The Mueller-Industrial Complex Collapses


March 28,2019

A man beats a drum in a Mueller T-shirt
Alex Wong / Getty

In a letter to Congress on Sunday, Attorney General William Barr declared that while Robert Mueller’s report found evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and did not exonerate President Donald Trump, it also did “not conclude that the president committed a crime.” And so the special counsel’s months-long investigation into Trump’s dealings with Russia ended with an inconclusive conclusion: No smoking gun would result in Trump’s hasty removal from office.

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Not just Democratic lawmakers had been banking on a final blow to the Trump administration. Pundits, commentators, and opportunistic entrepreneurs had all held up Mueller as a hero for their cause—and, in the process, constructed a cottage industry of Mueller-pegged media content and accessories.

The University of New Hampshire assistant professor Seth Abramson built a small media empire anticipating the report. He even wrote a book, not yet published, ambitiously titled Proof of Conspiracy, about Trump’s alleged “international collusion.” The Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe also found literary potential in the investigation, co-authoring the book To End a Presidency last year.

On Saturday Night Live, Robert De Niro played Mueller in a series of sketches about the special counsel. Stephen Colbert styled him as a Voltron-like superhero, single-handedly forming the “Obstruction of Justice League.” At The New Yorker, Troy Patterson covered Mueller as a “style icon” last year, including a detailed meditation on the special counsel’s Casio DW-290 sport watch; Patterson argued that it projected “an incorruptible constancy.” Redditors and watch enthusiasts took out their wallets.

More exotic Mueller-themed wares appeared. An Austin, Texas, company sold a Robert Mueller prayer candle, one of many such accessories, from T-shirts to mugs to throw pillows, that looked to cash in on Mueller fever. Etsy was (and still is) flooded with mugs and pins and baseball caps and Christmas ornaments emblazoned with the special counsel’s impassive face; art enthusiasts can buy an unframed print of Mueller’s neatly coiffed hair for $10. Booksellers started taking preorders for The Mueller Report—with an introduction by Alan Dershowitz, no less—marketing it as an inevitable best seller.

With the report in and seemingly impotent, the Mueller-industrial complex is quickly collapsing. Abramson has been posting feverishly on Twitter since Friday, in long numbered threads in between national media appearances, attempting to recuperate his miscalculation. On Sunday, Tribe pinned a last-ditch tweet to his Twitter timeline reminding readers that “the ‘no obstruction’ conclusion was Barr’s, not Mueller’s.” Saturday Night Live didn’t even get to weigh in this week; the show is on spring break. And it’s hard to imagine anyone lighting a Mueller votive candle at bedtime or donning their It’s Mueller Time T-shirt while drinking down some cold ones on the deck. The special counsel’s cottage industry quietly burned down when its namesake completed his job without fanfare.


As my colleague Megan Garber wrote on Friday, Americans had taken the liberty of inferring what the report would contain, and what impact it would have. Absent knowledge, Garber wrote, we filled in the blanks, interpreting the secretive actions of Mueller and his team in the manner most favorable to our own desires.

That’s not a phenomenon unique to the special counsel. The Mueller-industrial complex is just the latest example of a hyper-mediated world turned in on itself. CNN came on the air in 1980, but not until the Gulf War, in 1990, did the 24-hour news cycle coalesce. A war halfway around the world, filmed and commented upon incessantly, became the model for news of all stripes. It transformed the concept itself, filling the void of airtime and attention space accordingly. Talk radio’s shock jocks thrived during this period. Fox News took off in 1996. Then the internet arrived, and soon after that, blogs, and then social networks, where everyone from Wolf Blitzer to Seth Abramson to you and your grandmother was able to create and spread messages, images, and ideas that capitalized on whatever event currently felt current.

But there’s something different about Mueller industrialism. It’s more than yet another fusion of 24-hour information, meme culture, and internet opportunism. It also speaks to Americans’ strong desire to anticipate the future, and to live in the present as if that future has already arrived, and in the way they’d planned it to besides.

The media theorist Richard Grusin has a name for this practice: premediation. News analysts, pundits, product designers, influencers, and all the rest now create media in the present whose content anticipates future events or actions. The nonstop coverage of the 2020 Democratic primary offers an effective if humdrum example. That the left perceives the Trump presidency as odious partly explains why his opponents are coming out earlier, but the media landscape also demands and rewards this kind of anticipation. Are Kamala Harris’s policies suitable for the Democratic ticket? Is Beto O’Rourke’s hacker youth a benefit or a liability? Will Joe Biden run or won’t he? These and other stories seem like news about the present, but they are really speculations on information from the future.

