Fareed Zakaria on Mike Pompeo

March 19, 2018

On Mike Pompeo–The New Man in The State Department has to handle Iran and North Korea

By Dr.Fareed Zakaria
Mike Pompeo has a crisis to handle — even before the North Korea summit

Image result for Mike PompeoFareed Zakaria: Mr. Pompeo, repeat after me: “The Iran deal was bad, but now it’s good.”


If confirmed as Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo will arrive at a State Department that has been battered by proposed budget cuts, hollowed out by resignations and vacancies, and neutered by President Trump’s impulsive and personal decision-making style. But Pompeo’s most immediate challenge will not be rebuilding the department and restoring morale; it will be dealing with an acute foreign policy crisis that is largely of the President’s own making — the Iran Nuclear Deal.

Pompeo will have to tackle a genuine foreign policy challenge soon. Trump has agreed to meet with Kim Jong Un before the end of May. This could be a promising development, defusing the rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula and across Asia. Yet before Trump even sits down with Kim at the negotiating table to discuss a nuclear deal, the administration will have to decide how to handle the preexisting deal with Tehran.

Image result for Trump on Iran

Trump has already announced that the United States will no longer abide by the Iran nuclear pact unless European leaders agree to “fix the deal’s disastrous flaws.” (And from the outset, he has been cheered in his hard-line posturing by Pompeo.) European nations seem unwilling to endorse more than cosmetic changes, and Iran has flatly refused to renegotiate. That means by May 12 the United States is set to pull out of the agreement, which could lead Iran to do the same and restart its nuclear program. This would happen at the very same time as the summit with North Korea — when the United States will surely be trying to convince North Korea of the benefits of signing a similar agreement.

Image result for iran's foreign minister quote on the Iran Nuclear Deal

To understand the virtues of the Iran deal, recall that a quarter-century ago, the United States was negotiating a nuclear accord with Pyongyang. At that point, North Korea had a nuclear program but no nuclear weapons. The Clinton administration was trying to get the regime to freeze its program, agree to some rollbacks and allow intrusive inspections. But the accord that was ultimately reached was far more limited than hoped for. The inspections process was weak, and the North Koreans cheated.

The Iranians in 2015 also did not have nuclear weapons (and insisted they had no intention of ever making them). Still, the nuclear deal required them to scale back significant aspects of their program, dismantling 13,000 centrifuges, giving up 98 percent of their enriched uranium and effectively shutting down their plutonium reactor at Arak. The International Atomic Energy Agency has cameras and inspectors in Iran at every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle — from mines to labs to enrichment facilities. The IAEA attests that Tehran has abided by its end of the deal. Even Pompeo himself has conceded as much.

The Iran accord is not perfect, but it has stabilized a dangerous and spiraling situation in the Middle East. Were the deal to unravel, an already simmering region would get much hotter. (The crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, recently affirmed that his kingdom would go nuclear if Iran did.) And, again, this would all be happening just as the Trump administration would be trying to convince the North Koreans to agree to limits, freezes, rollbacks and inspections of its own nuclear program. Why would Kim sign a deal while he watches the United States renege on the last one it signed?

The tragedy here is that this is an entirely self-inflicted crisis. There was already enough instability in the world that the administration did not need to create more. Pompeo should recognize that his job as secretary of state will be to solve problems, not produce them, and he should preserve the Iran accord and spend his time on North Korea. But that would still leave a considerable challenge regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons. There, too, the administration’s position — and his — has been maximalist, vowing to accept nothing less than the total denuclearization of North Korea. But that’s a negotiating position that can and should be adjusted over time, depending on North Korean behavior.

Pompeo should take a page from his boss’s book. Trump has reversed course on issue after issue, often with little explanation. He declared that NATO was obsolete only to say later that it was not. He promised to label China a currency manipulator and then decided against it. He insisted that talking to North Korea would be a waste of time and then eagerly announced that he would. And who knows, maybe Trump understands the public’s inattention and mood better than most of us. In any case, whatever Pompeo said about the Iran deal months ago is now ancient history. He should simply declare that right now, under the circumstances, the deal is worth preserving.

