Trump’s Son-in-Law Jared Kushner’s gargantuan debt matters

February 20, 2018

Note: Sorry guys, for being silent for most of last week as I was outstation. Since I am the master of this blog and do not employ an assistant, my silence is understandable (health wise at 79 this May, I am fine both mentally and physically), and also a relief to some in my country, Malaysia.

I am, of course, being presumptuous here to believe what I think, say and write matters.  I am just one person no different from you who are  caring and proud Malaysians,  and good friends of my country who believe  people in positions of power and public trust in government and the private sector must be held fully accountable.

That’s why I say the Sword of Damocles awaits our Prime Minister Najib Razak too. It may not be in GE-14. But look at recent examples like Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe) and Jacob Zuma (South Africa). Change will come when it comes.–Din Merican

Politico reports:

Commentary by Jennifer Rubin

Trump’s Son-in-Law Jared Kushner’s gargantuan debt matters 

“Perhaps those Trump lawyers were right — the President would have been much better off without the Russian-entangled Kushner in his administration”.–Jennifer Rubin

Image result for jared kushner

A  President is known for the character, integrity, experience and competency of his team since he will be known by the company of the advisors he keeps. President Donald Trump should not be judged differently from his predecessors. The beauty of the American system is that it makes no exceptions. Change comes fast and the transition is smooth and orderly.

So far President Trump’s appointments to his Cabinet and The White House are of dubious quality, and that could eventually lead to his fall from grace. Of course, he cannot see this happening since he is obsessed with his larger than life ego and consumed by the power that comes from being President of the United States. The “Sword of Damocles” hangs over his head.  –Din Merican

Jeniffer Rubin writes:

Jared Kushner, a White House aide and President Donald Trump‘s son-in-law, appears to have drawn more money out of three separate lines of credit in the months after he joined the White House last year, a newly released document shows.

“Recent revisions to the financial disclosure form filed by Kushner’s wife, Ivanka Trump, bumped up each of those debts to a range of $5 million to $25 million.

“Versions of the couple’s disclosures made public in July valued those debts at $1 million to $5 million apiece. The loans were extended by three banks: Bank of America, New York Community Bank and Signature Bank. … One debt did drop in value as Ivanka’s form was revised: The amount owed on a Visa account went down to a range of $50,001 to $100,000, from $100,001 to $250,000.”

(As an aside, who carries that much credit-card debt? Are the Kushners’ liquid assets so low that their lifestyle has to be paid for by borrowing at presumably outrageous rates?)

Kushner’s financial problems relating to his 2007 purchase of the 666 Fifth Ave. building for $1.8 billion have come up in the context of the Russia investigation. Last September, The Wall Street Journal reported:

“Some of President Donald Trump’s lawyers earlier this summer concluded that Jared Kushner should step down as senior White House adviser because of possible legal complications related to a probe of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election and aired concerns about him to the president, people familiar with the matter said.

“Among their concerns was that Mr. Kushner was the adviser closest to the president who had the most dealings with Russian officials and businesspeople during the campaign and transition, some of which are currently being examined by federal investigators and congressional oversight panels. Mr. Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and confidant, has said he had four such meetings or interactions.

“Another issue was Mr. Kushner’s initial omission of any contacts with foreign officials from the form required to obtain a security clearance. He later updated the form several times to include what he has said were more than 100 contacts with foreign officials.”

Kushner met with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador, to discuss a secret back channel and with the head of a sanctioned Russian bank, VneshEconomBank (VEB). (“The conversation is curious not only because it represents a top Trump official secretly meeting with an arm of the Russian government, but also because accounts of the meeting differ in important ways,” The Atlantic’s David Graham noted at the time. “Kushner says he attended the meeting in his capacity as an adviser to President-elect Trump. But VEB says that the meeting concerned Kushner’s family real-estate business.”) And he was present at the now-infamous June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower attended by a Kremlin-connected lawyer.