The public eats this stuff up. Yesterday on Twitter, I happened across a long thread about whether supporters of Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, might be sexist because they would support a man with such modest credentials over a woman senator with experience and policy proposals, such as Harris. The thread was electric, bedazzled with hearts and replies, most frenzied in support or detraction. But exchanges like it are so common and so fleeting, I can’t even find the posts anymore. Those who weighed in were not really making arguments about the reality of the political moment; instead, they were anticipating, and practicing, the kinds of claims someone—a news commentator as much as a social-media everyperson—might make before a debate, or after one, or in the run-up to the Iowa caucus, or a local primary. So much media is premediated now, it’s almost impossible to find something whose payload isn’t partly composed of practice for future events.


Most of the time, nobody even notices this phenomenon. Premediation works because it homes in on natural anxieties or desires amplified by the hyper-mediated ecosystem in which television, smartphones, social media, and all the rest rot and reanimate. Whom should I consider voting for in the next election? Am I going to die if I board a plane? Those are questions whose future answers seem to demand consideration today.

In Mueller’s case, so many people anticipating the investigation’s end also banked on the specific conclusions that might accompany it. Certainly none of the Mueller industrialists thought it would burn out as a dud. But certainty is the enemy of forecasting. The future inspires drama because of the cloud of doubt that obscures it, not because it withholds a certainty until a later date. When SNL, Colbert, Abramson, and others began placing bets on the result of the Mueller investigation, they also sterilized their own relevance in the “no collusion” timeline that Americans now appear to occupy.

The investigation’s actual result now also casts a dour shadow over the Mueller-industrial complex’s wares and messages. The work came at a great cost: It cannibalized the future for the benefit of the present. Like taking out a loan on news to come in the hopes that its benefit will pay out enough to cover its costs, the Mueller disciples traded their own anticipatory media on margin, assuming that their winnings would more than pay off their debts. That bet turned out to be a bad one, and now the payment has come due.

And for boring reasons, too: Because it was high risk. Anticipating the future possibility of the Democratic nomination is a sure thing: Someone will get the party nod. But taking for granted the outcome of a charged and historic special-counsel investigation is like betting on a single chamber of the roulette wheel. If you win, you’re a hero. If not, you’re just a sucker.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

Ian Bogost is a contributing editor at The Atlantic and the Ivan Allen College Distinguished Chair in Media Studies at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His latest book is Play Anything.

 

Deepest concerns over EU withdrawal of EBA scheme


March 28,2019

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom launched the initial process to begin EBA withdrawal on October 4 last year. AFP

Dear Editor,

Both in my capacities as entrepreneur and as representative of the European business community in Cambodia I reiterate my attachment to European values and engagement to support Cambodia improve its human rights records.

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In this regard, jointly with human rights advocates and European Chamber of Commerce (EuroCham)​ members, I want to voice once more my deepest concerns in respect to the process to withdraw preferences offered to Cambodia under the Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme.

Trade preference is granted to the country as a whole not to individual operators, and suspension should be employed the same way.

The use of trade as leverage to restore human rights raises an ethical question as to whether a negative impact on businesses, workers and their families who are not responsible for the situation leading to the adoption of sanctions is a legitimate means to pursue foreign policy objectives.

Many entrepreneurs like myself, locals and foreigners, have contributed to the progress of human rights by further enhancing economic growth and socio-economic development for people here in Cambodia.

Together we share growing concerns over hard-won gains that could be imperilled, and the condition of the Cambodian people worsened by depriving poor people of jobs and endangering their livelihoods.

A withdrawal of EBA could produce results that run counter to other rights, like the protection of vulnerable groups of people and the promotion of basic human rights embedded in the UN Charter and human rights treaties.

In terms of identities and perceptions, a withdrawal of EBA unnecessarily increases the confusion as to the notion of “human rights” in Asia where there is a need for universal values to be entrenched.

Deepening human suffering comes from the manner in which actors pursue their objectives.

A disregard for impoverished communities is understandably perceived as a worrying feature.

Economic sanctions challenge the basic sense of right and wrong and create ambiguity about human rights.

As seen in the local newspapers, a Cambodian analyst stated: “Those who are happy to see sanctions should be ashamed. They can be protagonists of human rights, they are in fact the enemy of humanity.”

Seen as harmful and unjust by affecting ordinary citizens, and driving innocents into poverty, I join openly the ones that demand a refrain from using such measures for human rights, unless the EU can provide sufficient, consistent and coherent guarantees for the protection of the political, economic, social and cultural rights of affected communities.

Shouldn’t economic sanctions be proportional and only used in the most extreme cases?

Researchers have estimated the probability of success of such measures by analysing data from past cases.

In general terms, all international sanctions combined, scholars demonstrate a low probability of success in reaching their goals: five, 22 or 30 per cent.

