Zaid Ibrahim on the State of Malaysian (or Malay) Politics


August 31, 2016

“As President of UMNO, Najib should tell the ultras in the party to shut up. If he does so and proceeds with genuine reforms, maybe the country can still be saved. He must, of course, apologise to the nation for 1MDB and be sincere about it, and proceed with much-needed reforms, which would include telling us honestly how we can recover the monies parked in Hong Kong, the United States, the Cayman Islands and elsewhere”, says Zaid Ibrahim.

Really? Najib is not indispensable. He is a national disgrace and must be removed from public office. Right now, he is using all available statutes to cling to his high office at the expense.

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What political game are you playing? As an experienced lawyer and a former de facto Minister of Law in the Badawi administration,  you ought to know that money laundering, corruption and abuse of power are serious breaches of the law.

Prime Minister Najib must made to face the full brunt of the law. Apologies are not enough, In stead, we should ensure that he is made to pay for his indiscretions and misdemeanors. No body should be above the law. Furthermore, you are naive to believe that Najib is (or can be) a  reformer. A reformer is a man of action, not one big talker. –Din Merican

Zaid Ibrahim on the State of Malaysian (or Malay) Politics–Not Healthy

by Zaid Ibrahim

A Reformer or Deformer?

COMMENT The state of our politics today is not healthy – it’s divisive, sordid and unbefitting a country with fast MRTs and skyscrapers.

We spend a lot of time hurling abuses at one another, and on a daily basis we hear of propaganda, personal attacks, allegations of wrongdoing and the endless lodging of Police reports.

In fact, in our so-called democracy, there is no place for civilised discourse or for constructive ideas that can be useful for the country. All we hear from this bungling and incompetent dictatorship is talk about enemies coming from everywhere to attack us, thus justifying our new emergency laws. Our Prime Minister has entrenched a framework, through which he and his successor will be able to do as they please.

The National Security Council Act 2016 ensures that if the Prime Minister decides to rule by fiat, he will prevail under any circumstances.

Institutional checks and balances exist only on paper – literally in the printed copies of our Federal Constitution – but are not practised. The Police, civil service, Election Commission and Parliament have all become the rubber stamps of governing politicians. It was only last week that the Inspector-General of Police himself admitted that the Police could only investigate matters relating to 1MDB as directed by the Cabinet.

Elections will be held to show the world that we are a democracy, but these elections will be neither free nor fair. Constituencies will be “managed” to ensure victory for the ruling party, either by the use of large amounts of cash, gerrymandering or some other improper means of transferring voters from one voting station to another.

Some look to the Ruling Houses for a solution, but, in Malaysia today, the Council of Rulers seems unwilling to intervene in the affairs of the state, no matter how sordid or flagrant the violations of the Prime Minister and the cabinet are.

The oft-repeated statement that the Rulers should not interfere in politics now seem pointless because things have gone so far beyond the pale that the normal rules of political engagement no longer apply.

‘Islamic’ forces have gained stronger foothold

So-called ‘Islamic’ forces have also gained a stronger foothold in all parts of the administration, and the separation of religion from affairs of state is a thing of the past. When Parliament approves Act 355, as mooted by PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang, which will effectively do away with the limitation of the Syariah Court’s sentencing powers, the conversion of Malaysia to a religious state will be complete.

Civil liberties, especially for Muslims, will be non-existent. This is why parliamentarians, especially from Sabah and Sarawak, must reject this bill.

The sooner that Sabah and Sarawak understand the perils facing Malaysia, the better chance they will have to guard against the present malaise. Both states can still preserve democracy, the rule of law and the multicultural foundations of Malaysian life if they do not allow UMNO too much leeway in determining their future.

On the economic front, we have a growing disparity between the haves and have-nots. Equal opportunities and access to economic benefits are difficult for the underclass. Those supporting the government will in turn be supported economically, but those who oppose the government will be punished.

In such an environment, the economic well-being of the poor will continue to be neglected. The underclass will mushroom from the present group of Indians to include Malays, Chinese and others. A political party that can successfully champion the cause of workers and the underclass may be the force of the future.

Our young might not have the competitive edge, knowledge or capital to compete in the global environment, much less against foreign workers and global companies in Malaysia. If this happens, they will be marginalised quickly. Government hand-outs will not be enough to quell the resulting ill-feeling and, as in many other places, this can easily explode into violence.

How have we come to this? The main reason is that the Malay leadership has failed us. This is in contrast to the success of the dominant Chinese leadership in Singapore. As a proud Malay, I am saddened by this. We could have brought this country forward and made it a symbol of real Malay power, to the envy of our neighbours.

Instead, we have allowed corruption to get out of control. We have abandoned meritocracy to such an extent that we have allowed feeble leaders at all levels to rise while the capable ones retire or leave the services. We have reduced noble religious principles to instruments of control.

Religious bureaucrats have too much power and authority, and we have allowed this to happen without ensuring that they are men (and they are all men) of conscience and ability. If they were truly righteous in their conduct and unafraid to defend what is right from the excesses of those in power, we would not be where we are now.

New type of government

We do not encourage transparency in government affairs because we want to protect the corrupt and the interests of the few. Singapore may not be tolerant of dissent or appear very democratic, but at least they have a no-nonsense attitude to corruption and good governance. Their leaders have built an economy far superior than ours by being efficient and by employing those with ability and the right kind of knowledge.

It is therefore necessary for Malaysia to have a new type of government, as well as a new set of political leaders who will not allow race-based policies to degenerate into racist ones. We need leaders who will allow for the complete reform of our politics; the administration of our government, commerce, industry and religious affairs; as well as the thinking of Malaysians about the world.

