July 19, 2017
July 19, 2017
Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Ugly Feud with Dr. Mahathir Mohamad reflects the shallowness of Malaysian Politics
Possibility of snap election looms as ex-leader backs a jailed former foe
by Takashi Nakano, Nikkei staff writer
SINGAPORE — An ugly feud is intensifying between Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak and predecessor Mahathir Mohamad, with Mahathir throwing his support behind an old nemesis in hopes of unseating the administration, and Najib sniping back.
Mahathir ruled Malaysia for 22 years through 2003, and the country’s profile on the world stage grew under his hard-charging leadership. He has vocally criticized Najib, who has been in power for over eight years — and is in sight of a yet longer term — but has recently come under fire amid an embezzlement scandal. Rumors have swirled that Najib may dissolve parliament this year, leading to a general election.
The two figures’ mudslinging, if it drags on, may diminish Malaysian politics in the eyes of observers at home and abroad.
The enemy of my enemy
In 1998, Mahathir sacked Anwar Ibrahim, then Deputy Prime Minister, who stood in opposition to him. Anwar was then arrested and imprisoned for six years on charges of sodomy and corruption. In Malaysia’s last general elections in May 2013, Anwar led an opposition coalition against Najib’s ruling one, but in 2015 was convicted of fresh sodomy charges and given another five years behind bars.
Early this month, Mahathir told The Guardian, the U.K. newspaper, that the popular Anwar had been “unfairly treated.” “The decision of the court was obviously influenced by the government,” he said, “and I think the incoming government would be able to persuade the King to give a full pardon for Anwar.” The statement sent shock waves across the country.
Since the time of Anwar’s first arrest, the independence of the Malaysian Judiciary has been in doubt. Mahathir’s championing of Anwar even at risk of drawing fire for his own past actions shows the intensity of his drive to topple the Najib administration.
In June, at the International Conference on the Future of Asia in Tokyo, Mahathir also said that Malaysia’s present administration was doing badly by the country, and that he hoped for the opposition to score an electoral victory and drive Najib out of office.
Najib quickly fired back via his blog. He said it was “ironic that Mahathir now needs Anwar, the man he sacked and jailed,” and that the former prime minister’s “crusade is motivated not by the national interest, but by selfish personal interest.”
Najib, having built up a stable political base, appears to have the upper hand in this fight. Mahathir cannot hide the shrinking of his political clout. And while Anwar’s popularity may run deep, he cannot run for office from prison. With the term of the lower house of Malaysia’s Parliament set to expire next June, Najib is waiting for the moment to play his trump card: the right to dissolve the legislative body.
But the Najib government has a major Achilles’ heel in the scandal surrounding state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd, or 1MDB. U.S. authorities are investigating the apparent misappropriation of at least $4.5 billion from the fund, and several people close to the Prime Minister have been implicated.
Najib’s administration has objected, noting that Malaysian authorities conducted extensive inspections and no crime came to light. But overseas authorities have turned a stern eye. The Monetary Authority of Singapore, for instance, has taken steps to punish a number of financial institutions and people whose actions contributed to the 1MDB scandal.
The ties between Mahathir, Najib and Anwar not only show the fierceness of Malaysia’s power struggle, but expose the shallowness of its political benches. Since it won independence in 1957, the country has not undergone a significant change of government, and it has not cultivated a culture in which the politicians that will bear responsibility for the next generation sharpen one another in friendly rivalry.
With its per-capita gross domestic product having reached the $10,000 level, Malaysia is at a crossroads and in need of a new growth model. Its ruling and opposition parties are constantly bickering instead of engaging in more robust economic debate, casting doubt on the nation’s hopes of joining the ranks of the world’s developed countries.
July 18, 2017
In the September 11, 1989, issue of The New Yorker, a twenty-eight-year-old writer named Bill McKibben published a lengthy article titled “The End of Nature.” The previous year had been especially hot––the country suffered one of the worst droughts since the Dust Bowl, Yellowstone was ablaze for weeks––and some Americans, including McKibben, had taken note of the ominous testimony that James Hansen, a NASA climatologist, gave before a Senate committee, warning that, owing to greenhouse gases, the planet was heating up inexorably. McKibben responded with a deeply researched jeremiad, in which he set out to popularize the alarming and still largely unfamiliar facts about climate change and to sharpen awareness of what they implied for the future of the planet and humankind:
Changes in our world which can affect us can happen in our lifetime—not just changes like wars but bigger and more sweeping events. Without recognizing it, we have already stepped over the threshold of such a change. I believe that we are at the end of nature.
By this I do not mean the end of the world. The rain will still fall, and the sun will still shine. When I say “nature,” I mean a certain set of human ideas about the world and our place in it. But the death of these ideas begins with concrete changes in the reality around us, changes that scientists can measure. More and more frequently these changes will clash with our perceptions, until our sense of nature as eternal and separate is finally washed away and we see all too clearly what we have done.