Kushner’s financial problems make these contacts all the more troubling. As he was racking up debt, Fordham Law School professor Jed Shugerman tells me, Kushner “also just coincidentally was setting up secret lines to the Kremlin and was meeting with (Russian President Vladmir) Putin’s banker a month after the election. And he just coincidentally was meeting with Russians offering dirt in Trump Tower during the election.” He explains, “Kushner’s massive debts are an important piece of the entire Russia conspiracy on some of the parties’ motives (Kushner, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Trump) for such inexplicable behavior and such risk-taking.”

Image result for could shoot someone and not lose voters

This sheer arrogance of the 45 Potus, HE Donald J. Trump

In addition to the Russia investigation, prosecutors in Brooklyn have subpoenaed records from Deutsche Bank, which has lent “hundreds of millions to the Kushner family real estate business.” (As The New York Times noted, “there is no indication that the subpoena is related to the investigation being conducted by Robert S. Mueller III.”) The Washington Post has reported that a month before Election Day 2016, “Kushner’s real estate company finalized a $285 million loan as part of a refinancing package for its property near Times Square in Manhattan. The loan came at a critical moment. Kushner was playing a key role in the presidential campaign of his father-in-law, Donald Trump. The lender, Deutsche Bank, was negotiating to settle a federal mortgage fraud case and charges from New York state regulators that it aided a possible Russian money-laundering scheme. The cases were settled in December and January.”

In sum, Kushner has huge and growing debt, many suspicious Russian contacts and a close relationship (perhaps second only to Ivanka’s) with Trump. “The more money Kushner owes, especially to lenders or guarantors who do not have America’s best interests at heart, the more he and his father-in-law the President are subject to compromising pressures at best and outright blackmail at worst,” constitutional lawyer Larry Tribe tells me. “The fact that Kushner, without full security clearance, is permitted to peruse the president’s daily briefing, containing the most secret information that exists, makes all of Kushner’s financial obligations and debts urgent threats to our national security. This situation is unconscionable.”

Perhaps those Trump lawyers were right — the President would have been much better off without the Russian-entangled Kushner in his administration.

The Washington Post

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Washington Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.

When Criminals like M01 and his cohorts go free, and good men are going to jail, we Malaysians are doomed

February 13, 2018

Malaysia: When Criminals like M01 and his cohorts go free, and good men are going to jail, we  Malaysians are doomed

by Dato’ Dennis Ignatius

When good men go to jail & scoundrels go free

“When exposing a crime is treated as committing a crime, you are ruled by criminals.” ~ Anonymous

It was a rude reminder of the times we live in: Rafizi Ramli, Member of Parliament and PKR Vice-President together with bank clerk Johari Mohammad were sentenced last week to 30 months in prison for leaking details relating to the National Feedlot Corporation (NFC) scandal. They are now out on bail pending appeal.

Improper conduct

NFC, a poorly conceived government-funded initiative to help the nation attain self-sufficiency in beef-production, became mired in allegations of nepotism, mismanagement and misappropriation of funds. In his 2010 report, the Auditor-General drew attention to “improper conduct” at the NFC which was funded by a RM250 million soft loan from the government.

Rafizi followed up with further startling allegations based on leaked bank records.

In March 2012, the CEO of NFC, Dr Mohammad Salleh Ismail (husband of then UMNO minister Shahrizat Abdul Jalil) was charged with four counts of misappropriating RM49.7 million from NFC. He was later acquitted of all charges.

The end result: millions in public funds remain unaccounted for and no one has been held liable. Pretty much par for the course these days.

Following the outcry over the scandal, Shahrizat resigned her ministerial post. With the support of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, she continues to thrive in politics as head of Wanita UMNO. In 2016 she was bestowed one of the nation’s highest honours (PSM) which carries the tittle ‘Tan Sri.’ She is expected to contest a safe seat in the upcoming general election and might well return to cabinet.