We do not need groups with coloured shirts or those whose skills are apparently limited to the lodging of police reports. We need more people who can contribute to the development of the country.

How can such a change be possible? I wish I knew the answer. But I have a dream I would like to share. One scenario is for Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak to suddenly wake up and become a new person altogether. Gone would be his Jekyll and Hyde personality and in its place we would have a true and dedicated reformer. He would be willing to abandon the stupid idea of making DAP the enemy of Malays and Islam, and fight the real enemy, which is ignorance.

When Najib did not get support from the Chinese and urban voters in the 13th general election (GE13) in 2013, his not-so-clever advisers probably told him to end his earlier commitment to reforms. They must have told him there was “no need for reforms” because the Chinese would not vote for him anyway.

He should have engaged DAP in national development and political reforms; instead, he chose PAS, the party for which the main concern is, and always will, be the tightness of women’s dresses and longer prison sentences for khalwat offenders.

I think Najib allowed the disappointment of GE-13 (especially since he had spent a lot of money) to cloud his judgment. He is too deferential to his party’s right wing. He must expect that his own party would need time to understand the value of reforms. He must expect the electorate who are opposed to UMNO to need time to digest the effects of such new policies.

Apologise to the nation for 1MDB

As President of UMNO, Najib should tell the ultras in the party to shut up. If he does so and proceeds with genuine reforms, maybe the country can still be saved. He must, of course, apologise to the nation for 1MDB and be sincere about it, and proceed with much-needed reforms, which would include telling us honestly how we can recover the monies parked in Hong Kong, the United States, the Cayman Islands and elsewhere.

I am saying this not because I condone what he did with 1MDB. I just think that, despite 1MDB, Najib will continue to stay in power for many years to come because the Opposition will not be strong enough to unseat him in the short term.

So, why not try to make the best of his term in office? If he is willing to undertake fundamental reforms, maybe the people will accept him – albeit reluctantly, at least in the beginning. If these changes are good for the country the people might one day judge him differently. So, will Najib ever wake up and be a different person altogether? Miracles do happen.

The second scenario is preferred but equally implausible. The political grouping initiated by Anwar Ibrahim under Pakatan Rakyat, now known as Pakatan Harapan, suddenly becomes a single, cohesive force. For this to happen PAS needs to rejoin the Opposition pact and become a reformist party. If PAS decides to be part of a reformist and united Opposition, it must ditch Hadi and pick Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man as its leader.

But will PAS members change their leader? This has as much chance of happening as Najib turning over a new leaf. Then PKR will need to wake up and decide on Anwar’s successor, whether it’s one of his family members or Azmin Ali. For now, it looks like there will be no end to the party’s internal bickering, and therefore, no coherence and unity in its policies.

The new party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu), also has to decide if it wants to be a Johor and Kedah-based party to save the fates of Muhyiddin Yassin and Mukhriz Mahathir. They must also decide if they are willing to be part of the national Opposition, in which case they need to tie up with other groups.

It’s possible for Bersatu to want to team up with PAS, although I doubt if the PAS prefers Muhyiddin to Najib, for obvious reasons. Pakatan Harapan has already made it clear that it’s not Muhyiddin they want as opposition leader. DAP, of course, remains a strong political party, and Parti Amanah has tremendous potential, but they will not have enough to form the government in the next election.

Students the light end of tunnel

The light at the end of the tunnel is the courage shown by our students, who dare to take to the streets and demand the arrest of the infamous Malaysian Official Number 1. These young Malaysians can make all the difference if they have the numbers. But I don’t think the majority of our young are like Anis Syafiqah Md Yusof (photo above).

Many are scared and some don’t even care what’s happening to the country. Apathy and indifference to political developments are common traits among the young, although that might change in the future.

To sum things up: I am not convinced that our country will be put on the right path anytime soon. There are too many unresolved issues among the Opposition grouping and the ruling Barisan Nasional. This maelstrom of confusion is engulfing us and we have to sort it out.

The people want a solution. I don’t have the answers. All I know is that we need to be a developed country, a peaceful and united country, with an economy that is vibrant and sustainable. For that we need change. We need to be one Bangsa Malaysia, and not Bangsa Johor, Sarawak or Sabah. We can, of course, continue to enjoy Laksa Johor, Laksa Kelantan or Laksa Sarawak.

I do not see anyone in Umno today who even believes in democracy and good governance as the best and most legitimate system of government and political engagement. Najib can change that thinking if he wants to. He can be a “benevolent” dictator if he wants to. But I doubt he will. Some Umno politicians complain about the “lack of democracy” or “abuse of power” only after they have been kicked out of the party and have joined the Opposition.

We desperately need a new leadership that wants the right path for the country. Reformists outside the BN must be willing to take the long road to success. They must not worry too much about the election outcome in the short term. They first must do what’s right.

Reformists within the BN, if there are any, must be willing to persuade Najib to change his ways. They must be genuine reformists and believe in the ideas of a modern state where institution and laws are supreme. They must want to share the wealth fairly.

But enough about my dream. I am pessimistic about the country’s future. Being pessimistic does not mean that I don’t want to do anything to reverse the process. It’s a reminder that while we must fight corruption, religious orthodoxy and the undemocratic forces ruling our country today, we must also be realistic about the difficulties and the dangers that are inherent in that task.

Malaysians who want change must be prepared to make sacrifices. Nowhere in the world have freedom, peace and the rule of law come easily. Maybe when we have more poor people and the size of the underclass gets bigger, there will be impetus for change.

