Obama’s Legacy–Optimism


January 15, 2017

The Optimism of Barack H. Obama

Americans will miss Mr. Obama’s negotiating skills on tough issues and the dignity and character that he and his family brought to the White House.–New York Times

Barack Obama is leaving the White House with polls showing him to be one of the most popular presidents in recent decades. This makes sense. His achievements, not least pulling the nation back from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, have been remarkable — all the more so because they were bitterly opposed from the outset by Republicans who made it their top priority to ensure that his presidency would fail.

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Many Americans celebrated the election of the first African-American President as a welcome milestone in the history of a nation conceived in slavery and afflicted by institutional racism. Yet the bigotry that president-elect Donald Trump capitalized on during his run for office confirmed a point that Mr. Obama himself made from the start: that simply electing a black president would not magically dispel the prejudices that have dogged the country since its inception. Even now, these stubborn biases and beliefs, amplified by a divisive and hostile campaign that appealed not to people’s better instincts but their worst, have blinded many Americans to their own good fortune, fortune that flowed from policies set in motion by this President.

That story begins on Inauguration Day in 2009. That’s when Mr. Obama inherited a ravaged economy that was rapidly shedding jobs and forcing millions of people from their homes. The Obama stimulus, which staved off a 1930s-vintage economic collapse by pumping money into infrastructure, transportation and other areas, passed the House without a single Republican vote. Republican gospel holds that government spending does not create jobs or boost employment. The stimulus did both — preserving or creating an average of 1.6 millions jobs a year for four years. (A timely federal investment in General Motors and Chrysler, both pushed to the brink during the recession, achieved similarly salutary results, preserving more than a million jobs.)

Mr. Obama’s opponents have had trouble accepting that any of this actually happened. They have not learned the simple truth — a truth clear in the New Deal and just as clear now — that timely and significant federal investment can make a real difference in people’s lives. Or accepted that compassionate and well-designed government programs can do the same. Driven by ideology or envy, or maybe both, Republican leaders have now pounced upon the demonstrably successful Affordable Care Act of 2010, a law that has improved the way medical care is delivered in the United States, providing affordable care for millions and driving the percentage of Americans without insurance to a record low 9.1 percent in 2015. Despite the law’s clear successes, Mr. Trump and Republican congressional leaders have nevertheless declared it a failure, hoping to justify a repeal that would rob an estimated 22 million people of health insurance. The point of following this destructive course can only be to destroy a central Obama legacy — even though doing so will drive up costs and cause havoc in the lives of the newly uninsured.

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With no help from Congress, Mr. Obama has also managed to make progress on issues where nobody gave him much of a chance, notably climate change, which both he and his secretary of state, John Kerry, placed very near the top of their to-do list. Against heavy odds, Mr. Obama first managed to persuade the Chinese to join the effort. This demolished the critics’ argument that he was asking America to do all the heavy lifting. It also made possible the Paris agreement in December 2015, in which 195 nations agreed on a plan that they hope will reduce greenhouse gases that are warming the atmosphere and threatening the viability of the planet itself.

Americans will miss Mr. Obama’s negotiating skills on tough issues and the dignity and character that he and his family brought to the White House. Beyond that, they will also miss an impassioned speaker whose eloquence ranks with that of Abraham Lincoln. The way he has defended the founding precepts of the United States while also arguing that those precepts have to be broadened to achieve a new inclusiveness has been especially striking, as have his remarks delivered at moments of national tragedy.

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His 2015 eulogy in Charleston, S.C., after a Confederate flag-waving white supremacist slaughtered nine African-American parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, was redolent with history. As always, he viewed the horror through the prism of a seemingly innate optimism about the country’s ability to set aside hatred and move toward a more perfect union.

Mr. Obama never would have gained the office without that unflagging optimism, which inspired a generation of young voters who saw in him a new kind of leader. So it seemed fitting that he would end his farewell address in Chicago on Tuesday with them in mind:

“Let me tell you, this generation coming up — unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic — I’ve seen you in every corner of the country. You believe in a fair and just and inclusive America; you know that constant change has been America’s hallmark, that it’s not something to fear but something to embrace; you are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward. You’ll soon outnumber any of us, and I believe as a result the future is in good hands.”

President Barack H. Obama’s Message of Hope to America


January 11, 2017

President Barack H. Obama’s Message of Hope to America

Farewell Mr. President and thank you for keeping your fellow Americans and  we citizens of the world free from  major conflicts over the last 8 years. Your legacy is intact and your administration is a difficult act to follow. May God Bless you, Mrs. Michelle Obama and family. Welcome to the 45th POTUS, Donald J. Trump. Dr. Kamsiah Haider and Din Merican

The text of President Barack Obama’s farewell speech Tuesday night (US time) in Chicago, as prepared for delivery.

Barack Obama: America–Land the Brave and The Free–is Exceptional

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It’s good to be home. My fellow Americans, Michelle and I have been so touched by all the well-wishes we’ve received over the past few weeks. But tonight it’s my turn to say thanks. Whether we’ve seen eye-to-eye or rarely agreed at all, my conversations with you, the American people – in living rooms and schools; at farms and on factory floors; at diners and on distant outposts – are what have kept me honest, kept me inspired, and kept me going. Every day, I learned from you. You made me a better President, and you made me a better man.

I first came to Chicago when I was in my early twenties, still trying to figure out who I was; still searching for a purpose to my life. It was in neighbourhoods not far from here where I began working with church groups in the shadows of closed steel mills. It was on these streets where I witnessed the power of faith, and the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss.

