The Trump Matrix–Countdown to January 20, 2017


December 29, 2016

The Trump Matrix-Countdown to January 20, 2017

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Making America an Imperial Nation

Anyone who tells you, with perfect confidence, what a Trump administration will do is either bluffing or being a fool ( he makes policy pronouncements via the twitter). We have a prospective Cabinet and a White House staff, but we haven’t got the first idea how the two will fit together or how the man at the top (he is t will preside over it all.

What we can do is set up a matrix to help assess the Trump era it proceeds, in which each appointment and development gets plotted along two axes. The first axis, the X-axis, represents possibilities for Trumpist policy, the second, the Y-axis, scenarios for Donald Trump’s approach to governance.

The policy axis runs from full populism at one end to predictable conservative orthodoxy on the other. A full populist presidency would give us tariffs and trade wars, an infrastructure bill that would have Robert Moses doing back flips, a huge wall and E-Verify and untouched entitlements and big tax cuts for the middle class. On foreign policy it would be Henry Kissinger meets Andrew Jackson: Détente with Russia, no nation-building anywhere, and a counterterrorism strategy that shoots, bombs and drones first and asks questions later.

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Emperor Donald J. Trump

In an orthodox-conservative Trump presidency, on the other hand, congressional Republicans would run domestic policy and Trump would simply sign their legislation: A repeal of Obamacare without an obvious replacement, big tax cuts for the rich, and the Medicare reform of Paul Ryan’s fondest dreams. On foreign policy, it would offer hawkishness with a dose of idealistic rhetoric — meaning brinkmanship with Vladimir Putin plus military escalation everywhere.

The second axis, the possibilities for how Trump governs, runs from ruthless authoritarianism at one end to utter chaos at the other. Under the authoritarian scenario, Trump would act on all his worst impulses with malign efficiency. The media would be intimidated, Congress would be gelded, the Trump family would enrich itself fantastically — and then, come a major terrorist attack, Trump would jail or intern anyone he deemed a domestic enemy.

At the other end of this axis, Trump and his team would be too stumbling and hapless to effectively oppress anyone, and the Trump era would just be a rolling disaster — with the deep state in revolt, the media circling greedily and any serious damage done by accident rather than design.

Trump’s transition can be charted along both axes. On policy, much of his Cabinet falls closer to the conventional conservative end, with appointees like Tom Price and Betsy DeVos, who would be at home in a Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio or even Jeb! administration.

Image result for The Trump Presidency teamDonald Trump’s Political Generals

On the other hand, his inner circle will have its share of truer Trumpists. Stephen Bannon is intent on remaking the GOP along nationalist lines, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump seem eager for their paterfamilias to negotiate with Democrats, Peter Navarro is girding for a trade war with China. And Trump’s foreign policy choices — especially Rex Tillerson at State — seem closer to full-Trumpist realpolitik than to Reaganism-as-usual.

On the governance axis, the President-Elect’s strong-arming of the private sector, his media-bashing tweets and his feud with the intelligence community all suggest an authoritarian timeline ahead.

But anyone who fears incompetence more than tyranny has plenty of evidence as well. Trump’s tweets might be a sign not of an incipient autocrat but of an unstable president who will undermine himself at every step. He has no cushion in popular opinion: If things go even somewhat badly, his political capital will go very fast indeed. He has plenty of hacks, wild cards and misfit toys occupying positions of real responsibility — and his White House has already had its first sex scandal!

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What are their roles?

Then, finally, there is the question of how the axes interact. A populist-authoritarian combination might seem natural, with Trump using high-profile deviations from conservative orthodoxy to boost his popularity even as he runs roughshod over republican norms.

But you could also imagine an authoritarian-orthodox conservative combination, in which congressional Republicans accept the most imperial of presidencies because it’s granting them tax rates and entitlement reforms they have long desired.

