Trump, Najib and The Controlled and Free Media


February 18, 2017

Trump, Najib and The Controlled and  Free Media

 

by Dean Johns@www.malaysiakini.com

Prime Minister of Malaysia (PMOM) Najib Abdul Razak must be feeling tremendously superior to his alleged erstwhile golfing buddy and recently-elected President of the United States (POTUS) Donald J.Trump, even without a chance to play a round with him recently.

Because, however many courses Trump owns, and however close to scratch his game might be, he’s competing at world-class level according to US and international rules in full view of a global gallery, and thus has no chance of hiding just how green, gruesomely handicapped and doomed to defeat that he thus far appears to be.

Whereas Najib plays mostly for Malaysia on a minor circuit restricted to such similar small-timers as North Korea and Zimbabwe, who all consider themselves winners because they not only make-up the rules of the game and fake their own scorecards, but also feel free to club anyone who dares criticise or oppose them into silence or submission.

Image result for altantuya

Or, in some special cases, to death, as in the current case of the alleged hit on a member of North Korea’s Kim family at the KL International Airport 2, or the murder and C4 dismemberment of Mongolian ‘model’ Altantuya Shaariibuu (pic above) in Kuala Lumpur a decade ago.

Image result for Half brother of North Korea's Dictator in Kuala Lumpur

No wonder POTUS Trump is so mightily teed-off at the way he’s thwarted at every stroke as he strives to triumph over obstacles like that mother of all sand-traps, the Middle East, and looming water hazards like the South China Sea, while simultaneously trying to deal with domestic challenges ranging from hostile Democrats and disaffected Republicans to hostile news media and intractable courts.

At least you’d imagine that a golfer as avid as Trump so evidently is would be aware of Theodore Roosevelt’s proverbial advice to himself and successive US Presidents to ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’.

But apparently not, as in the blustering press conference he held recently to praise his own allegedly ‘fine-tuned’ administration’s bumbling, stumbling performance in its first few weeks, he seemed rather to be still resorting to speaking glibly because he’s getting so much stick.

Image result for Lying Najib
Najib’s Team of Goofers

And if he’s even slightly sincere in his avowed desire to ‘make America great again’, he can look forward to getting even more stick in the future, in light of the fact that two of the principal principles that have contributed most to America’s self-perception as ‘great’ are the freedom of the press and the doctrine of the separation of powers underpinning the independence of the Judiciary.

And it is right here, of course, where Najib’s UMNO-BN regime, North Korea’s Kim dynasty, Zimbabwe’s Mugabe-figure eaded Zanu-PF gang and the similar dominant players in countless other no-account countries well and truly have the wood on Trump attempts to run the US.

Image result for Golfing Najib and Trump

Because while Trump can only endlessly and impotently repeat his lying refrain about the forces of ‘fake news’ that he claims are so ‘unfairly’ ranged against him, Najib, the Kims and Mugabes can, as they so efficiently have done, abolish independent news media, fake or otherwise, and create fake news in their own favour.

Thus, to refer back to the headline of this column, Najib easily trumps Trump in the management of negative or hostile news and views by the simple expedient of making sure there aren’t any. None that can be printed or broadcast, at least, as  UMNO-BN owns and controls all of Malaysia’s ‘mainstream’, or in other words, traditional news media. In contrast in the United States, freedom of expression is guaranteed by The First Amendment, making the media an independent and countervailing force in American society.

This blacking-out of bad news about Malaysia’s ruling regime is reinforced by an Official Secrets Act so severe as to cover virtually every activity of the government, the public services and crony based ‘government-linked corporations’ (GLCs), and of course backed-up by regime domination of the Judiciary which should by rights be Malaysian citizens’ final bulwark against the misrule of their country by the UMNO-BN ‘kleptocracy’.

Related image

At least you’d imagine that a golfer as avid as Trump so evidently is would be aware of Theodore Roosevelt’s proverbial advice to himself and successive US presidents to ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’.

