Najib-style: the imagined utility of obstructionism

The tragedy of Malaysian politics is this: governments escape being answerable when the opposition would rather make a noise because it loves the sound ofits own voice. In a parliamentary democracy, a government is as accountable(or not) as the opposition makes it. Yet, across the political board, the idea seems to be that you don’t get to be in the gaddi by constructively questioning it. You get to be in the gaddi by toppling it. It’s all about which side (treasury benches or opposition benches) you get to sit in Parliament. And here we thought it was all about honouring Parliament irrespective of which side you sit.Only, wresting back the opposition space by blocking the very institution where theUMNO must play an oppositional role will prove counter productive.For one thing, people are already beginning to think theUMNO running away from a debate with Anwar Ibrahimy. The perception is that if there’s mud to be flung around there, it’ll fly in all directions. For another, the party’s bolstering the impression that it’s working in tandem with the likes ofMahathir’s Perkasa, even while loudly claiming to disagree with them about Parliament’sefficacy in the anti-graft fight.

To be a successful politician in Malaysia partically UMNO, an individual must be blessed with three attributes: the art of listening patiently, the ability to tolerate fools and the skin of a rhinoceros . Most of the successful practitioners of what has come to be a disreputable profession in Malaysia normally manage the first two—witness the career graph of Mahathir However , when it comes to the third, there are too many that falter.
It is unlikely that the minister of information and broadcasting in Najib’s government would want to be reminded of this incident today. Much has happened in Malaysia in the intervening 37 years for anyone to seriously believe that the whimsical highhandedness of the Emergency can ever be repeated. Media insolence has become a feature of contemporary life, despite the consternation of the Establishment. Yet, at odd times the ingrained imperiousness that comes with a hierarchical society resurfaces.There are two issues involved. First, there is an astonishing show of prickliness over anything critical that appears in blogs. This suggests a deeply ingrained inferiority complex gripes are centred on either frustration or plain pig-headedness . Somehow we seem to believe that the rest of the world lives to undermine the cocnut shell, its beloved leaders and subvert our pre-destined journey to greatness.
We have heard that the end of all learning is humility, the realization that we actually know nothing compared to all we need to know! If you believe this, you believe that all learning and knowledge lead you to a feeling of nothingness, a feeling that you are shunya, a zero.
Hell hath no fury like a woman defending a PM scorned. Just recently, Ambika Soni, information & broadcasting minister, breathed hell`s fire at the Washington Post. All because it ran that blasted write-up blasting Manmohan Singh as a silent “tragic figure”. Calling it a “baseless” piece of “yellow journalism”, Soni demanded an apology — or else. And here I thought “yellow journalism” means never having to say you`re sorry.

Soni put me, a true-blue yellow journalist, in a quandary. Must I be flattered at being elevated to the creamier ranks of scribes like the Post`s correspondent, fellows by no means yellow unless you mean jaundiced? Or should I demand an apology from Soni for dyeing my profession of noxious pen-pushing a whiter shade of peela?

Maybe an apology’s too much to expect from Soni. Or she`d have said sorry herself for heading that Emergency-era relic called Information & Broadcasting Ministry. That’s the kind of Big Brother body for which a media apology usually surrogates for choke and dagger. Call it the gift of the gag. But information browbeaters beware! This is an age when info — yellow-tinted or otherwise — gets broadcast and podcast even before politicians wake up and smell the coal coffee. And they usually do that after reading the scandal sheets.

Equally bizarre for Soni to have asked how a US daily could “publish something regarding the prime minister of another country”! We peela journalists take special pride in churning out rants against leaders of foreign countries, some baptised Mr 10 Per Cent, others exposed as wearing stilts to match their wives` height. Even Russia`s Putin has learned to live with post-KGB free expression. He now so welcomes healthy criticism that Pussy Rioters got only a couple of years in jail.

Sorry, lady. Opinion can`t always be Soni — or is it sunny? — side up. So, why insist that the whole world respect the “dignity” of the PM`s or anybody else`s office? Hiding behind the “dignity of office” usually signals indignity of pompous officiousness. Under these circumstances, methinks the lady doth protest too much. Why, methinks she shoots the messenger (journalism) while trying to shoot the passenger (yellow journalism).