Or you could imagine a totally incompetent populism, in which Trump flies around the country holding rallies while absolutely nothing in Washington gets done … or a totally incompetent populism that ultimately empowers conventional conservatism, because Trump decides that governing isn’t worth it and just lets Paul Ryan run the country.

As for what we should actually hope for — well, the center of the matrix seems like the sweet spot for the country: A Trump presidency that is competent-enough without being dictatorial and that provides a populist corrective to conservatism without taking us all the way to mercantilism or a debt crisis.

But this is Donald Trump we’re talking about, so a happy medium seems unlikely. Along one axis or the other, bet on the extremes. — The New York Times/www.themalaymailonline.com.my

 

The Passing of America’s Sweetheart of the ’50s: Debbie “Tammy” Reynolds


December 29, 2016

The Passing of America’s Sweetheart of the ’50s: Debbie “Tammy” Reynolds

http://www.bbc.com

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Debbie Reynolds, who starred opposite Gene Kelly in the 1952 musical Singin’ in the Rain, has died a day after the death of her daughter, Carrie Fisher.

The US actress, 84, had been rushed to hospital with a suspected stroke.Her son, Todd Fisher, said the stress of his sister’s death had been too much for her and in her last words, she had said she wanted to be with Carrie.

US actress Bette Midler said Reynolds was “devoted to her craft” and that her death was “too hard to comprehend”.

Actress Debra Messing said Reynolds, her on-screen mother in sitcom Will and Grace, had been an “inspiration”.”A legend of course,” she wrote in a statement. “The epitome of clean-cut American optimism, dancing with Gene Kelly as an equal, a warrior woman who never stopped working.”

Actor Rip Torn, who worked with Reynolds in her Las Vegas stage show, said: “I was blessed to work with this remarkable woman for 45 almost 50 years. That makes for a very rare bond and unique relationship.

“She was generous to a fault, never caring who got the laugh from the audience. I will always love her.” Veteran comic actress Carol Channing agreed: “She was beautiful and generous. It seems like only yesterday she was having lunch here at the house and we were discussing the possibility of working together in a new show.”

For Star Trek actor William Shatner, Reynolds was one of the last of the Hollywood royalty. “It breaks my heart that she is gone,” he wrote. “I’d hoped that my grieving was done for 2016.

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Reynolds had been at her son’s house in Beverly Hills – apparently discussing the arrangements for Carrie Fisher’s funeral – when she was taken ill.

She was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Medical Centre suffering from breathing difficulties and her death was confirmed a few hours later. It is thought she suffered a stroke.

Carrie Fisher, renowned for her role as Princess Leia in the Star Wars series, had died aged 60 the day before, after spending three days in a Los Angeles hospital.

She never regained consciousness after suffering a massive heart attack on board a flight from London to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve.

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Carrie and Todd Fisher
Speaking to the Associated Press news agency about his mother, Todd said: “She’s now with Carrie and we’re all heartbroken.”

Celebrity news site TMZ reported that Reynolds cracked while discussing plans for Carrie’s funeral with her son, telling him: “I miss her so much; I want to be with Carrie.”

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Reynolds married singer Eddie Fisher in 1955 and had two children, Carrie and Todd. The couple divorced in 1959 after news emerged of his affair with movie star Elizabeth Taylor.Reynolds married twice more.

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The actress has a sometimes strained relationship with her actress daughter, who wrote about it in her semi-autobiographical novel Postcards from the Edge. The pair stopped speaking to each other for many years but became closer later in life.

In an interview last month with US radio network NPR, Fisher said her mother was “an immensely powerful woman” whom she admired “very much”.

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As people gathered to pay their respects to the actress at Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, one couple, Jose and Daniela Barrera, appeared to speak for many after a year marked by celebrity deaths.

“It’s just, you know, a sad time I guess,” Jose told the Reuters news agency. “With the closing of the year and so many deaths in the year, it’s just sad.”

“It was so sad,” added Daniela. “It was a shocker. I mean, what were the odds of this happening? It was incredible finding out, sad.”