People living in relative comfort dare not make the sacrifices needed for real change to happen. It’s not going to be a walk in the park. Street protests here and there are not enough. Malaysians must not be afraid to defend what they believe in. That is the price we must pay to make things better.

Read more: https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/353970#ixzz4IkzzL9x6

Whither Political History on US campuses


August 29, 2016

Whither Political History on US campuses

American political history, it would seem, is everywhere. Hardly a day passes without some columnist comparing Donald J. Trump to Huey Long, Father Coughlin or George Wallace. “All the Way,” a play about Lyndon B. Johnson, won a slew of awards and was turned into an HBO film.

But the public’s love for political stories belies a crisis in the profession. American political history as a field of study has cratered. Fewer scholars build careers on studying the political process, in part because few universities make space for them. Fewer courses are available, and fewer students are exposed to it. What was once a central part of the historical profession, a vital part of this country’s continuing democratic discussion, is disappearing.

This wasn’t always the case. Political history — a specialization in elections and elected officials, policy and policy making, parties and party politics — was once a dominant, if not the dominant, pursuit of American historians. Many of them, in turn, made vital contributions to the political process itself, whether it was Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s role in the Kennedy White House or C. Vann Woodward’s “The Strange Career of Jim Crow,” which the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called the “bible of the civil rights movement.”

But somewhere along the way, such work fell out of favor with history departments. According to the American Historical Association’s listing of academic departments, three-quarters of colleges and universities now lack full-time researchers and teachers in the subject.

There appears to be little effort to fill the void. A search of the leading website advertising academic jobs in history, H-Net, yielded just 15 advertisements in the last 10 years specifically seeking a tenure-track, junior historian specializing in American political history. That’s right: just 15 new jobs in the last decade.

As a result, the study of America’s political past is being marginalized. Many college catalogs list precious few specialized courses on the subject, and survey courses often give scant attention to political topics. The pipelines for new Ph.D.s in the subject, and therefore new faculty, are drying up, and in many graduate programs one can earn a doctorate in American history with little exposure to politics.

How did it come to this? The trend began in the 1960s. America’s misadventure in Vietnam led to broad questioning of elite decision making and conventional politics, and by extension those historical narratives that merely recounted the doings of powerful men. Likewise, the movements of the 1960s and 1970s by African-Americans, Latinos, women, homosexuals and environmental activists brought a new emphasis on history from the bottom up, spotlighting the role of social movements in shaping the nation’s past.

The long overdue diversification of the academy also fostered changing perspectives. As a field once dominated by middle-class white males opened its doors to women, minorities and people from working-class backgrounds, recovering the lost experiences of these groups understandably became priority No. 1.

These transformations enriched the national story. But they also carried costs. Perceived “traditional” types of history that examined the doings of governing elites fell into disfavor, and political history suffered the effects (as did its cousins, diplomatic and military history).

The ramifications extend well beyond higher education. The drying up of scholarly expertise affects universities’ ability to educate teachers — as well as aspiring lawyers, politicians, journalists and business leaders — who will enter their professions having learned too little about the nation’s political history. Not least, in this age of extreme partisanship, they’ll be insufficiently aware of the importance that compromise has played in America’s past, of the vital role of mutual give-and-take in the democratic process.

Change will not be easy, and will not come from history departments facing tight budgets and competing demands. What is needed, to begin with, is for university administrators to identify political history as a priority, for students and families to lobby their schools, for benefactors to endow professorships and graduate fellowships and for lawmakers and school boards to enact policies that bolster its teaching — and without politicizing the enterprise.

This matters. Knowledge of our political past is important because it can serve as an antidote to the misuse of history by our leaders and save us from being bamboozled by analogies, by the easy “lessons of the past.” It can make us less egocentric by showing us how other politicians and governments in other times have responded to division and challenge. And it can help us better understand the likely effects of our actions, a vital step in the acquisition of insight and maturity.

Judging by the state of our political discourse during this dismal campaign season, the change can’t come soon enough.

Devolution and the Rise of Sarawak’s Adenan Setam


August 29, 2016

Devolution and the Rise of Sarawak’s Adenan Setam

by Dr. M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

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“…I see great potential for Sarawak under Adenan Satem. He may be the transforming leader Malaysia needs while remaining within the ruling coalition. Today that coalition is Barisan. Tomorrow who knows. If Adenan plays his card well, that would be good for him, Sarawak, and most of all, Malaysia.”–M. Bakri Musa

Do not anticipate nor expect any positive change in Malaysia coming from the center, at least not from the current corrupt incompetent UMNO leadership in Putrajaya. Instead expect it from the periphery, in particular from Sarawak’s Chief Minister Adenan Setam.

This rise of the periphery is a worldwide phenomenon. Witness the successes of the Scottish Nationalist Party and the Brexit referendum. Devolution there is a backlash against globalization; with Malaysia, a weak and distracted center.

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Adenan’s rise is facilitated both by his political prowess as well as Najib’s precarious position. Najib is inept in dealing with state leaders other than those from UMNO. With those from UMNO, Najib could bribe, intimidate or bully his way.

A measure of Najib’s lack of sensitivity to matters Sarawak is that not a single university has a Department of Iban Studies. Petronas, which gets the bulk of its oil from Sarawak, does not even have one Board Director or senior manager who is from the state. Now Adenan has imposed a moratorium on work permits for West Malaysians in Petronas. It is significant that he spared non-Malaysians.

