Death of western democracies?


I told you so’: Trump showing off a copy of USA Today’s front page featuring his acquittal in the Senate impeachment trial, as he arrived to address the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. — Reuters

ANGOLA, Haiti and Cambodia are “Banana Republics”: countries where the rule of law has been traduced by a man or woman or group seeking their own aggrandisement.

There is a new addition to this list: the United States of America. As one of the oldest and proudest of the world’s democracies, this country’s appalling downgrade is testament to one man’s work.

His name is Donald Trump and he is the 45th President. TV reality show star, charlatan and bigot, Trump has tweeted his nation’s principles – as articulated by the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights – into a pulp.

Of course, he had help. He has been ably assisted by a coterie of men and women known as “Republicans”. In the years to come, as historians pore over the catastrophe that is the Trump Presidency, tracking its dismal, neo-fascist trajectory, one of the most important dates will be his acquittal by the US Senate from impeachment charges of abuse of power and obstructing Congress on Feb 5,2020.

The Americans have demonstrated that the highest office in their land and the most powerful in the world – the Presidency – can be manipulated for personal gain, that their political elite will actively enable this.

Across the Atlantic, a buffoonish Old-Etonian turned hack journalist turned politician Boris Johnson has parlayed Brexit to not only propel himself to 10 Downing Street but also persuade the UK’s working-classes to vote against their own interests.

Membership in the European Union was more than just about common markets and free movement. It was limiting, but that’s precisely the point: all its members accepted the EU’s strictures to create confidence and hence, the conditions for peace as well as development in their continent.

All of that has gone out of the window now.

If the Yanks who want to “Make America Great Again” are living in a Banana Republic – their British cousins who want to “regain control” via Brexit exist in a posh-boy rerun of Downtown Abbey crossed with 1917 and the Raj Quartet.

What happened? How have centuries-old democracies become so fragile and even self-destructive?

First: inequality has gotten out of hand. The neoliberal, trickle-down economic policies launched by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the late 1970/80’s fuelled a massive shift in prosperity from workers and the middle-classes to owners and shareholders. Real wages stagnated and tax policies benefited the recipients of dividends not generated by their own labour.

Subsequently, more centrist leaders (such as Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Barrack Obama) maintained much of the same policies. And the numbers don’t lie.

When Thatcher came to power in 1979, the UK manufacturing industry employed 6.8 million people – by 2016 this had fallen to 2.6 million.

In 2017, three of the US’ richest individuals collectively held more wealth than the bottom 50% of their country’s population –160 million people. Gini coefficients (a measure of inequality) are shooting up on both sides of the Atlantic.

Moreover, the advent of social media allowed fake and demagogic information to be spread quickly as well as unchecked, shifting the national discourse and mood almost at will.

Meanwhile, ethnic and religious minorities as well as women – rightfully – sought greater representation in the public life and culture of the West.

However, the failure of the Anglo-American elite to address the above-mentioned inequalities led the white-majority working classes to feel that their leaders were more interested in playing identity politics than protecting them.

At the same time, a refugee crisis emanating from the Middle East and North Africa (in the US, the refugee crisis is predominantly Latino) heightened white anxieties over being displaced in their own countries.

This gave the opportunity for Trump and other demagogues to rise. Economic inequities and cultural insecurities fuelled white nativist impulses.

It’s not clear if the progressives can blunt this wave (Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn failed dismally) and the chaos in Iowa Democratic Party caucuses only underlines the gloom.

We, in Southeast Asia must learn from the fragility of these Northern Atlantic democracies.

Their mistakes aside – democracy is still the best way forward – especially for multi-racial and multi-religious countries.

What’s key is to avoid the pitfalls the West fell for. We must address the growing inequality of our societies. Growth alone will not bring stability and peace.

A 2018 World Bank report found that Indonesia’s Gini Index worsened from 30.0 in the 1990s to 38.1 in 2017. Singapore (45.8 in 2016), Malaysia (45.5 in 2008) and the Philippines (44.4 in 2015) all had Gini Indexes above 40: signs of higher income inequality.

Leaders ignore warning signs like this at their peril. We must invest in our people: their safety, health, education and skills.

Next, social media must be brought to heel. Hate speech and deliberately provocative postings must be curbed without resorting to undue repression.

The obvious racial and religious fissures in our societies must be managed very carefully. Common ground needs to be found – or created – between our majority and minority communities.

And we must remain engaged: both informed about the issues and vigilant against cynical manipulators of our insecurities.

It may seem like a daunting task when our former colonial masters and role models have failed so miserably. There is no choice. We cannot join the Americans and the British in rubbish dump of history

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A Look at USA 2009 H1N1 Virus Compared to China 2020 Corona Virus : Vicious, Political & Xenophobic Racist Attacks Against China Needs To Stop


 

加油中国!When the United States 2009 H1N1 swine flu emerged, an international emergency, a declared global pandemic, it eventually infected 60 million and initially killed a minimum of 18,449 cases that year. But the final story of the H1N1 global pandemic was far worse than that, with close to 300,000 deaths, according to the final tallies in 2012 reported by the CDC, as you will read below.

Which is why I am scratching my head at how bizarrely negative forces are attacking China and Chinese people as it engages a remarkably aggressive front addressing this Corona virus outbreak which started in Wuhan, central China. I am forced to ask and answer a few questions.

