Managing The Trump Phenomenon with Prudence


June 17, 2017

Managing The Trump Phenomenon with Prudence

by Jorge G. Castañeda

https://www.project-syndicate.org/columnist/jorge-g–casta-eda

Professor Jorge G. Castaneda was Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs from 2000-2003, after joining with his ideological opponent, President Vicente Fox, to create the country’s first democratic government. He is currently Global Distinguished Professor of Politics and Latin American and Caribbean Studies at New York University, and is the author of The Latin American Left After the Cold War and Compañero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara.

Trump’s domestic opponents should be careful what they wish for, and America’s allies should try to find a way to engage with his administration more effectively. Like it or not, the world’s best option is to ensure that the next three and a half years are as successful – or at least as resistant to disaster – as possible.–Jorge G. Castaneda

The world’s view of US President Donald Trump’s administration is changing for the worse. In fact, the chaos and controversy that have marked Trump’s short time in office have deepened doubts, both inside and outside the United States, about whether his presidency will even survive its entire four-year term.

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Europe’s perspective was articulated most clearly by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. After a contentious NATO summit and a discordant G7 meeting, she concluded that the US, under Trump, can no longer be viewed as a reliable partner. “The times in which we could rely fully on others,” she stated pointedly, “are somewhat over.”

Merkel’s statements were driven partly by disagreement between Trump and Europe on climate change, trade, NATO (particularly Article 5, its collective defense clause, which Trump refused to endorse), and relations with Russia. But disagreement on such issues reflects divisions within Trump’s own administration, raising questions about who, if anybody, is actually in charge.

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White House Director of Strategic Communications Hope Hicks, chief of staff Reince Priebus, chief strategist Steve Bannon and policy adviser Stephen Miller | Getty

Consider Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris climate agreement. The move was advocated by Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and his speechwriter, Stephen Miller. But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, as well as Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner – both of whom are official White House advisers – also may not have supported withdrawal from the accord, despite Tillerson’s public defense of his boss’s decision.

Trade is another internally disputed issue. Bannon opposes the existing order of global openness, as does Peter Navarro, who heads the White House National Trade Council. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross supports open trade, but not without reservation. Similarly, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer would prefer bare-knuckle negotiations to disruption, though he is already in a spat with Ross.

On NATO and Russia, Tillerson has echoed Trump in pressuring the Alliance’s European members to increase their defense spending. But he has also taken a harder line on Russia than Trump, calling for a strong and united approach by the US and Europe. While National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster agrees with Tillerson in theory, turf battles between the two posts’ occupants – a time-honored tradition – have already begun.

Such infighting has raised concerns far beyond Europe. As one Latin American foreign minister told me recently, “Apparently everybody is fighting with everybody over everything.” Add to that the investigation into the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia, as well as the administration’s plummeting approval ratings, and it is easy to understand why some are doubting whether they should bother to engage with Trump at all. Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto has postponed meeting with Trump indefinitely, and other countries, too, are placing ties with the US on hold.

With a premature end to Trump’s presidency becoming less farfetched by the day, it is worth asking how it could come about. There are three possibilities.

The first and best-known route is impeachment: a majority in the House of Representatives would indict Trump for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” and a two-thirds majority in the Senate would convict him, removing him from power. Such an outcome – which would require the support of 20 Republican representatives and 18 Republican senators, plus all Democrats in both houses – remains highly unlikely. But everything could change if the investigation into Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 election and the possibility of collusion with Trump’s campaign reveals a smoking gun.

The second option, per Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, would require the vice president and the cabinet or Congress to declare the president “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” This seems even more unlikely than impeachment, unless some of Trump’s behavior – like his middle-of-the-night tweets or private rants against his aides (most recently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions) – clearly indicates neurological dysfunction or psychopathology.

The third option, which some have called the “Nixonian solution,” is the most intriguing. In 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned before Congress could vote to impeach him. Weeks later, Nixon’s successor Gerald Ford granted him a full and unconditional pardon for all possible crimes.

In Trump’s case, such a resignation could be spurred by the desire for a similar pardon. While Trump cannot be indicted on criminal charges while president, he can be prosecuted for illegal behavior after he leaves office.

Moreover, both Kushner, who has been accused of attempting to set up a back channel for secure communication between the White House and the Kremlin, and Ivanka would be subject to prosecution if they were found to have engaged in illegal communications or activities with Russian agents or officials. Trump’s two eldest sons, who run his business empire, may also be liable for misdeeds. If this threat becomes salient, Trump may prefer to resign and secure a pardon for all involved, rather than endure an impeachment process that may well end with him losing the presidency anyway.