A high probability of failure: between 65-95 per cent of the time.

Looking at the nature of sanctions, as of today, withdrawals of the US GSP scheme and EBA have not recorded a single case of compliance.

When reinstatements have occurred, they have not been driven by the target’s compliance.The probability of success is reduced to zero.

Looking at the goal of sanctions, in this case the restoration of a democratic environment, sanctions designed for this purpose are significantly associated with higher levels of democracy.

They rarely manage to instantly create liberal democracies, but more commonly some form of electoral authoritarianism, increasing prospects for future democratisation.

However, authors warn “these findings should not be taken as evidence to justify all types of sanctions in all contexts […] There are several examples of highly unsuccessful democratic sanctions in the past”.

In general terms, international sanctions have a counterproductive effect on democracy.

There may be an increase of repression in an effort to stabilise the regime and they can create incentives for the leadership to restrict political liberties and consolidate power.

In addition, target elites might respond by changing their priorities to military spending in order to enhance their coercive capacity.

I urge the EU to carry out an impact assessment of any trade measures to be taken in response to human rights violations and balance any negative impact on the local population and affected workers against its possible effectiveness in Cambodia.

As human rights are the stated primary objective of the process of withdrawal of EBA, coherence and synergy within the EU institutions to negotiate with stakeholders in Cambodia should take place effectively.

There is a need to shift away from a focus on trade to a focus on benefits and achievements in human rights.

I regret that the decision and process are led by the Directorate General for Trade – an increased role of the directorate generals specialising in human rights and development would be more appropriate.

They should play the lead role to address the human rights situation and their expertise can ensure these issues remain the main concern.

I believe the EU’s expertise in human rights, and whose approach is to deliver results on the ground by integrating lessons learned, can contribute to attaining the objective of democratisation.

In the present situation, the process to review Cambodia’s duty-free access needs to be transparent and based on European values.

In line with the Trade Commissioner’s vision of trade as a force for good in the world, I recall any action to promote human rights cannot be justified if it has a negative impact on human rights.

The EU needs to consider as a priority the rights and well-being of ordinary citizens, with particular attention paid to the most vulnerable populations.

They should not be sacrificed.

As the final decision will depend upon the judgement of the EU and in the absence of an impartial and independent body to monitor the progress of dialogue between the EU and the Cambodian government, I urge the EU to define realistic expected results, monitor progress toward the achievement of expected results, integrate lessons learned and report on performance in all transparency. In addition, the EU should not leave itself open to accusations of double standards.

When the EU threatened Cambodia on its failure to meet human rights provisions, the bloc was in a process to conclude the “most ambitious agreement ever made with a developing country” – Vietnam.

According to the 2018 Democracy Index, Cambodia ranks 125th and Vietnam 139th. According to the 2018 press freedom index, Cambodia ranks 142nd and Vietnam 175th.

The use of double standards when it comes to democracy and human rights is counterproductive for the EU, for the credibility of its external action and, most importantly, for the very principles it promotes.

If suspension is not consistently applied, as a result the activation of the withdrawal procedure in Cambodia will be seen as subject to political and economic considerations.

The EU’s EBA offers unilateral trade preferences to Cambodia but the EU’s FTA with Vietnam removes or reduces customs tariffs in bilateral trade.

It is obvious that EU economic interests are part of the decision to refrain from imposing economic sanctions.

In the past, the EU has also been criticised for being at the forefront of the practice of linking commercial objectives with political interests through the use of conditionality clauses.

A misunderstanding of the motives of decision-making on conditionality clauses with regards to human rights would undermine the government’s awareness that Cambodia’s steps to improve rights will lead to a positive outcome.

Transparency is mandatory and I contest the use of selective conditionality and the application of double standards.

Questions of human rights need to be dealt with objectively, regardless of any economic or political gain.

In terms of democracy and political rights, in some cases, incentives can be more effective and preferable to sanctions.

As a long-timer actor of the private sector, I acknowledge the negative influence of trade on labour conditions and environmental preservation.

In this regard, a withdrawal of EBA is likely to translate into a deterioration of labour conditions and may unfairly penalise workers, including those employed in European businesses in Cambodia.

Instead, to prevent and remedy against negative impacts of trade on human and labour rights, the EU should conduct a human rights impact assessment before granting trade preferences to a candidate country and during its implementation.

These assessments should be undertaken by independent experts, in consultation with civil society, including with representatives of communities affected by trade preferences.

Arnaud Darc,CEO of Thalias Hospitality Group, Phnom Penh

Send letters to: newsroom@phnompenhpost.com or PO Box 146, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Post reserves the right to edit letters to a shorter length.The views expressed above are solely the author’s and do not reflect any positions taken by The Phnom Penh Post.

