Saturday, December 27, 2008

Malaysia’s Ambivalence toward Greater Public Debate must Change

A shorter version of this article is published as an opinion piece in malaysiakini: Change ambivalence over public debate

"We can succeed only by concert. It is not 'can any of us imagine better?' but, 'can we all do better?' The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise
with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country."
~ Abraham Lincoln, December 1, 1862, Annual Message to Congress

The recent raucous debate on the aborted (or postponed?) sale of the IJN (National Heart Institute) underlines the ambivalence with which the government views our current health care system in particular, and the disdain that it generally regards its own citizens.

Importantly, it had seriously misread the public’s mood and views that it could once again simply announce its often-opaque decisions of granting sales of this and that, or even enacting new national schemes/plans at will. Some would even say, at its own whims and fancies.

In modern political parlance, it appears to regard such national goods, natural resources, property and stakes as if it owns them outright, and to dispose of these as its arrogated right—something which is increasingly frowned upon by more enlightened citizens worldwide.

But, while this appears to be the model of wasteful utilization of (many are calling this, pillaging) the nation’s resources among many failed states in Africa, parts of Asia and the Middle East, it is no longer acceptable behaviour for any respected nation in this modern day and era.

Instead, the government of the day is expected to be only holding these in trust for the nation, its people and its future. The ultimate goal of a ‘good’ state is to ensure the longer-term benefit for the citizens (although it must be acknowledged that most politicians possess a more shortsighted vision, one that is constantly persuaded by electoral considerations, vested interests and lobby groups.)

"Modern politics is characterized by a sharp focus on the acquisition and retention of political office rather than on appealing to people's higher moral values and inspiring people to undertake enduring change" ~Stephen Denning, in The Secret Language of Leadership, 2007, John Wiley & Sons, p68
Notwithstanding this, because Malaysia aims to become a developed state, it must choose to be modern, respected, and abide by the rules of international law and social justice. While a nation may pride itself of its inalienable sovereignty, it must not confuse this nationalistic right as an unquestionable license to sanction its own contrived self-aggrandising and parochial fiats.

Its previous top-down disclosures after behind-the-scenes “discussions and analyses” have been found to be greatly wanting of financial propriety, fiduciary soundness and worse, of dubious public benefit. Often, the government has shown that it has failed to understand the wider implications of its pronouncements, especially when these impact so drastically on the rakyat.

Although the government through its various ministries and divisions has from time to time, attempted to gather input from various stakeholders through dialogues, workshops, etc., these have often been carried out with too much haste, too little preparation or in-depth planning or feedback. Often these are undertaken at very short notices, which leave precious little time for these other bodies to gather sufficient information or views from their own members or even from the people involved or those others who would be affected.

Clearly any attempts at privatization or corporatization of public healthcare facilities fall under this category of national goods and services, which must be considered extensively, and only after full discussions with all its citizens. Obviously of course, this government had failed to do this, only now to call for greater scrutiny of its implications, when public hue and cry overwhelmed its usually deaf ears.

Such a paternalistic approach of assuming that the government knows best whatever it wishes to do, is no longer the acceptable form with which to address national issues of great repercussions on the citizens. We, the rakyat, are calling for and are demanding more say, more input into this ultimate decision making process: we wish to be consulted more, and we want to be heard.

The modern era has empowered citizens with entirely new and hitherto unavailable information and knowledge so that we are no longer minions who can be pushed around. As we mature as a democracy, we have also demanded greater space to voice our thoughts and opinions, which we believe correctly express our intentions and collective vision, and which would ultimately enrich the nation and our lives.

True, with too many views and opinions, these may appear unwieldy and may even result in gridlock or impasse, but then at least when the final compromise or consensus is reached, most sensible stakeholders would have to agree that their views have at least been considered, or that better ideas have been chosen—then, our demand for representation would have been assuaged, albeit grudgingly sometimes.

But there would still be those naysayers who would argue that these collective (consensus) final decisions are flawed because their views have been sidelined or diluted. This is not an uncommon reaction, but people must learn to accept that majority decisions have to be given priority, that accommodating other more acceptable views is a hallmark of any inclusive democracy.

Disgruntled or defeated groups must learn to bite their tongue, and fight another day with another argument, another approach, perhaps. That is the essence of modern liberal democracy—that the ‘best’ or most agreeable views hold sway for those particular moments in time and place. This is not to say that these are cast in stone, they are not. In fact in healthy democracies, modifications and amendments are usually the hallmark of fine-tuning collective decisions, which can then last the test of time and experience.

But somehow, the current government appears to have been locked in a time warp of its past glory days, when it held all the power and the sway of huge majoritarian might. It continues to thrive on its much discredited secretive and opaque decision making process, hiding behind the façade and cloak of the OSA (Official Secrets Act)—most decisions seem to have been mooted by the all-powerful EPU (economic planning unit).

Examples are aplenty: the privatization of the healthcare support services, the sale of the government pharmaceutical arm; Khazanah’s take-over (60% ownership) of Pantai Holdings Bhd.; FOMEMA (privatization of the medical screening for foreign workers); the delayed (aborted?) e-kesihatan scheme for public vehicles’ drivers; and of course now, the potential sale of our IJN to Sime Darby Berhad.

It cannot be denied that under the premiership of Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi, there has been greater allowance for public space for discourse and greater freedom to speak out. But this has been rudely set back of late with the inane use of the ISA to silence its greatest critics such as prominent blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin, Hindraf, opposition lawmaker MP Teresa Kok and a whistle-blowing Sin Chew Jit Poh journalist.

It is arguable whether PM Badawi could have maintained the strong-arm authoritarian style of ex-premier Mahathir, whose pugnacious 2-decade stranglehold on Malaysian politics have left in its wake devastated and emasculated institutions of the judiciary, the police and the UMNO-dominated power politics.

The hurried parliamentary passage of 2 much-vaunted bills concerning institutional reforms [(Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) and the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC)] has been seen by well-meaning pundits as too little, too late, and a whimpering finale to its earlier promise of change. That these should still be under the purview of the PM and the attorney general’s office has put a damper on the political reality of this incumbent government—it is still not ready to transform its political stakes toward greater openness or transparency as demanded by the more liberal citizens here in Malaysia.

Perhaps, the government is still smarting from its unaccustomed fall from grace, but it appears to continue under-estimating the power of the alternative media, i.e. the World Wide Web and increasingly the blogosphere of alternate news and opinions. The internet penetration welcomed as an earlier-favoured march toward modernisation and IT literacy had exploded in its face, so to speak. But this irreversible and relentless spread of interconnectedness has become too pervasive, too diffuse in its power to reach the masses.

