New tech and old loyalties mash up a historic contest


April 13, 2018

New tech and old loyalties mash up a historic contest

by Ross Tapsell

http://www.newmandala.org/new-tech-old-loyalties-mash-historic-contest/

What does a 92-year-old former prime minister and a smartphone have in common? Both have become critical factors in deciding who wins GE14 next month.

Image result for Najib Razak baca doa

Najib Razak–Baca Doa, invoking God’s Help!

Kampung Tok Senik is a leafy wooden-hut resort in the middle of Langkawi island, off the north-west coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Built during Langkawi’s tourism boom in the 1990s, its website proudly claims it’s “where genuine Malay heritage flourishes”. Today, paint strips off the walls, tiles are broken, the waterslide looks like it would distribute splinters rather than exhilarating rides. Various websites now list the resort as “haunted”. So when the 92-year-old former prime minister arrived for a campaign strategy meeting, foreign tourists would be forgiven for thinking they had seen the resort’s resident ghost.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad is indeed back from the dead, and Prime Minister Najib Razak is spooked. Dr Mahathir is making meaningful inroads in the northern peninsula states of Perlis and Kedah, which includes Langkawi, where he’s seen as the island’s “father”. Many people I speak to recall the “boom” days which saw resorts like Kampung Tok Senik flourish as solely Mahathir-inspired; the resort’s now stale, dishevelled appearance seems a metaphor for the Malaysian state. Over on the mainland in Guar Chempedak, 3000 people watch Mahathir speak at an opposition rally, a further 1000 attend a similar event in Perlis a day later. In response, Najib has promised several grandiose government programs for the region, including five projects for Langkawi worth RM1.3 billion (A$430m). As Muhamad Sanusi, Deputy Commissioner of the Islamist party (Pas) in Kedah said, “UMNO’s biggest concern is to make sure Mahathir doesn’t win. Mahathir back in parliament would be a dangerous thing. By hook or by crook, they will try to stop him. If Mahathir stands in Kedah, UMNO Kedah will be given a special job and loads of money to try to stop him.”

Yet it would be wrong to see Dr Mahathir’s persona as the only factor in voting here. His messages, and his party, Bersatu, are predominantly an anti-Najib machine. Almost all Bersatu party members are disgruntled former UMNO [Najib’s party] cadres fed up with Najib’s rule, which they see as corrupt and self-serving. One cadre in the Bersatu Women’s Wing tells me, “UMNO people are stupid [bodoh], always blindly following Najib”.

There’s little in Dr Mahathir’s campaign speeches to suggest that if he does miraculously become Prime Minister again, he or any of his senior party members have a visionary plan for the country’s future. Rather, his speeches are piercing analytical take-downs of the current administration, linked to corruption, taxes, the rising cost of living, and a flailing economy. Would a Mahathir-led opposition in alliance with a freed Anwar Ibrahim bring about comprehensive changes to the system? After all, Bersatu is being described as “UMNO 2.0”. But for UMNO, an “alternative UMNO” with a more popular leader is a serious problem.

While the resurgence of the “old” Mahathir is a key factor in this election, another game changer is the emergence of the “new”: the smartphone. Cheap, Android mobile phones are ubiquitous in Malaysia. In 2016, according to Malaysia’s Multimedia Commission, 77% of Malaysians had access to the internet, and around 90% of those users were using Facebook on a smartphone. But it’s the growth in Malay semi-rural and rural areas that matters here. Prior to the last election in 2013, only around 58% of internet users were ethnic Malay. In two years, that number had grown to 68% and continues to grow. In rural Kedah, most people I talked to under the age of 40 were all using a smartphone with Facebook and WhatsApp installed. This matters because they have access to a wider array of information and disinformation (90% of respondents said they used their phone to “get information”). As one local candidate told me, “we have problems understanding the decision of first-time voters, and this is because they all have smartphones. We can’t rely on them to vote the way their parents voted or other family members vote because they are more individuals in terms of the information they receive through these devices.”

When Kedahans I spoke with discussed the election, invariably they began to talk about Najib and the 1MDB wealth fund controversy. When I subsequently asked where they got their information (given Malaysia’s mainstream media mostly avoids reporting this issue), they would almost always say “Facebook”. For all its serious flaws around data privacy and the spread of disinformation, Facebook and WhatsApp (which is owned by Facebook) are the two most common ways that ordinary citizens receive alternative news and views on their smartphones in Malaysia.