 This is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and come together to demand it.

After eight years as your President, I still believe that. And it’s not just my belief. It’s the beating heart of our American idea – our bold experiment in self-government.

It’s the conviction that we are all created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It’s the insistence that these rights, while self-evident, have never been self-executing; that We, the People, through the instrument of our democracy, can form a more perfect union.

This is the great gift our Founders gave us. The freedom to chase our individual dreams through our sweat, toil, and imagination – and the imperative to strive together as well, to achieve a greater good.

For 240 years, our nation’s call to citizenship has given work and purpose to each new generation. It’s what led patriots to choose republic over tyranny, pioneers to trek west, slaves to brave that makeshift railroad to freedom. It’s what pulled immigrants and refugees across oceans and the Rio Grande, pushed women to reach for the ballot, powered workers to organise. It’s why GIs gave their lives at Omaha Beach and Iwo Jima; Iraq and Afghanistan – and why men and women from Selma to Stonewall were prepared to give theirs as well.

So that’s what we mean when we say America is exceptional. Not that our nation has been flawless from the start, but that we have shown the capacity to change, and make life better for those who follow.

Yes, our progress has been uneven. The work of democracy has always been hard, contentious and sometimes bloody. For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back. But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all, and not just some.

If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history . if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, and take out the mastermind of 9/11 . if I had told you that we would win marriage equality, and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens – you might have said our sights were set a little too high.

But that’s what we did. That’s what you did. You were the change. You answered people’s hopes, and because of you, by almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started.

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In ten days, the world will witness a hallmark of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power from one freely-elected president to the next. I committed to President-Elect Trump that my administration would ensure the smoothest possible transition, just as President Bush did for me. Because it’s up to all of us to make sure our government can help us meet the many challenges we still face.

We have what we need to do so. After all, we remain the wealthiest, most powerful, and most respected nation on Earth. Our youth and drive, our diversity and openness, our boundless capacity for risk and reinvention mean that the future should be ours.

But that potential will be realized only if our democracy works. Only if our politics reflects the decency of the people. Only if all of us, regardless of our party affiliation or particular interest, help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.

That’s what I want to focus on tonight – the state of our democracy.

Understand, democracy does not require uniformity. Our founders quarrelled and compromised, and expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity – the idea that for all our outward differences, we are all in this together; that we rise or fall as one.

There have been moments throughout our history that threatened to rupture that solidarity. The beginning of this century has been one of those times. A shrinking world, growing inequality; demographic change and the spectre of terrorism – these forces haven’t just tested our security and prosperity, but our democracy as well. And how we meet these challenges to our democracy will determine our ability to educate our kids, and create good jobs, and protect our homeland.

In other words, it will determine our future.

“Our democracy won’t work without a sense that everyone has economic opportunity”.

Our democracy won’t work without a sense that everyone has economic opportunity. Today, the economy is growing again; wages, incomes, home values, and retirement accounts are rising again; poverty is falling again. The wealthy are paying a fairer share of taxes even as the stock market shatters records. The unemployment rate is near a ten-year low. The uninsured rate has never, ever been lower. Health care costs are rising at the slowest rate in fifty years. And if anyone can put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements we’ve made to our health care system – that covers as many people at less cost – I will publicly support it.

That, after all, is why we serve – to make people’s lives better, not worse.

But for all the real progress we’ve made, we know it’s not enough. Our economy doesn’t work as well or grow as fast when a few prosper at the expense of a growing middle class. But stark inequality is also corrosive to our democratic principles. While the top one per cent has amassed a bigger share of wealth and income, too many families, in inner cities and rural counties, have been left behind – the laid-off factory worker; the waitress and health care worker who struggle to pay the bills – convinced that the game is fixed against them, that their government only serves the interests of the powerful – a recipe for more cynicism and polarisation in our politics.

There are no quick fixes to this long-term trend. I agree that our trade should be fair and not just free. But the next wave of economic dislocation won’t come from overseas. It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes many good, middle-class jobs obsolete.

And so we must forge a new social compact – to guarantee all our kids the education they need; to give workers the power to unionise for better wages; to update the social safety net to reflect the way we live now and make more reforms to the tax code so corporations and individuals who reap the most from the new economy don’t avoid their obligations to the country that’s made their success possible. We can argue about how to best achieve these goals. But we can’t be complacent about the goals themselves. For if we don’t create opportunity for all people, the disaffection and division that has stalled our progress will only sharpen in years to come.

There’s a second threat to our democracy – one as old as our nation itself. After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. Such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic. For race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society. I’ve lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were ten, or twenty, or thirty years ago – you can see it not just in statistics, but in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum.

But we’re not where we need to be. All of us have more work to do. After all, if every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and undeserving minorities, then workers of all shades will be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves. If we decline to invest in the children of immigrants, just because they don’t look like us, we diminish the prospects of our own children – because those brown kids will represent a larger share of America’s workforce. And our economy doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Last year, incomes rose for all races, all age groups, for men and for women.

Going forward, we must uphold laws against discrimination – in hiring, in housing, in education and the criminal justice system. That’s what our Constitution and highest ideals require. But laws alone won’t be enough. Hearts must change. If our democracy is to work in this increasingly diverse nation, each one of us must try to heed the advice of one of the great characters in American fiction, Atticus Finch, who said “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

For blacks and other minorities, it means tying our own struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face – the refugee, the immigrant, the rural poor, the transgender American, and also the middle-aged white man who from the outside may seem like he’s got all the advantages, but who’s seen his world upended by economic, cultural, and technological change.