Last week, a hunk of Antarctica the size of Delaware, weighing a trillion metric tons, hived off from the Larsen C ice shelf and into the warming seas. Such events now seem almost ordinary—and harbingers of far worse. It is quite possible, the environmental writer Fen Montaigne wrote recently, in the Times, that, should the much larger West Antarctic Ice Sheet thaw and slip into the ocean, sea levels across the globe could rise as much as seventeen feet. This would have devastating implications for hundreds of millions of people, disrupting food chains, swamping coastal cities, spawning illnesses, sparking mass migrations, and undermining national economies in ways that are impossible to anticipate fully.
Around the time that this event was taking place, Donald Trump, who has lately detached the United States from the Paris climate accord and gone about neutering the Environmental Protection Agency, was prowling the West Wing of the White House, raging Lear-like not about the fate of the Earth, or about the fate of the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who was dying in captivity, but about the fate of the Trump family enterprise. In particular, he decried the awful injustice visited upon him and his son Donald, Jr., who had, in a series of e-mails last June, giddily advertised his willingness to meet with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Kremlin-connected lawyer, to receive kompromat intended to undermine the reputation and the campaign of Hillary Clinton. He did not mention another participant in the meeting: Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-born lobbyist, who admitted to the A.P. that he had served in the Soviet Army, but denied reports that he was ever a trained spy.
Natalia Veselnitskaya (L) and Donald Trump Jr.
The President argued that his son, “a high-quality person,” had been “open, transparent, and innocent.” This was a statement as true as many, if not most, of the President’s statements. It was false. Donald, Jr., had concealed the meeting until he could do so no longer. Social-media wags delighted in reviving the Trump-as-Corleone family meme and compared Donald, Jr., to Fredo, the most hapless of the Corleone progeny. This was unfair to Fredo. On Twitter, Donald, Jr., had spoken in support of cockeyed conspiracy theories and once posted a photograph of a bowl of Skittles, writing, “If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you, would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem. . . . Let’s end the politically correct agenda that doesn’t put America first.”
Still, the President, loyal to nothing and no one but his family, argued that “a lot of people” would have taken that meeting. Leaders of the U.S. intelligence community did not whistle their agreement. They were quick to say that such a meeting was, at best, phenomenally stupid and, at worst, showed a willingness to collude with Moscow to tilt the election. Michael Morell, a former acting director of the C.I.A., told the Cipher Brief, a Web site that covers national-security issues, that Trump, Jr.,’s e-mails are “huge” and indicate that the President’s inner circle knew as early as last June that “the Russians were working on behalf of Trump.” In the same article, James Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence, said that the e-mails were probably “only one anecdote in a much larger story,” adding, “I can’t believe that this one exchange represents all there is, either involving the President’s son or others associated with the campaign.” Intelligence officials speculated that the tradecraft employed in setting up such a meeting was possibly a way to gauge how receptive the Trump campaign was to even deeper forms of coöperation. In any case, the proper thing to have done would have been to call the F.B.I. Now the country is headed toward a “constitutional crisis,” Clapper said, and the question has to be asked: “When will the Republicans collectively say ‘enough’?”
Good question. Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, business leaders such as Stephen Schwarzman and Carl Icahn, and a raft of White House advisers, including the bulk of the National Security Council, cannot fail to see the chaos, the incompetence, and the potential illegality in their midst, and yet they go on supporting, excusing, and deflecting attention from the President’s behavior in order to protect their own ambitions and fortunes. They realize that Trump’s base is still the core of the G.O.P. electorate, and they dare not antagonize it. The Republicans, the self-proclaimed party of family values, remain squarely behind a family and a Presidency whose most salient features are amorality, greed, demagoguery, deception, vulgarity, race-baiting, misogyny, and, potentially—only time and further investigation will tell—a murky relationship with a hostile foreign government.
In the near term, if any wrongdoing is found, the Trump family member who stands to lose the most is the son-in-law and consigliere, Jared Kushner, who accompanied Donald, Jr., to the meeting with Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin. Kushner seems to see himself and his wife, Ivanka, as lonely voices of probity and moderation in an otherwise unhinged West Wing. Why they would believe this when their conflicts of interest are on an epic scale is a mystery. But such is their self-regard. It is said by those close to Kushner that, if he fears anything, it is to repeat the experience of his father, Charles, who, in 2005, pleaded guilty to charges of making illegal campaign contributions and hiring a prostitute to entrap his brother-in-law, and spent fourteen months in an Alabama penitentiary.
Meanwhile, as the Trump family consumes the nation’s attention with its colossal self-absorption and ethical delinquencies, the temperature keeps rising. ♦
July 16, 2017
Trump’s rosy attitude toward Russia and President Vladimir Putin
by Dr. Fareed Zakaria
The latest revelations about Russia and President Trump’s campaign are useful because they might help unravel the mystery that has always been at the center of this story. Why has Trump had such a rosy attitude toward Russia and President Vladimir Putin? It is such an unusual position for Trump that it begs for some kind of explanation.
