NY Times BOOK REVIEW: Reporter by Seymour M. Hersh

June 1, 2018

NY Times BOOK REVIEW: Reporter by Seymour M. Hersh

The qualities that make Seymour Hersh a first-rate reporter — his hustle, his wonkiness, his nighthawk drive to unearth a radioactive fact and then top that fact — make him a second-rate memoirist. Like a greyhound or a kamikaze pilot or an insurance man peddling a policy (he sometimes reminds the reader of each), he’s not built for reflection.

It’s all here in his new memoir, “Reporter,” if by “all” we mean the filing-cabinet details behind his greatest scoops, the settling dust of old deadline clashes. Hersh won a Pulitzer Prize in 1970, at 33, for his freelance expose on the massacre by American troops at My Lai village during the Vietnam War.

He was soon hired by The New York Times and, during the 1970s and early ’80s, did supersnoop work on stories including Watergate, the secret bombing of Cambodia, and C.I.A. spying on domestic antiwar protesters.

Writing for The New Yorker later in his career, he was largely responsible for alerting the world to the torture of prisoners by Americans at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.

For Hersh’s subjects, becoming an object of his interest is like having the Red Baron on your tail. He made Henry Kissinger paranoid. (“Sy Hersh is out to get me.”) The C.I.A. director William Colby was caught on tape saying, “He knows more about this place than I do.”

Hersh was so single-minded that, in the early 1970s, he met John Lennon and Yoko Ono at a party and had no idea who they were. “How was I to know?” he writes in his new book. “Neither had anything to do with Watergate.”

If Hersh rarely seems quite human, neither does “Reporter.” He piles on the policy and deadline details while leaving people and their beating hearts mostly behind.

His wife and children, for example, appear in this book mostly as afterthoughts. We do get a sense of his wife’s suffering when she’s introduced to a senior editor at The Times who says: “Oh my, Mrs. Hersh. You have my heartfelt condolences.”

Omitting family matters is not a mortal sin. This book is titled “Reporter,” not “Husband,” “Father,” “Lover” or “Coach.” Christopher Hitchens, in his memoir “Hitch-22,” left his romantic and family life to the side as well.

But his book was stacked high with memories of friendships and avenues of human joy and pain. Hitchens could size up a person, often hilariously, in a paragraph or two. Here’s where “Reporter” falls short.

Hersh knew nearly everyone who mattered in American journalism. He took long walks with his iconoclastic mentor, I. F. Stone. He played tennis regularly with Ben Bradlee, as well as with Bob Woodward and the district attorney Robert M. Morgenthau.

He saw movies with Daniel Ellsberg; drank martinis with his neighbor, the columnist Mary McGrory; played poker with others; and calls Gloria Emerson and Anthony Lewis, for example, dear friends.

Seymour M. HershCreditDon J. Usner

Yet he barely evokes any of these people. There’s no crosshatching and little context. It’s as if they were all John and Yoko. He sees other humans but they do not compute.

Hersh grew up on the South Side of Chicago, the son of immigrants who had arrived at Ellis Island. His father owned a dry cleaners in a poor and mostly black neighborhood. Working there as a young man, Hersh writes, helped give him the gift of gab.

He did poorly at school and attended a two-year junior college before a professor saw his promise as a writer and got him into the University of Chicago. He went briefly to law school before falling in love with the Ben Hecht-like romance of Chicago journalism.


He loved the wire service copy of the old pros, “just fact after fact, with no analysis, presented in clean, spare prose under rat-a-tat pressure.” He worked at small papers before being assigned to The Associated Press’s Washington bureau in 1965. He’d achieved liftoff.

Hersh felt keenly the injustice of the Vietnam War, and loathed dissembling of every variety. He was briefly Senator Eugene J. McCarthy’s press secretary during McCarthy’s quixotic bid for the presidency.

McCarthy, to Hersh’s dismay, skipped an important fund-raiser at the last minute to see a film version of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” with another staffer. The two had heard the movie contained a vulgar exclamation that was not often heard in films at the time.

To be fair, Hersh does get his share of stories told. Battles with his journalistic ally and nemesis Abe Rosenthal, a legendary editor of The Times, are delightfully recounted.

Hersh chafed under what he saw as The Times’s overly cautious journalistic mind-set. Rosenthal, on the other hand, liked to tousle Hersh’s hair and ask, “How’s my little commie?”

For legal reasons, editors at The Times so tamped down one of his stories — a 1976 series about the mobbed-up fixer Sidney Korshak — that Hersh threw his typewriter through an office window.

The best story told here may be about Lyndon B. Johnson defecating on a dirt road in front of The Times reporter Tom Wicker to indicate what he thought of his work.

In recent years, Hersh has often published his work, including an account of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, in less mainstream outlets. Some of this reporting has been challenged, and he has been criticized for his tendency to make incendiary claims in public speeches that go beyond what the facts he has produced will support. Hersh’s comment: “I will happily permit history to be the judge of my recent work.”

