Category Archives: Malaysia

Lethal Fluctuations: The Death Penalty in Asia

The Malaysian government last year expressed a surprise change of heart on a policy long held dear; it would reconsider the death penalty. The case of Muhammad Lukman, sentenced to death in August for the purchase and sharing of medicinal marijuana, did much to stimulate outrage.  On October 10th, law minister Liew Vui Keong announced that it would be abolished.  Doing so would leave such last bastions as Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia.

In other parts, capital punishment is either continuing its grim dance (in Singapore, usage is on the rise; in Vietnam, it remains consistently high) or getting back in business, singing its deadly siren song.  Killing people in the name of state vengeance is becoming vogue even as it retreats in other contexts.  The Kingdom of Brunei, despite having it on the books since the days of being a British protectorate, is only now contemplating, in all seriousness, putting people to death who have a liking for, or find themselves committing, sodomy.  (Lesbian reverie will see a penalty of 40 lashes and a potential prison sentence of 10 years.)

In the Philippines, an aggressive, insistent President Rodrigo Duterte has proven something of a trail blazer, scorching his way through human rights quibbles and filling the morgues.   In July 2017, he explained the rationale for using capital punishment without mercy in his second State of the Nation Address (SONA).  “It is time for us to fulfil our mandate to protect our people.  Tapos na’yan.  For so long we have to act decisively on this contentious issue.  Capital punishment is not only about deterrence, it’s also about retribution.”

Duterte’s view of the penal code is stripped of ornate reasoning.  It is one of vengeance and pessimism, marshalled against any hope of restorative justice or therapeutic reform.  The law, a legacy of the Spaniards and then translated into English, with revisions, “is the essence of retribution.”  The attitude there involved “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.  You took life, you must pay with it.  That is the only way to even.  You can’t place a premium on the human mind that he will go straight.”

The result has been one of carnage: over 5,000 deaths between July 1, 2016 and November 30, 2018, if you believe the official figures, or the greater number of 12,000, if you believe in activist assessments.  This pool drew on a total of 164,265 arrests (“drug personalities”, no less) as part of 115,435 anti-drugs operations.

In Sri Lanka, the interest has also been rekindled, inspired, in no small part, by the blood lust of the Philippines leader.  The Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena felt moved by Duterte’s efforts to combat drug trafficking, a true “example to the world”.  “I hope to carry out the first hanging within a month or two.  I appeal to human rights organisations not to try to pressure us on this decision.”  From a prison population of 1299 facing capital punishment, 48 are convicted drug offenders.

The Sri Lankan case had a twist.  While Sirisena had announced an end to the 43-year moratorium on capital punishment for drug-related crimes, complemented by Justice Minister Thalatha Atukorale’s clearing of the decks for five drug convicts to be dispatched, a reality started to sink in: the state lacked the necessary trained instruments of death.  The moratorium had been so lengthy so as to make the system rust.  Expertise in breaking necks, in other words, was lacking. The last executioner to reach retirement age left the post in 2014.  Three others have spent short stints gazing at unused gallows without rewarded effort.

Advertisements to fill the vacancy were duly put out for two hangmen.  In the Daily News, a call out for applications with “an excellent moral character” was made.  They would also have to pass a test of “mind and mental strength”.

Such debates about the formalised death penalty in the Philippines and Sri Lanka avoid the obvious point.  Where to with the death squads who have donned extra-judicial uniforms?  Duterte’s encouragement of police brutality and extra-judicial killings (“my only sin,” he claims) is the stuff of legend.  Sri Lanka can also count itself as an enthusiast in the extra-judicial killing game.  In some states, the death penalty, dormant or otherwise, is a reminder about how state operatives go about their business of sowing terror when they prefer to avoid courts.

While the death penalty has, at its core, a flawed philosophy, its attractiveness often lies in its sheer conclusiveness.  Such decisions are final, doing away with the problem.  They are economic – a corpse is less of a strain on the public purse than a living inmate.  To that end, imposing the death penalty can result from trivial impulses.

Such monstrous triviality was recently in play in Thailand. In Phuket, the airport authorities have been entertaining the possibility of grave punishments for those taking “selfies” on Mai Khao Beach, a site known for sightings of low, incoming aircraft.

“People and tourists will not be allowed to enter this area to take photos,” an emphatic Phuket airport chief Wichit Kaeothaithiam has claimed.  He issued further warnings: no drones, no shining lights, quite frankly nothing at all to distract incoming planes, would be tolerated.  Violating the provisions of the Air Navigation Act was a matter, quite literally, of death.  “The maximum penalty is the death sentence.”  Distractive idiocy, the authorities in Phuket suggest, is no excuse.

Southeast Asia Terribly Damaged but Lauded by West

Come to Southeast Asia and enjoy beaches, cheap sex and raunchy massage parlors. Hang around this part of the world in whichever way you like; wearing flip-flops, shorts and t-shirts. You were told that ‘everything is easy here, that things are cheap and people are friendly and happy’. Do what you want, as almost everything is allowed, especially if you are from the West, and have plenty of cash and some credit cards in your pockets.

That’s what your simplified perception of Southeast Asia is supposed to be. This stereotype has been created, refined and fine-tuned, then finally hammered into the subconscious of the people in North America, Europe, Australia and Japan. It has been done consistently, for many years and decades, until these lies, repeated a thousand times, have replaced reality. As a result, tens of millions of holiday-makers, sexual tourists, adventurers and single men on power trips, descend on Southeast Asia, annually. Most of them do not see anything, and they do not hear. Most of them leave for home after getting suntanned, a bit fatter, and much more confident. They come with clearly formed ideas, and they leave without learning much.

Most of the ‘visitors’ do not want to be disturbed by reality, because the reality could be extremely unsavory, even horrifying.

The ‘hidden’ and extremely uncomfortable truth is: most of Southeast Asia is actually absolutely unfit for tourism. It is deeply, and terribly injured, even, a broken part of the world which has never been allowed to leave its brutal, feudal system behind.

Its people are barely surviving in the straight-jacket of extreme capitalism. All sorts of imported rubbish, from brainless pop music to the lowest grade of Hollywood films, junk food, mass media and ‘fashion’ as well as ‘me-me-me habits’ have been put to work in order to irreversibly ruin their traditional cultures. Generally, people here are unhappy; often thoroughly confused. Societies from Thailand to Indonesia and the Philippines are becoming increasingly violent. At the same time, the politically ‘pacified’ population does not rebel against the rulers in the West or its own servile elites: right-wing political and religious extremism are often the only ‘answers’ to popular outrage.

The land of Southeast Asia is devastated, as it is nowhere else on our planet; in fact, it has been totally plundered by unbridled mining, logging, palm oil and rubber plantations. The extraction of natural resources is done in a monstrous fashion; often by poisoning rivers with mercury, by cutting most of the primary forests down or by flattening entire mountains. From an airplane, places like the island of Borneo or Peninsular Malaysia appear as nothing less than hell on earth.

This vast part of the world with a total population of around 650 million, does not count on any renowned thinkers or scientists, and with the exception of Vietnam (which is Communist and therefore to a greater degree different) on even one single globally renowned writer or a film director.

All this is not supposed to be discussed ‘like this’; in this fashion. Writers and filmmakers, local and foreign both, are discouraged from describing and documenting what is right in front of their own eyes.

But why? How come that Southeast Asia has managed to escape almost entirely all the scrutiny by the Western mainstream media?

Half-wreck of Southeast Asia

It is because what I have just described above is nothing else other than a result of the monstrous mass murder, plunder and destruction, which has been perpetrated by the West. It has been happening all over here; in all corners of Southeast Asia. The destruction has been so appalling and frightening, that almost no liberals in Paris, London, Amsterdam, Canberra or Washington are willing to acknowledge it, instead sticking to bizarre clichés and glorification of the state to which the victims have been reduced to; in which they are forced to live.

Entire teams of academics, notably those at the Australian National University (ANU), but also at several other institutions, continuously repeat the official Western dogma, which describes Indonesia as ‘a normal country’.