Their usage and impact are central to understanding Southeast Asia’s rapidly shifting information society. One newspaper has already described GE14 as the “Whatsapp election”. Earlier this month, Malaysia’s parliament passed the highly controversial Anti-Fake News Bill. Analysts watch with concern as to whether the bill will be used to negate the spread of anti-government information online, in particular with further details about the 1MDB saga.

But let’s return to Kampung Tok Senik, “where genuine Malay heritage flourishes”, because it’s the ethnic Malay vote in places like here, in semi-rural and rural areas of the peninsula, that will decide the election. The opposition wants to win 100 out of 112 seats on the peninsula—it holds out little hope of winning many seats in Sabah and Sarawak—and to do this, they need a so-called “Malay tsunami”, where an enormous swing of Malay voters, abandoning UMNO and Pas, vote for the opposition. Senior local operators and pollsters in Kedah’s UMNO-led government remain confident of keeping the state. They have campaign teams using WhatsApp and Facebook, and small groups of campaigners on the ground countering Mahathir’s messages. Pas says its loyal voters will not budge, and they claim the arrival of Bersatu is good because it reduces UMNO votes and could place Pas in a better position. Of course, everyone is talking a big game prior to the campaign.

What they all agree on however is that the arrival of new parties Bersatu and Amanah (a splintering of Pas) means ethnic Malay voters have more choice in this election. And coupled with smartphones allowing for more personal interaction with individual parties and candidates, the local candidate is crucial. As one villager in southern Kedah told me, “things are changing. My grandfather voted for Pas his whole life. My father voted for UMNO his whole life. But me? I will choose the best candidate.”

A common saying amongst pollsters when assessing winning seats here is “tengok calonlah”, meaning “wait and see who the local candidate is before assessing who will win the seat”. Of course, personal and family ties to parties, as well as effective party machinery, still matter in how people choose the “best” candidate. But this suggests an unlikely “Malay tsunami” solely to the opposition or indeed to any one party, given all parties have decent hard-working candidates, as well as complete duds. At least prior to the official campaign period, I did not see signs of an enormous swing towards the opposition. Perhaps it’s no surprise that technology allows for more individual choice of news and views, and an individual candidate’s performance trumps entrenched party loyalty.

Despite Malaysia’s entrenched authoritarian regime with a ruling party which has won every election since Merdeka in 1957, there is still much uncertainty and anxiety around the precise outcome of the election—and what kind of outcome is best for Malaysia’s future.

 

GE14: Last chance for change


March 22, 2018

GE14: Last chance for change

by Dennis Ignatius

GE14: Last chance for change

We are now at the cusp of GE14, one of the most momentous political events that any of us will quite possibly experience in our lifetime. Rarely in the history of a nation has so much depended upon a single decision: who we vote for will quite literally decide the destiny of our nation.

Image result for malaysia's ge-14

To be sure, many are piqued and frustrated that it has come down to a choice between Najib and Mahathir. But this election is much more than a choice between personalities; it is a choice between two very different futures for our nation.

Politically moribund

UMNO-BN has now been in power for some 60 years. Like all political parties that have overstayed their welcome, they have become politically moribund. They have lost their way, their integrity, their credibility. They have neither the vision to inspire nor the moral authority to lead.

In almost every area of governance and leadership they have failed our nation.They have been extraordinarily incompetent and reckless fiscally, forcing our nation into levels of debt that were unheard of before. Billions of ringgit in public funds have also been looted with utter impunity or squandered through mismanagement and waste. GST is the price we are paying for their profligacy.

The 1MDB scandal, in particular, has been especially damaging to our nation’s international credibility, not to mention the loss to the nation’s coffers. More than 50 years of diplomacy promoting and positioning our nation has gone down the drain as a result.

It should be clear by now that they do not have the political will to eradicate corruption. When the system jails those who expose corruption and protects the scoundrels who rob us, you know the battle against corruption is over, and we’ve lost.

Under their watch, many of our once proud national institutions have been compromised or reduced to mere appendages of the ruling party.

Despite having amassed more power than any other administration since independence, they still feel vulnerable, still feel the need for yet more power, yet more limits on our freedom. Executive power is now so pervasive that we teeter on the edge of autocracy.

Can we trust a political party that has consistently abused their power with yet more power? Under their watch, our democracy has been hollowed out; gerrymandering and malapportionment have made voting itself increasingly meaningless. In fact, this might well be the last meaningful elections to be held in Malaysia if UMNO-BN is returned to power.