What is your reaction to the passing of Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher just one day apart? Have you been affected by any of the issues raised in this article? You can share your experience via haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk.

Malaysians no longer trust Najib Razak


December 29, 2016

S.E.A. View

Malaysians  no longer trust  Najib Razak

http://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/what-price-malaysias-trust-deficit

The lack of excitement over massive infrastructure projects and ringgit’s plunge are signs of market and ground sentiments

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Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak and Big Momma Rosmah Mansor

The last weeks of December have been busy ones for Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. On December 13, Datuk Seri Najib signed the much awaited High Speed Rail (HSR) agreement with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong that will link Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

That same week, he officiated at the opening of Malaysia’s Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), a project that started in 2011. Days later, on December 18, Mr Najib launched the 1.4km-long Batang Sadong Bridge in Sarawak, a huge connectivity leap for Sarawakians, who previously had to rely on ferry crossings. The bridge is one of several projects the government has in store for Sarawak, the others being the massive 2,000km-long Pan Borneo Highway that will link Sarawak and Sabah and a coastal highway that will connect towns in Sarawak.

Soon after the Sarawak trip, Mr Najib was in Sabah to launch eight projects linked to the Pan-Borneo Highway. The recent launches came weeks after Mr Najib’s trip to China, one that saw the Malaysian economy potentially receiving a thumping US$33 billion (S$48 billion) of Chinese investment. A major part of the investment deal was Malaysia agreeing to build a 640km-long East Coast Rail Line(ECRL) with Chinese financing. Once completed, the ECRL will link the northernmost town in the east coast state of Kelantan to Port Klang, which fronts the busy Straits of Malacca on the west coast. Needless to say, these infrastructural investments are major game changers that are set to alter Malaysia’s landscape in a fundamental way, unleashing the country’s huge economic potential.

Such long-term growth commitment should excite the public, but not so in Malaysia. As for China’s massive investment, Mr Najib’s critics see it as a sell-out to China’s interest. They were also quick to contest that the US$13 billion ECRL project was overpriced – never mind that the proposed line needs to negotiate the Titiwangsa ridge, difficult geographical terrain that has for a long time kept the east coast of the peninsular relatively underdeveloped compared with the west coast.

What is apparent is that Mr Najib’s policies attract sceptics. Malaysians, it seems, are less willing to go along with government policies no matter how attractive the long-term benefits are. An obvious reason is that nagging political issues continue to cloud the many positives of Mr Najib’s policy initiatives. People in Malaysia are not quite done with the 1MDB issue. The international media has also kept turning the spotlight on 1MDB and Mr Najib, reinforcing public scepticism. What is obvious is that Malaysians are stuck in second gear, unwilling to move beyond the 1MDB issue.

Is Malaysia paying a heavy price for its ongoing political crisis? It seems so. The state is suffering from a trust deficit. Trust, between the governed and the government, seems to be in short supply. The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer found that only 39 per cent of Malaysia’s general population trusts the government

Is Malaysia paying a heavy price for its ongoing political crisis? It seems so. The state is suffering from a trust deficit. Trust, between the governed and the government, seems to be in short supply. The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer found that only 39 per cent of Malaysia’s general population trusts the government. That needs addressing because a trust deficit prevents the state from garnering policy collaborators. Policy “buy-in” becomes difficult as stakeholders are unwilling to be part of the policy process. Worse, a trust deficit could also see stakeholders subverting what otherwise could be effective policies. Mr Najib’s market-friendly policies, which would have been gladly accepted in the past, are now looked upon with intense scepticism. His decision to lift fuel subsidies, allow 70 per cent foreign ownership in the services sector, sell all the government’s Proton shares and introduce the goods and services tax (GST) to prevent leakage and broaden the tax base are but a few market-friendly policies that, thus far, have not warmed citizens’ hearts. Malaysians are still unwilling to accept the GST even when GST receipts have clearly buffered Malaysia’s huge losses in petroleum revenue in the past year.
Mr Najib launching Malaysia’s MRT on Dec 15. The lack of public trust stands in the way of Malaysia’s long-term goals. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A trust deficit could potentially lead to more damaging systemic risk. Thinning public trust and greater tendency to talk down the economy could amplify Malaysia’s political, social and economic risks. A self-fulfilling prophecy may set in, creating a case where the public runs down the economy more than it should and triggering a crisis of confidence. An obvious benchmark of confidence is the Malaysian ringgit, Asia’s worst-performing currency. Though there are external factors that have contributed to the weakening of the ringgit – Trumponomics, the attractiveness of US bond yields and weak commodity prices – analysts are also quick to add that the ringgit suffers from domestic risks, the premium of which is anybody’s guess. Some see domestic risk as one contributing factor to the ringgit weakening to a rate of RM4.70 to US$1.

