Asia Trip: President Donald Trump reports to The American People


November 16,2017

Asia Trip: President Donald Trump reports to The American People

– President Trump Delivers Statement on Asia Trip – President Trump Delivers Remarks to the American People, November 15, 2017–The White House, Washington D.C

Full Text of President’s Statement to follow when it is available.–Din Merican

CNN Reports:

In Asia, Trump again finds success overseas easier than at home

BOOK REVIEW: The General vs. The President


November 13, 2017

BOOK REVIEW

The General vs. The President

by https://www.asiasentinel.com/book-review/the-general-vs-the-president/

Truman MacArthur Korea H.W. Brands

President Harry S Truman with General Douglas MacArthur

Harry S Truman ascended to the presidency of the United States on April 12, 1945, a plain-spoken career politician and product of the political machine of Boss Tom Pendergast in Kansas City. It is clear that Douglas MacArthur, regarded arguably as the greatest American general of World War II, regarded him as little more than a cipher.

Over the next six years almost to the day when Truman fired the general — April 11, 1951 – MacArthur made Truman so furious that 60 years later, historian H.W. Brands, examining Truman’s papers, found handwritten documents in which the President gouged the paper with his pen out of anger.

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 Brands has written a boisterous history of the long series of confrontations that led up to the firing. It would be tempting to call the episode comical if MacArthur hadn’t been attempting to start World War III and Truman, whose authority as President the General ignored, overrode or deliberately snubbed, was hard-pressed to keep him from it as the supreme commander of United Nations forces in Korea following invasion by the north.

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From the very start of their relationship on the death in office of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, MacArthur simply ignored the entire American diplomatic and political establishment. The General, already 65 when Truman became President, was a five-star officer regarded as a military genius for his prosecution of the so-called “island-hopping” campaign to rid Asia of the invading Japanese and their Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. The iconic picture of the tall, imposing general wading ashore at Tacloban on Leyte Island in the Philippines, followed by staff members and diminutive Filipinos, was one of the most-printed photos of the war and resulted in a diorama that stands to this day on the beach where they landed.

It was MacArthur and not Truman who dictated the terms of the Japanese surrender, leaving Emperor Hirohito in place, creating the Japanese pacifist constitution that governs the country and fostering the somewhat imperfect democracy that runs the country to this day. MacArthur would never return to the United States until his firing, forcing the country’s leaders to fly to Asia to consult with him.

The world for the general and the President sputtered along well enough until June 25, 1950 – although Truman was quoted later as having said “I should have fired the son of a bitch a long time ago” – when troops of Kim Il-sung, the grandfather of the current ruler of North Korea, spilled over Korea’s 38th parallel, driving the Republic of Korea troops and a skeleton US Army garrison south into a tiny perimeter around the city of Pusan.

Brand treats the initial reaction by MacArthur and his command considerably kindlier than other historians, including David Halberstam in his 2008 history of the Korean War,” The Coldest Winter.” Halberstam was scathing in his assessment of the early attempt to counter northern troops, calling MacArthur out of touch and arrogant at age 70, with his Tokyo staff sacrificing lives for policy.

Whatever the conduct of the war, it is inarguable that MacArthur’s decision – his alone, to stage an amphibious invasion at Inchon, far north of the Pusan perimeter – was one of the greatest military decisions of the century. MacArthur’s troops cut the country in half, decimated the north’s supply lines, and resulted in the surrender of hundreds of thousands of confused and demoralized North Korean troops. His forces drove north, culminating in a humiliating defeat for the fleeing North Koreans.

The diplomatic slights MacArthur delivered to Truman and other great World War II generals including George Marshall and Omar Bradley paled in comparison to his actions from then on and make it almost seem the general had taken leave of his senses.

He “sketched out a breathtaking vision of American hegemony over the world’s greatest ocean,” calling the Pacific a “vast moat to protect us as long as we hold it. Indeed, it acts as a shield of all the Americas and all of the free lands of the Pacific Ocean to the shores of Asia.” Eventually that vision would encompass recommendations of atomic war with both the Russians and the Chinese.

Truman and Secretary of State Dean Acheson, growing concerned about the general’s grandiosity, proposed a meeting. MacArthur insisted the meeting be held on Wake Island rather than Hawaii, meaning Truman and the assembled leadership of the US would have to fly more than 7,000 miles to meet with him while he would only have to fly 2,300 miles. After he gave a picture of the situation on the ground in Korea over two days, he again broke protocol, abruptly saying he was departing, leaving a fuming Truman and his party on the island with more business to transact. Truman abandoned the meeting and flew home, exasperated. That began a long list of snubs meticulously catalogued by Brand.