In the meantime, life continues to be a struggle for many. Twelve percent of our young people below 24 are unemployed; thousands of graduates cannot find jobs; the majority of young workers cannot earn enough to live decently. And while Kuala Lumpur has more millionaires than Abu Dhabi, 90% of rural, mostly Malay households, have zero savings.

Image result for malaysia's ge-14

And this after 60 years of development, after decades of the NEP and other programmes.

Charting a different course

We must now ask ourselves whether or not we can afford another five years of UMNO-BN rule, another five years of the same failed policies that have impoverished our nation, undermined our unity and weakened our democracy. Can we afford another five years of corruption, scandal and international shame?

If we are willing to look beyond the personalities, if we are willing to overcome our fears and UMNO-BN’s scaremongering, if we are willing to settle for the pragmatic over the ideal, we might just discover that we actually have a unique opportunity to break with the past.

For the very first time, we have a multiracial coalition [Pakatan Harapan] led by experienced political leaders who are genuinely able to unite our nation behind a vision for reform and renewal. They may not be on the same page on all issues but they are united on the things that matter most – respect for the constitution, rule of law, national unity and good governance.

As for Mahathir, there is every indication that he will honour his commitment to ‘reformasi;’ it is his last hurrah and he wants to get it right. In any case, Anwar, Mat Sabu and Lim Kit Siang will be there to ensure that no one hijacks the reform agenda.

It won’t be the end of the struggle to reform our nation but it could well be the beginning that we have long dreamed of.

A second chance

Image result for malaysia's ge-14

It is going to be an uphill battle to unseat UMNO-BN but we are now closer than ever before. The future of our nation is in our hands. We must seize the moment and do everything in our power – campaign, donate, support and vote – to ensure victory.

Few nations get a second chance; this is our tryst with destiny and we must not squander it.

Economists vs. Scientists on Long-Term Growth


March 4, 2018

Economists vs. Scientists on Long-Term Growth

Artificial intelligence researchers and conventional economists may have very different views about the impact of new technologies. But right now, and forgetting the possibility of an existential battle between man and machine, it seems quite plausible to expect a significant pickup in productivity growth over the next five years.

Image result for artificial intelligence

CAMBRIDGE – Most economic forecasters have largely shrugged off recent advances in artificial intelligence (for example, the quantum leap demonstrated by DeepMind’s self-learning chess program last December), seeing little impact on longer-term trend growth. Such pessimism is surely one of the reasons why real (inflation-adjusted) interest rates remain extremely low, even if the bellwether US ten-year bond rate has ticked up half a percentage point in the last few months. If supply-side pessimism is appropriate, the recent massive tax and spending packages in the United States will likely do much more to raise inflation than to boost investment.

Image result for artificial intelligence and economic growth

It is hard to know who is right: neither economists nor scientists have a great track record when it comes to making long-term predictions. But right now, and leaving aside the possibility of an existential battle between man and machine, it seems quite plausible to expect a significant pickup in productivity growth over the next five years.–

There are plenty of reasons to object to recent US fiscal policy, even if lowering the corporate-tax rate made sense (albeit not by the amount enacted). Above all, we live in an era of rising inequality and falling income shares for labor relative to capital. Governments need to do more, not less, to redistribute income and wealth.

It is hard to know what US President Donald Trump is thinking when he boasts that his policies will deliver up to 6% growth (unless he is talking about prices, not output!). But if inflationary pressures do indeed materialize, current growth might last significantly longer than forecasters and markets believe.

In any case, the focus of economists’ pessimism is long-term growth. Their stance is underpinned by the belief that advanced economies cannot hope to repeat the dynamism that the US enjoyed from 1995-2005 (and other advanced economies a bit later), much less the salad days of the 1950s and 1960s.

But the doubters ought to consider the fact that many scientists, across many disciplines, see things differently. Young researchers, in particular, believe that advances in basic knowledge are coming as fast as ever, even if practical applications are taking a long time to develop. Indeed, a small but influential cult touts the Hungarian-American mathematician John von Neumann’s “singularity” theory. Someday, thinking machines will become so sophisticated that they will be able to invent other machines without any human intervention, and suddenly technology will advance exponentially.

If so, perhaps we should be far more worried about the ethical and social implications of material growth that is faster than humans can spiritually absorb. The angst over AI mostly focuses on inequality and the future of work. But as science fiction writers have long warned us, the potential threats arising from the birth of silicon-based “life” forms are truly frightening.