But isn’t this what the so-called Western ‘political correctness’ is all about? Doesn’t it work like this: “A country is attacked, left-wing government gets overthrown, corrupt leaders put on thrones; then natural resources get plundered, and extreme right-wing ‘elites’ fully subservient to the West quickly steal everything from their country and people, while dutifully sharing the booty with Western corporations. The population gets indoctrinated, totally brainwashed and the opposition either murdered or scared into submission. And then, and then, the West ‘shows great respect’ for that local ‘culture’ and for ‘local people’. Read: respect for its own Frankenstein; for its own creations.

It goes without saying that this gangrenous monster which the West first created and then ordered everyone to ‘respect’, has nothing to do with the culture and ‘the people’.

In the end, the victims themselves, get methodically conditioned with tools such as mass media, ‘education’, and continuous propaganda dispensed by the political regime. They stop being aware of their own conditions. They become resigned.They become religious, submissive. They blame and fight each other, but never the true oppressors; never the regime.

The victims often feel they are not well, but they have no idea, why?

*****

For centuries, Southeast Asia suffered terribly at the hands of the French, Dutch, US and British colonizers. For instance, at the beginning of the 20th Century, the US forces brutally massacred around 1 million Filipinos, in their Asian colony.

Official independence from European and North American colonial masters did not stop the suffering of the people.

After WWII, no other part of the world endured more Western massacres and terror than Southeast Asia. Not even Africa, the Middle East or Latin America. The numbers are truly striking.

The West’s lovely ‘holiday destinations’ inhabited by ‘friendly locals’, were carpet-bombed, and poisoned by chemical weapons. Millions of people were slaughtered; by injected military regimes, by monarchs, by elites and military juntas. Not unlike in Latin America, but with numbers astronomically higher, because the West never considered Asian people to be equal human beings (For instance: around 2 million Indonesians were slaughtered during the 1965 military coup of General Suharto. The coup perpetrated by General Pinochet in Chile, in 1973, took lives of 2-3 thousand people. Adjusted to the numbers of people living in both countries, Indonesia still lost approximately ten times more people than Chile).

Everyone knows about the suffering of Vietnam, under French brutal colonial rule, and then, during the terrorist war unleashed against the country by the US and its allies. But no one really knows, precisely, how many Vietnamese people died. The number of victims goes in to millions. At least 4 million Vietnamese citizens vanished.

 

Laos and the so-called ‘side-kick’ or ‘Secret War’ was even worse, on a per capita basis. Hundreds of thousands vanished in this sparsely populated country, which is inhabited by humble and gentle people. Strategic B-52 bombers were deployed against farmers and their water buffalos, using evil cluster bombs that are, to this day, killing thousands, all over the Laotian countryside. There was no reason for this brutal, monstrous genocide, except some abstract ‘concern’ in Washington that this poor nation could follow Vietnam’s example and ‘go Communist’ (it did, after it tasted true Western ‘democracy’, literally on its skin).

Cambodia – a country where the West nurtured corrupt and brutal elites in Phnom Penh, and then began the same monstrous carpet-bombing campaign as in Laos, against unarmed, desperately poor peasants, using B-52s, killing hundreds of thousands, and displacing millions. People lost their minds from the horrors of the bombing. They were also driven from their land, and began dying from famine. Dismal situation opened doors to Khmer Rouge, which the US decisively supported (on the battlefield and at the UN), even after this deranged murderous group got defeated by heroic Communist forces of Vietnam.

Thailand – country which has been choked by car industry and monstrous form of extreme capitalism, while upholding its backward feudal system. Thailand with countless military coups designed to sustain pro-Western monarchy. Thailand, which accepted on its turf part of defeated Chinese anti-Communist army, and ‘put it to work ‘almost immediately’, allowing it to massacre substantial part of its own left-wing movements. Thai state that massacred and raped its own students, and butchering thousands of Cambodian refugees. Thailand that technically attacked both Vietnam and Laos, by flying Air America missions against those countries, opening its airports to the West, while selling its own women in countless brothels in Pattaya and elsewhere, to the Western pilots and ground staff.

Indonesia, where the 1965 US and UK -sponsored military coup against left-wing President Sukarno and (then) the third largest Communist Party in the world (PKI), took the lives of between 1 and 3 million people, installing perhaps the most grotesque fascist extreme-capitalist regime on earth. Indonesia, where all the great artists and thinkers were killed, or imprisoned in the Buru concentration camp, and, where the West helped to install a totally brainless system de-intellectualizing the nation and forcing it back to the Middle Ages. Indonesia, where secularism is now collapsing, and where, during the upcoming April 2019 elections, voters will decide between an inept and weak pro-capitalist leader, and a truly fascist military mass murderer.

East Timor (Timor Leste) – a tiny country which was overrun by Indonesia in 1975, shortly after it gained independence from Portugal, under the leadership of the left-wing FRETILIN movement. The right-wing dictator of Indonesia – Suharto – declared that he was ‘not going to tolerate a second Cuba near its shores’, and got a big pat on his back, as well as full support from the US, UK and Australia. The result: around 30% of the entire population of East Timor vanished during the occupation. Countless Indonesian leaders, including the former President ‘SBY’, served there. If Indonesia was a ‘normal country’, these individuals would now be facing long jail sentences for genocide, or in some cases, a firing squad.

In West Papua – hundreds of thousands of people have already died, also under the Indonesian genocidal occupation, which is fully supported by the West, because Papua, like Borneo (which is known in Indonesia as Kalimantan) is getting thoroughly plundered by multi-national companies, of course, under the careful supervision of Indonesian military forces. Horrors like the state-sponsored ‘trans-migration’ policy, designed to make people of Papua a minority on their own island, are ongoing and relentless. The people, who have lost everything under the occupation, are forced to convert to Islam, and they are also forced to abandon their way of life and their land. What Indonesia does in West Papua is nothing less than genocide. It is not only the killing and rape, of which its military could be accused of.

The plunder of Papuan resources is as deadly for many other reasons; it is like if the force would be used to ‘open up’ vast parts of the Amazonia or Orinoco basins in South America – areas inhabited by indigenous tribes that have never come in contact with the outside world. Even the most insane right-wing presidents of Brazil or Venezuela (of the past), would never dream about such brutal genocidal undertakings (although this may change under the fascist presidency of Bolsonaro in Brazil). In West Papua, dozens of fragile cultures are disappearing. People who have never come into contact with the ‘outside world’ are being forced out of their rainforest, as trees are cut down and mining companies, backed by the Indonesian armed forces, ransack the land. Defenseless tribal people are dying from diseases and hunger, at the same time as corrupt Indonesian officials and businessmen are burning money in Jakarta’s overprized malls, as well as in Singapore, Macau and Hong Kong. And now, thousands of Western tourists fly into West Papua, to Raja Ampat, which is becoming an ‘in place’ for diving!

Malaysia had its own share of inter-religious conflicts, although never at the level of neighboring Indonesia. Nature in Malaysia, almost like in Indonesia, is totally devastated, due to massive palm oil plantations and mining.

The Philippines lived through horrific decades of US neo-colonialism, experiencing the similar extreme capitalism that has been imposed on Indonesia. Only in the recent years, sound social policies have been introduced, and a moratorium on mining, at least in some parts of the Mindanao Island, has been enforced.

Brunei, one of the richest exporters of oil on earth, is now governed by Sharia Law, which, at least in theory, allows amputations, flogging, stoning and other religious practices. Another place where such regressive brutality is officially allowed is in an autonomous province of Indonesia – Aceh.

*****

I worked in this apart of the world for decades. I covered countless horrors and conflicts in Indonesia. I used to live in Hanoi, and I covered in-depth the situation in Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Papua. I covered East Timor, during the occupation, and was tortured there by Indonesian forces. It happened after I exposed mass rape in Ermera town.

Right now, I am working on a detailed and shocking documentary film about the total environmental destruction of Borneo.

As a local (I actually feel like a ‘local’ in all parts of the world), I often look at the Western travelers visiting this part of the world, and I am wondering, sincerely: are they really so ignorant about the past and the present of Southeast Asia? Or perhaps, are they making sure not to know?

Are they ‘enjoying themselves’, surrounded by devastated nature, privatized and ruined beaches, and a deranged culture? Do they feel powerful, unique, superior, because their countries managed to destroy the entire Southeast Asia, bringing it into shameful submission? Is it, at least partially, why they are here?