So many of journalism’s old war dogs have left or are leaving us, and there’s a sense that we won’t get many more memoirs like this one. If this book’s pilot light isn’t fully lit, it still puts a big career across.

Hersh was never a hack or a safe man while he leapt tall deadlines in single bounds. Send him into any forest and he would come back with two handfuls of arrowheads, a buried deposit box and a cigar.

He’s at work on a book about Dick Cheney, who has hated him for decades. Judge a man by his enemies. I’ll place my advance.

He’s at work on a book about Dick Cheney, who has hated him for decades. Judge a man by his enemies. I’ll place my advance order right now.

Follow Dwight Garner on Twitter: @DwightGarner.

A Memoir
By Seymour M. Hersh
Illustrated. 355 pages. Alfred A. Knopf. $27.95.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page C5 of the New York edition with the headline: Beating Deadlines and Prying Open History. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper |

America’s Deep State — of Law and Lawyers

April 22, 2018

America’s Deep State — of Law and Lawyers

by Fareed Zakaria


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Comey’s memoir reveals that America does indeed have a deep state. It is one of law and lawyers. And we should be deeply grateful for it.–Fareed Zakaria

The most remarkable parts of James B. Comey’s memoir are not about President Trump. We already knew most of the interesting revelations, and some of the others are gossip and color commentary. But in his discussion of the George W. Bush administration, Comey is far more revealing and highlights something crucial and hopeful about America: the role of lawyers and our legal culture.

Many of the battles the Trump administration is having with the so-called deep state are reruns of battles from the Bush years. As Comey recounts in detail, after 9/11 the Bush administration put in place a surveillance program called “Stellar Wind” that Justice Department lawyers decided, on review, was illegal. Comey, who in March 2004 was deputy attorney general (and filling in for his boss, John D. Ashcroft, who was ill), refused to renew the program.

White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. and White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales decided to head to Ashcroft’s hospital room to pressure him to sign the reauthorization documents, over Comey’s objections. On learning of this, Comey raced to the hospital and asked then-FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III to join him for moral support. It turned out Ashcroft didn’t need any prodding; he turned Card and Gonzales away. Mueller, who arrived a few minutes afterward, said to the bedridden attorney general, who was technically his boss, “In every man’s life there comes a time when the good Lord tests him. You passed your test tonight.” Comey writes that he felt like crying. “The law had held.”

Round Two happened over torture. The Bush administration wanted to claim that its “enhanced interrogation techniques” were lawful. Comey believed they were not, as did the chief counsel at the Justice Department, Jack Goldsmith. So Comey pushed back as much as he could.

In all of these cases, the pressure from the White House was intense, including a stunning exchange that Comey recounts between himself and Bush. “I say what the law is for the executive branch,” Bush explained to his sub-Cabinet appointee. Comey responded, “You do, sir. But only I can say what the Justice Department can certify as lawful. And we can’t here. We have done our best, but as Martin Luther said, ‘Here I stand. I can do no other.’ ”

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What is the End Games of the Trump-Russia Probe?

What is striking about these episodes is not only that Comey and Mueller were subordinates who owed their jobs to Bush, but also that they were Republicans. Yet the two of them have consistently put their obligations to the law and the country above personal loyalty and partisan politics.

This behavior may be a product of personal character, but it is also formed by legal training. The story is really not just about Mueller and Comey but about the lawyers in various parts of the government who believe that it is crucial for the country that the government operate within the law — even if the president wishes otherwise. Recall that when Trump wanted to fire Mueller last June, White House counsel Donald McGahn reportedly threatened to resign in protest.

Just before leaving the Bush administration, Comey gave a speech to the National Security Agency in which he said, “It is the job of a good lawyer to say ‘yes.’ It is as much the job of a good lawyer to say ‘no.’ ‘No’ is much, much harder. ‘No’ must be spoken into a storm of crisis, with loud voices all around, with lives hanging in the balance. ‘No’ is often the undoing of a career.”

One of the oft-repeated criticisms of America is that it has too many lawyers. Maybe, but one of the country’s great strengths is its legal culture. As I’ve written before, Alexis de Tocqueville worried that without a class of patriotic and selfless aristocrats, the United States could fall prey to demagogues and populists. But he took comfort in the fact that, as he put it, American aristocracy can be found “at the bar or on the bench.” Tocqueville saw that lawyers, with their sense of civic duty, created a “form of public accountability that would help preserve the blessings of democracy without allowing its untrammeled vices.”