Unlike his predecessor the crude, utterly corrupt, and greedy Taib Mahmud who exploited his leverage to enrich himself, Adenan uses his to extract greater autonomy for Sarawak. He acts as if he already has that, declaring English to be on par with Malay in schools and the state’s administration, in defiance of federal policies. The surprise is the silence of UMNO chauvinists and Malay language nationalists. That can only happen with specific directives from Najib.

Adenan has banned UMNO from Sarawak; there is no legal basis for that. Again, no challenge from Najib. If UMNO were to defy that, Adenan would quit the ruling coalition and Najib would fall. Note Adenan’s ease in castrating UMNO jantans. Not a peep of protest from them. They bear and grin, as instructed.

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Sarawak (and also Sabah) already enjoys considerable autonomy on immigration. West Malaysians need a passport to enter.

Adenan exploited that to maximal effect in the last state election, denying entry to opposition MPs from West Malaysia, a slap to Parliament’s prestige. Again, the surprise was the silence of the Speaker, an UMNO man, to this unprecedented affront to his institution.

Adenan could act with impunity as his party is critical to Barisan. Through that he controls Najib. To Najib, Sarawak is his “fixed deposit.” That euphemism cannot hide the political reality.

Without Adenan’s party, Najib and UMNO would topple. Right now it is to Adenan’s (and Sarawak’s) advantage to stay with the ruling coalition. Najib will do everything to ensure that; his political survival depends on it. Because of Najib’s vulnerability, Adenan is in a position to extract concessions from the beleagured UMNO Prime Minister.

Autonomy is meaningless without changes in federal tax laws, a formidable obstacle. The federal government has near-exclusive taxing authority. Only minor items like land taxes are under state control. The oil royalty-sharing formula heavily favors the central government. Even if Sarawak could re-negotiate that, it is no windfall, what with the declining oil price. Despite its massive rain forest with its valuable hardwood, Sarawak still cannot forgo massive federal transfer payments.

One way to circumvent the tax hurdle would be to execute a secular zakat maneuver. Zakat is a religious tax based on assets, not income, and is under state jurisdiction, albeit applicable only to Muslims and is voluntary. It could be made mandatory and extended to all, non-Muslims included. Both moves would enthrall the Islamists.

Zakat contributions are federal tax credits, not deductions. That provides a neat way to circumvent federal income tax.It is well known that Sarawakians have minimal fondness for the federal government. They could be persuaded to pay zakat (and its secular equivalent for non-Muslims) instead of income tax as the benefits would accrue to them, as the money stays in Sarawak. Sarawakians would not be paying both, rather diverting income tax to zakat.

Adenan has adopted an excellent negotiating strategy with Najib by creating momentum with the easily-agreed upon and costless items like increasing the number of Sarawakians in Petronas and having one on its Board of Directors.

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Kulup Rani cannot help. Try stealing from us, Mr Malaysian Official 1 (MO1)

With Najib’s current weakness, Sarawak could drive a hard bargain for greater autonomy, including independent taxing power, to the point of being a virtual sovereign state. Once that happens, Sabah would be next in line to demand similar status. Sabah UMNO leaders would not dare defy the demands of their members no matter how much Najib bribes those leaders. From there, others.

Johor Sultan already stirs noises for Bangsa Johor and threatens secession. Kelantan wants its hudud. Najib supporting that ill-advised initiative could come back to haunt him.

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Once the unraveling begins, it is unstoppable. The prospect of a chief minister being on par with the Prime Minister (as it was the case when Singapore was in Malaysia) is a giddy one to ambitious state politicians. Remember, the federation is of recent vintage. The old Malaya was set up only in 1948; Malaysia, even more recent.

Consider the impact of autonomy on national policies like education and special privileges. Even with the current restrictions, note the ease with which the opposition DAP terminated special privileges for Malay contractors in Penang. Selangor under Pakatan’s Khalid Ibrahim annihilated a whole class of UMNO rent seekers, and saw his predecessor, that javanese dentist character, jailed for corruption.

Even if Najib were to balk at Adenan’s demands, what’s to stop Adenan from asking his party members in Parliament to submit a private member’s bill, a la PAS Hadi’s hudud, seeking greater autonomy and taxing authority for Sarawak? If Adenan were to do that, then watch both Najib and the opposition compete to accommodate Adenan in an epic lu tolong gua, gua tolong lu battle. He would be holding Parliament–and Malaysia–to ransom.

I support the principle that a government closest to the people governs best. There are pitfalls, however.

Sarawak shares a long unguarded border with Indonesia. Most of Borneo is Indonesia; Sarawak being part of Malaysia is an anomaly. It would not take much for the Indonesians to overwhelm Sarawak. If not for the British, they would have during konfrontasi. Besides, Jokowi is everything that Najib is not: an honest, respected, effective, dedicated, down to earth, and charismatic leader of his people.

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Musa Aman–The Sabah Fox

As for Sabah, Filipino pirates can enter it with impunity, and Philippines is resurrecting her claim. Another complicating mix, traditional kinship ties between Sabah and Southern Philippines.

Adenan envies tiny independent Brunei. The lesson there is not the Brunei of today but earlier. In 1962 one A. M. Azahari toppled the Sultan. If not for the British Gurkhas, the Sultan would have remained a refugee in Singapore. The son of Azahari may yet arise. This time there will be no Gurkhas.

As for Johor, it wasn’t too long ago that its Sultan treated the state as his private property and gave away a strategic and valuable part of it (Singapore). It would be the supreme irony if his descendant were to repeat the folly.

