OB Markers: My Straits Times Story by Cheong Yip Seng


February 17, 2017

Book Review:

OB Markers: My Straits Times Story by Cheong Yip Seng

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From the very first chapter of this book to the last, it is full of detailed and astonishing revelations about the mainstream media in Singapore. It is an incredible resource for those trying to understand the control of the media and Singapore’s brand of self-censorship. Indirectly, Cheong Yip Seng’s My Straits Times Story is invaluable in helping to explain the dominance of one political party through its “symbiotic” relationship to all the mainstream print media in our country.

The book begins with an account of how Cheong was appointed to his job as editor-in-chief of the Straits Times in 1986. This was not a private dinner with a publisher or a board meeting or even the result of a secret ballot at a conference of editors.

Instead, Cheong describes how he was summoned by Chandra Das, a prominent Singapore politician, on a plane to Burma with the words “The boss wants to see you”. Cheong was given a seat in the first-class cabin next to the then-Deputy Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong. Goh wanted him to take over the editorial leadership of the Straits Times from the previous editor, Peter Lim, who had been found wanting.

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Israeli President Chaim Herzog’s 1986 visit to Singapore

Apparently Lim’s “sin” was that he (and the ST) had during the regional uproar over the Israeli President Chaim Herzog’s 1986 visit to Singapore “failed to recognize the educational role of the Straits Times” which infuriated then PM Lee Kuan Yew who believed that the ST coverage “did not help Singaporeans fully understand the facts of regional life and what it took to be an independent sovereign nation.”

Apparently Lim had relied too much on the Malaysian English-language media in its coverage of the Malaysian outrage without adequately carrying some of the more rabid reactions from the vernacular media from across the causeway. This was the final straw which led to Lim’s firing as the Istana had apparently “reached the point of no return with the Straits Times.”

Related imageBelieve him or not, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew stood up for a responsible and accountable media

In the months before that, Cheong reveals, the government was planning on a “GTO (government team of officials) moving into Times House” similar to what was done with the bus company. The response by the ST leadership is instructive. Instead of protesting against this attempt at interference in professional journalism, apparently Peter Lim and CEO Nigel Holloway met the PM at the Istana repeatedly to negotiate against the presence of government officials in the newsroom. The solution they negotiated was instead a “monitor at Times House, someone who could watch to see if indeed the newsroom was beyond control”. This person was identified by Cheong as (former Singapore president) S R Nathan.

The threat of a GTO together with the presence of a “monitor” made sure that the SPH newspapers toed the party line. This is something that many in civil society in Singapore have suspected for a long time but it is nice to see it confirmed here from the best source possible.

There is more evidence of intimidation documented in this book, mainly from Lee Kuan Yew, who actually endorsed the book prominently. For example, after an early event at the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Cheong was threatened by Lee with the words, “If you print this, I will break your neck”. Cheong’s response to what appears on the surface to be a brutal threat is interesting was: “I was taken aback by his thunderbolt…It was my first taste of Lee Kuan Yew’s ways with the media…Thankfully not every encounter would be as bruising as (that)…but there were many occasions when the knuckleduster approach was unmistakable.”

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All said and done and for all  the criticisms, Lee Kuan Yew made Singapore a great and globally admired Island Nation in the Sun–Din Merican

Such blatant intimidation is presumably rare in Singapore. The title of the book, however, describes the life of a Singaporean journalist constantly trying to negotiate the “OB” or “Out of Bounds” markers. Cheong explains the origin of the term “OB markers”, ascribing it to former minister George Yeo, who described them as “areas of public life that should remain out of bounds to social activism and the media. Otherwise, society paid an unacceptably high price.”

Outside of race and religion, the most important OB marker was then PM Lee Kuan Yew’s argument that the press could not be a “fourth estate” or center of power because it was not elected.

This is not a valid argument to me as it could be argued that the press are far more accountable than politicians as they have to seek the approval of the newspaper purchasing public every day rather than every four to five years in elections.

Instead, Lee’s view of the press was that it was a tool for dissemination and promotion of government policies. One illuminating illustration was a “furious” call from Lee’s office that was received by the (now defunct) New Nation Editor David Kraal. The editors were “flummoxed” to discover that the then PM was provoked by a photograph of a large family to illustrate a story of a happy Singapore family. Apparently, this was perceived by the PM as “subtle but effective criticism” of the “Stop at Two campaign” in which Lee sought to limit families to two children.

There are other OB markers which Cheong found “bewildering”. These included stories on Stanley Gibbons, a stamp dealer; carpet auctions; monosodium glutamate or MSG; feng shui; unflattering pictures of politicians, and scoops.

I think many Singaporeans too would find it difficult to understand why these “should remain out of bounds to social activism and the media. Otherwise, society paid an unacceptably high price.” These are, however, hallmarks of an authoritarian regime which can install boundaries at whim without having them questioned.

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The Emeritus Foreign Minister of Singapore, George Yeo

Another OB marker was appearing overly critical of local TV programs. George Yeo apparently pointed out that “If the Straits Times created the impression that our TV programs were not worth watching, Singapore would lose an important channel of communications.” As a result, even the TV critics were reined in.

The issue of scoops is a recurrent theme. Cheong reports that “Lee Kuan Yew was determined to purge the newsroom of the culture of scoops”. He did not want a situation like the Watergate affair in which a dishonest president was exposed by investigative journalists who became cult heroes. Cheong writes that “The PM took the position that Singapore was not America: he had no skeletons in the closet and challenged the press to find one because he wanted to be the first to know…”

But of course, the press could not use investigative journalism to find out – they had to depend on the official version of events. This kind of Alice in Wonderland argument doesn’t seem to trouble Cheong or perhaps by re-stating the argument in this context, he is exposing its hollowness.

Cheong actually admits how much of a struggle this was for him as a journalist. He quotes Number 5 Chinese Leader Li Changchun as urging mainland Chinese journalists to go for scoops and explains his predecessor Peter Lim’s Faustian bargain for Singapore journalists thus: “it was better to produce the best story than the first story…Finding scoops in Singapore with many OB markers carried a real risk”.