The trials and triumphs of GE14, as seen by Kee Thuan Chye


March 26, 2019

The trials and triumphs of GE14, as seen by Kee Thuan Chye

 

I first noticed the name Kee Thuan Chye in the pages of the National Echo in the 1980s. He wrote about stuff that we categorise under “arts”.

I would skim the first few paragraphs to see if it would be worth reading. Often, his pieces would be spread over two pages. And although I was working in Penang at that time, I don’t remember meeting him then.

I really took notice of him, I must admit, not because of his writing but because of the names he had given his two children. I heard from a friend that they were named Soraya Sunitra Kee Xiang Yin and Jebat Arjuna Kee Jia Liang.

I immediately told myself: “I like this guy.”

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Let’s be honest, how many people put their money where their mouth is? We know of so many Malaysians who call themselves nationalists, we know of Malaysians who shout “Bangsa Malaysia”, we know of Malaysians who come up with slogans such as “Satu Malaysia”.

But do you know of anyone named, for instance, Raju Kee Najib bin Razif? Have you heard of anyone named Meena Mei Maznah bte Mahadzir? Do you know of anyone named Hadi Wee Subramaniam?

This guy wanted his children to identify themselves as Malaysians and, like the dramatist that he is, he did it – with flourish. Kee, I am certain, wanted to show he was a Malaysian not just by citizenship but also by his action.

And you can feel that Malaysianness in his latest book “The Peoples Victory: How Malaysians Saved Their Country.” The book is about one of the most momentous events in the life of the country – how voters rose up to kick out the long-ruling Barisan Nasional government against all odds on May 9, 2018.

I just finished reading the book recently, and it is chock-full of facts, opinions and emotions. Some of his sentences are very daring, too.

However, if you are interested in an unbiased, intellectual, political analysis of the 14th general election and events leading up to it, or an academic analysis of the BN’s loss and Pakatan Harapan’s win, this book may not be for you.

It is a simple story told in a simple, conversational style by an excited playwright who just realises that he and a host of like-minded people have just accomplished the impossible.

And you won’t just find the likes of Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Kit Siang, Mohamad Sabu, Lim Guan Eng, Najib Razak, Zahid Hamidi, Hadi Awang and the Election Commission in the story.

You will also find many ordinary Malaysians – some known to us, such as Zunar, and others who may not have made it into the book if not for their tweets or for galvanising people to come and vote. It includes such people as Sim Yen Peng who gave his Sabah and Sarawakian workers three days paid leave and air tickets to go back to vote, student Arveent Kathirtchelvan who started a petition addressed to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong for May 9 to be declared a holiday, Nizam Bakeri who started #CarpoolGE14 and Izzah Azura who started a Facebook crowdfunding platform to help those who needed money to travel home to vote.

This is also not a book by a man looking from the mountain with a wide, unattached perspective. No. Kee is not only telling the story, he is also in it – expressing his frustration and jubilation, recounting his earlier writings, and narrating his participation in Bersih rallies.

Kee is also unabashedly on the side of those wanting to replace the BN government. He is against the BN not because it is the BN but because its policies and actions over the years have divided Malaysians and eroded freedoms. And being a Malaysian – remember the names he gave his children? – Kee is angry and wants to set things right.

In fact, he told FMT, on April 4, 2018, just before the general election, that if the BN were to win with a huge majority, the rights of citizens would be further repressed.

“If BN gets its two thirds, that’s the end of Malaysia. It will bulldoze through anything it wants and the only reforms we’re going to see are reforms that will make the system work to BN’s benefit.”

In this, Kee was merely echoing the feelings of educated, urban Malaysians for whom freedoms are important.

Kee is also not a political writer, and, as far as I am aware, he has not worked in the news section of any newspaper, only the arts-related sections.

However, he still retains enough of his journalistic sense to provide balance when commenting on the words or actions of BN and PH leaders and when unfurling events in the book which he divides into three parts or acts, as he prefers to call them.

The curtain rises with Act 1 titled “Despair”.

“On May 5, 2013, hopes ran high that by the end of the day Malaysia would have a change of government.” He goes on to describe how the BN managed to win the 13th general election even though it lost the popular vote, and the rallies and events that followed.

It ends with the words: “If there was one word to describe the mood of the people at this point, it would have to be: Despair.”

Act 2, titled “Hope” opens with: “Despair turned to hope for the people on July 2, 2015.” Why July 2? Go read the book to find out. It’s worth reading and it only costs RM49.90. But here’s a hint: The first chapter of this Act is titled: “The Big Steal”.

Act 2 ends with: “They didn’t succeed in 2013. Would they succeed this time?”