As he had in Japan when he allowed the Emperor to remain in place, MacArthur reinstalled Syngman Rhee as South Korea’s leader, without waiting for consent from a reluctant Washington, DC.

Unfortunately, MacArthur badly miscalculated, ignoring the advice of the President’s advisers, driving toward the Yalu River and the border with China, ignoring repeated warnings from the Chinese to back off. In October 1950, the Chinese had had enough. They poured across the Yalu in hordes, sustaining devastating losses but enveloping United Nations forces and driving them into a humiliating retreat that cost thousands of lives.

MacArthur responded by demanding the resources to destroy the Chinese Army, including bringing in Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Army, which had been forced to retreat to what was then Formosa. All of that possibly would have brought the Russians into the war. He not only moved on his own course, he began making addresses including a memo to the Veterans of Foreign Wars basically saying Washington was filled with cowards, vacillating politicians and incompetents.

Eventually, Truman had enough.   He removed MacArthur from his command, setting off a political firestorm in the US that would envelop the Democratic Party and result in deep losses in the 1952 election. It destroyed Truman’s popularity and he chose not to run again for the presidency.

Nonetheless, it would be Truman who emerged as history’s champion.  As Brand concludes: “Six decades after the general and the president, standing at the brink of nuclear war, wrestled over Korea and China; six decades after their contest brought to the head the issue of whether a president or a general determines American policy…it was hard to find any knowledgeable person who didn’t feel relief that the president, and not the general, had been the one with the final say in their fateful struggle. Truman’s bold stroke in firing MacArthur ended his own career as surely as it terminated MacArthur’s, but it sustained hope that humanity might survive the nuclear age.”

Revisiting “Autocracy: Rules for Survival”–One Year of Trumpism


November 11, 2017

Revisiting “Autocracy: Rules for Survival”

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A year ago, panicked friends were writing to ask me what to do now that the United States had elected Donald Trump. Like I’d know: I had spent years writing and organizing in opposition to Vladimir Putin, only to have to leave Russia. But a decade and a half in Putin’s Russia taught me something about living in an autocracy. I am familiar with the ways in which it numbs the mind and drains the spirit. I wrote a piece called “Autocracy: Rules for Survival,” which was published by The New York Review of Books and read by millions of people. Today seems a good day to look at how well my proposed rules have held up.

Rule No. 1: Believe the autocrat. I argued against the expectation that Trump would change in the months following the election, becoming somehow “Presidential” and abandoning his more extreme positions. This belief, it seemed to me, stemmed from the inability to absorb the fact of a Trump Presidency, and not from any historical precedents of similar transformations. The best predictors of autocrats’ and aspiring autocrats’ behavior are their own public statements, because these statements brought them to power in the first place.

Trump had repeatedly made several promises that many people hoped or expected he would drop post-election: to build a wall on the border with Mexico, to repeal Obamacare, to ban Muslims from entering the United States, and, of course, to “lock her up!” I wrote, “If Trump does not go after Hillary Clinton on his first day in office, if he instead focuses, as his acceptance speech indicated he might, on the unifying project of investing in infrastructure (which, not coincidentally, would provide an instant opportunity to reward his cronies and himself), it will be foolish to breathe a sigh of relief. Trump has made his plans clear, and he has made a compact with his voters to carry them out. These plans include not only dismantling legislation such as Obamacare but also doing away with judicial restraint—and, yes, punishing opponents.”

It would be an exaggeration to say that Trump has focussed on infrastructure. He has not let go of the Obamacare repeal or the wall, he has pushed various versions of a travel ban to keep Muslims from entering this country, and “Crooked Hillary” is a recurrent target of his Twitter storms. What makes the attacks on Clinton particularly disturbing is that, in order to go after his political opponent, Trump would have to turn the judiciary into an instrument of the executive branch. His renewed emphasis on “locking her up” has coincided with his tantrums about the Justice Department, which, he has discovered, does not report to him.

A year ago, much of our attention was focussed on the vacancy on the Supreme Court. I feared that Trump would appoint “someone who will wreak havoc with the very culture of the high court.” This did not happen: his pick, Neil Gorsuch, could have been chosen by a conventional Republican President. But Trump has nominated more than fifty judges to federal courts—this seems to be an extraordinary pocket of efficiency in his Administration—and many of these nominees personify an attack on the judicial system. The judges are very young, very conservative, and very much outside the existing culture of the judiciary. The American Bar Association has characterized four of the candidates as unqualified (in two cases by a unanimous vote, and in two more by the vote of a majority of the panel). In the case of Leonard Steven Grasz, nominated for an appeals court, the A.B.A.’s standing committee concluded that the candidate lacked respect for precedent and judicial procedure.

