Senator Elizabeth Warren: Republicans, do not be obstructionists

June 7, 2016

Senator Elizabeth Warren: Republicans, do not be obstructionists

By Elizabeth Warren

Just hours after news broke of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s passing, Donald Trump gave Senate Republicans three words of advice on filling the vacancy: “delay, delay, delay.”

Senate Republicans didn’t need his advice: that has been their strategy for years. Before Barack Obama set foot in the Oval Office, Sen. Mitch McConnell and his Republican colleagues decided to block him at every turn — no matter what. They publicly promised to make government work, but away from the cameras they deployed stall-and-delay tactics to stop the government in its tracks.

Nowhere has that strategy been more insidious or persistent than in Republicans’ efforts to block Obama’s nominations to head agencies, fill judicial vacancies and staff other key government posts.

The latest example involves the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. It’s been over 80 days since President Obama nominated Judge Garland to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court. That’s more than enough time for the Senate to have held a hearing and a floor vote on his nomination — a process that has been routine for modern-day Supreme Court nominees. Until now.

Republicans have said they won’t consider anyone that Obama nominates to serve on the court. They claim they want the “people” to have a voice, but they refuse to accept that the people have already made their voices heard when they elected Barack Obama, twice.

But that’s not the outcome the Republicans wanted, so they want to just hold all those spots open for the next president — someone they hope will be more like them.

The idea that Senate Republicans are perfectly willing to leave our highest court short-handed for nearly a year is pretty shocking, but it shouldn’t be. For more than seven years, they have waged an unrelenting campaign to keep key positions throughout government empty. Republican leader McConnell recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal that “[o]n issues of great national significance, one party should never simply force its will on everybody else.”

That’s pretty rich coming from a guy who’s spent years trying to do exactly that. Consider this: Fewer district and circuit court judgeswere confirmed in President Obama’s first term than in the first terms of the previous three presidents, thanks to Senate Republicans’ stall-and-delay strategy. Amajority of Obama’s uncontroversial first-term judicial nominees — those who were both reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee and confirmed by the full Senate overwhelmingly — took over 200 days to be confirmed.

And since Republicans took charge of the Senate in 2015, judicial confirmations have virtually ground to a halt.

According to the Alliance for Justice, Senate Republicans are “on pace for the lowest number of judicial confirmations in more than 60 years.”Republicans have also actively blocked nominations for important jobs in government, including the Pentagon, the Justice Department and environmental, worker and consumer watchdogs, often leaving parts of government without leaders for months and months.

In 2015, there were fewer civilian confirmations than in any first session of Congress in nearly 30 years. Republican senators say their Supreme Court blockade is about “the people.” But it’s really about catering to their party’s extremists.

Extremism in the Senate has fueled extremism in the Republican presidential race. There is little separation between the extremism driving Republican obstruction of confirmations in Congress and Donald Trump reveling in trying to avoid taxes because he doesn’t want to throw his money “down the drain.”

There is little separation between Senate Republicans who hamstring agency after agency and court after court by refusing to confirm nominees because they don’t like the guy doing the nominating, and a narrow-minded bully who’s happy for millions to lose their homes so long as he can make an extra buck. The extremism of Senate Republicans nourished the growth of extremist candidates — and now one sits atop their presidential ticket.

The Obama administration is in its last year. Thus far, the legacy of congressional Republicans during that administration adds up to one single, unifying principle: if government isn’t working for Republicans and their right-wing allies, they won’t let it work for anyone.

But it’s not too late. In the last months of the administration, Senate Republicans could ditch the extremism and start governing. They could start by holding a hearing on Judge Garland’s nomination. Then, they could hold a vote.

Republicans should do their jobs. If they don’t, the nomination of Donald Trump won’t be the last time their extremism undermines the well-being of both the Republican Party and this great nation.

UMNO: Using Scare Tactics to subdue the Malays in the name of Unity

June 6, 2016

UMNO: Using Scare Tactics to subdue the Malays in the name of Unity

by Mariam Mokhtar

Many pro-government NGOs and politicians who keep talking about uniting the Malays lack political maturity and leadership qualities. They call for such unity by using scare tactics. They talk of a government takeover by non-Malays and invasions by foreign powers, and they decry some Malays’ alleged treachery and ingratitude to institutions like MARA.