But apparently not, as in the blustering press conference he held recently to praise his own allegedly ‘fine-tuned’ administration’s bumbling, stumbling performance in its first few weeks, he seemed rather to be still resorting to speaking bitingly because he’s getting so much stick.

And if he’s even slightly sincere in his avowed desire to ‘make America great again’, he can look forward to getting even more stick in the future, in light of the fact that two of the principal principles that have contributed most to America’s self-perception as ‘great’ are the freedom of the press and the doctrine of the separation of powers underpinning the independence of the Judiciary.

And it is right here, of course, where Najib’s UMNO-BN regime, North Korea’s Kim dynasty, Zimbabwe’s Mugabe-figureheaded Zanu-PF gang and the similar dominant players in countless other no-account countries well and truly have the wood on Trump attempts to run the US.

Because while Trump can only endlessly and impotently repeat his lying refrain about the forces of ‘fake news’ that he claims are so ‘unfairly’ ranged against him, Najib, the Kims and Mugabes can, as they so efficiently have done, abolish independent news media, fake or otherwise, and create fake news in their own favour.

Thus, to refer back to the headline of this column, Najib easily trumps Trump in the management of negative or hostile news and views by the simple expedient of making sure there aren’t any. None that can be printed or broadcast, at least, as UMNO–BN either or both owns and controls all of Malaysia’s ‘mainstream’, or in other words traditional news media.

From left: Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Steve Mnuchin and Sen. Jeff Sessions have all been nominated to high-profile positions in President-elect Trump’s Cabinet. Alex Wong/Getty Images; F. Carter Smith/Bloomberg via Getty Images; Drew Angerer/Getty Images; Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

This blacking-out of bad news about Malaysia’s ruling regime is reinforced by an Official Secrets Act so severe as to cover virtually every activity of the government, the civil services and crony so-called ‘government-linked corporations’ (GLCs), and of course  backed-up by regime domination of the Judiciary which should by right be Malaysian citizens’ final bulwark against the misrule of their country by the UMNO-BN ‘kleptocracy’.

One tiny flaw

Admittedly this game-winning strategy has one tiny flaw, which is that former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the man who devised and from whom Najib has inherited it, was so keen to create a world-class IT complex he grandly conceived as ‘Cyberjaya’ that he promised global players like Apple and Microsoft that he wouldn’t censor the Internet.

Cyberjaya, like so many of Mahathir’s alleged megalomanic projects, never really took off. But at least the Internet has surprisingly remained relatively free in Malaysia, and thus I can write what I like, or rather what my editors deem not so dangerously politically provocative as to get Malaysiakini raided or banned, in this column.

But Najib and his UMNO-BN accomplices and supporters are apparently quite prepared if not happy to tolerate this relatively minor annoyance, as it gives them a pretext on which to pretend they permit at least some slight degree of press freedom.

And in any event they must figure that however much bad news gets out about them, they can keep buying enough voters to keep them in power with money they SK1M from the public purse to fund annual hand-outs billed as BR1M, which Najib recently boasted increases in amount every year.

Or, to put this another way, there are always enough Malaysians prepared to be so D1M as to accept BR1M and in return to pretend that they’re unaware that Najib, like every one of his fellow UMNO-BN members and cronies, is a KR1M.

In short, though Najib Abdul Razak might seem to the embarrassed, embarrassing and deeply-embattled Donald Trump to be a winner in the contest between himself and the essential democratic institutions of truth, transparency and justice, the Malaysian people are the ‘sure-fire losers’.

Just as the American people will be if Trump and his goofers can’t be persuaded or if necessary forced to finally get themselves on the ball, stop playing around like dimwit banana-republic demagogues and realise that there’s as huge a gulf between their performance so far and true world leadership as between hit-and-giggle golf and the real thing.