Image result for Fareed Zakaria


There are significant costs to America’s credibility and reputation if Washington keeps reversing its positions on core foreign policy issues. Yet there are greater costs to stubbornly persisting with the wrong policy. So, Mr. Pompeo, repeat after me: “The Iran deal was bad, but now it’s good.”

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group


Inequality in the 21st Century

March 19, 2018

Inequality in the 21st Century

by Kaushik Basu


Image result for Inequality in 21st Century

As inequality continues to deepen worldwide, we do not have the luxury of sticking to the status quo. Unless we confront the inequality challenge head on – as we have just begun to do with another existential threat, climate change – social cohesion, and especially democracy, will come under growing threat.

At the end of a low and dishonest year, reminiscent of the “low, dishonest decade” about which W.H. Auden wrote in his poem “September 1, 1939,” the world’s “clever hopes” are giving way to recognition that many severe problems must be tackled. And, among the severest, with the gravest long-term and even existential implications, is economic inequality.

Image result for thomas piketty

The alarming level of economic inequality globally has been well documented by prominent economists, including Thomas Piketty, François Bourguignon, Branko Milanović, and Joseph E. Stiglitz, and well-known institutions, including OXFAM and the World Bank. And it is obvious even from a casual stroll through the streets of New York, New Delhi, Beijing, or Berlin.

Image result for Stiglitz on Inequality

Voices on the right often claim that this inequality is not only justifiable, but also appropriate: wealth is a just reward for hard work, while poverty is an earned punishment for laziness. This is a myth. The reality is that the poor, more often than not, must work extremely hard, often in difficult conditions, just to survive.

Moreover, if a wealthy person does have a particularly strong work ethic, it is likely attributable not just to their genetic predisposition, but also to their upbringing, including whatever privileges, values, and opportunities their background may have afforded them. So there is no real moral argument for outsize wealth amid widespread poverty.

This is not to say that there is no justification for any amount of inequality. After all, inequality can reflect differences in preferences: some people might consider the pursuit of material wealth more worthwhile than others. Moreover, differential rewards do indeed create incentives for people to learn, work, and innovate, activities that promote overall growth and advance poverty reduction.

But, at a certain point, inequality becomes so severe that it has the opposite effect. And we are far beyond that point.

Plenty of people – including many of the world’s wealthy – recognize how unacceptable severe inequality is, both morally and economically. But if the rich speak out against it, they are often shut down and labeled hypocrites. Apparently, the desire to lessen inequality can be considered credible or genuine only by first sacrificing one’s own wealth.

The truth, of course, is that the decision not to renounce, unilaterally, one’s wealth does not discredit a preference for a more equitable society. To label a wealthy critic of extreme inequality as a hypocrite amounts to an ad hominem attack and a logical fallacy, intended to silence those whose voices could make a difference.

Fortunately, this tactic seems to be losing some of its potency. It is heartening to see wealthy individuals defying these attacks, not only by openly acknowledging the economic and social damage caused by extreme inequality, but also by criticizing a system that, despite enabling them to prosper, has left too many without opportunities.

In particular, some wealthy Americans are condemning the current tax legislation being pushed by Congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump’s administration, which offers outsize cuts to the highest earners – people like them. As Jack Bogle, the founder of Vanguard Group and a certain beneficiary of the proposed cuts, put it, the plan – which is all but guaranteed to exacerbate inequality – is a “moral abomination.”

Yet recognizing the flaws in current structures is just the beginning. The greater challenge is to create a viable blueprint for an equitable society. (It is the absence of such a blueprint that has led so many well-meaning movements in history to end in failure.) In this case, the focus must be on expanding profit-sharing arrangements, without stifling or centralizing market incentives that are crucial to drive growth.

A first step would be to give all of a country’s residents the right to a certain share of the economy’s profits. This idea has been advanced in various forms by Marty Weitzman, Hillel Steiner, Richard Freeman, and, just last month, Matt Bruenig. But it is particularly vital today, as the share of wages in national income declines, and the share of profits and rents rises – a trend that technological progress is accelerating.