Don’t they see? The Indonesian islands of Bali and Lombok have become thoroughly grotesque: everything has been stolen along the coasts, people forced out of their dwellings, and the culture has been fully ruined. Bali suffers from traffic jams and pollution, from over-population, poverty and filth. There is hardly anything pristine there, now. ‘Culture’ is only for sale!

The coastline of Thailand is totally finished. The once pristine islands are now dotted with mass-produced, low quality market towns, with makeshift bungalows and ugly concrete structures. There are standardized, repetitive ‘offerings’, most of them of extremely low-quality. There are Thai and Western ‘beach food’, bad old (Western) pop music, countless massage parlors and ersatz bars. There is almost nothing truly Thai left on the Thai coastline. Thai women, the poorest of the poor, many from the north of the country, walk in flip-flops and tasteless T-shirts hand in hand with Western grandfathers, some of them in their 80’s. What a sight!

Everything feels ‘forced’, unnatural, and in terrible taste: in Indonesian ‘resorts’, on the Thai coast, and in the bars of the Philippines, as well as in Cambodia.

In and around Phnom Penh, ‘genocide tourism’ has reached its peak. It is fueled and sponsored by countless Western NGO’s, which are literally pimping the terrible Cambodian past as ‘proof’ that ‘Communism is evil’. Not a word about the fact that most of people who died here, were actually victims of the Western carpet-bombings and consequent famines, and that the Khmer Rouge was in reality a US-sponsored band of freaks, who knew very little about Communist ideology (I spent substantial time talking to them, deep in jungle, and most of them admitted that they had no clue about Marxism or Communism, when they were in power). But to the Westerners, genocide tourism is something thrilling, it represents ‘something new’; ‘something they did not experience before’. It is good for selfies and for colorful pub stories back at home. And Cambodia is now making huge money out of all this, willing to twist its own horrid past, just to gain some cash. Go to the villages and talk to people: they know the truth. But almost nobody goes. Not even the Western media.

The West has totally stolen historic narrative, all over Southeast Asia. Academia in Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand is deeply influenced, and manipulated from abroad. ‘Soft power’ is being used; scholarships, funding and invitations to the ‘academic exchanges’.

Both the academic narrative and the mass media in Southeast Asia, are now much more “Westernized” than in the West itself.

*****

Clichés about this part of the world are mostly incorrect, in fact, surreal.

Despite the fact that it is suffering from the horrid religious intolerance, racism and perpetual conflicts and tensions, Indonesia is portrayed in the West as ‘tolerant’. Not having one single political party that would represent the majority (which is poor), it is branded as ‘democratic’. A place where a Chinese, black, white or Papuan person can hardly make few steps without being insulted on the street, or being mocked for his or her appearance, Indonesia is described by the Western mass media as ‘friendly’.

 

Artwork at BACC, before Thai election

Thailand is the same.  A staunch ally of the West during the so-called Vietnam War, and ‘fight against Communism’, the Kingdom is portrayed as ‘Land of Smiles’. In fact, it has higher homicide rate per capita than the United States, and more female tourists are raped here, annually, than in South Africa. Smiles are reserved only for those who are ready to pay any price, without demanding much in return. Any confrontation here can easily deteriorate to violence. The West hardly ever criticizes outrageous capitalist models of Thailand or Indonesia, as well as collapsed infrastructure and inhuman city planning that is prioritizing motor vehicles and ruthless real estate developers over people. Bangkok and Jakarta are much more polluted than the Chinese cities, and Thai and Indonesian governments do almost nothing to change the situation. But, cliché says that it is dangerous to go to Beijing due to the air quality, while Bangkok or Jakarta are hardly ever mentioned.

*****

In Southeast Asia, deafening noise is often administered, in order to silence fear. Thinking is discouraged. It is considered impolite to discuss, to face terrible past and the present. Brainless banging into the phones is recommended. Social media is used here much more than anywhere in the world. While some countries like Indonesia have the lowest readership of books on earth, per capita.

In Hanoi:  Monument to Western Atrocities

Southeast Asia had been living through genocides, coups, and total submission to the Western masters and to savage capitalism. It has been robbed of its nature, and of natural resources. Its population has been ‘pacified’, forced into obedience and submission. Extreme religious concepts have been injected and upheld from abroad. Only in the Philippines is the situation now gradually changing. In Vietnam, the state is still strongly resisting subversion from the West, although the country had also been damaged to a great degree, by Western NGOs and social media. Elsewhere, it is getting much worse.

Laos is now moving closer to China, which is literally pulling this beautiful and sparsely populated nation out of slumber, building a high speed rail system, infrastructure, factories, dams, schools and hospitals. But the more China does for Laos, the more it is demonized by the West, by its press, academia and the NGOs. It is now one big battle over Laos. However, it is clear that the Laotian people are benefiting greatly from their proximity to China, after being literally ruined by French colonialism and the Western “Secret Wars”.

On purpose, here, I don’t mention Burma, as there, the situation is extremely complex, and ‘specific’. But later this year, I expect to publish a detailed report on the topic.

*****

Southeast Asia is clearly a victim. It is also an ‘untold story’. Deep, dark story.

With the exception of Singapore and to some extent Malaysia, it is a devastated, an impoverished victim. It is also a ‘time bomb’. People here are discontent, often desperate. Often, they do not know why. Unlike in Latin America and Africa, where the political awareness of the victims is extremely high, here the victims often believe that they are treated justly and that ‘this is the only way how the society can be arranged and governed’.

If someone travels here, searching for ‘culture’ and ‘new ways to understand life’, they should think twice. In most of Southeast Asian countries, the local culture was thoroughly uprooted. What they will see are some folk shows for foreigners, hardly ever attended by locals. Most of the native music venues, as well as theatrical and other art forms, have been replaced by the most vulgar Western entertainment, by video games and naturally, by social media.

Western men often feel good here. It is because in Southeast Asia, ‘they have won’. They are often ‘respected’ here, just for being both men, and white. They are respected, the same way as the French, Dutch and British colonialists used to be respected here, a century ago. Not loved, not admired, but esteemed for belonging to the race and culture that managed to conquer, destroy and then to give orders.

In fact, for those who want to relive those days of imperialist ‘grandeur’, this is the perfect place to visit.

Naturally, Southeast Asia is glorified by the West, with the exception of the Philippines, Vietnam and Laos (and Burma, for different reasons) — countries that are trying to get away from Western dictates.

It is because this part of the world is ‘perfect’ in the eyes of rulers of the Empire. Here, human lives are freely sacrificed for the profits of corporations, both Western and local, like when a pedestrian here has to wait until the cars pass by; entire villages have to give way to the mining venues and to palm oil plantations. Social services for the citizens are not something secondary, but tertiary, almost irrelevant. Profit is all that matters. The well-being of the citizens is hardly considered.

The West is almost never criticized here. Like in any ‘good’ feudal society, the West is seen as a ‘daddy’. It is severe, but always right. It beats its ‘children’, but gives directions. Religions help to reinforce this sort of obedience, which in many other parts of the world would be synonymous with the Middle Ages.

The local ‘elites’, in the meantime, are ‘having a ball’. They govern unopposed. They are only accountable to the much bigger, mostly Western, power. They can do anything they want with their subjects. They drive their super expensive sedans and SUVs, purchased with funds stolen from the poor, and the poor bow, and bend, prostrating themselves in great respect, fear, servility and admiration.

And they do the same in front of the West.

In brief: perfect societies, observed from New York, Canberra, London or Paris.

And in Bali or Phuket, women dressed in traditional clothes dance in 5-star hotels, roll their big eyes, and twist their slender arms. In order for the foreign visitors to say: “What a great culture!” While, of course, the true great culture was killed by the military pro-Western regimes; choked and murdered in the concentration camps and inside the army barracks.

The only victims of this ‘perfect’ state of things, are the poor; in fact, the great majority in Southeast Asia (no matter what the official statistics say). But who really cares about them?

*****

Did most of the Southeast Asian countries really gain their independence some decades ago? Were the famous merdeka shouts just a big farce? Is it true that Thailand was ‘never colonized’? Is this entire huge region still a de facto colony? And if it is, can the situation change?

These are not just rhetorical questions; they are real. And the answers to them are never simple.