Adding insult to injury

When all is said and done about this case, when you cut through the legalities and political spin, what is left is simply the inescapable conclusion that the justice system has failed us once again. They can finesse the facts and garnish the truth but the stench of it will long endure.

Image result for shahrizat abdul jalil

Dare you accuse me of being corrupt. That’s insulting. I am thoroughly corrupt mind and body. I learned the art of making  money effortlessly from UMNO leaders. NFC project came in my dreams. Fleece the cows and make huge amounts of money.–Anon

Shahrizat (photo above) now insists that she and her family were the real victims of the whole affair because they were subjected to “half-baked stories [that were used] to manipulate the people regarding the case.” She and her husband also claim, rather disingenuously, that it was all the negative publicity surrounding NFC that caused the project to fail. The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

It is also laughable that she blames Rafizi for all her problems and makes it out to be a political attack against her and her family when it was in fact the Auditor-General who first drew attention to irregularities in NFC. And it was the police who filed criminal charges against her husband, presumably because they had reason to believe that a crime had been committed.

Standing with Rafizi

Rafizi may well end up in prison and his days as a member of parliament may be over but he will always remain a hero to the public. He modelled for the nation what a member of parliament ought to be – selfless, courageous and principled. If only more of our public officials were like him….

We may not be able to do anything about the sentence but there is much that we can do to ensure that both Rafizi and Johari are not abandoned or forgotten. They stood for us; we must now stand for them and let them know that we value their sacrifice and service. If they go to jail, we must do our part to help their families.

Image result for Rosmah MansorShahrizat’s Mentor  FLOM Rosmah Mansor


And we must use the power of our citizenship to vote against those who abuse our trust. Make no mistake, when those who expose abuse are jailed and scoundrels go free (as so many have over the years), our democracy is diminished and tyranny empowered.

Image result for edmund burke quotes

To stay silent, to do nothing in the face of such injustice, is to become accomplices to our own oppression.

In Conversation with Tukatube’s Hishamuddin Rais

February 13, 2018

In Conversation with Tukatube’s  Hishamuddin Rais

By Rosli Khan

Image result for hishamuddin rais

Hishamuddin Rais–A Civil Society Icon and Malaysian Rebel with  a Cause.

Meeting Hishamuddin Rais is always a refreshing experience and a candid affair, both rolled into one. As a social activist and critic, Hisham is not only knowledgeable and a forward-looking thinker, he is also equally at ease in digging out his past and colourful experiences. Our lunchtime conversation last week, however, centred on politics, another subject matter on which he has strong opinions.

Never a disappointment, Hisham is always full of new ideas. He strongly advocated that a number of well-known Malaysian bloggers, political writers and social critics be given seats to contest in GE14 by Pakatan Harapan component parties.

Image result for che guevara

He argued that what they have written over the online media and the number of followers that they command are sufficient considerations to determine their acceptance and popularity among voters. Meanwhile politicians, more often than not, tend to toe their party lines and speak up only when their leaders say so, especially on controversial social issues.

Hisham singled out Zaid Ibrahim, an old friend from his student demonstration days, as a good example due to his popular site, He appeared firm and very serious about the three popular electronic media operators that tend to focus only on three bloggers for political news: Dr Mahathir Mohamad (, The Scribe Kadir Jasin ( ) and ZaidGeist (

ZaidGeist, which contains Zaid’s writings on current political and social issues, has proven to be a very popular site and going by the comments, it seems to resonate with the current thinking and political outlook of readers.

Image result for Zaid Ibrahim

From UMNO to PKR and on to DAP

As a matter of fact, Zaid has been consistently true to his beliefs and principles, according to Hisham. Hisham’s measure of Zaid’s consistency, taken from their student demonstration days in the 1970s when he first met Zaid, the events that led to his resignation as a minister in 2008 and his writings on many topics, views on politics and social development ideas that continue until today, represent a man of zero deviation from the basic principles he has espoused from then until today.

For his consistent beliefs and principles, Hisham argued that DAP should give Zaid a comfortable parliamentary seat in GE14.