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There are those who think that the ringgit slide is overdone as it does not reflect Malaysia’s fundamentals. But under conditions of low public trust, good economic figures are quickly neutralised by bad economic ones. Going by fundamentals alone, there are reasons not to short the ringgit. The Malaysian economy has shown plenty of resilience despite chaotic domestic politics and severe economic headwinds. Its GDP has averaged 5.3 per cent growth since 2011. This year, the economy is expected to grow at 4.2 per cent. For next year, the IMF predicts the economy to grow at 4.5 per cent on the back of strong domestic consumption. The country is also in better fiscal shape, with Mr Najib keeping to his promise to trim spending. The Budget deficit now stands at 3 per cent of GDP, down from a high of 6 per cent in 2009. Its current account remains positive. In fact the current account saw a sharp increase in the third quarter, the highest since December last year. More importantly, the economy has broken away from its heavy reliance on the oil and gas sector. Petroleum now counts for just 15 per cent of total revenue, a sharp drop from about 30 per cent two years ago. The economic figures, however, do not seem to count when it comes to the sliding ringgit.

Finally, broken trust between the state and the governed is affecting Malaysia’s long-term effort at institutional change. Change is difficult when stakeholders are unwilling to ride on the change agenda. In a low-trust environment, stakeholders are persuaded by partisan concerns, depriving the change agenda of a diversity of views. The Najib administration, for instance, has introduced the “blue ocean” strategy as part of its strategic blueprint. Developed by two INSEAD professors, the strategy rethinks the idea of competition and collaboration and has been behind many of Malaysia’s government and economic transformation programmes. Policy emphasis on the bottom 40 per cent of income- earners, retargeting state subsidies, providing direct transfers to low income earners, collaboration and sharing of resources between government agencies and building a one-stop centre for public services are among the few policy initiatives that seemed to enjoy little public buy-ins.

An exploratory study I carried out between September and October to gauge public receptiveness to the government’s national blue ocean strategy, part of wider research on networked government, found that the public know little or nothing at all of such blueprint. Trust, or the lack of it, has blurred the public’s identification with policies, making them unwilling partners of institutional change.

With a general election expected next year, Mr Najib has his work cut out for him. Restoring public trust is proving to be difficult but the need for it is urgent. Systematic public disengagement from political leadership could well be the most important factor that stands in the way of Malaysia’s long-term goals. In the short-term though, Malaysians should be careful that their attempts at political change do not cripple an otherwise functioning economy.


  • The writer is a visiting research fellow at the Sir Walter Murdoch School of Public Policy, Murdoch University and Assistant Professor at the Tun Abdul Razak School of Government, Universiti Tun Abdul Razak. 

PKR show some Respect –Women can be Leaders not Seat Warmers


December 29, 2016

PKR show some Respect –Women can be Leaders not Seat Warmers

by Dr Kua Kia Soong@www.freemalaysiatoday.com

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Angela Merkel is a living example of a Woman in Power

From the first time that she entered the political arena as the candidate for the Parliamentary seat of Permatang Pauh after her husband’s incarceration, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail (Kak Wan) has been treated as the seat warmer for Anwar Ibrahim until whenever he is released and available to contest in the election. The latest such gambit is the suggestion by Lim Kit Siang that she should be made interim prime minister if the opposition wins the next general election.