Comey’s memoir reveals that America does indeed have a deep state. It is one of law and lawyers. And we should be deeply grateful for it.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Robert Kuok, Fake News,Najib Razak, and UMNO Politics

March 1, 2018

Robert Kuok, Fake News,Najib Razak, and UMNO Politics

by P Gunasegaram@www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for Najib Razak criticises Robert Kuok
A Towering Malaysian and Patriot, Tan Sri Robert Kuok


QUESTION TIME | The ongoing brouhaha over Robert Kuok and his alleged donations to DAP and funding of The Malaysian Insight, both of which he strongly denied, and the subsequent outrage among some UMNO members offers some interesting insights into fake news and how it is used in UMNO politics.


It reflects also that nothing has changed from the establishment view that government contracts are theirs to give whichever way they want and those who get them are to be eternally grateful to the government, the same way the government tells civil servants they should be grateful for what they are getting in salaries and pensions.

First, what was reported by a discredited blogger, Raja Petra Kamarudin, was taken to be the truth (when it could well have been fake news) by UMNO leaders who appeared to follow the cue from Prime Minister and UMNO President Najib Razak that seemed to indicate that Kuok was fodder for electioneering.

Raja Petra, in a tale of conspiracy and intrigue, written only the way he can with truth, conjecture and unnamed sources for very serious allegations mixed in a heady concoction, spins a tall story of which the main allegation is that Kuok sought to overthrow Umno by splitting up the Malays and supporting opposition parties, including funding them and financing news portals opposed to the government.


The following gives a flavour of what his main contentions are:

“But playing the Chinese market alone is not enough. If it was then UMNO and Barisan Nasional would already have been toppled back in 2008 or 2013. It required more than just 85% or 90% Chinese votes. It also needed for the Malays to be split into four or five opposing groups. And this was what DAP had been doing since soon after the 2013 general election: dividing the Malays into UMNO, PAS, PKR, PPBM and Parti Amanah Nasional (PAN). And to achieve that it required tons of money, which Robert Kuok was able to provide.

“Crucial to this game was to dominate the social media. Online portals such as The Malaysian Insight and a team of a few thousand cyber-troopers such as DAP’s Red Bean Army would be needed for this. And this, yet again, would need tens of millions, which is mere dedak (or animal feed) for a billionaire such as Robert Kuok.

“So Robert Kuok asked Lim Kit Siang and his son, Guan Eng, who were very close to Jahabar Sadiq (who runs Malaysian Insight), to discuss The Malaysian Insight’s financial needs and how they could come in to provide the RM50 million that The Malaysian Insight needs.

“Ho Kay Tat (CEO of the Edge) would also be appointed the de facto editor-in-chief to coordinate the operations from behind the scenes while making sure that the Malay ‘face’ of The Malaysian Insight is not compromised while the owners of the portal would be paid RM2 million a month to ‘play ball’ and offer the portal immunity from any government clampdown.”

Unjustified criticism

What a fantastic story, and this some UMNO politicians believe to be true! But this may go back to Kuok’s book. Kuok had written a memoir released late last year that had criticised cronyism in Malaysia which is likely to have offended many within UMNO.

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 The most talked about blockbuster Robert Kuok Memoir in Malaysia

Later, after Raja Petra’s article, Najib took it upon himself to criticise Kuok: “If we look at the list of names of the richest people in Malaysia, such as Robert Kuok, who gave him the key to have a monopoly on rice and sugar? It was given to him by the ruling government.”

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Prime Minister Najib Razak, Dispenser in Chief of Malaysian Fake News seen his First Lady Rosmah Mansor. He is playing dangerous Malay politics, and creating tensions with his own UMNO-BN Cabinet over Billionaire  and Philanthropist Robert Kuok

It was almost as if Najib was endorsing what Raja Petra was saying and given the state of shadow politics in Umno, Kuok became a target for those Umno leaders aspiring for bigger leadership roles.

A tirade of unjustified criticism against Kuok followed, of which the worse by far was from Tourism and Culture Minister Nazri Abdul Aziz with no thought of whether Raja Petra’s free-wheeling and unproven allegations were true or not. Umno officials did not care for the accuracy of the news but used it to whack away at Kuok.

Nazri’s attack was personal and insulting: “Don’t be a ‘pondan’ (effeminate). Don’t be a hen (ayam betina) which hides behind the wall in Hong Kong.” And inflammatory: “Kuok, we will fight you. Don’t think you are rich. If you consider yourself rich, then join politics. Don’t be a coward and hide (overseas), just to fund DAP in order for BN to collapse. BN accepts your challenge.” There were similar criticisms by other UMNO leaders.

Even as Kuok issued a statement denying Raja Petra’s allegations and threatening legal action, Chinese Malaysian leaders and others rose to Kuok’s defence, with even the MCA calling on UMNO to call off attacks on Kuok.

Najib’s office then issued a statement that appeared to be conciliatory, saying that the PM welcomed tycoon Robert Kuok’s “deep appreciation” of the opportunities afforded to him.

