Saturday, January 10, 2009


Life will never again be the same after March 8th, 2008. Not for any of the political parties whose fortunes have seen unprecedented reversals, nor for the quiet-living, tax-paying citizen. And certainly not for those of us who contribute to the nation by writing, reporting, performing on stage, or conjuring images in our studios.

What's so different about life after the political tsunami?

Obviously, the status quo is no longer static. Change is in the air and what seemed like an immovable object (the Umno/BN regime) has now encountered an irresistible force (the rapidly rising tide of an awakened and empowered rakyat).

In the aftermath of the March 8th tsunami, the "immovable" object was seen to have been swept half-a-mile downstream and turned upside down with its backside exposed for all to see and snigger at. Like the "unsinkable" Titanic that ignominiously sank, the "immovable" Umno/BN not only has undeniably been moved, it's in imminent danger of being forcibly removed altogether.

For more than half a century UMNO and its chief concubines MCA and MIC represented the vested interests of the propertied classes: the Malay aristocracy, the upper echelons of well-heeled Malayans and, of course, the foreign industrialists. It was a distinctly rightwing administration whose greatest fear and worst enemy was the bogus bogeyman called Communism. It tolerated a limited amount of pinkness in the form of strictly regulated trade unions and a feeble though stoical socialist party which for years featured the head of an ox against an industrial cog as its symbol (thereby defining itself as the political voice of no-longer-mute beasts of burden).

After the 13 May 1969 coup d'etat which saw the first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman deposed by a military-style National Operations Council led by Abdul Razak bin Haji Hussein, the electoral map was redrawn to ensure that there wasn't the remotest possibility of any opposition party becoming so strong it could serve as a viable alternative to what was now ill-advisedly called Barisan Nasional or the National Front (which immediately brings to mind the British Neo-Nazi Party of the same name).

So it was pretty much business-as-usual for BN for more than three decades. As happened in the United States, business began to merge with politics until the demarcation between public and private interests became invisible. Entrepreneurs and bureaucrats hopped into bed together and gleefully screwed the comatose public for all it was worth.

Mahathir's 22-year reign as prime minister saw the rise of Rupert Murdoch wannabes like Robert Kuok, Ananda Krishnan, Vincent Tan, Yeoh Tiong Lay, Lim Goh Tong and Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary. These card-carrying capitalists were empire-builders driven by their unstoppable ambition to be listed in Forbes Top 100. It's impossible not to tip one's hat in recognition of their vision, perseverance and sheer stamina. Yet they could never have amassed their vast fortunes without becoming intimate buddies with whosoever held the reins of political power.

And, of course, hobnobbing with power has unwholesome ramifications. More often than not. it's well-nigh impossible to draw a line between fair and foul practice. An old Greek saying cynically advises:

If you want to sleep well, make friends with your wife.
If you want to get fat, make friends with your mother-in-law.
If you want to get rich, make friends with the chief of police.

Nor could these go-getters have become billionaires by being overly sensitive to environmental and social issues. Many successful entrepreneurs find it advantageous to their public image to be seen as philanthropists - and many subscribe to "corporate social responsibility" programs whereby a tiny portion of their unimaginable profits is plowed back to the community in various ways.

A giant property consortium turned a verdant valley once populated by an Orang Asli community into a commercial-industrial wasteland. In exchange for their ancestral land each Orang Asli family was given a double-story link house plus a shophouse for them to rent out. A couple dozen kids were offered scholarships to study modern construction methods.

It all made for good PR, no doubt: spending RM335,000 of public funds on a special ceremony officiated by the PM to which all the Orang Asli headmen were invited and treated to one night's stay in a 3-star hotel, with a pair of leather shoes and a smart jacket thrown in. Nevertheless, what the developer had really done was erase the culture and memory of this Orang Asli community. Severed from their emotional links to the land, indigenous people soon cease to exist as such and become assimilated with the dominant culture.

Making a pile of money from ecocide and ethnocide is hardly laudable. I call these ill-gotten gains - like getting rich from turning youngsters into drug addicts and prostitutes. What if you're not directly involved with such unsavory activities - but happen to serve some big-shot wheeler-dealer as, let's say, his legal advisor or advertising and PR consultant? Does that make the money you earn any cleaner?