During 2009 H1N1 outbreak, I don’t recall xenophobic anti-America attacks across the globe, do you? In fact, do you recall it took six months for the U.S. to declare a national emergency? Did any government from the onset in April 2009 through the end in April 2010, including the month of June, when H1N1 was declared an international emergency global pandemic, then send out a notice to its citizens that they should leave the United States? Close their borders to American travelers? Nope, not a peep.

Like I said, something’s not right, folks. I am reading hateful vicious attacks on the Chinese government for their supposed intentional conspiracy to intentionally under report the number of infections, yet that is exactly and always the case with such flu outbreaks no matter what country and the CDC reports illustrate that crystal clear. The U.S. H1N1 swine flu numbers were vastly underestimated and updated three years later, because dear friends, that is the nature of such viral outbreaks which don’t care which country they started in. There is never enough man power, there are never enough test kits, there is never enough medicine or medical supplies. China is not trying to hide these hardships, they are well known, they are being reported on the news daily in China. There are always people who die, thousands of them whom we’ll never know if they actually died because of a particular virus. Those are the facts, not any problem unique to China’s healthcare system or government.

Its not a conspiracy, its just tragedy.

According to the June 27, 2012 research report followup three years later, it gets much more disturbing when you learn about the CDC’s final estimate of the H1N1 virus global death toll. You and I find at this at this article at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy website, the CDC’s 18,449 total deaths number was “…regarded as WELL BELOW THE TRUE TOTAL, mainly because many people who die of flu-related causes are not tested for the disease.” So during the 2009 outbreak, was anyone accusing the American medical and government authorities of hiding the numbers? Were Americans with hidden cameras strolling into the Mayo Clinic to PROVE how many people were really dying? The absurdity of these vicious attacks are that whether or not a person specifically does have the Corona virus or some other viral bug presenting as pneumonia, the treatment is the same supportive treatment anyway.

Something’s not right here folks. The world should be applauding China’s unprecedented, broad, aggressive response. (WHO officials and many other government and healthcare officials across the globe are.) I am on the ground here in China READ IT HERE watching with my own eyes and it is quite incredible by any measure, not to mention an enormous economic sacrifice.

Instead of looking at the will of an entire system of government acting faster than any other government on the planet could, we are one month later, still busy bashing a few local government officials in Wuhan who should have told us a couple weeks sooner. And yes, that is true those local officials screwed up. And by the way, those officials are in deep trouble for it. Just like the recent Puerto Rican politicians who are in trouble when we learned they didn’t distribute hurricane emergency supplies that were sent to them to help during last year’s terrible hurricane. A disgrace. Individual people screw up all the time and hopefully justice gets served later, but that’s not an indictment of an entire country’s government. Secondly, on this point, every provincial government has sent out a notice to its government officials pretty much saying that if they are stupid enough to do the same, they will face the wrath of harsh punishment. I don’t doubt it for a moment. Lets contrast to what countless western politicians have gotten away with and remain in office to remind all of us that human error, stupidity and greed is not unique to any particular skin color or race or country. “What about…” reactions don’t help.

And here’s the mic drop for you: “The CDC researchers estimate that the H1N1 2009 pandemic virus caused 201,200 respiratory deaths and another 83,300 deaths from cardiovascular disease associated with H1N1 infections.” Total: 284,000 deaths. Shocking, isn’t it?

Was there a travel ban for any length of time to and from the United States?

Did China, Germany, Japan or any other country close their border to American travelers?

Today I noticed in the updates that following the United States Department of State policy suggesting U.S. citizens leave China, the United Kingdom embassy just released the same recommendation to subjects of the kingdom.

In 2009, did UK subjects in America get a notice from their kingdom to leave America? No.

Did the world suggest we isolate from America? Close the U.S. borders!? No.

Did Americans get xenophobically attacked and targeted by anti-American sentiments like the Chinese are experiencing now? Um, no.

Fascinating and disturbing to say the least. If you’re an expat currently in China, unless you’re in Wuhan, fact is that you’re most likely safer and more peaceful and more stable by simply staying put than by leaving right now. You couldn’t be safer than in this country, where almost everyone is staying home and dutifully isolating themselves with awareness. Not to mention that the Chinese government’s decision to safeguard the society, the families, the people, is coming at a devastating economic cost in the hundreds of billions.

I have a friend in Mesa, Arizona. He told me earlier that the big popular China City buffet, a huge busy place, has no customers. Does that make any sense at all?

Let’s test our ability to reason, to be rational:

If you were in Miami and you heard that there was a virus outbreak that started in Milan, in central Italy, would you cancel your dinner reservation at the Italian restaurant that night in South Beach? No. Would you buy a pizza next week at Joey’s Pizzeria in Delray Beach?

If you were in Singapore and you heard there was a virus outbreak in Dallas, Texas in the central United States, would you stop going to your favorite local Texas southern BBQ restaurant with the owner from Houston, in Singapore?

Would you avoid olive-skinned dark-haired Italian-looking people on the street in Chicago? Would you avoid big guys wearing cowboy hats, cuz they’re obviously from Texas in Singapore cuz there’s a virus in Dallas and they might have just gotten off the plane? There’s a strange senseless bullying extremism and activism in today’s society and you should do your best to avoid it and not be a part of it. It is fomented by a small group of extremist activists while definitely not supported by your average mainstream person who is simply exhausted by their outrage-inducing antics.