Those aside, I see great potential for Sarawak under Adenan Satem. He may be the transforming leader Malaysia needs while remaining within the ruling coalition. Today that coalition is Barisan. Tomorrow who knows. If Adenan plays his card well, that would be good for him, Sarawak, and most of all, Malaysia.

Hillary Vs Donald for The White House


August 28, 2016

Image result for Alabama's George Wallace 1968

The American 2016 Presidential Election enters a critical phase: Can Donald Trump overtake Hillary Clinton at this stage? As I see it, the election is likely to be a cliffhanger, reminicent of the Nixon-Humphrey race in 1968 which I witnessed as a student in Washington DC, which also featured white supremacist Albama’s Governor George Wallace (pic above).

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The issue before American voters is who can be trusted Mrs. Clinton or Mr Trump? And also who can best deal with minorities (blacks, hispanics, Asian americans). It is Mrs Clinton’s to lose since the Republican presidential nominee is making a comeback.  Mr. Trump appears to be softening on immigration and toughening on crime and law and order. The last two weeks have been good for him and his running mate, Mike Pence and  his new campaign team. –Din Merican

by Kevin Baker

“Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act,” Hillary Clinton claimed during her 2008 campaign against Senator Barack Obama, before adding, “it took a president to get it done.”

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Mrs. Clinton got considerable flak for this remark from Mr. Obama, who called it “ill advised.” But Mrs. Clinton was right, and it is instructive to note how much of a role two of L.B.J.’s least remembered accomplishments — the Johnson Amendment of 1954, which banned overt political activity by churches and other tax-exempt institutions; and his revision of our immigration laws — have already played in this year’s presidential race.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s campaign for civil rights was the proudest moment in our country’s history, and attaining at least some level of racial justice was achieved first and foremost by what generations of black people did for themselves. But overturning Jim Crow required the reception of their appeal. It meant winning elections and changing laws in what was still an overwhelmingly white country.

The man who finally got it done, of course, was Lyndon Baines Johnson, and in this time of gridlock and division, Johnson has come to be seen more and more as a protean figure, a man who, for all of his faults and grotesqueries, could make things happen. L.B.J. was born 108 years ago on August 27, but his Great Society programs — Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, extensive federal aid for higher education; the Civil Rights, Voting Rights and Fair Housing acts, which barred most forms of public discrimination — still define what we think of as the rights and privileges of modern America. And yet, his influence does not stop there.

For those puzzled about why so many evangelical leaders were willing to endorse Donald J. Trump, the most openly irreligious major-party presidential candidate in our history, Jerry Falwell Jr. provided the answer in his singularly graceless speech at the Republican National Convention: “Mr. Trump has added a plank to this party’s platform to repeal I.R.S. rules sponsored by Lyndon Johnson in 1954 barring churches and nonprofits from expressing political free speech.” Mr. Falwell assured his audience, “Trust me, the repeal of the Johnson Amendment will create a huge revolution for conservative Christians and for free speech.”

Mr. Falwell was referring to a change to the tax code added by Johnson when he was the Senate minority leader. The amendment, as The Times reported in 2011, was not aimed at churches, but at “two nonprofit groups that were loudly calling him a closet Communist.” These were the Facts Forum, funded by the Texas oil billionaire H. L. Hunt to produce and distribute McCarthyist books, television programs and radio shows; and the Committee for Constitutional Government, another far-right, multimedia and mass-mailing center founded by the newspaper magnate Frank Gannett.

The Johnson Amendment stated that “all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.” In other words, tax-deductible charitable contributions could not be used to fund election campaigns. This was considered so uncontroversial at the time that no record of what Johnson was thinking or precisely how he got this clause attached to the tax code seems to have survived. It was passed by a Republican Congress, and signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Churches on all sides, liberal and conservative, proved able to skirt the provisions of the amendment easily enough, and it went largely unchallenged until 2008, when the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal and political organizing arm of right-wing Christian evangelicals, started a campaign to repeal it. The A.D.F. began an annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday, in which ministers were encouraged to give overtly political sermons, and then send recordings of these talks to the I.R.S.

Just as it has done in its attacks on gay rights, the Christian right is attempting to flip this issue on its head and make it one of “religious freedom.” The A.D.F. has cast its own adherents as the real victims, deprived of their rights of free speech and association, and conjured up a vision of countless federal Javerts filling the pews, jotting down every word. But the I.R.S., hobbled by years of budget cuts, has refused to rise to the bait. It is not believed to have opened any audits of churches for noncompliance under the Johnson Amendment since at least 2009, and all that ministers who send in recordings receive is a form letter thanking them for their interest. The A.D.F.’s efforts have fared little better in court, as Johnson’s typically airtight legislation did not differentiate between religious institutions or any other type of nonprofit.

“A broad change to the provision would likely cause minor-level chaos within the U.S. political system,” Emma Green wrote in The Atlantic this month. “There would no longer be any meaningful difference between charitable groups and lobbying organizations.”

And yet what is Donald Trump but a sworn agent of chaos? Repealing the Johnson Amendment would most likely flood our political system — and especially Republican Party coffers — with still more money, all of which would be tax deductible.

Whether Mr. Trump ever gets that opportunity could well be decided by the demographics of a country that is less white — and less Christian — than it has ever been. This was mostly Lyndon Johnson’s doing as well.

“Throughout most of the history of the United States,” as the historian Randall B. Woods wrote in “LBJ: Architect of American Ambition,” “laws were on the books that declared the vast majority of the people in the world legally ineligible to become full citizens solely because of their race, original nationality, or gender.”