Looking at it from the strictly professional viewpoint, should a tailor refuse to make a suit for an underworld kingpin with blood on his hands? Should a dentist turn away a sex maniac minister who has been known to commit statutory rape? Not if the dentist happens to be a rapacious former chief minister, I suppose.

It would be practically impossible to do business if value judgments had to be applied to every situation. What if you happen to be chief legal advisor to Umno and have just been roped in to oversee a particularly shady operation? Or if you were a PR consultant whose professional services have been recruited to reverse the negative spin on the DPM's public image?

Supposing you were married to a high-powered banker and your hubby was invited to dinner at the finance minister's residence. Would you dress up in all your finery and make small talk with a woman everybody believes is capable of cold-blooded murder?

These are very real dilemmas plaguing a few of my former friends. I say "former" because a couple of them recently dropped me from their guest list as a result of my trenchant political views. It saddens me, to be sure, that in these times of tumultuous sea and sky changes, friends and even families are being split down the middle by polarized political affiliations.

I can imagine a similar situation playing out in America shortly after Bush ordered the bombing of Baghdad. What if you were at a family Christmas dinner and one of your brothers-in-law just happened to be a senior executive at Raytheon Enterprises - one of the top-earning defense contractors in America - and he thought extremely highly of Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice? Would you, for the sake of diplomacy, stick to remarks about the weather and concentrate on the food?

Popular legend has it that Marie Antoinette, when informed that the peasants were rioting, wanted to know what it was all about. One of her attendants informed her that it was because the poor could no longer afford to buy bread. "Then let them eat cake!" Marie allegedly responded.*

I can already picture a similar scenario developing in Malaysia as the effects of the financial meltdown and widespread joblessness begin to be felt. As always it's the working class with low cash reserves that feels the pinch first. We're not far from the day half a million hungry poor will be on the streets demanding an increase in their weekly rice ration. And some Toh Puan daintily ensconced in a 24-room mansion will turn to her maidservant and huff, "So let them eat ketupat!"


*I plead artistic licence with this well-worn and totally spurious anecdote. Marie Antoinette was much maligned in France simply because she happened to be Austrian. In truth she never actually made such a crass remark. My apologies to the memory of this hapless Hapsburg princess who suffered much and was grievously misunderstood.

Friday, January 9, 2009

You do us proud, Jomo!

Jomo Kwame Sundaram and I aren't exactly drinking buddies but I'm glad we bumped into each other and shook hands at least a few times when he was at Universiti Malaya. Always liked the man for his quiet, unassuming aura of heart-centered intelligence.

To me, Jomo KS (as he prefers to be called) has always represented the befriendable human face of intellectuality. My instincts about Jomo as an inherently noble soul have been convincingly borne out over the decades. The man has consistently spoken out for the exploited and oppressed underclasses in the sanctified halls of elite academia, and in the Olympian Councils of the UN.

Jomo was among the featured speakers at State of the Planet 2006, a conference on sustainable development hosted by The Earth Institute at Columbia University

Jomo and his family now reside in New York, because of his job with the UN's Department of Economic and Social Affairs as assistant secretary-general for economic development. Now here's a robust intellect Malaysia could certainly use at this juncture. How on earth did we succeed in losing Jomo KS to the United Nations?

I'll tell you how. Although never actively involved in politics, Professor Jomo was often an outspoken critic of Mahathir's top-heavy development policy and his flirtations with despotism camouflaged as "guided democracy." Jomo was among the tiny handful of academics who voiced their displeasure when Anwar Ibrahim was publicly accused of sodomy, unceremoniously sacked, and brutally mistreated by the police. When his contract with Universiti Malaya expired in 2004, Professor Jomo wasn't offered an option to extend his tenure. Born a Chindian with two African names (after Kenyan president Jomo Kenyatta and President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana), Jomo KS was certainly well placed to speak out on behalf of the voiceless in Asia and Africa - but here in his own homeland, he was deemed to be of the wrong ethnic origin and therefore not a suitable candidate to head a national think-tank or serve as economic advisor to the government.

Well, Malaysia's loss is the whole world's gain. Always good to see you back, Jomo!

Jomo: Global Financial System Reform Needs Our Inputs
Malaysiakini | Jan 9, 09 1:43pm

The world’s seven richest countries, also called the Group of 7 or G7 - United States, Japan, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and United Kingdom - have by and large dominated discussions on the global financial system.

