The Death of Expertise


March 27, 2017

While the internet has allowed more people more access to more information than ever before, it has also given them the illusion of knowledge when in fact they are drowning in data and cherry-picking what they choose to read. Given an inexhaustible buffet of facts, rumors, lies, serious analysis, crackpot speculation and outright propaganda to browse online, it becomes easy for one to succumb to “confirmation bias” — the tendency, as Nichols puts it, “to look for information that only confirms what we believe, to accept facts that only strengthen our preferred explanations, and to dismiss data that challenge what we accept as truth.”

Citizens of all political persuasions (not to mention members of the Trump administration) can increasingly live in their own news media bubbles, consuming only views similar to their own. When confronted with hard evidence that they are wrong, many will simply double down on their original assertions. “This is the ‘backfire effect,’” Nichols writes, “in which people redouble their efforts to keep their own internal narrative consistent, no matter how clear the indications that they’re wrong.” As a result, extreme views are amplified online, just as fake news and propaganda easily go viral.

Today, all these factors have combined to create a maelstrom of unreason that’s not just killing respect for expertise, but also undermining institutions, thwarting rational debate and spreading an epidemic of misinformation. These developments, in turn, threaten to weaken the very foundations of our democracy. As Nichols observes near the end of this book: “Laypeople complain about the rule of experts and they demand greater involvement in complicated national questions, but many of them only express their anger and make these demands after abdicating their own important role in the process: namely, to stay informed and politically literate enough to choose representatives who can act on their behalf.”

 

Focus on Policies, not Partisan Politics


March 26, 2017

Focus on Policies, not Partisan Politics

by Bunn Nagara@www.thestar.com.my

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Beyond the noisy protests over Trump’s presidency, there are important policy issues and implications that need better understanding – but which are still neglected.

NOT too long ago, there was hope, even a belief, that the fuss about Donald Trump’s fitness for presidential office would fade away after his inauguration. But even after more than two months into the presidency, critics are still carping and cynics are still canting. The real issues affecting people’s lives, badly neglected by the US media, are still being ignored.

Since US policies have a global reach, its actions affect other countries in various ways. So what can we expect from the Trump White House?In strategic terms, Trump has inherited some foreign policy challenges from the preceding administration. Then there are issues he has created on his own.

Nearest home is the controversy over the Mexican border “wall”. This is a typical issue blown out of proportion by Trump’s own grandstanding and his opponents bent on inflating it.

Trump first said he would build a wall, then added it could be a fence in parts. Since there is already a part-wall, part-fence on the border, what is his proposal and the objection to it about?

On Syria, Obama had already shifted from insisting on President Assad’s immediate removal to accepting his place as head of government. From being regarded as “part of the problem,” an Assad still popular with his people came to be seen grudgingly by Obama as part of the solution – but still one that had to resolve itself.

Trump is not keen on ousting Assad either. Assad has even suggested that Syria may host US troops dispatched by Trump to fight terrorism together.

For both leaders, exterminating such terrorist groups as IS is top priority while welcoming Russian support in the fight. Trump would openly receive what Obama would haltingly accept, with little or no difference on the ground.

Where differences largely comprise rhetoric, they become unbridgeable. In non-official Washington, this concerns “Russia”: not as a large Eurasian nation with a rich history, but as the bogeyman Other.

“Russia” is also a way for Trump’s enemies to dredge the swamp for issues to hit him with. This would at least deter any attempt at “resetting” relations with Moscow that would alarm the US deep state.

Since the issue of Syria is mostly a function of US-Russia relations, the Trump White House will soon have to decide what to do and how to do it. Beltway ideologues have already put a pugnacious Trump on the defensive over “Russia”, so his room for manoeuvre is limited.

Developing a clear and coherent position on Iran is just as delicate, especially after Trump had pledged to tear up the Iran nuclear deal. His primal aversion to Iran derives from a lack of familiarity, images of hardline mullahs, and limited contact with the Syiah sect.

Iran, however, can breathe a sigh of relief now that Lt-Gen Mike Flynn has been replaced as National Security Adviser. Flynn was exceptionally caustic about Teheran and dismissive of it.

Image result for Trump and Xi and North Korea

Since US-China ties are the world’s most important bilateral relationship, China should command most of Washington’s attention among all its foreign relations.The relationship was never pristine as Trump blamed China for currency manipulation and unfair trade terms. It crashed to a low after Beijing criticised Trump for speaking to the Taiwanese President, and Trump responded by questioning China’s core strategic interests.