The People of Southeast Asia were violated, robbed and then encircled by pseudo-reality; by lies about their past and present. They were told that they are well, happy, and that what they are experiencing is progress, freedom and democracy. They were also ordered to believe that what their usurper, the West, represents, is synonymous with ‘good governance’ and honesty. Many of them have never encountered any alternative views.

After burying tens of millions of corpses, and after having their rainforests, rivers and mountains thoroughly ruined, most of the Southeast Asians are still convinced that their tormentors are fully qualified to control the world.

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

Cooking Books and Limiting Responsibility: The Goldman Sachs Playbook

Managing a bank will always be a more lucrative criminal enterprise than raiding one but this Brechtian styled analysis only goes so far.  A closer look at the extraordinary nature of Goldman Sachs and its operations reveals not merely a bank but a flesh-eating cult of considerable proportion, brazen in its operations and indifferent to authorities.  While states have been surrendering their functions to banks with more regularity than unconscious organ donors, the catch-up was bound to happen. In Malaysia, a country at times irritable with the liberties taken by financial institutions, a retaliation of sorts is taking place.

The Malaysian government now claims that the bank’s subsidiaries, two ex-bankers from Goldman Sachs and Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, engaged in an enterprise of misappropriation to the tune of $2.7 billion.  To that can be added claims of bribery and supplying false statements.  But Goldman remains an old hand at this, already doing what it is famed for: minimising any alleged role of impropriety and declaring the sort of innocence best expressed by hardened criminals.

Wherever one turns to this mercenary of the finance world, the pattern is tried and familiar.  Clients of varying moral persuasions are targeted; books and accounts are cooked to order; loans and purchases are arranged.  The result is often murky and often seedy.

Examples of this proliferate in the financial jungle.  Greece stands out as one such client, entering into derivatives contracts with Goldman permitting a part securitisation of debt that evaded European Union rules on reporting.  This came via cross-currency swaps on a historically implied foreign exchange rate, meaning that a weaker Euro rate was used to obtain more Euros in exchange for Greece’s Yen and Dollar reserves.  The derivatives effectively functioned as loans from Goldman to the Greek government, enabling an easy fudge on deficit and debt figures.

Malaysia, with its suitable stable of malleable figures and functionaries keen for the quite literal steal, was also ripe for arrangements.  “We cannot have an egalitarian society – it’s impossible to have an egalitarian society,” claimed former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak in September 2013 before an audience at the Grand Hyatt in San Francisco.  Najib is now chief target of Malaysia’s current Mahathir administration.

That meeting also had another addition.  Tim Leissner, one of the anointed from the Goldman Sachs Group, was there.  In his role as Southeast Asia chairman, he presided over a financial empire with smooth channels of access to those in power.  Najib’s coming to office in 2009 saw an approval of Goldman’s application to conduct fund management and corporate finance activities.  Then came the deals with the state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).  Goldman made a stunning $600 million in raising $6.5 billion for 1MDB in 2012 and 2013 on three bond sales.  Its justification for such a figure lay in the underwriting of risks undertaken by the bank itself.

The matter with the 1MDB fund started going off.  It was rumoured that money was not going to the necessary infrastructure projects but making its way into private accounts.  Najib is now the target of a corruption case that has legs linking him to a former subsidiary of IMDB, namely SRC international.  Swiss prosecutors are investigating suspected misappropriations from the 1MDB amounting to $4 billion.

Leissner, like Najib, is out of favour, pleading guilty to US bribery charges in August.  Investigators are now interested to see whether Goldman Sachs had the temerity to mislead bondholders and break anti-corruption laws.

The bank is attempting to run by the old playbook of limited responsibility.  (It should be rebadged limitless irresponsibility.)  Isolate the virus; defer focus and accountability.  The rogue employee argument becomes the default position in such a manoeuvre.  Leissner and managing director Ng Chong Hwa, have been singled out as the villainous architects, while Andrea Vella has been put out to grass – for the moment.

Such a tactic is known and questionable.  “No matter how senior you are,” opined an anonymous former Goldman employee to CNBC, “there’s always somebody above you.  So a lot of people had to decide they were comfortable committing billions of dollars to this.”  Individuals like chief financial officer Stephen Scherr would have had a say, not to mention current CEO David Solomon and his predecessor Lloyd Blankfein.

That approach is also supplemented by the added incentive of libelling the client.  When things go wrong, the customer is not always right.  How, argues the company, could they have known that the raised revenue would be misappropriated?  In a statement from Goldman, “Under the Malaysian legal process, the firm was not afforded an opportunity to be heard prior to the filing of these charge against certain Goldman Sachs entities, which we intend to vigorously contest.”

The institution knows it will get into regulatory hot water and insures against it.  That’s the Goldman way.  It will bet against the very same derivatives it sells to clients while using mortgage investment schemes that are immune to success.  It will engage in insider trading and, as happened in April 2012, be fined a mere $22 million.

The sheer audacity of this financial institution is finally captured by its confidence that failings, when not given minor punishment, might well be rewarded by the state.  Goldman Sachs is the sort of institution which has thrived on the largesse of government assistance – the old socialise your losses but privatise your gains sort of philosophy runs through its operational philosophy.  It knows, whatever the weather, it will always be guaranteed a safe place to moor.

As the financial crisis of 2008-9 began to bite with ferocity, the banking concern received some $10 billion, followed by $12.9 billion in credit default swap insurance via the bailout of AIG.  As John Lanchester pointed out at the time, the sensitive, well-thought out response of gratitude duly followed: the bank paid itself $16.7 billion in pay and bonuses for the first three quarters of the year.  That’s bankocracy for you.

The Highest Degree Of Certainty: The New Evidence In The Downing Of Flight MH17

On September 17 the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation held a briefing for members of the press to present documented new evidence that the Ukrainian armed forces helped to bring down the Malaysian airliner that was flying over the Donbass in July 2014.

According to information that was preserved on the wreckage of the missile that was found at the crash site and exhibited by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) on May 24, 2018, Russian military investigators were able to read the unique, identifying numbers printed on the missile’s nozzle and engine. It was determined that the missile had been made in the Soviet Union in 1986. Documents were presented at the briefing from the manufacturer’s archives, as well as a log book that was classified as Top Secret, which registered the missile’s arrival at a warehouse belonging to a military unit near the city of Ternopil in what was at that time the Soviet Republic of Ukraine.

A part of the BUK-TELAR missile that was fired on the MH17 flight is shown during the persconference of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) on May 24, 2018

“The missile, which bore the imprint of military serial number 886 847379 and was manufactured for use in a Buk anti-aircraft missile system on December 29, 1986, was shipped by rail to military unit 20152. It was not returned to Russian territory after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but was instead added to the arsenal of the Ukrainian armed forces. It is worth mentioning that since 2014, that unit has often been used as part of what has been called the anti-terror operation inside the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine,” claimed Nikolai Parshin, the head of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Missile and Artillery Directorate.

A 2016 audio recording was also released, in which a discussion between members of the Ukrainian military can be heard. The voices of two men are clearly audible on the tape, one of whom was addressed as “Grinchak.” Their conversation is about Ukraine’s Malachite radar station and the closure of the airspace. The man named Grinchak is speaking emotionally and has harsh words to say about his fellow servicemen who are failing to carry out their official duties as they should. Grinchak is urging the other man to crack down on his colleagues and force them to follow the correct procedures, otherwise as he put it “… we’ll … [a synonym of the verb ‘shoot down’] another Malaysian Boeing.”

Ruslan Grinchak

The man in the recording says, “But what’s the difference, I’m telling you. Don’t you get it? Sailors can’t be fired just to make our Malachite station operate properly. The infantry? What do they know, ***? Should they take on the ‘відповідальність’ [‘responsibility’ in Ukrainian] and write up some kind of report or statement? … That’s just not realistic, ***. Go up to them and say, you little punks, *** if it’s going to be like that, *** then we’ll … [a synonym of the verb ‘shoot down’] another Malaysian Boeing, and everything will be ***.”

The man who can be heard speaking on the tape has been identified. He is Ruslan Grinchak, a colonel in Ukraine’s armed forces, who in 2014 was the head of the 164th radio engineering brigade that controlled the airspace over the Donbass.