Even though I knew Malaysians had succeeded in removing a repressive government, I read Act 3 titled “Euphoria” to find out. It starts with the words, “May 9 for a lot of people is a do-or-die day”, and goes on to talk about election night and a little of what transpired after that.

The curtain closes with these words: “So this was not just Mahathir’s victory, or Anwar’s or Kit Siang’s, or Mat Sabu’s or Guan Eng’s. This was a victory of the people. A victory of the Malaysian people.”

It reflects my sentiments too. In fact, two days after the general election, I had written that the real winners were the voters and that Malaysians had found their guts.

And guts is something Kee has plenty of. I have seen him speak up at the New Straits Times office, when we both worked at the Kuala Lumpur headquarters. If you read his books, especially this book, you will know that he is not afraid to speak his mind, and that he feels strongly about playing his role as a responsible Malaysian for the good of the nation.

And yes, I had named the Malaysian voter the Person of the Year for 2018 for finding his/her guts and ushering in a new era.

A Kathirasen is an executive editor at FMT.

The views expressed by the writer do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

 

10 unlikeable things about Dr M


March 28,2019

10 unlikeable things about Dr M

QUESTION TIME | Nurul Izzah Anwar’s misgivings about Mahathir, aired in an interview she gave to Singapore’s Straits Times, has been both condemned and praised for calling Dr Mahathir Mohamad a former dictator and a person who is very difficult to work with.

Unfortunately, less attention has been given to some of the reasons for her dissatisfaction, which is of greater importance to what is happening in our country. As she further said in the interview the government, led by Mahathir, has not done enough to embolden moderates.

Here’s an extract from the report in Malaysiakini: “We’re not doing enough to embolden the middle. We’re not doing enough to embolden those who are considered moderate,” she was quoted as saying.

The former PKR vice-president also admitted to being dismayed by how UMNO lawmakers are being courted to join Harapan over the last several months.

“It’s a horrible predicament, not just for Keadilan, (but) for Malaysia, for their voters, for our voters, for Malaysians as a whole.

“It’s just a sad state of affairs because I believe a two-coalition system is important for the future of Malaysia,” she lamented.

That hits out at the fundamental problem which is facing the ruling coalition. It really is not about gaining Malay support, but Mahathir boosting his own power within the coalition by swelling the numbers of Bersatu MPs through defectors. Bersatu has doubled its number of MPs to 26 from such defections. And it’s about what kind of reform should take place.

There is a lot not to like about Mahathir if we go back in history and he is everything and more what Nurul said he is. He changed the constitution and laws to become a virtual dictator both within Umno and the country, and paved the way for Najib Razak to abuse his powers to approve and condone the largest kleptocracy the world has seen.

The important question is how much is Mahathir a changed man post GE14? Here are 10 unlikeable things about Mahathir and what his fervent supporters say about him.

1. Without Mahathir, the elections would not have been won.

This is a rather ridiculous statement to make by his supporters. Would the elections have been won without PKR or DAP? Certainly not. The numbers indicate that without a doubt, with PKR having won a total of 47 seats, and DAP 42. Mahathir’s Pribumi won only 13 seats, while Amanah took 11.

PKR and DAP’s parliamentary seats win rate for Peninsular Malaysia was over 80 percent and 90 percent respectively. Amanah’s was 35 percent, but Bersatu’s was a mere 25 percent, despite the largest number of seats contested in the peninsula of 52. I have explained this in much greater detail here.

2. Mahathir came up with a rather lopsided cabinet.

Despite just having 13 parliamentary seats, Mahathir abandoned consensus, which the coalition had advocated, in favour of prime ministerial prerogative to give his party Bersatu – a right-wing Malay party – a disproportionate number of key seats in the cabinet.

Such was Mahathir’s patently unfair cabinet that out of the 13 MPs he had, six became full ministers, a further six deputy ministers, and one, Mahathir’s son, became menteri besar of Kedah. Four of the Bersatu ministers were first-time MPs, including a boy MP and minister, clearly ignoring those who had fought long and hard in PKR and DAP. I have dealt with this in detail here.

3. He deliberately caused schisms within the coalition.

By appointing Lim Guan Eng as finance minister without consultation and consensus within Harapan, he almost derailed the coalition in its first few days when there was a protest walkout by PKR leaders. The tense situation was only alleviated later after PKR and Harapan de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim intervened.

The DAP was elated with Lim’s appointment, and frequently cited prime ministerial prerogative in the early days when Mahathir had appointed just 10 key people to the cabinet. When Mahathir ignored his own promise to ensure ministerial composition reflects parliamentary representation, even the DAP was disappointed. (see table).