Free Africans and Asians were repeatedly barred from the United States. The bogus science of eugenics and fears of importing radical, “foreign ideologies” inspired the 1924 National Origins Act, which slammed shut the “golden door” through which millions had found safe haven. Immigration from countries outside the Americas was limited to 2 percent of the total number of foreign-born persons from those nations who were residing in the United States according to the 1890 census — that is, before the peak years of immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe.

Immigration was cut by more than half within a year, with the number of immigrants from Italy alone reduced by over 90 percent. More terribly, a decade later the new quotas helped prevent millions of European Jews from escaping the Holocaust. The devastation of World War II and the conflicts of the Cold War led to some softening of our immigration rules, but not much. Southern congressmen opposed taking in even the most desperate refugees from Europe as vehemently as Trump supporters wish to exclude Syrian refugees today.

The McCarran-Walter Act, passed over President Harry Truman’s veto in 1952, contrived to renew the bar against almost all Asians and most Jews. Pat McCarran, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, associated both these groups with Communism, and defended his bill in words that might have been lifted straight from the Trump campaign:

“I take no issue with those who would praise the contributions which have been made to our society by people of many races, of varied creeds and colors,” he proclaimed, but added: “However, we have in the United States today hard-core, indigestible blocs which have not become integrated into the American way of life, but which, on the contrary are its deadly enemies. Today, as never before, untold millions are storming our gates for admission, and those gates are cracking under the strain.”

President John F. Kennedy sent Congress a message in the summer of 1963 calling for the revision of McCarran-Walter, declaring it “without basis in either logic or reason.” But like so many other proposals in J.F.K.’s New Frontier, this went nowhere. Kennedy had solid majorities in both houses of Congress, but on many issues legislation was just as gridlocked as it is now, thanks to the conservative Democrats who ran leading committees.

McCarran was dead, but the reactionary stalwart James Eastland of Mississippi now held his chairmanship. Francis Walter, the racist Pennsylvania congressman who had partnered with McCarran to pass the bill that bore their names, still ran the House Judicial Subcommittee on Immigration and Nationality. And while L.B.J. himself had aided dozens of European Jews in escaping Europe before and during World War II, he had also voted with his fellow Southerners to override President Truman’s veto of McCarran-Walter.

Johnson the President would once again surprise everyone, telling Congress in his 1964 State of the Union address: “We must also lift by legislation the bars of discrimination against those who seek entry into our country, particularly those who have much needed skills and those joining their families. In establishing preferences, a nation that was built by the immigrants of all lands can ask those who now seek admission: ‘What can you do for our country?’ But we should not be asking: ‘In what country were you born?’ ”

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CreditJoan Wong, photographs by Ruth Fremson/The New York Times and Bettmann/Getty Images

Johnson’s point man in the House of Representatives was Brooklyn’s feisty Emanuel Celler, whose maiden speech in the House, 41 years earlier, had inveighed fruitlessly against the National Origins Act. In the upper house, Johnson turned to Michigan’s Phil Hart, the liberal “conscience of the Senate,” who had forged an unlikely friendship with Senator Eastland. (When Eastland was up for re-election once, Hart deliberately gave a Senate speech denouncing him, so that Eastland could gain standing back in Mississippi.)

The bill was still a heavy lift, but on Oct. 3, 1965, at a ceremony held under the Statue of Liberty, Lyndon Johnson signed the Hart-Celler Act into law. Immigrants would finally be admitted to the United States without consideration of their race, ethnicity or country of origin.

This was a seismic change, but at the same time a cap of 120,000 a year was put on immigrants from the Western Hemisphere. Contrary to the rhetoric dominating the present campaign, our southern and northern borders had usually been highly permeable, with the number of Mexican laborers, in particular, allowed in the country according to the desires of American employers.

Yet the greater principle was established. The leading countries of origin for American immigrants by 1980 were Mexico, Vietnam, the Philippines, Korea and China. The Hart-Celler Act, the economist Vernon M. Briggs Jr. would write in 1984, was already “contributing to an ethnic pluralism of the population to a degree that has never truly existed before.”

Or as Randall Woods put it: “The Immigration Act of 1965 did nothing less than ensure that America remained a land of diversity whose identity rested on a set of political principles rather than blood and soil nationalism.”

That blood and soil nationalism is what Mr. Trump and his supporters seem intent on selling this election year. But while the Republican candidate may boast the runaway animal spirits of Lyndon Johnson, he possesses few of L.B.J.’s more subtle political skills, and none of his overarching vision for this nation.

Hillary Clinton’s political profile bears a closer resemblance to Johnson’s. She has an even greater breadth of experience in government than Johnson did when he became president, and just as much ability to master policy. Much like Johnson, she is also little trusted by the liberals in her party.

Even if Mrs. Clinton wins an overwhelming majority of electoral votes, she will not have the enormous momentum that Johnson carried into office. This momentum stemmed from President Kennedy’s tragic death and a generation of liberal successes before him, but it also came from the booming energy of a young, optimistic nation, richer and more powerful than it had ever been before, eager and even furious to address issues of reform, justice and opportunity left unresolved during the prosperous but staid years of the Eisenhower administration. This was the sort of pressure that L.B.J. needed and welcomed — at first, anyway, before he was lured into Vietnam, turning so many of his natural allies against him.

Mrs. Clinton lacks something else, as well. While she was right that it took a Lyndon Johnson to make Dr. King’s dream a reality, what she does not quite seem to understand is how much of the dream Johnson appeared to carry within himself. Mrs. Clinton lacks, thank goodness, the paranoia, the need to brutalize and dominate that L.B.J. possessed. At the same time, she is all too willing to obfuscate, to cut corners on the truth but especially on a vision. She seems unable to summon the inspiration that Johnson — never a great speaker — was able to rouse when he talked of his Great Society or when, standing before Congress after the battle for voting rights in Selma, Ala., he told a national television audience, “Their cause must be our cause, too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice — and we shall overcome.”