Experts from Russia also examined the Joint Investigation Team’s videos, which illustrate the supposed route taken by the Buk air-defense system through Ukrainian territory. Those videos showed signs of having been tampered with, as indicated by the numerous violations of the laws of linear perspective and the way light is projected, in addition to signs of the use of some techniques that are commonly used in computer animation.

Violations of the laws of linear perspective on the video

Now that these materials have been made public, it is imperative to — at the very least — closely reexamine the events that they affect. Will the JIT agree to take a serious look at them? The commission has previously rejected any offer of cooperation coming from the Russians.

In 2015, the Russian company Almaz-Antey conducted an experiment that used the information about the damage to the airliner’s hull to accurately calculate its location in the skies with respect to the missile at the time the warhead exploded. That made it possible to determine the trajectory of the missile’s flight and to establish the area from which it had been launched. Those calculations pointed to somewhere in the vicinity of the village of Zaroshchenskoye, which was at that time under the control of the Ukrainian military.

The persconference of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) on My 24, 2018

The JIT did not examine these materials as part of its work. The commission operated under the control of British intelligence forces and it was not allowed to deviate from the prescribed anti-Russian line of the investigation. Not even the recordings from the black boxes (the most important piece of evidence) have been released. After spending several years being “decrypted” by British experts at the military base in Farnborough, the JIT shrugged them off with a brief message that they “revealed no signs of any technical faults or an emergency situation” inside the Boeing 777’s cockpit. And yet those voice recorders might contain information that would shed light on the circumstances surrounding the disaster.

The version of the incident proposed by the Almaz-Antey company suggests the possible existence of two terrorist perpetrators, who were being used to ensure the guaranteed destruction of the Boeing 777. If the first attempt to shoot down the plane was unsuccessful, or not entirely successful, then the pilots’ reaction that was recorded by the black boxes would explain quite a lot. The two-perpetrator version of the event speculates that the airliner was fired upon by a Ukrainian SU-25 ground-attack aircraft under the command of Captain Vladislav Voloshin. The fact that that officer was presented with the Order of Courage the very next day, before becoming deeply depressed and committing suicide in March 2018, makes this version look much more plausible.

Perhaps there was indeed some kind of “emergency situation” onboard the Boeing 777, and this is why the black box recordings have not been duly released?

The JIT dutifully followed its British orders until January 22, 2016, when the news broke about the speech made by Harm Brouwer, the chairman of CTIVD (the Dutch Review Committee on the Intelligence and Security Services), in the Dutch parliament. Brouwer offered an account, according to which on the day flight MH17 was downed there were no missiles present in the area of the disaster, except for Ukraine’s Buk systems.

The Dutch media initially “overlooked” this bombshell and it would have remained buried forever, had it not been for a tweet by MP Pieter Omtzigt.  To prove his point, Omtzigt attached a photograph from one page of Harm Brouwer’s report.

Pieter Omtzigt

Afterward many Dutch media outlets proclaimed their willingness to take their own government to court in order to be allowed to see all of the investigation materials. The JIT was faced with a choice: to follow the instructions of the British intelligence services, which would eventually push them into a very unpleasant corner or to choose to take a different stance. Another motivating factor was that the primary injured party — Malaysia — was beginning to press much harder on the JIT to conduct an objective investigation. Last May, Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke described the accusation that Russia had shot down flight MH17 as unproven, and this was not the first statement of this type by Malaysian officials.

And then something happened that very few people had expected: the JIT agreed to take a look at Russia’s materials! Although they did add the proviso that the examination would take time.

At that point, Poroshenko’s behavior proved how concerned Ukrainian officials were, now that they felt threatened by exposure as the investigation into the tragedy of flight MH17 progressed. That crime could not have been committed without his consent, and literally two days after the briefing conducted by the Russian Ministry of Defense, a decree by Poroshenko took effect that severed the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Partnership with the Russian Federation. And to top it off, at the very same time the former head of Ukraine’s Security Service, Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, suddenly announced his candidacy for the office of the president of Ukraine. This event offers a compelling reason to believe that Washington decided to abruptly speed up the preparations for Poroshenko’s replacement, should he not do well in the upcoming elections.

Given these developments, one question remains. If the true picture of the events surrounding the downing of the Malaysian Boeing 777 in the skies over Ukraine is emerging with such clarity that even the primary actors understand the futility of further attempts to conceal it, then what will Europe do about Kiev? Under certain circumstances, support and recognition are equivalent to complicity.

A Few Admiring Words for “Crypto-Socialist” Singapore

Imagine a country with 5.6 million inhabitants (of which around 4 million are citizens), surrounded by a collapsing giant – Indonesia – in the south and south-west, by the historically hostile Malaysia in the north, and that proverbial deep blue sea (Strait of Malacca, full of nasty pirates) over the horizon.

Officially Indonesia has 250 million mainly desperately poor inhabitants, but my friends, top UN statisticians working in Montreal, Canada (at the UNESCO Institute for the Statistics), believe that it has, already since one decade ago, well over 300 million ‘souls’ (remember the “Dead Souls” of Gogol, a pre-revolutionary Russian writer and his iconic novel about corruption?), some of them actually ‘so dead’ to the Indonesian government that it doesn’t even want to acknowledge their miserable existence, let alone to feed them.

Malaysia has 32 million people, and an incredibly complex and turbulent past. It is not a friendly country towards Singapore, which actually used to be a part of Malaya Federation for 2 years but got unceremoniously kicked out in 1965. While it is hardly ever pronounced now, the main reasons for the expulsion were that Singapore was ‘too Chinese’, and it had too many Communists at that time, including those inside the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).

From the very beginning of its modern-day existence as an independent state, Malaysia readily and shamelessly collaborated with the West, particularly with the United Kingdom, brutally suppressing all Communist movements. Singapore was seen as a ‘Communist haven’ by the West and by many Malaysian leaders. The ruling party of Malaya, United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), was, and always has been, a staunchly anti-communist force. It was interfering in Singapore’s politics, and was strongly supporting non-Communist wing of the PAP.

Needless to say, a sizeable pro-communist wing of the PAP was never too enthusiastic about the merger of their country with Malaysia. Predictably, the Brits were promoting the union, and for extremely pragmatic reasons – they believed that an ‘incorporated’ Singapore would be eventually forced into submission and its leanings towards Communism could then be easily side-tracked.

Malaysia gained independence from the UK in 1957, then Singapore was maneuvered into joining the Federation of Malaya in 1963. However, it was expelled two years later.

Singapore shall forever be a sovereign democratic and independent nation, founded upon the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of her people in a more just and equal society.

These were the words of the “Proclamation of Singapore” by Lee Kuan Yew on 9 August 1965.

Now, more than five decades later, Singapore is acknowledged as the country with the highest quality of life in Asia, and one of the highest in the world. It has strong and effective government, extremely low corruption rates, and some of the best social policies on Earth.

It is also, wrongly, perceived by many in the West as an ‘extremely capitalist’, business-oriented nation.

About time to ‘re-visit’ Singapore!

What has been achieved here since independence? What was the dream, the vision of Lee Kuan Yew (LKY), the country’s first Prime Minister, who governed with an iron fist but also with great foresight, determination and compassion?

Is Singapore really a ‘Mecca’ of capitalism, or is it, perhaps, a crypto-Communist or at least a socialist country; a ‘ban Communism but do it their way’ kind of nation?

Yes, the country is ‘transparent’, ‘open for business’, a great ‘magnet for foreign companies’. But investment does not disappear in deep pockets of local elites; instead everyone benefits here. And the government decides who is welcomed and who is not, and in which direction the country should be developing. Singapore is a curious hybrid of a controlled and planned economy, and of what is known as ‘free market’.

Concert stage at Singapore’s Botanical Gardens

I have some 25 years of history with Singapore. I do research in its libraries and archives; I admire its world class art institutions, brilliantly diverse food. And I simply enjoy healthy brisk walks through its vast public spaces.

Sometimes I am not hundred percent sure what precisely Singapore is, but I always know what it isn’t – it never succumbed to that brutal, heartless, primitive and uneducated turbo capitalism of other Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.

One room at an enormous National Library

It educates, heals, and houses its citizens, and it gives them time, space, health, culture and perhaps the best public transportation on Earth, so in summary, they can enjoy some of the highest quality of life on Earth.