A dangerous game

UMNO was playing a very dangerous game here. While they were using the age-old game of stoking racial tensions to gain Malay support, such tactics could alienate further the already alienated Chinese voters. Perhaps the UMNO strategy could be to go for Malay votes given that Chinese votes are likely to be mainly against UMNO and BN anyway.

There is no denying, however, that many in UMNO were upset with Kuok’s controversial book which had a lot to say about corruption and racial politics. An example: “The riots of 13 May 1969 were a great shock to the system, but not a surprise. Extremist Malays attributed the poverty of many Malays to the plundering Chinese and Indians. Leaders like Tunku Abdul Rahman, who could see both sides, were no longer able to hold back the hotheads.

“The more thoughtful leaders were shunted and extremists hijacked power. They chanted the same slogans as the hotheads – the Malays are underprivileged; the Malays are bullied – while themselves seeking to become super-rich. When these Malays become rich, not many of them did anything for the poor Malays; the Chinese and Indians who became rich created jobs, many of them filled by Malays.”


That’s a strong indictment against patronage politics which saw many Malays who espoused Malay rights becoming super-rich through rent-seeking activities with no real contribution to the economy and job creation. That surely would have rankled UMNO politicians, some of whom would have been described to a tee in the book.

The whole episode is clear illustration of how UMNO uses fake and uncorroborated news to discredit those who it considers its enemies in a highly orchestrated manner. That just goes to strengthen the belief that new laws against fake news will be selectively applied to its detractors the same way sedition, security, secrets and corruption laws have been in the past.

It also goes to show that UMNO is still very much in the mould of playing base racial politics to stoke hatred against other races even if that should hurt other members in its coalition. The sequence of events shows a reconciliatory stance towards the end but the damage has been done.

Finally, there is the paternalistic attitude that as the government it holds the absolute right to distribute the largesse of the country and award contracts any which way it wants. In a responsible democracy however, national assets are held in trust by the government for the people to be handled carefully at all times with maximum benefit to the nation and its people. Contracts, for instance, should be awarded only after open tenders and careful evaluation of costs and benefits, and the capability and capacity of those involved to deliver it instead of awarding it to mere commission agents of third parties.

UMNO has a long way to go as this needless tirade against Kuok indicates.

P GUNASEGARAM likes this wise Malay saying: ‘Siapa yang makan cili, dia terasa pedas.’ E-mail: t.p.guna@gmail.com.

Malaysia’s national shipping line: The Robert Kuok Memoirs

November 27, 2017

How I launched Malaysia’s national shipping line (and what Genghis Khan had to do with it): the Robert Kuok memoirs

In the fifth extract from Robert Kuok’s memoir, the Malaysian-born tycoon reveals how patriotism drove him to launch the country’s national shipping line and how he drew inspiration from the Mongol warrior.

By Robert Kuok



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Shipping Magnate Frank  WK Tsao

In 1967, word reached my ears that the Blue Funnel Group was coming to set up the national shipping line of Malaysia. Blue Funnel was probably the largest shipping conglomerate in Britain at that time. It owned Blue Funnel, Glen Line, Straits Steamship Co in Singapore, and many other lines. The Executive Chairman, a man whom I recall walked with a bad limp, was making frequent lobbying trips from London to Kuala Lumpur. I was interested in applying for the licence, so I chatted with a few of my Malay civil-servant friends. They agreed that I should put in a similar application to be considered for the right to establish the national shipping line.

My interest was partly patriotism … to help Malaysia not be tied to the apron string of the ex-colonial government

My interest was partly patriotism – a desire to help Malaysia to launch its own independent shipping line and not be tied to the apron strings of the ex-colonial government of Britain through Blue Funnel. I had become interested in shipping from about 1964, due to our large-scale buying of sugar for our refinery, wheat for our flourmill and our international commodities-trading activities. For example, we bought free-on-board sugar from India and delivered it to the Government of Indonesia on a cost-and-freight basis (sellers only wanted to sell on the basis of delivery at their own ports; buyers wanted the sugar delivered to their ports. Thus, covering the span of the ocean was my risk).

Robert Kuok

In those days, shipping was quite volatile and freight rates could sometimes shoot up 25-30 per cent. Since margins on sugar trading were small, you could easily make money on your trade, but lose on the freight. There was one problem: I knew nothing about shipping. I did know that in any business, unless you know the tricks of the trade, you can be badly burnt. I couldn’t even submit a decent memo for the application. So I looked for a partner.


On one trip to Hong Kong, I had been introduced by a Malay civil-servant friend to a man called Frank WK Tsao. I remembered that Tsao was a shipping man, Chairman of International Maritime Carriers, so I telephoned him. I said I would like to come and see him to discuss a business proposal. He gave me an appointment and I flew to Hong Kong. When I went to his office, Tsao was only mildly friendly. I was quite humble in my approach. I told him that we had met. He said, “Oh yes, we have met, we have met.” In business life, you learn early on that you must swallow your pride. I told him that some Malay civil servants, who wanted to stir up competition, were encouraging me to submit an application to set up a national shipping line.