Anti-Malay tag

DAP, of which Zaid has been a member since Febeuary 7, 2017, is busy preparing for GE14.

Image result for Kit Siang and Dr. Maa

Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and DAP’s Lim Kit Siang–Strange Thing happens in Politics. A foe yesterday, an ally today. Common purpose –getting rid of corrupt Najib–brought these two giants of Malaysia together.

As a party, DAP has suffered from a mismatch of identity, poor perception and wrong publicity due to adverse propaganda by government parties. A common perception is that DAP is a Chinese-based party, the leaders only look after Chinese voters and their interests, and worst and perhaps most damaging of all, that DAP is anti-Malay and anti-Islam.

Even though DAP has consistently had more Indian MPs than MIC at any given time, no one sees DAP as an Indian party.

The fact that DAP has had a few Malays in the party as state assemblymen in the past does not seem to count. Several Malays who won under DAP tickets in the past include politicians such as:

  • Ibrahim Singgeh, DUN Tapah Road, Perak (1969)
  • Hassan Ahmad, DUN Si Rusa, Negeri Sembilan (1969)
  • Daing Ibrahim, DUN Pasir Puteh, Perak (1974)
  • Mohd Salleh Nakhoda Itam, DUN Guntong, Perak (1974, 1978)
  • Fadzlan Yahaya for Pasir Bedamar, Perak (1982, 1986 and 1990 for Lahat)
  • Mohd Asri Othman DUN Dermawan, Perak (1990)
  • Ahmad Nor, first Malay DAP MP, Bayan Baru, Penang (1990)
  • Mohd Ariff Sabri, second Malay DAP MP, Raub, Pahang (2013)
  • Zairil Khir Johari, third Malay DAP MP, Bukit Bendera, Penang (2013)
  • Tg Zulpuri, Mentakab, Pahang (2013)
Image result for Zairil Khir JohariMP Zairil Khir Johari (DAP)
A tragic truth is that there was a 23-year gap between Ahmad Nor (1990), as the first Malay MP from DAP and the second and third, Ariff Sabri (Raub) and Zairil (Bukit Bendera) respectively, who contested and won in 2013.
Image result for Ariff SabriFrom UMNO to DAP



For many Malay supporters, the fact remains that with the exception of those three, there have not been many prominent Malay leaders joining the party. Many of the state assemblymen in the list above have been seen as a token representation of the Malay community when compared to the number of Indian or Chinese MPs or state assemblymen in DAP since 1969.

Fault finding is easy. As there was no internet then and the mainstream media was government-controlled, DAP succumbed to an onslaught of UMNO’s propaganda. The repeated lies, as rightly pointed out by Nazi strategist Joseph Goebbels, and probably copied by UMNO’s strategists, stuck badly on the party. DAP, which also controlled most of the urban seats including those in Sabah and Sarawak, could not get the chauvinistic Chinese party tag off its back.

Image result for Ahmad Nor of DAP

Ahmad Nor, the First Malay MP for DAP, honored by Penang

But now, 28 years after Ahmad Nor became the first Malay MP for DAP, in an age of internet technology, a more educated group of readers and obviously in an era of a failed BN government tainted with corruption and financial scandals, DAP’s struggles and fight against corruption, embezzlement and injustice seem to be seen in a better light.

DAP leaders, therefore, should seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get rid of the monkey on their backs, once and for all. A major publicity campaign to introduce a top Malay leader into the GE14 arena could nullify this racial slur and at the same time correct the racial imbalance in the party leadership.

DAP must not only be seen as trying to rectify this particular issue, it must be seen as taking a big step towards correcting this major flaw in the projection of several intellectually-minded and capable Malay leaders, of whom Zaid is one of them.

Iskandar parliamentary seat

If the news about fielding Zaid in Gelang Patah (to be called Iskandar in GE14) is true, then YB Lim Kit Siang has indeed made a very bold and honourable move to end this anti-Malay tag that has been hanging around DAP’s neck for so long.