For better and for worse, no one we elect this year is going to be a Lyndon Johnson. No one could be, in a country this closely divided. Whether Mrs. Clinton can use the nastier, more pessimistic turmoil engulfing this year’s election to accomplish anything positive is not readily apparent. It will be up to the rest of us, just as it was up to us, ultimately, even under “Big Daddy” Johnson, to achieve something greater.

The True Meaning of Merdeka (Freedom)–A Quranic Perspective


August 28, 2016

The True Meaning of Merdeka (Freedom)–A Quranic Perspective

by Kassim Ahmad

Image result for Malaysia's Official Independence Logo 2016

Really Merdeka–Are We Malaysians Free?

This is the 60th year of our independence. We spend millions of ringgit yearly to celebrate this auspicious day of August 31 with parades and the like, with every citizen flying or waving the national flag. We have been doing this year in and year out.

Is this the true spirit that we want to inculcate in our citizens? Of course the parades and such like have their uses. But independence must mean more than that. It must mean the acting out of freedom in our souls. We must act freely to realize our place in the several countries that we are in and in the world — the just and peaceful world that everyone wants.

In this sense of the word independence,  we are far from it in the several countries that we are citizens of and in the wider world.  We suffer hardships of various kinds and magnitudes. The ultimate hardship would be a Third World War, using nuclear weapons. So far we are in stalemate, one bloc fearing destruction at the hands of the opposite bloc – the so-called mutual assured destruction, the MAD of human madness.

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Kassim Ahmad and Rosli Dahlan–Defending our rights to be Free Malaysians

That means our independence is hollow and a fake. That means we are not at peace with ourselves, the OTHER being no more than ourselves. This is a scary and disastrous discovery. Where have we gone wrong?

To answer that question, let me bring two pointers from the Quran. In Surah Al-Baqarah, verse 30, God informs the angels that He wishes to create a human being to rule and change the earth, to which the angles protest, arguing that the human beings would spread evil and shed blood. God simply replies He knows better.

Humans have of course shed blood in the two World Wars and other wars since. But  man is also a creator civilizations, the good side of him that God refers to.

The second pointer is from the first Surah, the great human prayer to his Lord. Verses 6-7, states, “Guide us in the right path, the path of those whom You blessed, not of those who have deserved wrath, nor of the strayers.”

Let us analyse these two verses. Those whom God Blessed are clear. They are the true believers. Those who incur His wrath are also clear, that is, the deniers of God and their own selves. The strayers are those who think that they are believers, but are in actual fact disbelievers.

So those who are actually free are those who live in this blessed state of freedom, happy with themselves, happy with their environment and happy with their Lord. They are in the abode of Paradise. This is the true meaning of freedom.

BREXIT– A Reminder to ASEAN


August 28, 2016

BREXIT– A Reminder to ASEAN

by Dr. Munir Majid

http://www.thestar.com.my

Image result for ASEAN and BREXIT

WHILE the close British decision to get out of the European Union (EU) – BREXIT – was made in a referendum over two months ago, there is still the feeling in the country: “What have we done?”

Where do we go? How do we get there? Questions that should have been asked at the referendum, rather than after it. But there you are. When raw emotions and shallow arguments reign, profound decisions are made without proper reflection or preparation.

Since then the question has also been raised in our neck of the woods, whether or not such a thing could occur in ASEAN. It won’t, but then again it may.

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Good Luck to Cameron’s Successor

First of all, let’s be clear. It is not likely there will ever be such a surplus of democracy in ASEAN, whether among individual member states or as a group, that there could be an “In or Out” referendum, such as on the EU, that has resulted in BREXIT.

Such democracy as there is in ASEAN is a pale reflection of the European model. Perhaps five ASEAN states, at a pinch, could be called democracies. They are, at most, mixed democracies, with varying control-freak tendencies. In one of them, there is new leadership, with Trump-like populism, perhaps a precursor of what a President Donald Trump would be like in America – a loose cannon.

Perhaps in that member state – the Philippines – there could be a Phixit referendum in a state of pique although, as shown in the handling of the July 12 arbitral tribunal award on the South China Sea dispute against China, there can be underlying realism after hyperbolic madness, like riding a water scooter into the Chinese navy.

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Then again, President Rodrigo Duterte’s recent threat to leave the United Nations after heavy criticism of extrajudicial killings in the drug war, points to some uncertainty over what the Philippines under Duterte might do.

One ASEAN state is an absolute monarchy (founded on Sharia Law–DM). Two are communist states and another a dictatorial democracy, if that is not a contradiction in terms. Making an imperfect ten is a state – through a referendum no less – which is set to become a militarily managed democracy, as the referendum indeed was.

The upshot is that there will not be in ASEAN a “In or Out” referendum of the British kind – free, open and all too easy.

With none of the regimes in ASEAN is there likely be such a reckless gamble as to leave an existential decision with the people. Not that there is everywhere in ASEAN always a high degree of leadership responsibility.

It is just that the people are not invited to make too many decisions once Governments are in power. So, from very different starting points, ASEAN will not be so people-centric as to give its citizens such a choice.