The common thread is the emotional blackmail of the Malays. The idea is to make them think that their community is under threat and that it is incumbent upon every Malay to preserve racial unity.

In 2012, at a meeting with the then Deputy PM, Muhyiddin Yassin, some foreign visitors were reported to have praised Malaysia for being an exemplary Muslim country. They apparently were eager to put into practice in their countries what they had seen in Malaysia.

Did these foreigners accept corrupt Muslim leaders who use ingenious methods to cling to power? Were they not told about the teachers who were racist towards their pupils and who warned students not to interact with people of different faiths? Did they not know that our women are treated shabbily?

All became clear when it was revealed that the visitors were from war-torn nations like Afghanistan, Palestine and Somalia. By their standards, Malaysia is marvelous. Would they have been as full of praise if they had come from Muslim countries like Indonesia or Turkey?

Before GE13, the film “Tanda Putera” was frequently used as a tool to incite hatred of the Chinese and at the same time frighten the Malays. The screening was restricted to Malay audiences and the message was clear. The viewers were frightened into thinking that an opposition victory in the election would pave the way for the Chinese, Christians and communists to overrun Malaysia.

Instead of using “Tanda Putera” to foment hatred of the Chinese, the government should take up a suggestion made by Suaram Advisor Kua Kia Soong and make public the details of the May 13 incident.

Kua alleges that the racial violence of May 1969 was orchestrated. His allegations are based on declassified documents kept in the British Public Record Office.

In 2012, the Perkasa chief, Ibrahim Ali, warned the late Karpal Singh to respect the Muslims’ right to have hudud laws introduced in the country. Despite his rhetoric of hatred and his fear-mongering, Ibrahim was not censured by the authorities.

He said that opposing hudud was like “stepping on the heads of Muslims”. According to him, it is the Malays’ democratic right to have whatever they want because they form the majority of the Malaysian population.

He also attacked those he considered as “liberal Muslims”, saying, “When other races insult Islam, they don’t speak out against them. Why didn’t they say something when pig heads were hurled into a mosque? But when paint is splashed onto a church, they make a lot of noise.”

Calling people traitors is a tactic frequently used to control the Malays. NGOs like Perkasa like to pick on Malays who criticise fellow Muslims who attack people of other faiths. They label the critical Malays as people who have “gone against Islam” and are ungrateful for the opportunities the government has given them to improve their lives.

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

Answering Jeyakumar’s questions on hudud

June 6, 2016

Answering Jeyakumar’s questions on hudud 

by S. Thayaparan

“It’s a universal law – intolerance is the first sign of an inadequate education. An ill-educated person behaves with arrogant impatience, whereas truly profound education breeds humility.”

– Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

I have been reading the commentaries and observing the antics of our elected representatives about the latest provocation by PAS President Abdul Hadi Awang on the manufactured controversy of the tabling of the Hudud Bill.

Hadi the Mad Mullah

As expected, the controversy has generated the required outrage among Pakatan partisans and the rhetoric has neatly followed a pre-arranged script that UMNO believes would detract from the very real problems that plague this nation.

Hudud, in any form, would just be the cherry on the sundae of the fascist agenda that this regime is executing in terms of its security policies meant to stifle dissent and sustain hegemony.

The fact that the opposition establishment is suffering from self-inflicted political wounds and myopic in its political agenda not only helps the deterioration of this country but also gives the UMNO state breathing room to regroup and advance its agenda.

Therefore, it was a pleasure reading the piece on the hudud controversy by Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj of Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM). As usual, the good doctor clearly articulated his views on the supposed controversy and with a level-headedness unsuited to the cut-throat take-no-prisoners world of politics, and made suggestions on how to deal with the issue. He did the same with the Lynas controversy, a sane voice in the midst of lunacy and political opportunism but as usual, his pleas fell on deaf ears.

The honourable  MP from Sungai Siput did raise some pertinent questions in his piece that I believe deserve answers or, at the very least, a public answer on behalf of Malaysians who may have the same perspective as me on this issue.