DEAN JOHNS, after many years in Asia, currently lives with his Malaysian-born wife and daughter in Sydney, where he coaches and mentors writers and authors and practises as a writing therapist. Published books of his columns for Malaysiakini include ‘Mad about Malaysia’, ‘Even Madder about Malaysia’, ‘Missing Malaysia’, ‘1Malaysia.con’ and ‘Malaysia Mania’.

OB Markers: My Straits Times Story by Cheong Yip Seng


February 17, 2017

Book Review:

OB Markers: My Straits Times Story by Cheong Yip Seng

Image result for ob markers: my straits times story by cheong yip seng

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

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

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

Image result for Israeli President Chaim Herzog’s 1986 visit to Singapore
Israeli President Chaim Herzog’s 1986 visit to Singapore

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for Lee Kuan Yew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for singapore's george yeo
The Emeritus Foreign Minister of Singapore, George Yeo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for lee hsien loong quotes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is Up in Trump’s Washington


February 15, 2017

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

by Thomas L. Friedman

Image result for Mike Flynn

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

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

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

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

Image result for Does Russia own Trump

Who owns this Make America Great Again Guy?

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

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

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

Image result for House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

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

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

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

Image result for Beautiful Washington DC

Turmoil beneath  the beautiful and calm Washington DC

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

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

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

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

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


 

HRH Sultan Nazrin Shah: Understand Malaysia better through its History


February 14, 2017

HRH Sultan Nazrin Shah:  Understand Malaysia better through its History

COMMENT: HRH Sultan Nazrin Shah, the Oxford and Harvard-educated political economist, is to be congratulated for publishing a monumental book on Malaysia’s economic history.

One cannot dispute His Royal Highness’ view that understanding the country’s economic, political and socio-cultural history is important since it enables us to appreciate the progress we have achieved since Independence in 1957 due to the contributions of our diverse communities, and learn from our policy failures, and follies and frailties of our past leaders and administrators.

Our achievements have been spectacular by any measure  to earn the respect of the world. The developing world used to look up to us for our economic success. But in recent years, while we enjoy continued economic growth (in GDP terms), albeit modest by comparison with our past attainments, the management of our economy has been increasingly disappointing and depressing. The level of corruption is now the worst I have ever witnessed in my nearly 45 years of public, corporate, academic and civil society life.

Image result for din merican

It is obvious to me at least that our present generation of UMNO-BN leaders have not learned the lessons of history especially why nations can and have failed because of corruption, abuse of power and sheer incompetence. HRH Sultan of Perak would, therefore, be well advised to remind Prime Minister Najib Razak of the consequences of poor governance. Preaching to the converted like me and others is inconsequential since we are not in power.

Finally, I must add my disappointment with this piece by Hanis Zainal. While publicizing HRH Sultan Nazrin’s book, she chose not acknowledge that scholars and academics like James Puthucheary, Agoes Salim, Lin See Yan, Rais Saniman, Junid Saham, Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Edmund Terrence Gomez, Mohamed Ariff (formally with MIER),Kamal Salih (USM), Lim Teck Ghee, Johan  Saravanamuttu et.al have contributed immensely to our understanding of Malaysia’s political economy and history. They have, in fact, preceded HRH Sultan Nazrin Shah.–Din Merican

by Hanis Zainal@www.thestar.com.my

The key to understanding a country better is through its history, so it is logical to assume the key to studying a country’s economy is through studying its econo­mic history.

This was what Perak Ruler Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah set out to achieve in Charting the Economy: Early 20th Century Malaya and Contemporary Malaysian Contrasts which was launched yesterday.

The book charts the country’s economic activities under colonial rule and contrasts it with the economic growth and development in contemporary Malaysia.

During the launch at a hotel here, Sultan Nazrin said that lessons learned from history carry “great relevance” for overcoming the economic challenges of modern-era Malaysia.

 “To better understand contemporary economic performance, it is necessary for us to go back into history to understand long-term trends,” he said.

In his book, Sultan Nazrin charts the changes – from an economy based largely on agriculture and mining in the past to one that is more diversified and broad today.