It does not rob its own people.

Is it ‘enough’? I am not sure. But it is a lot, more than almost anywhere else on our planet Earth.

*****

New public park

What makes one country truly “revolutionary”, “socialist” or even “Communist”?

Is it its ideology, its banners and fiery anti-imperialist speeches; is it that country’s political and internationalist stand?

Or is it the quality of life enjoyed by its people; the way their country treats them: their health, education, housing, quality of air, public spaces, public transportation and cultural life?

I am convinced that it is both. Social and economic success without ideology and fighting spirit, leads to emptiness and in the end, to destructive consumerism.

Ideology without high quality of life helps Western propagandists to trigger subversion.

But where does Singapore stand, if measured by these scales?

It has some of the highest Human Development Indexes on Earth (HDI of UNDP), the highest in Asia, 5th in the world in 2017, and perhaps it would get the prime and become the number one on Earth, if non-Western criteria were to be applied.

The students of Singapore are scoring the best in the world in several fields and appear to be more creative than the Westerners. Most of the education facilities are free, and so is health, covered by efficient national insurance schemes. Public transportation is some of the best (if not the best) in the world, and heavily subsidized by the state. The arts in Singapore are flourishing – the country is impressively cosmopolitan, ecological, promoting ‘Asian values’, and attracting some of the greatest thinkers, artists and performers from China, India, Malaysia and the West.

Its libraries and archives are also some of the best in the world, and totally free, even for foreigners.

Children studying art at the Singapore National Art Gallery

Since independence, the Singaporean government forced people to leave their backward kampungs (villages) – many of them consisted of malaria-infested dwellings in the middle of swamps. In exchange, families were given flats in concrete buildings: with clean running water, electricity, top notch sanitation system, but also with playgrounds, parks, sports facilities, and public transportation.

All this was not unlike the urban design created in the Soviet Union, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Korea (both North and South) or Cuba.

From the very beginning, Singapore relied on the so-called ‘mixed economy’ – on a strong, powerful, incorruptible socially driven state/government, and paralleled by a thriving private sector, which, however, was forced to put the interests of the country well above its profits.

Singapore also counts on one of the fairest legal systems on Earth, but also one of the toughest, with the death penalty often used for drug trafficking, and for extreme and violent crimes.

It is clearly based on the ‘Asian model’: the minority is expected to yield to the interests of the majority.

Contrary to that in the West, the rights of the ‘minorities’ are pedantically protected, but often against the interests of the majority. The Western system clearly evolved from the ideas of protecting small and extreme rich groups of people (‘minorities’) against the masses of the poor (majority). On these foundations was also constructed the global imperialist system, through which the West has been brutalizing, plundering and ‘ruling’ the world for several centuries.

*****

Based on various surveys, the Singaporeans are the “happiest people on the Asian continent”. No wonder: the country has some of the lowest crime rates in the world, perhaps the best and the most generous ‘social net’ of any officially capitalist country on the planet, tremendous opportunities for its citizens, and an exciting, cosmopolitan lifestyle.

There are no homeless people on its 68 islands and islets; one can walk safely basically anywhere, even in the middle of the night. Enormous public parks are everywhere, hugging the coast, and the river. The Botanic Gardens of Singapore are so stunning, that UNESCO inscribed them as a world heritage site.

For Singaporeans and the residents of the country, almost all cultural events, as well as educational facilities and spots, come free of charge.

Housing is heavily subsidized, especially for families that are buying their first (and mostly only) home. The great majority of Singaporeans live in huge but very well constructed apartment blocks, not unlike those that were erected in such Communist countries like the Soviet Union or former Czechoslovakia.

Rich foreigners (so-called ‘expats’) enjoy no such privileges: they pay through their ears and noses, sometimes twice, sometimes four or even five times more than the locals. Singapore is often voted as the most expensive city in Asia, up there with Tokyo and Hong Kong. But that is for the corporate types – for foreigners who would do just about anything in their power to be based in Singapore, instead of being based in totally collapsed, polluted and unlivable regional capitals like Jakarta or Manila. That ‘anything’ includes almost daily ‘commutes’ on one of the best airlines in the world (of course, the legendary Singapore Airlines) between Singapore and Jakarta.

For the Singaporeans, their country is perhaps one of the cheapest in the so-called ‘first world’.

If this is not a kind of socialism, one has to wonder, what really is.

*****

Unlike the West, Singapore does not plunder. It is tremendously rich, because its people are very hard working (most of them are Chinese and share with China both work ethic and honesty). Singaporeans are also extremely well educated, by some standards the best educated in the world.

Several years ago, Singapore evolved from a manufacturing center, into a research and science hub, as well as the regional transportation hub with Changi – repeatedly voted as the best airport in the world (never leaving the top 5). Its hi-tech port is used by the entire region.

Changi Airport, the best in the world (looks like old Chinese street)

Singapore is also renowned for its schools, which are mainly free for the locals, but not cheap at all for the foreigners, although they give generous scholarships for talented students from the region. The same can be said about its hospitals and the medical centers, which attract patients from the regional countries with collapsed, capitalist and monstrously overpriced medical systems (U.S.-style, but with some ten times lower incomes), like Indonesia and the Philippines.

Then the government decided to turn Singapore into a world-class city for the arts.

It was a great success. Its museums are second to none in the Southeast Asia, and some of the best on the continent. Art schools, cosmopolitan and subsidized concert halls, the creative fusion of arts and education – all this is on par with Beijing, while putting even such cities like Hong Kong to shame.

Just take a walk at night, and admire traditional Chinese statues exhibited freely along the river, as well as masterpieces by Salvador Dali or Botero, a Columbian sculptor and painter, originally known for his corpulent women, but also the one who, several years ago, created the powerful exhibition depicting the U.S. torture chambers at the notorious Abu Ghraib. It is all here in Singapore for everyone to admire. It is free for the Singaporeans. While Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia or the Philippines cannot come up even with one decent National Museum, or a world-class public concert hall (Kuala Lumpur has one, but it belongs to the Malaysian oil company “Petronas”).

Rooftop of the National Museum

The arts in Singapore are not just influenced by the West, although such great performers like the Argentinean concert pianist Martha Argerich, are now household names here. Singapore is obsessed with Chinese Opera, Russian Ballet, as well as the classical music coming from all corners of India.

Red Dot Performs at Esplanade Theatres

*****

Many Westerners strongly dislike Singapore. Some of them never set their foot here (although they have no problems living in such centers of Western imperialism, like New York, Paris or London).

Mainly, it is a complex of inferiority that is haunting them. They feel poor here, and they are simply not permitted to behave like the masters of the universe. Coming here from almost anywhere in Europe or North America, the gap is really big. Singapore is too rich, too clean and elegant, but also too ‘socialist’ – designed to serve the people who call it home.

It is evidently a Chinese city, with an international flair, and the West ‘does not like China’.

Most of the Westerners ‘like poor Asian countries’, where uneducated women in their teens are ready to fall, out of desperation, around the neck of even the most brutal and uneducated Western males. They like to feel superior, in control, and rich. As long as their 100 dollar bills go far, very far, they are willing to overlook the terrible desperation of the Western neo-colonies, to breath polluted air, to eat terrible food and live in the mega-cities with almost no greenery, no beauty and no culture (culture all over Southeast Asia, but particularly in Indonesia, was ruined, massacred, by Western pop-culture and implanted radical forms of religion).

In Singapore, religions play very little role. Singaporean women are in control – educated and confident. They don’t need balding sugar daddies and their potbellies. Westerners are no gods here – they are treated very politely (as everyone here is) – but not extraordinarily.

Singapore is proud. It believes in ‘Asian values’. It does not need to be lectured by the Europeans with their collapsing infrastructure, social systems, and unwavering desire to plunder and control the world.

*****

But Singapore can also be tough. It has to be.

In the past, it had already been attacked by Indonesia, antagonized by Malaysia and, of course, colonized by the West.