There is another dimension to profit-sharing that has received little attention, related to monopolies and competition. With modern digital technology, the returns to scale are so large that it no longer makes sense to demand that, say, 1,000 firms produce versions of the same good, each meeting one-thousandth of total demand.

A more efficient approach would have 1,000 firms each creating one part of that good. So, when it comes to automobiles, for example, one firm would produce all of the gears, another producing all of the brake pads, and so on.

Traditional antitrust and pro-competition legislation – which began in 1890 with the Sherman Act in the US – prevents such an efficient system from taking hold. But a monopoly of production need not mean a monopoly of income, as long as the shares in each company are widely held. It is thus time for a radical change, one that replaces traditional anti-monopoly laws with legislation mandating a wider dispersal of shareholding within each company.

These ideas are largely untested, so much work would need to be done before they could be made operational. But as the world lurches from one crisis to another, and inequality continues to deepen, we do not have the luxury of sticking to the status quo. Unless we confront the inequality challenge head on, social cohesion and democracy itself will come under growing threat.

Image result for Kaushik Basu
*Kaushik Basu, former Chief Economist of the World Bank, is Professor of Economics at Cornell University and Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Trade outcome vital to success of ASEAN Summit

March 18, 2018

Trade outcome vital to success of ASEAN Summit

by Mari Pangestu and Peter Drysdale

Image result for mari pangestu
Image result for Peter Drysdale

Economists Dr Mari Elka Pangestu (above) and Dr. Peter Drysdale

Australia has been an ASEAN dialogue partner since 1974, an acknowledgement of the centrality of ASEAN to Australia’s regional security. There have been ASEAN summits with Japan, China, the United States and India but the ASEAN summit in Sydney this weekend is the first in Australia.

Image result for asean-australia special summit

The Host, ASEAN-Australia Special Summit 2018, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

The summit comes at a time when leaders in ASEAN and Australia confront a number of strategic choices. None is more important than how they respond to the threat to the global trading system, the foundation of East Asia’s prosperity and a critical element in its security.

ASEAN centrality has been an organising framework for Asian economic policy cooperation over the past half century.

The retreat of the United States under President Trump from leading the global economic order; the rise of China with its assertive stance on the South China Sea and its infrastructure development ‘carrot’ in the Belt and Road Initiative; a putative ‘Quad’ configuration of Indo-Pacific power around the US, India, Japan and Australia; and the North Korea crisis all present significant challenges to ASEAN’s central role in the region.

Last week, Mr Trump fired the first shots in what could become a global trade war with the imposition of 25 per cent tariffs on steel imports and 10 per cent tariffs on aluminium. The action, taken under the Section 232 national security provisions of US trade law, risks provoking tit-for-tat retaliation by trading partners who, unlike Canada, Mexico and Australia, aren’t able to negotiate exemption from its impact. It also risks the WTO rules-based trading system.

Mounting uncertainty has affected confidence in trade and economic recovery since Trump translated his campaign protectionist rhetoric into an ‘America First’ agenda. But the White House announcement last week threw the international system into chaos. If Trump’s imposition of these tariffs on a flimsy national security pretext does not outright flout the rules of the WTO, then it at least flouts its widely shared norms.

The response from the European Commission was to ‘do the same stupid things to respond to stupid things’ — promising retaliatory tariffs on a range of US exports into Europe, from Harley-Davidson motor bikes to bourbon whisky. The tariff imposts also launched a process in which partners like Australia successfully begged exemption on various grounds both sound and spurious, all of which are in clear violation of the understanding that trade will be conducted under internationally agreed rules, not ad hoc bilateral deals. That’s the beginning of the rot; it may be a short-term tactical victory for countries like Australia, but it is not effective trade policy strategy.

What can be done now?

Image result for Hun Sen with Turnbull at ASEAN-Australia Special Summit 2018

Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (R) waves with ASEAN leaders (L to 2nd R) Laos’ Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-O-Cha for a family picture at the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit in Sydney on March 17, 2018.

The strategic objective is to keep the WTO system alive in the face of a potentially mortal threat. The United States is playing itself out of the system. Learning to live without the United States as a rules- and norms-enforcer won’t be easy, but it is the only response that will protect the system and avoid the large-scale economic cost and the dangerous political consequences of an escalating trade war.