For white Americans, it means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the ’60s; that when minority groups voice discontent, they’re not just engaging in reverse racism or practising political correctness; that when they wage peaceful protest, they’re not demanding special treatment, but the equal treatment our Founders promised.

For native-born Americans, it means reminding ourselves that the stereotypes about immigrants today were said, almost word for word, about the Irish, Italians, and Poles. America wasn’t weakened by the presence of these newcomers; they embraced this nation’s creed, and it was strengthened.

So regardless of the station we occupy; we have to try harder; to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do; that they value hard work and family like we do; that their children are just as curious and hopeful and worthy of love as our own.

None of this is easy. For too many of us, it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighbourhoods or college campuses or places of worship or our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions. The rise of naked partisanship, increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste – all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable. And increasingly, we become so secure in our bubbles that we accept only information, whether true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that’s out there.

Politics is a battle of ideas

This trend represents a third threat to our democracy. Politics is a battle of ideas; in the course of a healthy debate, we’ll prioritise different goals, and the different means of reaching them. But without some common baseline of facts; without a willingness to admit new information, and concede that your opponent is making a fair point, and that science and reason matter, we’ll keep talking past each other, making common ground and compromise impossible.

Isn’t that part of what makes politics so dispiriting? How can elected officials rage about deficits when we propose to spend money on preschool for kids, but not when we’re cutting taxes for corporations? How do we excuse ethical lapses in our own party, but pounce when the other party does the same thing? It’s not just dishonest, this selective sorting of the facts; it’s self-defeating. Because as my mother used to tell me, reality has a way of catching up with you.

Take the challenge of climate change. In just eight years, we’ve halved our dependence on foreign oil, doubled our renewable energy, and led the world to an agreement that has the promise to save this planet. But without bolder action, our children won’t have time to debate the existence of climate change; they’ll be busy dealing with its effects: environmental disasters, economic disruptions, and waves of climate refugees seeking sanctuary.

Now, we can and should argue about the best approach to the problem. But to simply deny the problem not only betrays future generations; it betrays the essential spirit of innovation and practical problem-solving that guided our Founders.

It’s that spirit, born of the Enlightenment, that made us an economic powerhouse – the spirit that took flight at Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral; the spirit that cures disease and put a computer in every pocket.

“a faith in reason, and enterprise, and the primacy of right over might”.

Image result for obama as commander in chief“To all who serve, it has been the honor of my lifetime to be your Commander-in-Chief.

It’s that spirit – a faith in reason, and enterprise, and the primacy of right over might, that allowed us to resist the lure of fascism and tyranny during the Great Depression, and build a post-World War II order with other democracies, an order based not just on military power or national affiliations but on principles – the rule of law, human rights, freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, and an independent press.

That order is now being challenged – first by violent fanatics who claim to speak for Islam; more recently by autocrats in foreign capitals who see free markets, open democracies, and civil society itself as a threat to their power. The peril each poses to our democracy is more far-reaching than a car bomb or a missile. It represents the fear of change; the fear of people who look or speak or pray differently; a contempt for the rule of law that holds leaders accountable; an intolerance of dissent and free thought; a belief that the sword or the gun or the bomb or propaganda machine is the ultimate arbiter of what’s true and what’s right.

Because of the extraordinary courage of our men and women in uniform, and the intelligence officers, law enforcement, and diplomats who support them, no foreign terrorist organisation has successfully planned and executed an attack on our homeland these past eight years; and although Boston and Orlando remind us of how dangerous radicalisation can be, our law enforcement agencies are more effective and vigilant than ever. We’ve taken out tens of thousands of terrorists – including Osama bin Laden. The global coalition we’re leading against ISIL has taken out their leaders, and taken away about half their territory. ISIL will be destroyed, and no one who threatens America will ever be safe. To all who serve, it has been the honor of my lifetime to be your Commander-in-Chief.

But protecting our way of life requires more than our military. Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear. So just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are. That’s why, for the past eight years, I’ve worked to put the fight against terrorism on a firm legal footing. That’s why we’ve ended torture, worked to close Gitmo, and reform our laws governing surveillance to protect privacy and civil liberties. That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans. That’s why we cannot withdraw from global fights – to expand democracy, and human rights, women’s rights, and LGBT rights – no matter how imperfect our efforts, no matter how expedient ignoring such values may seem. For the fight against extremism and intolerance and sectarianism are of a piece with the fight against authoritarianism and nationalist aggression. If the scope of freedom and respect for the rule of law shrinks around the world, the likelihood of war within and between nations increases, and our own freedoms will eventually be threatened.

“So let’s be vigilant, but not afraid.”

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So let’s be vigilant, but not afraid. ISIL will try to kill innocent people. But they cannot defeat America unless we betray our Constitution and our principles in the fight. Rivals like Russia or China cannot match our influence around the world – unless we give up what we stand for, and turn ourselves into just another big country that bullies smaller neighbours.

“our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.”

Which brings me to my final point – our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted. All of us, regardless of party, should throw ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions. When voting rates are some of the lowest among advanced democracies, we should make it easier, not harder, to vote. When trust in our institutions is low, we should reduce the corrosive influence of money in our politics, and insist on the principles of transparency and ethics in public service. When Congress is dysfunctional, we should draw our districts to encourage politicians to cater to common sense and not rigid extremes.