It is hard to know who is right: neither economists nor scientists have a great track record when it comes to making long-term predictions. But right now, and leaving aside the possibility of an existential battle between man and machine, it seems quite plausible to expect a significant pickup in productivity growth over the next five years.

Consider that the main components of economic growth are increases in the labor force, increases in investment (both public and private), and “productivity,” namely the output than can be produced with a given amount of inputs, thanks to new ideas. Over the past 10-15 years, all three have been dismally low in the advanced economies.

Labor force growth has slowed sharply, owing to declining birth rates, with immigration failing to compensate even in pre-Trump America. The influx of women into the labor force played a major role in boosting growth in the latter part of the twentieth century. But now that has largely played out, although governments could do more to support female labor force participation and pay equity.

Similarly, global investment has collapsed since the 2008 financial crisis (though not in China), lowering potential growth. And measured productivity growth has declined everywhere, falling roughly by half in the US since the tech boom of the mid-1990s. No wonder global real interest rates are so low, with high post-crisis savings chasing a smaller supply of investment opportunities.

Still, the best bet is that AI and other new technologies will eventually come to have a much larger impact on growth than they have up to now. It is well known that it can take a very long time for businesses to reimagine productive processes to exploit new technologies: railroads and electricity are two leading examples. The pickup in global growth is likely to be a catalyst for change, creating incentives for firms to invest and introduce new technologies, some of which will substitute for labor, offsetting the slowdown in the growth of the workforce.

With the after-effects of the financial crisis fading, and AI perhaps starting to gain traction, trend US output growth can easily stay strong for the next several years (though, of course, a recession is also possible). The likely corresponding rise in real global interest rates will be tricky for central bankers to navigate. In the best case, they will be able to “ride the wave,” as Alan Greenspan famously did in the 1990s, though more inflation is likely this time.

The bottom line is that neither policymakers nor markets should be betting on the slow growth of the past decade carrying over to the next. But that might not be entirely welcome news. If the scientists are right, we may come to regret the growth we get.

 

Tech and Higher Education


February 21, 2018

Tech and Higher Education

Universities pride themselves on producing creative ideas that disrupt the rest of society, yet higher-education teaching techniques continue to evolve at a glacial pace. Given education’s centrality to raising productivity, shouldn’t efforts to reinvigorate today’s sclerotic Western economies focus on how to reinvent higher education?

Image result for Tech and Higher Education

 

CAMBRIDGE – In the early 1990s, at the dawn of the Internet era, an explosion in academic productivity seemed to be around the corner. But the corner never appeared. Instead, teaching techniques at colleges and universities, which pride themselves on spewing out creative ideas that disrupt the rest of society, have continued to evolve at a glacial pace.

Sure, PowerPoint presentations have displaced chalkboards, enrollments in “massive open online courses” often exceed 100,000 (though the number of engaged students tends to be much smaller), and “flipped classrooms” replace homework with watching taped lectures, while class time is spent discussing homework exercises. But, given education’s centrality to raising productivity, shouldn’t efforts to reinvigorate today’s sclerotic Western economies focus on how to reinvent higher education?

One can understand why change is slow to take root at the primary and secondary school level, where the social and political obstacles are massive. But colleges and universities have far more capacity to experiment; indeed, in many ways, that is their raison d’être.

For example, what sense does it make for each college in the United States to offer its own highly idiosyncratic lectures on core topics like freshman calculus, economics, and US history, often with classes of 500 students or more? Sometimes these giant classes are great, but anyone who has gone to college can tell you that is not the norm.

At least for large-scale introductory courses, why not let students everywhere watch highly produced recordings by the world’s best professors and lecturers, much as we do with music, sports, and entertainment? This does not mean a one-size-fits-all scenario: there could be a competitive market, as there already is for textbooks, with perhaps a dozen people dominating much of the market.

And videos could be used in modules, so a school could choose to use, say, one package to teach the first part of a course, and a completely different package to teach the second part. Professors could still mix in live lectures on their favorite topics, but as a treat, not as a boring routine.

A shift to recorded lectures is only one example. The potential for developing specialized software and apps to advance higher education is endless. There is already some experimentation with using software to help understand individual students’ challenges and deficiencies in ways that guide teachers on how to give the most constructive feedback. But so far, such initiatives are very limited.