Jeyakumar’s analysis of the political motives of UMNO and the opposition are spot on and there really is nothing to discuss. However, the MP raises interesting questions that are fodder for a public debate.

Readers should be aware that PAS grassroots members who have worked with Jeyakumar have told me that the good doctor is someone who truly cares about Malaysians without regard for their race or religion. This particular politician is someone who should be emulated and it is to our detriment that few of our elected representatives are cut from the same cloth.

My answers here are not to be construed as an attack on the good doctor’s article but rather as a launching pad for some of my own beliefs.

Jeyakumar (photo) said, “We should not be afraid to discuss religious issues, but should take extra care to be respectful of the beliefs of others. This implies a certain acceptance of diversity.”

The problem with a statement like this is that the only definition of Islam that matters in this country is how UMNO defines it and we get an idea of how this Umno regime defines Islam with this quote from Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki, the deputy minister in charge of Islamic affairs:

“It’s time for the allowances of imams, religious teachers and staff throughout Malaysia to be reviewed for an increase (this year alone, the allocation of allowances for imams and religious teachers amounted close to RM500 million), seeing that their responsibility in safeguarding Islam is even more challenging today with plenty of extremist ideologies that are starting to take root, such as IS, the liberalism ideology and pluralism, including the LGBTs who loosen and degrade religion.”

What does this mean? Well, it means firstly, that this regime does not accept diversity as an acceptable form of compromise in a diverse social, political and religious polity, and secondly, that people who do believe in certain fundamental rights, should not accept intolerant religious views as an example of “diversity”.

Do non-Muslims have a right to object to the way in which Muslims choose to practise their religion?

Herein lays the problem. The question sets up an ‘us versus them’ dialectic, of non-Muslims versus Muslims. Nobody has a right to tell anyone how to practise his or her religion including the state whose religious laws (as Jeyakumar acknowledges) has far-reaching consequences for all the country’s citizens.

When we object to certain practices of the state which we deem immoral or corrupt, we do so as citizens of the country. The same principle applies to certain religious practices. We speak for those who cannot, we support those who have been unfairly targeted and who have no choice as to whether they accept or reject religious dogma as defined by the state.

Across the world, in regimes which actively oppose secularism, the agenda is to separate communities either by religion or race and the means by which they do this is through legislation. If communities cannot come together to oppose injustice or prejudice, merely because such are defined as religious imperatives, there can be no hope for change.

Can we tell Muslims how to practise their religion?

Why not? Muslim regimes have no problem defining the Other’s religion. In this country, there are numerous examples of how Muslims dictate how non-Muslims should practise their religion. The problem here is that freedom of expression and speech is selectively practised. As the good doctor illustrated, there are diverse views on Islam in this country.

Islamic perspectives could change and evolve through interaction with other perspectives. Christianity and Judaism are examples of the Abrahamic faiths which have evolved through interactions with other religious and secular points of views. This is the reason why certain Muslim regimes are deathly afraid that their dogma would be rejected if there is a free exchange of ideas.

But the problem here is not non-Muslims telling Muslims how to practise their religion. It is the state telling Muslims how to practise their religion. It is the state rejecting diversity in the Muslim Malaysian experience and non-Muslims are caught in the crossfire.

Do we not believe that each religious community has the right to practise their religion freely?

I, for one, believe that each community has a right to practise their religion freely without interference from the state. I believe that the state should not impose its religious dogma on any of its citizen even indirectly. I believe that a citizen should define his or her religious beliefs for themselves and as long as it does not impinge on the rights of others, should escape sanction from the state. In fact, I believe that the state should have no say in the religious beliefs of its citizens, much less demand billions of tax ringgit to enforce state-sanctioned dogma.

Don’t we recognise that the entire Islamic world is struggling to define what it means to be true to their faith as Muslims in the 21st century? Do we expect Muslim Malaysians to be unaffected by the ongoing debate/battle?

