The Erudite and Prolific Noam Chomsky: A Man of Conviction


September 29, 2016

The Erudite and Prolific Noam Chomsky: A Man of Conviction

Knowledge and Power–A Documentary

Manufacturing Consent is my favorite Noam Chomsky book. It reminds me of the awesome power of government in shaping public perception and influencing the way we think about public and foreign policy.

The media dominates our lives for as long as I can remember. When I was very much younger in 1950s I relied on the media and the radio for news and views and never realised that I was being manipulated by Big Brother to support causes which I would not  have agreed to if I had access to sources of information other than what the government was sending out through the airwaves for public consumption.

Fortunately, to day I can no longer be led to accept “official truths”from my government and its controlled media. I have always maintained a posture of doubt and will not accept anything I read without subjecting them to careful scrutiny. Naom Chomsky’s books have influenced the way I think.–Din Merican

Elect Trump? How Could we?


by Thomas L. Friedman

My reaction to the Donald Trump-Hillary Clinton debate can be summarised with one word: “How?”

How in the world do we put a man in the Oval Office who thinks NATO is a shopping mall where the tenants aren’t paying enough rent to the US landlord?

NATO is not a shopping mall; it is a strategic alliance that won the Cold War, keeps Europe a stable trading partner for US companies and prevents every European country — particularly Germany — from getting their own nukes to counterbalance Russia, by sheltering them all under America’s nuclear umbrella.

How do we put in the Oval Office a man who does not know enough “beef” about key policies to finish a two-minute answer on any issue without the hamburger helper of bluster, insults and repetition?

How do we put in the Oval Office a man who suggests that the recent spate of cyberattacks — which any senior US intelligence official will tell you came without question from Russia — might not have come from Russia but could have been done by “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds”?

How do we put in the Oval Office a man who boasts that he tries to pay zero federal taxes but then complains that our airports and roads are falling apart and there is not enough money for our veterans?

How do we put in the Oval Office a man who tries to prove he was against the Iraq War — even though he publicly stated his support for it when it began — by saying he said so privately to his pal Sean Hannity at Fox News? Trump is so caught up with his own infallibility that he didn’t think to respond in the debate: “Yes, I supported the Iraq War as a private citizen, but Hillary voted for it as a senator when she had all the intelligence and whose job it was to make the right judgment.”

How do we put in the Oval Office someone who says we should not have gone into Iraq, but since we did, “we should have taken the oil — ISIS would not have been able to form … because the oil was their primary source of income.”

ISIS formed before it managed to pump any oil, and it sustained itself with millions of dollars that it stole from Iraq’s central bank in Mosul. Meanwhile, Iraq has the world’s fifth-largest oil reserves — 140 billion barrels. Can you imagine how many years we’d have to stay there to pump it all and how much doing so would tarnish our moral standing around the world and energise every jihadi?

How do we put in the Oval Office someone whose campaign manager has to go on every morning show after the debate and lie to try to make up for the nonsense her boss spouted? Kellyanne Conway told CNN on Tuesday morning that when it comes to climate change, “We don’t know what Hillary Clinton believes, because nobody ever asks her.”

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Say what? As Secretary of State, Clinton backed every global climate negotiation and clean energy initiative. That’s like saying no one knows Hillary’s position on women’s rights.

Conway then went on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” and argued that Clinton, who was secretary of state from 2009 to 2013, had never created a job and was responsible for the lack of adequate “roads and bridges” in our country. When challenged on that by MGM Resorts’ CEO, James Murren — who argued that his business was up, that the economy was improving and that Clinton’s job as secretary of state was to create stability — Conway responded that Clinton had nothing to do with any improvements in the economy because “she’s never been president so she’s created no financial stability.”

I see: Everything wrong is Clinton’s fault and anything good is to the president’s credit alone. Silly.

The “Squawk Box” segment was devoted to the fact that while Trump claims that he will get the economy growing, very few CEOs of major US companies are supporting him. Also, interesting how positively the stock market reacted to Trump’s debate defeat. Maybe because CEOs and investors know that Trump and Conway are con artists and that recent statistics show income gaps are actually narrowing, wages are rising and poverty is easing.

The Trump-Conway shtick is to trash the country so they can make us great again. Fact: We have problems and not everyone is enjoying the fruits of our economy, but if you want to be an optimist about America, stand on your head — the country looks so much better from the bottom up. What you see are towns and regions not waiting for Washington DC, but coming together themselves to fix infrastructure, education and governance. I see it everywhere I go.