Asia’s response to the Trump trade threat is critical for the international system. Asia’s prosperity and political stability depends critically on its integration into the global economy through the rules-based trading system which has underpinned the growth of Asian interdependence, Asia’s economic prosperity and its political security.

China is in Trump’s cross hairs as ‘the cause of US trade deficits because of its violation of trade rules’. But China is also a crucial stakeholder in the rules-based system through its largely faithful observance of the protocols of its accession to the WTO in 2001 and the huge trade in Asia and around the world that has been built on that.

Locking in China’s entrenchment to the WTO system — and resistance to the temptation to take retaliatory actions in the face of Mr Trump’s trade antics — is thus a major element in the system’s defence.

As China and the US stare each other down with a potentially devastating trade war on the horizon, it may seem strange to turn to ASEAN, but it has a central role in the collective response to Asia’s present predicament. That is because of ASEAN leadership in the strategic conception and negotiation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in East Asia.

Image result for RCEP

RCEP includes not only the ten ASEAN economies but also Japan, South Korea, China, India, Australia and New Zealand. It’s a coalition of countries with the economic weight to deliver a powerful message to the world. The signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement without the United States in Chile last week was a start in defence of the global trading system. But that agreement doesn’t include China or most of ASEAN and is not systemically important enough to make the difference. RCEP is.

The threat to the multilateral trading system is more important than the still unfinished business on the Korean peninsula and worries about the South China Sea.

ASEAN, with Indonesia at its core, is a regional enterprise with a distinctly global outlook and objectives. Intra-regional trade is only 24 per cent of ASEAN’s total trade but it is deeply integrated into trade globally.

The Australia–ASEAN summit is a singularly important opportunity for setting out strategic interests in these economic dimensions of regional security and ASEAN’s role in achieving them. A declaration from the Sydney summit that commits to avoiding retaliation to US protectionism and elevating the momentum in RCEP will help cement a broader coalition of Asian economies, including China, Japan, South Korea and India, to holding firm on the international trading system.

It will also ensure ASEAN’s continuing centrality in cooperation across the region.

Dr. Mari Pangestu is former Indonesian Trade Minister and Professor at the University of Indonesia. Dr. Peter Drysdale is Professor of Economics and Head of the Asian Bureau of Economic Research and Co-Editor of East Asia Forum in the Crawford School of Public Policy at the ANU. This article was also published in the Australian Financial Review on 15 March 2018.


‘Malaysia’ dreams the impossible dream

March 17, 2018

‘Malaysia’ dreams the impossible dream

by Manjit Bahtia
Published on
Image result for ‘Malaysia’ dreams the impossible dream

    Prime Minister Najib Razak met Mel at Taxpayers’  Expense

COMMENT | “When you know someone is a thief, you stay away from him,” Dr Mahathir Mohamad told Beverley O’Connor, host of “The World” programme by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Thursday.

Mahathir, of course, was referring to Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, who is spending a long-weekend junket in Sydney at the ASEAN Heads of Government hot-air talk-shop – again at the expense of Malaysian taxpayers.

Thief isn’t the only label Mahathir used to describe Najib. He also called him a “monster”. There are far better labels for Najib and for UMNO-BN members. “Monster” is an appropriate enough metaphor. But beyond labels, Malaysia has a serious international image problem.

There was a time when Malaysia was known to the world for Mahathir’s neo-nationalist Malay brand of loud-mouthness. That’s whenever he railed against, say, Singapore, his racist rants against Jews and Malaysia’s British colonial masters – the very lot who taught him how to “divide-and-rule” his own multiracial citizens. Mahathir single-handedly made the term ‘citizen’ a profoundly dirty word.

Malaysia became even more famous after Mahathir cooked up “facts” to jail his then protégé Anwar Ibrahim and chucked him in prison. When top cop Abdul Rahim Noor black-eyed Anwar in jail, Mahathir merely shrugged in the “saya tidak peduli” manner.

Now Anwar and Mahathir have become bosom buddies in a double-act to exorcise from Malaysia’s ripped-asunder soul Najib.