A year ago, Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie were believed to be potential candidates to head the Justice Department. Imagine, I wrote, one of them going after Hillary Clinton, “quite aside from their approach to issues such as the Geneva Conventions, the use of police powers, criminal justice reforms, and other urgent concerns.” That sounds almost quaint now. Trump chose Jeff Sessions, who has spent the last ten months undoing federal civil-rights protections. His Justice Department stepped back from pending cases on the Texas voter-I.D. laws and on the North Carolina anti-trans bathroom bill; Sessions has moved to reduce the Justice Department’s oversight of policing; and he has issued homophobic and transphobic “religious freedom” guidelines. The legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, David Cole, has called Sessions “more dangerous than Trump.”

Rule No. 2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality. Most catastrophes unfold over time. Following the shock of a disastrous election—or a Presidential tweet—the sun rises again in the morning, and life appears to proceed as before. One adjusts, until the next shocking event.

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Trump has moved faster, assaulting our senses in more ways and more often than I (and, I think, most other people) expected. The sun still rises every morning, but an early-morning barrage of Trump’s tweets might obscure it. The word “Presidential” has gradually faded from the conversation: no one expects the President to live up to the standards of speech and behavior that his office would seem to demand. Instead, we have settled into constant low-level dread: a state in which a person can function, but can hardly be creative or look into the future. A Russian writer who blogs under the name Alexander Ivanov-Petrov, writing of a different time and place, has called this state of living “provincial time.” It is a time in which people continue to think and create, but “in some fundamental way lack agency or the ability to be fully aware of themselves.”

This state renders us incapable, too, of absorbing the bigger threats, ones that strain the imagination. For months, we have been living with the very real threat of nuclear war with North Korea and the near-inevitability of irreversible and unmitigated climate change, made that much more catastrophic by the actions of the Trump Administration. In this context, Trump’s daily dreadful tweets, and our ability to feel something in response, pass for small signs of normality.

Rule No. 3: Institutions will not save you. During the election campaign, one often heard the argument that institutions of American democracy are strong enough to withstand attack by Trump. A year ago, I pointed out that many of these institutions are not enshrined in law—rather, they exist as norms—and even those that are enshrined in law depend for their continued survival on the good faith of all actors. There is no law, for example, guaranteeing daily press briefings at the White House and media access to these briefings. I predicted that the investigative press would be weakened and that reality would grow murkier.

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The institution of press access indeed came under attack immediately; the institution of the blatantly lying Presidential press secretary came into existence as well. Media access to the State Department has virtually vanished, but then so has the State Department itself.

At the same time, the investigative press has been reinvigorated. New collaborative models of reporting have come into being, as exemplified by the investigation into the Trump family’s real-estate malfeasance in New York City. Public hunger for and financial support of news reporting has skyrocketed, as evidenced by growing subscription numbers (a.k.a. the “Trump bump”). The loss of media access to the White House has been counterbalanced by leaks the White House continues to spring.

Some institutions have indeed saved us, some of the time. The courts have stepped in to stop Trump’s anti-Muslim travel ban and part of his ban on transgender people in the Military. But Trump is waging a constant attack on the judiciary, both on Twitter and in the Senate, which is holding one judicial confirmation hearing after another—most of them obscured by louder and faster news.

But perhaps the scariest institutional development is one I didn’t foresee: the appearance of the generals in the White House. When General H. R. McMaster replaced the unhinged Mike Flynn as national-security adviser, and when General John Kelly replaced the ineffectual Reince Priebus as chief of staff, widespread consensus had it that grownups had entered the room, and this was a good thing. Both generals have since betrayed our hopes by lying for the President and, in Kelly’s case, by adopting the rhetorical logic of a military coup. In fairness, though, alarms should have gone off earlier, when so many people seemed eager to see generals exercise control over an elected President.

Rule No. 4: Be outraged. If you follow the first three rules, you ought to be outraged. But I know from experience how hard it is to be the hysteric in the room.

A year on, progress is mixed. Activist groups like New York City’s Rise and Resist, founded by alumni of the AIDS-activist organization ACT UP, stage regular, vivid, ACT UP–style actions. On the occasion of the first anniversary of the election, they vowed to begin weekly demonstrations demanding impeachment. The A.C.L.U. continues to file lawsuits; late-night comedians continue to amplify the painful absurdity of Trumpism. On the other hand, Washington has absorbed Trump, and so has the Republican Party. (It’s the other party whose national organization is imploding these days.) No single event or revelation has produced enough outrage to cause Trump to be removed from office, nor has one seemed to hurt his chances for reëlection. Not Charlottesville. Not the revelation of a Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer who promised to deliver dirt on Hillary Clinton. Not the regular revelations of past acts of corruption and of current lies. Not the continued spectacle of a government of haters and incompetents. The outrage dissipates, and Trumpism persists.

