American Fascism: Reading the signs of the times


July 21, 2018

American Fascism: Reading the signs of the times

“…freedoms must be defended, which is possible only when the threats are seen clearly. The moment people stop believing that the demagogues can be prevented from doing their worst is the moment we can be sure that it is already too late.–Ian Buruma
Image result for Trump a Demagogue?

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2018
www.project-syndicate.org

 

At the Opening of the 14th Parliament– A Hopeful End to a Boorish UMNO dominated House


July 20, 2018

At the Opening  of the 14th Parliament– A Hopeful End to a Boorish UMNO dominated House

Image result for Mahathir and Wan Azizah in 14h Parliament

It was a surreal experience sitting in the visitors gallery of the Dewan Rakyat the other day watching members of the 14th Parliament take their oath of office. It was like sitting in on history as it unfolded.

A moment to remember

There was the redoubtable Dr Mahathir once again in his old seat with the wife of his one-time nemesis sitting beside him in the capacity of Deputy Prime Minister. And all the familiar faces that were long associated with the term “opposition” now ensconced comfortably in the government benches.

What an awesome feeling it must have been for all these former opposition stalwarts to be  sitting on the right side of the House and of history.

Image result for Lim Kit Siang

Malaysia’s No 1 Servant-Leader, MP Lim Kit Siang

The indomitable Lim Kit Siang was there as well clearly savoring the moment. Perhaps no other politician in our history fought so long and sacrificed so much for the changes now unfolding in our nation. They say it’s hard to keep a good man down; he’s the living proof of it.

And how in keeping with the times to see Judge Mohamad Ariff Yusof, a man of sterling character and integrity, take the speaker’s chair. His presence in the chair is itself proof enough of the new government’s respect for the role of parliament in our democracy.

His appointment may not have met the letter of Pakatan’s pledge to appoint an MP as speaker but it far surpasses it in spirit.

A parliament worthy of our nation

I have been a civil servant and ambassador for a long time. Over the years I have had to watch in silent dismay the antics of so many of our parliamentarians – their lavish junkets abroad, their boorish behaviour, their own sense of entitlement. Their disdain for the people who elected them was always evident.

Image result for zahid hamidi in parliament

The new Opposition Leader Dr. Zahid Hamidi

They shamefully trampled on the fine parliamentary traditions that underpinned our democracy, stifling debate and rubber-stamping the ill-conceived and malicious actions of an overbearing executive. They looked the other way in the face of some of the worst excesses our nation has seen, dishonouring in the process the very institution that was meant to give expression to our democracy.

Some were such poor representatives of our nation that I confess there were times when I felt ashamed to claim them as my own. But those days are behind us now. Looking around the chamber on that first day of Parliament, I couldn’t help thinking that we finally have a parliament we can be proud of, a parliament worthy of our nation.

Passionate & committed

To be sure, many of the newbie MPs are  inexperienced in parliamentary procedure but there’s no doubting, however, their passion and commitment to building a better Malaysia. Many of them know what it is like to be tear-gassed, arrested, imprisoned, and harassed for their convictions. It’s hard not to believe that they will not be more tolerant of dissent, more respectful of human rights or more sensitive to the hopes and aspirations of our people.

 

Together – seasoned hands and newcomers, idealists and pragmatists, dreamers and realists, religious and secularists, young and old, graduates from renowned institutions and certificate holders from the school of hard knocks – they constitute, arguably, the most formidable team ever assembled on the government benches.

To survive as a government, they will have to learn to give and take, negotiate and accommodate as our diversity demands. There’ll be challenges, of course, but if anyone can do it, it is this team of parliamentarians.

Heads in the sand

And it is just as well given that so many of those who sit in the opposition benches appear to still have their heads in the sand, unable to rise to the demands of a nation reborn. Perhaps they’ve fed on their own bile for so long that they are no longer capable of providing the kind of credible opposition we had hoped for.

 

Even as Parliament got down to work, UMNO minions were outside Parliament doing their utmost to stoke fears of impending doom and spewing their usual racism and bigotry. They had earlier announced that they would march with hands bound and mouths taped to symbolize the loss of Malay power but apparently thought better of it. It would have been more appropriate for them to have taped their eyes instead to symbolize their own lack of vision.

People are watching

Image result for Malaysians

Whatever it is, members of the 14th Parliament should know that the citizens who elected them will be watching them closely.  While the people understand the challenges ahead, and will certainly give them some leeway, the honeymoon will not last forever.