And all of this depends on our participation; on each of us accepting the responsibility of citizenship, regardless of which way the pendulum of power swings.

Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift. But it’s really just a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own. We, the people, give it power – with our participation, and the choices we make. Whether or not we stand up for our freedoms. Whether or not we respect and enforce the rule of law. America is no fragile thing. But the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured.

In his own farewell address, George Washington wrote that self-government is the underpinning of our safety, prosperity, and liberty, but “from different causes and from different quarters much pains will be taken.to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth;” that we should preserve it with “jealous anxiety;” that we should reject “the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest or to enfeeble the sacred ties” that make us one.

We weaken those ties when we allow our political dialogue to become so corrosive that people of good character are turned off from public service; so coarse with rancour that Americans with whom we disagree are not just misguided, but somehow malevolent. We weaken those ties when we define some of us as more American than others; when we write off the whole system as inevitably corrupt, and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them.

It falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours. Because for all our outward differences, we all share the same proud title: Citizen.

Ultimately, that’s what our democracy demands. It needs you. Not just when there’s an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime. If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try to talk with one in real life. If something needs fixing, lace up your shoes and do some organising. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself. Show up. Dive in. Persevere. Sometimes you’ll win. Sometimes you’ll lose. Presuming a reservoir of goodness in others can be a risk, and there will be times when the process disappoints you. But for those of us fortunate enough to have been a part of this work, to see it up close, let me tell you, it can energise and inspire. And more often than not, your faith in America – and in Americans – will be confirmed.

Mine sure has been. Over the course of these eight years, I’ve seen the hopeful faces of young graduates and our newest military officers. I’ve mourned with grieving families searching for answers, and found grace in Charleston church. I’ve seen our scientists help a paralysed man regain his sense of touch, and our wounded warriors walk again. I’ve seen our doctors and volunteers rebuild after earthquakes and stop pandemics in their tracks. I’ve seen the youngest of children remind us of our obligations to care for refugees, to work in peace, and above all to look out for each other.

That faith I placed all those years ago, not far from here, in the power of ordinary Americans to bring about change – that faith has been rewarded in ways I couldn’t possibly have imagined. I hope yours has, too. Some of you here tonight or watching at home were there with us in 2004, in 2008, in 2012 – and maybe you still can’t believe we pulled this whole thing off.

You’re not the only ones. Michelle – for the past twenty-five years, you’ve been not only my wife and mother of my children, but my best friend. You took on a role you didn’t ask for and made it your own with grace and grit and style and good humour. You made the White House a place that belongs to everybody. And a new generation sets its sights higher because it has you as a role model. You’ve made me proud. You’ve made the country proud.

Malia and Sasha, under the strangest of circumstances, you have become two amazing young women, smart and beautiful, but more importantly, kind and thoughtful and full of passion. You wore the burden of years in the spotlight so easily. Of all that I’ve done in my life, I’m most proud to be your dad.

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” To Joe Biden, you were the first choice I made as a nominee, and the best. Not just because you have been a great Vice President, but because in the bargain, I gained a brother. “

To Joe Biden, the scrappy kid from Scranton who became Delaware’s favorite son: you were the first choice I made as a nominee, and the best. Not just because you have been a great Vice President, but because in the bargain, I gained a brother. We love you and Jill like family, and your friendship has been one of the great joys of our life.

To my remarkable staff: For eight years – and for some of you, a whole lot more – I’ve drawn from your energy, and tried to reflect back what you displayed every day: heart, and character, and idealism. I’ve watched you grow up, get married, have kids, and start incredible new journeys of your own. Even when times got tough and frustrating, you never let Washington get the better of you. The only thing that makes me prouder than all the good we’ve done is the thought of all the remarkable things you’ll achieve from here.

And to all of you out there – every organiser who moved to an unfamiliar town and kind family who welcomed them in, every volunteer who knocked on doors, every young person who cast a ballot for the first time, every American who lived and breathed the hard work of change – you are the best supporters and organisers anyone could hope for, and I will forever be grateful. Because yes, you changed the world.

That’s why I leave this stage tonight even more optimistic about this country than I was when we started. Because I know our work has not only helped so many Americans; it has inspired so many Americans – especially so many young people out there – to believe you can make a difference; to hitch your wagon to something bigger than yourselves. This generation coming up – unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic – I’ve seen you in every corner of the country. You believe in a fair, just, inclusive America; you know that constant change has been America’s hallmark, something not to fear but to embrace, and you are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward. You’ll soon outnumber any of us, and I believe as a result that the future is in good hands.

“My fellow Americans, it has been the honor of my life to serve you.”

My fellow Americans, it has been the honor of my life to serve you. I won’t stop; in fact, I will be right there with you, as a citizen, for all my days that remain. For now, whether you’re young or young at heart, I do have one final ask of you as your President – the same thing I asked when you took a chance on me eight years ago.

I am asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change – but in yours.

I am asking you to hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents; that idea whispered by slaves and abolitionists; that spirit sung by immigrants and homesteaders and those who marched for justice; that creed reaffirmed by those who planted flags from foreign battlefields to the surface of the moon; a creed at the core of every American whose story is not yet written:

Yes We Can.

Yes We Did.

Yes We Can.

Thank you. God bless you. And may God continue to bless the United States of America.