Rule No. 5: Don’t make compromises. I predicted that Republican Never Trumpers would fold and offer their loyalty to the new President. I also feared that a great many federal employees would face an impossible choice between staying in their jobs under a reprehensible Administration and leaving, forfeiting the chance to do good within a system that had started rotting from the top. Trump’s attacks on the institutions of government have been so fast and brutal, however, that many people made the choice without torment: they left. (Remember the President’s arts and humanities committee? Or the business advisory councils?) Still, a few people remain in what’s left of the State Department; some people have joined the Administration with the explicit goal of using their expertise to help minimize damage. But to watch General McMaster struggling to mislead journalists on Trump’s behalf is to see the built-in problem with the project of minimizing damage: one inevitably becomes an accomplice.

Still, this is the most problematic of my rules, because it calls forth the strongest counter-argument. Democracy is based on compromise. A commitment to purity can ultimately serve only to widen the divide between those who elected Trump and those who could not imagine his Presidency. A commitment to purity, in fact, risks becoming a commitment to refusing to imagine his Presidency, even a year after the election. A commitment to purity is antithetical to political engagement. Yet political engagement risks or even demands a measure of normalization.

The tension is irresolvable. This rule should be amended to read: Pay attention to the ways in which the Trump Presidency breaks the moral compass.

Rule No. 6: Remember the future. There will come a time after Trump. What will we bring to it? I wrote that the failure to imagine the future—to offer a vision in opposition to Trump’s appeal to an imaginary past—had cost the Democrats the election. A year later, the national Democratic Party does not seem closer to proposing a vision (or a candidate); instead, the last week has seen the Party plunged into a vicious re-litigation of the 2016 primaries.

We will enter the post-Trump future with decimated federal agencies and a frayed judiciary stacked with Trump appointees. Much of the opposition, however, has been concerned less with preserving or revitalizing institutions than with devising novel means of removing Trump from office. Last year, the “Hamilton electors” advocated changing the rules of elections midstream, which would have set a decidedly undemocratic precedent. An organization of mental-health professionals, and a best-selling book written by psychiatrists, propose removing Trump on the basis of his poor mental health, by creating a body of experts who can override the choice made by voters. Finally, half the country seems to be committed to the fantasy that revelations of a collusion with Russia will magically cause Trump to disappear.

And yet, a year after Trump’s election, the states of Virginia and New Jersey rejected Trumpian gubernatorial candidates, electing Democrats. The state of Maine voted to expand Medicaid. Virginia voters also elected a transgender woman to the state legislature, unseating a twenty-six-year incumbent who had, among other things, proposed anti-trans bathroom-use legislation. Danica Roem, who is thirty-three, campaigned on school policy, traffic improvement, and transgender rights. These Democratic victories occurred in states that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016; portraying the elections as referenda on Trump would be overstating the facts. Several victories, however, suggest that the energy of the resistance has fuelled sustained political work. To take us into the future, this energy has to transcend local and state-level races and “provincial time.” If we are lucky, that process begins today.

Guna’s Take on Fake News


November 8, 2017

Guna’s Take on Fake News

One would think that fake news happens only in cyberspace and that mainstream/traditional news organisations are somehow not subject to reporting fake news. But that’s not necessarily true because when the media space is controlled like it is here, it produces an atmosphere which spews out fake news in billows.–P. Gunasegaram

by P. Gunaegaram@www.malaysiakini.com

QUESTION TIME | One would think that fake news happens only in cyberspace and that mainstream/traditional news organisations are somehow not subject to reporting fake news. But that’s not necessarily true because when the media space is controlled like it is here, it produces an atmosphere which spews out fake news in billows.

In its simplest form, fake news is just manufactured news but there are degrees. Some are outright lies while others combine untruths with elements of true news to project an image which is not wholly correct while appearing to give the impression that it comes from accurate news sources.

It is most easy to do this online by setting up websites and/or blogs to propagate the news and manufacture news to the benefit of the sponsoring authority. Thus, political parties and candidates up for election pay so-called cyber troopers large amounts of money to boost their image in the eyes of the public.

Simultaneously they engage in activities to drag down the image of the opponents through smear campaigns, sometimes unearthing true stories and twisting the context and at other times broadcasting outright lies.

In Malaysia, as elections loom large and have to be held by August next year, this whole idea of fake news, especially on social media, has grabbed the attention of politician and layman alike, especially when US President Donald Trump, who has propagated fake news against Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, accuses US mainstream media of fake news in repeated tweets.