Perhaps change in tertiary education is so glacial because the learning is deeply interpersonal, making human teachers essential. But wouldn’t it make more sense for the bulk of faculty teaching time to be devoted to helping students engage in active learning through discussion and exercises, rather than to sometimes hundredth-best lecture performances?3

Yes, outside of traditional brick-and-mortar universities, there has been some remarkable innovation. The Khan Academy has produced a treasure trove of lectures on a variety of topics, and it is particularly strong in teaching basic mathematics. Although the main target audience is advanced high school students, there is a lot of material that college students (or anyone) would find useful.

Moreover, there are some great websites, including Crash Course and Ted-Ed, that contain short general education videos on a huge variety of subjects, from philosophy to biology to history. But while a small number of innovative professors are using such methods to reinvent their courses, the tremendous resistance they face from other faculty holds down the size of the market and makes it hard to justify the investments needed to produce more rapid change.

Let’s face it, college faculty are no keener to see technology cut into their jobs than any other group. And, unlike most factory workers, university faculty members have enormous power over the administration. Any university president that tries to run roughshod over them will usually lose her job long before any faculty member does.

Of course, change will eventually come, and when it does, the potential effect on economic growth and social welfare will be enormous. It is difficult to suggest an exact monetary figure, because, like many things in the modern tech world, money spent on education does not capture the full social impact. But even the most conservative estimates suggest the vast potential. In the US, tertiary education accounts for over 2.5% of GDP (roughly $500 billion), and yet much of this is spent quite inefficiently. The real cost, though, is not the squandered tax money, but the fact that today’s youth could be learning so much more than they do.

Image result for the george washington university

Universities and colleges are pivotal to the future of our societies. But, given impressive and ongoing advances in technology and artificial intelligence, it is hard to see how they can continue playing this role without reinventing themselves over the next two decades. Education innovation will disrupt academic employment, but the benefits to jobs everywhere else could be enormous. If there were more disruption within the ivory tower, economies just might become more resilient to disruption outside it.

President Donald Trump at WEF in Davos, Switzerland


January 26, 2018

President Donald Trump at WEF in Davos, Switzerland

https://www.politico.com/story/2018/01/26/full-text-trump-davos-speech-transcript-370861

The following is the speech President Donald Trump delivered at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland on January. 26, 2018.

Image result for Trump in Davos

I believe in America. As President of the United States I will always put America first just like the leaders of other countries should put their country first also. But America first does not mean America alone. When the United States grows, so does the world. American prosperity has created countless jobs all around the globe and the drive for excellence, creativity, and innovation in the U.S. Has led to important discoveries that help people everywhere live more prosperous and far healthier lives.–President Donald J Trump

 

It’s a privilege to be here at this forum an business and science diplomacy and people from world affairs gathered for many, many years to discuss how we can to advance prosperity and peace. I’m here to represent the interests of the America people and affirm America’s friendship and partnership in building a better world.

Like all nations represented at this great forum, America hopes for a future which everyone can prosper and every child can grow up free from violence, poverty, and fear. Over the past year, we have made extraordinary strides in the U.S. We’re lifting up forgotten communities, creating exciting new opportunities, and helping every American find their path to the American dream. The dream of a great job, a safe home and a better life for their children.

After years stagnation the nights is once again experiencing strong economic growth. The stock market is smashing one record after another, and has added more than $7 trillion in new wealth since my election. Consumer confidence, business confidence, and manufacturing confidence are the highest that they have been in many decades.

Since my election we’ve created 2.4 million jobs and that number is going up very, very substantially. Small business optimism is at an all-time high. New unemployment claims are near the lowest we’ve seen in almost half a century. African-American unemployment reached the lowest rate ever recorded in the United States and so has unemployment among Hispanic-Americans.

The world is witnessing the resurgence of a strong and prosperous America. I’m here to deliver a simple message. There has never been a better time to hire, to build, to invest and to grow in the United States. America is open for business and we are competitive once again. The American economy is by far the largest in the world and we’ve just enacted the most significant tax cuts and reform in American history. We’ve massively cut taxes for the middle class, and small businesses to let working families keep more of their hard earned money.

Image result for Trump in Davos

We lowered our corporate tax rate from 35 percent all the way down to 21 percent. As a result, millions of workers have received tax cut bonuses from their employers in amounts as large as $3,000. The tax cut bill is expected to raise the average American’s household income by more than $4,000. The world’s largest company, apple, announced it plans to bring $245 billion in overseas profits home to America. Their total investment into the United States economy will be more than $350 billion over the next five years. Now is the perfect time to bring your business, your jobs, and your investments to the United States.