The United Nations recently set up a group of experts, called the UN Commission of Experts on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System, with the aim of including viewpoints from those outside of the exclusive G7 club.

The commission, headed by Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz is tasked with suggesting proposals for systemic reform of the global financial system and is expected to deliver its final report by mid-2009.

Among the commission members is former Universiti Malaya economist Dr Jomo Kwame Sundaram, who is also assistant secretary-general for Economic Development, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Jomo, in an interview on the Fairly Current Show, said that the commission’s “idea is that at the beginning of the 21st century, the process of systemic reform should involve the voice and participation of the vast majority of countries in the world”.

Malaysia's best known economist, who is now based in New York, was in Kuala Lumpur on December 6 to deliver a keynote speech on the current global financial crisis.

The Fairly Current Show interviewed leading economist Dr. Jomo K.S. during his recent return to Kuala Lumpur in December.

Dr. Jomo sheds light on the ongoing global financial crisis, and the daunting challenges that economies across the world, including Malaysia, will face in 2009.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram (born 11 December 1952), better known as Jomo KS, is a prominent Malaysian economist, who is currently serving as the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development in the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). He was also the founder chair of International Development Economics Associates (IDEAs), and sat on the Board of the United Nations Research Institute For Social Development (UNRISD), Geneva. Jomo is a leading scholar and expert on the political economy of development, especially in Southeast Asia, who has authored over 35 monographs, edited over 50 books and translated 11 volumes besides writing many academic papers and articles for the media.

Jomo is widely perceived to be an outspoken intellectual, with unorthodox non-partisan views. During the Asian financial crisis in 1997-98, Jomo was one of the earliest advocates of capital control measures, which then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad eventually introduced to curb excessive currency speculation. However, when then Deputy Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim was imprisoned without trial under the Internal Security Act, Jomo publicly condemned the repression. In late 1998, he was sued for defamation for 250 million ringgit by Vincent Tan, a Mahathir era billionaire.

Named after two African nationalist leaders, Jomo was born in Penang, Malaysia, soon after Jomo Kenyatta was incarcerated in late 1952. He spent his early years studying at Westlands Primary School (1959-63) and later at Penang Free School (1964-66). He later won a scholarship to the Royal Military College (1967-70) where he was selected as Malaysia’s delegate to the World Youth Forum in 1970. He later attended Yale College (1970-73) on a full scholarship. After graduating cum laude from Yale with a degree in economics, Jomo went on to the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard to obtain his MPA in 1974. He lost his father in early 1974 and returned to teach at the Universiti Sains Malaysia in mid-1974, before beginning work on his Ph.D. at Harvard which he completed in late 1977 while teaching at Yale after earlier teaching stints at Harvard while working on his doctorate. The title of his Ph.D. dissertation is Class Formation in Malaya: Capital, the State, and Uneven Development (1978).

Jomo returned to Malaysia to research his thesis in 1976 before joining the economics faculty of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in early 1977. Five years later, he moved to the University of Malaya, where he remained for more than 22 years. During this period, Jomo was British Academy Visiting Professor and later Visiting Fellow at Cambridge (1987-88, 1991-92), Fulbright Visiting Professor at Cornell University (1993) and Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore. He was also founder director of the independent Institute of Social Analysis (INSAN) until late 2004, President of the Malaysian Social Science Association (1996-2000) and Convenor of the first and second International Malaysian Studies Conventions (1997, 1999). In January 2005, Jomo moved to New York City as UN Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development after retiring from the University of Malaya in 2004.

Jomo’s extensive writings have covered industrial policy, privatization, rent-seeking, cronyism, financial liberalization, macroeconomic policy impacts, economic distribution, ethnic relations, Islam and Malaysian history. His better known recent books include Privatizing Malaysia (Westview, 1995), Southeast Asia’s Misunderstood Miracle (Westview, 1997), Tigers in Trouble (Zed, 1998), Malaysia's Political Economy: Politics, Patronage and Profits (Cambridge University Press, 1999), Rents, Rent-Seeking and Economic Development (Cambridge University Press, 2000), Malaysian Eclipse (Zed, 2000) and The New Development Economics (Zed, 2005).