 

But in Malaysia, the situation is very different. We have had fake news with us for decades now, especially during general elections, when more or less the entire regulated media industry gets commandeered by the ruling government – BN and its predecessors.

Look at for instance, how newspapers either directly owned by political parties or those close to them behave at election time – UMNO’s Utusan group, MCA’s The Star, as well as New Straits Times, RTM1, RTM2, TV3, and even ntv7, the other broadcast media.

It is as if the government can do no wrong, it is as if the opposition is a major threat to the unity of the country. The only viable party that can rule the country is, of course, the BN, everyone else will take the country to ruin.

So the heavily-controlled mainstream newspapers, magazines and broadcast organisations not just spewed fake news but engaged in regular propaganda blasts about how the government was so great, with documentaries about what it did, and through advertisements. The poor opposition is denied any airtime or space in the newspapers while the ruling party of the day runs riot over the opposition in all the various broadcast and print media.

Is it any surprise that the ruling party thrashed the opposition soundly in almost all the elections since 1969 (until the tide turned in 2008) when the opposition denied the ruling party two-thirds majority for a while? BN regained it following the collapse of many opposition parties into BN in the aftermath of oppressive measures following the May 13 riots shortly after the elections, riots which many consider to have been manufactured.

 

And then came 2008 – BN did not lose but soundly lost its two-thirds majority and five states in the general elections, its biggest setback yet. And the opposition finally began to think about riding into Putrajaya in triumph. In 2013, despite all of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s efforts, BN did not regain the two-thirds majority although UMNO did better.

So what made the change in 2008 and 2013? In two words, social media, which remained largely uncensored and unregulated and which gave the opposition a lot more space than it ever did before – there was a new medium to send news out instead of just print and broadcast and it was accessible to all.

A game changer

The control of the print and broadcast media no longer ensured that only some news of the favourable kind reached the general public. In Malaysia’s case, social media stopped the avalanche of fake news spewing out of the mainstream manufactured news factories.

But unfortunately, with fake news making such an impact on social media in the US for instance, with Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in the polls significantly attributed to it, the importance of social media is being increasingly recognised as a game changer for elections in Malaysia.

Thus, both Najib and his deputy have been increasingly talking about fake news on social media and the need to counter it effectively. But in all probability what they mean is that the true news is coming out from many sections of the social media, so we have to do something about it.

 

Their thinking goes something like this: We have to counter all these things which are true which are coming out from social media – we can blank it out from the print and broadcast media but we need a social media attack to counter these truths with lies.

Thus, we see Najib claiming in his blog rather preposterously that 1MDB will save RM200 billion in 20 years for Malaysia when the truth is that it has in all probability it has already lost as much as RM40 billion.

Expect this broadside by the BN on social media in Malaysia to increase – in the US, fake news may have reached epidemic proportions already, but in Malaysia, the process is just beginning but will increase very rapidly.

It is not going to be easy to differentiate the truth from the fake news but if you stick to respected and established online new organisations such as … – you know who they are, I don’t have to tell you – you will be safe.

Stick to independent news organisations who have a strong tradition of respect for truth, accuracy and balance and who cover both what the government as well as what the opposition has to say. Look at who are behind news portals – if they are not specific enough about ownership and editorial team, be suspicious.

Verify and crosscheck sources of information. Much is passed on over social media websites such as Facebook and WhatsApp with not even a mention of the source. If you want to check the source, type a key extract into a search engine and look at the results.

Please remember, especially at election time – you are more likely to get fake news and inadequate news of the right kind from mainstream media who have had a long track record compared to some of the online news portals who may not have as long a record.

And finally, please support those who supply good, fair information at reasonable prices (less than 60 sen a day) by subscribing to them (instead of sharing passwords indiscriminately), and take out advertisements with them and donating to them. It’s a small price to pay.

The sad truth is that information that is free is more likely to be tainted. Now, who was it who said that there is no such thing as a free lunch?


P GUNASEGARAM says truth often lies hidden under a pile of lies. E-mail: t.p.guna@gmail.com.

The enigma of Malaysia’s high household income growth


November 6, 2017

The enigma of Malaysia’s high household income growth

 

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 Who is fudging the household income figures, if not this Prime Minister cum Finance Minister? Malaysians are a whiney lot.

 

Why does the official report of rising household income seem incredible and implausible? Is Income really stagnating, or is it flourishing but Malaysians are a whiney lot?

 

By Dr. Lee Hwok Aun@www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Statistics are meant to inform, but sometimes they confuse. Take Malaysia’s household income figures. We keep hearing complaints of stagnant incomes and difficulties coping with the rising cost of living. But since the release of the Household Income and Basic Amenities Survey Report 2016 last month, an official success story is making the rounds – all the way to the 2018 Federal Budget speech.