Indeed, one gets a sense of how difficult life is for journalists who might inadvertently break a story that covered the sensitive subject of MSG or bad local TV programs or some other OB marker and end up being hauled up by the government.

Cheong makes it clear that while he had hoped that the “knuckleduster era” belonged to the 1970s, it could reappear any time. For example, he describes how while “recovering” from the 2006 general election, he received a phone call in a hotel in Phuket, from Lee Kuan Yew who was “livid” about a “powerfully argued column by Chua Mui Hoong” in which the deputy political editor had questioned the policy of placing opposition wards at the back of the queue for upgrading works. According to Cheong, Lee was “his old 1970s self. If the Straits Times wanted a fight, he was prepared to do it the old way, with knuckledusters on”. This is depressing but not surprising to any reader of the ST today.

The extent of micro-management of the local press Cheong reports is amazing. Apparently, Goh Chok Tong had made a suggestion during the launch of The New Paper: “Why not consider a Page 3 girl”. Cheong quickly clarifies that Goh was not suggesting topless women that had been made famous by Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid The Sun but rather girls that (as Cheong quotes Goh) “can be scantily dressed”. The character and direction – and not just the OB markers – of the local press are thus apparently suggested by Singapore’s political leadership.

Cheong also provides details about the ST personnel’s relationship with the ruling People’s Action Party, the PAP. He writes that “senior PAP leaders had been impressed with (columnist Warren Fernandez’s) work for us. His columns in particular have been generally supportive of PAP policies.” He was about to be selected as a PAP candidate for the 2006 elections.

Cheong then emailed the Prime Minister asking to keep Warren at the ST “unless he was earmarked for higher office. But the PM’s response was that he needed Eurasian representation in parliament”. Apparently Cheong’s email had been circulated to the PAP selection panel before the final interview and Kuan Yew agreed to keep Fernandez out of the PAP slate. Of course, now Fernandez is the Editor of the ST.

Reporting on the “opposition” politicians was even more of a “minefield”. Cheong recalls the 1984 elections when “Peter Lim, then editor in chief, was under pressure from James Fu, the PM’s press secretary, conveying the PM’s request to publish Chiam (See Tong)’s O-Level results….Peter Lim refused: he was convinced it would backfire against the PAP…The result proved him right”.

What intrigues me about the incident was not just that the Prime Minister would intervene to try to persuade the national newspaper to publish such data, but rather that the editor-in-chief refused not because of journalistic integrity but rather because he thought it would “backfire against the PAP”.

This is typical of what Cheong describes as the “symbiotic relationship” between the ST and the PAP which is in fact enshrined in the editorial policy that Cheong crafted in response to then PM Goh’s unhappiness with the local mainstream media. The three pillars of that policy are (1) “Accuracy and objectivity” of coverage (2) The nation-building task of advancing and informing the public as Singapore develops and (3) The symbiotic relationship with the government. Some journalists were unhappy about this relationship but it stayed in the ST editorial policy at Cheong’s insistence. This documentation again, is what makes this book valuable to all who read the local press.

There are many revelations in Cheong’s book. We learn that the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts kept a dossier on local press articles which they found offensive. These include not giving enough prominence to ministers’ speeches. We also learn that when editors were “called up for meetings” with then PM Lee, they had to send detailed CVs including their O-Level results and their wives’ educational qualifications.

Other specific examples of censorship included restrictions on reporting conditions in national service camps in the early days and telling stories of the people who actually lost out through the Housing and Development Board (HDB) construction and resettlement process. The latter is poignant as Cheong describes the contrast between the 30,000 square feet (including a pond and a farm) that a friend living in Kampong Henderson had to give up in exchange for less than $3,000 compensation and a much smaller HDB flat. The ST was not allowed to report on such negative aspects of our “urban renewal” process or the HDB “success story”. The threat of the disapproval of the Times House “monitor” which could cost them their jobs through a GTO ensured compliance.

Interestingly, the “foreign investors” whom we religiously try to attract to Singapore are not as keen on press controls as we have been given to believe. According to Cheong, the American Business Council, supported by the US State Department, argued that investors would be deterred without the free flow of information. Cheong reports how the Singapore government stood their ground but paid the price, in his words: “liberal democracies and some members of the Singapore intelligensia saw it as too intolerant for its own good.”

Cheong is dismissive of the online alternative media but he devotes a paragraph to responding to Seelan Palay’s film “One Nation Under Lee” specifically by explaining that the ISD agents hired by the ST were not sent by the government, they were in fact, according to Cheong, willingly brought in by himself.

Later on, Cheong describes Lee Kuan Yew’s response to the online question “Who paid for the flying hospital for his wife” as marking the legitimization of online media. Cheong acknowledges that the days of traditional media are numbered worldwide, even in Singapore. He quotes the current PM Lee Hsien Loong as admitting that he cannot persuade his own daughter to read the news pages of the ST.

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The book is not all about the travails of a court announcer trying to keep the king happy. For me, the most promising section was the one describing the ST’s finest hour – exposing a scandal involving the National Kidney Foundation. Here is where you get a sense of what might have been should the ST have decided to serve the people of Singapore by performing the task of investigative journalists rather than as disseminators of official information.

Cheong was aware of “strong pro-NKF sentiments in powerful quarters” including two ministers (Lim Hng Kiang and Khaw Boon Wan) as the NKF had taken a tremendous load off the public healthcare sector by keeping alive and healthy 1,800 Singaporeans through its excellent dialysis centers.

He was initially prepared to pay S$20,000 as compensation, publish a statement of clarification about the article by Susan Long, which had the infamous gold taps as part of a “generally laudatory article” and settle the matter out of court. Cheong does not reveal who or what made him change his mind and go against Mrs Goh Chok Tong’s efforts to mediate.

T T Durai, then NKF CEO, who was at the center of the controversy, was incensed and accused the media of trying to be the fourth estate, which Cheong had already established was a role that the Singapore mainstream media had given up – except in this case!

Here the ST team excelled themselves – they tracked down the contractor who prepared the gold taps and other witnesses who were prepared to sign affidavits. In other words, good old-fashioned investigative journalism. Like the good journalists that many in the ST are (before they censor themselves), they want their readers to have all the facts, including those below the surface so the readers could make intelligent decisions for themselves.