China then moved to salvage the situation. President Xi Jinping spoke personally to Trump on the phone, followed by a visit to Washington by State Councillor Yang Jiechi to arrange a summit.

The White House is now planning to host Xi at Trump’s opulent Florida estate over April 6 to 7. Among the issues they will discuss is a lethally recalcitrant North Korea.

As expected, Trump will say China needs to do more to rein in North Korea, and Xi will say China is already doing all it can with this Jong-un of an upstart. On the economic front, matters may be less predictable but just as important.Trump may reach for a new deal with Xi in an early bid to establish his legacy in world trade. And nothing beats striking a new, productive deal with a rising China.

Elsewhere, Trump will be fettling the terms of new trade deals with various countries. These distinct new bilateral relations will be the “spokes” of a customised world trade wheel, with the US as the hub.

The question for Xi and Trump will be where China would be in the wheel, since it is too big to be just a spoke. The economic reality could be that China is fast becoming the axle for the entire wheel.

On the yawning trade deficit and colossal US debt, Trump will try hard to close the issues. Unlike most previous presidents, he sees their successful conclusion as a vital mission and a measure of his competence.

Given the circumstances, pledging to balance the budget and eliminate national debt in eight years as Trump did would be a fool’s errand. It may be no more than an incentive for voters to elect him for a second term.

Independent analysts expect Trump’s tax-cutting and public expenditure policies to add US$6tril (RM26tril) to US national debt over the next decade. At the same time, the Congressional Budget Office said Obama’s fiscal trajectory would have added US$10tril (RM44tril) debt over the same period.

Trump’s plan to cut taxes across the board is said to encourage business growth. This is expected to affect SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) if no other industry sector to expand their businesses.This approach to revive US industry is deemed conservative, but also somewhat unconventional. It is still trickle-down economics but in a different way.

Unlike most Republicans’ (and Democrats’) preference for encouraging corporations to expand abroad, reap economies of scale, multiply profits and then be taxed more on their higher turnover, Trump would cut taxes and encourage them to return home, hire more American workers and energise the economy that way.

This would mean less outsourcing abroad, fewer foreign relocations for manufacturing, more job creation at home and a healthier economy. Some of this has already begun.

Trump would also cut foreign labour content in the manufacture of US goods. This comes in restricting the entry of foreign migrants and the “export” of US jobs.

In the short to medium terms, this would see a measure of economic recovery as wages rise and consumption picks up. However, since the global economy is an integrated planetary entity, it would also mean higher prices for US goods and a decline in US competitiveness.

Developing sets of bilateral trade deals with various countries will also take time. Meanwhile, this region will see development of the ASEAN Community, besides the ASEAN-proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement and the China-proposed Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).

The US will be without the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) and the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). Other countries averse to this situation for their own interests must now learn to accept it.

Superpowers act in their own self interests and not out of a charitable impulse to assist another country. Smaller and less able countries may want to ally with a larger and more powerful one, but not vice-versa.

Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.

Confused Conservatives


March 26, 2017

Confused Conservatives

by Scott Ng@www.freemalaysiatoday.com

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As the West continues its struggle with hard right extremists, Malaysians have perhaps looked at the most powerful country in the world and felt a chill of déjà vu. We’ve had plenty of experience with contradictory statements from our public officials, our messy bureaucracy and a childish administration that seems to exist in its own deluded reality.

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The doublespeak and the inflammatory rhetoric of Donald Trump’s administration in the face of criticism is eerily reminiscent of what we go through in Malaysia on a regular basis, and perhaps it is time too to look at the resurgence of right-wing rhetoric around us.

Conservatism takes many forms, but we’re concerned here with social conservatives, who of late have earned for themselves a black name in the United States for their disregard of boundaries in their determination to win the culture war. In the highly charged protest against the withdrawal of tax exemptions from racist Christian colleges, we cannot fail to see that the festering heart of the movement was always just below the surface.

But what of Malaysia, where conservatism has been a way of life for the better part of our history since independence?

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Malaysian conservatism has long revolved around the “Malay way of life”, which ostensibly revolves around the culture and customs of the Malays, but has evolved in recent decades into one centred on a strict and punitive version of Islam. And thus, in recent years, we’ve been watching a race among various groups to see which can be more conservative than the others.