The speech celebrates the rise in median household income, calculated from the Household Income Survey (HIS), from RM4,585 in 2014 to RM5,288 in 2016. Simultaneously, average household income rose from RM6,141to RM6,958, or at an annual growth rate of 6.4%. In real terms – that is, accounting for inflation – income grew 4.3% per year. The rest of this article refers to growth rates in real terms, which more accurately reflect purchasing power.

By the government’s account, household incomes have been growing quite substantially. Yet the budget is stacked with lavish handouts and financial relief, as though income growth has been sluggish, insufficient. Granted, this is an election budget, but a clearly the proliferation of social assistance is also addressing areal groundswell of economic discontent.

Statistics should be validated by the reality they intend to measure. If the government reports that the Malaysian economy has grown by 10% this year, most of us would disbelieve that outright. It can’t be that high; the economy is not ballooning like the early- to mid-1990s! But looking at Malaysia’s steady international trade, investment and domestic consumption, visible construction projects, low unemployment, and economic conditions as a whole, the actual figure of about 5% GDP growth seems credible and plausible.

So why does the official report of rising household income seem incredible and implausible? Is Income really stagnating, or is it flourishing but Malaysians are a whiney lot?

An examination of empirical evidence exposes three enigmas in the official household income statistics, raising questions about the reliability of the government’s high growth report.

First, income gains of the past half-decade are driven by inexplicably rapid growth in the 2012-2014 period, during which real household incomes expanded8.2% per year – faster than in the booming 1990s (Figure 1). Furthermore, households in the bottom 40% (B40)enjoyed stupefying 14.6% income growth per year. Suchhyperrates are usually the exception but were supposedly the norm – during a time of modest 5.4% economic growth.

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Two years ago, when the 2014 Household Income Survey Report documented a spectacular fall in inequality from 2012 to 2014, I raised concerns that those results departed too far from reality (http://www.themalaymailonline.com/what-you-think/article/malaysias-spectacular-drop-in-inequality…-for-real-lee-hwok-aun, https://m.malaysiakini.com/news/315933). This phenomenal success bypassed attention. It was not mentioned in the 2016 Budget speech; the government was apparently not taking its own statistics seriously.

In releasing the 2016 income statistics, the government reaffirms the questionable 2014 calculations – without explanation. Of course, we might point to two outstanding policy shifts as income boosters: minimum wage, which came into full effect in 2014, and BR1M, introduced in 2012. Their possible effects cannot be ignored.

But upon examination, these turn out to be the second and third enigmas in the income statistics.Minimum wage and BR1M fail to explain the rise in household income.

The official household income statistics aggregate various income components (the proper term is gross household income):

  1.  Income from wages and salaries, also including allowances, bonuses
  2.  Self-employment: income through selling goods and services
  3. Property and investment income: land and property rent (including imputed rent of owner-occupied homes), interest, dividends
  4. Transfers received from public sources (BR1M, etc) or family members

A breakdown of these sources shows that the share of wages and salaries in gross household income has declined, while the share of property and investment income and transfers have increased (Figure 2). Therefore, it is most unlikely that minimum wage contributed to high overall income growth.

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Furthermore, when we compute growth rates household wages and salaries, we find modest numbers for 2012-2014 and 2014-2016 (Figure 3). Happily, we can compare this particular finding with calculations from another data source. The growth of individual wages and salaries, based on the Wages and Salaries Survey data, registered similar rates. Minimum wage surely boosted wage growth to some extent, as indicated by the higher rate in 2014 when it took effect. But it fails to account for rapid household income expansion.

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BR1Mis the last big factor standing. The share of transfers in household income increased – so far so good.

Figure 3

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But the case for BR1M as an explanation for income growth soon crumbles. First, the BR1M payments are popularly known by the annual amounts paid, whereas household income is handled on a monthly basis. When investigating BR1M’s impact on household income, we must convert into their monthly amount. The problem with the BR1M explanation is that the quantum per month is so minuscule relative to household income per month. In 2012 and 2016, B40 household’s income averaged RM1,847 and RM2,848, while BR1M payments for households earning below RM3,000 per month, were RM42 and RM83 (RM500 and RM1000 divided by 12). BR1M accounted for only 2.3% and 2.9% of the household income of the B40, its principal recipients.

The second pertains to timing. BR1M was introduced in 2012 at RM500 per year, increased to RM650 in 2014, then RM1,000 in 2016. The big differences took place in 2012 and 2016, not in 2014. However, the huge leap in household income occurred between 2012 and 2014!