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Yes, Maggie, but you were never an Interim Prime Minister of Great Britain

Is that paying equal respect to women as candidates in the political process? Is that paying equal respect to Kak Wan? Does that suggestion accurately reflect the position that the opposition coalition has on women as political candidates? And overall, what are opposition supporters to conclude about the standing of women within the opposition?

These are not of course not the only times that Kak Wan has been suggested to be the seat warmer for Anwar. During the hare-brained “Kajang Move” in 2014, Kak Wan was supposed to have been the “interim menteri besar” for Selangor except that the plans went awry and Azmin Ali ended up as the MB instead. The consequences of this ill-thought-out political scheme had even more serious consequences for the Pakatan Rakyat coalition when PAS was ejected from the coalition.

Women are NOT seat warmers for their husbands

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In 2008, Kak Wan had to resign her seat to make way for her husband to retake the Permatang Pauh parliamentary seat in a by-election even though either the Chief Minister of Penang or the MB of Selangor could have relinquished their seats for Anwar since they already had enough on their plates in looking after their own respective states. Nonetheless, as far as I know, no feminist at that time raised any objections even though Kak Wan was already an elected Member of Parliament in her own right.

Considering that she is now being considered to be the candidate for “interim prime minister”, isn’t it strange that in 2008, none of the men in Pakatan Rakyat thought that Kak Wan deserved to keep her parliamentary seat while alternative arrangements could have been made to accommodate Anwar such as I have suggested above? This is a basic feminist demand.

However, during the so-called Kajang Move, “feminist” arguments were suddenly proffered to justify Kak Wan being the “interim menteri besar of Selangor” when it was evident that the choice of Kak Wan or Azmin Ali was the bone of contention between DAP, PKR and PAS. Concerned Malaysians should note that this was the real cause of the ejection of PAS from the opposition coalition and not the hudud issue as it is often made out to be. After all, hudud has been part and parcel of PAS ideology since the Islamic party started decades ago.

Should the MB for Selangor be decided on merit or can feminist arguments be used to justify Kak Wan as the “interim” MB? Note that it is not clear if the argument is for Kak Wan to be MB in her own right, on her own strengths, or whether this is an argument for why she cannot be the “interim” MB.

Is there hope for an eternal “interim” coalition?

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Interim Opposition Coalition Prime Minister–Dr. Mahathir Mohamad?

So long as the opposition coalition cannot envision a leadership without Anwar, it will be continually thinking in “interim” circles while excuses will continue to be shovelled out for why there cannot be a shadow cabinet at this stage. As for policies, their differentia specifica visavis Barisan Nasional is not clear. This is the core weakness of the Pakatan Harapan coalition, not anything else. Real feminist issues like that of ensuring a greater representation of women will be relegated to such tokenistic concessions as being the “interim prime minister” or whatever.

Is the lady for turning?

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This is my New Year’s Message to the Young Women and Men in my country, Malaysia. Never allow our corrupt and incompetent leaders to lead you by your noses like Kerbaus (Buffaloes) and Lembus ( Cows). Stand Up and Be Counted because we can individually and collectively make a difference. If we cannot do that after 60 years of Independence, something is seriously wrong with all of us as a people. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves.–Din Merican

“The lady’s not for turning” was the statement made famous by Margaret Thatcher, then British Prime Minister in 1980 when she stood her ground against the men in her party. Although we do not agree with her policies, this turn of phrase shows that she was a woman with a mind of her own… and she was not about to be any man’s “interim whatever”!

It is this principle that needs to be seen to be rigorously upheld if women’s political participation is to be taken seriously and given the equal respect it deserves, by both the opposition party leaders and their supporters.