The other thing he did was to appoint PKR deputy president Azmin Ali as economic affairs minister when his name was not even in the list of PKR nominations because he was menteri besar of Selangor at the time. The more prescient among us saw that as a move to position Azmin as a possible successor to Mahathir, and to drive a wedge between Azmin and Anwar. It has worked very well.

4. He brought in Daim, undermining the cabinet.

It is an open secret that Daim (above) and Anwar don’t get along, and that Daim has a finger in many economic and business pies. Thus, to appoint him the chairperson of the so-called Council of Eminent Persons (CEP) and to put him overall in charge of producing a blueprint for Malaysia Baru was a slap in the face of the new government which had reform in its mind.

Daim, despite all the unease that people have expressed to Mahathir about him and have written about in the media, still holds considerable power and is the lead negotiator with China, a country that undermined Malaysia by doing corrupt deals with Najib’s administration. He is also said to be in charge of 1MDB investigations and why this should be so is unclear.

Daim being put above the cabinet and reporting directly only to Mahathir, raises key questions as to how transparent the new government is and possible conflicts of interest because of his ties to business and his closeness with many businessmen.

5. Mahathir has not done anything about legal reform.

During his tenure, Najib introduced a whole slew of new laws to increase his hold on the country. These laws can easily be overturned pending a more holistic review of the legal system to put in checks and balances for the executive branch, but Mahathir has not moved at all on this. Instead, he said that the Official Secrets Act (OSA), which he tightened during his previous tenure to provide for mandatory jail sentences, will remain.

Then he rather ridiculously stated that many promises made in the Harapan manifesto cannot be implemented because Harapan did not expect to win the elections.

Some promises such as eliminating tolls may need to be dropped because of under-estimation of costs. But this is not the case for changing laws, which can be done by a simple majority. There is no need for a two-thirds majority to amend many of these laws.

6. He perpetuates the lie that the national debt is RM1 trillion.

He perpetuates the lie that the national debt is over RM1 trillion, first stated by finance minister Lim as an excuse for not fulfilling some promises.

While the national debt position may not be in the best possible situation, it is wrong to say the debt is RM1 trillion, as I explained here. It is so only after taking into account contingent liabilities, guarantees and lease payments. Not all contingent liabilities or guarantees became debt. And lease payments are not necessarily debt. Certainly not in terms of internationally accepted debt classifications.

7. He is reviving his pet failed projects and concepts.

After his Proton national car project failed spectacularly, requiring several rescues and resulted in losses to the public in terms of excess prices paid for cars of hundreds of billions of ringgit, Mahathir is still foolishly adamant about a third national car project.

The car industry is already being shaken up and mergers have taken place. The much bigger companies make it impossible for a new Malaysian car project to succeed. This is irrationality of the highest order.

Then he talks about privatisation again, when during his time the government gave up plum operations to connected businessmen, making them overnight billionaires. They include toll roads and the independent power producers amongst others.

8. He has shamefacedly accepted defectors into Bersatu.

Mahathir blithely talks about getting a two-thirds majority to change the constitution, but he has done nothing yet in terms of reform. That’s an excuse to just increase the pathetic number of MPs Bersatu has by pilfering other parties’ MPs. This is against the express wishes of the two largest parties in Harapan – PKR and DAP.

That these defections can happen now is because Mahathir, in his previous role as PM, changed laws and the constitution to make it legal for defections to happen, luring MPs into the ruling government to topple democratically elected state governments. He is doing the same now, not for any national interest, but to widen his narrow power base by dastardly means.

9. His government does not have a comprehensive plan and action programme.

Some 10 months after taking power, there is no plan on the table for the overall development of the country and to solve the various problems facing it. For the first few months, it was up to Daim and the CEP to come up with it. This has been submitted to the PM, but not made public. So no one, but a few, knows what they are.

Now, after the CEP, an economic council is being formed to formulate policy. What’s the point of the ministries then? Shouldn’t all of them have their own plans for the areas they supervise and should they not put it up before the cabinet and seek their approval?

10. He has not taken steps to be inclusive.

While Harapan campaigned on the promise of inclusiveness of all Malaysians in development and a needs-based approach to the assistance of deprived groups, Mahathir plays to the Malay gallery by talking about the Malay agenda, plans to distribute wealth among the races, and hiving off business activities to bumiputeras. Azmin echoes him, producing the schism between races that Harapan had promised to eliminate.

On top of that Mahathir equated the injuries sustained by a fireman at the Seafield riots to “attempted murder,” adding oil to an already incendiary situation, to appease the Malay gallery and vilify Indians without first properly ascertaining the facts.