Finally, here are some straight up, sensible accurate descriptions of this Corona virus which started in Wuhan, China. Its not called the China virus and neither was H1N1 called the America virus. Whether two weeks or two months from now, this flu season type virus will have passed and the joy of Spring will have arrived. Just like every flu season. However, don’t misunderstand me. The extra caution and the remarkable response by the Chinese governments and people together to quell the spread of this virus was warranted because, yes it is correct that this corona virus is nastier than the usual annual flu bug, as was H1N1 in 2009. As of now, what we can confidently note the following regarding this Corona virus:

This Corona virus is highly contagious, it spreads quite easily. It binds to lung tissue and so in particular, likes to cause pneumonia, that’s what infection of lung tissue is. That’s more severe than a respiratory infection which is only in your throat or bronchial tubes.

The Corona virus currently has a 2% death rate. That’s a lot higher, around 20x higher, than a more typical annual flu virus with a death rate of 0.1%. However, a 2% death rate is still much lower by comparison to the SARS virus which had a 9% death rate or the MERS virus with a really nasty 37% death rate.

The Corona virus is causing severe symptoms in 10-15% of cases. 80% to 90% of deaths from this virus are happening in elderly patients, mostly with other existing health problems, not younger people. That characteristic by the way, is in contrast to the America 2009 H1N1 swine flu virus which in fact had a higher death rate amongst younger people including children rather than those over 60 years old.

China identified and shared the Corona virus genome in record times, in only days and of course, immediately shared it with all international health and disease organizations. Medical researchers are already discovering that certain existing anti-viral medications seem to be effective against this Corona virus.

Its impossible not to marvel at China’s broad and aggressive domestic response directed by the provincial level governments to restrict movement, restrict transportation, restrict business for a period of time combined with the voluntary dutiful cooperation of its 1.3 billion citizens who are in the majority quietly staying at home these weeks to let the virus pass; this model response is already being hailed by the international community as a remarkable unprecedented response setting a new standard in understanding what is possible for future outbreaks in whatever country they may occur. Is it inconvenient and costly. You bet.

Like I said, something’s not right with the way humanity is responding to what’s happening here. I haven’t put my finger on it because well, its certainly complex and the world is upside down in many other ways that I also can’t for the life of me understand or explain without ending up writing a very thick book.

But I do know this: It needs to stop. This vicious, political, xenophobic racist attacks and smearing of all things China needs to stop. Its really not helping anyone in the political corridors of Washington nor is it doing anything to help the man on the street who is just concerned with taking care of his family.

My family is originally from the Basilicata region of Italy, the little hillside Italian towns of Potenza and also, Grottola, which is just outside of Matera. They left their home country and moved to America where I was born, in Yonkers, New York. America became their home and it was my home until I left, too. Now over two decades ago, I left the United States, the country I was born in, the country that has plenty to admire and plenty to improve. But I left and I came to China and now China is my home. If you had asked me thirty years ago if this was my life plan on planet earth, I would have said you were nuts or a really bad fortune teller. But that’s how it has turned out. I am truly blessed with my lovely Chinese wife and our family living here in Shenyang in China’s northeast. You get my meaning? I am a mature adult like many with the powers of observation. I can easily see that whether we are talking about China or the United States or any other country, their societies and their governments have good points and bad points.

The xenophobia needs to stop now. Whether in a couple of weeks or months later, this nasty flu type Corona virus will begin declining and the joy of Spring will arrive. Between now and then if you don’t have anything good, anything supportive to say about China or Chinese people, how about you just keep your mouth shut.

Mario Cavolo, Shenyang.

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US seeks selfish gains as China goes all out to curtail coronavirus spread


Fear of the unknown  

 

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Fight the virus, not China:

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While China marshals a collective effort to combat the outbreak of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), some Western countries, led by the US, are seizing the opportunity to stir up trouble and attack China’s system.

The truth is, US system is not nearly as efficient as the Chinese system. The US method of resolving problems is to procrastinate. For example, US President Donald Trump’s administration simply chooses to build a border wall to resolve illegal immigration issues.

Trump wanted to build the wall, but Democrats in the US Congress oppose it. Such a situation leads to procrastination and public complaints. Various interest groups often have different demands and goals on major issues. Thus, the US is often inefficient in resolving problems, including the spread of influenza in the US.

The US always calculates economic cost when responding to public health issues and emergencies. For example, when the wildfires swept across California in 2018, the local government paid inmates only $1 an hour to fight the fires. In many parts of the US, even firefighting has been privatized and handed to profit-seeking corporations. This basic service now depends on how much people can pay. For the Chinese government, people’s safety is top priority. Only by completely eliminating the spread of the virus can the Chinese government fulfill its responsibilities.

The US also tends to hype the human rights issue. The New York Times claimed that China’s lockdown of the city of Wuhan, in Central China’s Hubei Province “would almost certainly lead to human rights violations.”

The statement is immoral and distorts the truth. Essentially, public health issues are not an issue of human rights. There must be efficient prevention and control.

During the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, the US did not conduct inspections at airports and borders as soon as it could, which failed to contain the spread of the disease. During Hurricane Katrina in 2005, people’s houses were damaged by floods and robberies were rampant.

Why didn’t the US talk about human rights then? When facing the challenge of survival, the rights of individuals must be subordinated to the needs of majority. This is the same in both Eastern and Western ethics. When it comes to life and death, we must first solve the problem of survival before considering how to live more comfortably.

Although the US claims to be tolerant of diverse opinions, criticizing China is mainstream political discourse. Whenever something goes wrong in China, many US media outlets and politicians consistently attribute the problem to China’s system.