Promises were made; promises must be kept. We’ve come too far and fought too hard to accept anything less than genuine transformation and real change. There is an expectation too that they’ll put principle ahead of party in the interests of the people. The people have rediscovered the power of their vote and will use it to hold them accountable.

As well, they’d better be prepared to leave the ivory tower that parliament can sometimes be and walk among the lesser mortals in whose name they govern. All too many of the MPs whose seats they now occupy were just too full of themselves, their honorifics, their entitlements; and they paid the price for it.

Repository of our hopes

Five years is a short time in politics but it’s all the time they will get to fulfil their promises to reform our nation, banish corruption, rebuild our economy and forge a new national consensus on the issues that have long divided us.

It’s a tall order for sure but they have the support of the people and the parliamentary majority to get things done. All that is needed now is the political will, courage and wisdom to do right by our nation.

In a very real sense, these members of parliament have become the repository of all our hopes and dreams for a better, more inclusive nation. Our future is now in their hands. May Almighty God give them the grace to rise to the occasion.

FELDA–Tun Razak’s Legacy– is the Next 1MDB


July 9, 2018

FELDA–Tun Razak’s Legacy– is the Next 1MDB

by Dr. M Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California, USA

FELDA (Federal Land Development Authority), the massive plantation development scheme that was Tun Razak’s brainchild and crown jewel of his rural development program, threatens to rival the massive scandal of 1MDB in terms of corruption, grand larceny, and inept management.

Image result for Shahril Samad of Felda

IMD/IMEDE-Educated Laundromat Entrepreneur, Shahril Samad

Its new head (now former, with UMNO’s rout in the May 2018 elections), one Shahril Samad, admitted that title to the prime property on which its head office is sited was transferred to a developer without his or his agency’s knowledge! This character claims to have an MBA (from IMD/IMEDE–Switzerland) but his private venture up till then was to run a laundromat. He, in turn, had replaced the scandal-ridden Isa Samad (no relation) who earlier was found guilty by UMNO for “money politics.”

Image result for Isa Samad

FELDA Chairman, Isa Samad

FELDA is now a large, diversified agro-based GLC having morphed from its origin as a modest federal agency. It boasts revenues (2017 figures) in excess of RM17 billion. The profit picture, however, is another story and best reflected by its stock price which languishes at about a third of its initial offering price. When FELDA was listed in 2012 as FGV (FELDA Global Ventures), it was the largest in Asia and globally second only to Facebook.

Visit FELDA’s settlements today and compare them to the 1960s or 70s. Nothing much have changed. The settlers’ standard of living has not improved. If there is any economic enterprise on those settlements, they would be under the control of FGV. The social and economic dynamics of those settlements resemble the old company town, except that the company here, FGV, is not in the least benevolent.

There is one significant change which the settlers are not even aware of, or if they are, not appreciate the full financial and other ramifications. Whereas before they had title to their land (about 16 acres each), today that has been subordinated to FGV as part of the IPO. When FGV shares tumbled, those settlers’ assets went with it.

Those settlers as well as FELDA managers do not understand such sophisticated financial instruments as dividends, stock offerings, and capital gains. FGV should have emulated Nestlé and invested in its settlers and not be enthralled with pseudo high finance. FELDA is uniquely positioned to execute that as its leaders and managers are Malays, as are the settlers. As such there would be no cultural barriers in appreciating their problems, unlike Nestlé’s European managers had with their African growers.

Image result for The Felda Settlers

FELDA has done little to stimulate entrepreneurial activities among its settlers. It has not encouraged them through funding or training to be FELDA’s vendors, suppliers, or subcontractors, nothing beyond harvesting the palm nuts and tapping their rubber trees.

I would have expected that with the huge profits FELDA often brags about, the schools and clinics in its settlements would be among the best so as to give those settlers’ children a flying head start, as those of Nestle’s African cocoa growers. Instead FELDA schools perform below average. Regrettable considering that the mission of these GLCs is “national development foundation,” in particular that of Bumiputras.

FELDA has only recently set up a residential school exclusively for the children of its workers. Over half a century later, and only one school! FELDA brags ad nauseum about the few successful “AnakFELDA” (children of FELDA). They are outliers, not the consequence of enlightened policies.

As for the settlements, few have electricity or piped water, much less a clinic. Again, compare that to what Nestlé is doing to those African cocoa growers. Those Malay managers and executives at FELDA ought to be ashamed of themselves and their lousy performances!