I am not enamoured of Clinton’s stale, liberal, centralised view of politics, but she is sane and responsible; she’ll do her homework, can grow in the job, and might even work well with Republicans, as she did as a senator.

Trump promises change, but change that comes from someone who thinks people who pay taxes are suckers and who thinks he can show up before an audience of 100 million without preparation or real plans and talk about serious issues with no more sophistication than your crazy uncle — and expect to get away with it — is change the country can’t afford.

Electing such a man would be insanity. — The New York Times

Reassessing Mahathir


September 28, 2016

COMMENT: We Malaysians must be a bunch of sentimental fools and free riders. It speaks volumes of who we are that we have to depend on a 92-year old politician to bring about change. In the first place, he created this situation by removing all his rivals like Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, Tun Musa Hitam and Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim in UMNO, and second by dismantling our system of checks and balances to create a powerful Executive Branch.

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It surprises me to read this piece from Mariam Mokhtar who I thought was a critic of everything Mahathir stood for. She is mistaken to think that the man will change our political landscape. He is not a Renaissance man. He is an old school politician through and through.

I hold him accountable for what he has done to our country during 22 years of his rule. Mariam mentions his Look East Policy. Well, that policy which was initiated by the LDP in Japan, and later rejected after the Asian Financial Crisis of 1988 by the Japanese people, is crony capitalism. UMNO run by Najib Razak today is a party of crony capitalists and kleptocrats.

Mahathir now advocates good governance and the Rule of Law, yet when he was in power, he destroyed our institutions including the Judiciary. The system sucks and there is no leader with the character and integrity to lead us out of the rut at this time. We are condemned to stay in a state of moral crisis for some time to come.–Din Merican

Reassessing Mahathir

by Mariam Mokhtar

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

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Everyone knows that former PM Mahathir Mohamad’s alignment with the opposition is the result of his failure to oust Prime Minister Najib Razak on his own steam. You may call it a desperate move, or you may call it daft. But does the rakyat have a choice?

With Malaysia in deep crisis, and the opposition’s failure to stand united, could Mahathir be our saviour?

At his recent talk in London, he said, “There is common interest between me and Anwar Ibrahim. He appreciates that the problem of the country is the PM, that he should be removed.”

He criticised Najib’s alleged lack of vision, saying, “This PM regards high income as a sign that we are developed. High income must be accompanied by high productivity. Or else we will price ourselves out of the market.

“He has revised the pay scale several times. The operating cost of the government is so big that there is not enough money left for development.

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For the economy to grow, you must have the rule of law. You must have good governance.–Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad

“It is not about money alone. It is about the quality of life in Malaysia – better education, a higher standard of living and people doing research work. These are what would make a developed country. If we go by income alone, then Saudi Arabia would be a developed country.”

He called on concerned Malaysians to join the opposition “if you wish to help us overthrow this government.”

On encouraging foreign investment, he said Malaysia needed to create an environment conducive to business. “For the economy to grow, you must have the rule of law. You must have good governance.”

He reminded us that under his rule, the concept of Malaysia Incorporated was used to treat the whole nation as one big company, and added, “It is important not to abuse power” and to fight corruption.

When asked if he was untouchable, he said, “My coming here to talk is not something which the government likes. Every time I say the wrong thing, the police question me. Desperate people do desperate things.”

Not everyone is a fan of Mahathir, but Malaysians are hungry for change and many are prepared to listen to his message.

One man said, “I was sceptical at first. But I have noticed that over several months, he has given major concessions. For instance, although at first he only wanted to see Najib ousted, he said at a recent talk that Umno-Baru must be destroyed.”

Another Mahathir sceptic said, “I came with an open mind. I admit that I am not his fan but when he spoke, I thought he made a lot of sense. I found myself nodding in agreement to most of the things he said.”

Addressing the question of a candidate for PM, Mahathir said, “It is for the people to decide.” Referring to his son Mukhriz, he said, “If he can be popular enough to win elections and become PM, that is his right.”

The statement was met with applause. Was it for Mukhriz or was it for Mahathir’s magnanimity?

How American Politics Went Insane–Read On


September 25, 2016

How American Politics Went Insane

by Jonathan Rauch

It happened gradually—and until the U.S. figures out how to treat the problem, it will only get worse.