This strategy, coming from a top leader in the party, will be seen by many voters as him making a big sacrifice in order to promote a Malay leader within DAP. This form of sacrifice will lead DAP into the hearts and minds of many Malay voters not only in Iskandar, but also throughout Johor and possibly the whole country.

Such a tactical move will reflect positively on the sincerity and trust of the DAP leadership, two formidable qualities that will touch the emotions of many Malays. In one stroke, Lim would turn the Malay doubts in him into trust, and suspicion into sincerity. This would be a major boost to DAP. How could you continue to be branded as anti-Malay or anti-Islam with such a big sacrifice being made to honour a Malay candidate?

This strategy must be fully supported by other DAP leaders, big and small, a reflection of their seriousness in winning the Malay votes and support. At the same time, the party’s publicity machinery must also be geared towards this objective.

Why Zaid?

According to Hisham, for many obvious reasons: Zaid is a successful Malay lawyer albeit an entrepreneur who built the biggest law firm in the country. As a lawyer, he is a person of high repute and high moral character (which is indeed very rare in Malaysian politics). A liberal-minded person, he is clearly endowed with a non-racist disposition and fights for all Malaysians regardless of race or creed. He is a Malaysian first and not part of the old race-based party politics.

In UMNO for instance, it seems that the more racist a leader is, the more support the person can command from the members. DAP is certainly not like that, which means a person of Zaid’s stature could progress further.

In parallel, DAP leaders must demonstrate their true commitment to the Malaysian Malaysia concept by:

  • Fielding more Malay candidates in the GE14
  • Ensuring that a few of the semi-urban seats where Malay voters are in the minority are given to Malay candidates to fight against BN candidates.

This would be similar to the approach adopted by BN where seats which have had Malay majorities were given to MCA or MIC candidates to contest. Examples of such seats are Tapah, Cameron Highlands, Hulu Selangor, Bentong and of course the famous Air Hitam in Johor.

If Malay voters voted for MCA or MIC candidates in the past, why can’t Chinese voters vote for Malay (DAP) candidates? As Hisham put it, Malay voters are no different from others. The significance of sincerity and trust factors play an important part in their psyche and logic, in the same way that they now no longer trust Umno and BN. There is no better time than now for DAP to start the ball rolling.

Rosli Khan is an FMT reader.

Soft Barriers to Malay Participation In Commerce

February 12, 2018

Soft Barriers to Malay Participation In Commerce

by Dr. M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California
Image result for The Malays

The Malays are not hardworking, says Dr. Mahathir

Soft barriers to active participation in the money economy are especially pronounced in societies that still exist in or have just exited from the peasantry and subsistence living. That is Malay society at the time of colonization. It is still true for a vast segment even today. The concept of money and the “money economy” is alien to them. Money was equated with greed and unbridled materialism, not a suitable topic in polite conversations. To ask for the monetary value of anything or service was tantamount to insulting its owner or provider. Monetary value was only for showing off your social status as with how much was your dowry or car.

The traditional trading activities in such societies are primitive, restricted to bartering. The worth of such exchanges, as with trading a few coconuts for fixing a leaky roof, is not with the economic value of the coconuts or the repairing of the roof, rather the goodwill generated, one fellow villager helping another.

One can imagine the difficulty members of such a society would have in adjusting to a money economy. If this were to be imposed from the outside world, as with colonialism, free-flow immigration, or unrestrained globalization, the difficulties in adjusting would be compounded.

Typically that society would react in one of two ways. It either withdraws, effectively declaring that it does not want anything to do with this alien value system, or else it blindly embraces the new system enthusiastically and uncritically.

The first reaction is seen in many Muslim countries, and I will pursue this further in the section, “Imprisoned by Religion.” We also see this with North American Indians, India under Nehru, and today’s Myanmar.