The Internet medium has simply encompassed too many people, even in Malaysia—information asymmetry once under the closeted control of the mainstream media (MSM), has been decidedly eroded. In its place, information largesse and ubiquity in all its forms of freedom of expression, of thoughts, of criticisms, of exposes, of alternate viewpoints and plausible visions, have shown that it, the world wide web is impossible to constrain, or even to contain.

The good thing is that some MSM have learnt to adapt accordingly so as to maintain their “street cred” (street credibility)—they have become somewhat bolder in addressing real issues with a newfound temerity as against the sycophantic brown-nosing of yesteryears! The previously lamented self-censorship is now looked upon as nonsensical timidity, which undercuts the media’s purported stance to provide thoughtful discourse, checks and balances of this ‘fourth estate’ and credible information to the people.

So what must the government do to regain its stature, its political capital, its power to lead? It must change. Tom Daschle, US Senate democratic leader has said that "If you want to get elected, learn to speak. If you want to stay elected, learn to listen." Therefore, the government must get back on track to what is usually expected of good governance. It must listen to its detractors’ malaise, not so much to accept these wholesale, but to see the merits of why some of these maligned institutions, laws or plans, need tweaking or revamping or even outright rescission (such as the much-abused ISA and OSA).

The whole world is undergoing tremendous financial turmoil and uncertain economic and market future. It is the head-in-the-sand absurdity to imagine that we would be exempt from these tribulations and perturbations. As the world’s 18th largest trading nation, Malaysia will be caught up in this maelstrom of economic upheaval. Sadly, there has been precious little planning and discussions as to how we can tackle or prepare for such an inevitable eventuality—instead, we continue to mire ourselves in humdrum political power plays and narrow-minded pettiness.

We must begin to look at the bigger picture sooner, rather than to allow the tsunami of economic downturn to overwhelm us suddenly, just because we have been caught napping, and only dreaming distractible delicacies of inconsequence!

Let us begin a national debate on how we can move forward to meet the impending crisis, in more concrete terms rather than knee-jerk diktats and self-interested venal pillaging of our diminishing natural resources.

Let’s have a greater national discourse on where our nation should be heading. It is of little use to keep shouting shibboleths of Wawasan (Vision) 2020, when we can’t even see beyond the next 2 years. We need a reinvigorated, more refreshed national vision, not more of the same!

So what should we be doing?

We need a renewed national vision, one that should be more inclusive than divisive, and not tainted with ethnic, racial or religious politics.

We must negotiate a new social contract, which will help unite us more meaningfully rather than to harp upon decades-old concepts, which have perhaps lost its contemporariness, its shine and power to persuade us as one people.

We need to make every Malaysian feel Malaysian without any sniggering backstabbing asides, which only perpetuates the skin-deep accommodating acquaintances, but which does not foster true bonds, true nationalism or the feeling of belonging.

We cannot have bigoted lawmakers who shout at others to ‘balik kampung’ or ‘get out of the country’ whenever they cannot win an argument without theatrics and rationale; and get off scot-free as if that’s their right to inflame and institutionalize racial bigotry.

We cannot have the Biro Tataan Negara, which separately indoctrinate our civil servants that Malaysia is only for the Malays and its Ketuanan Melayu supremacy policy, while subjugating other ethnic groups in insincere indoctrination to accept this premise which is now so maligned and unacceptable.

We need instead to identify our collective strengths and weaknesses so that we can reap from the best, and maybe suppress our baser instincts for divisiveness and narrow-mindedness.

We need to re-assess and value our national resources and wealth, which should be our long-lasting legacy for our children and our children’s children.

We must convene an all-inclusive task force to address the economic and banking debacle, and how we as a nation can overcome or mitigate against its worst outcome scenarios. This does not mean including the usual public sector technocrats and closeted civil servants who are often the least exposed to ground level realities.

We have to tap our finest brains and especially the citizens and consumers on the ground, include targetted NGOs, opposition representatives even, so that a collective voice can be made with greater meaning. This would also promote a spirit of inclusive citizenship so that unpopular repercussions may be better understood by all, when hard choices have to be implemented.

We have to get serious that nation building is not just one election after another. That once elected, our policy makers must heed calls for greater duties, responsibilities and sacrifices, and make the best laws, not convenient ones for vested pork-barrel interests—that the electing public has its duties to be the ever-vigilant watchdog for such political deviances and shenanigans.

We have to want to be better, not just for our selfish little moments, erstwhile comforts and immediate gratifications, but more importantly for our collective national good and future.

We must ensure that when we say Malaysia Boleh, we mean it with pride and not just jingoistic anthems, which simply arouse sniggering contempt at some who are just embellished as jaguh kampung (village champions).

We must want to be world-beaters and achievers of the best and the finest.

We must aspire to be champions on a global scale: respected, rather than self-congratulatory.

We must truly achieve significant success, rather than be frowned upon at our silliness of getting into the record books for things that really don’t matter and are of forgettable, meaningless inconsequence!

For 2009, there is that hope that Malaysia would have at last matured, and that we the citizens have played our roles to help bring this about. Let the momentous spirit of March 08, 2008 live and march on!

"Ruling parties and presidencies are almost never felled by issues alone. Rather, it is the more general perception of a creeping chaos—the sense that leaders no longer have a firm grasp on events or the credibility to unite disparate constituencies—that cause political powers to come undone." ~ Matt Bai, journalist, in The Way We Live Now.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Capitalism's Hubris: Gambling & Running on Empty...

Greed and accumulation of immense unimaginable wealth tends to create selfish monsters out of everyone of us.

I must confess that the recent financial turmoil (it is hard to imagine that it has only been about one month!) has created within me a great deal of uncertainty and malaise, as to my take and perspective on the free market system.

I have always been wary and circumspect as to its unbridled schematics to allow anyone with any intelligence, energy or ideas, the absolute freedom to make money at whatever costs or with whichever means.

In my profession alone, I have seen just how the lust and lure of filthy lucre has shaped unethical and unjustifiable management of certain patients. That even the noblest medical profession—one most trusted by the public (in almost all surveys carried out to date)—is not immune to ethical breaches due to moral hazard and venal considerations, has tarnished its much vaunted prestige and honour!

Doctors these days, appear just as likely as everyone else to hanker for the good things in life, even towards aspiring to luxurious extremes and then avariciously pursuing these aims to maintain their upscaled lifestyles... Sadly, when we look askance at other professions, and especially at some politicians, these excesses seem pale in comparison!

Nevertheless, it is seldom decried these days, because being wealthy is no longer considered as despicable or even 'faintly disreputable'. Instead, immense wealth is admired and aspired to by millions if not billions of people worldwide, in a new vista on how we look at this God-receding, secular world...