There was one problem: I knew nothing about shipping. I did know that in any business, unless you know the tricks of the trade, you can be badly burnt.

I said, “I can’t differentiate between the front and rear ends of a ship,” which was a bit of an exaggeration, “so why don’t you come and help me to set up the Malaysian national shipping line? You’re well known in the shipping business. Are you willing to become my partner?” Without thinking for a second, he retorted, “Do you know, so and so and so and so have also approached me. They are Tan Sris, and I turned them all down.”

He was virtually saying “And who are you? I’ve turned down people way ahead of you in the pecking order in Malaysia.” When I heard these remarks and saw his body language, I said, “I’m sorry then. I thought I would give you first crack. I am going to go at it.” I didn’t tell him what a determined man I am in life.

I concluded, “Never mind, nothing has been lost by this little chat we’ve had. Thank you for receiving me.” I got up and was walking out when he shouted, “Oh, no, no. Please, Mr Kuok. Don’t go! Don’t go! Sit down, sit down.”

To this day I don’t know what made Frank change his mind. I had one shipping expert on staff, Tony Goh, a Singaporean- Chinese who was running my plywood factory. Tony had been a manager at Ben Line, a Scottish liner, before he joined me in 1964. So I sent Tony Goh to draft the memo with Frank Tsao.

I rewrote certain parts to suit the reading style of the Malaysian civil servants, and we submitted the memo in the joint names of Kuok Brothers and Frank’s International Maritime Carriers. A little later, I heard that we were one of the leading contenders. I asked Frank to meet me in Kuala Lumpur. I had made up my mind that we should pick one day to call on as many important ministers as possible. From eight in the morning we whipped around Kuala Lumpur at a furious pace, such as you can’t do today due to the traffic, and saw seven ministers by lunchtime. Some of them gave us good time and good hearings, and we told them the same story. In the afternoon, we visited one or two more.

I remember calling on the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Home Minister Tun Dr Ismail, Finance Minister Tan Siew Sin, Minister of Works Sambanthan and Minister of Transport Sardon Jubir.

Tun Dr Ismail, the former Malaysian interior minister.


Within two or three weeks, we were picked at a cabinet meeting to start the national shipping line, Malaysian International Shipping Corporation (MISC). We were like a dark horse coming from behind in the last furlong and pipping the favourite at the post!

I was Chairman of the Board and provided business management guidance. Frank Tsao’s side provided the shipping expertise. Just around the time of MISC’s formation in 1968, my dear friend Tun Dr Ismail resigned from government when he found that he had cancer. I immediately invited him to be the first Chairman of MISC.

I was inspired by the example of Genghis Khan, who, when he conquered cities, usually turned the spoils over to his generals and soldiers

Frank Tsao already knew Tun Dr Ismail through a textile-mill investment Frank had made in Johor (Dr Ismail resigned from MISC after the May 13, 1969, riots to return to the Cabinet. I then took over the chairmanship until the 1980s). Our first two ships came from the Japanese. Simultaneous with our moves to start the shipping line, there was an initiative by the Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) to demand war reparations from Japan.

The Chinese community was angry about the Japanese massacre of innocent Chinese and was seeking compensation for this blood debt. Tunku Abdul Rahman, the Malaysian Prime Minister, supported the demand and raised the issue during official trips to Japan. The Japanese finally agreed to give two blood-debt ships to Malaysia, which the Japanese called “goodwill ships”. MISC started with these two cargo ships and paid for them on a monthly bare-boat, hire-charter basis. Frank’s ship architects and engineers in Hong Kong supervised the design and construction in Japan. Tunku Abdul Rahman made some very cogent suggestions about the design of the flag for this new national flag carrier.

Malaysia’s first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, left, and finance minister Tan Siew Sin in 1969.

MISC had an initial paid-up capital of 10 million ringgit. Since Kuok Brothers led the show, we took 20 per cent; Frank Tsao took 15 per cent. As the ships were reparation from the Japanese to the Malayan Chinese Association, not to the Malaysian nation, the vessels were assessed a reasonable value and the MCA was given MISC shares in lieu of payment.

MCA and other Chinese associations, combined, took 20-30 per cent, so in the beginning the holding of Kuok Brothers, Frank and the MCA group together was easily over 50 per cent. We had a fairly united board in the beginning. MISC started business in the second half of 1969 and quickly flourished. Much of the credit must go to Frank, the deputy chairman, who recommended capable managers such as Eddie Shih. Shih, another Shanghainese who had settled in Hong Kong, ran the show with Tony Goh. Very early on,

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MISC Managing Director Leslie Eu Peng Meng

Tony recommended his one-time colleague in Ben Line, Leslie Eu, who at the time was manager of Ben Line Bangkok. Leslie, the son of Burmese Chinese who had settled in Malaysia, quit Ben Line and came in as Managing Director of MISC.