In light of these enigmas, discrepancies and gaps, the government’s household income calculations for 2014 and 2016 remain implausible and demand a fuller accounting, particularly to provide reasons for the unfathomably high growth in property and investment income and transfers received.

There are empirical grounds, not just anecdote or intuition, to question the veracity of the official statistics, and to restrain celebration of Malaysia’s purported achievements in raising household income.One can speculate some possibilities. Perhaps transfers have been over-counted, or imputed rent over-estimated. For those living in houses they own, the gross household income numbers include an imputed amount of rent – that is, an amount they would receive if they rented out the house. Imputed rent, although it is not actual income received, is a useful piece of information. But it is misleading to include imputed rent in household income and report the sum as an indication of purchasing power and material well-being.

The Department of Statistics must be commended for publishing increasingly detailed reports on the 2014 and 2016 Household Income and Basic Amenities Surveys, but the disclosures are still inadequate. In line with the government’s commitment to Open Data, the natural next step should be to make the raw datasets accessible, to facilitate collaborative and constructive work and arrive at a fuller comprehension and credible measure of this vital issue of household income.

Dr. Lee Hwok Aun, Senior Fellow,  Yusof Ishak Institute– ISEAS, Singapore

PetroSaudi’s Prince Turki Is Rounded Up On Corruption Charges In Saudi Arabia


November 6, 2017

PetroSaudi’s Prince Turki Is Rounded Up On Corruption Charges In Saudi Arabia

by Sarawak Report

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For two years Malaysia’s PM Najib Razak has leaned on an implausible explanation for his pre-election bonanza of US $681 million in his bank account, which was that it was a kind ‘donation’ from Saudi Royals. These Royals were hinted to be a king and his son, whom current Deputy PM Zahid Hamidi claims also to have met and discussed the ‘donation’ matter with.

The US Department of Justice have, to the contrary, traced the money step by step back to a theft from Malaysia’s own 1MDB development fund, which was controlled by Najib.

Requests that the alleged Saudi royals should be named have always been met with a shrug by BN’s top brass – why should one delve into detail about such ‘untouchable’ people was the official line?  On the other hand, off the record, Najib’s key media spinner, his British communications chief Paul Stadlen, has subtly directed journalists to a BBC article which named the late King Abdullah and his son Prince Turki, who is a former shareholder and director of PetroSaudi.

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From left to right are Jho Low;Prince Turki, the owner of PetroSaudi;  Prime Minister Najib Razak; wife Rosmah Mansor and the couple’s son, Nor Ashman ; Tarek Obaid, the Director of PetrSaudi and Rosmah’s daughter, Nooryana Najwa.

PetroSaudi was the company embroiled in the first major theft from 1MDB, a matter originally exposed by Sarawak Report and now confirmed by the FBI/DOJ court filings on the world’s largest kleptocracy investigation.

Some $1.83 billion was stolen from 1MDB using a bogus joint venture with PetroSaudi during the period 2009-11. At the time this supposed Saudi oil company was effectively a shell, despite being presented to the Malaysian public as a major player in the oil business.

The money trails show that $77 million was paid to Prince Turki in the aftermath of that deal, although most of the cash went to Jho Low, who was Najib’s own proxy in the negotiations. Even larger kickbacks also went to Prince Turki’s active business partner, Tarek Obaid, who has faced investigations into the affair in several countries and is currently remaining in Switzerland.

Prince Turki extricated himself from PetroSaudi soon after the scandal broke and is no longer involved in the company.  He has also taken action over being effectively named as “Saudi Prince” in the DOJ’s original court filings in 2016, which detailed how $24.5 million had been passed from Jho Low’s company Good Star in 2011 to a Saudi Prince and then $20 million of that was passed on to Najib:

Original court filing mentioning 'Saudi Prince' - our highligts

Turki’s lawyers have been pointing out that the most recent version of the FBI filings (July 2017) indicate a more complex transaction that may have distanced the prince through the joint ownership of a company that received the cash.  The revised version of the court document refers to a Riyadh company and Saudi Associates rather than a Saudi Prince:

According to J.P. Morgan Chase and RBS Coutts banking records, between February and June of 2011, approximately $24,500,000 of these funds was transferred to an account at Riyad Bank maintained in the name of two Saudi nationals who were associates of LOW and TAN (“SAUDI ASSOCIATE 1” AND “SAUDI ASSOCIATE 2”). From those funds, $20,000,000 was then transferred, within days, to an account belonging to MALAYSIAN OFFICIAL 1 [updated version of the DOJ court filing]

Prince Turki went on to become Governor of Riyadh, thanks to his powerful connections as the seventh son of the former King Abdullah.  However, he was sacked the day after his father died and now he features as number three on the list of princes rounded up overnight by the new powers that be in Saudi Arabia.

