

By making Raffles the founder of Singapore, LKY was strengthening the myth of discovery, which is so much a part of colonial psychological domination.

His position on the other even more powerful expression of Malay identity, namely Islam, tells us a great deal about the man’s utter lack of understanding of what the religion means to its followers. Noting that Malaysia “will be a Malay-Muslim country”, he laments, “Once upon a time they were relaxed — they used to serve liquor at dinners and drink with you — now they toast each other in syrups.” (pp. 171-2).

For the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Malaysia and elsewhere, observing what is explicitly prohibited in the religion would be seen as “righteous conduct”.

On the other hand, those who transgress prohibitions — such as consuming liquor — are invariably viewed as people lacking in moral probity.

This perception of right and wrong among Muslims — contrary to what LKY appears to suggest — has not made them less relaxed or less “open to new ideas” (p. 171), as demonstrated by the attitudes and actions of millions of Muslims right through history.

LKY’s misconceptions are perhaps even starker when it comes to the special position of the Malays in the Constitution. In denouncing “race-based” and “discriminatory policies”, he forgets that it was not simply because the vast majority of Malays were abysmally poor in the early 1960s — 64 per cent lived below the poverty line — that affirmative action was justified.

Some form of preferential treatment had become absolutely necessary because a huge number of non-Malays became citizens, a segment of whom was economically much better endowed and, therefore, more capable of enhancing its position in a market economy.

The accommodation of the non-Malays on such a massive scale had given rise to an extraordinary situation with very few parallels or precedents in history. A people whose identity defined the land — Tanah Melayu — had been relegated to a community among communities. It is from this perspective that one should try to understand not only the articles pertaining to special position in the Constitution, but also the position of the Malay rulers, the Malay language and Islam.

Collectively, they constitute the Malay position. The Malay position, as I once argued in a seminar in Singapore in 1973, was “compensation” for the community since it never became a nation-state on its own.

LKY made no attempt to understand this when Singapore was part of Malaysia. When one reads his reflections on Malaysia in 2013 — 48 years after the separation of Singapore from Malaysia — it is apparent that his thinking has remained wrapped in that lop-sided, communally biased cocoon that displays so little empathy for the Malays, their accommodation of the non-Malays, the subsequent relegation of their status and the complexities of building a united nation out of this unique matrix.

If LKY had developed some empathy for the “Malay Other”, he could have emerged as an effective inter-ethnic bridge-builder conveying Malay sentiments to the non-Malays and, at the same time, transmitting their legitimate aspirations to the Malays. This mutual understanding would have reinforced relations between the communities and helped to develop a cohesive nation. Instead, he chose to be an ethnic hero.

Obama’s “Déjà vu” Vietnam Diplomacy


August 29, 2013

Obama’s “Déjà vu” Vietnam Diplomacy

by Greg Rushford of The Rusford Report (08-23-13)

rushphotoA high-stakes diplomatic drama is playing out between the United States and Vietnam. While the focus is on enhancing bilateral economic ties in the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, the economics are also related to broader security- and human rights issues. This article has some fresh news to report on what’s going on behind the scenes: What the ruling Politburo in Hanoi has decided about deepening its economic ties with the major powers. What Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang and U.S. President Barack Obama had to say to each other during their July 25 White House meeting in the Oval Office. Who else was in the room — and why that was important.

There is also background information to report that sheds light on the intense pressures that U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman has been bringing to bear on Vietnam, notably last week in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei. On August 22-23, Froman had private talks with his Vietnamese counterpart, Vu Huy Hoang, on the sidelines of the 19th round of the TPP trade talks, which are continuing this week in Brunei. Washington has been playing an intimidation game, pressuring Hanoi to accept an economic deal that is clearly not in Vietnam’s best interests — and just might get away with it.