Within a year of our launching MISC, Tun Razak, who by then was prime minister, sent for me. Razak said, “I want you to make a fresh issue of 20 per cent of new shares. I’m under pressure because there is not a high enough Malay percentage of shareholding.” I said, “Tun, are you quite serious about this request?” He answered, “Yes, Robert.” So I replied that I would do it. I went back and, with a little bit of arm-twisting, persuaded the board to pass a resolution waiving the rights of existing shareholders to a rights issue (MISC was not yet a public company). Razak allocated all the new shares to government agencies. So, I was diluted to 20 upon 120 – the enlarged base – and Frank became 15 upon 120.

Tun Razak.

One or two years later, Razak again sent for me. He said, “I’m under a lot of pressure at Cabinet meetings. You know, Robert, it’s just the price of your success. MISC is doing well, people are getting envious. But now, instead of giving in to those factions, what I’ve decided is this: Issue another twenty per cent, five per cent to each of four port cities in Malaysia.”

I have always believed in some degree of socialism when you have made money

This entailed enlarging the capital base to 140 from the original 100, making the Malaysian Government the largest single shareholder and relegating Kuok Brothers to second position. And he again wanted the shares issued at par – the original issue price.

I said, “Tun, I have always cooperated with you, but it’s getting very difficult. Three, four years have elapsed from formation, but I would be loath to ask you for a premium since we are a growing company. So I will go back and ask the board again to issue shares at par to you. But Tun, can you please promise me that this is the last time?” He smiled and very gently signified his agreement, without saying the words.


Then Frank and I decided that we should go public. Before we listed in 1987, I made quite a radical move, adopting a practice that I had used within Kuok Brothers. I explained to my Kuok Brothers senior directors that the MISC shares were now worth a lot of money, but only because of the great effort put in by other members of the board and many of the very deserving staff. I wanted to take about 15 per cent of our shareholding and sell the shares at par to deserving directors, staff and ship captains. Quite a number of people benefited from this move. I have always believed in some degree of socialism when you have made money. You know very well that you alone didn’t make it; it was a joint effort.

I was inspired by the example of Genghis Khan, who, when he conquered cities, usually turned the spoils over to his generals and soldiers. He was not selfish, and that is why he became the greatest general the world has ever seen.

Robert Kuok, A Memoir will be available in Hong Kong exclusively at Bookazine and in Singapore at all major bookshops from November 25. It will be released in Malaysia on Dec 1 and in Indonesia on Jan 1, 2018

Malaysian train on wrong track, says tycoon Kuok in memoir

November 27, 2017

Malaysian train on wrong track, says tycoon Kuok in his memoir


Image result for Tunku  and Tan Siew Sin

TYCOON Robert Kuok has released his autobiography in Hong Kong and Singapore today, detailing his thoughts on Malaysia and his relationship with its Prime Ministers.

The South China Morning Post (SCMP), which Kuok once owned, released excerpts of his memoir today.

IN the 376-page “Robert Kuok, A Memoir”, the 54th richest man in the world, according to Bloomberg, said he had known all of Malaysia’s six Prime Ministers and shared how he saw Malaysia’s trajectory as far back as 1969.

Tunku – chief trustee of a nation

Kuok, who is also ranked Malaysia’s richest man, said first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman was a well-educated law graduate with “tremendous rhythm”.

Image result for Tunku  and Tan Siew SinTunku was brilliant, and very shrewd. And he had that touch of Thai shrewdness, an ability to smell and spot whether a man was to be trusted or not. –Robert Kuok


“If you talk of brains, Tunku was brilliant, and very shrewd. His mother was Thai, and he had that touch of Thai shrewdness, an ability to smell and spot whether a man was to be trusted or not.

“Tunku was less mindful about administrative affairs. But he had a good number two in Tun (Abdul) Razak (Hussein), who was extremely industrious, and Tunku left most of the paperwork to Razak.”

The 94-year-old said Tunku had many friends but he would not adopt cronies.

“His friends sometimes helped him, or they sent him a case of champagne or slabs of specially imported steak. He loved to grill steaks on his lawn and open champagne, wine or spirits. Tunku would also do favours for his friends, but he never adopted cronies.

“When Tan Siew Sin was Finance Minister, Tunku sent him a letter about a Penang businessman who was one of Tunku’s poker-playing buddies. It seems the man had run into tax trouble and was being investigated by the tax department, and he had turned to Tunku for help.

Image result for Tunku  and Tan Siew Sin


“In his letter, Tunku wrote, ‘You know so-and-so is my friend. I am not asking any favours of you, Siew Sin, but I am sure you can see your way to forgiving him,’ or something to that effect.”