While the stories in the book are exciting to any media watcher (and there are many more), there are many errors such as the misspelling of my uncle David Tambyah’s name and SARS was described incorrectly as occurring in 2002 in one instance (although the proof readers picked out the correct dates for the three subsequent mentions of the outbreak).

Cheong himself acknowledges the problem with the quality of English in the newspaper and says that the ST paid the price for the “neglect” of the teaching of grammar in schools. It got so bad that he had to “scour” the world for good copy editors whom he eventually found in Britain, Australia, New Zealand and India.

For those of us who lament that our education system seems to have switched from teaching life and career skills to teaching what is required to top international standardized tests, that is a statement worth paying attention to.

The question on many Singaporean’s minds is: Why did he write this book? Cheong does explicitly reveal this. Near the end, however, he gives a telling account of how journalists found official spokespersons unhelpful as their priority was “reflecting better on the ministers” rather than allowing journalists to do investigative or background work. He describes frustrated journalists recounting their bad experiences in explicit detail – perhaps that is what he is trying to do himself as some kind of catharsis.

Perhaps wistfully, he talks about a time when the ST was indeed the “fourth estate” when it did occasionally demonstrate its independence – although he has to reach as far back as 1956 when the ST condemned the takeover of the Suez Canal by British, French and Israelis. British expats in Singapore were incensed and the managing director of the ST, a member of the British establishment was “spat on in the (then British only) Tanglin Club.”

When I asked a prominent civil society figure about the reasons for this book, he pointed out that when authoritarian regimes in Latin America or Eastern Europe were crumbling, “everyone claimed to be a reformer.”

I am an optimist. I think that Cheong has seen the signs from the recent general, presidential and by-elections and he knows that the people of Singapore are waking up. Establishment voices are raising questions about some fundamental assumptions.

The first step, as anyone with a serious problem knows, is acknowledging that you have a serious problem. Perhaps this is Cheong’s first step. Hopefully for the mainstream media, acknowledging the problem of control and domination will be the first step to the recovery of an independent media which can evolve into a free press, a necessity for democracy for the people of Singapore. The book is a worthy read.

(Another version of this review first appeared on yoursdp.org. Assoc Prof Paul Tambyah is a member of the Singapore Democratic Party’s Healthcare Policy Panel. He contributed this in his personal capacity.)

Let Malaysia remain a secular and inclusive state for All


February 16, 2017

Let Malaysia remain a secular and inclusive state for All

by Dr Kua Kia Soong@www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT:  There is an attempt by some ‘eminent persons’ to install the Rukunegara as the preamble to the Malaysian constitution. If there is indeed a need for such a preamble, it ought to reaffirm the principles of secularism and inclusiveness in the constitution.

Image result for Najib and Hadi Awang with Zakir

God Bless Malaysia with these guys

In my humble opinion, any attempt to have a preamble to our constitution needs first to be discussed by all the communities in the country including the Orang Asli, debated and passed through Parliament; secondly, it has to be inclusive.

This ‘national philosophy’ of Rukunegara was proclaimed on Merdeka Day, 1970 as a response to the racial riots of May 13, 1969 when the country was still under a state of Emergency. Like the National Culture Policy, it was drafted by selected ‘eminent persons’ rather than involving representation from all Malaysian communities and it did not go through a democratic process of debate, nor was it passed by the Federal Parliament.

While most of its aspirations are noble and acceptable, namely, “achieving a more perfect unity…; preserving a democratic way of life; creating a just society…; guaranteeing a liberal approach towards her rich and varied cultural traditions; and building a progressive society…”; nevertheless, its principle of ‘Belief in God’ is not inclusive of all Malaysian faiths.

Any preamble should include all peoples and stress social justice and democracy

The preamble to the US constitution, for example is short and concise, stressing that their nation is defined and formed by its people and what it stands for:

“We the People… in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution…”

Although peopled largely by Christians, the preamble to the US constitution makes no reference to a God or monarch. Apart from serving as an executive summary, it merely sets the stage for how the new government defined by the constitution will establish justice and secure the blessings of Liberty. Thus, their preamble is absolutely secular and the first three words are perhaps the most important: “We the People…”

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Malaysian Muslims idolize this Guy

Perhaps India is a better comparison since it was a former colony like ours. The preamble to the constitution of India actually makes its secularism explicit:

“We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic and to secure to all its citizens: Justice, social, economic and political; Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; Equality of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation…”

Thus the main purposes of having a preamble of the Indian constitution are again, first, to refer to the source that is responsible for the authority of the constitution (We, the People…), and to spell out the objectives of the Indian constitution, namely, Equality, Justice, Fraternity and Liberty. Like the US constitution, there is no insistence on ‘Belief in God’.

The importance of being secular

So what is the significance of including ‘Belief in (the monotheistic) God’ in the hypothetical preamble to our constitution?

Since the prevalence of Islamic populism in the Eighties, there have been attempts by politicians including one or two Prime ministers (one of them is none other than Tun Dr. Mahathir Bin Mohamad) to claim that Malaysia is an Islamic state. Nonetheless, this attempt has been rightfully frustrated by among others, Bapa Malaysia and the Judiciary in the country.

For example, on his 80th birthday on February 8, 1983, Tunku’s main message to the Barisan Nasional leaders was not to turn Malaysia into an Islamic state, stressing that Malaysia was set up as a secular state with Islam as the official religion and this is enshrined in the Constitution. This was echoed a few days later by the Third Malaysian Prime Minister, Tun Hussein Onn on his 61st Birthday on February 12, 1983.

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Commander-in-Chief, Ketuanan Melayu (Malay Hegemony) and Partner of PAS’ Hadi Awang on Hudud
The Alliance Memorandum submitted to the Reid Constitution Commission on Sept 27, 1956 clearly stated that “the religion of Malaya shall be Islam… and shall not imply that the state is not a secular state.” Thus, both the Reid Commission in 1957 and the Cobbold Commission in 1962 characterised Malaysia as a “secular state”.