Not everything here is so orderly as it appears, and the law often closes eyes, at least half-way. Not when it comes to crime committed by the locals, or when the common disputes are concerned, but when the foreigners bring in their ‘dirty money’. Singapore, as well as Hong Kong and the West, allows hundreds and some say even thousands of Indonesian and other Southeast Asian unsavory ‘businessmen’ and corrupt government officials, to wash their money here, to buy top end real estate or to send their offspring to the local schools and universities. The deal is clear: you can come and buy your condominiums, but you lay low, behave properly, and leave your wild feudalist gangster habits back in Jakarta or Manila.

The other issue, for which Singapore is often criticized by the Left, is its defense contracts with, and some even say military reliance on, Israel.

This question is, however, much more complex than how it appears on the surface. Singapore does not share any ideology or political positions with Israel, and it absolutely does not endorse apartheid. Of course, it is not a ‘perfect country’, but with time it has become, by all measures, one of the best functioning multi-cultural societies on Earth, definitely much more egalitarian than the Western countries. Minorities here are not just being ‘tolerated’ – they are directly influencing and shaping the nation.

Singapore sees Israel as a geographically small and extremely rich country, surrounded by the ‘enemies’. It does not analyze ‘why’ – it just wants to pragmatically learn and improve its own survival skills. Singaporean tough military conscription system is shaped on the Israeli model; both young men and women are called to armed force service, and then again, on several occasions in their life, for military exercises and training.

The ‘thread’ is usually never defined, at least openly. But it is clear that it is both Indonesia and Malaysia; two countries with much greater and much poorer populations, with Wahhabi Sunni Muslim majorities which are increasingly militant and fanatically pro-capitalist and anti-socialist.

Both Indonesia and Malaysia have already managed to thoroughly ruin their environments, as well as their economies, (especially in Indonesia); they are ‘growing’ only thanks to a thorough plunder of the natural resources. Confusion, undefined anger and frustration are never channeled into the revolutionary strives by the left-wing politics, as they are, for instance, in Latin America, but also in the Philippines and often in India. Both these neighboring countries of Singapore have been thoroughly brainwashed by the Western anti-left-wing propaganda.

Ancient trees in Singapore Gardens

Singapore, with no doubt the cleanest and ecologically-oriented society, is regularly covered by a deadly haze coming from the burning tropical forests of the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan (Borneo).

While Malaysia and Singapore are already locked in a dangerous dispute over fresh water supply.

Desperate, exasperated the Indonesian poor are crossing into Singapore in search of manual jobs. Singapore, unlike the EU and North America or Japan, has an ‘open door policy’. Almost everyone can come and visit, mostly visa-free. Many people are even allowed to settle and work here, enjoying almost the same rights and privileges as the Singaporean citizens (roughly 30% of people living in Singapore are foreigners, a much greater percentage than in the U.S. or the U.K.). But everything has to be done ‘legally’ here, and things are monitored closely.

Nowhere else on Earth does exist such a tremendous contrast between the affluence and social egalitarianism, and the misery accompanied by unequal distribution of wealth, as between Singapore and Indonesia. It is enough to take a high-speed ferry between Singapore and the Indonesian island of Batam, to understand. The two places are separated by only 20 kilometers of water, but they might have been on two different planets, or in heaven and hell.

Therefore, Singapore is scared.

In Indonesia, social frustration and anger always leads to racist outbreaks. Three genocides (1965, East Timor and the ongoing one in Papua) have always had a racist, as well as fascist and extreme religious undertone. When Suharto (an anti-communist and pro-Western fascist and bigoted dictator) was stepping down from power, it was Indonesian Chinese women who were dragged from their cars and gang-raped, right in front of grinning police officers. In Indonesian history, there have been countless anti-Chinese pogroms, some organized by the Dutch, some by the Indonesians themselves.

And Singapore is predominantly a Chinese country.

And it is not just ‘genetic’. The culture of Singapore is Chinese, the work ethic, the way of life, are too. Its secularism is Chinese (while in both Indonesia and Malaysia religiousness is compulsory, and atheism de facto illegal), and so is its obsession with knowledge and education. Building the nation, constructive patriotism – all that is Chinese.

China (PRC) is the closest trade partner of Singapore, but also, the two countries are now extremely close allies.

But again, all this is hardly ever discussed. These issues are clearly taboo, but why?

Singapore knows where it stands, and where it is located. Southeast Asia has been a killing field for the West. Whenever any country decided to go Communist or socialist, it was smashed, bombed back to the stone ages. Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia lost millions of inhabitants, just because they decided to kick out Western colonialists and embark on the Communist path. Indonesia lost between 1 and 3 million people because the West wanted its natural resources, but also because in 1966 (one year after the 1965 coup), the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) was poised to win elections, democratically and clearly. East Timor lost 30% of its citizens because its leading political force – FRETILIN – was built on Marxist ideology. And Thailand’s massacres of its own left, as well as collaboration with the West against anything even remotely progressive in the region, has got the country permanently stuck between the third and the first world, with hardly any progress.

Singapore is a very small country. It is not a heroic nation, like Russia, Cuba or Syria. It only wants to work and play hard, and for its people to live well and in peace.

It knows perfectly well, that if it makes one ‘wrong’ statement or one ‘wrong’ move, it could be smashed to pieces, no matter how well trained and equipped its NAVY and air force are, no matter how healthy and prepared its people are.

It is willing to compromise, to pay, and even to bend its beliefs, if necessary. It is resigned to be silent about the collapse of Indonesia, and about the insanity of the Malaysian politics. All that, but only to a certain extent.

*****

It is an extremely interesting, even fascinating place; a country where the government destroyed Communists, only to build a crypto-Communist state, using the ‘market economy’. It is pure madness, but it works, and it works extremely well.

It is loved by some, while despised by others (although many who hate it do so out of ignorance, envy or misunderstanding).

Most Singaporeans love their country – it is, after all, their home, for which they fought, which they built shedding sweat, tightening belts, sacrificing lives.

Whatever Westerners say, almost all Southeast Asians either love or at least envy Singapore. Vietnamese government people as well as their city planners go there to study, trying to understand how to build great cities “for the people”, not “against them” like in Indonesia or the Philippines.

And the main criticism or ‘outrage’ of the Western backed NGO’s? Well, just ask people in Manila, Jakarta or in Hanoi, if they’d mind if the individuals who are ruining what is left of nature in their cities would get few cane hits over their buttocks, or if the corrupt business people and government officials would have to, once in a while, face a firing squad for robbing poor people.

I am not passing my judgment here, I am only saying: “Ask the people.” That’s how democracy should function, no? By consulting the local citizens, not the Western ‘advisers’ and Western-paid ‘civil society’.

Naturally, some Singaporeans do not like their country. But if they don’t, they are free to go. The Singaporean passport is one of the most powerful on Earth. When they leave, they are extremely well educated, healthy, self-sufficient, and speak at least two languages. They are respected. Both men and women are.

I call Singapore a “crypto-Communist country”. But I don’t say it loudly; neither do I do it too often, in order not to provoke the beast in the West, and its lackeys in Southeast Asia.

Yes, ideologically and rhetorically, Singapore “betrayed the left”. Practically, however, it built a socialist, or call it a ‘utopian Communist paradise’ for its people. During the process, it got greatly influenced by China, while influencing China in return.

To look obedient, it participated in a couple of Western military adventures. It never openly snapped at a rotting, corrupt and collapsing giant next door – Indonesia. It knows better. Whenever disasters strike and Indonesia is in agony, Singapore sends, discreetly, its doctors, rescue teams, even military, to help. But it never openly criticizes. And it never hears any ‘thanks’.

It is clear that the Singaporean leaders have been reading and studying the great Chinese classic – “Art of War”.

And it is obvious that the Singaporean people, ‘citizens of the happiest country in Asia’, will never allow their model to be abandoned. The dreadful scenarios which the West injected into Southeast Asia, and which it has been shamelessly glorifying as ‘tolerant’ and ‘democratic’, are just too close and too visible to be overlooked. They keep haunting, only few miles away, playing like a brutal horror film, over and over again.

Singapore is a plush oasis in a dry and hostile desert of the region’s social collapse. It is surrounded from all sides. It looks soft, sometimes too soft, but in reality, it is tough. Therefore, it will not surrender; it will be defending its people and its “Asian values”, and it will, most likely, in the end, “bring Southeast Asia back to Asia”, instead of succumbing to bizarre Western colonialist models that are robbing and raping the local people and entire nations.