This is especially true because we have undertaken the most extensively regulatory reduction ever conceived. Regulation is stealth taxation. The U.S. Like many other countries unelected bureaucrats, we have, believe me, we have them all over the place, and they have imposed crushing and anti-business and anti-worker regulations on our citizens with no vote, no legislative debate, and no real accountability. In America those days are over. I pledged to eliminate two unnecessary regulations for everyone new regulation. We have succeeded beyond our highest expectations. Instead of two for one, we have cut 22 burdensome regulations for everyone new rule. We are freeing our businesses and workers so they can thrive and flourish as never before. We are creating an environment that attracts capital, invites investment, and rewards production. America is the place to do business, so come to America where you can innovate, create and build.

I believe in America. As President of the United States I will always put America first just like the leaders of other countries should put their country first also. But America first does not mean America alone. When the United States grows, so does the world. American prosperity has created countless jobs all around the globe and led the drive for excellence, creativity, and innovation in the U.S that has led to important discoveries to enable people everywhere to live more prosperous and far healthier lives.

As the United States pursues domestic reforms to unleash jobs and growth, we are also working to reform the international trading system so that it promotes broadly-shared prosperity and rewards to those who play by the rules. We cannot have free and open trade if some countries exploit the system at the expense of others. We support free trade but it needs to be fair and it needs to be reciprocal because in the end unfair trade undermines us all. The United States will no longer turn a blind eye to unfair economic practices including massive intellectual property theft, industrial subsidies, and pervasive state-led economic planning.

These and other predatory behaviors are distorting the global markets and harming businesses and workers not just in the U.S. But around the globe. Just like we expect the leaders of other countries to protect their interests, as president of the United States, I will always protect the interests of our country, our companies, and our workers. We will enforce our trade laws and restore integrity to our trading system. Only by insisting on fair and reciprocal trade can we create a system that works not just for the U.S., but for all nations.

Image result for Trump in Davos

As I have said, the United States is prepared to negotiate mutually beneficial, bilateral trade agreements with all countries. This will include the countries within TPP, which are very important. We have agreements with several of them already. We would consider negotiating with the rest either individually or perhaps as a group if it is in the interests of all. My administration is also taking swift action in other ways to restore American confidence and independent. We are lifting self-imposed restrictions on energy production to provide affordable power to our citizens and businesses and to promote energy security for our friend all around the world. No country should be held hostage to a single provider of energy. America is roaring back and now is the time to invest in the future of America.

We have dramatically cut taxes it make America competitive. We are eliminating burdensome regulations at a record pace. We are reforming the bureaucracy to make it lean, responsive and accountable and we are insuring our laws are enforced fairly. We have the best colleges and universities in the world and we have the best workers in the world. Energy is an abundant and affordable. There is never been a better time to do business in America. We are also making historic investments in the American military because we cannot have prosperity without security. To make the world safer from rogue regimes, terrorism and revisionist powers, we’re asking our friend and allies to invest in their own defenses and to meet their financial obligations. Our common security requires everyone to contribute their fair share.

My administration is proud to have led historic efforts at the united nations security council and all around the world to unite all civilized nations in our campaign of maximum pressure to de-nuke the Korean peninsula. We continue to call on partners to confront Iran’s support for terrorists and block Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon. We’re also working with allies and partners to destroy jihad it terrorist organizations such as ISIS and very successfully so. The nights is leading a very, very broad coalition to deny terrorists control of their territory and populations, to cut off their funding and to discredit their wicked ideology. I am pleased to the support that the coalition to defeat ISIS has retaken almost 100% of the territory once held by these killers in Iraq and Syria. There is still more fighting and worked to be done. And to consolidate our gains. We are committed to insuring that Afghanistan never again become as safe haven for terrorists who want to commit mass murder to our civilian populations.

I want to thank those nations represented here today that have joined in these crucial efforts. You are not just securing your own citizens but saving lives and restoring hope for millions and millions of people. When it comes to terrorism we will do whatever is necessary to protect our nation. We will defend our citizens and our borders. We are also securing our immigration system as a matter of both national and economic security. America is a cutting-edge economy but our immigration system is stuck in the past.

We must replace our current system of extended family chain migration with a merit-based system of admissions that selects new arrivals based on their ability to contribute to our economy, to support themselves financially, and to strengthen our country.

In rebuilding America we are also fully committed to developing our workforce. We are lifting people from dependence to Independence because we know the single-best anti-poverty program is a very simple and very beautiful paycheck. To be successful it is not enough to invest in our economy.