Most importantly, former Lord President of the Malaysian Judiciary, Mohamed Salleh Abas in Che Omar bin Che Soh vs Public Prosecutor (1988), stated that the term “Islam” in Article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution meant “only such acts as relate to rituals and ceremonies… the law in this country is… secular law.”

The Late Lord President Mohamed Suffian Hashim similarly wrote that Islam was made the official religion primarily for ceremonial purposes, to enable prayers to be offered in the Islamic way on official public occasions, such as the installation or birthday of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Independence Day and similar occasions.

Against the background of confounding populist politicians, one would think that it is even more crucial – if there is a need for a preamble to our constitution – for such a preamble to reaffirm the secular and inclusive character of our constitution.

In a secular state, the state is officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor atheism. It treats all its citizens equally regardless of religion. Secularism is not merely desirable but essential for the healthy existence of a pluralist society such as ours. It implies a separation that exists between the state and religion.

This does not detract from the fact that the right to religion is a fundamental right and the denial of this freedom is a violation of the basic principles of democracy.

Monotheism is not the only religion in this world

Secularism is also important in regulating the relation between the state and various religious groups on the principle of equality. When the Rukunegara espouses only ‘Belief in (Monotheistic) God’, it forgets that there are Malaysians of other faiths based on polytheism or animism and ancestor worship.

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To conclude, the concept of secularism is derived from the principle of democracy and secularism becomes meaningful only when it refers to democratic equality and includes diverse peoples of all faiths, beliefs and practices.

DR KUA KIA SOONG is Suaram adviser.

Malaysia: China, Malaysian Chinese and GE-14


February 15, 2017

Malaysia: China, Malaysian Chinese and GE-14

by Dato Dennis Ignatius@www.freemalaysiatoday.com

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Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak (pictured with de facto PM Rosmah Mansor) recently offered three reasons why Barisan Nasional (BN) can expect a significant increase in support from the Chinese community at the next general elections – “the opposition’s shortcomings despite being given the opportunity; Malaysia’s good relations with China; and, the good moral politics practiced by the BN.” (Bernama, 5th February 2017)

It is an astonishing assertion to say the least. In the first place, by any reckoning, the Opposition in both Selangor and Penang has, in fact, performed far better than previous UMNO-BN governments. In a few short years, corruption and waste are significantly down; there is greater accountability and transparency and people are better off than before. And this despite the unrelenting hostility and lack of cooperation from the federal government.

The Opposition may have their shortcomings but there’s little doubt that if they ever came to power at the federal level, Malaysia would be the better for it.

As for the claim that BN practices “good moral politics,” it is so risible that it isn’t even worth a second thought.

The China card

The reference to China, on the other hand, is significant if only for the mindset it reveals. It suggests that the Minister  who is notorious when he was a Sabah state minister  considers Malaysian Chinese more parochial than patriotic, that the Chinese community will overlook the bigotry and racial prejudice perpetrated against them as well as the injustice, corruption and scandal that have blighted our nation simply because they prize good relations with China.

Acting on this belief, UMNO-BN ministers have assiduously sought to co-opt China into their elections strategy in the expectation that China’s ringing endorsement of the current Malaysian leadership will play out well with Malaysian Chinese.

At the ground level, a senior UMNO minister even went so far as to accompany the Chinese Ambassador around as the ambassador distributed Chinese government assistance to Malaysian Chinese schools, something that was always frowned upon in the past.

The MCA too appears to be counting on China’s endorsement to restore its fortunes as the party of choice for Malaysian Chinese. By setting up a PRC affairs committee and an OBOR (One Belt One Road) centre, the MCA is clearly hoping to convince Malaysian Chinese that its close relationship with China will bring huge dividends to the Malaysian Chinese community through lucrative deals, projects and other businesses.

But is relations with China a key election issue for Malaysian Chinese? Even a cursory survey of Malaysian Chinese attitudes suggests otherwise. In fact, their key concerns – security, education, tolerance and good governance – are not even on Salleh’s radar.

Security and safety

There is no doubt that Malaysian Chinese have been quite traumatized by the rising level of anti-Chinese sentiment in the country as well as the threat of racial violence.

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The Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia in Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur (2015)

For many, the 2015 Petaling Street affair – when senior UMNO leaders shamefully stood by and did nothing even as the Red Shirts threatened a bloodbath – was a turning point; it indicated that Malaysian Chinese could no longer count on UMNO-BN for their safety and survival.

Frustrated at the lack of government action and fearful for their safety, many Malaysian Chinese, and others as well, applauded when the Chinese Ambassador finally intervened to stop things from getting out of hand.

Those who believe that China might provide some protection for Malaysian Chinese might, therefore, welcome closer relations with China; not because of any loyalty per se to their ancestral homeland but simply in the hope that it would bring a measure of stability.

Some also harbour the hope that closer relations with China might somehow forestall the growing drift towards Islamic extremism in Malaysia, another area of great concern to Malaysian Chinese as well as to other Malaysians. They reason that the more indispensable China is to Malaysia’s economic well-being and to UMNO-BN’s survival, the less UMNO would want to scare them away with any dramatic Islamisation initiatives.

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The Anti-Chinese Malays

Whether China can or will provide such a security blanket is, however, an open question. Observers have argued, for example, that the Chinese Ambassador’s intervention in the Petaling Street affair was aimed more at avoiding the kind of internal instability that could jeopardize China’s economic and political gains in the country rather than out of any particular concern for Malaysian Chinese.

Education

It is no secret that Malaysian Chinese also place a very high premium on education and the opportunities that a good education provides. It is, after all, education that transformed a ragtag bunch of largely indentured labourers into an economic powerhouse that Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi recently described as “the group that will carry the nation forward.”

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The Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi with UMNO Racists, Noh Omar and Jamal Ikan Bakar Yunos

In this context, the Chinese school system occupies a special place in the Malaysian Chinese psyche. It is more than just education; it is about inculcating traditional values, culture and language. Its very existence is a psychological beacon of hope and comfort, an assurance that their language, culture and identity will endure.