Pray tell me, which yellow journalist worth his ochre would dub anyone a “tragic figure” however much the latter`s hands may have been tragically tied by reforms-averse Mamata-di or BJP? It`s just too anodyne and literary. Soni might think Singh is king. But in the tabloid trade sting is king: the poke must hurt. Note that, unlike Soni who seems more loyal than the king proclaimed Singh, Singh has a remarkable meditative detachment. He doesn`t say “ouch” to very much.

Recall Singh as finmin once suggesting he didn`t get insomnia over stock market scams. And consider the “silent” PM`s defence of silence, just after being silenced by the BJP when making a statement in parliament on Coalgate (which many Congress-wallahs pretended for some time was a toothpaste brand). “My silence,” said he, “is better than a thousand answers.” What a silencer — and at a time of hazaar pesky questions about policy freeze, price rise, corruption and other CAG-mires!

To hell with that scurrilous debate about who — Singh or Obama — is the bigger “underachiever”. Do you want the sensational truth, and I don`t mean sensational in the tabloid sense? It`s that the calm and composed PM stumps all of us genuine yellow-yellow dirty fellows. With growth southbound, inflation northbound and parliament recently paralysed, Singh was still the picture of equanimity. We spread yellow fever in malicious levity. A consummate levitator like him still didn`t get sleepless nights. That, we concede, is a true leadership trait. And look at what he`s gone and done now, silently — ended the policy freeze and blasted the reforms process wide open, so that growth can get moving again! So take that, Washington Post. And spare us this kolaveri, Soni-ji.The events of recent days in the Middle East only forewarn of future turmoil as the democratization of the media in the West meets the political awakening in the Arab world.

The now-marginalized children of Facebook may have inaugurated the Arab Spring, which unleashed — some say liberated — anti-Western voices and actors long crushed by brutal autocrats. But now it is YouTube’s turn to roil the region. A 14-minute preview of a movie called The Innocence of Muslims — posted by a marginal Florida minister on what he refers to as “Judge Muhammad Day” (9/11) — is setting the region aflame as its spreads across the Web.

Welcome to our new world, where no one is in control — neither the West of its social media nor Arab rulers of their liberated subjects. This is a combustible mix.

Anything, no matter what the production value, from home videos of pets to porn to blasphemy, can go up on the Web without curation or editing. In the free Middle East, anti-Western groups are either now tolerated because the mainstream, including the new rulers, shares their views or because the new democratic states have yet to establish their monopoly over violence that makes them truly sovereign.

The old gatekeepers of power that guaranteed stability — from the sober Walter Cronkites of the old mainstream media who exercised editorial control to the Hosni Mubaraks who exercised repression — have been overthrown. (Though they feebly try to reassert themselves: the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, who commands the world’s largest fleet of aircraft carriers and strategic bombers, pleaded over the phone to the Florida minister who posted the video — and who commands a miniscule congregation — to cease and desist.)

The conflicts of the future are thus going to be as much about the abundant cultural flows of the global information economy as about the scarcity of resources or the breach of territory. This is because contending values have been crowded into a common public square created by freer trade, the spread of technology and the planetary reach of the media.

Only in such a world could a provocative Danish cartoon or a truly lame YouTube video on Muhammad inflame the pious and mobilize the militant across the vast and distant stretches of the Islamic world. Only in such a world would Chinese authorities seek to muzzle the artist Ai Weiwei only to find him in touch with the entire planet through Twitter. Only in such a world would the Vatican pull out all the stops to convince the movie-viewing public that the fiction of The Da Vinci Code is not the same as eternal truth.

This global public square is the new space of power where images compete and ideas are contested; it is where hearts and minds are won or lost and legitimacy is established. It is a space both of friction and fusion where the cosmopolitan commons of the 21st century is being forged.

Sending warships, loaded with weapons, to the region can’t undo what Facebook and YouTube, loaded with messages, have done.