One of the most important lessons he learned in his study was of people’s contributions to the economy, said Sultan Nazrin.

“The truly remarkable economic and social transformation that Malaysia has experienced is due to the outstanding contributions made by all of our diverse communities working together.”

Quoting novelist Henri Fauconnier, who wrote the Soul of Malaya, Sultan Nazrin said the soul of Malaysia “is found in the country’s diverse people”.

 Image result for charting the economy sultan nazrin

In his address, Harvard University’s Professor of Political Economy Prof Dwight Perkins noted the book’s importance to the economic literature of Malaysia.

Charting the Economy is published by Oxford University Press and retails at RM99 at all major bookshops in Malaysia.

 

Steve Bannon: An Unusual Conservative


February 13, 2017

Steve Bannon: An Unusual Conservative

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria@The Washington Post

Image result for fareed zakaria with Henry Kissinger

Dr Fareed Zakara and America’s Foreign Policy Enfant Terrible Dr. Henry Kissinger

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/stephen-bannons-words-and-actions-dont-add-up/2017/02/09/33010a94-ef19-11e6-9973-c5efb7ccfb0d_story.html?utm_term=.14e5d7218424

Perhaps it’s just me, but a few weeks into the Trump presidency, between the tweets, executive orders, attacks and counterattacks, I feel dizzy. So I’ve decided to take a break from the daily barrage and try to find the signal amid the noise: What is the underlying philosophy of this administration?

The chief ideologist of the Trump era is surely Stephen K. Bannon, by many accounts now the second-most powerful man in the government. Bannon is intelligent and broadly read, and has a command of U.S. history. I’ve waded through his many movies and speeches, and in these, he does not come across as a racist or white supremacist, as some people have charged. But he is an unusual conservative. We have gotten used to conservatives who are really economic libertarians, but Bannon represents an older school of European thought that is distrustful of free markets, determined to preserve traditional culture and religion, and unabashedly celebrates nationalism and martial values.

In a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2012, Bannon explained his disgust for Mitt Romney and his admiration for Sarah Palin, whose elder son, Bannon noted, had served in Iraq. The rich and successful Romney, by contrast, “will not be my commander in chief,” Bannon said, because, although the candidate had five sons who “look like good all-American guys . . . not one has served a day in the military.”

Image result for steve bannon donald trumpPresident Trump’s Chief Ideologue Stephen Bannon–The Powerafter President Trump in 1600, Pennslyvania Avenue, Washington DC

The core of Bannon’s worldview can be found in his movie “Generation Zero.” It centers on the financial crisis of 2008, and the opening scenes — in their fury against bankers — could have been written by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). But then it moves on to its real point: The financial crisis happened because of a larger moral crisis. The film blames the 1960s and the baby boomers who tore down traditional structures of society and created a “culture of narcissism.”

How did Woodstock trigger a financial crisis four decades later? According to Bannon, the breakdown of old-fashioned values resulted in a culture of self-centeredness that measured everything and everyone in one way: money. The movie goes on to accuse the political and financial establishments of betraying their country by enacting free trade deals that benefited them but hollowed out Middle America.

Image result for Howard Zinn

Historian, Civil Rights Activist and Public Intellectual, Howard Zinn

In a strange way, Bannon’s dark, dystopian view of U.S. history is closest to that of Howard Zinn, a popular far-left scholar whose “A People’s History of the United States” is a tale of the many ways in which 99 percent of Americans were crushed by the country’s all-powerful elites. In the Zinn/Bannon worldview, everyday people are simply pawns manipulated by their evil overlords.

A more accurate version of recent American history would show that the cultural shift that began in the 1960s was fueled by a powerful, deeply American force: individualism. The United States had always been highly individualistic. Both Bannon and Trump seem nostalgic for an age — the 1930s to 1950s — that was an aberration for the nation. The Great Depression, the New Deal and World War II created a collectivist impulse that transformed the country. But after a while, Americans began to reassert their age-old desire for personal freedom, fulfillment and advancement. The world of the 1950s sounds great, unless you were a woman who wanted to work, an African-American who wanted to vote, an immigrant who wanted to move up or an aspiring entrepreneur stuck in a large, faceless corporation.