When the Chinese school system is condemned as unconstitutional, detrimental to national integration and threatened with closure, when the Unified Examination Certificate is refused recognition, when funds are withheld, it is, rightly or wrongly, perceived as a thinly veiled attack on the Malaysian Chinese community itself.

After all, how is it justified to demand the closure of Chinese schools on the grounds of national unity when Chinese schools today are more integrated than national schools, when foreign English-medium private schools proliferate, when monoracial educational and religious institutions continue to flourish with government support?

To be sure, we have a serious national unity issue in this country that needs urgent attention. However, the way to build unity must surely be through consultation, cooperation and accommodation rather than further marginalising besieged minorities or demonising them for political expediency.

Tolerance

As well, Malaysian Chinese are deeply concerned, even grieved, over the way they have been racially harassed and taunted by many from within UMNO and PAS itself.

It hurts that even after more than a century of living in Malaysia and contributing to its development as much as anyone else, they are still considered interlopers, intruders and “pendatangs.” It hurts when they are taunted as unpatriotic, as disloyal, as ungrateful. It hurts when decades of blood, sweat and tears in the service of their nation are dismissed as irrelevant or deliberately downplayed. Or that their votes are not solicited with promises of wise policies but demanded with threats of punishment and retribution.

And it hurts when those who come from countries like Indonesia are permitted to be proud of their heritage while Malaysian Chinese must always be watchful lest they be accused of chauvinism and disloyalty.

Sure, no community is without their faults but the constant racist polemics is discouraging, discomforting and disquieting.

Good governance

Finally, there is the issue of good governance.Like other Malaysians, Malaysian Chinese are sick and tired of the corruption and abuse of power that has become commonplace in our nation today.

It was this concern that compelled thousands of them to join their fellow citizens in participating in the BERSIH rallies, despite the threats and intimidation, to press for political change, for respect for the constitution and for good and clean governance.

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Malaysian Chinese, in fact, feel insulted that politicians think they can be won over simply on the promise of good relations with China. They are, first and foremost, Malaysians and it is national issues like good governance, justice and respect for diversity that matter far more to them than relations with China.

Malaysian Chinese want what other Malaysians want

If UMNO-BN wants to win the support of Malaysian Chinese, it does not need to look to China; it simply needs to treat them with respect and dignity as fellow citizens of this nation we all call home.

In the final analysis, Malaysian Chinese want what everybody else in Malaysia so desperately wants – good governance, security, respect for our constitution and for the rights of all citizens irrespective of race or religion, and the opportunity to pursue their dreams and live in peace with their fellow citizens. And the answer to that is not found in Beijing but in Putrajaya.

 

 

 

Malaysians are a tolerant and docile lot


February 15, 2017

Malaysians are a tolerant and docile lot over Najib Razak, bigotry, racism, corruption

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

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“The difference between fundamentalists and moderates – and certainly the difference between all ‘extremists’ and moderates – is the degree to which they see political and military action to be intrinsic to the practice of their faith. In any case, people who believe that Islam must inform every dimension of human existence, including politics and law, are now generally called not ‘fundamentalists’ or ‘extremists’ but, rather, ‘Islamists’.” – Sam Harris

Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak described (an example of) the beauty of Malaysia as the Chinese waiting (uncomplaining) for Muslim potentates while they prayed when an official function was about to begin. This really sums up the concept of “moderation” in this country. The non-Muslims do not complain and indeed make pacts with Islamists, and life carries on as usual as long as there is money to be made.

In this country, “tolerance” is a one-way street. It is a street only used by the non-Malay population. The claim that the constitution guarantees certain rights is a complete sham. Mind you, the word “tolerance” is in itself a loathsome word. It is a word lacking empathy, simpatico, goodwill or camaraderie. The word implies, “enduring” instead of “accepting” and “understanding” – all those sentiments that denote a sense of belonging.

When it comes to race and specifically religion, I wrote – “…The reality is that the only people who find themselves disturbed by another religion are the non-Muslims. If there is a disparity in treatment, a lack of fairness, outright persecution or double standards, it is faced by non-Muslim communities.”

The post-69 history of Malaysia is the history of non-Malays non-complaining, as we allowed our country and our politics to be hijacked by charlatans who promised security, stability and prosperity if we continued tolerating everything that deep down inside we knew was destroying this country.

Image result for Najib Razak QuotesThat’s a lot bull, Prime Minister Najib, you betrayed our Trust, and one day you are going to pay the price for doing so.–Din Merican

When the Prime Minister of this country claims that “The Federal Constitution stresses that we must respect our difference in diversity in terms of culture, language and religion”, I double up in laughter because the constitution is meaningless without people who actually believe in discovering and enforcing the intent of the constitution.

Honestly, this is the same regime where a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department wanted to crack down on religious pluralism (amongst others) because “They are trying to do this by putting pressure on our country to surrender and adhere to what they said as ‘international standards and laws’ to allow total freedom of human rights, which contravenes the principles and teachings of Islam, the cultures of our multiracial people, and the spirit of the Federal Constitution.”

This has never been about a government of equals. This has always been about creating a monolithic community under the yoke of UMNO. Always remember what the Pahang mufti said after he backtracked form his genocide comment – “We are not forcing but I urge non-Muslims to convert to Islam to be safe in the afterlife and for unity in Malaysia. There will be no more chaos and we can focus on development” – which is the canard that Muslims shove down one another’s throats in attempt at solidarity.

So yes, we are a “tolerant” people. And if you are Malay and feel the same way about what non-Malays have tolerated, then perhaps you understand the situation deeper than the average establishment supporter.

Unilateral conversions

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The man who destroyed our institutions–Can Malaysians think?

We tolerated a great many things. Here are some of things I think we tolerate.We are tolerant that a specific race is defined in our constitution. We are tolerant that race determines privileges. We are tolerant that a religion is deemed superior and this is codified in our laws and constitution. We are tolerant that the security apparatus in our country determines which laws to follow. We are tolerant when our religions are mocked and we are branded traitors because we defend our rights which are supposedly enshrined in our constitution.