Kua Kia Soong is adviser to Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram).

Nixon’s Dr Stranglove and The Butcher of Cambodia and Donald Trump


December 29, 2016

Nixon’s Dr Stranglove and The Butcher of Cambodia and Donald Trump

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/henry-kissinger-donald-trump-by-dominique-moisi-2016-12

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Kissinger and Nixon, Men of the Year | Jan. 1, 1973

PARIS – At first glance, former United States National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and President-elect Donald Trump would seem to have nothing in common. In one corner stands the experienced, sophisticated grand old man of US diplomacy; in the other hulks the crude, braying archetypal man of Twitter.

And yet, in a recent appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation, Kissinger lavished praise on Trump, calling him a “phenomenon.” That is an intriguing word choice: a “phenomenon” usually describes a savant, artist, world-class athlete, or rock star.

Sixty years ago, the young Kissinger was keen on introducing the US to Europe’s complex history and arcane style of diplomacy. He wanted American leaders to resemble such sophisticates as Klemens von Metternich and Otto von Bismarck. But, as the Nobel laureate Bob Dylan famously put it, “The times, they are a-changin’,” and today Kissinger wants to explain Trump’s uniquely “American style” to the world – a reversal that may reflect his disappointment at having failed in his original venture.

Substantively, Kissinger’s message to his sophisticated European and Asian colleagues seems to be, “Don’t panic.” Trump may look and sound strange, Kissinger might say, but he is quintessentially American, and America today needs to overhaul its relations with the world. By this reasoning, Trump’s unorthodox approach might be just what America – and the world – needs.

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A Kissinger-Trump alliance certainly seems unnatural, but it is worth remembering that their relationship is not new. During the Republican primary, Kissinger refused to join a group of Republican foreign-policy mandarins who signed an open letter denouncing Trump as a dangerous amateur and usurper.

During the campaign, the question on many people’s minds was, “How could voters give such an unpredictable and inexperienced person control of the nuclear codes?” Kissinger’s silence on this question was deafening, especially given that he was one of the inspirations for Stanley Kubrick’s classic political satire Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

One explanation for the two men’s unnatural alliance is that they have compatible views on Russian President Vladimir Putin, even if their larger foreign-policy outlooks differ. Whereas Trump admires Putin’s muscular nationalism and authoritarian decisiveness, Kissinger has long believed that there is no better alternative for Russia.

Beyond this, a more straightforward explanation is that Trump has played on Kissinger’s vanity, not least by seeking his advice early in the campaign. To be sure, Kissinger may be more sagacious than his fellow elites in claiming that there is more to Trump than meets the eye. But it is just as likely that, at 93, Kissinger is simply more susceptible than ever to flattery. By asking for his advice, Trump is intimating to Kissinger that he considers him a man of the present, not the past. And Kissinger, for his part, may be hoping for a future role in the new administration, such as a “special envoy” responsible for resetting relations with Russia or even China.

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Of course, this is a marriage of convenience. Trump desperately needs to boost his gravitas, and Kissinger can offer that in spades. A reassuring foreign-policy mantra for the president-elect would be, “Don’t worry, I’ve got Kissinger behind me.”

But, an alliance with Trump would carry risks for Kissinger, whose defense of the president-elect might further tarnish his image in the US and around the world. Almost a half-century later, many people have not forgotten that Kissinger was behind such dark episodes as the 1969-70 “secret” bombing of Cambodia, which set the stage for the Khmer Rouge’s genocidal rule there, and the overthrow of Salvador Allende’s democratically elected government in Chile in the 1970s. It is possible that Kissinger’s most reactionary tendencies are now reemerging.

Putting aside ideology, we know that Kissinger is fascinated, if not obsessed, with power. He may be unable to resist the temptation to be close to it, and to have an enduring influence relatively comparable to that of Elizabeth II. But Kissinger should remember what the young queen’s private tutor taught her about British politics: the prime minister must be “efficient,” and the Crown must be “dignified.” Is it dignified to offer reassurances about Trump’s fitness to lead the world’s most powerful country through a period of far-reaching change?