But Kuok said Siew Sin was upset and marched into Dr. Ismail (Abdul Rahman)’s office to complain.

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“Ismail took the letter, crumpled it into a ball and threw it into the waste-paper basket. He then said, ‘Siew Sin, Tunku has done his duty by his friend. Now, by ignoring Tunku, you will continue to do your duty properly’,” Kuok said.

“That was as far as Tunku would go to help a friend. Cronyism is different. Cronies are lapdogs who polish a leader’s ego. In return, the leader hands out national favours to them.

“A nation’s assets, projects and businesses should never be for anyone to hand out, neither for a king nor a prime minister. A true leader is the chief trustee of a nation. If there is a lack of an established system to guide him, his fiduciary sense should set him on the proper course.”

Kuok said a leader who practised cronyism justified his actions by doing everything necessary to achieve his ends.

A different man after 1969

Kuok said Tunku was a different man after the May 13 race riots. Tunku felt he had helped the country gain independence and had ruled as wisely as he could, yet, the Malays turned on him for purportedly selling out to the Chinese, said Kuok.

“In fairness to Tunku, he had done nothing of the sort. He was a very fair man who loved the nation and its people. But he knew that, if you favour one group, you only spoil them. When the British ruled Malaya, they extended certain advantages to the Malays.

“When the Malays took power following independence on August 31, 1957, more incentives were given to them. But there was certainly no showering of favours.”

Kuok said everything changed after 1969 due to extremist Malays attributing their poverty to plundering Chinese and Indians.

“The more thoughtful leaders were shunted aside and the extremists hijacked power. They chanted the same slogans as the hotheads – the Malays are underprivileged; the Malays are bullied – while themselves seeking to become super-rich.

“When these Malays became rich, not many of them did anything for the poor Malays; the Chinese and Indians who became rich created jobs, many of them filled by Malays.”

Pro-Malay Malaysia

Kuok said prior to 1969 the government would open tenders and if a company worked hard, it would succeed “eight or nine times out of 10”.

“But things were changing, veering more and more towards cronyism and favouritism.”

Kuok said Malay leaders were quite reasonable in running the country and gave Malays an advantage at times.

“Then, when they see that they have overdone it, they try to redress the problem. Their hearts are in the right place, but they just cannot see their way out of their problems. Since May 13, 1969, the Malay leadership has had one simple philosophy: the Malays need handicapping. Now, what amount of handicapping?”

Closing the gap but opening new wounds

Kuok said Malaysia’s zeal to narrow the wealth gap between the races caused even more racism.

“As a Chinese who was born and grew up in Malaysia, and went to school with the Malays, I was saddened to see the Malays being misled in this way. I felt that, in their haste to bridge the economic gap between the Chinese and the Malays, harmful shortcuts were being taken. One of the side effects of their zeal to bridge the economic gap was that racism became increasingly ugly.

“I saw very clearly that the path being pursued by the new leaders after 1969 was dangerous. But hardly anyone was willing to listen to me.”

Hussein Onn and the three sons

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Kuok said his father and Hussein Onn’s father, Onn Jaafar had known each other since the 1930s. Kuok and Hussein were even classmates at one time.

And he told the third Prime Minister to use the best Malaysians for the job regardless of race, colour and creed before he took over.

“You’re going to be the leader of a nation, and you have three sons, Hussein. The firstborn is Malay, the second-born is Chinese, the third-born is Indian. What we have been witnessing is that the firstborn is more favoured than the second or third. Hussein, if you do that in a family, your eldest son will grow up very spoiled.

“As soon as he attains manhood, he will be in the nightclubs every night. The second and third sons, feeling the discrimination, will grow up hard as nails.

“Please, Hussein, use the best brains, the people with their hearts in the right place, Malaysians of total integrity and strong ability, hard-working and persevering people. Use them regardless of race, colour or creed.

“The other way, Hussein, the way your people are going – excessive handicapping of Bumiputeras, showering love on your first son – your firstborn is going to grow up with an attitude of entitlement.”

Kuok said Hussein was quiet for a while and after that he said: “No, Robert. I cannot do it. The Malays are now in a state of mind such that they will not accept it.”

He clearly spelt out to me that, it was going to be Malay rule, said Kuok.

“I felt disappointed, but there was nothing more that I could do. Hussein was an honest man of very high integrity. Before going to see him, I had weighed his strength of character, his shrewdness and skill. We had been in the same class, sharing the same teachers.

“I knew Hussein was going to be the Malaysian Prime Minister whom I was closest to in my lifetime. I think Hussein understood my message, but he knew that the process had gone too far.

“I had seen a picture developing all along of a train moving in the wrong direction. During Hussein’s administration, he was only partially successful in stemming the tide. The train of the nation had been put on the wrong track. Hussein wasn’t strong enough to lift up the train and set it down on the right track.” – November 25, 2017.