We are tolerant when religious personalities imply that oppositional political parties are the enemies of Islam and thus open to war-like retribution. We are tolerant when our public spaces are invaded by a state-sanctioned religion. We are tolerant when we are warned not to interfere in the state-sponsored religion even though it has been objectively proven that the same religion interferes in our rights.

We are tolerant when our children are indoctrinated in our public schools. We are tolerant when our politicians play the race-and-religion card at every opportunity. We are tolerant when men convert to the state’s religion to vindictively attack their wives and children. We are tolerant when public spaces are raided by religious officials and our fellow countrymen and women are dragged out and humiliated. We are tolerant when the propaganda organs of the state lie and disseminate fake news vilifying Malaysians as “racist”, “chauvinist” and “anti-Islam”.

We are tolerant when members of the so-called opposition claim that they have to use the same tactics as UMNO to remove the current grand poohbah. We are tolerant when voices tell us that we should be grateful for being allowed to live here. We are tolerant when our history is distorted.

We are tolerant when foreign Islamists came to this country and mock our religions. We are tolerant when we are warned by the mainstream political establishment that we can never assume to lead this country because this would hurt the sensitivities of the majority. We are tolerant when the natives of this land are abused and expelled from their ancestral homes.

We are tolerant of unilateral conversions. We are tolerant of attacks against the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community. We are tolerant of attacks against liberalism and progressive ideas. We are tolerant when our education system is used as a petri dish. We are tolerant of quotas in our education system. We are tolerant of quotas in our civil and security services. We are tolerant of deaths in custody. We are tolerant when laws are created that would give the executive unlimited powers. So yes, we tolerate a great many things.

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The UMNO racists

The UMNO state understands that the non-Muslims would not do anything about it. Sure, a majority of non-Muslims would like to see Najib go and they would be joined by Muslims with the same cause, but ultimately the UMNO state knows when the chips are down, the opposition will not do anything to challenge UMNO hegemony on race and religion.

Indeed, the regime is extremely confident that the Malaysian non-Malays will tolerate this, too.

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

What is Up in Trump’s Washington


February 15, 2017

What is Up in Trump’s Washington after 2 weeks of the 45th Presidency

by Thomas L. Friedman

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The Parting of the Ways–“Mr. Patriotism” and his National Security Adviser, Lt- Gen (rtd) Michael Flynn

Thank God for the resignation in shame by Mike Flynn, President Trump’s National Security Adviser. And not just because he misled the vice president and engaged in deeply malignant behavior with Russia, but, more important, because maybe it will finally get the United States government, Congress and the news media to demand a proper answer to what is still the biggest national security question staring us in the face today: What is going on between Donald Trump and the Russians?

Sorry, Kellyanne Conway, I am not ready to just “move on.”

Every action, tweet and declaration by Trump throughout this campaign, his transition and his early presidency screams that he is compromised when it comes to the Russians.

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Who owns this Make America Great Again Guy?

I don’t know whether Russian oligarchs own him financially or whether Russian spies own him personally because of alleged indiscreet behavior during his trips to Moscow. But Trump’s willingness to attack allies like Australia, bluster at rivals like China, threaten enemies like Iran and North Korea and bully neighbors like Mexico — while consistently blowing kisses to Russian President Vladimir Putin — cannot be explained away by his mere desire to improve relations with Moscow to defeat the Islamic State. And the Flynn ouster gives our government another, desperately needed opportunity to demand the answers to these questions, starting with seeing the President’s tax returns.

We need to know whom Trump owes and who might own him, and we need to know it now. Save for a few patriotic Republican senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, the entire Republican Party is complicit in a shameful act of looking away at Trump’s inexplicable behavior toward Russia.

If Republicans want to know how they should be behaving on this issue, they should ask themselves what they would be saying and doing right now if a President Hillary Clinton had behaved toward Russia the way Trump has, and had her national security adviser been found hinting to the Russian ambassador to hold tight because a softer United States policy toward Russia was on its way.

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House Speaker Paul Ryan and  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell–Both should consider impeaching Trump when there is inscrutable evidence to do so, instead of looking away from this traversty. Loyalty has its limits.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, what are you thinking by looking away from this travesty? You both know that if the C.I.A., N.S.A. and F.B.I. had concluded that the Russians had intervened to help Hillary Clinton get elected you would have closed the government and demanded a new election. Now it’s all O.K.? So you can get some tax cuts? Gens. Jim Mattis and John Kelly, our new secretaries of defense and homeland security, you are great patriots who both put your lives on the line in uniform to defend American values from precisely the kind of attack Putin perpetrated. Are you O.K. with what’s going on?

We need to rerun the tape. Ladies and gentlemen, we were attacked on December  7, 1941, we were attacked on September 11, 2001, and we were attacked on November 8, 2016. That most recent attack didn’t involve a horrible loss of lives, but it was devastating in its own way. Our entire intelligence community concluded that Russia hacked our election by deliberately breaking into Democratic National Committee computers and then drip-by-drip funneling embarrassing emails through WikiLeaks to undermine Clinton’s campaign. And what have we done about it? Other than a wrist slap against Moscow, we’ve moved on.

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Turmoil beneath  the beautiful and calm Washington DC

I am not arguing that Trump is not the legitimate President; he won for many reasons. But I am arguing that he is not behaving like one. Trump presents himself as “Mr. Patriotism,” wrapped in the American flag. And yet he has used his Twitter account to attack BMW for building an auto plant in Mexico, Boeing for over charging for a government airplane, the cast of “Hamilton” for appealing to the vice president to reaffirm American pluralism, American newspapers for undercounting the size of his inauguration crowd and the actress Meryl Streep for calling him out for bullying a handicapped reporter. And yet “Mr. Patriotism” has barely uttered a word of criticism on Twitter or off about a Russian President who has intervened in our democratic process.

That’s not O.K. The Russians did not just hack into some emails or break into some banks in America. They attacked the very things that make America what it is — that makes it so special: “its rule of law and its democratic form of choosing and changing leaders,” said Nader Mousavizadeh, who was a senior adviser to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and co-leads the global consulting firm Macro Advisory Partners.