No military retaliation, or further violent attacks on diplomatic outposts, can erase the reality that what is sacred for America (freedom of expression, including sacrilege) and what is sacred for the Muslim world (their faith) are clashing values now contending on the same virtual terrain.

The issue goes beyond the most recent dissing of the Muslim faith to the overall message of Western-shaped globalization.

While it is true that the American creed “respects all faith,” it is also true that those who hate Islam or respect nothing can also express themselves. Good faith and bad faith get equal billing in our democratized media culture.

Years before Osama bin Laden conceived of the assault on the Twin Towers in New York, Akbar Ahmed, a Pakistani scholar and former ambassador to Great Britain, grasped the mentality of siege gripping the Islamic world. After an extended trip through the remote villages of the Afghan-Pakistan border where the Taliban got its start, he reported that pious Muslims sense “there is no escape now, no retreat, no hiding place, from the demon” of the Western media, which he called “storm troopers of the West.” They feel, he wrote, “the more traditional a religious culture in our age of the media, the greater the pressure on it to yield” to the faithlessness and secularism of global civilization emanating from the West.

Ahmed imagined that “it must have been something like this in 1258 when the Mongols were gathering outside Baghdad to shatter forever the greatest Arab empire in history. But, this time, the decision will be final. If Islam is conquered, there will be no coming back.”

Managing some semblance of stability in this new, out-of-control world is going to take some deft statesmanship. The West is not about to give up its defense of freedom of expression — whether Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses” or the “Innocence of Muslims” YouTube video. Muslims, militant or mainstream, are not about to give up the defense of their faith and its Messenger.

Along with the advent democracy in the Arab world, this is a new reality we will all have to live with. Let’s not pretend that this conflict isn’t real.

We know things are the opposite when our Dear Leader Kim Il Najib spoke about Malay survival being linked to Umno. What else can he say? The easiest way to rebut this simplistic assertion is to point out to him that one in six Malays is an Umno member. So when one Umno Malay is out of the loop, there are five more other Malays left to survive. So, it’s not true that if Umno is out, Malays are also finished off. Only that lone Umno Malay is out of the equation. So we ignore his shrieking and false assertion.

I am most baffled when he says or suggests that Umno has an ideology. Since when does Umno have an ideology consisting of beliefs and basic driving force? What ideology? Since the time when I was still in Umno until now, we have been taught that Umno hasn’t got an ideology. It has always claimed it’s pragmatic although the word actually means anything goes. No sir, Umno hasn’t got any ideology.

Everyone sees a position in Umno as a means to make more money. That is why Najib has so much difficulty in weaning off incumbents from their current seats. Unless of course he pays them off and that is what he is doing. He’s giving so many people golden handshakes.

When he says the DAP will dominate, he must be off his rockers. But then he is talking to a pliant and nodding crowd whose minds are conditioned by TV3 and Utusex Malaysia. The argument that the DAP will dominate is incredible as well as devious.

He was speaking at the Umno divisional meetings. It was the same when he spoke to the rented crowd at Stadium Bukit Jalil a few months ago. But when he retires to his sleeping quarters, he can’t sleep because he’s getting nightmares. He’s thinking, can Umno even reach the 100-seat mark?

Well, I know more about him than the average reader.

We have explained why the DAP will become a formidable party because of the disciplined and quality leadership and clarity of its cause. Seat-wise, the DAP can’t form a government without PAS and PKR because it’s contesting not more that 52 seats or even less. Unless of course the Malays in PKR and PAS are of the same mediocre standard as Umno leaders, then only Malays are disadvantaged. Malay survival is at risk if they continue the corrupt and self-interested Umno.

Even Lim Kit Siang and Lim Guan Eng acknowledged the political reality of this country. The majority of the population is Malay and to suggest that anyone other than a Malay can be PM and DPM at this juncture of our history is devilishly disingenuous. But then, Umno is the devil we know.

The reason why the DAP is assailed is because the party has become the party of choice by the majority of the Chinese, Indians and, to small extent, Malays. Malays now prefer PKR and PAS.

When he asked the pliant crowd are you ready for elections, they will answer yes of course. We have been waiting for the money! Where is the money?