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He and his fellow princes have been charged with corruption, which makes an uncomfortable prospect for Najib Razak, who has continued to rely on his dodgy Saudi Prince donor story to cover up the vast sums found in his personal bank accounts by global and domestic investigators tracing the billions stolen from the fund he controlled.

Image result for Najib's Selfie with King SalmanSaudi King Salman with Malaysia’s Corrupt Prime Minister Najib Razak who claims to be the King’s especially close and trusted friend (sahabat akrab)

Najib and his wife Rosmah have traded on their supposed good relations with Saudi as a vital part of their bid for respectability.

Najib gloried that he had managed to steal a selfie opportunity with the new King Salman on a visit to Malaysia and circulated it on social media.

He and his wife have hurried to and fro from Mecca to repeatedly and very publicly perform religious obeisances.

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Prime Minister of Malaysia and his Foreign Minister Anifah Aman

Crucially, he was able to stage through his Foreign Minister, Anifah Aman, a press interview with the Saudi Foreign Minister, in which the Minister said he accepted after all that there had been such a donation.  No details were given and earlier the same minister had denied that Saudi royals had provided Najib’s cash.

There is a view that one trade-off for this willingness by the Saudi establishment to turn a blind eye towards Najib’s domestic corruption issues has been Malaysia’s support of their military adventures against Yemen. Solidiers have even been despatched to join the military operations pummelling that troubled and backward country.

Najib and Rosmah have enthusiastically visited Saudi Arabia numerous times

 

Najib and Rosmah have visited Saudi Arabia numerous times

In seeming harmony with this currying of favour, Najib has also bowed towards supporting increasing extremism and intolerance over religious matters in Malaysia, promoting the ‘Islamic State’ agenda of the Saudi-educated leader of the Islamic party PAS, which was perhaps supposed to bring Malaysia in line with the Middle East, but has destabilised relations between communities in his own multi-cultural South East Asian country.

Now, however, the power in Saudi is a young Prince, who says he wants a corruption clean up and to modernise the Kingdom. Even if that means turning on members of his all-powerful Royal Family, once considered so ‘untouchable’.

The Prince, who has effectively taken over all his father’s powers, has also made clear he wants to ‘return his country to moderate Islam’ and to encourage tolerance and openness towards other faiths that will encourage outside investors, as Saudi looks forward to a future where the world no longer relies on its petroleum deposits.

“We want to lead normal lives, lives where our religion and our traditions translate into tolerance, so that we coexist with the world and become part of the development of the world,” he said…Saudi Arabia’s crown prince vowed Tuesday to destroy “extremist ideologies” in a bid to return to “a more moderate Islam.”…”Seventy percent of the Saudi population is under the age of 30. In all honesty, we will not spend 30 years of our lives dealing with extremist ideologies. We will destroy them today and immediately,” bin Salman said. [CNN News October 25th]

So, the question is, where does this leave Najib and the tacit understanding that all his money was a nice gift from the previous King and his son Prince Turki, now arrested on corruption charges?  What will those charges be?

Also, where does the new look Saudi Arabia leave Najib’s growing pact with the old-school Muslim supremacist, Hadi Awang of PAS, who wants to introduce Hudud Law and an ‘Islamic state’ into Malaysia?

Venezuela

This is not the only foreign corruption case that 1MDB’s erswhile partners at PetroSaudi are facing.  There is a developing court case in Venezuela, which is proving very embarrassing indeed and also proving that every word that Sarawak Report has written about the concerns over corrupt conduct over the company’s 1MDB financed investments in Venezuela are founded on fact.

A recent article in the Venezuelan press details that court proceedings have now implicated the fugitive former head of the state oil company and six senior executives in a corrupt contract that was effectively bought by up front cash introduced by PetroSaudi from 1MDB. In return these officials lumbered their own country with an outrageous agreement that guaranteed PetroSaudi vast returns on their paltry investment, which has now ceased to produce any oil at all.

PetroSaudi has been suing Venezuela to honour that dodgy contract, which is an issue that is separately still going through the London courts.  The person who supported that contract and who provided the front required by PetroSaudi, which was posing to Venezuela as a Saudi state linked company, was Prince Turki.  He had performed a similar role in giving status and a sense of official Saudi backing from his father, the then King, at the launching of his company’s joint venture with 1MDB.  This was his opening letter to the Venezuelan authorities, which had been dictated by his partner Tarek Obaid:

Prince Turki's letter to Venezuela

Malaysians, including Najib, must now wait with interest to see what information comes out of Saudi, now that his key ally has been hauled up on charges.

Prince Turki's similar letter to Najib