But it’s not the hard news that captivates, but rather, the déjà vu feeling of another Us-Vthistorical turning point in U.S.-Vietnamese relations. On August 30, 1945 — 68 years to the day, it turns out, that the TPP’s 19th round of negotiations will conclude this Friday in Brunei — Ho Chi Minh wrote the first of several letters to U.S. President Harry Truman. Uncle Ho sought Truman’s support for Vietnamese aspirations to gain independence from French colonial rule. The letters went unanswered, as the Truman administration’s higher priority involved helping the French recover from the devastations of World War II.

“In historical terms, it was a monumental decision by Truman, and like so many that U.S. presidents would make in the decades to come, it had little to do with Vietnam herself — it was all about America’s priorities on the world stage,” historian Fredrik Logevall has observed in his acclaimed Embers of War. The concerns of more enlightened observers in the U.S. State Department and in the intelligence community, who worried about the consequences of getting on the wrong side of the battle against colonialism, were overridden.

Sang and Obama

When they met in the Oval Office last month, President Sang displayed a keen sense of history when he gave Obama a copy of one of Uncle Ho’s letters to Truman. Hanoi has good reason to worry that the top Obama White House priority, once again, is not really focused on the Vietnamese economy.

In the TPP trade talks, the White House has been fighting tooth and nail on behalf of the protectionist U.S. textile lobby — Obama’s loyal allies who have supported him in his two successful presidential races. The top priority of the (globally uncompetitive) U.S. mills is denying Vietnam more access to protected U.S. clothing and footwear markets in a TPP trade deal.

As in the late 1940s, a few enlightened U.S. diplomats (quietly) and intelligence officials (very quietly) have now let their concerns be known around Washington. But Washington’s seasoned Asia hands find themselves basically sidelined by the White House domestic political priorities, much as their predecessors were nearly seven decades ago.

Meanwhile, President Sang, on behalf of the ruling Politburo, had his own message to deliver to Obama last month.To better understand the nuanced blend current spot news and history, let’s begin with that White House meeting.

Spinning Oval Office diplomacy

When it comes to diplomacy, sometimes what the public sees is true — just not the whole picture. Consider the video that the White House posted on its website on July 25. Viewers see Sang and Obama meeting alone in the Oval Office, sitting in armchairs in front of a fireplace, each wearing appropriate dark power suits with muted ties. The image that the White House spinmeisters — who also put the video on You Tube — intended to convey recalls famous historical one-on-one diplomatic talks at the highest level: Nixon with Mao, or Roosevelt and Stalin.

But the Obama-Sang meeting was hardly a Roosevelt-Stalin like moment. It was a scripted, ceremonial occasion, typical of how American presidents have come to host visiting foreign dignitaries in recent years.

An unpublished photo shot by someone else in the room with a wide-angle lens shows that Sang had nine men in the Oval Office with him. Trade Minister Hoang was there, along with Agriculture Minister Cao Duc Phat and the head of Vietnam’s presidential office, Dao Viet Trung. Vietnamese Ambassador to the United States Nguyen Quoc Cuong also was present, as was Lt. Gen. To Lam. Gen. Lam is the deputy minister of Public Security, and formerly headed the ministry’s counter-intelligence department. Lam is also a member of the Communist Party’s Central Committee.

With so many watchers — not all of them necessarily loyal to President Sang’s own supporters in the Politburo — no Vietnamese President would be positioned to engage in substantive bargaining.

A sense of history

Perhaps the three most interesting Vietnamese officials present were the translator, Pham Xuan Hoang An; Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh, and Colonel General Nguyen Chi Vinh, the deputy minister of national defense. These men carry a sense of history with them — and a longstanding serious professional interest in U.S.-Vietnamese diplomacy. To experienced Vietnamese watchers, the news that An, Vinh and Minh were in the Oval Office will convey a sense of Vietnamese seriousness.

Interpreter An’s father, Pham Xuan An, was perhaps the most important communist spy during the Vietnam War. An’s cover was as a reporter for western news outlets, including Reuters and Time magazine. This complicated man was made a general after the North Vietnamese victory in 1975. But then Gen. An was also detained in a camp for “reeducation” for a year, because he was suspected as being too close to the Americans.