Image result for felda kids

 

FELDA has introduced little innovation to make the settlers’ lives and work more bearable and less dangerous. Oil palm is harvested in the same old, crude, and dangerous manual ways as it was in the 1960s. FELDA have not introduced hydraulic lifts (like the ones telephone repairmen use to fix overhead lines) to make the harvesting of palm nuts more efficient. Those workers still use pitchforks and bare hands to collect those nuts. Not only do the pitchforks damage the nuts, their sharp shells often scrape the workers’ hands giving rise to painful tumor-like growths (granulomas). Those chores are archaic and literally backbreaking; they should have been mechanized.

Only through such innovations could you increase your workers’ productivity, not endlessly exhorting “work harder!” or “be more efficient!”

FGV is the largest employer of unskilled laborers, meaning, illegal immigrants. Instead of investing in the skills and productivity its workers, as well as modernizing its plantations to be less dependent on unskilled workers, FGV took the easy way out by importing them and with all the attendant social problems.

There is also little research done on maximizing the use of land, as with growing flowers and vegetables or raising livestock in between the trees to raise the settlers’ income.

FELDA has many subsidiaries. All look impressive until you examine their activities; few materially advance the settlers’ plight. Those subsidiaries are but crass opportunities for politicians and civil servants to earn extra-lucrative directorship fees by being appointed to their boards, all at the poor settlers’ expense.

With the resources it has and freed from the micromanagement of the the civil service, FGV could have superb build schools to benefit the settlers’ children.

These GLCs as exemplified by FGV have failed in their primary mission of developing Bumiputra human capital. They succeed only in duplicating existing governmental programs, and adding to the costs. They do not bring in added value despite the tremendous resources, financial and otherwise, expended on them. Good enough reason to get rid of them.

Gag Order: An Act of Media Self-Censorship


July 8, 2018

Gag Order: An Act of Media Self-Censorship

by Bob Teoh@www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT | The gag order placed on the High Court trial of former Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak impairs both open justice and fair reporting. It should be removed at the earliest opportunity.

Image result for Integrity Matters

In the first place, the order is unclear in its scope of restriction. Thus, there is no compelling reason for the media to comply as in doing so it would constitute an act of self-censorship.

This would not only be against the conscience of journalists, it would also be an affront to the new democracy that is emerging after May 9, when the people voted convincingly for a return to constitutional democracy.

Journalists can continue to pursue court reporting in the manner they have always practised in fair conscience. Don’t let anything or anyone gag you. Most of all don’t ever gag yourself again, for that would be a disgrace to your calling.–Bob Teoh

The gag order was issued to ensure a fair trial and to prevent a trial by media, as claimed by the defense counsel. But this is both nebulous and untenable and the order is unprecedented.

This is censorship of the press and, far from preventing a trial of public opinion, the move will only encourage fake news to surface in the ensuing absence of fair and responsible reporting. We must not allow unclear restrictions to shut the door to press freedom and open justice.

Malaysia is a Commonwealth country and our judiciary can follow the open justice convention as espoused by countries like the United Kingdom and Australia where prior restriction to fair reporting is already available.

Likewise, in Malaysia, there are also prior restraints to court reporting like evidence in camera in rape cases where the press is excluded.  There is no need for gag orders.

The Najib trial is about alleged corruption and abuse of power in the highest levels of government. Public interest is best served by the widest coverage through fair reporting. The media has its fundamental obligation to report factually, accurately and fairly.

Such reportage must be contemporaneous and not be kept in abeyance for two months, as the gag order demands.  That would be stale news and indeed likely to constitute an offence according to the international convention of court reporting.

The Aattorney-General Tommy Thomas (photo), as the lead prosecutor, must appeal against the gag order vigorously and urgently. So too must the Bar Council and human rights agencies like the National Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) and the National Human Rights Society (Hakam).

The media through their own bodies like the National Union of Journalists, publishers and editors associations and the Malaysian Press Institute too must make their representations to the court in no uncertain terms.

‘Clinical’ reporting

Najib, 64, was charged yesterday with misusing his position to receive a RM42 million bribe as inducement to provide a sovereign guarantee on behalf of the Malaysian government for a loan of RM4 billion from the pension fund Kumpulan Wang Persaraan (KWAP) to SRC International.