When NGOs can say barefacedly that non-Malays and non-Muslims must pay taxes but accept being exiled from the administrative process of the country, one must wonder if we have reached peak conservatism – in other words, the rock bottom. Add to that the inflammatory rhetoric that states that Chinese Malaysians are intruders originally brought in by the British to oppress the Malays, and one has to wonder if the situation is absolutely hopeless.

Conservatism’s biggest weakness has always been the assuredness of its own righteousness, and as it has slid further to the right, those pronunciations of religious privilege become ever louder. One suspects even the conservatives know that loud noises are needed to obscure the shakiness of their positions.

Much like Trump’s self-contradicting evangelical Christian support, conservatives are far too often willing to ignore logical fallacies and ideological inconsistencies to ensure that their message makes its way out into the mainstream. Conservative commentators in the US have observed this phenomenon and have made much of the battle for the Christian soul that Trump’s election represented. That battle was obviously lost and has resulted in the America we see today.

Modern Malaysian conservatism does not lie at a crossroads. It continues down that same path it was set on by those who claimed to succeed Tunku Abdul Rahman’s spirit, absorbing and distorting the narrative in its favour every step of the way. At which point will it be time for self-reflection? Without that moment of clarity, the fear that things will never improve becomes one that is too close to the skin.

Scott Ng is an FMT columnist.

Nothing to fear but the Fearmongers


March 25, 2017

Nothing to fear but the Fearmongers

by Dean Johns@www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for geert wilders, marine LePen, and Trump

Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump and Geert Wilders– The Fearmongers

Possibly the best-known comment on fear is US President Franklin D Roosevelt’s attempt in his 1933 first inaugural address to encourage Americans facing the great depression with the ringing reminder that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.

But of course what Roosevelt and many others who had expressed this sentiment before him actually meant was that what we have to fear is excessive fear.Because a moderate degree of fear, or at least caution, is essential to the maintenance of human, indeed all animal, life in the face of potential threats like hunger, thirst or physical assault.

So that, as a former Australian government sensibly advised its populace following the terrorist bombings in Bali bombings that killed a good many of its own and other countries’ citizens in 2002, it pays to be “alert, but not alarmed”.

This represented a most welcome change of attitude from the state of xenophobic paranoia if not outright panic at the imagined threat of being swamped by the so-called ‘yellow peril’ that until all too recently inspired the disgracefully racist so-called ‘White Australia Policy’.

However relatively less fearful my country has sensibly and mercifully become, though, ugly traces of old anti-other attitudes unfortunately persist in the disordered minds of at least a small minority of Australians, as witnessed by the existence of the appalling party that Pauline Hanson and her supporters call One Nation.

Or, as I prefer to think of the thing, One Notion, given that its sole policy and preoccupation appears to be the winning of a share of political power by promoting fears of ‘threats’ to Australia allegedly posed by the nation’s admitting and failing to assimilate ‘too many’ non-European, non-Christian immigrants and refugees.

In other words, it’s the same fear campaign that’s being waged around the world by right-wing, or in other words wrong-wing, parties and pressure groups like those headed by the likes of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen in France, and Donald Trump in the US.

Trump being, by dint of his pre-eminence as the President of the world’s richest, most culturally influential and most militarily powerful nation, by far the most dangerous of these and countless other leaders, or rather misleaders, who busily seek to seize or retain power by playing on the fears of their most racist, religionist or otherwise ignorant and insecure citizens.

And as regrettable as Trump’s exclusionary efforts are in theory, they’re even more ridiculous in fact. For example, his list of Muslim-majority countries whose citizens he is determined to deny entry to the US illogically doesn’t include Saudi Arabia, of which most of the 911 terrorists were citizens, or Pakistan, the country whose secret police harboured Osama bin Laden while George W Bush was busy hunting him in Afghanistan.

Furthermore, his exclusion of selected Muslims for the purported purpose of protecting US citizens from terrorism is a spectacular case of errorism, given that home-grown citizen-on-citizen terrorism disguised as the ‘right to keep and bear arms’ costs infinitely more lives than imported terrorism could imaginably do, as US deaths by gunshot total some 30,000, or eight or nine times the toll taken by the 911 atrocity, every year.

And there is as little sense behind Trump’s claims that American jobs have been ‘taken’ by other countries, in light of the fact that the US has been the most tireless promoter of so-called ‘globalisation’, or in other words, US corporations’ exploitive export of production and other facilities to other, poorer countries in the pursuit of cheaper labour, expanded markets and thus fatter profits.