I am not looking to go to war with Russia over this. Back in the 1990s, this column was among the loudest voices warning against NATO expansion — that it would one day come back to haunt us, which it has, by making Russia feel threatened. I don’t care about Putin. His regime will fail because he is forever looking for dignity in all the wrong places, by drilling for oil and gas instead of unleashing the creativity of his people. But I am not willing to settle for evicting a few Russian agents and then moving on. We need to get to the truth, look it squarely in the eye and then act proportionately.

Trump and his senior aides have spent their first weeks in power doing nothing more than telling us how afraid we should be of Muslim immigrants who have not been properly vetted by our intelligence and immigration authorities. Well, Putin was vetted by the F.B.I., C.I.A. and N.S.A., and they concluded that he attacked our country’s most important institution — and Trump has acted as if he could not care less.

If the rest of us do the same, we’ll get the country we deserve, and it will not be great.


 

Noam Chomsky’s ‘Responsibility of Intellectuals’ Revisited


February 14, 2017

Noam Chomsky’s ‘Responsibility of Intellectuals’ After 50 Years: It’s an Even Heavier Responsibility Now

Written amid rising opposition to the Vietnam War, Chomsky’s greatest essay has added resonance in the age of Trump.
By Jay Parini

http://www.alternet.org/visions/noam-chomskys-responsibility-intellectuals-after-50-years-its-even-heavier-responsibility

Nothing was quite the same for me after reading that piece, which I’ve reread periodically throughout my life, finding things to challenge me each time. I always finish the essay feeling reawakened, aware that I’ve not done enough to make the world a better place by using whatever gifts I may have. Chomsky spurs me to more intense reading and thinking, driving me into action, which might take the form of writing an op-ed piece, joining a march or protest, sending money to a special cause, or just committing myself to further study a political issue.

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The main point of Chomsky’s essay is beautifully framed after a personal introduction in which he alludes to his early admiration for Dwight Macdonald, an influential writer and editor from the generation before him:

Intellectuals are in a position to expose the lies of governments, to analyze actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions. In the Western world at least, they have the power that comes from political liberty, from access to information and freedom of expression. For a privileged minority, Western democracy provides the leisure, the facilities, and the training to seek the truth lying hidden behind the veil of distortion and misrepresentation, ideology, and class interest through which the events of current history are presented to us.

For those who think of Chomsky as tediously anti-American, I would note that here and countless times in the course of his voluminous writing he says that it is only within a relatively free society that intellectuals have the elbow room to work. In a kind of totalizing line shortly after the above quotation, he writes: “It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies.”

This imposes a heavy burden on those of us who think of ourselves as “intellectuals,” a term rarely used now, as it sounds like something Lenin or Trotsky would have used and does, indeed, smack of self-satisfaction, even smugness; but (at least in my own head) it remains useful, embracing anyone who has access to good information, who can read this material critically, analyze data logically, and respond frankly in clear and persuasive language to what is discovered.

Chomsky’s essay appeared at the height of the Vietnam War, and was written mainly in response to that conflict, which ultimately left a poor and rural country in a state of complete disarray, with more than 2 million dead, millions more wounded, and the population’s basic infrastructure decimated. I recall flying over the northern parts of Vietnam some years after the war had ended, and seeing unimaginably vast stretches of denuded forest, the result of herbicidal dumps – 20 million tons of the stuff, including Agent Orange, which has had ongoing health consequences for the Vietnamese.

The complete picture of this devastation was unavailable to Chomsky, or anyone, at the time; but he saw clearly that the so-called experts who defended this ill-conceived and immoral war before congressional committees had evaded their responsibility to speak the truth.

In his usual systematic way, Chomsky seems to delight in citing any number of obsequious authorities, who repeatedly imply that the spread of American-style democracy abroad by force is justified, even if it means destroying this or that particular country in the effort to make them appreciate the benefits of our system. He quotes one expert from the Institute of Far Eastern Studies who tells Congress blithely that the North Vietnamese “would be perfectly happy to be bombed to be free.”

“In no small measure,” Chomsky writes in the penultimate paragraph of his essay, “it is attitudes like this that lie behind the butchery in Vietnam, and we had better face up to them with candor, or we will find our government leading us towards a ‘final solution’ in Vietnam, and in the many Vietnams that inevitably lie ahead.”

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Chomsky, of course, was right to say this, anticipating American military interventions in such places as Lebanon (1982-1984), Grenada (1983), Libya (1986), Panama (1989), the Persian Gulf (1990-1991) and, most disastrously, Iraq (2003-2011), the folly of which led to the creation of ISIS and the catastrophe of Syria.

Needless to say, he has remained a striking commentator on these and countless other American interventions over the past half century, a writer with an astonishing command of modern history. For me, his writing has been consistently cogent, if marred by occasional exaggeration and an ironic tone (fueled by anger or frustration) that occasionally gets out of hand, making him an easy target for opponents who wish to dismiss him as a crackpot or somebody so blinded by anti-American sentiment that he can’t ever give the U.S. government a break.

I like “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” and other essays from this period by Chomsky, because one feels him discovering his voice and forging a method: that relentlessly logical drive, the use of memorable and shocking quotations by authorities, the effortless placing of the argument within historical boundaries and the furious moral edge, which — even in this early essay — sometimes tips over from irony into sarcasm (a swerve that will not serve him well in later years).

Here, however, even the sarcasm seems well-positioned. He begins one paragraph, for instance, by saying: “It is the responsibility of the intellectuals to insist upon the truth, it is also his duty to see events in their historical perspective.” He then refers to the 1938 Munich Agreement, wherein Britain and other European nations allowed the Nazis to annex the Sudetenland — one of the great errors of appeasement in modern times. He goes on to quote Adlai Stevenson on this error, where the former presidential candidate notes how “expansive powers push at more and more doors” until they break open, one by one, and finally resistance becomes necessary, whereupon “major war breaks out.” Chomsky comments: “Of course, the aggressiveness of liberal imperialism is not that of Nazi Germany, though the distinction may seem rather academic to a Vietnamese peasant who is being gassed or incinerated.”

What he says about the gassed, incinerated victims of American military violence plucks our attention. It’s good polemical writing that forces us to confront the realities at hand.