Related article on Malaysiakini - Jomo: Time for joint global action on economy

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Why Do So Few Speak Up for Gaza?

By Robert Scheer, editor of Truthdig

Posted on Jan 6, 2009

Why are we so indifferent to the death and destruction in Gaza?

The major news outlets meekly accepted Israel's banning of journalists from entering Gaza as an excuse for downplaying collateral civilian casualties, our president-elect, Barack Obama, has had little to say about an invasion that will much complicate his future Mideast peace efforts, and most commentators easily rationalize Israel's many-more-eyes-for-an-eye killings.

Why is it that there is such widespread acceptance, beginning with the apologetic arguments of President Bush, that whatever Israel does is always justified as necessary to the survival of the Jewish state?

It is not.

While the Hamas rocket attacks are reprehensible, they are also an ineffectual challenge to Israel's enormous security apparatus, and the severity of Israel's response to them is counterproductive. Clearly, the very existence of Israel is not now, nor has it ever been, seriously challenged by anything the Palestinians did. Not back in 1948, when Israel was established as a state with insignificant Palestinian military resistance, nor at the time of the 1967 Six-Day War when Egypt, Syria and Jordan fought Israel.

The Palestinians were in no position to confront the Israeli army, because those whose lands were not already occupied by Israel were living under oppressive Egyptian control in Gaza and tough Jordanian rule in the West Bank. After the speedy Israeli victory, which demolished the myth of the new state's vulnerability, the Palestinians became imprisoned as a people by Israel for crimes they had not committed.

Even if we accept the harshest portrayal of the tactics and motives of the Palestinian movements against Israel after the Six-Day War, at what point did that terrorism represent a serious challenge to the survival of the Jewish people or the state that claims to speak in their name? Yet that survival is invoked to justify the vastly excessive use of force by the Israeli war machine, with frequent allusions to the Holocaust previously visited upon the Jewish people, a holocaust that had nothing to do with Palestinians or Muslims, and everything to do with Central Europeans claiming to be Christians.

The high moral claim of the Israeli occupation rests not on the objective reality of a Palestinian threat to Israel's survival, but rather on the non sequitur cry that "never again" should harm come to Jews as it did in Central Europe seven decades ago.

The basic argument is that Palestinian terrorists represented by Hamas are given to an irrational hatred of Jews so profound that it invalidates their movement, even when they win elections. That was not the view of the Israeli security service when it earlier supported Hamas as the alternative to the then dreaded PLO. Also, history is replete with examples of terrorists becoming statesmen, even within the early ranks of Jews fighting to establish the state of Israel.

One of those was Menachem Begin (left), who went on to be an elected leader of the new state. But before Begin attained that respectability, back in 1948 when he visited the United States, a group of prominent Jewish intellectuals including Albert Einstein, Sidney Hook and Hannah Arendt wrote a letter to The New York Times warning that Begin was a former leader of the "Irgun Zvai Leumi, a terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization in Palestine." The letter urged Jews to shun Begin, arguing, "It is inconceivable that those who oppose fascism throughout the world, if correctly informed as to Mr. Begin's political record and perspectives, could add their names and support to the movement he represents."

Begin's new party was then participating in the Israeli election, and Einstein and his colleagues, many of whom like the physicist had been victims of German fascism, stated, "Today they speak of freedom, democracy and anti-imperialism, whereas until recently they openly preached the doctrine of the Fascist state. It is in its actions that the terrorist party betrays its real character."

Those actions were then detailed in the letter. They included the systematic terrorizing of innocent Palestinian men, women and children in an effort to force them to flee the territory that Begin's party claimed for the new state of Israel.

Clearly Begin and his political heirs, who include Benjamin Netanyahu, the most likely victor in the next Israeli election, evolved in their behavior. But I bring it up now to highlight the one-sided reporting of the current phase of this interminable conflict and to wonder: Where are the voices that reflect the uncompromising morality of Einstein's generation of Jewish intellectuals willing to acknowledge fault and humanity on both sides of the political equation?

ROBERT SCHEER is the editor of TruthDig. A journalist with over 30 years experience, Scheer has built his reputation on the strength of his social and political writing. His columns have appeared in newspapers across the country, and his in-depth interviews have made headlines.