In fact, An loved America (he helped one of the CIA’s most important assets escape when the communists took Saigon). But after the war, the spy explained to his American friends that his top priority had always been working for his country’s independence. An’s double life was the subject of Larry Berman’s fascinating Perfect Spy, published in 2007. Now, An’s son, translator Pham Xuan Hoang An, works in Vietnam’s consulate in San Francisco. Like his father, the younger An is a man who knows both countries very well.

While Colonel Gen. Nguyen Chi Vinh is hardly a household name in America, he is well known to Vietnamese watchers. His father, Gen. Nguyen Chi Thanh, was Vietnam’s second-ever general, after Vo Nguyen Giap. Gen. Thanh was the mastermind of the coordinated uprisings in nearly every major South Vietnamese urban center during the Tet Lunar New Year festivities in January of 1968. The Tet Offensive did not succeed in a military sense. But it is credited with being the proverbial last straw for the fed-up American public, which realized that the White House claims that the communists were on the verge of defeat were false.

Vinh is a member of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, and formerly headed the military intelligence department known (and feared) as Tong Cuc2. Veteran Hong Kong-based foreign correspondent Greg Torode has called Vinh Vietnam’s wily “Old Fox,” a man who is generally regarded as “Vietnam’s shrewdest strategic thinker.”

Vinh has been a key actor in Vietnam’s delicate balancing act involving major powers with security interests in the Pacific. He has been an important player in a variety of sensitive issues: countering Chinese intimidation in the South China Sea while simultaneously establishing military ties with Beijing; submarine and other weapons purchases from Russia; and also increasing U.S.-Vietnamese military cooperation. Vinh, who is well known in both Washington and Beijing, also showed up earlier this month for private talks with senior defense officials in Tokyo (who also have good reasons to worry about Chinese continuing aggressive moves in the Pacific).

Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh also has a famous father. Nguyen Co Thach was Vietnam’s foreign minister from 1980 – 1991, where he worked unsuccessfully to normalize ties with the defeated Americans. Like his father, Foreign Minister Minh has a reputation as being keenly aware of the strategic importance of developing closer ties with the United States, by way of countering undue Chinese influence.

Minh related candidly at a Council of Foreign Relations event in 2011 that he had been full of “hatred” during the war, when as a child he endured the U.S. bombing of Hanoi. But ever since he joined the Vietnamese diplomatic service after the 1975 communist victory, Minh — like his father — has focused his own career upon finding ways to forge closer ties with Vietnam’s former war enemy.

Obama’s Diplomatic Team

While the July 25 Sang-Obama White House meeting was a tightly scripted affair, there was at least one moment of spontaneity, where Obama briefly reached out to strike a personal rapport with his Vietnamese guest. When U.S. and foreign “pool” journalists were admitted to the Oval Office for the usual photo opportunity, they shouted some questions to the two presidents. Obama ignored them, but was overheard whispering to Sang, “reporters are the same everywhere.”

A White House press aide declines to discuss who else was in the meeting on either the Vietnamese- or the American side. Pool reporters who were let in for the photo ceremony saw two U.S. officials besides National Security Adviser Susan Rice: Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, and U.S. trade negotiator Froman.

Pritzker, an Obama fundraiser from Chicago, is new to foreign affairs. Her Commerce Department is the agency that is widely resented in Vietnam for inflicting protectionist anti-dumping tariffs on the Vietnamese shrimp and catfish industries. And Froman, although also close to Obama, brings more of a domestic political focus to his job than genuine foreign policy experience. (Any diplomatic heavy lifting that was done would have been done a few blocks away from the White House, at Secretary John Kerry’s State Department. Kerry, a Vietnam War veteran, hosted the Vietnamese presidential delegation on July 24. He was in New York when the Vietnamese visitors met with Obama the next day.)Scripted or not, still, important signals were sent by both Presidents.