The United States that allowed individuals to flourish in the 1980s and 1990s, of course, was where the young and enterprising Bannon left a large bank to set up his own shop, do his own deals and make a small fortune. It then allowed him to produce and distribute movies outside of the Hollywood establishment, build a media start-up into a powerhouse and become a political entrepreneur entirely outside the Republican hierarchy. This United States allowed Bannon’s brash new boss to get out of Queens into Manhattan, build skyscrapers and also his celebrity, all while horrifying the establishment. Donald Trump is surely the poster child for the culture of narcissism.

Image result for president donald j trumpMaking America Great Again in a Messy World

In the course of building their careers, Trump and Bannon discarded traditionalism in every way. Both men are divorced — Bannon three times, Trump twice. They have achieved their dreams precisely because society was wide open to outsiders, breaking traditional morality did not carry a stigma and American elites were actually not that powerful. Their stories are the stories of modern America. But their message to the country seems to be an old, familiar one: Do as I say, not as I do.

 

Face It– Malaysia is a Failed Nation


February 10, 2017

 Face It– Malaysia is a Failed Nation

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for S Thayaparan

One commonly hears that carping critics complain about what is wrong, but do not present solutions. There is an accurate translation for that charge: ‘They present solutions, but I don’t like them.”

– Noam Chomsky, ‘Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy’.

Image result for Malaysia --Failed Nation by Rustam SaniThe Late Rastam A. Sani arguably was the first Malaysian public intellectual to talk about Malaysia as a Failed Nation

In another article, I admitted that I was one of those people who were pushing the failed state narrative after another Malaysiakini columnist Josh Hong pointed out in his own piece of the intellectual bankruptcy of promoting such an agenda.

Of course, I felt justified in promoting such an agenda – “I have lost track of how many times I have pushed the ‘failed state’ narrative. Moreover, let me tell you it is very easy to push that narrative when we see the failing system around us. It is very easy to push that narrative when we have something as calamitous as the National Security Council Act.”

Running around claiming failing state status is easy in Malaysia. We are a Muslim-majority country that has managed to pull through over the decades when the world was going through radical political and social changes. The Arabisation process crept up on us because we were too busy engaging in other affairs instead of keeping a close eye on the corrupt and incompetent UMNO hegemon.

Three recent contradictory statements by politicians in this country brings into focus why the opposition has been unable to gain traction with the idea that a vote for them would save Malaysia from an apocalyptical fate and why UMNO still has a grip on power in Malaysia.

Image result for I Love PM

Muhyiddin Yassin paid  a heavy price for loyalty. He was sacked from UMNO by UMNO’s Grand Poohbah Najib Razak

The first is by Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) point man Muhyiddin Yassin – “Through decades of government policies being initiated by UMNO and Barisan Nasional (BN), the country has become progressive, renowned and in the Islamic context, a model country.”

And right here is the problem for the opposition because this is really is what most voters who vote Barisan National think. Through the decades, despite of all the corruption scandals, the sustained attacks against independent institutions, the slow process of dismantling our individual rights, Malaysia, in the words of Josh Hong, “for all its flaws, Malaysia remains a prosperous, relatively efficient and economically vibrant country.”

Meanwhile, Muhyiddin admits that it would difficult to dislodge BN if the opposition remains in disarray and straight one-on-one fights was the most viable stratagem of replacing UMNO-BN.

Nowhere does he consider that if people think that the country is functional and prosperous (and that this is something even he as a powerbroker in the opposition acknowledges), why should there be any regime change when things are running if not smoothly but better than in many other Muslim countries?