I recognise (as do many other Malaysians, including Muslims) that Islam in this country is affected by the petrodollars of the Saudi regime, as evidenced by the so-called donation to our current Prime Minister for defending Islam. I recognise that there is a deliberate effort by the House of Saud and its tributaries to silence the diversity in Islam. I recognise that the religious schisms within Islam affect minority Islamic brethren the world over and that, being true to their faiths, they are being hampered by the stratagems from palaces in Saudi Arabia.

I also believe that forming strategic alliances with Islamic parties does no good for the idea of democracy in any country in the long term. I believe that political grandstanding by certain political parties in this country, in lieu of concrete principles, is why Islam has dominated the discourse in an adverse way.

Lastly, I know many people would not agree with me for various political or pragmatic reasons and while I have rambled on, my stand is exactly the position of PSM. Here is its message on religion on its website:

“PSM berpendirian hak kepercayaan beragama atau tidak adalah hak individu dan mesti dihormati. Ia adalah hubungan peribadi antara manusia dan kepercayaan mereka. Ia tidak boleh dipaksakan melalui undang-undang.”

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.

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Bad Narratives

June 3, 2016

Bad Narratives

by Paul Krugman

Image result for clinton vs trump

Maybe the Trump phenomenon is about the rage of angry white Republican men, a rage not shared by voters at large. Maybe Clinton is a much better candidate than she’s given credit for — her main problem is not lack of “authenticity” or whatever, but the unremitting hostility of the media, which have given her far more negative coverage than they’re given anyone else.

…Maybe Clinton is a much better candidate than she’s given credit for — her main problem is not lack of “authenticity” or whatever, but the unremitting hostility of the media, which have given her far more negative coverage than they’re given anyone else.–Nobel Laureate Dr.Paul Krugman

Every time we have a presidential election, I (and many others) find ourselves marveling at the way much of the news media settles on a narrative, and holds to that narrative no matter how much evidence accumulates that it’s wrong. In this campaign so far, the settled narrative is (1) American public full of rage at established figures (2) Hillary in trouble. Initially, actually, this was “public fed up with Bush and Clinton dynasties”, but had to be modified once it turned out that younger, fresher GOP establishment faces were equally hapless.

But what if none of this is true?

If Americans in general are full of rage, why does President Obama have a better approval rating than Ronald Reagan at this stage? This is actually amazing given the “negative partisanship” that ensures that Republicans will never express approval for a Democratic president.

As for Clinton, if you read the papers or, worse yet, watch cable, you’ve seen her doomed at least three times — last fall, before the Benghazi hearings, after the NH primary, and during the Sanders string of caucus victories before the New York primary. Strange to say, however, she’s about to win the nomination — and if the demographics-based projections are right, which they have consistently been, she’ll end up with about four times the delegate lead Obama had in 2008 and with a 4 million popular vote lead (as compared with the 2008 tie).

Knremitting hostility of the media has given given her far more negative coverage than they’re given anyone else?” Donald J. Trump disagrees. Now who is right? The Political Phenomenon Donald Trump or The Not a Natural Politician Hillary Clinton? It is for the American Voter to decide come November, 2016. But it is well for him to remember that the next President’s decisions will affect the rest of the world. It is time for Hillary to be authentic and upfront with her politics and foreign policy. Apping Barack Obama can be a disadvantage for her since the American voter wants change in Washington D–Din Merican

So how about a “counterintuitive” take — we’re supposed to love those, right? (I know, but not if they favor a Clinton.) Maybe a majority of Americans, while not full of joy about the aftermath of financial crisis, think pretty well of Obama, and are reasonably willing to support a continuation of his policies. Maybe the Trump phenomenon is about the rage of angry white Republican men, a rage not shared by voters at large. Maybe Clinton is a much better candidate than she’s given credit for — her main problem is not lack of “authenticity” or whatever, but the unremitting hostility of the media, which have given her far more negative coverage than they’re given anyone else.

There’s still the question of what Bernie Sanders and his diehard supporters may do. But assuming that they don’t decide to go full Nader, this year is likely to be a big victory for continuation of Obama policies, in the person of Hillary Clinton. Of course, I look forward to a day or two after the election, when we begin reading stories about how the Clinton administration is in freefall.