When I was recently reading Marcia Angell's book on The Truth about the Drug Companies, one paragraph in the early pages (pg6) struck me. Dr Angell, a long-time former editor-in-chief of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, wrote that the post-Reagan era saw a relentless rise of wealth worshiping:

"(W)ith the (pro-business) shift, the public attitude toward great wealth changed. Before then, there was something faintly disreputable about really big fortunes. You could choose to do good, but most people who had any choice in the matter thought it difficult to do both.

"That belief was particularly strong among scientists and other intellectuals. They could choose to live a comfortable but not luxurious life in academia, hoping to do exciting cutting-edge research, or they could ‘sell out’ to industry and do less important but more remunerative work…

"It became not only reputable to be wealthy, but something close to virtuous. There were ‘winners’ and there were ‘losers,’ and the winners were rich and deserved to be."
Ironically, we have in embracing the free-market system shifted more than our perspective, we have become morally-laxed as to how wealth and society should interact with one another. Many liberal thinking economists are openly neo-Darwinian in their mantra of tacitly or complicitly espousing the freedom to choose, to compete freely without regulations or governmental control, to acquire wealth as the end-all and the be-all—i.e. survival of the financially fittest!

Lassez faire
style of unfettered free market and mass consumerism trumps other models of socioeconomic exercises—leaving in its wake, the burnt-out carcasses of failed former soviet republics, and the triumphalist American-style model, so gratuitously imitated by aspirant wannabees...

It is not surprising that free-market capitalism has trumped socialism, when even command economies like China switched tactics to encourage free-market practices, under the Dengist exhortation that "it does not matter whether it's a white or black cat, as long as it catches the rat!" (For the Chinese, this means that whichever way of acquiring wealth or making money is acceptable, even to be admired...)

The entire world has placed its immense trust in a system that appears to be inexhaustible and limitless in its proclivity to grow and multiply global wealth exponentially! It is true that most peoples of the world have benefited, that many have had a greater chance for better, less brutish, possibly more fulfilling lives. There have also been some degree of trickle-down effect that has decreased the absolute numbers of abjectly poor people, worldwide.

But it has also created a gaping chasm of the immensely rich versus the very poor. The wealth distribution disparity has widened even more these last few years—the so-called Gini index seemingly greater than ever before in most if not all countries.

Conversely, for the entrepreneurial rich and the bankered privileged handful, there has been greater and greater capacity and complexity in multiplying their chances or access to even more schemes or instruments of wealth creation.

Thomas Friedman, prize-winning author of The World is Flat has this to say of the current economic meltdown:
"You have to go back to the beginning of the problem. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, virtually every economy in the world moved to a capitalist system, which eventually made the world awash with money looking for investments.

"It didn’t take long for financial engineers to figure out how to move home mortgages and commercial loans from a transaction between you and your local bank — or between your company and a syndicate of banks — to something much more diffused and fragmented.

"While your bank may have initiated the mortgage or the corporate loan, it was quickly sold to an aggregator who turned these different loans into bonds and then sold them all over the world in small pieces to banks and money market and pension funds."
~Thomas Friedman, in The Post-Binge World, NY Times, 11 October, 2008
It now transpires that over the past 2 decades or so (some say especially after the 1997 market crash in Asia), in a dizzying spiral of creativity, more and more financial instruments have been fabricated and fashioned to leverage and arbitrage the uncertainty or less-than-exact art of lending and borrowing, or the erratic and herd-like movements of funds ...

Hedging the gargantuan bets (estimated average leverage of >30 times for every dollar!) of complex financial interactions (CDOs, collateralized debt obligations; CDSs, credit default swaps) became high-stakes Casino-style gambles which appear to have now redounded on its perpetrators, and on the global markets!

It has been said that years ago, Mr. Warren Buffett, (billionaire investor-extraordinaire, Wizard/Oracle of Omaha, and arguably the richest man on earth today) had called such leveraging derivatives “weapons of financial mass destruction”.

Then, nobody seriously thought to heed or even to contradict him, as Wall Street and its newest crops of financial wizards kept piling up the momentum to push the frontiers of the free-market system to its ultimate if seemingly illimitable conclusions...

In its mad scramble for unimaginable wealth creation, brilliant savant mathematics/physics, and economics graduate students had been engaged to spur and fabricate the giddy epiphanies of mind-dazzling models of supernova-like possibilities, whetted by the inexhaustible appetites of ultra-liberal free-market espousing Nobel-winning professors.
"Somehow the genius quants — the best and brightest geeks Wall Street firms could buy — fed $1 trillion in subprime mortgage debt into their supercomputers, added some derivatives, massaged the arrangements with computer algorithms and — poof! — created $62 trillion in imaginary wealth." ~Richard Dooling, The Rise of the Machines, NY Times 11, October, 2008

Somehow, they argue there must be means of engendering newer and more creative ways to multiplying our global wealth, since every possible schematic scenario thus far, had given rise to exponential growths of nearly everything that mankind had hitherto impacted or even touched!

The last 2 decades of globalisation had lent greater credence and currency towards such explosive possibilities. At least until September 2008...

Not too long ago, Malthusian projections regarding population growth would have placed the fear of God in us puny humans who worry that perhaps we'd soon be facing famines due to outgrowing our ability to feed ourselves!

Malthus' growth charts, while quite inexact by today's standards, had shown skyrocketing patterns of curves way beyond our imagination then and perhaps even now. Today, the humungous global market expansion has made it appear that the Malthusian model is forgettably flawed. Thus, fears as to its realisation had receded from almost everyone's consciousness...

Latterly, even with the urgent (An Inconvenient Truth) rhetoric from Al Gore on our global warming crisis, we seemed to have tired quite quickly as to its relevance in our humdrum lives.

So even when extreme climatic swings (force 4 & 5 hurricanes, tsunamis, cyclones, tornadoes, flooding, forest fires, melting glaciers, etc.) seem to have exceeded their norms, we appear nonchalantly dismissive, stoic and irreverent.

We have become immune to our excesses, pushing such morbid thoughts and awareness to the far reaches of our conscience and consciousness—these are just too hard and too depressing to contemplate. Perhaps the time is not yet ripe for us to seriously address these doomsaying concerns. We're just too caught up with our continuing need to pile up our economic toys and gains...

So, whither the world and its tail-spinning economies? Volatile and uncertain markets, commodities, oil and currencies, appear to be the norm for the foreseeable future. Money markets and governments grapple with whatever means to re-instill some semblance of calm, stability and order, which seemed to have deserted not just the ordinary lay-person but more so, the shell-shocked traders and financiers of the world.

More pain and shocks are in store, but there is hope that when the dust finally settles, mankind would have learnt its greatest lesson of hubris for a long time, and that order and some form of regulatory oversight is a must in taming and reining in man's innate propensity to indulge and over-gratify in every possible excesses and greed!