The Mahathir hypocrisy hasn’t gone unnoticed, as O’Connor reminded Mahathir.  Mahathir responded sheepishly, with the tiniest regret. He said it is more important to look forward to the future to overthrow the great big thief in their midst and an Umno that has moved so far to the right of its 1946 “objectives” that both the party and its president are rotten to its core.

Mahathir said UMNO has been destroying itself from within, that Najib “has destroyed” the original UMNO and that the party exists solely to support its President and an authoritarian regime.

Note that Mahathir never mentioned any of UMNO’s coalition partners-in-crime. Nonetheless, the mission now, as everybody knows, is for the Mahathir-led Pakatan Harapan cavalry to lead the charge and rout UMNO before Najib and his band of crooks rob the country blind.

Nothing new in all this. The lineage and the so-called discourse (whatever discourse means) and the battle-cries go right back to 1969 – the year democracy in Malaysia died after a long-simmering brain snap.

My friend S Thayaparan, a Malaysiakini columnist – whom I’ve never met – has been at great pains recently to make the case that “Malaysian voters” must stand up and save the country. If there’s a certain urgency in Mahathir’s determination, there’s equal stridency in Thayaparan.

But there’s also a problem. In fact more than one problem. First, the electoral system, run by the Election Commission, is not chartered to ensure full and fair elections; it remains chartered to ensure fully foul elections.


It’s also chartered not to uphold democracy, even democracy with Malaysian characteristics, but to maintain a Malay-led kleptocratic authoritarian regime that thinks it is above the constitution, therefore above the law. The regime is the law since rule of law has ceased to exist for nearly half a century.

Second, Mahathir had for 22+ years presided over just such a regime when he led it. He – more than Abdul Razak, Hussein Onn and Mahathir’s successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi – had every time turned a blind eye to every skin-flake of known or rumoured corruption within his UMNO, his regime, his Malay-dominated bureaucracy and Police, and among the coterie of Malay, Chinese and Indian cronies or oligarchs he’d nurtured.

Those accused or nabbed, like Perwaja Steel’s Eric Chia, “somehow” managed to get off scot-free. It doesn’t take a genius to work out how.

Not when the separation of powers between the legislature, executive and judiciary, as a democracy would like to have it, disappeared virtually overnight under Mahathir. Yet here he is crying that Najib has violated everything decent and, worse, he’s getting away with it.

‘Muhibbah’ only in name 

Something else is worth remembering. What Najib is doing – centralising structural and institutional power in his hands through what I’ve called the UMNO-Leninist state – is very much the same thing Mahathir was doing when he ran the place like a dictator. Or close enough to one. The hypocrisy is stunning.

Third, the desperation among “Malaysians” opposed to the regime is perfectly understandable. The desperation for the coalition of opposition parties, Pakatan Harapan, is also perfectly understandable.

To go as far as enlisting Mahathir is one thing; to make him the leader of the pack and, more, Prime Minister if Harapan should win, is unthinkable.


The man who created the 21st century monster of Malaysia, among the many other monsters who clutter the regime from across the ruling coalition, was Mahathir. He gave each one of them long enough rope to enrich themselves, heeding Deng Xiaoping’s dictum. Najib too embraced the licence. Najib’s “living the good life,” Mahathir put it on television. So are Mahathir’s cronies and nepotists.

Mahathir can’t have it both ways. He needs to own up to the past wrongs when the rot started to really set in. Mahathir now says Malaysia needs to reset good governance by ridding the country of Najib et al. Fine.

But (a) what good governance did Mahathir bring to Malaysia when he was Prime Minister? And (b) he must not become Prime Minister a second time, not even as a seat-warmer for Anwar.

The King of Malaysia has a duty to the country. All the Sultans do. The King knows Najib has been ripping off Malaysia; he cannot continue to sit on his hands and wait for ridiculously pointless protocols before pardoning Anwar – if he dares to pardon Anwar at all. But he must if he does not want his country monster-ised further.

Anwar at the helm gives Harapan the legitimacy it needs to fight the elections. This is not to suggest Anwar (photo) is unproblematic. Even with Anwar at the tiller isn’t a sufficient condition to rule.