We must invest in our people. When people are forgotten the world becomes fractured. Only by hearing and responding to the voices of the forgotten can we create a bright future that is truly shared by all. The nation’s greatness is more than the sum of its production and a nation’s greatness is the sum of its citizens, the values, pride, love, devotion and character of the people who call that nation home.

From my first international G-7 Summit to the G-20, to the U.N. General Assembly, to APEC, to the World Trade Organization and today at the World Economic Forum my administration has not only been present but has driven our message that we are all stronger when free, sovereign nations cooperate towards shared goals and they cooperate toward shared dreams. Represented in this room are shared dreams.

Represented in this room are some of the remarkable citizens from all over the worlds. You are national leaders, business titans, industry giants and many of the brightest mind in many fields. Each of you has the power to change hearts transform lives and shape your country’s destinies. With this power comes an obligation however, a duty of loyalty to the people, workers, customers, who made you who you are.

Together let us resolve it use our power, our resources and our voices, not just for ourselves but for our people, to lift their burdens, to raise their hopes and to empower their dreams. To protect their families, their communities, their histories and their futures. That’s what we’re doing in America, and the results are totally unmistakable. It’s why new businesses and investment are flooding in. It’s why our unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in so many decades. It’s why America’s future has negative been brighter.

Today, I am inviting all of you to become part of this incredible future we are building together. Thank you to our hosts, thank you to the leaders and innovators in the audience but most importantly, thank you, to all of the hard-working men and women who do their duty each and every day, making this a better world for everyone. Together let us send our love and our gratitude to make them because they really make our countries run. They make our countries great. Thank you and God bless you all. Thank you very much.

 

BOOK REVIEW: The Messy Ganga and India’s Future


January 24, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: The Messy Ganga and India’s Future

by John Elliott

https://www.asiasentinel.com/book-review/river-of-life-river-of-death-the-ganges-and-indias-future/

Image result for victor mallet ganges

India’s River Ganges is a mess. The great and awe-inspiring sacred Ganga, as it is generally known, is revered by hundreds of millions of Hindus who foul its waters and assume that all will be well, however awful and health-endangering it becomes.

That in many ways is the story of modern India, a country that manages to be awe-inspiring and brilliant, but also frequently dysfunctional, defying most efforts to make it work better.

The challenge for an author is how to combine a study of all the enormous potential and the failings of this magical and frustrating country, and to explain how people tolerate the faults but do little to improve them, while making the most of what is available.

Successive foreign correspondents based in India have tackled this in different ways, mostly with broadly based surveys of political economic and social life, but with an increasing awareness in recent years of the negatives.

Image result for victor mallet ganges

Victor Mallet (pic above) a widely experienced Financial Times journalist who is now the paper’s Hong Kong-based Asia news editor, has chosen a neat solution by writing about the Ganges after spending four years in Delhi as his newspaper’s South Asia correspondent.

He has explored the 2,525 km river’s history, religion, economics, industry, environmental and health issues, and the people, while using it as a metaphor to explain how India functions, or doesn’t. Politics comes in too because Narendra Modi, the Hindu nationalist Prime Minister, has failed so far to fulfil his 2014 promise to clean the river that Hindus both revere and pollute.

A keen yachtsman, Mallet first developed an interest in the river when he spotted an image on a Delhi map of a sailing boat in a red circle – the universal sign for a yacht marina. It is in an industrial zone called Okhla on the banks of Delhi’s (filthy) Yamuna River, a tributary of the Ganges.

There he found “an immaculately kept building and garden called the Defence Services Sailing Club” with sailing dinghies nearly stacked on racks. “It was obvious that the boats were rarely used. The caretaker confirmed it. The reason was there in front of the club: the stinking, foamy black filth that was once a river.”

Image result for victor mallet ganges

Keeping Ganga clean? Fanatics don’t bother, feel the river is self-purifying, will take care of itself – COUNTERVIEW.ORG

After explaining how the Ganges was portrayed in India’s legends and paintings “as a natural paradise of lilies, turtles and fish” where “the cheerful god Krishna would play his flute amid a troupe of adoring female cow herds,” Mallet reports that “the water at Okhla is so polluted by human waste that it contains nearly half a million times the maximum level of faecal coliform bacteria established as the Indian standard for bathing water.”