All these are a reflection of Mahathir wanting to go back to the old status quo under a different name of Malaysia Baru. It’s about Malay supremacy and Mahathir is a Malay supremacist. It is very obvious at this stage that Mahathir is not the prime minister to reform this country. Someone else has to.

At the end of the day, this is what Nurul Izzah’s concerns are about. We should not be too concerned about where she said it or if she should not have said some things. We must look at the substance of what she said, and there can be no doubt that her concerns are justified.

Harapan should do something or lose its soul.


P GUNASEGARAM says dictators, even former ones, don’t easily take to reforms. E-mail: t.p.guna@gmail.com.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of

Farewell to the worst prime minister bar none – until the next one


March 28, 2019

Farewell to the worst prime minister bar none – until the next one

 

Theresa May will quit after an ‘orderly handover’ but when the EU withdrawal deal is done, we may actually come to miss her

Theresa May

Theresa May will leave office in an “orderly handover” whenever an EU withdrawal deal is done. No one is weeping. The oddity is: we may yet come to miss her, though she has been the worst prime minister of our political lifetimes – bar none. Yet there was one great good purpose in her premiership: by occupying the space, however vacuously, she kept out the barbarian hordes of Brexiteers barging one another out of the way to seize her throne.

Now she has surrendered that one useful role, leaving the country to the untender mercies of those competing in Europhobia for the votes of some 120,000 dwindling Tory party members. To use her deathless phrase, nothing will be changed by her departure. Parliament will be as gridlocked as ever, the combat deadlier with an avowed Brextremist at the helm.

Looking back, in comparison with who comes after her, she may yet come to be seen as having attempted a muddled middle way, fighting off no-deal delusionists, forging a plausible enough plan to gain agreement from the EU27.

Judge her legacy by her own “mission” announced on the steps of Downing Street in July 2016. Did she mean the heartwarming words she spoke that day? As each of her list of pledges has failed and failed again, she seemed to make no attempt to “fight against burning injustices”. More people are poor, especially children, and they are poorer than before as universal credit rolls over them – but there are twice as many billionaires. Ethnic minorities are no better treated by the criminal justice system, working class white boys no more likely to reach university and escalating numbers of her “just about managing” are using food banks. Taxes continue to be cut more for the better off and corporations, despite her pledge not to “entrench the advantages of the fortunate few”.

As for Europe, read her words now and weep: “As we leave the EU we will forge a new, bold, positive role for ourselves in the world.” Instead, polls show the overwhelming view of voters is that we have suffered a “national humiliation”.

In that speech she spoke of the union as that “precious, precious bond”, but she leaves the UK closer to breaking apart than it has ever been, by ignoring the Scottish and Northern Irish remain vote, just as she ignored remainers everywhere. Recklessly, she chose an illusory Conservative party unity – and lost even that, leaving her party irreparably split. That may turn out to be an accidental bonus she bequeaths to the nation.

The mystery is how this woman without qualities, with all her incapacities, infelicities and ineptitudes, ever came to hold the highest office. Or why she wanted it. No one made her do it, greatness was not thrust upon her; indeed, it’s said she planned for it all her life. So feel no pity that she chose to take on the impossible Brexit task with a vipers’ nest of a parliament and a party at war with itself. Her unsuitability was well known. Every encounter with others is an excruciating display of gaucheness. No small talk, no big talk, no ideas, no charm, no warmth, but famous for making everyone she meets painfully ill-at-ease. Her polite and courteous EU counterparts were dumbfounded by her inability at the essentials of diplomacy. She never had it in her to be the healer the country desperately needed. Instead she chose to appease the ERG, and sacrifice the 48% – now grown to be the majority.

Her every leopard skin-shod move was a misstep. At first, the vicar’s daughter had the benefit of the doubt: surely she was at least sincere, honest, a truth-teller? But as she foolishly laid down contradictory red lines, breaking them was inevitable. For far longer than was credible, she swore blind that Britain would leave the EU on 29 March. No border down the Irish Sea – well, yes, in the backstop. No role for the European court of justice – but it will remain as necessary adjudicator of agreements. No free vote, but oh yes there is. So who knows, maybe there will no resignation after all or not until after a long extension?

When she goes we face yet another disgraceful handover of near absolute power without consent of the electorate. As in the case of both May herself and Gordon Brown, that is a political error. This time a field as big as the Grand National will compete, but not for approval of the public, only for the backing of a very small, very peculiar selectorate. Never again. At least let every contender pledge to hold a general election to win public consent. It’s a grim thought that we may look back on May’s misbegotten premiership as better than what came after.