Thayaparan says “all Malaysians” must vote, that they must do their bit. I would agree if I knew just who “all Malaysians” were – another point Thayaparan missed in my letter. Show me one “all Malaysian”.

Here’s what I see. Here’s what I’ve always seen. And on my last visit to Malaysia very recently I saw this much more clearly.

There’s no “all Malaysian”. There are no “all Malaysians”. There are Malays, Chinese, Indians and so on – discrete ethno-tribal, sociological, economic and political units separated by competition between race, religion and ideology.

The old story. I don’t need to tell you this. The ruling coalition is also dominated by similar units separated by race and religion. So, too, Pakatan Harapan.As we do in primary math addition, this will be carried over into the future.

Therein lies Malaysia’s core problem. The country might be able to solve some of the economic divisions that rift the people, but it can’t and it won’t solve every one of them or every other accompanying problem until competition between race, religion and ideology is resolved.

“Muhibbah” exists but only in name. Always has since 1969. Najib, UMNO and their BN clan know this and they’ll play this up to the hilt, no matter what the fallout.

There are many other problems that will inevitably be brought into general election No 14 from GE13. Many are beholden to UMNO-BN. Some are also evident, again, in the opposition.

Like it or not, Harapan is divisive because it is itself divided. In fact – and I agree with Thayaparan – Harapan looks woefully inadequate. It hasn’t learnt from its mistakes from GE-13. Those mistakes were fundamental, starting with its rather lame manifesto.

Harapan may have done better than expected in that election but it can’t hope for the same lucky streak in GE-14 to break the proverbial UMNO-BN camel’s back once and for all.

It would be wonderful if it does but UMNO has some things on its side, and a certain important – no, critical – momentum that Harapan would wish it has too. It won’t if it keeps carrying on like it has. But Mahathir isn’t the answer.

MANJIT BHATIA, an Australian, is a US-based academic, researcher and analyst specialising in Asian and international economics, political economy and international relations. He lives in Hanover, New Hampshire.

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


NY Times Book Review: Can the 45th President of the United States be impeached?

March 17, 2018

NYTimes Book Review: Can the 45th President of the United States be impeached?

by Andrew Sullivan

A Citizen’s Guide
By Cass R. Sunstein
199 pp. Harvard University. Paper, $7.95.

Authoritarianism in America
Edited by Cass R. Sunstein
481 pp. Dey St./Morrow. Paper, $17.99.

It’s really hard to impeach a President.

The founders included the provision, from the very start, as the weakest, “break the glass in case of emergency” mechanism for reining in an out-of-control executive. He was already subject to a four-year term, so he would remain answerable to the people, and to two other branches of government, which could box him in constitutionally. But the founders’ fear of creeping monarchism — the very reason for their revolution — and their deep realism about human nature led them to a provision, rooted in English constitutional precedent, whereby a rogue President could be removed from office by the legislature during his term as well. At the same time, it’s clear they also wanted a strong executive, not serving at the whim of Congress, or subject, like a Prime Minister, to a parliamentary vote of “no confidence.” He was an equal branch of government, with his own prerogatives, empowered, in Hamilton’s words, to conduct his office with “decision, activity, secrecy and dispatch.” He stood very much on his own feet.

“…if he was to start acting like an idiot, he could not be impeached. If he was psychologically disturbed but not mentally incapacitated, ditto. If he pursued ruinous policies, or faced enormous unpopularity, or said unspeakably reckless things, he could not be impeached. If he committed a whole slew of crimes in his personal capacity, he’d be answerable to public opinion and regular justice, but not subject to losing his job. If his judgment was unstable, his personal behavior appalling or if he were to make the United States a laughingstock in the opinion of mankind, the impeachment provision did not apply.”–Andrew Sullivan

And so the impeachment power was both strong and weak. Strong as it hovered as the ultimate sanction for any President who might push his luck, but weak insofar as it was deliberately limited to the offense of subverting the Constitution itself or betraying the United States in foreign affairs: the famously grave and yet vague Anglo-American terminology of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” which included “great and dangerous offenses.” These were essentially serious political crimes, which was why they had to be dealt with in the political arena rather than the courts. They amounted to one core idea: If the President was to start acting like a king, he could be dispatched.