Nigel Lawson, Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer during Tharcher's time, reminded us that "the price of a free economy is an ineradicable cycle of boom and bust... of alternating moods of optimism and pessimism," in a Times magazine's Back to Reality article (October 13, 2008, pg23).

In another article, The End of an Era (Times magazine, October 13, 2008, pg30), Michael Elliott quoted British philosopher John Gray as stating that '"the era of American global leadership is over" and that neoliberals had "underestimated the revolutionary nature of global capitalism," with its power to upend the familiar landscape and turn it into a churning place of impermanence.'

To paraphrase many others, it is time to reassess our love affair with the dizzying heights of Greenspan's 'irrational exuberance', and learn to live within our means, and that this is the ultimate moral lesson that will resonate with every world citizen...

Perhaps it's time to revisit our liberal arts tradition, to understand that life is cyclical, with its endlessly recurring themes of human suffering, aspirations, joys, triumphs, arrogance, comeuppance and hubris. We have to believe and learn from history, if not to repeat or forestall its agonising consequences, at least to ameliorate its excruciating pain...

It is worth contemplating on the following words of much published author Harold Bloom, Professor of English and Liberal studies at New York's Columbia University:
"(S)ociety has played out its last stake; it is checkmated. Young men have no hope. Adults stand like day laborers, idle on the streets. None calleth us to labor. The old wear no crown of warm life on their gray hairs. The present generation is bankrupt of principles and hope, as of property.

"I see man is not what man should be. He is the treadle of a wheel. He is a tassel at the apron string of society. He is a money chest. He is the servant of his belly. This is the causal bankruptcy, this is the cruel oppression, that the ideal should serve the actual, that the head should serve the feet.

"Then first, I am forced to inquire if the ideal might not also be tried. Is it to be taken for granted that it is impracticable? Behold the boasted world has come to nothing. Prudence itself is at her wits’ end."
~ Harold Bloom, in NY Times, Out of PanicSelf-Reliance, 12 October, 2008

A shorter version of this article has been published in malaysiakini on Nov 6, 2008 as Capitalism: Gambling and Running on empty

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

New Financial Definitions...

A banking friend sent this to me to reflect the modern day realities of the current contagious financial fiasco! Quite appropriate and definitive!

CEO - chief embezzlement officer.

CFO - corporate fraud officer.

BULL MARKET - A random market movement causing an investor to mistake himself for a financial genius.

BEAR MARKET - A 6 to 18 month period when the kids get no allowance, the wife gets no jewelry, and the husband gets no sxx.

VALUE INVESTING - The art of buying low and selling lower.

P/E RATIO - The percentage of investors wetting their pants as
the market keeps crashing.

BROKER - What my broker has made me.

STANDARD & POOR - Your life in a nutshell.

STOCK ANALYST - Idiot who just downgraded your stock.

STOCK SPLIT - When your ex-wife and her lawyer split your assets equally between themselves.

MARKET CORRECTION - The day after you buy stocks.

CASH FLOW - The movement your money makes as it disappears down the toilet.

INSTITUTIONAL INVESTOR - Past year investor who's now locked up in a nuthouse.

MOMENTUM INVESTING - The fine art of buying high and selling low.

'BUY, BUY' - A flight attendant making market recommendations as you step off the plane.

FINANCIAL PLANNER - A guy who actually remembers his wallet when he runs to the 7-11 for toilet paper and cigarettes.

CALL OPTION - Something people used to do with a telephone in ancient times before e-mail.

YAHOO - What you yell after selling all you owned to some poor sucker for $240 per share.

WINDOWS - What you jump out of when you're the sucker that bought Yahoo for $240 per share.

PROFIT - Religious person who talks to God.

On another note, another friend (Lokun) send this to our medical school of UM Class 79 chat-site.

HOW MUCH is 700 billion?

The mind registers the number with such imprecision as to make it meaningless.

As a stack of $100 bills, it would reach 54 miles high. But who can imagine that? However, if you had the Zimbabwean 100 billion dollar note (as above), you'd just need 7!!! So who's counting?

On the other hand, someone at the Smithsonian once calculated that counting to one billion, at the rate of one digit per second, would take 30 years.

With my calculator, I computed that this counting of one number at a time per second (assuming it is possible to utter mentally or vocally: say nine hundred ninety-nine million, nine hundred ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine i.e. 999,999,999, in one second!?!) would take actually slightly more than 31 years and 8 months, taking in leap years and all!

By that scale, counting to 700 billion would take 21,000 years!

Which suddenly dawns on me this thought experiment...

Assuming that our ancestors could count, they would have been counting since the time of our earliest human existence. Then, hunting and gathering rather than farming and domestication, would have been the circumscribed knowledge base and only mode of human activity and endeavour!

Perhaps 'we' would have been running around with Neanderthals, probably decimating, nay exterminating them as well, to emerge as the 'superior' species of homo sapiens sapiens...

Huge numbers boggle the mind and create unimaginable, probably imaginary concepts... Yet, there are individuals such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet who are worth some 50 billion dollars each! Imagine...

The reality on the ground is that one USD is still almost 3.5 Ringgit, and that it is one huge monster of a mind-boggling number--which could feed our entire Malaysian annual budget several times over!


Sunday, October 5, 2008

Leaving Home, Letting Go...

"This is the hour of lead
Remembered if outlived,
As freezing persons recollect the snow--
First chill, then stupor, then the letting go."

~Emily Dickinson poem, starts "After a Great Pain, A Formal Feeling Comes."

My son Timothy left home for studies in London, in mid September, 2008.

He has always been our 'little' boy, although taller and bigger than I. Somehow, it was easier for him than it has been for us, his parents.

The past 2 years haven't been very easy for both of us. He and I have been having this perennial tussle of minds, his constant tugging to break free, to do his own thing, the way he sees fit. And many of these headstrong decisions appear to conflict with mine...

I supposed my wife and I had been too possessive, too 'controlling' over all his affairs, thus far. We've hitherto looked after all his needs, and he had to live under our shadows, literally... He has muttered that as parents and especially me, we have been too much of control-freaks!

But this time when we left him in London, he didn't quite say it, but he appeared to be ready to be on his own. He's been away from us now for nearly 3 weeks, and he has been fending for himself, attending college, finding new friends and getting along... fine.

I suppose it is difficult to let go, to accept that he has become his own man—individual and independent, well, nearly so.

(Letting Go is incidentally the first novel of one of my favourite authors, Philip Roth, published in 1962.)

He is making many of his own decisions, some very momentous ones, all on his own.