China is fighting the 2019-nCoV with confidence. However, some remarks emanating from the US are quite negative, a result of Washington’s prejudice, double standards, and binary opposition mind-set.

Some US politicians tend to interpret non-political issues with a political thinking. They are unaware that such problems require global efforts. Certain US accusations against China are morally indecent, which may negatively influence the world’s efforts to jointly address the 2019-nCoV and other similar public health issues.

Attacking China’s system clearly deviates from the general trend in which all countries around the world join hands to cope with public health issues. Such a move reflects that some US politicians lack a conscience and a spirit of self-reflection, especially so when considering the US itself has failed to properly handling similar problems.

While the 2019-nCoV remains so far unchecked, all countries and regions should coordinate and cooperate to cope with the challenges of bringing it under control. The US should pay more attention to exchanging experiences with China to avoid similar outbreaks, rather than politicizing the issue and placing blame.

Tackling the 2019-nCoV requires a systematic approach, and internal and external efforts must be jointly made. China should first handle its internal affairs. In the course of dealing with the epidemic, despite some twists and turns, the country’s general direction is very clear – to defeat the virus and restore public confidence.

This crisis needs a national effort. Relevant policies and resources should be made and allocated step by step, leading to a sustainable and virtuous cycle. This is the fundamental direction we need to respond to outside doubt.

Meanwhile, we should also publicize our fruitful work in an effective way, and inject the international community with more confidence in China’s actions.

China should work with other countries and regions to cope with the 2019-nCoV and make timely and prompt counterattacks against forces with evil intentions. In this way, the world will see which countries are really working on public health issues, and which have ulterior motives. This is also an efficient way to respond to some US politicians’ groundless attacks against China, so that their accusations collapse onto themselves.

The article was compiled by Global Times reporters Li Qingqing and Yan Yunming based on an interview with Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations, China Foreign Affairs University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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Washington’s unsustainable deficit hangs over global economy


With the widening US budget gap, it is no longer a secret that such a high level of federal spending is unsustainable and the resulting debt burden has become a worry for the global economy.

According to data from the US Treasury Department, the federal budget deficit went on the rise in 2019, hitting $1.02 trillion and marking the first calendar year the deficit has exceeded $1 trillion since 2012. Given the country’s tax revenues, government spending is obviously on an unsustainable path. While total government receipts grew 5 percent in 2019, federal spending increased at a faster pace of 7.5 percent.

More worryingly, as the economy slows amid headwinds, it is basically impossible for the US government to make ends meet by raising tax revenues. So based on the current trend, it will probably become a norm for the annual federal deficit to top $1 trillion in the future.

Undoubtedly, massive fiscal deficits will prompt a steady rise in public debt. According to data released by the Treasury Department on November 1, the US national debt surpassed $23 trillion for the first time in history. The figure is equivalent to about 110 percent of the country’s GDP.

Of course, it should be acknowledged that US Treasury bonds are still considered safe-haven assets in the current uncertain global markets as they are seen as secure due to their strong ratings. Treasury securities held by foreign holders amounted to $6.78 trillion as of the end of October 2019, up $580 billion compared with a year earlier, according to Treasury data issued on December 16, 2019.

In the meantime, however, the share of US debt held by foreign holders has fallen from a peak of 34.1 percent in July 2012 to about 29 percent today. The decline also reflects the accelerated expansion of US debt issuance.

So far there is no sign of any sort of sustained plan for narrowing the US deficit to at least rein in its debt expansion. Nor does the government show any sign of urgency on this issue. Maybe the only response from the Trump administration is to pressure the Federal Reserve to cut rates, a move that could help lower its interest payments on debt and devalue its currency to ease the debt burden.

Such surge in irresponsibility could be attributed to two factors – its high creditworthiness and the financial supremacy of the US dollar. Since a collapse of the US economy may cause an economic disaster around the world, the US government could be better off counting on the world to pay the bill.

Sadly, there is no way out under the current circumstances, and the only hope now is that Americans will take some concrete measures to reverse the trend before a debt crisis truly breaks out.

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US gains limited from changed China policy


The year 2019 has been one in which US sought to reconstruct its relations with China.

First, the US reset the premise of its policies toward China. From former president Bill Clinton to Barack Obama, Washington used to consider living with a rising China conditionally as the precondition; but since Donald Trump took office, he has changed the relatively friendly premise into a hostile one. Trying to slow down China’s development and preventing the country from surpassing or even replacing the US have become the real intention of his China policy.

Second, the US reframed its relations with China, taking economic and trade ties as the turning point, as well as putting in more efforts in diplomacy, security, politics and culture. The key tools in its reconstruction of economic and trade ties were the war of tariffs, technology and finance.

During 2019, the trade war launched by the US against China saw many ups and downs. The number of products on which the two sides slapped duties reached an unprecedented scale. With the escalating tech war against China, the US Commerce Department added Huawei and 70 affiliates to its “entity list.” Besides, China was listed as a currency manipulator by the US Department of Treasury.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration carried out a whole-of-government approach to compete with China and imposed all-round pressure on China.

The US has continued to meddle in Taiwan-related affairs. The Trump administration approved the sale of 66 F-16 fighters to Taiwan in August, the biggest military transaction between the US and Taiwan. Then US National Security Advisor John Bolton’s meeting with Taiwan’s National Security Council (NSC) head David Lee in the White House in May indicated the upgrade of US-Taiwan relations, which happened for the first time since 1950s.