A Message from the Politburo

The Vietnamese delegation made it clear to Obama — as they had a day earlier in a meeting with trade negotiator Froman — that they were sincere about attaching a very high priority to advancing economic ties with the United States in the TPP negotiations, according to well-informed Vietnamese officials and also senior U.S. diplomatic officials who asked not to be identified.

Carlyle Thayer, a respected Vietnamese watcher who has excellent high-level connections in Hanoi, explains. Thayer, who is affiliated with the Australian Defense Force Academy, says he has seen a copy of an April 10 resolution drafted by the ruling Politburo, which has not yet been publicly released. “It makes economic integration with all the major powers Vietnam’s top priority, over all other forms of integration, including security,” Thayer reports.

In the Oval Office, President Sang stressed to Obama what Vietnamese officials have been saying for the last three years: that if the TPP negotiations are to succeed, Vietnam will need economic incentives — mainly substantial additional access to U.S. clothing- and footwear markets, which are currently encumbered with high tariffs. Vietnam’s main problem with the TPP is that for the same past three years, the White House has held up progress in the negotiations by refusing to make serious tariff-slashing offers.

White House press officials decline to discuss Obama’s response to Sang. For public consumption the two presidents agreed to put out a (bland) public statement noting that they would instruct their aides to do their utmost to complete the TPP by the end of this year. (The White House said the same thing last year, and also in 2011. Froman has been telling people that this time, the administration really means it.)

Signals from Washington

The White HouseWhat little detail is known about what Obama said during the meeting has been revealed by U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam David Shear, who spoke to a high-powered Vietnamese-American gathering in Washington, D.C.’s Virginia suburbs on August. 16.  Shear said that the Obama administration considers the TPP negotiations to be “extremely important.” But without “demonstrable progress on human rights” by Hanoi on human rights, “we will not be able to generate congressional support” for a TPP deal, the ambassador added.

Shear related that human rights had come up twice in the Obama-Sang meeting. The first, he said, was part of a general reference linking human rights as the key to enhanced economic and security ties.

According to the ambassador, the second reference to human rights came after Sang expressed Vietnam’s desire to purchase U.S. “lethal” weapons. “If you want to do that,” Shear said that Obama replied, “you’ve got to improve your human-rights practices.” (A full transcript of Shear’s remarks has not yet been posted on the U.S. embassy’s website.

As Hanoi’s human-rights record is currently being compared unfavorably to Vietnam’s Asian neighbors — even notorious Cambodia has held elections, while Myanmar has been busy freeing its political prisoners — Obama’s point is well taken. The Politburo must be asking itself these days what benefits the country is getting by continuing to imprison more than 160 peaceable political prisoners, whose “crimes” were merely exercising their rights to free political speech and peaceable assembly.

But the same Politburo members who are on the defense on human rights must also be asking why they should sign onto a TPP deal that would offer Vietnam dubious economic benefits.

Secret “21st Century” negotiations

Some parts of the TPP negotiations, to be sure, would clearly be aimed at boosting the Vietnamese economy. Vietnam has been struggling with the politically difficult task of reforming the country’s famously inefficient state-owned enterprises for some two decades.

Vietnam’s SOEs basically are secretive black holes and a drag on more than a third of the country’s economy. When the Obama White House spins the TPP deal as a “high-standard, 21st century” deal that will set an enviable template for trade in the Asia-Pacific region, SOE reforms come immediately to mind.

But other than the self-serving slogans, the White House has been refusing to explain to the watching publics any details of what the Vietnamese are being asked to do. Ironically, the White House is demanding that the Vietnamese economy become more open to market-oriented economics, while classifying what that might entail as a state secret.

Enter “Yarn Backward”

What Hanoi wants most in the TPP is for the United States to slash its high tariffs on imported footwear and clothing. There is a sort of role reversal here. The commies in Hanoi are pressing for free-market access to protected American markets. The Americans are demanding state control. The economic notion is called “yarn forward,” but the economics are hardly forward looking.

As I’ve previously reported, the French 19th century colonialists required that their Vietnamese subjects supply the mother country with textiles. Such imperial preference schemes supported France’s economic domination of Indochina — and inspired Vietnam’s independence movement.