Perhaps, as parents we hope deep down that he will make his life decisions, with the faint lingering memory of some of the little 'right' things that we have imparted to him... He has by all intents and purposes, flown the coop.
"Since I am put to know that your own science
Exceeds, in that, the lists of all advice
My strength can give you: then no more remains,
But that to your sufficiency as your Worth is able,
And let them work."
~William Shakespeare, in
Measure for Measure
... Just spoke to my son through skype, a truly wonderful and free video-chat. Have also today been introduced to fring.googletalk (by good friend Muruga now based in Mumbai, via his iPhone), which would make video calls also free via cellphones through wifi, or 3G—truly great technological wonders for ease of communication worldwide.

It is good to see your loved ones and speak to them, as if they are just a few doors away... Distance is no longer what it used to be, with the instantaneous readiness at our fingertips.

It is easier to let go, knowing that we can reach out quite easily, and each knowing that we can be contactable just as conveniently and freely. It's just the time difference, and finding the same moments to connect.

Tim appears well, has been meeting up with a couple of his friends also from Malaysia, one at Imperial and another at LSE. But he has been literally penny-pinching on his lunch with home-made sandwiches; says his dinners and weekend lunch menus have yet to be recycled, so not too boring yet... He's lost weight about an inch around the waist, says mum's cooking is incomparable, which brings tears to my wife...

But at least we get to see and speak to each other. Hooray for skype, MSN messenger, fring, etc! The world is truly our oyster, definitely and eminently within reach—what with email, sms, video-chats, skype, and now even fring?

The Paradox of our time...

Recently, my sister Julie sent this to me... very thought provoking, and good for a time out...

A Message by George Carlin:

"The paradox of our time in history is that:

We have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints.

We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less.

We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time.

We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.

We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom.

We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.

We've learned how to make a living, but not a life. We've added years to life not life to years.

We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor.

We conquered outer space but not inner space. We've done larger things, but not better things.

We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul.

We've conquered the atom, but not our prejudice.

We write more, but learn less.

We plan more, but accomplish less.

We've learned to rush, but not to wait.

We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less.

These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships.

These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes.

These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill.

It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the stockroom.

A time when technology can bring this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to share this insight, or to just hit delete...

Remember; spend some time with your loved ones, because they are not going to be around forever.

Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks up to you in awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave your side.

Remember, to give a warm hug to the one next to you, because that is the only treasure you can give with your heart and it doesn't cost a cent.

Remember, to say, 'I love you' to your partner and your loved ones, but most of all mean it. A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt when it comes from deep inside of you.

Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment for someday that person will not be there again.

Give time to love, give time to speak! And give time to share the precious thoughts in your mind.


Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away."

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Unbridled American-led Free Market Economy Unbundling...

"Again, how immeasurably greater is the pleasure, when a man feels a thing to be his own; for surely the love of self is a feeling implanted by nature and not given in vain, although selfishness is rightly censured; this, however, is not the mere love of self, but the love of self in excess, like the miser's love of money; for all, or almost all, men love money and other such objects in a measure. And further, there is the greatest pleasure in doing a kindness or service to friends or guests or companions, which can only be rendered when a man has private property."
~ Aristotle, Politics, Book II, Part V

I have always wondered how financial markets work, especially the humongous bubble leveraged on staggering multiples of supposed assets or investments.

How is it that when one 'invests' big or bigger, one can then create even bigger borrowed volumes of trade? Frequently these so-called educated ingeniously 'hedged' speculations are supposedly to help stabilise wilder fluctuations in volatile markets, well... what now?

Hedge funds and derivatives trading (and other so-called structured financial options) have now shown up its true colours—it's not green, and many if not most entities are now in the deep red!

It began with the sub-prime loans debacle where unqualified and risky borrowers were given uncharacteristically preferential mortgage interest rates well below market levels. Wikipedia describes this as "Subprime lending is the practice of making loans to borrowers who do not qualify for market interest rates owing to various risk factors, such as income level, size of the down payment made, credit history, and employment status." [For a cartoon powerpoint subprime made easy...]

Many therefore were borrowing more than they can afford to remortgage or pay back, some were holding on to such 'cheap' holdings as investments in lieu of hard cash and other more volatile stocks and shares; and defaulting in huge numbers. Foreclosures therefore spiral upwards. (For a good analysis, see Jakarta Post 'The Tumbling of Giants")

Then, the soaring crude oil and commodities price hike triggered and unravelled the tenuous hold on liquidity. Savings and loans banking entities as well as insurers were all caught in a vicious web of interlocking downward spiral of near worthless returns. Then, Bear Sterns went under, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac) and Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) collapse, the Lehman Brothers chapter 11 protection, Merrill Lynch, Washington Mutual shock and worst of all the huge AIG collapse...

Now, the US with a panicky but hapless President George W Bush, is trying to cobble together the biggest bail-out the world has ever seen—USD 700 billion! This, purportedly to forestall the collapse of the world's largest economy and potentially triggering a global economic meltdown! It appears that the rooster has come home to roost.

Some 10 years ago during the Asian financial crisis, respected economists worldwide but especially American, were all pushing the then battered economies to accept the collapse and rapid-fire restructuring while the IMF and World Bank called all the shots, not withstanding the terrible social upheavals and shocks. (see Times' How Asia's Bankers Avoided Crisis)

Many home-spun corporations were quickly sold to foreign fund managers and multinationals. Huge numbers of the local population were bankrupted and impoverished, with some of the most traumatised resorting to rioting with ethnic overtones... Then, it was said that this was an acceptable phase of change for the better...

Thus, it is so ironic that the Americans are changing its tune—turning its own economic model on its head, and calling for such a blatant if callous bail-out! By protecting these huge corporations, it may be earnestly helping to prevent a severe meltdown. However, it is feared that it might also be protecting those perpetrators who had wallowed in profligate, wanton greed and obscene wealth acquisition for so long, with the addiction and mentality of casino gamblers of gargantuan proportions!!!

Naturally, the American citizen is not amused, with more than 90% of them feeling that they the taxpayers should not be bailing out these corrupt officials (that they should not profit in any way from their mistakes), while at the same time urging the lawmakers to ensure the sanctity of their mortgages, their savings and their pensions. Furthermore, more conservative Republican Americans are still opposed to dismantling the free-market system which they feel should not see a return to more governmental oversight (see Conservatives Viewed Bailout Plan as Last Straw)

Asian economists are now feeling even more betrayed and angry. They now realise that the world is truly unequal. "Do as I say but not as I do" appears to be the American model of free-market capitalism. (See Does financial bailout show US double standards?) Many people refuse to acknowledge that deep down (perhaps for fear of offending the superpower USA), there has always been an American 'exceptionalism' clause where its citizens and its interests reign supreme and supersedes everyone else's... Its benign power is evident only when its interests are protected or extended.