-AP

Dr. Munir looks back at 2016


January 7, 2017

Dr. Munir looks back at 2016

COMMENT by Dr. Munir Majid@www.thestar.com.my

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Not a single Western political leader has had the guts to tell their people they had to accept a lower standard of living, that it was time for a great reset. Build up productivity and capacity again. Meanwhile, if you go to the pub, go only once a month. If you shampoo your hair once a week, do it fortnightly. Taking holidays abroad in countries whose people you come to hate when you get home will have to take a rest. If you work only 35 hours a week, as in France, what do you expect?–Dr. Munir Majid

The descent from globalism to nativism is the defining story of 2016, but the analysis of its cause and projection of the world into 2017 by intellectual custodians of the liberal order are flawed and offer no guide on how to break the fall.

The Brexit vote in Britain in June, the election of Donald Trump in November and the threatening reactionary outcome of elections in France and Germany next year all point to the end of a certain system by which the world has operated, even if what exactly would replace it is less than clear. If the great Western nations of the world change direction, then the rest must.

A broader perspective, however, would recognise the troubles and decisions of 2016 and what might come in 2017 had a gestation period that began at least from the Western financial crisis of 2008, too often called and accepted as the global financial crisis.

What the West continues to grapple with is how to live beyond its means. There was the criminal excess of the banks leading to the 2008 crisis, of course, but underlying it was the ethic of expectation of a certain standard of living, whether or not one worked for it or was productive enough to deserve it.

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Marie Le Pen, Donald J. Trump and Vladimir Putin–The End of Liberal Global Order

If you do not have the means to get what you want you have to borrow to get it, unless of course you stole and pillaged. So Western states and individuals kept on borrowing, or the central banks printed money to keep the economy going, which it always did not as the money kept going out where it could be more productively used.

Not a single Western political leader has had the guts to tell their people they had to accept a lower standard of living, that it was time for a great reset. Build up productivity and capacity again. Meanwhile, if you go to the pub, go only once a month. If you shampoo your hair once a week, do it fortnightly. Taking holidays abroad in countries whose people you come to hate when you get home will have to take a rest. If you work only 35 hours a week, as in France, what do you expect?

Did any of this happen? People may lose jobs as they could not compete, but they get state support and they blame others like the migrant European workers who could work, who took jobs they did not want to do.

Immigration becomes the issue. And when refugees pour in who also bring with them the threat, and execution, of terror, an inflection point is reached. Sociologists now analyse this as a threat to identity, which certainly is used in rousing emotions during political campaigns, but there was at least equally a revolt against the economic and social condition those not doing so well in life were in.

They are now so widely called the under-served. In the case of Brexit, there was no doubt the uprising of the Little Englander, but there was also the let-us-just-bloody-well-get-out-and-see-what-happens attitude.

While some in the shires thought like this, I also know of a few non-white working class Brits who voted to get out just on this basis. When I asked one such person in London, who is a chauffeur to an unbearable boss, why he did such an irresponsible act, he tried to justify it by associating himself with the workers in Sunderland of whom he knows absolutely nothing.

The thing is, who speaks to such people? The academics and intellectuals only talk among themselves in an idiom only they can understand. Even after Trump, when they pronounced there has been a great failure to address the under-served – which the President-elect on the other hand did so well – they are still talking to and being clever with one another.

My friend Francois Heisbourg, Chairman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, beautifully describes Marine Le Pen’s appeal to the French: “Donald Trump makes Marine Le Pen sound reasonable…..Everyone knows she’s not Trump – she knows how to use a noun and a verb and is intellectually coherent about what she wants and doesn’t want.”

What, for God’s sake, are the arguments that can be used effectively with the ordinary Frenchman that they can understand and appreciate in favour of the liberal order? Paul Krugman likens what is happening to America to how the Roman Republic was destroyed by individuals disloyal to it serving only their own selfish cause. Pray, how many among the Americans who voted for Trump know, or care, anything about the history of Rome?

The Economist, that great citadel of the liberal order, makes a clarion call for its defence and for liberals not to lose heart. How and what to do? Certainly not by talking to one another. Or by communicating in a language and idiom a lower order would not understand.

With perfect Euro-centrism an English commentator fears the Syrian conflict may turn out to be like the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). Has he not heard of the Palestinian struggle which has spawned much of the bloodshed in the Middle East and beyond?

There are three gaping holes in the defence of the “global” liberal order. First there is a blind spot about having to have a lower standard of living unless you earn a higher one. Second, an inability among liberal intellectuals to communicate except among themselves. Third, a reflection on the threat through western eyes only.

The second weakness is endemic. It is a truly global malady. Intellectuals, whether in the West or Malaysia or anywhere else, should not disdain populism, which is the bad word now in all the commentary on the threat to the global liberal order. They will not stoop so low – as Trump did – to gain support. Well, stoop less low or in a different way. Dirty your hands. Reach out.

We don’t communicate simply, when there are simple terms that convey meaning. We think we are so high and mighty.

Actually if you think about it – and this is especially for the blinkered Western intellectuals – the exemplar of populism, and darned effective with it, is UMNO. You may wince at the kris-wielding antics and other forms of political theatre, and you may not agree with some or most of the policies propounded, but you have to admit they rabble rouse their way to considerable support.

Yucks… but that was the yucks that caused Donald Trump to win. You have to get popular support. You do not do so talking to one another from university pulpits, in the parlours of Georgetown in Washington DC, in Hampstead or indeed at the Royal Selangor Golf Club in Kuala Lumpur.