Now the Americans are demanding the same sort of arrangement in the TPP. Vietnam would only qualify for duty-free treatment on its clothing- and footwear exports to the United States if it bought yarn and fabrics from another TPP country — translation: from the declining mills in the U.S. South, not non-TPP countries like China.

It doesn’t take an economics degree to see the flaws. Nobody — beyond insular-looking U.S. mills that long ago lost their competitive edge in global markets — pretends it makes economic sense. Why would any White House pressure the likes of Levis or Gap to buy their (heavy) denim from U.S. suppliers and ship it across the Pacific to Southeast Asia? Why would Obama even think of trying to force giant underwear manufacturer Hanesbrands to stop supplying its Vietnamese manufacturing from Hanes’ established suppliers in China or Thailand? Why would any White House insist that it has the right to disrupt the global supply chains of such respected major American corporations?

U.S. Trade Representative Froman has refused repeated requests to explain exactly why “yarn forward” would be in Vietnam’s best economic interests.

I have also asked U.S. Ambassador Shear if he was able to point to any economicDavidShear benefits to Vietnam in the yarn forward notion. Shear has been put in the diplomatically awkward position of defending the White House position on yarn forward to the Vietnamese. Shear declined to defend yarn forward’s economic rationale publicly. The ambassador referred the question back to trade negotiator Froman, who again declined comment.

[Ambassador Shear has a reputation as a thoughtful diplomat, albeit something of a team player. His deliberate non-answer could be interpreted as a diplomatic wink, conveying his distaste for the whole business. In private meetings with U.S. corporate executives, Shear has toed the Obama line, but his body language has suggested his discomfort.]

Meanwhile, the White House has been demanding that American clothing manufacturers turn over confidential information on how their global supply chains operate. Intimidated, the companies have mostly knuckled under. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative even has a special web site for the companies to divulge their business secrets to the government. This access to the private proprietary data has given Froman and his aides the means to instruct the domestic industry where it can source their materials (the U.S. South) and where they can’t (China).

The American clothing importers are now scrambling behind the scenes to receive special exemptions for themselves from the White House. The corporate lobbyists are looking to protect at least parts of their global supply chains from White House interference.

Of course, even with the limited TPP carve-outs that the feds may grant, the rules would always still be subject to sudden change, depending upon unpredictable bureaucratic whims. The American companies could stop the whole business if they had the nerve to stop groveling — which they have never quite summoned in previous U.S. trade negotiations.

China Bashing

The White House unconvincingly denies that the TPP is part of an anti-China economic encirclement strategy. Yarn forward was first included in the U.S. preferential trade deal with Mexico in the early 1990s, and then to other Latin American countries. The idea then, as now, was to hold back Chinese and later, other Asian imports.

It has failed. The rules are so cumbersome that only about 17 percent of Latin American trade goes through the “yarn forward” rules. Companies mostly prefer to pay the tariffs rather than suffer the paperwork.

Relief for Africa

When the Africans were negotiating the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act with the United States in the 1990s, the congressional Black Caucus vehemently objected to yarn forward rules because the principle offended them. Congressmen like Charles Rangel, a Democrat who represents New York’s Harlem neighborhood, fumed that yarn forward reeked of colonialism. Moreover, Rangel protested, such rules were even racist. Consequently, the AGOA trade deal allows the Africans to buy their cotton and other fabrics from China, or anywhere, as long as the final clothes are “cut and sewn” in Africa. In the TPP negotiations, anything short of clean “cut and sew” rules for clothing would hold back Vietnam’s export potential.

Another bitter irony for Vietnam: These days Rep. Rangel and other African-American lawmakers are lobbying for Obama to force upon Vietnam the same yarn-forward rules they formerly attacked as colonial and racist. And Central American countries like the Dominican Republic, who aren’t in the TPP and want to keep Asian competitors at bay, are also piling on Vietnam.