Perhaps, it is time for the US to eat humble pie and acknowledge that it alone cannot provide all the answers and solutions to our immensely complex and chaotic world. Perhaps, the US can help to finally strengthen its own flawed institutions by reinforcing more institutional oversight guidelines and regulations (not less!). In so doing, America might then recover its vaunted capacity to export good ideas and ideals, but perhaps more by example than by other devious means of influence and subtle and not so subtle coercion.

Perhaps the free trade agreements so aggressively pushed with many countries, should be revisited or even revised to acknowledge each and every country's inflexible interests, which are already in place in several clauses of the American agreement, but which many countries sheepishly enter into because of the so-called USA-driven market size...

Gross excesses during the past few decades were often apologetically rationalised away by the weight of US-trained and US-indoctrinated economists worldwide, such that alternative models have been left by the wayside. Socially-conscientious or directed mechanisms, safety net issues are almost taboo in the modern paradigm of this now shaky economic model. Continental European economic models with stronger social protections appear to have withstood better the current financial storm. (see Why the world will avoid Armageddon)

Thus, perhaps older Europe can play a bigger role in today's world in helping to reshape and restructure the world's economy. Perhaps, the Asian model of guided and government-regulated free-market models can find a more respectable place where control and regulations still exact a modicum of fear and responsibility from the crass extremes of unbridled greed and speculation.

Not being trained as an economist, helps to picture in my simple mind that there really is no free lunch. That one plus one may be 2, 3 or even 5, may be plausible. But 100 or 10,000 (!!!?), this seems just too far-fetched, too stretched beyond the imagination of unsophisticated mortals who deal with simple multiples in hoped-for returns from investments for one's future.

But we have of late let some award-winning theoretical free-market economists propagate attractive if mindboggling concepts of mathematical if unreal 'imaginary' numbers of market possibilities.

The past 2 decades or so have seen newfangled economic theories fanning a mentality of voracious greed to reap enormous profits and pay-outs, seemingly on an erstwhile unending gravy train of limitless resources. This belief has spurred that exponential urge to spend, speculate, guesstimate or gamble beyond one's monetary worth or capacity...

Following the 1987 global recession, we seemed to have embarked on a roller coaster ride of mainly positive growth of exponential proportions, with a spectacular rise in a middle class population worldwide. [See Henry Liu's essay on The Coming Trade War and Global Depression (2005)]

Free market capitalism and mass consumerism swept the world in an unprecedented success story which saw the demise of the communist-socialist model beginning with the 1989 dismantling of the Soviet Union.

Excesses and poor judgements by many aspirant developing countries on fast track growth led to the Asian Tom Yam crisis of 1997-98—this disaster crippled and decimated many third world nations and led to enforced hugely unpopular infusions of IMF and World Bank measures and funds.

Governmental bail-outs were frowned upon, and this 'shock and awe' model was proposed as the necessary bitter medicine which will eventually salve all economic hurts and wounds, notwithstanding the social upheavals which were unleashed in nations such as Indonesia, Thailand, South Korea and even in Malaysia...

In the long run, this approach was supposed to enhance economic strength and stability of the individual countries involved, where freer markets with foreign funds and investments, inflows or outflows, would be unhampered. It also presupposed that regulatory frameworks be simplified to the point of being ineffectual—it appears that Milton Friedman's school of economics was once again given free reign to transform new nations, new markets...

Only that this approach is supposed to allow individual/personal ingrained self-interest and 'greed' to ride supreme and therefore encourage a trickle down effect to finally eradicate poverty. Because, everyone as homo economicus should in theory be capable of finding their own true worth and place in today's world—they should be able to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, unassisted, as this would artificially weaken the model...

Yet, despite this proposed unapologetic hard-nosed approach, most nations found that they could not accept the unvarnished practicality in toto, that, it was and remains an unforgiving mindless system which unfairly punishes the weak, the marginalised, the less capable, the less endowed. Pitiable safety nets had to be set up as glossy corporate social responsibility measures, often placed at the bottom rung of economic need or even consciousness...

Hence, while enormous wealth has been generated, enlarging a bigger than ever middle class, this paradigm has also enhanced the rich-poor divide (socioeconomic inequality measure, the Gini index).

As the nouveau riche empowered entrepreneurial and the investment savvy speculators pile on wealth and acquire more and more consumer goods and services, the left-behind and marginalised continue to fester in the underbelly of privation and hardship.

This growing destitute class seethes with anger, envy and appears readily to slip into disaffection with resultant tendencies toward potential violent, vengeful, anti-social behaviour—the stuff that begets urban anarchists, religious fanatics, jihadists, other mindless mobs totally opposed to the 'western' model of the world!

Extreme wealth disparity which breeds social dystopia—where an increasing populace feels miserable, dispossessed, disempowered and oppressed—is a real danger to a peaceful, progressive harmonious world.

Notwithstanding the ascendancy of economics and finance in the world today, the recent financial meltdown is a timely reminder that economics is never a hard science if ever, and whichever economic model cannot be the one and only foolproof unchanging model for the world.

It is precisely because mankind is quite unique in the biosphere of this one Earth, that he thrives relentless. With his/her multifarious activities, preferences and free choices, mankind represents the non-linear chaotic paradigm of fully evolved animal life.

What makes the first human from Africa migrate outwards around the globe, will never be known. But our proliferation globally into every nook and cranny of the planet attest to our tenacious grasp for life.

By testing the limits of his/her physical ability, intellectual prowess, artful skills at extending him-/herself through arms, appendages, then barter trades and finally financial alternatives, man has become that quintessential homo economicus.

Sadly, the long arms and tentacles of human reach can be too impactful, too abrasive even. Our human lives now extends through pervasive interweaving impacts and ubiquitous interconnectedness, changing nearly everything it touches...

But with our innate nature which makes everyone of us free to choose and to want for personal property, he is also ultimately, unpredictable...

An abridged version of this appears in malaysiakini as
American capitalism unravelling

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Malaysia must Change for the Better, no Ifs, no Buts...

Malaysiakini published a version of this as an opinion piece on 25.09.08

Raja Petra sent to Kamunting
The government's continued disregard and disdain for the Malaysian public boggles the mind.

It also shows its precipitous descent into a beleaguered mindset of a morally-emaciated misdirected authority, seemingly grasping at whichever convenient straws to prop up its crumbling foundations...

Instead of listening to and reflecting on the wishes and aspirations of an increasingly vocal rakyat, it continues to wallow in a fossilised mentality that 'might is right', as long as it continues to believe and hold on to the majoritarian trump card.

Sadly, but perhaps hopefully this might just change in the next few days or weeks—many Malaysians are praying and hoping for change for the better.