Polly Toynbee is a Guardian columnist

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/mar/27/prime-minister-theresa-may-eu-withdrawal?utm_source=Fareed%27s+Global+Briefing&utm_campaign=b1023c3324-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_03_27_10_58&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_6f2e93382a-b1023c3324-98213289

The Mueller Report Is a Test for the United States


March 27. 2019

The Mueller Report Is a Test for the United States

As the world looks on, it’s up to Washington to demonstrate the strength of its institutions.

Photographers outside the U.S. Justice Department in Washington on March 22, after special counsel Robert Mueller delivered his report to Attorney General William Barr. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Photographers outside the U.S. Justice Department in Washington on March 22, after special counsel Robert Mueller delivered his report to Attorney General William Barr. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

There’s no question that the primary audience for U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller’s much-anticipated report, which he delivered to the Justice Department on Friday, is a domestic one. But around the world, foreign ministries and intelligence services will be watching how the United States responds to the findings for clues about the country’s strength.

While Russia’s successful intervention in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and President Donald Trump’s erratic behavior and manifest ignorance have already diminished any sense that the United States was immune to the vulnerabilities associated with demagogic populism that have strained other countries, the institutions of U.S. democracy have nonetheless held up reasonably well—so far. The reception of the Mueller report will be a test of those institutions and Americans’ level of faith in and commitment to them.

Let us acknowledge at the outset: In most other countries, the very idea of creating a genuinely independent special counsel would be as preposterous as the idea of riding a unicorn.

In most other countries, the very idea of creating a genuinely independent special counsel would be as preposterous as the idea of riding a unicorn.

In most places, the rule of law and independent institutions are not strong enough to withstand the political pressure of a leader attempting to avoid investigation. On this count, Mueller’s apparently diligent and professional handling of the process has likely impressed adversaries and reassured allies.

 

Now that his report has been delivered, it’s up to the United States to demonstrate strength on two main measures.

First, the domestic challenge: The attorney general and Congress should proceed according to U.S. laws and the Constitution (and their sworn duty to uphold it) in dealing with Mueller’s conclusions. The institutions of justice must follow the findings of Mueller’s report, not the president’s Twitter feed.

The institutions of justice must follow the findings of Mueller’s report, not the president’s Twitter feed.

Members of Congress should focus their efforts to examine the report’s findings and their implications through formal proceedings rather than through cable news appearances.

This is not to say that there should not be public discussion of the report: It will almost surely be released or leaked, and there will be a public debate about its findings. And the report is not the final word on these matters; other investigations continue and Congress has an ongoing oversight responsibility. But in response to Mueller’s findings, U.S. institutions must do their work and must be allowed to do so.

The eyes of the world will focus on whether Washington has kept to a rule of law process in addition to the inevitable political one. Furthermore, many observers may ultimately find themselves disappointed by the outcome of such a process. The world will judge them by whether they can separate that disappointment from their commitment to uphold the function of the institutions themselves.

Second, the foreign-policy challenge: To the extent that Mueller’s report adds new information to the already overwhelming and conclusive evidence of foreign intervention in the 2016 election, there must be additional consequences for implicated actors. Beijing will be watching. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will be watching from Pyongyang. The failure to mete out consequences will invite further foreign intervention. In addition, the United States must take purposeful, strategic action, some of it visible to would-be adversaries, to counter the threat of intervention in the 2020 elections. Mueller’s report may give Americans additional information on how foreign powers were able to sabotage a U.S. election. This may help supplement the good ideas that have already been put forward about how to protect the next one.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime will be watching this process especially closely.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime will be watching this process especially closely.

While on the one hand Putin and his cronies may be most concerned with findings that implicate them and could bring further consequences, the Russian leader will be watching the U.S. domestic process closely, too. And he will be looking to have his cynicism confirmed.

 

Even after years of working with Russian officials—when I was serving as U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, I may have been the only U.S. official to have a standing weekly meeting with my Russian counterpart—I still found myself taken aback at the depth and consistency of the cynicism that Russian officials would express in private. “None of this matters—it’s all theater that doesn’t matter,” one of them once told me; he was referring to diplomacy. He thought those of us trying to solve problems were cute (and not in a good way). Those officials never believed that we really believed in concepts like human rights or the rule of law. They thought that because they had a dark and zero-sum outlook on human relations, everyone else did, too. A commitment to institutions and universal principles was, in their view, all theater.

Cynics purport to look down on idealists. They derive self-satisfaction from the hypocrisy of others. But when U.S. institutions work as they are intended to work and defend the rule of law—that unnerves the cynics. It reminds them that their mediocrity and moral cowardice is a trap in which they are caught. The world is watching how the United States responds to the Mueller report. Let’s give the cynics reason for self-doubt.

Daniel Baer is diplomat in residence at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. He was U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe from 2013 to 2017. Twitter: @danbbaer