Michael FromanUndeterred, in Brunei last week, trade negotiator Froman still insisted that strict yarn forward rules remained at the “core” of what the U.S. wants in the TPP. He continued to withhold from the public any real details of what was in the TPP, other than the spin that it would be a “high standard, 21st Century” trade template.

The smart money would bet that the Vietnamese will end up swallowing hard and accepting a watered-down TPP deal, giving them modest increased market access for shoes and clothes, while making minimal market-opening concessions to the Americans. Call that TPP Light.

But perhaps the shrewd Politburo operatives in Hanoi, or at least enough of them, have the same sort of determination as did their fathers’ generation. After all, the Vietnamese negotiators should understand that Obama is the one who needs a TPP deal most. Could the American president really allow the TPP to fail, just because the Vietnamese want to sell Americans more pairs of underwear, blue jeans, and sneakers?

Talk about a déjà vu feeling. In the 1940s, President Truman ignored prescient warnings from U.S. intelligence and diplomatic officials that it would be a big mistake for the United States to get on the wrong side of the struggle against colonialism. Now, President Obama pays little heed to warnings that it is unwise to risk important trade talks with Vietnam — and America’s standing in Asia — for parochial domestic politics.

Some people never seem to learn their history.

http://rushfordreport.com/?page_id=6

On Slogans and Fuzzwords


August 29, 2013

On Slogans and Fuzzwords

by Aerie Rahman@ www. themalaymailonline.com (08-28-14)

Malaysia-- Endless PossibilitiesThe Malaysian government has once again given free sumpit ammunition to their detractors to derail them. The comical Endless Possibilities slogan was massacred by cynics who had a field day toying around with it. Let us not forget that the tepid 1 Malaysia slogan that is heralded as a masterpiece by the Najib administration is at best, flaccid.

The problem with both “complementary” slogans is that they are extremely ambiguous and thus allow too much room for interpretation. Does 1 Malaysia mean the abandonment of affirmative action policies or does it mean a Malaysia ruled by one political power base?

As for Endless Possibilities, well, the interpretation for this is endless. According to political anthropologist Andrea Cornwall, development discourse is peppered with jargon which serve as buzzwords and buzzwords. The same can be applied to slogans.

These are soundbites, which are concise and succinct, but they are not precise. They could mean anything and nothing at the same time and thus are fuzzwords.

I don’t doubt that when the prime minister gives these slogans a shout out, he means it in an idealistic manner. For him, Endless Possibilities and 1 Malaysia would mean an aspiring, harmonious Malaysia.

But the Prime Minister and his coterie of ministers are not normal Malaysians like you and me. They live in their own ivory towers. They are equipped with police outriders to part the Red Sea of the atrocious Friday evening KL traffic. They live ensconced in well-guarded residency areas. They can give employment to their children as “volunteers” for their causes.

Their lived realities are different from ours. Hence, they can afford to have a worldview where 1 Malaysia and Endless Possibilities are seen in a positive light.As for the rest of us, we are not so lucky.

What’s in a slogan?

The fetishisation of 1 Malaysia is rather scary. We have a Kedai Runcit 1 Malaysia and various paraphernalia devoted to promoting the 1 Malaysia cause. Even our KTM Komuter trains are painted with the 1 Malaysia logo. I predict that the next move would be to engrave the number 1 in front of the name of civil servants on their nametags. Just imagine: 1 Hishammuddin and 1 Zahid Hamidi. Beat that Israel!

It appears that 1 Malaysia has evolved to become Malaysia’s national philosophy. Deaf EarsNevertheless, like all slogans, this national philosophy lacks substance and analysis. It fails to embed itself into our national consciousness because of the high ambiguity and polarised interpretations. The same goes for DAP’s lukewarm Middle Malaysia. I haven’t heard much of it since its inception.

To diminish the ambiguity, a slogan must be teleological — it must have a clear goal. I have many qualms with Mahathir Mohamad. But Wawasan 2020 is quite a nice touch. It displays the audacity to aspire and strive to be a developed nation by 2020. It asserts that whatever it is, we must all pull our weight to be developed by 2020.