Historians studying the twenty-first century may one day conclude that the “American Century” ended – and the “Asian Century” began – on November 8, 2016, with Trump’s election victory. If so, it is only fitting that the man who helped open China to the world in the early 1970s should join forces with the President who will unwittingly pass the torch of history to the Chinese.

Najib Razak drags Singapore’s reputation as a Regional Centre into the Selut (MUD)


December 29, 2016

From the moment Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak took over 1Malaysia Development Bhd. in 2009 the fund has remained controversial. Plagued by heavy debt and questions about its management, 1MDB grew into a scandal that moved closer and closer to the heart of the Malaysian government and has resulted in numerous foreign probes.

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Najib Razak drags Singapore’s reputation as a Regional Centre into the Selut (MUD)

http://1426.blogspot.com/2016/12/najib-drags-singapore-into-1mdb-muck.html

From the 1Malaysia Development Bhd.-linked scandal to a 333-count front-running case and the largest market-manipulation prosecution in Singapore’s history, this year’s allegations of moneymen behaving badly have put the city-state’s image as a squeaky-clean financial hub to the test.

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Regulators have responded with their busiest year of enforcement actions, shutting the local units of two Swiss banks, fining some of the world’s biggest lenders and seizing S$240 million ($166 million) of assets. Ravi Menon, the head of Singapore’s central bank, summed up the city’s mood as the 1MDB-related cases escalated in July: “We can do better.”

2016 was the year of significant crackdown in Singapore,” said Hamidul Haq, a lawyer at Rajah & Tann LLP and author of ‘Financial Crimes in Singapore.’ “Companies, financial traders and bankers are being kept on their toes.”

The stakes could hardly be higher for a city that relies on finance for 13 percent of its economy and has 200,000 jobs tied to the industry. With exports sliding and the local oil services industries in a slump, Singapore needs to protect the reputation of its financial sector as it grapples with the weakest economic growth since 2009.

 Ravi Menon

Strengthening enforcement functions under a new department is a strong signal of its commitment to uphold Singapore’s reputation, the Monetary Authority of Singapore said in an e-mailed response to questions. The regulator said it will continue to boost its enforcement and surveillance capabilities to deter criminal behavior and poor controls.

“This will ensure that any wrongdoing is swiftly detected, thoroughly investigated and firmly dealt with,” the MAS said.

Least Corrupt

Singapore, which prides itself on having a clean and trusted system, is rated by Transparency International as the least corrupt nation in Asia and consistently ranksamong the top 10 globally. That reputation was forged 51 years ago when Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of modern Singapore, and politicians from his People’s Action Party dressed in white to show they couldn’t be corrupted. That image helped to lure foreign investment to the city, where more than 200 banks have since set up shop.

The island  republic emerged unscathed from the Bank of Credit and Commerce International global money laundering scandal in 1991 after MAS refused to grant it a license, though it isn’t immune to financial wrongdoing. In 1995, Nick Leeson’s $1.5 billion loss from unauthorized trades brought down Barings Plc, the U.K.’s oldest merchant bank. In 2004, China Aviation Oil (Singapore) Corp. revealed a $550 million derivatives fraud.

While Singapore has undergone significant change in tackling money laundering since 2008, “moderate gaps” remain in the city, Paris-based Financial Action Task Force said in September.

 MAS Chief Menon vowed to take stern action after the city’s reputation took a hit following revelations that money linked to 1MDB went through Singapore. The fund, at the center of global money-laundering and corruption probes, has consistently denied wrongdoing.