But while Trump’s opponents might like to remove him from power, any of these scenarios could be highly damaging to the US and the rest of the world. American participation, if not leadership, is indispensable to international cooperation in areas like global trade, climate action, and responses to all manner of crises, whether natural, humanitarian, or nuclear. Moreover, Trump’s isolationism doesn’t imply US irrelevance or passivity; a distracted or disrupted America could be much worse.

Given this, Trump’s domestic opponents should be careful what they wish for, and America’s allies should try to find a way to engage with his administration more effectively. Like it or not, the world’s best option is to ensure that the next three and a half years are as successful – or at least as resistant to disaster – as possible.

Malaysia: GE-14 will be later rather than sooner


June 15, 2017

Malaysia: GE-14 will be later rather than sooner

by P. Gunasegeram@www.malaysiakini.com

QUESTION TIME | With Prime Minister Najib Razak embroiled in a larger number of imponderables right now, GE14 will likely be later rather than sooner even if the opposition is in disarray and making contradictory moves which confound rather than clarify what they stand for.

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But wouldn’t the fact that the opposition is so much in a tizzy that it can’t even unequivocally name a prime minister in the event of that unlikely victory let alone key cabinet posts, means that now is the time to strike by calling for elections? That depends on what your chances of victory are and whether they will increase or decrease if you wait.

Under the Federal Constitution, the 13th Parliament will automatically dissolve on June 24, 2018, exactly five years after its first sitting and the 14th general election or GE14 has to be held within two months after that, by Aug 24 next year. That means GE14 has to be called within the next 14 months.

What are BN’s chances if GE14 is held right now? The common wisdom seems to indicate that BN would win, but there are several factors that may weigh against that. First, latest available polls indicate that approval ratings for the government are down.

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The GE 14 Winner

Next, one recent poll indicates that Sabah may not be the fixed deposit state that it has been before – and that could perhaps extend now to Sarawak as well following the death of the popular, reform-minded, tough-talking chief minister Adenan Satem.

And, there seem to be some polls indicating that cost of living is an issue and with inflation figures hitting record eight-year highs of 4.5% annually, that is something which will figure heavily in voters’ thoughts.

Meantime, news such as Sarawak Report alleging that jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s prosecutor at the Sodomy II trials, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah received RM9.5 million from Najib’s accounts – and lack of denial so far – has added an explosive political element into the heady mix, rekindling a long-smouldering sensitive issue with many voters, especially Malays.

And that’s just one piece of news – others include Malaysia’s newfound closeness to China which may find some traction with local Chinese in terms of votes but which can be opportunistically used to turn Malay votes against BN.

Serious questions are being asked about the massive Forest City development in the Johor Straits and the influx of Chinese citizens on completion and the use of illegal Chinese labour. Concern has been expressed about the massive RM55 billion East Coast Rail Line to be built and financed by China, widely thought to be massively overpriced.

Let’s look at some of these in turn.

Approval rating takes a dive

The only reliable poll that I can locate for a serious downturn in Najib’s approval rating dates back to October 2015 and was done by the reputable Merdeka Center, which does not seem to have carried such polls subsequently. This indicated that the approval rating among Malays for Najib’s government dropped to below 50% for the first time since February 2012.

Singapore’s The Straits Times (ST), citing a survey by Merdeka Center, said only 31 percent of Malay voters was satisfied with the government. The fall among Malay voters was drastic as it had stood at 52% in January 2015. The survey was revealed to analysts in the financial sector, according to ST.

Since then, even more revelations have come up regarding what is still considered as one of the major failures of the Najib administration, 1MDB and the loss of billions, with the US Department of Justice reports mid-last year which substantiated that over US$3.5 billion was stolen from 1MDB, not to mention the China issues.

If anything, the approval rating for Najib may have deteriorated even further. And then there is a poll, this one last month, again by Merdeka Center for Malaysian Insight, which indicated that Sabah may not be a fixed deposit state in GE14. It involved 905 voters, covering all age groups and demographics.

Among the key findings were some 52% of the respondents were dissatisfied with the state government; some 49% of the respondents believed that Malaysia was headed in the wrong direction, with their primary concern being the cost of living and lingering unhappiness over the goods and services tax; some 66% of respondents were unhappy with the economic situation in Sabah; some 56% of those surveyed said they were feeling the economic crunch; nearly 70% of respondents also wanted greater autonomy for Sabah to run its finances and administration. Sabah voters continue to have grave concerns about illegal immigrants and want this issue debated fully in the run-up to GE14.