What really got to me when I first read this essay was the astonishing idea that Americans didn’t always act out of purity of motives, wishing the best for everyone. That was what I had been taught by a generation of teachers who had served in World War II, but the Vietnam War forced many in my generation to begin the painful quest to understand American motives in a more complex way. Chomsky writes that it’s “an article of faith that American motives are pure and not subject to analysis.” He goes on to say with almost mock reticence: “We are hardly the first power in history to combine material interests, great technological capacity, and an utter disregard for the suffering and misery of the lower orders.”

The sardonic tone, as in “the lower orders,” disfigures the writing; but at the time this sentence hit me hard. I hadn’t thought about American imperialism until then, and I assumed that Americans worked with benign intent, using our spectacular power to further democratic ends. In fact, American power is utilized almost exclusively to protect American economic interests abroad and to parry blows that come when our behavior creates a huge kickback, as with radical Islamic terrorism.

One of the features of this early essay that will play out expansively in Chomsky’s voluminous later writing is the manner in which he sets up “experts,” quickly to deride them. Famously the Kennedy and Johnson administrations surrounded themselves with the “best and the brightest,” and this continued through the Nixon years, with Henry Kissinger, a Harvard professor, becoming secretary of state. Chomsky skewers a range of these technocrats in this essay, people who in theory are “intellectuals,” from Walter Robinson through Walt Rostow and Henry Kissinger, among many others, each of whom accepts a “fundamental axiom,” which is that “the United States has the right to extend its power and control without limit, insofar as is feasible.” The “responsible” critics, he says, don’t challenge this assumption but suggest that Americans probably can’t “get away with it,” whatever “it” is, at this or that particular time or place.

Chomsky cites a recent article on Vietnam by Irving Kristol in Encounter (which was soon to be exposed as a recipient of CIA funding) where the “teach-in movement” is criticized: Professors and students would sit together and talk about the war outside of class times and classrooms. (I had myself attended several of these events, so I sat to attention while reading.) Kristol was an early neocon, a proponent of realpolitik contrasted college professor-intellectuals against the war as “unreasonable, ideological types” motived by “simple, virtuous ‘anti-imperialism’” with sober experts like himself.

Chomsky dives in: “I am not interested here in whether Kristol’s characterization of protest and dissent is accurate, but rather in the assumptions that it expresses with respect to such questions as these: Is the purity of American motives a matter that is beyond discussion, or that is irrelevant to discussion? Should decisions be left to ‘experts’ with Washington contacts?” He questions the whole notion of “expertise” here, the assumption that these men (there were almost no women “experts” in the mid-’60s) possessed relevant information that was “not in the public domain,” and that they would make the “best” decisions on matters of policy.

Chomsky was, and remains, a lay analyst of foreign affairs, with no academic degrees in the field. He was not an “expert” on Southeast Asia at the time, just a highly informed and very smart person who could access the relevant data and make judgments. He would go on, over the next five decades, to apply his relentless form of criticism to a dizzying array of domestic and foreign policy issues — at times making sweeping statements and severe judgments that would challenge and inspire many but also create a minor cottage industry devoted to debunking Chomsky.

This is not the place to defend Chomsky against his critics, as this ground has been endlessly rehashed. It’s enough to say that many intelligent critics over the years would find Chomsky self-righteous and splenetic, quick to accuse American power brokers of evil motives, too easy to grant a pass to mass murderers like Pol Pot or, during the period before the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein.

I take it for granted, as I suspect Chomsky does, that in foreign affairs there are so many moving parts that it’s difficult to pin blame anywhere. One may see George W. Bush, for instance, as the propelling force behind the catastrophe of the Iraq War, but surely even that blunder was a complex matter, with a mix of oil interests (represented by Dick Cheney) and perhaps naive political motives as well. One recalls “experts” like Paul Wolfowitz, who told a congressional committee on February. 27, 2003, that he was “reasonably certain” that the Iraqi people would “greet us as liberators.”

Fifty years after writing “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” Chomsky remains vigorous and shockingly productive, and — in the dawning age of President Donald Trump — one can only hope he has a few more years left. In a recent interview, he said (with an intentional hyperbole that has always been a key weapon in his arsenal of rhetorical moves) that the election of Trump “placed total control of the government — executive, Congress, the Supreme Court — in the hands of the Republican Party, which has become the most dangerous organization in world history.”

Chomsky acknowledged that the “last phrase may seem outlandish, even outrageous,” but went on to explain that he believes that the denial of global warming means “racing as rapidly as possible to destruction of organized human life.” As he would, he laid out in some detail the threat of climate change, pointing to the tens of millions in Bangladesh who will soon have to flee from “low-lying plains … because of sea level rise and more severe weather, creating a migrant crisis that will make today’s pale in significance.”

I don’t know that, in fact, the Republican Party of today is really more dangerous than, say, the Nazi or Stalinist or Maoist dictatorships that left tens of millions dead. But, as ever, Chomsky makes his point memorably, and forces us to confront an uncomfortable situation.

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Intellectuals need to  take on this “dangerously ill-informed bully in the White House”and Malaysia’s most corrupt and intellectually challenged Prime Minister Najib Razak and other kleptocrats. Speak the Truth to Power–Din Merican

As I reread Chomsky’s essay on the responsibility of intellectuals, it strikes me forcefully that not one of us who has been trained to think critically and to write lucidly has the option to remain silent now. Too much is at stake, including the survival of some form of American democracy and decency itself, if not an entire ecosystem. With a dangerously ill-informed bully in the White House, a man almost immune to facts and rational thought, we who have training in critical thought and exposition must tirelessly call a spade a spade, a demagogue a demagogue. And the lies that emanate from the Trump administration must be patiently, insistently and thoroughly deconstructed. This is the responsibility of the intellectual, now more than ever.

Jay Parini, a poet and novelist, teaches at Middlebury College. His most recent book is New and Collected Poems, 1975-2015.”

Recommended Read:

https://www.pdx.edu/challenge-program/sites/www.pdx.edu.challenge-program/files/KRANE-TheResponsibilityofIntellectuals.pdf