With the second, what typically happens is the absorption of only the superficialities and excesses, as can be seen in the immediate post-Mao period of China. After spurning the outside world, China suddenly changed under Deng Xiaoping. In mature capitalistic societies such as America and Western Europe, there is an effective taxation system with redistributionist elements, and where philanthropy is an honored tradition which have evolved and been perfected over time.

Image result for The Malays

A Towering Malay–A Role Model for Young Malays on how to lie and be utterly corrupt

In China (as in many Third World societies) you are considered stupid if you do not conceal your income from the government and cheat on your taxes. As for charity, when Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, two billionaires known for their charitable deeds as much as their capitalistic instincts, visited China to interest its newly rich in philanthropy, the pair were greeted with silence if not derision. America has its Dukes and Stanfords, elite universities that are testaments to the generosities of their capitalist titans. China has none as yet, and possibly never will.

It is the rare society that gets it right immediately. The hope is that it will learn and stabilize eventually. Otherwise those excesses would lead to instability. The Chinese leadership today is very much aware of the severe negative consequences to the excesses and flamboyance of its politburo members and their children, especially when displayed abroad. There is as yet no such abhorrence with the excesses, corrupton, and flamboyance of the Malay elite–our sultans and UMNOputras.

It was only a generation or two ago that Malay society was deep in its subsistence and agrarian mode, typical of the kampong lifestyle. Most Malays lived off the land, and gotong-royong (communal effort) was the norm; bartering or trading of goods and services were strange concepts. Instead you helped each other, with no financial considerations.

With the coming of colonial rule and with it, capitalism, Malays were thrown into the money economy precipitously without any transition. The later influx of immigrants further compounded the issue. The immigrants by default and out of necessity had to adapt to the money economy to survive; they had no social or physical support system as with Malays and our kampong lifestyle. This earlier entry into the money economy by the immigrant population conferred significant advantages vis a vis the native peasant population.

Image result for The Malays
The Wira Melayu (The Malay Hero) heading towards extinction


It was no surprise that Malays, specifically those in UMNO, at the dawn of our country’s independence were clearly anti-capitalistic, except for its top leader, Tunku Abdul Rahman, who remained unabashedly committed to capitalism. To those in UMNO during its infancy, the term kaum kapitalis was derogatory, comparable and perhaps synonymous with kaum kolonialist (colonialist class/hordes). That soon changed when they saw the tangible results of profits and wealth. This Malay embrace of capitalism was accelerated under Mahathir.

Like the Chinese in China today, Malays embrace only the primitive or animalistic form of capitalism, its raw and exploitative version, and the associated quick bucks and short-term mindset. Also akin to modern China, corruption, collusion, and influence peddling rapidly became the norm.

If those are not formidable enough obstacles, then there is yet another significant “soft” barrier to Malay entry into commerce–our religion, or more accurately our particular and myopic interpretation of the Koran and Hadith (sayings and practices of Prophet Muhammad, s.a.w.).

Related image
The New Malay (as defined by the Malaysian Constitution)

I believe that Islam is fully consistent with and supportive of the ideals and practices of capitalism. Nothing in my reading tells me otherwise. After all, our Prophet Muhammad, s.a.w. (May Allah bless his soul) was a successful trader before receiving his prophethood. That reflected the profession’s high standing with Allah as much as His appraisal of the man.

One thing is certain; Islam cannot be supportive of atheistic communism or its close cousin, socialism. It is true that the egalitarian ideals of socialism may appeal and indeed have to many Muslims and can be construed as being consistent with those of Islam. On closer reading however, equality is not the ideal of Islam; indeed that would be against human nature. Allah in his wisdom has created us in all our diversities, with different skin colors, speaking different languages, and having diverse cultures. He has also endowed us with different talents and abilities.

Image result for oliver wendell holmes on equality

Equality in such a setting would be an elusive goal, as well as a cruel illusion. Those in power would determine what equality would mean. In America at the time of the declaration of independence, the “We, the people” phrase in the preamble of its constitution for whom “equality” would apply were restricted to only tax-paying white males. They alone were entitled to vote and have the protection of the constitution. Slaves, women, and those who did not own land were excluded. Only later was that “equality” extended to them.