Most seriously, the US was trying to promote Taiwan’s status as a sovereign state. In the Indo-Pacific Strategy Report issued by US Department of Defense, Taiwan was publicly listed as a country; and the Coordination Council for North American Affairs was changed into Taiwan Council for US Affairs.

In 2019, US so-called freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea were much more aggressive. The China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was also besieged and smeared by the US. The US Indo-Pacific Strategy is meant to counter China’s BRI.

Additionally, the US has stepped up competition with China politically and ideologically and kept attacking China’s political system.

In terms of the issues of Xinjiang and Hong Kong, US interference was way more blatant than before. The US even passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, in order to legalize its future interference in the Hong Kong issue. Moreover, the US attacked China’s governance in Xinjiang. Not only did the Ministry of Commerce impose export control over 28 Chinese business entities, but the US Department of State also announced visa restrictions against Chinese officials and their relatives. US Congress, furthermore, passed the so-called Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, keeping up the pressure on China even more.

The series of measures the Trump administration employed to restructure the China-US relationship framework are aggressive.

The Trump administration is trying to change the way China and US interact. It believes that Washington should abandon the engagement policy and cooperation should give way to strategic competition and that the US must pressure China to make concessions. That being the case, the Trump administration has changed the approach of engagement and hedging, reduced engagement and cooperation, and increased confrontation and conflicts with China.

When some hawks within the Trump government talk about China-US competition, what they really want are confrontation and conflict. Many working-level dialogue mechanisms established during the George W. Bush and Obama administrations are no longer in operation. Now Washington resorts to trade, technological and financial wars as well as sanctions. How far can the US go in this way?

First, it depends on how much price the US is willing to pay. Competition, decoupling, confrontation, and non-cooperation all come at a price. The US-launched trade war against China has impacted US agricultural and manufacturing industries and forced consumers to pay more, while the technological war has put the US high-tech industry under risk of losing the Chinese market. Escalating military competition with China means a significant increase in US military expenditure. Restricting China-US people-to-people exchanges will also cause losses to American universities and research institutions.

In fact, with the negative effects of the Trump administration’s China policy increasingly becoming apparent, doubts within the US have grown. Although the US elites have generally reached a consensus on a tougher stance against China, they have yet to agree on how much price the US can pay.

Second, China-US relations are the result of bilateral interactions and cannot be unilaterally decided by the US. Facing heightened US pressure, China is exploring more effective ways to respond. Beijing is not afraid of competition.

Finally, the attitudes of the international community and the US allies matter. The China policy and other foreign policies of the Trump administration not only aimed at maximizing US interests, but also have the features of protectionism and unilateralism. The trade war against China has damaged global industrial and value chains, undermining the interests of other countries including US allies.

To sum up, although the US has benefited from its China policy recalibration, its gains are limited. How far will the US move to restructure its relations with China go? It hinges on the changes in US domestic politics as well as China’s will and art in wrangling with the US.

By Wu Xinbo Source:Global Times – The author is dean of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University.
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US-Iran tensions, who are terrorists?


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U.S. President Donald Trump visited the base in his December 2018 trip to Iraq.

 

Iran’s parliament designates all US forces as ‘terrorists’

The Iranian parliament approved bill on Tuesday that designates United States military forces as terrorists, days after American airstrikes killed top Iranian military leader General Qassem Soleimani in Iraq. The bill is similar to the action the U.S. took last year when the Trump administration designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization.

Members of parliament passed the bill declaring the U.S. military and the Pentagon terrorist entities, according to Iranian state media. Under the bill, the Iranian government will also provide $220 million to the IRGC to “reinforce its defense power in vengeance for General Soleimani’s assassination,” the news agency reported, as tensions between the U.S. and Iran rise.
Iranian parliament voted to designated the U.S. military and the Pentagon terrorist organizations

 Iranian parliament voted to designated the U.S. military and the Pentagon terrorist organizations

This handout picture shows Iranian lawmakers raising their hands to vote during a parliamentary session in Tehran. Iran’s parliament passed a bill designating all U.S. forces “terrorists” over the killing of a top Iranian military commander in an airstrike last week. Icana News Agency

A senior U.S. official told CBS News national security correspondent David Martin that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered a direct attack on American interests in retaliation for the airstrike that killed Soleimani, his top military commander and friend. The official said the U.S. military was “extremely concerned” that the retaliation could come quickly.

When asked by CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer on Tuesday when the Iranian response would come, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif would only say that his country would retaliate at the time of its choosing. While a senior Iranian commander threatened at Soleimani’s funeral to “set ablaze” America’s supporters in the region, Zarif told CBS News the response would be “proportionate” and “against legitimate targets.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo continued leading the Trump administration’s defense of the targeted missile strike that killed Soleimani. He insisted that President Trump was right to order the killing and dismissed Iran’s claim that Soleimani was in Iraq for diplomatic purposes.

In April, the U.S. declared the Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist  organization, which makes it illegal for anyone to provide material support to the
group. The U.S. Defense Department used the Guard’s designation to support the strike last week that killed Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds military force and one of the most powerful figures in the Islamic Republic
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Iran launches missiles at US airbases in Iraq in retaliation for killing of commander 

Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) on Wednesday targeted U.S. bases in Iraq including al-Asad and Harir Camp to the north of Erbil with a second wave of surface-to-surface missiles, semi-official Fars news agency reported

Time for real change for Malaysian education as glory stuck in the past and the delusion of Vision 2020


New decade, new Malaysian education: For the sake of our children and our future, Mazlee’s replacement should be a qualified and capable Malaysian – irrespective of race or religion.