Which brings me to what the honourable DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang asked, “Is Najib aware that Malaysia has taken a first step to become a ‘failed state’ when we ascended to the ‘global kleptocracy’ club without any sense of contrition or compunction, whether by the cabinet or Parliament?”

The problem here is that over the decades there have been numerous corruption scandals and yet the country remains standing. Furthermore, coupled with these corruption scandals, the UMNO hegemon has carried out a deliberate process of racial engineering that changed the political, legal and social institutions of this country, and yet the country did not become one of those Islamic paradises that most Muslims would prefer not to go to but instead head West.

Keep in mind the “failed state” narrative was used in the run-up to the 2004 election and former UMNO President (Badawi) – who campaigned with a reform agenda – won by a landslide for BN. This was the same coalition that had ruled for decades and engineered the problems that are affecting Malaysia today.

Image result for grand poobah of umnoUMNO’s Grand Poohbah Najib Abdul Razak and Poohbah Jr.
Image result for grand poobahBarney and Fred of The Flintstones

Meanwhile, UMNO Grand Poohbah Najib Abdul Razak thinks that if there is no religious and racial harmony, Malaysia will turn into a failed state. The problem with this is that over the decades, the supremacy of Islam and Malay privilege has supplanted whatever grand ideas, the founding fathers – I still have no idea who these men and women were – had in mind.

Indeed, the only reason why the UMNO big cheese was raising the spectre of a failed state was because everyone else is doing it. But this idea that Malaysia is becoming a failed state ultimately is nonsensical when employed by either UMNO the opposition.

10 reasons

All this talk of Malaysia becoming a failed state, made me dig up an old article by the Foreign Policy magazine that in my opinion is one of the more accessible articles on why states fall apart. Actually, the title of the article says it all – ‘10 reasons why countries fall apart’.

While I have reproduced the first two paragraphs of the article, readers are encouraged to seek out the article and pay close attention the countries mentioned. The reason why I like this article because it accurately describes the various processes that go into making a failed state.

From the article – “Most countries that fall apart, however, do so not with a bang but with a whimper. They fail not in an explosion of war and violence but by being utterly unable to take advantage of their society’s huge potential for growth, condemning their citizens to a lifetime of poverty. This type of slow, grinding failure leaves many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America with living standards far, far below those in the West.

“What’s tragic is that this failure is by design. These states collapse because they are ruled by what we call ‘extractive’ economic institutions, which destroy incentives, discourage innovation, and sap the talent of their citizens by creating a tilted playing field and robbing them of opportunities. These institutions are not in place by mistake but on purpose. They’re there for the benefit of elites who gain much from the extraction – whether in the form of valuable minerals, forced labour, or protected monopolies – at the expense of society. Of course, such elites benefit from rigged political institutions too, wielding their power to tilt the system for their benefit.”

The following are the 10 reasons:

1) Lack of property rights

2) Forced labour

3) A tilted playing field

4) The big men get greedy

5) Elites block new technologies

6) No law and order

7) A weak central government

8) Bad public services

9) Political exploitation

10) Fighting over the spoils

Becoming a failed state is a gradual process and in the Malaysian context, nobody comes out clean. Not UMNO. Not the opposition, and certainly not the citizens of Malaysia because we voted for BN and we never demanded the kind of opposition that is the exact opposite in terms of ideology of what the ruling coalition is.

I have said many times, the coming general election is a make or break election for the opposition. If the opposition is determined to play the same game as UMNO and loses, then the opposition is also to blame when we eventually get to our failed state destination.

However the world over, there is a shift in political sentiment. In the West, the shift is to the right. I honestly believe that although we may not have a “left”, what the citizens of this country want is something new.

I believe that if the opposition rolls the dice, discards conventional Malaysian political wisdom, they may actually accomplish a hail Mary and with policies that are radically different from UMNO, halt the decline of Malaysia into a failed state.

If not, do not panic. There is still some ways to go, before we are inducted into the failed state hall of fame. It is going to be a slow but painful process.


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

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