He also faces three other charges of criminal breach of trust (CBT) in his capacity as Prime minister, finance minister and advisor emeritus of SRC International, in which he was entrusted with the RM4 billion.

The first offence of bribery under Section 23 of the MACC Act 2009 is punishable by up to 20 years’ prison and a fine equal to five times the bribe amount.

The other charges under Section 409 of the Penal Code (CBT by public servant) are punishable by up to 20 years’ prison, whipping and a fine. Due to his age, if found guilty, whipping would not be applicable.

Najib’s lead counsel, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah (photo) said the gag order is to “ensure nobody makes unfair comments about the merits of the case in order to get it published by media”.

A breach of the gag order would be contempt of court, Shafee said. But he said news organisations would not be barred from reporting “clinically” on Najib’s cases. There is no such thing as clinical reporting. Only fair reporting, the hallmark of journalism, is needed.

The interim gag order expires on August 8 when Najib’s CBT and corruption cases are scheduled to return to the High Court for management. Shafee said the defence team will then argue for a gag order in full.

Attorney-General Tommy Thomas said, “The defence will have to put in an official application for the gag order, which we will be vigorously objecting to.” The High Court had tentatively set trial to start from February 18 next year.

High Court judge Justice Mohd Sofian Abd Razak then granted the interim gag order and fixed August 8 for a hearing on the official application.

Guiding court coverage

In his introduction to an official guide for judges and the media, “Reporting Restrictions in the Criminal Courts April 2015 (Revised May 2016)”, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales writes:

“Open justice is a hallmark of the rule of law. It is an essential requisite of the criminal justice system that it should be administered in public and subject to public scrutiny. The media play a vital role in representing the public and reflecting the public interest. ”

 

In recognition of the open justice principle, the official guide points out that the general rule is that justice should be administered in public.  To this end:

  • Proceedings must be held in public.
  • Evidence must be communicated publicly.
  • Fair, accurate and contemporaneous media reporting of proceedings should not be prevented by any action of the court unless strictly necessary.

Therefore, unless there are exceptional circumstances laid down by statute law and/or common law, the court must not:

  • Order or allow the exclusion of the press or public from court for any part of the proceedings.
  • Permit the withholding of information from the open court proceedings.
  • Impose permanent or temporary bans on reporting of the proceedings or any part of them.

The official guide also points out that the courts and Parliament have given particular rights to the press to give effect to the open justice principle, so that they can report court proceedings to the wider public, even if the public is excluded.

Guidance is based on the recommended approach to take when making decisions to exclude the media or prevent it from reporting proceedings in the courts. The guidance takes the form of an easy reference checklist for use in court.

In the light of this, what is clear is that the High Court gag order in the Najib trial is unclear. An unclear court order is a bad order. This does not serve open justice and fair reporting.

Journalists can continue to pursue court reporting in the manner they have always practised in fair conscience. Don’t let anything or anyone gag you. Most of all don’t ever gag yourself again, for that would be a disgrace to your calling.


BOB TEOH is a media analyst and a readers’ advocate.

Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad Interview: The New Malaysia


July 6, 2018

Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad Interview: The New Malaysia

The early signs of the New Malaysia, like 1Malaysia, are hopeful and exciting. But I hope Pakatan leaders do not let power  go to their heads. I am personally prepared to give them time since cultural change takes time. 60 years of UMNO–Culture of Corruption and Mediocrity will be difficult to change. That’s why Tun  Dr. Mahathir’s Cabinet comprises young ministers in the majority.

The civil service must be revamped and top civil servants who were associated with the previous corrupt regime should be replaced and the public service should be competent, transparent and accountable. A Culture of Competency and Meritocracy must,therefore,  be the order of the day. The quota system, for example, should replaced so the civil service must not be dominated by one race. –Din Merican

 

Why some people hate journalists


July 4, 2014

Image result for fourth of july 2018

Why some people hate journalists

by Eric Loo@www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT | Soon after last week’s shooting at the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland, numerous trolls ‘celebrated’ the targeted murder of the four journalists and a staffer. One troll declared: “Dead journalists can’t spread leftist propaganda.”

Since Donald Trump was elected President in November 2016, attacks on the ‘fake news media’ are becoming more common with right-wing media platforms emerging bolder and stronger.

Trump’s anti-journalist rhetoric is not entirely blameless in riling predatory attacks on journalists by nut heads such as the shooter at the Capital Gazette whose unresolved grievance with the paper escalated into him murdering an editor and three other journalists on June 28.