The city is the only jurisdiction to charge and convict bankers in connection with 1MDB. Yak Yew Chee, an ex-banker at Swiss firm BSI SA, pleaded guilty in November to charges including forging documents and failing to disclose suspicious transactions, while Yvonne Seah Yew Foong, who reported to Yak, was sentenced to two weeks in jail for aiding in forging documents. A former wealth planner at BSI, Yeo Jiawei, was found guilty of perverting the course of justice and faces further charges of money laundering and forgery, among others. Yak and Seah didn’t appeal their convictions and sentences. Yeo is considering an appeal, according to his lawyer.

 “There’s no doubt about the tone that we take,” Singapore Law Minister K Shanmugam said at a media lunch earlier this month, adding that the rule of law is the city’s life blood. “It’s got to be understood that the MAS will be very tough if you don’t follow the rules.”

Bigger Stick

The MAS was given a bigger stick to wield in 2015 after a penny-stock crash in 2013 mysteriously wiped out S$8 billion over three trading days, an event seen contributing to lower subsequent trading volumes. Lawmakers granted the regulator enhanced powers including being able to search premises, seize items and order financial firms to monitor customer accounts.

The alleged “masterminds” in the penny-stock case were charged in November after MAS investigators and white-collar crime police sifted through two million e-mails, thousands of phone records and financial statements and 180 trading accounts to solve the largest securities fraud in the city’s history. Previously, the regulator had to refer criminal probes to the Commercial Affairs Department and could only fine culprits.

“Hopefully, the MAS will continue to focus on catching the bigger fish like they have done in 2016,” said Lan Luh Luh, a professor at the National University of Singapore Business School. “It’s always a dilemma between tightening the reins too much, going after the very little guys and staying open for business.”

Crowdfunding and financial technology may come under scrutiny in 2017, according to Lan. The two areas aren’t heavily regulated and may be open to abuse, she said.

More Scrutiny

Singapore’s enforcement actions this year have made it one of the most active financial regulators in Asia. In rival Hong Kong, the Securities and Futures Commission has been settling probes and creating specialized teams under new enforcement chief Thomas Atkinson.

Other countries have also seen heightened supervisory focus. Indonesia started a tax amnesty plan aimed at repatriating cash stashed overseas while giving evaders a way to come clean. China has placed regulatory curbs to rein in shadow banking and contain debt risk.

“That’s the global trend — it’s going to become harder to hide illicit money,” said Andre Jumabhoy, a Singapore-based lawyer who advises on government enforcement at K&L Gates LLP. “There’s a real emphasis in making sure that if you want to be a serious global financial center like Singapore wants to be, you’ve got to abide by the rules.”

Here’s what the Monetary Authority of Singapore was busy with in 2016:

Banks and bankers

* Fined Standard Chartered Plc, Coutts & Co., UBS Group AG and DBS Group Holdings Ltd. over breaches related to 1MDB. The banks have said they cooperated with authorities.

* Said it plans to bar former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. star banker Tim Leissner from the securities industry for 10 years. Leissner’s lawyer had said he intends to respond to allegations raised by MAS.

Falcon Private Bank Ltd. was fined and ordered to shut over weak controls; local branch manager arrested by police. The bank had said it welcomed the completion of investigations.

BSI SA was fined and directed to close after “serious” money laundering breaches; six senior executives referred to prosecutors. BSI said it cooperated fully with investigations.

Alleged errant traders

* Three people were charged for orchestrating largest market manipulation case in Singapore’s history.

* Three former traders were charged with 333 counts in Singapore’s first front-running case.

* Man charged in the city’s first spoofing case, which was also the first case that the regulator and Commercial Affairs Department jointly brought to court.

Fined a former chief financial officer of Sinomem Technology Ltd. and asset manager Triumpus Assets Management Pte for insider trading. Both had admitted to the contravention.

Barred a former trader for two years and fined him S$110,000 for insider trading.

Other enforcement efforts

* Joint announcement with Attorney-General’s Chambers and police that S$240 million in assets have been seized, including from Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho. Two calls to Low’s Jynwel Capital Ltd. in Hong Kong weren’t answered

* Set up units to centralize and further boost enforcement as well as target money-laundering activities