But if he was to start acting like an idiot, he could not be impeached. If he was psychologically disturbed but not mentally incapacitated, ditto. If he pursued ruinous policies, or faced enormous unpopularity, or said unspeakably reckless things, he could not be impeached. If he committed a whole slew of crimes in his personal capacity, he’d be answerable to public opinion and regular justice, but not subject to losing his job. If his judgment was unstable, his personal behavior appalling or if he were to make the United States a laughingstock in the opinion of mankind, the impeachment provision did not apply.

Image result for Impeachment of john Tyler

And even then, the bar for impeachment was very high, as Cass R. Sunstein’s elegant new monograph, “Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide,” explains: Both House and Senate would have to be involved and in favor; and conviction would require a two-thirds majority in the Senate, ensuring that a clear national consensus was necessary if a president was to be judged to be gravely violating his oath of office, or betraying the country. This is why in well over two centuries the impeachment power has been invoked against sitting Presidents only four times, and never actually pursued to conviction. The attempted impeachment of John Tyler in 1842 was rightly rejected by the House of Representatives by a margin of 127-83 (he was guilty of innovating the use of the veto on policy grounds alone), and the impeachment of Andrew Johnson in 1868 (on the preposterous grounds that he had no right to appoint his own secretary of war) was turned back by a single vote in the Senate. The impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton in 1998 because of a civil sexual harassment suit squeaked through the House on partisan lines, 221-212, but failed in the Senate, with conviction on the least ludicrous obstruction of justice charge reaching only 50 votes out of a needed 67.

Image result for Impeachment of Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon resigned before a vote in the full House could be taken. Sunstein assesses his articles of impeachment thus: not impeachable for evading taxes (too personal a crime); probably impeachable for resisting a congressional subpoena (but a President could potentially make a legitimate, if dubious, claim about executive privilege); definitely impeachable for covering up an impeachable offense (abusing the powers of the F.B.I., the C.I.A. and the Department of Justice to conceal evidence of an attempt to subvert an election by burglarizing the Democratic National Committee).

Where does this leave us with respect to Donald Trump? Sunstein smartly doesn’t answer the question directly — instead teasing out various hypotheticals with some similarities to our current concerns. Here are a few: directing the Justice Department to prosecute someone for political reasons; pledging in advance to pardon anyone in law enforcement who commits a crime; using the F.B.I. or C.I.A. to get evidence of criminality against a political opponent; egregiously defaulting on his core presidential responsibilities; secretly bribing others in a direct quid pro quo or similarly receiving bribes; and secretly cooperating with a foreign power to promulgate false information against a political opponent. Sunstein thinks each of these is an impeachable offense — as they almost certainly are.

With Trump, these analogies are tantalizingly close but probably not close enough. Firing an F.B.I. Director for an investigation into a President’s campaign, for example, is deeply suspicious, but technically kosher, since the F.B.I. Director serves at the president’s pleasure. Campaigning to “lock her up” and initiating a new Justice Department investigation into possible illegality by Hillary Clinton likewise could be described, in a pinch, as mere excessive campaign rhetoric or a genuine pursuit of justice. Spending hours watching cable television, refusing to read his daily intelligence briefing, disrupting negotiations with Congress by constantly shifting positions and dictating policy by declarative tweets are all clearly outside what the founders would regard as good executive leadership, but they are too subjective to be a reliable basis for impeachment. Pardoning Sheriff Joe Arpaio for violating the Constitution could be defended, however dubiously, as merely an act of compassion for an old man. Failing to abide by clear ethical rules by refusing to divest all business projects is an egregious outrage, but not provable bribery. Venting at an attorney general for recusing himself from a case in which he was involved (but not actually firing him) doesn’t make the cut either.