Now, why do Western intellectuals particularly not talk about having to accept a lower standard of living? Well, they too will have to do so. The levels of income of the journalists and professors and consultants actually are very high, and they do a lot of talking outside their paid job for which they are paid more. Can they look the lowly worker in the eye and say you have to be paid less?

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Farewell and Thank You Mr. President for keeping the world  safe, despite setbacks . We in Asia will miss you for your engagement with us.

There has been a historic transfer of savings from countries with a lower standard of living to those higher so they stay there. As these poorer countries need and want rich country currency – particularly the dollar – for their economic life in their global liberal order, the rich not only get the savings from the poor to sustain their economic life in that global liberal order. They also are able to print money for the extras they might want.

They would be risking their own interest if they began to start talking to under served workers in their domestic economy about income levels that can be sustained by actual production – which is what developing countries have to live by, global liberal order or not.

Now the most important main benefit poorer countries obtain from that order is being threatened – their ability and success in producing goods and services which can reach any consumer in open global competition.

Donald Trump is breaking the rules for America because the US cannot otherwise compete. So he wants to protect the American market against better able, more efficient and cheaper producers – the developing countries.

While enjoyment – and denial – of these goods and services is one thing, and while undoubtedly there will in the immediate-term be a rebound of the US economy, who in the medium and long-term is going to hold Western debt so that the high standard of living in rich countries can continue? They do not save to finance the economy. They do not efficiently produce many of the goods and services they enjoy. They need also to take advantage, through trade and investment, of the real growth in developing regions such as in East and South-East Asia.

Therefore on this score alone – the need for an open and competitive global trading system – there is true convergence of interest in the world. The poorer countries will have to take it, warts and all. And the rich Western nations, with their proponents of the global liberal order, will certainly want to keep it all.

The skewered balance in the global liberal order is sustained by an intellectual convention which is Euro-centric but commanding across the globe. Leaders in politics and thought in non-Western countries only have themselves to blame for this.

They accept almost carte blanche what Western liberals submit. Don’t get me wrong. There are so many good things about western liberals and the liberal order.

I don’t think there has ever been in history such a constituency of liberals as there are in the West who would fight for the rights of the victimized and the downtrodden, like refugees, non-whites and Muslims, as there is in the western world today. Even as extreme and violent Muslims blow them up. The adherence to the value of love against hate, and of tolerance against incitement, is of the highest human order.

The other thing developing countries could imbibe from the Western liberal order is the rule of law. This is the strongest defence and guarantee of individual rights there has ever been in human history.

Image result for Lee Kuan YewSuccessful leader: Lee Kuan Yew made Singapore economically successful as a result of the purely utilitarian benefit of the rule of the law

When the laws are applied and enforced without fear or favour, there is faith in the social contract that underlies the polity. This is the main failing of most developing countries, which they would do well to learn from the West, beyond the purely utilitarian benefit of the rule of law that drove Lee Kuan Yew to make Singapore economically successful.

But, despite all this truly profound contribution of liberals and the liberal order of the West, it does not mean we must accept everything from them hook, line and sinker, especially every bit of the analysis of what has gone or is going wrong with the world.

Or the selling of expertise on how to get things right. Their record on that score is poor. We have too many such offerings, in Malaysia for instance, of how to develop our financial system and to train our financial practitioners. We must not be stupid to give money for old rope.

As we go into the new year, we should not be overwhelmed by analyses of what happened in 2016 and why. We must have a clarity and sense of perspective of the causes leading to it. And we must look forward to 2017 without the colonial mentality which makes us slaves to Western thought.

 

The Conspiracy to save Najib


December 8, 2016

The Conspiracy to Save Najib

by John Berthelsen@www.asiasentinel.com

The Conspiracy to Save Najib

In an extraordinary twist, a new Malaysian website has conflated George Soros, Tony Blair, former US Vice President Al Gore, the “Clinton team,” the aristocratic Rothschild family,  Federal Bureau of Investigation deputy chief Andrew McCabe, former golfing buddy and US President Barack Obama, UK critic Clare Rewcastle Brown and her husband, unnamed individuals from the Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan investment banks, and a flock of locals into elements of a conspiracy “to restructure the East Asian economy and political landscape,” but particularly arrayed against Malaysia and its Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The website, “Malaysia Outlook,” written by the pseudonymous “Third Force,” has printed four exhaustive articles detailing the conspiracy, “a nexus of associations linking key individuals, establishments, institutions and agencies, complicit with global elites to effect regime changes in Malaysia and Indonesia.”

In fact, however, the website appears to be the latest attempt to protect Najib from public scrutiny of overwhelming international evidence of his complicity in the biggest scandal in Malaysian history, the theft of at least US$2.5 billion and perhaps as much as US$4 billion from 1Malaysia Development Bhd., the state-backed investment firm that was so disastrously overseen that it is believed to have lost as much as RM50 billion (US$11.316 billion) through theft and mismanagement. An unknown amount of that money allegedly went to finance Red Granite Pictures, the Hollywood entity that produced the blockbuster movie “Wolf of Wall Street. “

The lead investigation is in the hands of the US Justice Department, which in July issued a 136-page document alleging that “over the course of an approximately four-year period, between approximately 2009 and at least 2013, multiple individuals, including public officials and their associates, conspired to fraudulently divert billions of dollars from 1MDB through various means, including by defrauding foreign banks and by sending foreign wire communications in furtherance of the scheme, and thereafter, to launder the proceeds of that criminal conduct, including and through U.S financial institutions.