‘Robert Kuok, A Memoir’ will be available in Hong Kong exclusively at Bookazine and in Singapore at all major bookshops from November 25. It will be released in Malaysia on December 1 and in Indonesia on January 1.


Nationalism in Malaysia in Extremis

November 17, 2016

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Nationalism in Malaysia in Extremis

by Dr. Ooi Kee Beng

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Malay Nationalism or Tribalism ala Ku Kluk Klan

One thing that shocked me when I first went to Sweden for my studies 35 years ago was how dirty a word “Nationalism” was in Western Europe. This reaction, I realized, was very much a reflection of how the concept was positively implanted in my mind while a schoolboy in Malaysia; but it also demonstrated how greatly human experiences can differ in different parts of the world.

More importantly, it revealed to me how strongly we are intellectually captured by the language use of our times and our location.

But the Swedes are very proud of their country, so how come nationalism is frowned upon so badly? The same thing applied throughout Europe, at least until recently. Excessive immigration over the last two decades, coupled with declining economic fortunes and waning self-confidence has buoyed the ascendance of ultra-rightists groups in all countries throughout the continent.

So why was Nationalism so despised? Europe is after all the home continent of the Nation State.

For starters, Europe was always a place of endless wars often fought ostensibly for religious reasons between feudal powers. The arrival of the Nation state ideology helped to lower the frequencies of these tragedies, but only to replace it soon after with non-religious types of rationale for conflict. The American Revolution and French Republicanism added the new phenomenon of “government by the people”. The French case also brought into the equation the Left-Right Dimension that would define politics and political thinking for the next two centuries.

This conceptual division between Popular Mandate and Elite Rule expressed sharply the rights of common people on the one hand, and the role of the state on the other. Once this gap was articulated, conflating the two poles anew became a necessary task.

The three major articulations in Europe of this mammoth mission to bridge the divide and achieve a functional modern system were Liberal Democracy, Communism and Fascism. While the Anglo-Saxon world championed the first, Stalin’s Soviet Union perfected the second and Adolf Hitler developed the third to its insane conclusion. In Europe, it was basically these three actors who fought the Second World War.

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Malay Tribalism in Action

In Asia, Japan’s brand of state fascism ran riot throughout the region, rhetorically championing nationalism in the lands it took from the European colonialists.

While the National Socialism of the Third Reich died with Hitler, Fascism lived on in Franco’s Spain until 1975 and Nationalist Communism of Stalin continued in Eastern Europe until the early 1990s.

Nationalism in the rest of Europe after 1945 came to be understood with disdain as the longing of the Nation State for purity and autonomy taken to pathological lengths. It is after all always a defensive posture, as is evidenced today in its return in the form of right-wing anti-immigrant groups.

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Maruah Melayu dijual ka-Cina untuk membela masa depan politik Najib Razak–Jualan Aset 1MDB

In Malaysia, nationalism was—and for many, still is—the most highly rated attitude for a citizen to adopt.There are obvious reasons for this, given the historical and socio-political context in which Malaysia came into being. Constructing a new country out of nine sultanates, the three parts of the Straits Settlements, with Sabah and Sarawak on top of that, was a more daunting task than we can imagine today. Furthermore, the contest was also against other powerful “-isms”, especially Communism and Pan-Indonesianism. These threatened to posit what are Malaysia’s states today in a larger framework, and would have diminished these territories’ importance and uniqueness.

Putting a new regime in place of the retreating British required a rallying idea; and what better than the very fashionable image of a new nation to whom all should swear allegiance. Malayan nationalism was thus born.

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For Inclusive, Liberal and Progressive Malaysia–Escaping the Nationalism Trap

It is no coincidence that the path to independence became much easier after Malaysia’s major political party, UMNO, decided under Tunku Abdul Rahman to change its slogan from the provincial “Hidup Melayu” [Long Live the Malays] to the inclusive “Merdeka” [Independence].

But already in that transition, one can see the problem that Malaysia still lives with today. Is Malaysia the political expression of the prescriptive majority called “Melayu” [later stretched to become “Bumiputera”], or is it the arena in which the multi-ethnic nation of “Malaysians” is to evolve?

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Nationalism in essence, and most evidently so in its narrow ethno-centric sense, is defensive and fearful, and understood simplistically and applied arrogantly very quickly show strong fascist tendencies. The issue is therefore a philosophical one.

What Malaysia needs today, is to accept the regional and global context that sustains it, and work out as best it can a suitable balance between Popular Mandate and Elite Rule which is clearly less belaboured and less painful than the cul-de-sac alleyway it has backed itself into.

OOI KEE BENG is the Deputy Director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute) and the Editor of the Penang Monthly (Penang Institute). He is the author of the prizewinning The Reluctant Politician: Tun Dr Ismail and His Time (ISEAS 2006).