What about passively cooperating with a foreign power to subvert an American election and then, after clear proof of such interference, refusing to counter that foreign power’s intent to disrupt the next election too? If a President unwittingly benefited from a foreign foe’s meddling (“no collusion!”), and he’s merely guilty of failing to do enough to counter that power’s continuing assault on the American democratic process, he’s in the clear. But if he is actively neglecting a defense of this country’s electoral integrity because he believes the Kremlin helped him win an election in the past, and will almost certainly help him and his party in the near future, then impeachment is a no-brainer. If he knew of the meddling at the time and encouraged it, ditto. In those cases, you have a combination of treason and defaulting on the core responsibilities of his office — at the center of the founders’ concerns (especially being too close to a foreign government). The trouble here is that we have, so far, no proof of anything but a willingness to collude with a foreign power’s interference; and no clear evidence at all of the President’s personal involvement with foreign actors.

Yet even if that evidence were incontrovertible (and that could still emerge in Mueller’s investigation), impeachment remains a political decision. Which means that unless we experience some kind of unprecedented sea change in the pathological tribalism that now defines our politics, impeachment is a dead letter. What makes Trump immune is that he is not a President within the context of a healthy republican government. He is a cult leader of a movement that has taken over a political party — and he specifically campaigned on a platform of one-man rule. This fact permeates “Can It Happen Here? Authoritarianism in America,” a collection of essays by a number of writers that has been edited by Sunstein, which concludes, if you read between the lines, that “it” already has.

Image result for donald trump impeachmentThe 45th POTUS Donald J. Trump: “I am the only one who matters.”

No, Trump is not about to initiate a coup, or suspend elections or become a dictator. The more likely model for American authoritarianism is that of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey or the Fidesz party in Hungary. The dismemberment of a public discourse centered on objective truth is a key first step, fomented by unceasing dissemination of outright lies from the very top, metabolized by tribal social media, ever more extreme talk radio and what is essentially a state propaganda channel, Fox News. The neutering of the courts is the second step — and Trump is well on his way to (constitutionally) establishing a federal judiciary whose most important feature will be reliable assent to executive power. Congress itself has far less approval than Trump; its inability to do anything but further bankrupt the country, enrich the oligarchy and sabotage many Americans’ health care leaves an aching void filled by … a President who repeatedly insists that “I am the only one who matters.”

I don’t think Trump has a conscious intent to vandalize liberal democracy — he doesn’t even understand what it is. Rather, his twisted, compulsive insecurity requires him to use his office to attack, delegitimize and weaken every democratic institution that may occasionally operate outside his own delusional narcissism. He cannot help this. His tweets are a function of spasms, not plots. But the wreckage after only one year is extraordinary. The F.B.I. is now widely discredited; the C.I.A. is held in contempt; judges, according to the president, are driven by prejudice and partisanship (when they disagree with him); the media produce fake news; Congress is useless (including both Republicans and Democrats); alliances are essentially rip-offs; the State Department — along with the whole idea of a neutral Civil Service — is unnecessary. And the possibility of reasoned deliberation at the heart of democratic life has been obliterated by the white-hot racial and cultural hatreds that Trump was able to exploit to get elected and that he constantly fuels.

The Democrats find themselves in opposition a little like Marco Rubio in the primaries. Take the high road and you are irrelevant; take the low road and you cannot compete with the biggest bully and liar on the block. The result is that an unimpeachable President is slowly constructing the kind of authoritarian state that America was actually founded to overthrow.

There is nothing in the Constitution’s formal operation that can prevent this. Impeachment certainly cannot. As long as one major political party endorses it, and a solid plurality of Americans support such an authoritarian slide, it is unstoppable. The founders knew that without a virtuous citizenry, the Constitution was a mere piece of paper and, in Madison’s words, “no theoretical checks — no form of government can render us secure.” Franklin was blunter in forecasting the moment we are now in: He believed that the American experiment in self-government “can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.” You can impeach a President, but you can’t, alas, impeach the people. They voted for the kind of monarchy the American republic was designed, above all else, to resist; and they have gotten one.

The Malay or The Najib Malay?

March 17, 2018

The Malay or The Najib Malay?

Let the Late Malaysian Poet Laureate Usman Awang remind the present generation who they should be.


Image result for The MalayThis is a Najib Razak Malay


They can longer be a people who have to depend a nanny state which is being run into the ground by a kleptocracy under Prime Minister Najib Razak. They cannot be bought by BR1M money and other handouts. They need to demonstrate that they are a proud, self-reliant, competitive and hard working people.–Din Merican