That is a good introduction to modern India, enabling the author to show in the first two pages of his preface why the Ganga is such a great vehicle for exploring all the contradictions of a country that could be a world leader but somehow is not (yet?) getting there. As he travels, he meets a contrasting series of people from Saffron-clad Hindu priests to engineers and well-meaning environmental activists, and from tannery businessmen and bureaucrats to ashram devotees.

Image result for victor mallet ganges

The most horrifying part of the book is a chapter headed “Superbug River.” Many of us living in Delhi (and elsewhere in India) tolerate air pollution many times above safe limits, as well as undrinkable tap water, because we are protected by purifying filters in our homes and offices.

Mallet however uncovers much worse health hazards in the Ganges, saying that people are liable to pick up a recently discovered bacterial gene that can make various diseases highly resistant to antibiotics.

He stumbled on the gene, known to scientists as NDM-1, while researching “normal” pollutants such as sewage and industrial waste. “It only takes a short visit and exposure to acquire such genes in your gut,” he was told in Britain by an environmental engineering professor. As Mallet notes, this is a politically sensitive matter – Indian officials and doctors “were furious” when The Lancet medical journal in 2010 named the new gene NDM after New Delhi.

Devout Hindus, says Mallet, are unwittingly spreading diseases, and antibiotic resistance to diseases, in the very river to which they have come to pay homage. Water samples have demonstrated that even what are usually regarded as the relatively pristine reaches of the upper Ganges near Haridwar suffer surges of bacterial pollution during visits by thousands of urban Indians during the May-June pilgrimage season.

Throughout the book, the Ganges is the main focus but, along the way, there are many other subjects and issues ranging from the poisoning of vultures and a state government suggesting the use of cow urine as a hospital disinfectant, to corruption among water tanker drivers (and others), and India’s desperate need for jobs that Modi’s Make in India campaign cannot begin to solve.

Modi was elected in 2014 both to change the way that India is run by making the machinery of government cleaner, more effective, and less bureaucratic, and to create jobs and opportunities for the aspirational young. Make in India is one of a myriad of high profile schemes that he has launched to try to inject focus and drive into a somnolent government, but it is difficult as yet to assess how much has actually been achieved as a result of all the razzmatazz.

Modi’s pledge to clean the Ganges and reverse the failure of many earlier attempts can however be assessed, especially at the holy city of Varanasi which he chose as his parliamentary constituency. Little seems to have been achieved in the city apart from some beautification of the ghats, or flights of stairs, on the Ganges banks.

Varanasi’s disillusioned residents reminded Mallet about Modi’s televised launch of a plan to clean tonnes of mud off the city’s famous Assi Ghat, and criticised the lack of progress on the more important problem of sewage. Such cosmetic projects were like “putting lipstick on a woman with a dirty sari”.

Curiously, Modi made Uma Bharti, a religious activist and politician the minister in charge of water, and thus the Ganges. Mallet says “she appeared more interested in proving the existence 5,000 to 6,000 years ago of the extinct Saraswati River… than in solving the very real crisis facing the contemporary Ganges.”  That demonstrates one of the Modi government’s limitations – that several ministers and leaders of his Bharatiya Janata Party are more interested in Hindu religion and mythology (and nationalism) than they are in building a strong nation that works.

Image result for varanasi ganges river and Taj Mahal

Mallet is however too optimistic about the prospect of the Ganges being cleaned. He cites great and well-organised religious festivals like the Kumbh Melas, which bring millions of worshippers to the Ganges, as examples of even the most corrupt state governments being able to perform. “Good organization and efficient infrastructure, in short, are no more impossible in India than anywhere else,” he declares.

This misses the point that the Kumbh Melas are one-off events where a single official is given overall charge without political interference (though politicians are quick to claim credit when all goes well). There are other similar examples, such as the building of the Golden Quadrilateral highways around India 15 years ago and the construction of the Delhi Metro railway. In each case, politicians stood aside and left officials to get on with the job – and there was overwhelming support for what was being done.

Sadly, that is unlikely to work with cleaning the Ganges because there are too many interests and the project is neither time-bound like a Kumbh Mela nor of clear immediate benefit like a metro or highway.

Cleaning the Ganges is therefore a perfect metaphor for modernizing India. The task is just too huge and too complex for quick solutions – as Modi is discovering with a general election just over a year away.

A former “Financial Times” South Asia correspondent, John Elliott now writes for Asia Sentinel from New Delhi. He is the author of “Implosion: India’s Tryst With Reality” http://amzn.to/2gwrfjb   (HarperCollins)