Likewise with meritocracy; those already in power would determine what attributes are considered meritorious.  Meritocracy as a concept could easily be used to justify continued suppression and denial of opportunities to others not currently favored.

Islam emphasizes justice, not equality. We cannot treat an orphan in the same “equal” manner as the son of a privileged family. That would be the height of injustice. Indeed to be just, we should do more for the orphan, which would also be the right thing to do. The great American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes said it best, “It is a wise man who said that there is no greater inequality than the equal treatment of people who are unequal.”

It is easy for today’s observers, Muslims included, to conclude that Islam is against capitalism, or at least wealth creation and accumulation. Muslim countries, even those blessed with abundant natural resources like oil and gas, are over represented in the poor and deprived category. In Malaysia, Malays, who by statutory definitions are Muslims, lag behind the other races in all socioeconomic indices. That there was a time when Muslims were ahead of the curve has been all but forgotten, and if recalled, only for syok sendiri (self-gratification) exercises and not as a learning opportunity.

Capitalism is not un-Islamic. On the contrary, many of the practices and consequences of capitalism are very much in tune with the aspirations of our faith. Both capitalism and Islam are very adaptive. If the communist Chinese could adopt capitalism and imbue it with Chinese characteristics and sensibilities, and in the process emancipate hundreds of millions of its people out of poverty, I fail to see why we cannot do the same. Meaning, imbue capitalism with Islamic characteristics.

Double Standards as Norm, particularly in Trump’s America First

February 11, 2018

Double Standards as Norm, particularly in Trump’s America First

by Bunn

Many countries can do a lot better than look to the rich and powerful among them which observe only the law of the jungle.

IN an ideal world, rich and powerful countries are righteous, gracious, confident and patient – possibly even wise and generous. It is about national character, particularly after having achieved an estimable rank. It is also about setting a good example to lesser nations that may one day also become rich and powerful.

In the real world however, self-righteousness just about substitutes all. Such unpalatable truths are seldom standard-fare in political science classrooms.

Image result for trump and the ostrichThe World according to Donald Trump but America is in a political gridlock as another Government shutdown looms large.
 It is not necessary to be cynical, or to subscribe to the cynical doctrine of neo-realism, to make honest observations approximating to cynicism. But it takes resolve. What is needed is an assessment of world affairs as they are and not as they should be. It will require a frank appraisal without fear or favour, or undue international relations theory.

After emerging as a world power in the late 1880s, the US grew into a global superpower by 1945. Britain and the Soviet Union were the other superpowers.

The British Empire was the most extensive in spanning the globe. Nonetheless the cost of two world wars had consigned it to advanced terminal decline, and the 1956 Suez Crisis ended Britain’s superpower status conclusively.

The US was clearly the world’s leading superpower, with the Soviet Union soldiering on in a distant second place. The Soviet economy bore inherent flaws that would soon prove fatal.

In 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed, its economy in tatters as it imploded into its several components. Since then the US became the world’s sole superpower, with the unchallenged capacity to project global power on multiple levels: economic, cultural, technological, political, diplomatic and military.

For nearly three whole decades the US dominated these spheres like no other country, perpetuating its dominance in each and seldom according to formal expectations of its international obligations.

With a deeply ideological polity, the US adheres to the constant mantra of “free markets” – in theory. This means a stated commitment to the notion of keeping private industry and the “public” state separate and distinct, a supposed adherence to laissez-faire free enterprise without state intervention.

And so trade battles raged between the US and Japan when the Japanese economy was the world’s second-largest with the prospect of becoming larger. Japan with its state-supported industrial policy and “closed” keiretsu system was said to be trading unfairly.

Today, the US is accusing China of unfair trade. China, now the world’s second-largest economy with the promise of going further, also has its version of industrial policy and public-private partnership.