Unlike on domestic policy, where he has wandered all over the political map, on foreign policy, Trump has held clear and consistent views for three decades. In 1987, in his first major statement on public policy, he took out an ad in several newspapers that began, “For decades, Japan and other nations have been taking advantage of the United States.” In the ad, he also excoriated “Saudi Arabia, a country whose very existence is in the hands of the United States,” and other “allies who won’t help.”
This is Trump’s worldview, and he has never wavered from it. He has added countries to the roster of rogues, most recently China and Mexico. On the former, he wrote in his presidential campaign book, “There are people who wish I wouldn’t refer to China as our enemy. But that’s exactly what they are.” During the campaign, he said: “We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country.” A few months before announcing his candidacy, he tweeted, “I want nothing to do with Mexico other than to build an impenetrable WALL and stop them from ripping off U.S.”
Donald Trump and Andrew Jackson
Trump is what historian Walter Russell Mead calls a “Jacksonian” on Foreign Policy (after Andrew Jackson), someone deeply skeptical and instinctively hostile toward other nations and their leaders, who believes in a fortress America that minds its own business and, if disturbed, would “bomb the s—” out of its adversaries and then retreat back to its homeland.
This was Trump’s basic attitude toward the world, except for Russia and Putin. Ten years ago, when Russian money was pouring into the West, Trump began praising the country and its leader: “Look at Putin . . . he’s doing a great job in rebuilding the image of Russia and also rebuilding Russia period.” In 2013, Putin wrote an op-ed in the New York Times to try to dissuade the Obama administration from responding to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons. In it, he argued that the poison gas was actually used by the Syrian opposition to trick Washington into attacking the regime. Trump’s reaction was lyrical. “I thought it was an amazingly well-written . . . letter. . . . I think he wants to become the world’s leader, and right now he’s doing that.”
Trump so admired Putin that he imagined that the two of them had met, making some variation of that false claim at least five times in public, and playing down any criticisms of him. “In all fairness to Putin, you’re saying he killed people. I haven’t seen that,” he said in 2015. “Have you been able to prove that?” When confronted on this again earlier this year, he dismissed it, saying, “We’ve got a lot of killers. What, you think our country’s so innocent?” Trump could not have been making these excuses for any political advantage. The Republican Party was instinctively hostile toward Russia, though in a sign of shifting U.S. alignments, Republicans today have a more favorable view of Putin than Democrats by 20 points.
“There’s nothing I can think of that I’d rather do than have Russia friendly,” Trump declared at a news conference last July. His campaign seemed to follow this idea. He appointed as a top foreign policy adviser Michael Flynn, a man who had pronounced pro-Russian leanings and, we now know, had been paid by the Russian government. Paul Manafort, who was for a while the head of Trump’s campaign, received millions of dollars from Ukraine’s pro-Russia party. During the Republican convention, there was a very unusual watering down of hawkish language on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And once elected, Trump chose as his secretary of state Rex Tillerson, who had been awarded one of Russia’s highest honors for foreigners and had a “very close relationship” with Putin. Finally, there are the repeated contacts between members of Trump’s campaign and family with key Russian officials and nationals, which again appear to be unique to Russia.
It is possible that there are benign explanations for all of this. Perhaps Trump just admires Putin as a leader. Perhaps he has bought in to the worldview of his senior adviser Stephen K. Bannon, in which Russia is not an ideological foe but a cultural friend, a white Christian country battling swarthy Muslims. But perhaps there is some other explanation for this decade-long fawning over Russia and its leader. This is the puzzle now at the heart of the Trump presidency that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III will undoubtedly try to solve.
July 15, 2017
Singapore –Smart City Smart State
I am in the process of completing my read of Kent E. Calder’s excellent book, Singapore, Smart City Smart State. I must admit upfront that I am an admirer of Singapore and the city state’s leadership going back to Mr. Lee Kuan Yew and his team of brilliant men to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his colleagues.
Calder’s book, therefore, intrigues me. In it, Professor Calder provides clear answers why Singapore can serve as a model of unique governance for other advanced economic economies and the emerging world.
He believes “…its sustainable state and urban policy model, leveraged by the Digital Revolution and the Internet of Things, provides such a fresh and apt perspective on governance in today’s world.It shows how to tackle the challenges of transnational importance in a world where markets are almost completely globalized, but governance is not. As Singapore is an economically advanced and technically sophisticated city-state, in the heart of the developing world, its example is not only timely but also broadly relevant. It provides insights for dealing with both G-7 welfare- state crises and also the epic rural-to-urban transition under way in the developing world, in an era of historic technological change” (p.163 of the book).–Din Merican
July 15, 2017
Bill Clinton and George Bush–Having Fun talking about Donald Trump