“The funds diverted from 1MDB were used for the personal benefit of the co-conspirators and their relatives and associates, including to purchase luxury real estate in the United States, pay gambling expenses in Las Vegas casinos, acquire more than US$100 million in artwork, invest in a major New York development project, and fund the production of major Hollywood films. 1MDB maintained no interest in these assets and saw no returns on these investments.”

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For months, Najib and his cronies in the United Malays National Organization, the country’s biggest political party, have been attempting to wriggle free from domestic and international charges over the theft of the money.  According to multiple sources in Kuala Lumpur, he has survived as Prime Minister primarily by bribing the 190-odd cadres who determine the leadership of UMNO to keep him in power. UMNO leadership confers automatic status as Prime Minister.

Against devastating articles in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Sarawak Report, Asia Sentinel and other publications, Najib, who is alleged to have diverted at least US$681 million and perhaps as much as US$1 billion into his own accounts, is believed to have mounted a flurry of online fake new outlets, the best-funded of which appears to be Malaysia Outlook.

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Malaysia Outlook is said to be the brainchild of Habibur Rahman Kadir Shah, an accountant and a long-time associate of Najib Razak.  Habibur was previously an UMNO Youth head in the Kuala Lumpur suburb of Petaling Jaya when Najib was national youth head.  The two became close friends.

“Najib has given control of running the media hounds to Habibur, who has been at it since Najib became Prime Minister,” said a well-connected political source in Kuala Lumpur. Habibur, in addition to serving as the informal media dictator to the Star, the New Straits Times Press and TV3 – the three most prominent English-language media outlets – is reportedly the controller and paymaster, with Najib’s money, for the bloggers who write for Malaysia Outlook, including Raja Petra Kamarudin, who formerly was a major opposition blogger but who has since joined Najib’s crew.

The key members of the team are said to be Raja Petra Kamarudin, universally known as RPK, as well as Rahmat Haniff, the son of a former Inspector General of Police Haniff Omar , who calls himself seademon, and Sheik Muzzaffar, who writes a blog called bigdogdotcom.  They are said to be paid well to produce what appears to be the very definition of fake news.

In recent weeks, the Malaysian government has raised the ante against opposition figures, briefly jailing Maria Chin Abdullah, the head of the electoral reform organization BERSIH 2.0 (“clean”) and attacking the editor and publisher of Malaysiakini, the country’s most popular independent news website, on allegations they are in the pay of Soros, who is accused of attempting to destabilize the country.

But a close look at the US Justice Department document paints a picture not of an international conspiracy against Malaysia but of a breathtaking campaign to divert billions of dollars out of 1MDB and into the hands of the Prime Minister, known in the document as “Malaysian Official 1” and his family, beginning in 2009 with the diversion of funds into a corporate entity called “Good Star” under the pretense of investing in a middle-eastern oil exploration company called Petro Saudi.

As much as US$1 billon was allegedly diverted into Swiss bank account held by Good Star Ltd., whose beneficial owner was Jho Taek Low, better known as Jho Low, the youthful, rotund Penang-born financial whiz who convinced Najib to set up 1MDB in the first place.

As has been widely reported, billions more were diverted through an entity called Aabar-BVI, which “was created and named to give the impression that it was associated with Aabar Investments PJS,” a legitimate subsidiary of the International Petroleum Investment Company, a state-owned Abu Dhabi investment concern.

And where did the money go? It poured into a stunning assortment of US real estate and other properties. That includes, but was not limited to:

THE L’ERMITAGE PROPERTY, 9291 Burton Way, Beverly Hills, California 90210 – better known as L’Ermitage Hotel.

HILLCREST PROPERTY 1, a mansion  at 912 North Hillcrest Road Beverly Hills, owned by a shell company.

PARK LAUREL CONDOMINIUM, real property located in New York, New York owned by Park Laurel Acquisition LLC, a shell company

BOMBARDIER JET: Global 5000 aircraft bearing manufacturer serial number 9265, registration number N689WM.

TIME WARNER PENTHOUSE:  located in New York, New York owned by 80 Columbus Circle (NYC) LLC, a shell company.

ORIOLE MANSION:  real property located in Los Angeles, California, owned by Oriole Drive (LA) LLC, a shell company.

GREENE CONDOMINIUM:  real property located in New York, New York owned by the 118 Greene Street, a shell company.

EMI ASSETS:  including copyright and intellectual property rights, as well as the right to collect and receive any profits, royalties, and proceeds of distribution owned by or owed to JW Nile (BVI), Ltd.; JCL Media, a shell company.

SYMPHONY CP (PARK LANE) LLC ASSETS:  a Delaware limited liability company, owned, held or acquired, directly or indirectly, by Symphony CP Investments LLC and Symphony CP Investments Holdings LLC, shell companies that own the Park Lane Hotel at 36 Central Park South, New York, New York, 10019.

WALKER TOWER PENTHOUSE:  located in New York, New York owned by 212 West 18th Street LLC, a shell company,

LAUREL BEVERLY HILLS MANSION:  located in Beverly Hills, California, owned by Laurel Beverly Hills Holdings, LLC, a shell company.

HILLCREST PROPERTY 2: located in Beverly Hills, California owned by 1169 Hillcrest Road LLC, a shell company.

THE QENTAS TOWNHOUSE:  located in London, United Kingdom, owned by Qentas Holdings Ltd., a shell company.