Scheer draws upon a wealth of experience and knowledge. Between 1964 and 1969, he was Vietnam correspondent, managing editor and editor in chief of Ramparts magazine. From 1976 to 1993, he served as a national correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, where he wrote articles on such diverse topics as the Soviet Union, arms control, national politics and the military. He is currently a contributing editor at The Times, as well as a contributing editor for The Nation magazine.

Scheer has interviewed every president from Richard Nixon on through Bill Clinton. He conducted the famous 1976 Playboy interview with Jimmy Carter, in which the then-presidential candidate admitted to have lusted in his heart.

Scheer has also taught courses at Antioch College in San Francisco, New York City College, UC Irvine, UCLA and UC Berkeley. He is now a Senior Lecturer at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication, where he teaches a course on media and society.

Walski on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

As I Begin Another Solar Orbit...

It's good to have friends like Din Merican the "Malaysian DJ Blogger"!
Anoora succumbed immediately to Din's effortless charm...

Lucky guy Din was chauffeured by the world's most beautiful dentist,
former Elf Queen Kamsiah Haider ;-)

Portrait of a pensive bunyip named Ahau by Annette Manuela Navis
Punk princess on the rocks (pic by Din Merican)
Punk princess on the rocks with her blogger hubby
4 topless guys by Tricia Yeoh (L-R): Peter Walker, Gerald Wee, Azmi Sharom & Yours Truly

Monday, January 5, 2009

Magick River in the Malay Mail again!

The Malay Mail featured me on page 16 today in its "CyberSpot" section! The full article is no longer online, unfortunately - but the section quoting me I reproduce below...

The blogging has actually become a full-time unpaid job - the only reward being the number of new friends it has attracted, most of whom I have yet to meet, though a few have already visited or made plans to visit. Truth be told the blogging friends seem to be edging out the unblogging ones - who for some reason tend to be more rigid and stuck in old thought patterns and behavior loops. Which makes me seriously suspect that prolonged bombardment with stray electrons from the computer screen may cause strange mutations in the bloggers' brains - perhaps evolutionarily useful ones.

For 2009, a radical change of government will hopefully relieve us from dreary and repetitious BN-bashing. Most of us would like to take a break from political commentary - but we can only do that when our mission to liberate this country from moronism and tyranny is accomplished.

A blog that I recommend? Walski's MyAsylum is among the Most Intelligent, Literate & Technically Sophisticated Blogs on Planet Earth. And it's 100% Made-in-Malaysia!

[Thanks, Sheila Rahman, for the friendly plug... & for featuring Anoora in her Teletubby costume.]

Please sign this petition from the People's Parliament

I do not have confidence in Dato Seri Najib Tun Abdul Razak as Prime Minister of Malaysia. Do you?

January 4, 2009

I thought it was pointless sending out good wishes for the year 2009.

If we want 2009 to be the beginning of real change in our country, we must make it happen.

We can’t sit back, leave everything to others and to chance, and just wish for the best.

We know that come March, 2009, UMNO will have a new president.

Yes, Najib.

And we know that if Pak Lah steps down as PM then, as Najib and so many in UMNO hope he will, Najib will be making a bee-line to His Majesty seeking to be appointed as PM.

Frankly, notwithstanding all the things I’ve written about Pak Lah in this blog, I’d rather he remain PM then inflict Najib upon us as the new premier of Malaysia.

Sure, I’d rather see a Pakatan Rakyat federal government come end-March, 2009, with Anwar as PM

If that happens, great.

If it doesn’t, though, I do not want Najib running my country.

I have no confidence in Najib.


If you don’t know already, my reasons are as laid out in this PETITION that is addressed to the 221 other MPs in our Dewan Rakyat, excluding Najib.

Well, 221 after the Kuala Terengganu by-election results on 17th January.

This is my gift to all my fellow anak-anak Bangsa Malaysia for 2009.

My dear friend, Nanda, helped me to put it together.

It’s long, I know, but that’s for the benefit of those who may not be very clear on the issues, including some of the MPs to whom the petition is addressed.

If you, too, like me, have no confidence in Najib as PM, give the petition a read and see if you will give it your support.

If we fail to stop Najib, at least we can look at the next generation of Malaysians in the eye and say, ‘God knows we tried to end the rape of this country.’

Haris Ibrahim