The only problem with this slogan is that the janji mestilah ditepati. The failure to reach the target by 2020 would only confirm that we as a nation have failed ourselves.

Context is everything

I believe that a slogan must be applicable to the contextual considerations that the nation is in. Wawasan 2020 was concocted in the early 90s when Malaysia’s economy was booming and we were receiving lots of petroringgits. The slogan was compatible with the national mood which was brimming with optimism.

Malaysia Boleh is another slogan that was created during the heyday of our economic growth. It defined a Malaysia that had the capacity to aspire and reach for the stars. Of course, in contemporary Malaysia this slogan is viewed in a more cynical manner but at that time, it was on almost everybody’s lips.

The government’s idealistic sloganeering is not in tandem with the tense atmosphere shrouding Malaysia. People are looking for a decisive prime minister who is certain on providing solutions for the problems at hand. Curiously enough, the prime minister is silent on polemical issues but very noisy when it comes to promoting his slogans — as if they were magical incantations to our woes.

The slogans are smokescreens, obscuring the real problems that the average Malaysian encounters. When people are crying out for real policy solutions, the response, which is by supplying more slogans like Endless Possibilities is ill-timed and unsettling. Against this backdrop, no wonder these slogans are met with endless sarcasm.

Najib-PM2013The Prime Minister counters his critics by claiming that Endless Possibilities is a form of national branding to project to the world. However, if the rakyat are cynical and have little confidence in this lacklustre brand, what are the chances that the international community would buy it? What matters more: how the rakyat sees it or how the world sees it?

Malaysia is facing a turbulent period. Crime is everywhere. Corruption is endemic. Cronyism is entrenched. The world economy is in a rupture and the Ringgit is weakening. Crass nationalism is gaining momentum. The rakyat is jittery, in need of firm but fair leadership to steward this nation to calmer waters.

I don’t like slogans but if the government insists on the need for slogans, it is imperative that the slogans respond to the pulse of the nation. In these uncertain times, slogans that assuage, assure and demonstrate leadership to the rakyat are optimal. At least, it shows that the government recognises these fundamental problems.

Recognition is a few steps away from solution.Construct slogans which address specific issues plaguing the collective conscience. “Zero Crimes” would be suitable for the Home Ministry determined to reduce crime.  “A Malaysia for All” sounds welcoming to those abroad and acts as a precursor to address the religious and ethnic intolerance beleaguering us. “A Roof above

Every Malaysian Head” can be one for the housing issue in the Klang Valley.We need a listening government. You know what? That could be a slogan in itself: The Listening Government.

http://www.themalaymailonline.com/opinion/aerie-rahman/article/national-sloganeering#sthash.BdPuCyAP.dpuf

The Malaysian government has once again given free sumpit ammunition to their detractors to derail them. The comical Endless Possibilities slogan was massacred by cynics who had a field day toying around with it. Let us not forget that the tepid 1 Malaysia slogan that is heralded as a masterpiece by the Najib administration is at best, flaccid.

The problem with both “complementary” slogans is that they are extremely ambiguous and thus allow too much room for interpretation. Does 1 Malaysia mean the abolishment of affirmative action policies or does it mean a Malaysia ruled by one political power base?

As for Endless Possibilities, well, the interpretation for this is endless.

According to political anthropologist Andrea Cornwall, development discourse is peppered with jargon which serve as buzzwords and buzzwords. The same can be applied to slogans.

These are soundbites, which are concise and succinct, but they are not precise. They could mean anything and nothing at the same time and thus are fuzzwords.

I don’t doubt that when the prime minister gives these slogans a shout out, he means it in an idealistic manner. For him, Endless Possibilities and 1 Malaysia would mean an aspiring, harmonious Malaysia.

But the prime minister and his coterie of ministers are not normal Malaysians like you and me. They live in their own ivory towers. They are equipped with police outriders to part the Red Sea of the atrocious Friday evening KL traffic. They live ensconced in well-guarded residency areas. They can give employment to their children as “volunteers” for their causes.