Meantime, a forum in Singapore earlier this week was told that the cost of living was the number one issue for GE14. The panelists included Ibrahim Suffian, director of Merdeka Center; Ong Keng Yong, Singapore’s Ambassador-at-Large and former High Commissioner to Malaysia; and Selena Ling, head of Treasury Research and Strategy at OCBC Bank.

“Many Malaysians have actually gone beyond the issue (1MDB), and this has been bundled together in what they perceive to be leadership weaknesses,” Ibrahim was quoted as saying.

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It is clear why UMNO is moving towards an alliance with PAS, supporting the introduction of much harsher sentences under syariah law and leaning towards Islamic fundamentalism – to bolster Malay support. But at the same time, this very move is going to alienate and even jeopardise the fixed deposit votes from across the South China Sea where they practice a much more liberal form of Islam.

Double-edged sword

The issue of moving closer to China is a double-edged sword. Chinese Malaysian voter support could increase from this, especially since the Chinese Ambassador has been moving closely with politicians in some of the constituencies that MCA and Umno contest in, implicitly and explicitly supporting the ruling party.

But Malay voter support may reduce if the opposition, especially with people like former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad in their ranks, can use this to highlight the unnatural closeness with China which even permits open interference by Chinese diplomats in Malaysia’s internal affairs.

Meantime, the Indian vote has been courted with the Malaysian Indian Blueprint but scepticism remains over this document whose success will depend on implementation. The track record here is sorely lacking.

The maltreatment of Indians at the Police lockups, lack of sympathy for their economic plight, and lack of recognition for their contributions amongst others are not factors that will turn them significantly towards BN in GE14.

While expectations are of a BN victory, the situation is not quite so clear when you put it down on paper which is what Najib’s advisers and strategists would have done. That explains why UMNO is embracing Islamist PAS, hugging agnostic China and unveiled a blueprint for Indian advancement. But indications are that it is not working – yet.

Just as the opposition needs time, perhaps BN and UMNO need it even more. And they are hoping that some future confluence of events will be more favourable. If there is an unlikely window of opportunity, they will take it. Will BN’s chances be better if elections are delayed? Perhaps but it is not likely to be much worse.

Even if there is a significant chance of losing, although small, why take it now when you have 14 months to go? Lots of deals can be done in that time, the opportunity for patronage and corruption is tremendous, and there is more time to cover the obvious holes so they remain out of sight.

Najib can still set his sights on winning after the 14 remaining months in power. Unlike British Premier Theresa May, he knows it is better to be safe and in power now instead of sorry by rushing into an election and potentially losing it. Voter behaviour can be rather unpredictable.

Watch for GE14 not earlier than the middle of next year. Still not convinced? Okay, note that GE12 was held on March 8, 2008. Abdullah Ahmad Badawi stepped down after the polls reversal for BN and Najib became Prime Minister in 2009.

From 2011, there were intense speculations of an early election but GE13 was eventually only held on May 5, 2013, five years and two months after GE12 – full term in other words. Najib will do the same again, unless there is an unlikely massive voter shift towards BN because he knows how to be safe rather than sorry.


P GUNASEGARAM is waiting for the next big shift in voting patterns after GE12 when the opposition took five states in Peninsular Malaysia – it may be sooner than you think. E-mail: t.p.guna@gmail.com.

The End of Political Ideology in Malaysia?


June 15, 2017

The End of Political Ideology in Malaysia?

by Norshahril Saat For The Straits Times

Personality politics has led to the fluidity of political party membership. Members join and quit parties simply because they follow their masters or have disagreed with them. The danger is that disagreements are not based on issues or policy outlook. As a result, we have witnessed many political U-turns in contemporary Malaysian politics.– Norshahril Saat For The Straits Times

There was a time when political parties in Malaysia were clearly differentiated by ideology.

UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) struggled for Ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy) through affirmative action for Malays and bumiputeras (non-Malay natives), aimed at helping these communities be on equal footing – in economics, business and education – with the Chinese and Indians.