However little sense fearmongering makes, though, it will persist for as long as there are mongrels prepared to resort to it, and to demonstrate that it apparently works, as in the case of Trump’s recent election, for example, and the success of so-called ‘Brexit’ case for the UK to quit the EU.

It doesn’t necessarily work for very long

But there’s also ample evidence that it doesn’t necessarily work for very long. For example, despite his virtually writing the book on fear-mongering, Mein Kampf, in which he declared that “the art of leadership… consists in consolidating the attention of the people against a single adversary and taking care that nothing will split up that attention”, Adolph Hitler only managed to sustain his projected ‘Thousand-Year Reich’ for a decade or so.

On the other hand, however, today’s ultimate example of fearmongering, the North Korean regime’s terrorising and enslavement of its people by sustaining the pretense that it is still fighting a war that it lost over 60 years ago, continues to work after a fashion, though arguably only with China’s assistance.

And Malaysia’s Barisan Nasional (National Front) has sustained itself in uninterrupted power since 1957 by apparently taking a leaf out of Mein Kampf (My Struggle) and literally putting the fear of God into the majority of its subjects by pretending to ‘struggle’ to save not only their religion but also their race and royalty from attack by alleged enemies.

Enemies primarily including ‘the Jews’, George Soros and ‘The West’ in general, according to former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad during his 22 democracy-crippling, rule-of-law-destroying and kleptocracy-creating years in office.

And now, with Najib Abdul Razak desperately defending his even more disastrous premiership, he and his BN accomplices are busy mongering even more frightful fears.

Borrowing or rather stealing Donald Trump’s concept of the spectre of ‘fake news’ to attempt to discredit inconvenient or incriminating truths about them and their crimes; fomenting or at least magnifying a fake ‘conflict’ against an allegedly hostile North Korea to foster faux-patriotism; and just for good measure, inventing untold other, unspecified ‘enemies’ to further terrify the timorous.

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Playing with Imagined Malay Fears

According to BN’s own ‘fake news’ agency, Bernama, Najib recently “reminded the people regarding crucial matters which could destroy the country including being the country’s covert enemies or conspiring with the country’s enemies”, then continued with a litany of alleged lies and further confusion in the same vein.

Thus signifying that he’s absolutely terrified that someday a majority of Malaysians will finally find the courage to face the non-existent fears that have kept them in thrall to BN all these years, and throw these fear-mongers out on their ears.

1MDB–What’s Najib Razak’s next move


March 25, 2017

1MDB–What’s Najib Razak’s next move ?

Journalists from Switzerland’s Le Temps newspaper have unearthed a startling connection between the snooping private investigator, Nicolas Giannakopoulos, who conducted a bizarre seminar on 1MDB at Geneva University and Malaysia’s governing Barisan National party

Image result for Najib Razak and J Lo

The newspaper has in the process identified concerns that individuals closely connected to Barisan National are preparing to employ the latest highly controversial (and expensive) ‘Big Data’ tactics to swing voters at the next election.

Nicolas Giannakopoulos, who was recently suspended from his position at the University following an expose by Sarawak Report, is the Swiss agent for SLC (otherwise known as Cambridge Analytica).

SLC specialises in collecting a mass of data, particularly about individuals in key marginal consituencies, in order to seek to deliberately influence their voting patterns. The company is credited with having swung BERXIT in the UK and the Donald Trump win in the US.

Le Temps points out that SLC has now opened an office in KL headed by one of BN’s established public relations figures, Azrin Zizal, who has made no secret in public that his messaging to voters is to stick with the “safe” and “tried and tested” BN, rather risk than an ‘uncertain future’ with the opposition.

READ: SARAWAK REPORT:

http://www.sarawakreport.org/2017/03/latest-on-genevas-1mdb-snooper-raises-fears-that-najib-is-employing-big-data-tactics-to-try-swing-ge14/

GDP or GNH (The Bhutan Way)?


March 24, 2017

GDP or GNH (The Bhutan Way)–Maybe it’s Time to screw the  Economists and start looking at alternative ways to measure what makes life worthwhile

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Listen to this TED presentation by Chip Conley and reflect. I enjoyed it and wonder why we continue to measure only the measurable (the tangibles) and ignore the intangibles. As  someone who is trained in Economics (and does being taught this academic discipline make a economist?), I am wonder how it is that  I can be so misled and still have not abandoned GDP as a measurement of national wealth if I know it is misleading when intangibles matter more today. Maybe it is a force of habit. Should be I Aristotelian or Maslowian?  Let me know what you think.–Din Merican