Dr Maszlee forced to resign for failing to heed Cabinet orders

We need a new Education Minister with the right qualifications, a scientific mindset and a technocratic iron will to implement the critical changes.

I HAVE been a big critic of and objector to Maszlee Malik as Education Minister from day one.

I took no pleasure in it then nor do I take pleasure in it now. It just is. The wrong person must go and the right person must come in.

Education is far too important for a nation to be entrusted to those not competent in moulding the minds of our most precious resource, our youth. Education is where we develop this resource for either the success or the failure of our nation.

We do not have to look far to see success. A country with no natural resources, with a tenth of our population, can be a developed nation by sheer power of its human resources.

In 1965, Malaysia and Singapore went separate ways in more ways than one. Look at where they are and look where we are now. The lessons to be learned are abundant. Have the humility to know when we are wrong and they have been right all along. There is no need to look East. Look South.

“A nation is great not by its size alone. It is the will, the cohesion, the stamina, the discipline of its people and the quality of its leaders which ensure it an honourable place in history, ” said its architect, Lee Kuan Yew in 1963.

The education ministership is the leader in ensuring that our children and our youths are able to take the nation to the next level. It is just not at the very top have we got it wrong, again and again. We must have the humility to admit when we are wrong and have been wrong for more than 30 years. We must have the decency, discipline and courage to want to change so our future can be assured.

What did Singapore do right in education? When one looks at massive differences in results, one need not look at many things. One need only look at the fundamental deviation at the root.

One: Singaporean education is in English.

Despite more than 76% of its population being ethnic Chinese, the medium of instruction for its public schools is English. Have you ever heard the Singaporean government or its leaders talk about “memartabatkan” (to give dignity to) the Mandarin language? They have no time for such foolish ethnic pride.

They may find ways to conserve Chinese heritage but they have no interest or inclination to play to racial sentiments that would sacrifice the very essence that will ensure their children have the easiest access to the widest and latest conservatory of human knowledge since the late 19th century.

As such, accessibility of critical knowledge for their children and subsequent generations are assured from young and is continuous throughout their lives. It is so easy to do for those who have the best interest at heart and yet so difficult to do for those with foolish pride and Machiavellian political ambitions.

No mandatory Chinese calligraphy is needed to ensure Chinese heritage continues. No shouting of slogans of Ketuanan Cina and its preservation. That is confidence in your own ability to shape destiny. To hell with all that. Learn in English.

Two: Their education is secular. Because that is the essence of education

One of the greatest physicists and teachers of the 20th century, the late Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman, famously said, “I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.”

That, ladies and gentlemen, is what makes an education.

Singapore does not impose belief on its citizens. And that starts in education. Question everything and everyone. Anything that cannot be questioned has no place in the classroom of public education. That is called indoctrination.

You want to indoctrinate your children that the sky is filled with butterflies and angels in the morning, go ahead, but not on our time or our dime.

It is abhorrent the amount of taxpayers money and children’s time that have been wasted on indoctrination of belief. Indoctrination stops you from thinking, it is the complete acceptance of belief.

As Einstein said, “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think”. Religion is not about thinking, its about accepting.

Religion – any religious indoctrination – has no place in public education. You do not find that in Singapore and you do not find that in any other developed nation. If you want to include religion in public education, do it as part of comparative religion in the social sciences context. Otherwise it is indoctrination. It is useless as education.

Belief, religion and its indoctrination must be the domain of parents, if they so choose, and not government. Otherwise the result is imposition, persecution and finally tyranny of belief upon the citizenry. And no nation will survive such tyranny.

There is a reason great men of history have warned us against such wanton imposition of religious beliefs and indoctrination of the masses. Thomas Jefferson once said, “In every country and every age, the priest had been hostile to liberty.”

We need to heed this warning.

Three: One word – Science.

I have said this again and again. Science is the salvation of a nation, especially today in the 21st century.

The triumph of human civilisation is the triumph of science. The ascendancy of humankind, each empire, each nation and people has been through their grasp of the “science” of their time and its application in their minds and lives.

Our education must be science-centric. No ifs or buts. There must be more basic science taught, learned, experimented with and exposed to our children from the day they start school until they leave it. In depth and breadth and in the number of hours spent on it. We must have truly competent and passionate teachers to carry out this duty.

Even as a lawyer, I have learned that the human mind and senses are limited. Nothing fools humans more than their minds and their own senses.

In just the last decade, more convictions of innocents due to so-called eye-witness testimonies, even multiple ones, have been overturned as a result of DNA evidence to the contrary. Why? Science has proven that human senses and minds can be easily fooled, especially by emotion and herd mentality. But science is objective, evidentiary knowledge.

We need to build a science-centric society and that starts with our primary and secondary education. From the beginning, Lee realised the importance of establishing Singapore as a leader in the field of science and technology in Asia. He did not care what your ethnicity or religion was, that was the priority. And look at the society he built. Modern in outlook and progressive in thought, to the point he could no longer really control the people.

Maybe that is what our leaders are afraid of. A questioning, educated, critical thinking masses.

We must halt this downward slide of epic proportions in Malaysian education.

A new education minister with the right qualifications, a scientific or science-centric mindset and a technocratic iron will to implement critical changes must be appointed. Nothing less can be acceptable to Malaysians. This must be our demand.