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Tunku Abdul Rahman–Exponent of Ethical Leadership where Values and Ideology Matter

Despite being an ethno- nationalist party, UMNO was willing to share power with the Chinese and Indians, represented by the MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association) and MIC (Malaysian Indian Congress) respectively. This multi-ethnic cooperation formed the backbone of the BN (Barisan Nasional) coalition, which has been in power since Malaysia’s independence in 1957…

Read On:

http://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/the-end-of-political-ideology-in-malaysia?&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social-media&utm_campaign=addtoany

 

Najib Razak’s BN to retain Putrajaya


June 15, 2017

Najib Razak’s BN to retain Putrajaya, says former Singapore envoy to Malaysia Ong Keng Yong

by FMT Reporters

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

ST Global Forum discussion on next general election concludes 1MDB, billion-dollar deals with China will have no impact on how the majority vote.

PETALING JAYA: Barisan Nasional (BN) will continue its hold on Putrajaya by winning the next general election (GE14), as the status quo in Sabah and Sarawak and support from Malays in Peninsular Malaysia will remain, The Straits Times (ST) reported.

Image result for Ong Keng and Din MericanSingapore’s Ambassador at Large Ong Keng Yong (center)

This was the conclusion drawn from an ST Global Forum panel discussion held in Singapore yesterday. The forum was entitled Malaysia’s Next GE: The Perils And Prospects.

“I don’t think that it will be worse than what Prime Minister Najib Razak or the BN obtained in 2013. For the Malay voters, I think they will stick with what they know,” said Ong Keng Yong, who is Ambassador-at-Large at Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign affairs, Former High Commissioner to Malaysia and Secretary-General of ASEAN.

Another speaker at the forum, Merdeka Center director Ibrahim Suffian concurred, saying that even though Najib’s popularity remains low, BN remains the most trusted brand among Malay voters.

According to the Singapore daily, the rationale proffered by the speakers, which also included OCBC Bank Treasury Research and Strategy head Selena Ling, was that all the billion-dollar scandals and headline-grabbing deals with China would not have an impact on the vast majority of voters.

Describing the issues surrounding 1MDB as “approaching historical status”, Ibrahim said many Malaysians have gone beyond the issue. “1MDB has now been bundled as just being part of what is perceived as leadership weaknesses,” he was quoted as saying.

Image result for Najib RazakThe Likely GE-14 victor

Ambassador Ong believes the cases that have emerged over allegations linked to 1MDB in other countries, including Singapore, the United States and Switzerland, has only affected Kuala Lumpur’s standing from an international standpoint, but it “has not greatly harmed Najib or UMNO” in the homefront.

Meanwhile, Ling told the forum that Malaysia’s economic data was healthy, but that too would be of minimal consequence.“When it comes to elections, people are going to vote on bread-and-butter issues. It is not going to be because growth is 5% or less than 5%,” she said, according to ST.

The panelists all agreed that Najib’s biggest challenge will be overcoming the growing unrest over the cost of living, with the GST and lower value of the ringgit having an impact on the price of goods.

The reality on the ground remains harsh according to Ibrahim who spoke about the struggles of Malaysians, both young and old.“Young people are worried about finding a good job, married couples are concerned about whether they can afford a home and whether they can get a pay rise, while most retirees do not have sufficient savings to tide them over,” he was quoted as saying by ST.

The speculation over when Najib will call for GE14 is mixed with some predicting it will be held in the last quarter of this year, or early next year. However, the Prime Minister has until next June to decide when he wants to dissolve Parliament.

The Federal Constitution states that a general election needs to be called when Parliament is dissolved or it reaches a maximum term of five years. The current Parliament kicked off its term on June 24, 2013, therefore Parliament will automatically be dissolved as of June 24, 2018.

As a general election needs to be called no later than two months after Parliament is dissolved, therefore, the last possible date for the next general election (GE14) will be August 24, 2018.

Donald Trump and The Art of Confusion


June 14, 2017

Donald Trump and The Art of Confusion

by Jeffery Frank@http://www.newyorker.com

 

President Trump has adopted the strategy that was recommended to the shady protagonist of Nikolai Gogol’s “Dead Souls.”

President Trump has adopted the strategy that was recommended to the shady protagonist of Nikolai Gogol’s “Dead Souls.” PHOTOGRAPH BY KEVIN LAMARQUE / REUTER

Donald Trump may not realize it, but he has adopted the strategy that was recommended to Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov, the shady protagonist of Nikolai Gogol’s “Dead Souls,” whose lawyer (in the translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky) advises him that “as soon as you see that the case is reaching a denouement and can conveniently be resolved, make sure—not really to justify and defend yourself—no, but simply to confuse things by introducing new and even unrelated issues.” The aim is “to confuse, to confuse, nothing more . . . to introduce into the case some other, unrelated circumstances that will entangle other people in it, to make it complicated.”