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Those transactions are reported in exhaustive detail in the US Justice Department’s filing, which is worth reading for its entertainment value if not its educational value for the citizens of Malaysia. If it is fiction constructed to destabilize the country and bring down Najib, it is a far more sophisticated job than The Malaysia Outlook. Then again, the chances are better that it is real.

Malaysia, the Philippines and ASEAN


December 7, 2016

Malaysia, the Philippines and ASEAN

by Trissia Wijaya

Will Malaysia and Philippines” tilt to China undermine ASEAN? Trissia Wijaya writes there are signs for optimism.

In the wake of a series of unprecedented statements from Prime Minister Najib Razak and President Rodrigo Duterte, many are casting doubt over whether ASEAN really does matter to its member countries.

The tilt of Malaysia and the Philippines towards China have reinforced the perception of China’s expanding influence in the region, stirring fresh concerns that Beijing will erode ASEAN and draw the organisation closer to its orbit.

Under Duterte’s administration, Manila’s approach towards China has changed dramatically, from previously fractious to now almost-kowtowing. Only a step behind Duterte, Malaysia has followed in embracing China, with Najib even calling himself a “true friend” of China and inking a naval deal that takes their relationship to “new heights”.

In light of these recent mind-boggling performances, it’s legitimate to ask whether this show of engaging China is the beginning of the end for ASEAN’s legitimacy in the region, particularly since Manila is about to take up the 2017 ASEAN chairmanship.

These changing regional dynamics and relationships set up a future with two foreseeable scenarios for ASEAN.

In the first scenario, ASEAN is imminently faced with a crisis of legitimacy and purpose. Although China’s chequebook diplomacy helps to fund regional infrastructure development, it could come at a price of fundamentally altering the power balance in ASEAN’s engagement with China

In the realm of realpolitik, Malaysia and Philippines’ shifts away from the US towards China may perhaps not be aberrant behaviour, as leaders generally assess the cost and benefits of their decisions. For both Duterte and Najib, the US pivot to Asia has been coupled with increasingly-troubled relationships with the superpower through the 1MDB scandal in Malaysia and the role of the US military presence in the Philippines.

Hence, mending fences with Beijing is less risky than holding onto long-standing maritime disputes against it. China issuing a “no-strings-attached chequebook” would indirectly support Najib in maintaining his grip on power amid the 1MDB crisis, and would allow Duterte to keep fuelling his war on drugs unchecked.

An old Chinese saying talks of “one bed, different dreams”. Throughout the years of ASEAN, despite each nation’s different dreams, members have at least slept in the same bed. Creating a binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea and engagement with China through the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) during the early 1990s are some of ASEAN’s successes in its attempt to guide China to agree to a multilateral framework. When the South China Sea dispute became a principal agenda item for the first time at the 1997 ARF annual meeting, ASEAN’s confidence-building measures thawed China-ASEAN state relations. ASEAN successfully procuring China’s active participation in the ARF eventually resulted in the 2002 Declaration on the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea, which reiterated Beijing’s commitment to prevent further escalation of tensions.

However, during the past few years, the inability of ASEAN to resolve maritime disputes has been challenging the “one bed” concept. The region is potentially about to be drawn closer to China, led on a rope to Beijing’s bed. In such a scenario, ASEAN is powerless, and the regional dynamic would be transformed into something akin to an imperial tributary system.

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Nonetheless, with Donald Trump’s US presidential election victory in mind, there remains room for optimism.

In the second foreseeable future for ASEAN, Duterte and Najib’s China lovefest could in fact strengthen ASEAN legitimacy. The pragmatic approach of Duterte could potentially lead to an important thawing of China-ASEAN relations. An ASEAN foreign policy independent from the US, a possible outcome of Trump’s isolationalist approach to the region, would be initially detrimental to balancing China’s assertiveness. However, as the next chair of ASEAN, this frees Manila to potentially bring China back on track – to the “bed of ASEAN” – in a manner similar to the early years of ARF, where ASEAN took the role of “policeman” in monitoring Beijing’s moves in the region.

Duterte and Najib’s engagement approach towards China could put pressure on that country to undertake a more benevolent policy approach to the region. China’s policy-making process has been traditionally reactive to the US’ presence at their doorstep. Despite years of criticism over China’s hostile expansionism, particularly in the case of the South China Sea, China would always defend their policy as a necessary defensive measure against an aggressive US presence. If Duterte and Najib are genuine about opposing US interference in the region, China’s assertive and expansionist policy has no legs to stand on, and ASEAN will understandably expect a shift in China’s policy dynamic.

Trump’s extraordinary victory may soon end the US’s rebalancing policy and downgrade the US presence in the Asian region. Thus, since China is likely to feel less contained, it may become more open to entertaining ASEAN’s dispute settlement mechanisms.

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D.J. Trump will unbalance Asia

All in all, although ASEAN’s future remains a puzzle, Duterte and Najib’s developing relationships with China need not erode the legitimacy of the regional organisation as long as they play based on rules, where engagement is not “the end”, but the “process” to ensure China is still in the game. ASEAN’s engagement of China must be underscored by confidence that the member states’ tilts towards China are not simply about pursuing ‘interdependence’ at all costs. Instead, these tilts should be seen as ways to create cooperative relations, strengthen a rules-based process, and find new areas of agreement.

Trissia Wijaya is a MEXT¹s scholar at the Graduate School of International Relations at Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan. Her research interests primarily lie in international relations in the Asia-Pacific and foreign policy.

http://www.newmandala.org/malaysia-philippines-asean/