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Compassion withers as trade steps in

Posted: 15 Oct 2013 05:33 PM PDT

But it is possible that free trade could lead to other social tragedies. It is imperative then that the promise of wealth which the free trade proponents espouse with such convincing rhetoric not blind decision makers to the necessity to think of all possible outcomes from such a philosophy. 

Dr Azmi Sharom, The Star

Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, I thought it might be good to look back a bit at the history of free trade and the laissez faire system.

In the 19th century, Britain was firmly in the grips of the free trade ideology.

It had been a source of great wealth in the 18th century and by the Victorian age it was thought that the future of growth and development following this dogma was endless, especially with the advent of the industrial revolution.

To a large extent, this optimistic vision of the world was proven to be correct. Britain flourished like never before and became a true world power.

There was of course a dark side to this development. Colonialism which initially started with the philosophical foundations of raising foreign and backward countries to the point that they were "civilised" enough to govern themselves and be part of a global trade system (as paternalistic and condescending as it was) was replaced by an even more damaging philosophy which saw colonialism as little more than an economic endeavour.

Imperialism, whether grounded in lofty (if misguided) ideals or economic pragmatism, left deep scars borne of subjugation, the loss of dignity and dangerously false scientific premise justifying the necessity to rule over "lesser" races. Scars which are still sore in some parts of the world today.

Closer to home, industrial Britain in Victorian times saw great misery and exploitation suffered in the name of progress.

Poverty, disease, child labour and social inequality reached staggering levels.

However, what I wish to discuss here are not the effects of colonialism or unhindered capitalism. Instead, I wish to point out the dangers of being too enamoured with the idea of free trade to the point that basic human values of compassion are forgotten.

And there are two examples of 19th century social tragedy of tremendous scale with which to illustrate this.

I use the word tragedy here in its true literary sense, for both these events could have been avoided if not for stupendously poor decision making.

In the mid-19th century there was a famine in Ireland. Peasants grew potatoes and little else. It was monoculture on a grand scale. So when a disease struck the potato crop, effectively destroying everything, there was a nationwide famine.

People suffering from starvation was a given, but the other effects of the failed crop was homelessness due to evictions, disease from malnutrition and abject living conditions, and mass emigration.

It is estimated that a million people died due to the famine.

Approximately the same number of people died in India in 1896/1897. This was also due to a famine. This time the cause of the crop failure was not disease but the monsoon rains which failed to come.

It would be inaccurate to say that nothing was done to help the starving. There were governmental measures taken and charity drives, in both these places.

However, they were sorely lacking and in some cases poorly planned and implemented. However, one of the things that struck me the most was the fact that in both Ireland and India at the time of the famines, there was a food surplus.

Unfortunately, the grain was earmarked for export.

The reason why this surplus was not directed to the starving was ideological. It was thought that the free market would correct the imbalance of food distribution by itself.

And the all-prevailing philosophy of free trade was of such importance that exports must not in any circumstances be stopped.

It seems unthinkable that the Victorian leaders of Britain could think in that way let alone make their decisions at the cost of millions of lives based on the belief that trade was more important than people, but that is what happened.

Could such a thing happen today? Well, perhaps famine of such a scale is unlikely in this country.

But it is possible that free trade could lead to other social tragedies. It is imperative then that the promise of wealth which the free trade proponents espouse with such convincing rhetoric not blind decision makers to the necessity to think of all possible outcomes from such a philosophy.

It is necessary for them to not forget their humanity.

> Dr Azmi Sharom (azmisharom@yahoo.co.uk) is a law teacher.


The curious case of facts versus context

Posted: 15 Oct 2013 05:20 PM PDT

Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi's statement in Malacca may have been taken out of context.

Syed Nazri Syed Harun, FMT

The thin red line between facts and context can be quite disastrous when crossed. Rural and Regional Development Minister Shafie Apdal was once called a lanun (pirate) on the main stage at the Umno general assembly because of his Bajau ancestral line in Sabah where he comes from.

Hishammuddin Hussein and, at one time, Kadir Sheikh Fadzir, also came in for all kinds of remarks about their blood ties in Umno meetings.

My own regular private exchanges with an ex-MP, a Chinese Malaysian who was with an opposition party, could also feature as a classic example of fact against context. Fact that the remarks were indeed made. Context? I would call him a "Cinabeng always kiasu" and he would retort with a "Melayu balik kampung tanam jagung" line. The banter sometimes would stretch even further with other unprintable "insults".

But if someone were to record these exchanges and play it back on tape to a different audience, there could be trouble.

All the lines above repeated elsewhere minus the clatter of the gallery and the mood of the occasion could spark enough angst to start a war — Shafie a pirate, Hishammuddin called a savage anak Turki or Kadir labelled a mamak tongkang.

Repeat them a thousand times on Twitter and Facebook and post them in the blogs, there you have it. The comments alone will relentlessly be cold-blooded. The special effects would be even greater on matters related to race and government blunders.

Probably that could have happened to the sizzling quotes from Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi at a security briefing for community leaders in Malacca last week.

He reportedly touched on hot current issues and blazed the audience on many things boiling in the political an legal fronts — among other things about police shooting criminals, about him supposedly giving veiled support to the Malay mafia group from the "Tiga Line" gang and also the fact that he had also pointed out to Perlis Umno leader Shahidan Kassim and public accounts committee chairman Nur Jazlan Mohamed as being honchos of "Tiga Line".