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That’s an excellent way to stay one or two steps ahead, although the approach is fallible—after all, you may run out of places to step. Trump keeps up the confusion. He did so recently by withdrawing from the Paris climate accord; he did so again by tweeting a shift in policy vis-à-vis Qatar, which further roiled the Middle East and undermined his own Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. In the aftermath of a deadly attack on Londoners, Trump started a Twitter rant against Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, accusing him of saying something that he never said: “At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!’ ” There is no way to prove that Khan’s religion—he is a Muslim—motivated that crude outburst, but it’s fair to ask if it would have happened if Boris Johnson were still the mayor. My colleague John Cassidy asked, “How low can he stoop?” The answer appears to be “Just wait and see.”

For Trump, though, nothing has been so effective as fabrication and barefaced lying. After all, Lie No. 1 may always be supplanted by Lie No. 2, and so on; without a boundary of truth, the number of possible lies, in theory, is limitless, and lying about lies may not even be detectable. Trump, by instinct or design, understands that. It empowers him to tweet nonsense, as he did during his first official trip abroad: “Just arrived in Italy for the G7. Trip has been very successful. We made and saved the USA many billions of dollars and millions of jobs.” The only true statement there was the fact of his arrival in Italy.

Last week, James Comey, the F.B.I. director who was fired by Trump, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that what the Administration had said to defame him, and the Bureau, “were lies, plain and simple.” He also recalled how Trump, in a private conversation, had “hoped” that he would shut down the investigation of Michael Flynn, the former national-security adviser—an issue that Trump, in the spirit of pure confusion, addressed in a recent news conference: “I didn’t say that,” he said. “I will tell you I didn’t say that. And there’d be nothing wrong if I did say that, according to everything I read today.” Comey’s testimony has been examined clause by clause, with particular emphasis on certain phrases, such as when, as Comey wrote in his prepared statement for the committee, the President apparently said, “I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know.” Comey, who admitted being mildly nonplussed whenever he spoke to Trump—and never wanted to be alone with him—said, “I did not reply or ask him what he meant by ‘that thing.’ ”

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“Why didn’t you ask him?” Senator John McCain asked during the committee hearing. “It didn’t seem to me to be important for the conversation we were having, to understand it,” Comey said. “I took it to be some—an effort to—to communicate to me this, that there is a relationship between us where I’ve been good to you, you should be good to me.” Trump, predictably, suggested that Comey was a liar and called him, with all the reckless power invested in his tweet machine, “very ‘cowardly!’ ”

Trump still has lots of supporters—people who still tell themselves that he’s “draining the swamp”—though fewer than he used to. Some of them are my neighbors, in upstate New York, but our conversations these days include long silences, an unspoken avoidance of argument. The President’s critics, meanwhile, are running out of ways to describe the harm that he’s doing to his country, and to his office. The best description of the Trump Effect has been attributed to one of his chief advisers, Kellyanne Conway, who may have had a revealing moment of truth-telling during the campaign. In a recent recollection from Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Conway expressed something like loathing for candidate Trump. Brzezinski recalled that Conway “came on our show . . . and would shill for Trump in extensive fashion, and then she would get off the air, the camera would be turned off, the microphone would be taken off, and she would say, ‘Blech, I need to take a shower,’ because she disliked her candidate so much.” Scarborough added that, of her campaign chores, Conway said, “ ‘This is just my summer vacation, my summer in Europe.’ And, basically, ‘I’m just gonna get through this’ ”—or, as Cole Porter wrote, “It was just one of those crazy flings.” In response, Conway said of Trump that “I know him, I respect him, I believe in him, and I am confident in his capacity to be a transformative and successful President.” But she didn’t deny her comments

The future of this aberration of a Presidency may finally be measured by the time it takes to act on the belief that “as difficult as we can be with each other, we remain that shining city on the hill,” as Comey, echoing Ronald Reagan, put it. Comey was talking about citizens of all parties who hold the same deep, pained convictions about America that he does—and, as Senator Richard Burr, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said about Comey, “who loves this country enough to tell it like it is.” Burr, too, sounded like someone hoping for a time when respect, duty, and love of country reassert themselves—after which we’ll all want quickly, quickly, to take a shower.