Britain – specifically David Cameron – screwed up. There was a rather careless Oxford Union debate approach by him in the referendum campaign. This was quite irresponsible when BREXIT is a highly complicated matter. Even Brexiteers – like Boris Johnson (now Foreign Secretary) – looked numb on the morning after the night before, like theirs was a Pyrrhic victory.

Some experts are now saying divorcing the EU may take 10 years. Britain will have to negotiate at least six major deals to re-establish its place in the world after BREXIT. For instance, among the six deals, Britain has to regain full membership of the WTO, not necessarily a straightforward thing, where the EU is the representative body.

While ASEAN  is no way as close and intricate as the EU’s and, in the instance of the WTO, ASEAN countries are individual members of the trade organisation, the important point is the need to think through any decision to break away from any association or organisation.

It is not a simple in or out matter to be decided on the basis of emotions alone. There are a lot of knotty issues, especially relating to the economy, trade and free trade agreements (FTAs). There can be unintended consequences.

With respect to ASEAN, it will not be lost on member states that there is no need to make any grand gesture of walking out, or threatening to do so, especially as commitment to ASEAN’s so-called rules-based regime is not so onerous anyway. So why rock the boat when there is promise of great potential benefit and any present problems can be treated in a let sleeping dogs lie fashion?

We have noted also the wide divergence in the political models in the EU and ASEAN. Indeed ASEAN may think its democratic deficit is a blessing in disguise.

Such parsimony however should not be represented as wisdom among ASEAN leaders. Cynicism and realism are two different things that might yet come out of the ASEAN bag. If leadership and wisdom are required, for instance, to hold the association together against present and future challenges, ASEAN leaders could equally blunder.

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The most critical test of ASEAN unity today is over what position to take on Beijing’s South China Sea claims and assertive behaviour. Again and again ASEAN – including its four South China Sea claimant states – fails to take a collective stand as China, through land reclamation and militarisation, as well as naval support of its fishing fleets, achieves de facto control over almost all of the disputed atolls and waters.

The arbitral tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea ruling on July 12, that there is no basis in international law for most of China’s assertions and actions, has only accentuated the division rather than help form a common front. The cracks have become clearer.

Yet China is able to entice ASEAN Member States with possibilities, over which it would be up to ASEAN to keep united or not. On August 17, China Daily reported there is agreement to negotiate the code of conduct in the South China Sea by mid-2017. There is also a deal in the making on a code of unplanned encounters at sea (CUES).

All this to go to the ASEAN-China summit just two weeks away. All very good news indeed.

On the other hand, Singapore – the ASEAN coordinator of relations with China until 2018 when the island republic takes the chair of ASEAN – has been receiving some stick on Chinese social media, with Global Times castigating it as the “little red dot.”

Like with all ASEAN countries, but more so with Singapore, the tricky test is how to navigate the Sino-US rivalry in South-East Asia. China can blow hot and cold, and keep ASEAN states responding every which way.

At the heart of this lack of unity is not just that not all ASEAN members are claimant states in the South Chine Sea, but rather more so their economic dependence on China. All ASEAN states have significant interest in the economic relationship with the rising giant that has grown tremendously in the last couple of decades which, to a greater or lesser extent, they do not wish to disturb. Indeed which they wish, with many Chinese blandishments, to see grow.

A couple of ASEAN member states depend on China for their economic life. They will never cross Beijing. There is a soft middle who are careful not to antagonise China even if they feel they are being dragged to the limit. Only one among them appears to have drawn a line in the sand and is clear on the equal sovereign rights of all states big or small. And then there is a sharp and hard outer edge comprising two Asean members although the hardest, now with new leadership, is softening its stand.

ASEAN, in other words, is totally disunited over the South China Sea and China’s absolute claim to it. It needs to show unity to negotiate effectively with China but different economic and national interests are pulling it apart.

On a more general plane, while the EU has been wedded to principles – like the free movement of people – ASEAN has always been flexible and diverse about these things.

With immigration and the deluge of refugees caused by principled commitment being identified as the prime reason leading to Brexit,

ASEAN may feel it has bragging rights with its flexible and realistic approach to integration and human rights issues. But there is no cause for celebration in ASEAN. Certainly, in respect of not taking a principled stand on China’s assertive sovereign – and suzerain – claims in the South China Sea, the future could come to haunt ASEAN in some unintended ways.

Even if the calculation is that China’s regional dominance is inevitable, the nature of ASEAN state relationship with Beijing is still something that can be fashioned short of total subservience. Full capitulation now will guarantee a future as vassal states.

There is value in principles. There are options that can be exercised. In the very first year of the so-called ASEAN community, the path to greater integration, including in the Asianholic economic field, could get even slower as divergence on the South China Sea issue sours political relationships among member states.

There are also dangers of total dependence on economic expansion without sufficient attention being given to the social issues of growth.

Social services, equitable distribution of income and wealth are critical if ASEAN countries are not to be confronted by the ferment and discord of economic denial – which could then so easily be attributed to ASEAN integration rather than to bad and unjust national governance.

More than immigration, which was the symptom, the underlying cause of the Brexit vote was the anger of the social underclass denied economic justice, who attributed their condition to foreigners. Narrow and nationalistic jingoism is something politically easy to whip up when there is such anger. It is not something ASEAN should not anticipate.

So beneath the tranquillity of the ASEAN way, the smiles and linking of arms are many issues that cannot always be kept there. They should be addressed. They could cause discord, disunity and tumult. If not exactly the break-up of Asean, they could make Asean meaningless and lead to the regional organisation not being taken seriously.

Tan Sri Munir Majid, chairman of Bank Muamalat and visiting senior fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB ASEAN Research Institute.