I believe the next appointment will be a critical test whether this Pakatan government is worthy of our consideration in the next elections or an alternative must be considered and pursued vigorously by the right-minded citizenry.

We need the new education minister to implement what is needed. Go back to the basics and have the will, courage and ingenuity to make tough changes against what I expect to be conservative political opposition, both racial and religious.

If the person is more interested in putting colleagues in religious brotherhoods ahead of qualified intellectual professionals in positions of authority in education, then we are all doomed.

If the person is more interested in telling and allowing teachers to carry on dakwah (Islamic preaching) instead of closing down separate canteens in schools, then our quagmire will continue.

Black shoes and hotel swimming pools. That is the legacy we have been left with.

We need to see the closing down of worthless tax-payer funded universities that carry the word science but are based on beliefs and scriptures. They make a mockery of our nation and society. They promote the dumbing down of our population and produce graduates that will have nothing to contribute but further destruction of the Malaysian civilisation. We need a shake down of epic proportions for Malaysian education to return it to its past glory and make future progress.

As such, unlike a certain racist and bigoted MP from PAS, who insists on a Malay Muslim candidate only for the post, we need a minister who is qualified, irrespective of race or religion. We just need a Malaysian who is capable, for the sake of our children and our future.

We need an education minister who understands what is essential education. It is not rocket science.

But like all things in Malaysian politics, I have stopped believing in the capabilities or integrity of most of our politicians and political leadership. How I hope that I am proven wrong.

I close with this quote from Carl Sagan, one of the foremost teachers of science: “We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.”

That could very well describe our Malaysian education system and administration.

But 2020 has arrived, so it’s time for real change to happen.

Activist lawyer Siti Kasim is the founder of the Malaysian Action for Justice and Unity Foundation (Maju). The views expressed here are solely her own.

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Comment: Tough times for Chinese education


A glimpse of glory 

 We once had a vision of a future, but now that it’s here, we still seem stuck in the past.

Cutting edge: Schools in China have begun to emphasise the teaching of coding, robotics and AI in the great push to produce the best engineers and digital experts. — AFP

WE are already into 2020 and it’s the dawn of a new decade. But if we buy into the endless narrative of race and religion, it’s as if we haven’t moved.

Six decades after Malaysia’s independence, and we are still trapped in this blinding obsession with ethnicity, which has done nothing but consume so much of our time and energy.

When rationale flies out the window, and reasoning fails, some politicians and self-declared communal champions resort to bigotry ways.

And of course, the most unscrupulous sometimes tell our citizens they should leave the country if they are unhappy, although incredulously, some of these characters conveniently overlook how their forefathers came to Malaya nearly the same time as the rest.

If Malaysia is caught in the middle income trap now, with our inability to reach a higher level of income, that’s down to not having changed in how we’ve functioned economically for the past 40-odd years.

The middle-income trap concept refers to the transition of low income to a middle income economy.

We have failed to achieve the Vision 2020 objective of becoming a developed nation, and the architect of that plan, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, has blamed his successors for the failure.

Now, the Pakatan Harapan government – also led by Dr Mahathir – has unveiled the Shared Prosperity Plan for 2035. It remains to be seen if we will reach that goal, either.

But at the rate we are moving, it’s hard to ignore how the voice of hope has somehow hushed.

In fact, Vision 2020 set off bigger expectations and optimism, but now there seems to be a lack of purpose and leadership.

If Malaysia is facing a middle income trap, then we are also snagged in a political status snare because we are heading nowhere as a nation, as we recklessly hand racial and religious hardliners the wheel of the nation.

Unelected religious activists seem to be speaking more boldly than many elected representatives, who seem content to let these fringe personalities hog the headlines.

In the digital age, the decibel level has been cranked in social media, and comments posted by their fans to support these hawks have become more seditious and disturbing.

It’s hard to break free from that gnawing sense that they are allowed to continue because the government fears putting a leash on them.

Our Pakatan Harapan leaders, especially those from Bersatu, seem to lack the will to take on a centrist role, and worse, have attempted to compete with those playing the race and religion cards.

While these political shenanigans may gain domestic mileage, it doesn’t help Malaysia one bit because many see it as part of the inability to get our act together.

They see the vibrance and innovations of Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia, and want a slice of that pie. But anyone who has been to the cities of these three Asean countries will understand why they are selling their stories much better to investors.

Let’s be blunt – they are telling investors to forget Malaysia as they highlight our continuing basket case political mentality and actions, with its cyclical scripts in tow.

Who can take us seriously if we believe a group of retired communists in wheelchairs can threaten national security over a reunion, which looked more like their farewell dinner?

Even the communists in China and Vietnam – countries which have good diplomatic ties with Malaysia – have embraced capitalism unlike those in other established free markets. The only thing communist is their political structure, that’s all.

And we still hear some small-minded chauvinists calling for the closure of vernacular schools, claiming they are the root to disunity.

The cause of our fragmentation isn’t these schools (which have produced many great talents), but the resident bigots and extremists.

Framed against this backdrop, it has become even more pertinent for those in significant positions of influence to speak up against these tyrants.

In November, Singapore launched its National AI Strategy, with three objectives to ensure it becomes a global hub for developing, test-bedding, deploying and scaling AI solutions, as well as learning how to govern and manage the impact of AI.

Schools in China have begun to emphasise the teaching of coding, robotics and AI in the great push to produce the best engineers and digital experts.

But our school system continues to be weighed down by politics, religion and language.