Their lived realities are different from ours. Hence, they can afford to have a worldview where 1 Malaysia and Endless Possibilities are seen in a positive light.

As for the rest of us, we are not so lucky.

What’s in a slogan?

The fetishisation of 1 Malaysia is rather scary. We have a Kedai Runcit 1 Malaysia and various paraphernalia devoted to promoting the 1 Malaysia cause. Even our KTM Komuter trains are painted with the 1 Malaysia logo. I predict that the next move would be to engrave the number 1 in front of the name of civil servants on their nametags. Just imagine: 1 Hishammuddin and 1 Zahid Hamidi. Beat that Israel!

It appears that 1 Malaysia has evolved to become Malaysia’s national philosophy. Nevertheless, like all slogans, this national philosophy lacks substance and analysis. It fails to embed itself into our national consciousness because of the high ambiguity and polarised interpretations. The same goes for DAP’s lukewarm Middle Malaysia. I haven’t heard much of it since its inception.

To diminish the ambiguity, a slogan must be teleological — it must have a clear goal. I have many qualms with Mahathir Mohamad. But Wawasan 2020 is quite a nice touch. It displays the audacity to aspire and strive to be a developed nation by 2020. It asserts that whatever it is, we must all pull our weight to be developed by 2020.

The only problem with this slogan is that the janji mestilah ditepati. The failure to reach the target by 2020 would only confirm that we as a nation have failed ourselves.

Context is everything

I believe that a slogan must be applicable to the contextual considerations that the nation is in. Wawasan 2020 was concocted in the early 90s when Malaysia’s economy was booming and we were receiving lots of petroringgits. The slogan was compatible with the national mood which was brimming with optimism.

Malaysia Boleh is another slogan that was created during the heyday of our economic growth. It defined a Malaysia that had the capacity to aspire and reach for the stars. Of course, in contemporary Malaysia this slogan is viewed in a more cynical manner but at that time, it was on almost everybody’s lips.

The government’s idealistic sloganeering is not in tandem with the tense atmosphere shrouding Malaysia. People are looking for a decisive prime minister who is certain on providing solutions for the problems at hand. Curiously enough, the prime minister is silent on polemical issues but very noisy when it comes to promoting his slogans — as if they were magical incantations to our woes.

The slogans are smokescreens, obscuring the real problems that the average Malaysian encounters. When people are crying out for real policy solutions, the response, which is by supplying more slogans like Endless Possibilities is ill-timed and unsettling. Against this backdrop, no wonder these slogans are met with endless sarcasm.

The prime minister counters his critics by claiming that Endless Possibilities is a form of national branding to project to the world. However, if the rakyat are cynical and have little confidence in this lacklustre brand, what are the chances that the international community would buy it? What matters more: how the rakyat sees it or how the world sees it?

Malaysia is facing a turbulent period. Crime is everywhere. Corruption is endemic. Cronyism is entrenched. The world economy is in a rupture and the Ringgit is weakening. Crass nationalism is gaining momentum. The rakyat is jittery, in need of firm but fair leadership to steward this nation to calmer waters.

I don’t like slogans but if the government insists on the need for slogans, it is imperative that the slogans respond to the pulse of the nation. In these uncertain times, slogans that assuage, assure and demonstrate leadership to the rakyat are optimal. At least, it shows that the government recognises these fundamental problems.

Recognition is a few steps away from solution.

Construct slogans which address specific issues plaguing the collective conscience. “Zero Crimes” would be suitable for the Home Ministry determined to reduce crime.  “A Malaysia for All” sounds welcoming to those abroad and acts as a precursor to address the religious and ethnic intolerance beleaguering us. “A Roof above

Every Malaysian Head” can be one for the housing issue in the Klang Valley.

We need a listening government. You know what? That could be a slogan in itself: The Listening Government.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

– See more at: http://www.themalaymailonline.com/opinion/aerie-rahman/article/national-sloganeering#sthash.BdPuCyAP.dpuf