Do Malays depend on Umno? That is what Umno wants us to believe and that it’s why it’s only strategy is to keep Malays on an economic leash by giving handouts and free things. It’s also Najib’s only strategy. Talking about ETP, NKRA, KPI must exert some tremendous mental strain on him. Poor fellow.

The only things they have withheld from the Malays are effective economic freedom from regulations, licences that favour the rich, quotas that are robbed by the rich and powerful, etc.

Malays do not depend on Umno for their survival. Malays have got a choice, If they want to maintain that emotional security, support PAS or PKR. Do we see Malays suffer in Selangor, Kelantan, Penang and Kedah where Umno is not in power? No? Then Malays do not depend on Umno for their survival. They prosper under good governance, sincere and dedicated administrations.

When Umno leaders proclaim that our security is at risk, that reflects more of their incompetence. The home minister shows his complete incompetence by allowing vigilantes to roam the street and create havoc. Hishammuddin should resign from his post as home minister if he’s not bright enough.

 
When Ali Rustam says there will be disaster if Pakatan takes over, he is lying because it’s even more disastrous if Umno/BN is retained. When Ali says PR people are interested only to enrich themselves instead of caring for the welfare of the people, he is describing precisely what Umno leaders do at the moment. In the FELDA FGVH listing, for example, who enriched themselves over the people? Answer: Umno people. Two Umno ministers get 100 million, 112,000 FELDA settlers get 91 million. So FELDA settlers! Please give Umno three votes only.

You see Umno people (there is no need now to talk about the MCA or MIC because they are irrelevant) have no answers to the issues raised; they fall back on one last-minute weapon. Appeal to the emotions. Stir up the fears. Stoke racial sentiments and prejudices.

Because they are half-past-six leaders and are cerebrally challenged, they can’t reason out. Reasoning demands some mental rigour and this Umno people don’t have. That is why their answers are the same old same old. Malays are finished, Malay Rulers are finished, Islam is endangered and so forth.

Just ask yourselves: why is Umno going all out making appeals to the emotions and not to reason? Why is Umno unashamedly telling the people that social evils arise from the activities of evil men (Anwar Ibrahim, Guan Eng, Kit Siang, Hadi, Nik Aziz, Azmin Ali, that rascal Rafizi) and that if only good men (such as those in Umno naturally) wielded power all would be well. Only if good men like in Umno wield power, we can take care of the Malays, religion and our sultans.

Our response is this: such views require only emotion and self-praise which are what Umno leaders are doing now.

And people are easily moved by appeals to the emotions — love, hate, feeling scared and so on. Moreover, to reason out that the opposition, which wields no power yet, is also capable of doing better all the things Umno does requires analysis and thought, subordinating the emotions to the rational faculty. And we know Umno and its leaders and supporters are not capable of being rational. That is why even the semi-retired Great Helmsman Mahathir Mohamad has gone on record to ask Umno people to be rational precisely because they are NOT and incapable of being so.

So Umno advances arguments which are simple but false, which appeal to the emotions. To realise that Pakatan Rakyat can do better what Umno has been doing would require sophisticated thinking. And because the emotional faculties are more developed than the rational, Umno seeks out emotional redemption as its last refuge. — sakmongkol.blogspot.com

A wrap-up of stories and posts you might have missed or overlooked — the ones below the fold.

You may remember some hubbub back in February about some talks involving a $26 billion settlement that was supposed to provide relief to nearly two million American homeowners. Many homeowner activists, bloggers, and homeowners themselves saw the settlement is nothing more than another giveaway to placate the banks and servicers. It’s starting to look as though they were right.

Despite the warnings, outrage, and in some cases pleading, some of the biggest voices in the consumer advocacy community touted the settlement as a positive thing for homeowners.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said:

The banks broke the law by railroading homeowners through the foreclosure process. Today’s settlement provides compensation for foreclosure victims without requiring individuals to waive their legal claims. While banks must be made to pay more to help homeowners, the settlement includes needed principal write-downs so homeowners can stay in their homes.

 

Alys Cohen of the National Consumer Law Center said it would move the ball forward and that it was a game changer. Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who headed up the whole process, said “This agreement is the only way we’re going to get to substantial principal reduction.”

NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous said:

This monumental settlement is a strong step towards assisting the millions of current and former homeowners that were exploited, discriminated against and taken advantage of by major mortgage servicing banks. The principal reductions, refinancing and other relief will provide desperately needed relief.

Former White House Advisor, Van Jones, now running “Rebuild the Dream” and never one to miss an opportunity to pipe up about something somewhere said:

That is small comfort, perhaps, but it was hard won. So we should honor the hard work of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, California Attorney General Kamala Harris and others, including many grassroots progressive organizations like New Bottom Line. They fought courageously to prevent a total sweetheart deal for the banks. This outcome is the result of determined activism, and without this heroic effort, the deal would have been drastically worse.

 

All pretty big names with pretty big voices congratulating themselves and their colleagues over a job well done, but looking at what’s actually been accomplished in the last six months as a result of the settlement there’s been very little follow-through from anyone who previously saw this as a victory.

The Social Science Research Network released a study last month that was collaborative effort of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, the government’s Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), Ohio State University, Columbia Business School, and the University of Chicago measure the impact of HAMP – the government’s anti-foreclosure program.

According to the report nearly 800,000 homeowners could have avoided foreclosure had the banks done a better job at modifying loans. ProPublica’s Paul Kiel put together a fairly in-depth article on the findings of the report, in which he writes:

Unfortunately for homeowners, most mortgages are handled by banks that haven’t been properly staffed and thus have modified far fewer loans. If these worse-performing banks had simply modified loans at the same pace as their better performing peers, then HAMP would have produced about 800,000 more modifications. Instead of about 1.2 million modifications by the end of this year, HAMP would have resulted in about 2 million.

It’s a bit sympathetic to the bank’s claims that they were understaffed and overworked, but still a worthwhile read.

 

So what about the $26 billion? In some cases, the banks are dragging their heels. The Office of Mortgage Settlement Oversight released its first report on August 29 – just six months later. According to the report, Bank of America, the bank responsible for the biggest portion of the agreement had yet to modify a single mortgage.

The Los Angeles Times reported

The report showed that Bank of America Corp. faltered in one key area of the settlement, completing no modifications of first mortgages from March 1 to June 30, the period covered in the first status report released by the Office of Mortgage Settlement Oversight. The other four banks covered by the settlement — JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo & Co., Citigroup Inc. and Ally Financial Inc. — reported that they had completed 7,093 modifications of first-lien mortgages worth a total of $749 million. JPMorgan Chase completed the most such modifications with $367 million.

 

As an added twist, according to Jim Gallagher of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, banks could be completely sidestepping the foreclosure settlement with short sales:

That raises the question: Would the banks have forgiven that debt even without the settlement? Have banks found a nifty way to reduce the amount $25 billion they agreed to pay to settle the suit over their foreclosure practices? The figures are similar across the nation. At least 60 percent of the money is supposed to go to homeowner relief. But the bulk of that is going for short sales.

 

More egregiously, the settlement money that was to be used to provide relief for homeowners is instead being used by some state officials to fill budget holes, top off coffer, and offset taxes.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the latest to jump on the “we have free money and screw homeowners” band wagon, wanted to divert $75 million earmarked for New Jersey homeowners to offset tax breaks for the state’s wealthiest residents, according to NJ.com.

In Texas, $125 million went straight to the general fund. Missouri will use its $40 million to soften cuts to higher education. Indiana is spending more than half its allotment to pay energy bills for low-income families, while Virginia will use most of its $67 million to help with revenue. Georgia plans use its $99 million to lure companies to the state.

So, as it happens, it looks like the settlement wasn’t such a great idea or the big first step everyone claimed it would be. The banks and servicers still get to do what they want; they get to do it how they want; and individual states get to use the money however they want as long as it’s not to help struggling homeowners for whom the money was intended for in the first place.

Oddly enough, everyone who was so quick to applaud the settlement and take the opportunity to grandstand as a homeowner advocate six months ago, has become conspicuously quiet when it comes to follow through. An unfortunate recurring theme.

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