For just awhile, can we ask ourselves why we have been so preoccupied and emotional over so many superfluous issues that do nothing to propel Malaysia to become a developed nation?

It’s a small world after all, and in 2020, the world has become increasingly inclusive and is culturally more open and dynamic. But if we continue the way we are, we will remain in the lower tiers of national progress.

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Can the world order catch up with the world? 

When will the Western-led global order catch up with the world …

 

Vision without execution is delusion

Few countries peer far into the future, but in 1991, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir  Mohamad(filepic) declared Vision or Wawasan 2020. … Looking back, was it possible to achieve this breathtaking vision? In my humble opinion, definitely. How much of it has Malaysia achieved? The answer depends on who you talk to.
 

The ideal eyesight is 20-20 vision when we can see everything clearly and know exactly where to go.

Given that 2018 and 2019 have been years of great populist upheaval, geopolitical tensions, massive climate change and technology transformations, it is not surprising that our first year of the third decade of the 21st century is masked by the fog of uncertainty.

Few countries peer far into the future, but in 1991, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad declared Vision or Wawasan 2020, “the ultimate objective that we should aim for is a Malaysia that is, by the year 2020, a fully developed country in our own mould, according to the standards that we ourselves set”.

To set a five-year plan is common place; to lay out a vision 30 years to the future was breathtaking in audacity. Dr Mahathir himself laid out nine challenges to achieve by 2020: first, establishing a united Malaysian nation made up of one bangsa (race); second, creating a psychologically liberated, secure and developed Malaysian society; third, fostering and developing a mature democratic society; fourth, establishing a fully moral and ethical society; fifth, establishing a matured liberal and tolerant society; sixth, establishing a scientific and progressive society; seventh, establishing a fully caring society; eighth, ensuring an economically just society, in which there is a fair and equitable distribution of the wealth of the nation; and ninth, establishing a prosperous society with an economy that is fully competitive, dynamic, robust and resilient.

Looking back, was it possible to achieve this breathtaking vision? In my humble opinion, definitely. How much of it has Malaysia achieved? The answer depends on who you talk to. On the issue of advanced country status, Malaysia is one class below in the upper middle income bracket with a gross national income (GNI) range of US$3,996 to US$12,375 per year. High-income economies are defined by the World Bank as those with a GNI per capita of US$12,376 or more. The IMF estimates Malaysia’s 2019 GNI per capita at US$11,140, pretty near the top end of the upper middle-income range, so it is certainly within striking distance. Indeed, if the exchange rate goes back to roughly RM3.80 to US$1, Malaysia would attain high income status. On the issue of national competitiveness, Malaysia ranks 27th out of 141 nations surveyed by the WEF Global Competitiveness Index (2019). This is no mean achievement, as her financial markets are ranked 15th.

But with Malaysia’s Gini Coefficient about the same as the United States (41st), social equality is nothing to be proud of, but at least advanced countries have not also achieved fairness in income and wealth that they vaunt.

Malaysia is a country blessed with large natural resources relative to the population, located in the high growth zone of East Asia and an important contributor to the global supply chain. She faces the same difficulties and challenges of most emerging markets in how to position oneself in a global situation that is fraught with new and somewhat daunting problems of geopolitical tension, climate change and massive technology transformation.

As the example of high income, sophisticated Hong Kong economy has shown, no one can take economic freedoms and competitiveness for granted, because politics can change the game almost overnight. What most governments struggle with is how to prepare the population, both the working class and the young, to adapt to the emerging technologies through education and re-skilling.

So it is not surprising in this age of digital divide that the most contentious area of politics is often in education.

Actually, there is not so much a digital divide as a knowledge divide – we are divided by our ignorances of each other and our inability to appreciate that what is about to kill or marginalise us is global climate change, conflicts and disruptive technology.

But what separates us from working together is ideology, religion and ultimately identity, turbo-charged by fake news that says the other side is always the bad guy.

In other words, polarisation can be reduced from working together to deal with external threats, but internally recognizing that there are common, shared interests and objectives.

Personally, climate change is the existential threat, whilst there is little that small countries can do about Great Power politics.

But technology is what each country can adopt to deal with climate change and keeping up with competition. Small countries like Singapore, Sweden and Switzerland carry much more clout than their size because of their willingness to invest in technology. The real threat of artificial intelligence and Big Data is that only the few that have scale and willingness to invest in knowledge will be the big winners.

This explains why the US and China have the leading tech platforms, because they not only have scale, speed and scope, but also the focus to work on the AI breakthroughs.

But recognising the threats and opportunities is only half of the Vision thing.

Vision without execution is delusion.

Getting the execution right is then all about politics and the bureaucracy.

Boris Johnson’s election victory on Brexit showed that he had the correct vision that the British were tired of European bureaucracy that stifled their freedom of action.

But whether he can change the British business model means that he has to radically transform a British civil service that has followed EU laws and mindset. This is exactly what Carrie Lam has to do with the Hong Kong civil service that is operating behind the times.

MIT economist Cesar Hidalgo quotes the essence of the modern problem by citing top football coach Josef Guardiola as saying that “the main challenge of coaching a team is not figuring out a game plan but getting that game plan into the heads of the players.”

Any plan or vision must be internalised by the players, because only they can execute the plan in the game that is ever changing and uncertain. In short, no vision in 2020 can work until the political leadership understands that only by internalizing the diversity of the team can the team be a winner or at least not a loser.

Happy 2020.

The views expressed are the writer’s own.

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