Image result for trump and the ostrich

A cooperative partnership between state and industry is common to the rapidly growing economies of East Asia. It is a generic feature of the Newly Industrialising Economies (South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore) even if they were individually too small to be accused of “unfair trade.”

Yet when it suited the US, it would happily intervene with tariffs of its own. The 1930 Smoot-Hawley Tariff stands as a historic monument to state intervention by raising taxes on more than 20,000 imports, being among the most severe protectionist measures restricting US trade in a century.

The US Congress has even applied protectionist measures against parts of the country. The 1828 Tariff of Abominations imposed even higher taxes than Smoot-Hawley, aimed at the southern states and harmed their economy.

For a whole decade from the 1970s to the 1980s, the UN laboured on a set of rules and conventions for better order and safety on the high seas.

In later years more negotiations over the details for amendments followed. The US insisted on certain changes, and those changes were made.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) came into force in 1994, and since then more than 160 countries around the world have ratified it. But until today the US still refuses to do so.

President Bill Clinton signed UNCLOS but Congress blocked it. Since then nobody in Washington has made a serious effort to push for ratification. Some US officials say that by not ratifying the treaty the US is able to observe it as and when it pleases, and that should be good enough. For other countries, that violates the spirit of law and makes a mockery of acceding to international treaties.

When Donald Trump campaigned for the presidency he vowed to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Soon after taking office he did just that.

Those who favour the TPP blame Trump, but the decision was bipartisan. In the final stages of his presidency Barack Obama did nothing for the TPP.

More tellingly, Hillary Clinton herself rejected the TPP in her campaign. As Secretary of State she was the TPP’s most ardent champion, being resolutely for it before she was firmly against it.

No serious candidate in the 2016 US presidential campaign favoured the TPP since an election season meant they had to champion their own national interests. Other countries have signed on to it with all its obligations and restrictions, while the US is left free to do as it pleases again.

For years, the US has been pressuring foreign tax havens like the Swiss banking community to release details of confidential client accounts. US pressure also focused on the Swiss government, supposedly to help US authorities trace possible terrorist financing, but it is more than that.

With East Asian economies on the rise, typically a cash-rich China, US authorities worry about outflows of US funds to evade taxes. Swiss bankers however say their foreign clients have secret accounts more for security than tax evasion purposes.

In recent years Swiss bankers have pressed their foreign clients to divulge details of their accounts to their own governments while systematically closing undeclared accounts. A result has been an outflow of funds from these accounts by clients seeking alternative havens.

Image result for Najib Razak in Prayer

Like his comrade  Donald Trump, Malaysia’s Najib Razak is lying too. He is practices double standards. Good Governance in reverse.

The US introduced the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act in 2010, requiring financial services companies abroad to provide details of accounts held by US citizens to US tax authorities.

For its part, the US has rejected the OECD’s Common Reporting Standard in providing details of foreign offshore accounts in US tax havens. A result: an inflow of funds from offshore accounts elsewhere, with a spike anticipated this year.

In East Asia the leading tax havens for offshore accounts are Hong Kong and Singapore, NIEs that have diversified well from the industrial sector. China itself is joining in on the mainland, but its offshore banking potential is still limited and underdeveloped.

Meanwhile US tax havens are racing ahead, reaping fresh dividends of new accounts once held in the Cayman Islands, Bahamas, Panama, BVI and Switzerland itself. US bankers say their clients seek security rather than to evade taxes.

Where some set profitable examples, others are certain to follow. But double standards and rash laws can be counter-productive, exposing a country as a deceitful, self-seeking, double-dealing hypocrite – and worse.

The Smoot-Hawley Tariff led to the Great Depression; protectionism is still protectionism even if it is claimed to “make America great again.” Reneging on a commitment to UNCLOS is emboldening China’s claim to the South China Sea, for which the US has no answer. It should not require an ideal world just to make the rule of law ensure due justice.

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