The current leadership appears to subscribe to the view that it alone holds all the puissance and licence for arbitrary diktats of obsolete inequitable laws, hollow-sounding rhetoric and cheap propaganda.

Somehow it seems to have become shell-shocked into an impervious barricade of seeing no evil, hearing no evil but speaking and acting with callous and vilest evil—hitting back with whatever they've got the power to lash out! It appears to be clinging on to whatever little power it has left—which is dwindling day by day; worse it appears to be losing relevance, in the eyes of an earnest rakyat. (See BN dynasty crumbling, says Bukit Bendera MP)

Shockingly, even our past PM Tun Dr Mahathir has decried the current administration as inept. He said that the government now commands much less support than it did after the recent general election, but rather than share the public's urgency for change, the present office-holders had "redoubled efforts to frustrate renewal, cut off reform, and silence criticism".

It has inflexibly steeled itself from having to shift gears in a much changed Malaysian political reality since March 8, 2008, that ensconced racial and ethnic divisions which had previously been battened down, are passé.

By steadfastly holding on to the concept of and playing up the divisive if dumbed-down special unequal sectarian rights, the current leadership appears to be foundering on a dessicated landscape of enlightened global visions and aspirations for greater inclusivity and equality—that the quest for basic human rights cannot stop at narrowly-defined sectarian exclusivity or political expediencies.

The now much maligned Ketuanan Melayu catchphrase, with its expectant master-follower relationship appears to have lost its jingoistic power to inflame fear and privation for an increasingly sophisticated rakyat, at least for a sizeable number.

It is true that many Malays and bumiputras continue to fear that once this interpretation of exceptional right is taken away from them, they might not be favoured anymore and would be sidelined, even marginalised in their so-called 'own homeland'. This is a very real and rightful concern, and all Malaysians must be mindful that this does not and should never happen.

But I think every thinking Malaysian understands this perspective which has been ingrained into the psyche for so long, that this has become an immovable crutch reinforcing a diffident yet hand-out frame of mind.

We must all work together to ensure that fairness—even if with initial overweening affirmation to reassure our Malay and bumiputra brethren be justly extended—based on social need rather than simply birthright, be the paradigm of the new Malaysian model, with eradication of all leakages and wastages from corrupt and other venal interests.

I strongly believe our economic pie is big enough for all. I believe our collective potential is even greater when we can all work together without unspoken but seething suspicion, envy or disgruntlement.

There's really no necessity for fear of being excluded of fair opportunities for any Malaysian, as I fervently believe that every Malaysian will always have a soft spot for the poor, the marginalised and the truly deprived. 50 years of living together in relative peace and harmony would and should ensure that common sense and goodwill will prevail.

I believe we are more magnanimous and generous than we have been given credit for. A socially-engineered liberalism with an ethnically-blind and equitable social contract, will ensure that untrammelled market forces not be allowed to override the sensitivities and needs of those truly in need.

That every Malaysian will be accorded every fundamental right to a decent home, wages, access to basic amenities and health care, basic rights and freedom to associate, to think, to speak, to write and to believe.

That quality and merit must supersede all pretensions of enforced arbitrary allocations, to education, business, housing, employment, even social welfare, which can only make our nation and economy, our productivity and yes, especially our Malaysian nationalistic fervour stronger and more meaningful. That we can all shout out loudly and passionately with one unison voice that we are Bangsa Malaysia!

In a globalised world, this can only add on to our previously unimagined strength, rather than serve as a deadweight anchor dragging us slowly but inexorably into inefficiency, corruption, nepotism, dependency and poorer than can be achieved productivity...

In the past few years, this has become more evident with our sharply declining economic growth as the chasing developing world continues to progress in spite of us and our fantastic head-start.

We're now beginning to showcase our wasted, weighted-down, demoralised human capital achievement, which has now become even more tangible with the rise and rise of resurgent dynamic economies of China, India, Vietnam, Thailand and even Indonesia! With the current financial meltdown and banking debacle, we have to be even more resilient, otherwise we can expect worse to come... (See Bursa plunges nearly 4%, recovery in afternoon)

Ketuanan Rakyat must now be the new shibboleth for Malaysians now more confident of and attuned to fairplay and global competition.

We must continue to reinforce and burnish this quest for greater personal and national achievement, empowerment and excellence. We must learn to aspire to be world-beaters and not simply be content as jaguh kampung (village champions).

Malaysia Boleh
and must change for the better!

(photos from The Malaysian Insider, ISA graphic from malaysiakini)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Oh Malaysia! Whither is thy just soul for all?

I decided last month to take a break from my erstwhile blogging, if anything just to sniff through the musty air for some balance, some freshness,
some insights for sanity...

Alas, during and following the Permatang Pauh by-election, Malaysian politics had descended into crasser and baser meanness.

Torrid mud-slinging wasn't enough, and when the chips and popular support appear to be slipping further down, ethnic emotions have been stoked and charged upwards, with growing senseless and ad hominem rhetoric rising decibels into deaf-piercing levels of plangency.

Personal and racial attacks have taken on an ugly momentum which only breeds a nuclear cycle of chain-reaction—with irrational fears and bigotry serving as fodder for mass incitement into hatred and jitteriness.

Political thuggery appears to have taken leave of the senses of some of our inane politicians, such that one wonders if we are living in a banana republic as currently exemplified by the chronically self-destructive Zimbabwe, Somalia and other failed states.

Perhaps, as passionate Malaysians who hanker for a renewed Malaysia to emerge as a developed first world nation, we are expecting too much. It is painfully clear that we have yet to be able to mature gracefully, without the insane retreat into tribalism and narrow-minded sectarianism.

In this regard I totally agree with Azly Rahman that we can do better and hopefully soon, we must "celebrate the end of racism with the sinking of Bahtera Merdeka. For too long race and religion has been used a twin-concept of fear and domination of those robber-barons who call themselves nationalists in a post-industrial tribalistic world." (see September 16: the end of nationalism and tribalism?)

Sadly, the embattled government is playing straight into the hands of a small band of unthinking, asinine 'territorial warloads', whose locked-in mindsets appear to be to protect or to preserve their parochial fiefdoms, now so overtly taken away from them since March 8, 2008.

The current leadership seems to have become tone-deaf to the rakyat's rising concerns and interests, supplanting these with erroneous and foolhardy tactics to stay in power at whatever costs!

The sudden removal of fuel subsidies, the hike in utilities rates, and the greatest inflation (7.7% then 8.3% in June and July 2008, respectively) ever in 27 years, have jolted the rakyat that this current government is fast losing its grip on reality and has lost its commitment to serve its citizens. (Latest August 2008 CPI at a whopping 8.5%, another 27-year record!!!)