It’s 2020, four years from now. The campaign is under way to succeed the president, who is retiring after a single wretched term. Voters are angrier than ever—at politicians, at compromisers, at the establishment. Congress and the White House seem incapable of working together on anything, even when their interests align. With lawmaking at a standstill, the president’s use of executive orders and regulatory discretion has reached a level that Congress views as dictatorial—not that Congress can do anything about it, except file lawsuits that the divided Supreme Court, its three vacancies unfilled, has been unable to resolve.

On Capitol Hill, Speaker Paul Ryan resigned after proving unable to pass a budget, or much else. The House burned through two more speakers and one “acting” speaker, a job invented following four speakerless months. The Senate, meanwhile, is tied in knots by wannabe presidents and aspiring talk-show hosts, who use the chamber as a social-media platform to build their brands by obstructing—well, everything. The Defense Department is among hundreds of agencies that have not been reauthorized, the government has shut down three times, and, yes, it finally happened: The United States briefly defaulted on the national debt, precipitating a market collapse and an economic downturn. No one wanted that outcome, but no one was able to prevent it.

As the presidential primaries unfold, Kanye West is leading a fractured field of Democrats. The Republican front-runner is Phil Robertson, of Duck Dynasty fame. Elected governor of Louisiana only a few months ago, he is promising to defy the Washington establishment by never trimming his beard. Party elders have given up all pretense of being more than spectators, and most of the candidates have given up all pretense of party loyalty. On the debate stages, and everywhere else, anything goes.

I could continue, but you get the gist. Yes, the political future I’ve described is unreal. But it is also a linear extrapolation of several trends on vivid display right now. Astonishingly, the 2016 Republican presidential race has been dominated by a candidate who is not, in any meaningful sense, a Republican. According to registration records, since 1987 Donald Trump has been a Republican, then an independent, then a Democrat, then a Republican, then “I do not wish to enroll in a party,” then a Republican; he has donated to both parties; he has shown loyalty to and affinity for neither. The second-place candidate, Republican Senator Ted Cruz, built his brand by tearing down his party’s: slurring the Senate Republican leader, railing against the Republican establishment, and closing the government as a career move…

READ ON: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/07/how-american-politics-went-insane/485570/

Principled Politics of our Time


September 25, 2016

 Principled Politics of Our Time

by Dr. Munir Majid

http://www.thestar.com.my

 

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ALAIN Juppé may not be a household name in Malaysia but the principled politics of this former French Prime Minister (1995-1997) in his country’s fraught national environment is worthy of note.

Despite France’s reputation for being the most pessimistic nation on earth, he projects himself as a prophet of happiness. He attunes himself to the promise of a happy national identity.

He strongly argues the diverse and mixed society is not a threat to France. He is against calls for a ban on burkinis (a preferred swimming costume among Muslim women). He proclaims: “I won’t turn people in France against each other.” Notably, in the Islamophobic climate in France, he holds to the concept of integration against assimilation.

Juppe is not a starry-eyed idealist however. His clear integration carries fixed rules: charter of secularism, reorganise Islam in France to ensure French funding and preaching, firm line on immigration control with annual quotas set by Parliament.

For him: “The role of a political leader is not to add to the unhappiness of the times, or to darken the situation even more.”Juppé is a Gaullist, fighting against Nicolas Sarkozy to win nomination of his party, Les Republicans, for next spring’s presidential election.

Sarkozy is riding the wave of popular sentiment to win nomination by speaking out against Muslims, immigration and all things not lily-white.

Jean-Claude Juncker, perhaps better known in Malaysia as President of the European Commission, sees the need for better explanation of European values against blatant nationalism, the galloping populism that is gripping Europe.

The values of freedom, tolerance and democracy, and the rule of law are a high point for humanity which must be defended. In Britain, after Brexit, some segments of the populace have taken that vote as a democratic mandate for racism.

Polish people, one of the most hardworking in the country’s labour force, have been beaten and, in one case, murdered on the streets of Essex. As of last week there had been 31 attacks on Poles since the Brexit referendum: in Plymouth, Yeovil, St Ives, Harlow and Leeds, among others.

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Juncker is very clear the whole European polity must fight against discrimination and racism. The British Government and laws, of course, do not countenance these attacks.

But there is undoubtedly a strong undercurrent of intolerance and hate in much of Europe which not insignificant numbers of politicians are exploiting and whipping into huge waves of all possible illiberal tendencies.