Trump’s Nixonian loathing of the American media has effectively created echo chambers for the white supremacist agenda, the most recent being Milo Yiannopoulos’s red flagging to “vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight”.

Rightist contempt for the liberal press has degenerated to such a state that the New York Police Department felt it necessary to deploy armed police to news organisations across Manhattan.

It is unthinkable that journalists need police protection in a democracy that gave us Watergate, Walter Cronkite, the Pulitzer and Edward R Murrow who famously said: “We cannot make good news out of bad practice.”

Even as we look to the US as the beacon of press freedom, bad media practices are being mainstreamed, notably at Fox News and Breitbart News Network. The partisan media exchange is empowering hardline conservative attack machines in the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

The political left also has its share of anti-Trump media platforms and late night TV shows in the Bill Maher and Stephen Colbert genre.

The polarised American portrayal of the Trump Presidency – which has led to Trump supporters publicly hating the liberal media – reminds me of my short journalism lecturing stint in Alabama many years ago.

My brief was to expose the American students to a more “international perspective” of journalism practices and cultures. The final year students, unsurprisingly, said the media were blatantly biased (such as Fox News), that journalists generally lacked integrity, that the news was overly negative, sensational and obsessed with celebrity trivia.

Image result for The Eagle the symbol american power

That cynical judgment on the media is not exclusive to the US. Journalists I had worked with at training workshops in developing countries cited similar gripes.

Which underlines my point that knowing what is bad and lacking in professional journalism does not necessarily motivate reporters to do something concrete to fix it for various reasons.

As a senior Malaysian journalist said: “When you have unqualified editors running the newsroom, our hands are tied.”

Personal costs

Yes, editors ought to lead, inspire and exemplify in their editorials and in-house policies what good journalism practically means. Good journalism goes beyond a reporter’s ability to ask questions and string sentences into a readable news story.

Image result for edward r. murrow

 

Good practices are forged in the newsroom by fair-minded journalists whose primary obligation is to their readers, rather than to those in power; journalists who know that they should not become part of the story but recognise that they could be caught up in issues that conflict with their core values.

The journalist’s task, therefore, is to recognise his blind spots and preconceptions that influence his judgment of what’s right and wrong, of what’s fair and unfair.

Good journalists are known by their ability to weigh the evidence to illuminate the truth of the matter – all these are based on the trust that journalists place on their sources to provide the information that can be checked and verified for its contextual and factual accuracy.

Journalists, though, seldom work in isolation. They work with their sources in uncovering the truth.

In authoritarian states, journalists uncovering the truth come with personal costs. At this time of writing, two Reuters journalists are still in detention in Myanmar for their investigation of military brutality against the Rohingyas in Rakhine State.

 

In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has warned journalists critical of his administration that they “are not exempted from assassination”.

Further away in the Czech Republic, which I visit occasionally, the rightist President Milos Zeman was reported to have turned up at a press conference with a fake Kalashnikov inscribed with the ominous words “for journalists”.

And in Egypt, Al Jazeera journalist Mahmoud Hussein has been detained since December 2016 for allegedly “disseminating false news and receiving monetary funds from foreign authorities in order to defame the state’s reputation”.

You can read details of ongoing threats against journalists here.

Image result for dan rather 2018

Dan Rather–The Icon  of Journalism of the Edward R. Murrow,Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley Mold

Renowned American journalist Dan Rather (photo above) had sounded out to journalists in the US to “stay steady… relentless and remain aggressive” against Trump’s persistent attack on the media.

“That’s the proper role of the press… to be part of the system of checks and balances, to ask questions, keep on asking the tough questions, do deep investigative reporting. I think the public (including the people who voted for Trump) understand that that’s a vital role,” Rather said.

What’s what our journalists ought to do with the nascent freedom to report and probe since May 9. Journalists should keep on asking the tough questions that cut through the political spin and to closely watch that real reforms, as promised to the people in the Pakatan Harapan campaign manifesto, are delivered beyond the 100 days.

Sycophantic “bodek” journalism that had sustained the BN kakistocrats for decades certainly qualifies the mainstream media as the “enemy of the Malaysian people”. This must now end.


ERIC LOO is Senior Fellow (Journalism) at the School of the Arts, English & Media, Faculty of Law Humanities & Arts, University of Wollongong, Australia. He is also the founding editor of Asia Pacific Media Educator.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.