Thus, isn't it understandable that more and more of the rakyat has joined in the rousing call to urge the government to be more accountable and fair, with clarion calls to place the rakyat’s interests first, to eliminate wasteful projects, cronyistic practices and rampant corruption?

Somehow, during these past few years under Pak Lah, the government has become impenetrable and impervious to the reality bites and bytes of an evolved emboldened rakyat who are clamouring for greater transparency, freedom of expression, and participatory engagement.

Most importantly, the urgent need to change from the archaic model of patently racial divide and rule, into one of greater participation and inclusion, sans ethnic or religious compartmentalisation. It is fervently hoped that race-based political parties might indeed be passé, soon in modern 21st century Malaysia.

But the emergence, rising popularity and acceptance of Pakatan Rakyat as a collaborative and viable if cobbled-up opposition front is frighteningly clairvoyant, of political changes to come. Such consistent opposition gains pose a severe threat to those hopelessly clinging on to power from their ingrained stranglehold of outdated top-down Umno-dominated politics and policies!

This sudden realisation of power loss, public disenchantment and disavowal, has made many an old-school politician queasy at the real possibility and prospect of becoming irrelevant, discredited and disempowered!

I am writing this during my lay-over in Dubai, en route to London, accompanying my son who is to begin his university studies at King's College.

Just before I left, my heart sank. Although we had feared that a desperate, embattled government might resort to whatever means to hold on to its challenged power, we had naively harboured thoughts that perhaps sanity and good sense would prevail. Alas, this was not to be so.

We heard that blogger-extraordinaire of Malaysia Today, Raja Petra Kamaruddin had been detained under Section 73(1) of the Internal Security Act (ISA), i.e. detention without trial! This morning, half a day later, we heard that opposition (DAP) law-maker Teresa Kok and Sin Chew Daily Tan Hoon Cheng had also been detained under this totally discredited and antiquated draconian ISA.

Newspapers, which had exposed the antics of this racist taunt, were also given show-cause letters as to why they should not be sanctioned! Flying in the face of natural justice is this ludicrous and totally misguided move to sanction and punish the exposers and not the actual perpetrators of this terrible racially charged misdeed!

Ironically indeed, the centre of the storm of these racist remarks and extremism—one previously unheard of but unrepentant UMNO chieftain—has simply been given a slap on the wrist: suspended for 3 years from all UMNO posts!

These rafts of undignified and uncalled for actions are to be condemned in the strongest terms. It would appear that the government headed by UMNO is stating in effect that if only the journalist hadn't reported (and the media hadn't exposed this!) on these outrageous remarks by that racist UMNO chief, then there would not have been any knowledge of this simmering racial tension, deviously stoked by this repugnant man and his coterie of supporters.

Never mind that selected people on the ground had already been inflamed, and jolted in their many targeted pockets about possible ethnic fears and strifes... that 'immigrant' and 'squatting' races don't need to be considered as citizens, and that they can leave the country, if they do not like the current policies!

Oh, how can we peaceful Malaysians counter such bigotry, such calls for racial purity and protection which harks back to the days of Hilterism and Nazist ideology, or former South African apartheid regime?! How can we ever hope to rebuild a newer more inclusive society that protects the rights and sanctity of all?

Worse this government is now resorting to all sorts of draconian laws to further extend itself, consolidate its eroding popularity and power, and repress disgruntlement from a fractiously impatient and angry rakyat clamouring for greater and greater freedom and change for the better!

As 'puny' rakyat there appears to be only so much that we can do, but each and everyone of us must rise up and speak our mind for justice, fairness, freedom to express and live, with due protection of our laws and our Constitution.

We must not let ourselves be intimidated by these new fear-instilling extra-judicial acts from our common purpose to rid Malaysia of such excesses of governmental decadence!

While we abhor and eschew all forms of violence, we urge the government to respect the rakyat's wishes and not dampen and dumb down our efforts to be heard!

By deceitfully creating a climate of fear and uncertainty, this government must not be allowed to fan and provoke public unrest. This would be to play into the hands of this beleaguered and unpopular leadership waiting to unleash possible emergency laws to promulgate and propagate their power indefinitely.

We urge our peace- and freedom-loving Malaysians to pray and speak out for the better good of our nations. I don't believe we are alone in this.

The world is watching, and we cannot allow this government to ride roughshod over all of us. The USA has already summoned our embassy staff to protest. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are condemning this desperate act of our current leadership.

Even the government's own de facto law minister Zaid Ibrahim has protested these actions which he felt were totally inexcusable and has threatened to resign (see Law minister threatens to quit over ISA).

Thus, how can any sensible Malaysian view this differently, if not to believe that these dastardly acts reek of pure political overtures of cynical overkill and power play? Zaid Ibrahim has stated that "We have a government that commits to laws and reforms, we can't be using old-style politics or resort to creating fear. We have laws and they (the detainees) should be charged in court... The problem with the ISA now is that it is used against certain people, it is a very unjust law."

Another minister (human resources minister) Dr S. Subramaniam has also openly complained that "(t)he prospect of a person being detained without a chance of being heard and to defend himself is against the grains of present day popular belief," and that "a government sensitive to the feelings of the people cannot be blind to the fact that a significant proportion of the rakyat abhor the ISA." (See Another minister questions ISA dragnet)

Let's hope common sense will prevail finally, and a new dawn will rise for a truly resplendent and modern liberated Malaysia.

In the meantime, all Malaysians must call for these freedom fighters to be set free immediately!

This untenable ISA should be repealed and its arbitrary acts must be laid to rest forever!

These repeated acts of political desperation and social injustice seriously undermines the rights and the mandate of the present leadership to govern!

Perhaps, it is truly time for a new rebirth, a new leader, a new government of integrity, greater righteousness, transparency, social cohesiveness and promise, to take over.

Enough is enough, we cannot afford such callous abuse or any more of the same ineptitude to go on and on! It's time to call this government to accounts. It's time to say it's time for change!

"We shall overcome
We shall overcome.
We shall overcome the tyranny of an arrogant, ineffective, incompetent, corrupt and lazy government that
does not have any more respect for the rule of law
does not have any shame in showing its greed and lust
does not have any mercy in using brutal force to silent the voices of change
does not have much respect for the principles of human rights
does not have much intelligence when it comes to parliamentary debates
does not have a clue of what good governance means
does not have any regard for the plight of the poor and their livelihood
does not have any respect for the intelligence of the faculty and students in our universities
does not have any shame in overstaying their welcome
does not have any interest in controlling crime
does not have any will to fight corruption
and does not have leaders that are wide awake,
and does not have any idea that spoiled brats and greedy ones are running the country and finally destroying not only the party but also the nation."
~ Azly Rahman (Victory Speech)

An edited version of this blog appears in Malaysiakini's Time for a Just Malaysia