Probably everything became virtually lost in translation when the context got mangled. I say "probably" because I was not there when he spoke. But based on many other cases, there exists this distinct possibility of contortion and slant simply because tough-talking Ahmad Zahid is certainly not the most popular guy among some circles. And here's a chance to do him in.

Ahmad Zahid himself came out to clarify through Malay daily Sinar Harian on Saturday, saying he had been quoted out of context and requested that his remarks at the Malacca event be published in full.

But the damage is done even though Nur Jazlan, who was in the audience, also said the whole message had been garbled.

The Johor Umno leader said Ahmad Zahid spoke for almost an hour, and what was reported on the online news portals was only a fraction of it.

"Let me be very clear. I was at the briefing. The environment was very relaxed and we were all like in a family," he told Malay Mail Online.

"Yes, Ahmad Zahid did point to some of the members in the crowd and said that this person is leader of Gang X and this leader of Gang XX…but it was all just for the fun of it…we were among friends and he was joking."



The KJ factor in vice-presidents' race

Posted: 15 Oct 2013 11:12 AM PDT


Will there be a game change in the Umno vice-presidents' contest now that Youth leader Khairy Jamaluddin has thrown his new-found clout behind Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein?

Joceline Tan, The Star 

KHAIRY Jamaluddin was still flushed from his victory in the Umno Youth contest when he joined Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein at an event in Kuala Lumpur.

Hishammuddin used to be Khairy's boss in the party's Youth wing but Khairy has become some sort of superstar after his spectacular win and the former boss is now turning to the former deputy for help.

The Youth and Sports Minister had turned up at the event billed as Rangkaian Sahabat (network of friends) to lend a boost to Hishammuddin's campaign for a second term as Umno vice-president.

The word is that Khairy has thrown his weight behind Hishammuddin.

He has reportedly sent out word to his boys on the ground to support the Defence Minister.

Khairy made a spirited speech at the event, lauding Hishammuddin as a friend of the youth generation.

He also reminded the audience of how, in the political turmoil of 1998, Hishammuddin had to take over a fragmented Youth wing.

The then Youth chief, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, had been forced to step down while both the wing's secretary and information chief had quit the party.

He credited Hishammuddin, who was Umno Youth chief from 1998 to 2009, for keeping the wing intact and for steering it back to calm seas.

This could very well be some sort of turning point for Hishammuddin, who has been struggling against all sorts of public perception about him.

A minimum of five delegates from each Umno branch will be voting for the VPs and supreme council this Saturday.

They will comprise the branch head, the Wanita, Youth and Puteri branch heads plus one delegate for every 50 members in the branch.

In other words, delegates from the Youth wing will make up about 10% of the votes.

Hishammuddin might just make it with support from Khairy and the Youth.

"Before this, Mukhriz was seen as the one representing the young people among the VP candidates. With KJ supporting him, Hisham now has the youth lobby," said an Umno Youth official.

Khairy is playing a rather strategic game. It is no secret that he and Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir are bitter rivals. Their rivalry is complicated by the role that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad played in the premature exit of Khairy's father-in-law Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

It is not just about who moves up faster but it is also about settling old scores.

Helping Hishammuddin will, in some ways, check Mukhriz's advance in the VP contest.

Some have claimed that the landslide wins by Khairy and Datuk Seri Shahrizat Jalil are an indication that the Umno ground is moving in a conservative fashion and that they are not in the mood for change.

They claimed that if this mood persists, the three VP incumbents will be retained.

But according to publisher Datuk A. Kadir Jasin, Khairy and Shahrizat's victories are less about the ground going with tradition than the fact that the challengers to the Youth and Wanita leaders were either lightweights or had little credibility.

"It was more about people putting up a challenge for the sake of a contest," said Kadir.

The challengers were what many in Umno described as "sure lose" and Umno members are not into losers. They like to go with the winning horse.

Kadir pointed out that a real contest would resemble the one in 2009 when Khairy was up against Mukhriz and Datuk Seri Dr Khir Toyo. That contest involved three big personalities with their own strengths and whom delegates felt were worth taking sides for.

The VP contest, on the other hand, is not about three incumbents being challenged by three nobodies.

The incumbents (Zahid, Hisham­muddin and Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal) as well as the challengers (Mukhriz, Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam and Tan Sri Mohd Isa Samad) are well-known personalities with their own track records and niche support.

And that is why the incumbents are not taking anything for granted.

They know that the Umno grassroots want to see them in the flesh, hear their voice, see them smile, touch their hand and have tea with them.

The personal touch is very important. One campaigner said that when he went around on behalf of a minister, delegates asked why the minister had not come himself. They told the campaigner that so-and-so came the other day and hosted a gathering with dinner thrown in.

The campaign rules are very strict but those with resources and creativity know how to get around it.

Those with Cabinet positions have been hosting a string of programmes in the name of their portfolios but which are thinly-disguised events to touch base with the delegates.

One of the VP incumbents has taken out so many full-page advertorials about his ministry's projects and programmes that some are asking whether it is government money or his own money that is being poured into all those ads.

These are still early days but many in Umno view Khairy and Mukhriz as future Prime Minister material.

It is just too bad that they are rivals rather than partners but politics is often about the survival of the fittest.

Their rivalry can only add to the thrill and excitement of the VP race.

All eyes, inside and outside Umno, will be on who among the six will make it into Umno's VP echelon.

Kredit: www.malaysia-today.net

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