There are brave, liberal and true politicians who are willing to stand against these waves, for the values of the liberal and tolerant order that recognises the total and full rights of all citizens, not a regime that reduces some of them to the status of semi-citizens, a regime that hounds them to the periphery of national life. People like Juppé and Juncker have a tough fight ahead. But they are in it.

In America we see the rise of Donald Trump as nominee of Abraham’s Lincoln’s party to be President. That is how close illiberalism and intolerance can get to the seat of power to wreak disastrous outcomes: this in America, but not forgetting Europe or anywhere else.

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There are grave dangers of Trump-style fear and demagoguery, and Nicolas Sarkozy’s hard-line brand of national-identity politics, surfing on a fear of Islam and cultural difference. Don’t forget, not too long ago Sarkozy was a respectable centrist politician and President of France. That is how strong the dangerous currents are.

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Former Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell may call Trump “a national disgrace” and an “international pariah” (in a leaked email to a former aide in June) but his rise reflects what is happening in America as well.

What the Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton calls the “basket of deplorables” – whether half or all of them – are his supporters, who are American. They are there ready to be turned into overt racists and jingoists by cleverly exploitative politicians like Trump.

There is an argument claiming these Trump supporters are the uneducated underclass – the lumpenproletariat – who have been under-served and under-provided in an economy of huge disparities of income and wealth. This may be so. But as many as half of them? Is American society that poor?

There are actually perfectly “normal and respectable” Americans ready to be had, to go down that racist, Islamophobic and jingoistic path. Quick to blame others. Fast on the draw to exaggerate and to caricature.

These are the people – and there are many of them in the American Congress – who have been against Barack Obama these past eight years he has been US President because he is black.

They have been driven by the power to show, even if a majority of Americans may support Obama, they can jam it and make it difficult, sometimes impossible, for him to do his job – not infrequently against America’s own interest.

These are the people who are so anti-Muslim just beneath the surface that they are quick when scratched to jump and point at the Islamist threat to America. On the other hand they do not see gun laws and the police shooting blacks as any threat to American society.

They are irrational. They are emotional. They are one plus one equals to two people. The type one plus one equals to two populist politicians lap up. Politicians with no principles. Politicians who do not understand the complexity of things.

It is all too easy to whip up xenophobia among them. Looking at all this from Asia, we have no cause to be complacent. Indeed, we have our own dark spots in many countries.

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Taking just Malaysia, we have to defend our democratic, liberal and tolerant tradition. If we allow our populist politicians to ride roughshod over it there will be hell to pay not too far down the road.

It is deeply disturbing the way “liberal” has been turned into a bad word. As if it meant licence and excess, and therefore has to be snuffed out. To be replaced by what? A plutocratic religious order?

Exhortations and many actions point to this. Whipping up a frenzy.It is also deeply disturbing that the consensus on a multi-racial and multi-religious society in Malaysia is being challenged by some quarters. Again, to put what in its place? A uniracial, monocultural polity?

These are big issues principled politicians should take a stand on – like Juppé and Juncker.

Individuals and commentators, and groups like the G25, can make their point, but even they are attacked for being “liberals” who know nothing about religion – by those who claim to know everything.

But even groups like the G25 and those from civil society will ultimately be ineffective if leaders in the formal political system do not take up their cause. Or they have to get into politics.

Let us remind ourselves. When we talk about Vision 2020 we must not just talk about the economic targets. All this was to happen in a country and society that was “democratic, liberal and tolerant.” In a system with “strong moral and ethical values.” Go back and read that statement in 1991 – and hopefully be revived.

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Our King and Rukun Negara

Go back to Rukun Negara in 1970. The aspirations and principles expressed for our society, even if just after the May 1969 racial riots.

Look at them closely: Belief in God; loyalty to King and country; democratic way of life; just society; liberal approach to rich and diverse cultural tradition; rule of law; good behaviour and morality.

They were strong expressions that go back to the Federal Constitution espoused by the two greatest political leaders this country has ever had – Tun Abdul Razak Hussein and Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman – both of whom had the strength of character and leadership to define the future, even as they sought to repair the damage done to the country in 1969.

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We owe it to them – and to ourselves – to make sure the country does not deteriorate. As we look at what is happening in our country, at what is happening in Europe, America and elsewhere in Asia, our politicians particularly must arrest populist tendencies and provide principled leadership to secure the future, and not just fight among themselves for the next piece of cake.

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