• First published by New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

Syria or Southeast Asia: The West Lied, Lies, and Always Will

Photo:  Andre Vltchek

I’m sitting at the splendid building of the Singapore National Library, in a semi-dark room, microfilm inserted into a high-tech machine. I’m watching and then filming and photographing several old Malaysian newspapers dating back from October 1965.

These reports were published right after the horrible 1965 military coup in Indonesia, which basically overthrew the progressive President Sukarno and liquidated then the third largest Communist party on Earth, PKI (Partai Komunis Indonesia). Between one and three million Indonesian people lost their lives in some of the most horrifying massacres of the 20th century. From a socialist (and soon to be Communist) country, Indonesia descended into the present pits of turbo-capitalist, as well as religious and extreme right-wing gaga.

The United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Holland and several other Western nations, directly sponsored the coup, while directing both the pro-Western treasonous factions in the military, as well as the religious leaders who stood, from the start, at the forefront of the genocide.

All this information is, of course, widely available in the de-classified archives of both the CIA and U.S. State Department. It can be accessed, analyzed and reproduced. I personally made a film about the events, and so have several other directors.

But it isn’t part of the memory of humanity. In Southeast Asia, it is known only to a handful of intellectuals.

In Malaysia, Singapore or Thailand, the Indonesian post-1965 fascism is a taboo topic. It is simply not discussed. “Progressive” intellectuals here are, like in all other ‘client’ states of the West, paid to be preoccupied with their sex orientation, with gender issues and personal ‘freedoms’, but definitely not with the essential matters (Western imperialism, neo-colonialism, the savage and grotesque forms of capitalism, the plunder of local natural resources and environment, as well as disinformation, plus the forcefully injected ignorance that is accompanied by mass amnesia) that have been shaping so extremely and so negatively this part of the world.

In Indonesia itself, the Communist Party is banned and the general public sees it as a culprit, not as a victim.

The West is laughing behind the back of its brainwashed victims. It is laughing all the way to the bank.

Lies are obviously paying off.

No other part of the world has suffered from Western imperialism as much after WWII, as Southeast Asia did, perhaps with two exceptions, those of Africa and the Middle East.

In so-called Indochina, the West murdered close to ten million people, during the indiscriminate bombing campaigns and other forms of terror – in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The abovementioned Indonesian coup took at least 1 million human lives. 30% of the population of East Timor was exterminated by the Indonesian occupation, which was fully supported by the West. The Thai regime, fully subservient to the West, killed indiscriminately its leftists in the north and in the capital. The entire region has been suffering from extreme religious implants, sponsored by the West itself, and by its allies from the Gulf.

But the West is admired here, with an almost religious zeal.

The U.S., British and French press agencies and ‘cultural centers’ are spreading disinformation through local media outlets owned by subservient ‘elites’. Local ‘education’ has been devotedly shaped by Western didactic concepts. In places like Malaysia, Indonesia, but also Thailand, the greatest achievement is to graduate from university in one of the countries that used to colonize this part of the world.

Victim countries, instead of seeking compensation in courts, are actually admiring and plagiarizing the West, while pursuing, even begging for funding from their past and present tormentors.

Southeast Asia, now obedient, submissive, phlegmatic and stripped off the former revolutionary left-wing ideologies, is where the Western indoctrination and propaganda scored unquestionable victory.

*****

The same day, I turned on the television set in my hotel room, and watched the Western coverage of the situation in Idlib, the last stronghold of the Western-sponsored terrorists on Syrian territory.

Russia has called for an emergency UN Security Council meeting warning that the terrorists might stage a chemical attack, and then blame it, together with the West, on the forces of President Bashar al-Assad.

NATO battleships have been deployed to the region. There can be no doubt – it has been a ‘good old’ European/North American scenario at work, once again: ‘We hit you, kill your people, and then bomb you as a punishment’.

Imperialist gangsters then point accusative fingers at the victims (in this case Syria) and at those who are trying to protect them (Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, China). Just like in a kindergarten, or a primary school; remember? A boy hits someone from behind and then screams, pointing at someone else: “It was him, it was him!” Miraculously, until now, the West has always gotten away with this ‘strategy’, of course, at the cost of billions of victims, on all continents.

That is how it used to be for centuries, and that is how it still works. That is how it will continue to be, until such terror and gangsterism is stopped.

*****

For years and decades, we were told that the world is now increasingly inter-connected, that nothing of great importance could happen, without it being immediately spotted and reported by vigilant media lenses, and ‘civil society’.

Yet, thousands of things are happening and no one is noticing.

Just in the last two decades, entire countries have been singled-out by North America and Europe, then half-starved to death through embargos and sanctions, before being finally attacked and broken to pieces: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya to mention just a few. Governments of several left-wing nations have been overthrown either from outside, or through their own, local, servile elites and media; among them Brazil, Honduras and Paraguay. Countless Western companies and their local cohorts are committing the unbridled plunder of natural resources in such places as Borneo/Kalimantan or the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), totally ruining tropical forests while murdering hundreds of species.

Are we, as a planet, really inter-connected? How much do people know about each other, or about what is done to their brothers and sisters on different continents?

I have worked in some 160 countries, and I can testify without the slightest hesitation: ‘Almost nothing’. And: ‘Less and much less!’

The Western empire and its lies, has managed to fragment the world to previously unknown extremes. It is all done ‘in the open’, in full view of the world, which is somehow unable to see and identify the most urgent threats to its survival. Mass media propaganda outlets are serving as vehicles of indoctrination, so do cultural and ‘educational’ institutions of the West or those local ones shaped by the Western concepts. That includes such diverse ‘tools’ as universities, Internet traffic manipulators, censors and self-censored individuals, social media, advertisement agencies and pop culture ‘artists’.

*****

There is a clear pattern to Western colonialist and neo-colonialist barbarity and lies:

‘Indonesian President Sukarno and his closest ally the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) were trying to build a progressive and self-sufficient country. Therefore, they had to be stopped, government overthrown, party members massacred, PKI itself banned and the entire country privatized; sold to foreign interests. The overwhelming majority of Indonesians are so brainwashed by the local and Western propaganda that they still blame the Communists for the 1965 coup, no matter what the CIA archives say.’

Mossadegh of Iran was on the same, progressive course. And he ended up the same way as Sukarno. And the whole world was then charmed by the butcher, who was put to power by the West – the Shah and his lavish wife.

Chile in 1973, and thereafter, the same deadly pattern occurred, more evidence of how freedom-loving and democratic the West is.

Patrice Lumumba of Congo nationalized natural resources and tried to feed and educate his great nation. Result? Overthrown, killed. The price: some 8 million people massacred in the last two decades, or maybe many more than that (see my film: Rwanda Gambit). Nobody knows, or everyone pretends that they don’t know.

Syria! The biggest ‘crime’ of this country, at least in the eyes of the West, consisted of trying to provide its citizens with high quality of life, while promoting Pan-Arabism. The results we all know (or do we, really?): hundreds of thousands killed by West-sponsored murderous extremists, millions exiled and millions internally displaced. And the West, naturally, is blaming Syrian President, and is ready to ‘punish him’ if he wins the war.

Irrational? But can global-scale fascism ever be rational?

The lies that are being spread by the West are piling up. They overlap, often contradict one another. But the world public is not trained to search for the truth, anymore. Subconsciously it senses that it is being lied to, but the truth is so horrifying, that the great majority of people prefer to simply take selfies, analyze and parade its sexual orientation, stick earphones into its ears and listen to empty pop music, instead of fighting for the survival of humanity.

I wrote entire books on this topic, including the near 1,000-page: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire”.

This essay is just a series of thoughts that came to my mind, while I was sitting at a projector in a dark room of the Singapore National Library.

A rhetorical question kept materializing: “Can all this be happening?” “Can the West get away with all these crimes it has been committing for centuries, all over the world?”

The answer was clear: ‘But of course, as long as it is not stopped!”

And so, A luta continua!

First published by NEO New Eastern Outlook

Mahathir Mohamad frees Malaysia from Saudi Influence

Malaysia has withdrawn its troops from the military coalition that is participating in the war against Yemen that was begun by Saudi Arabia. The decision was taken by Malaysia's new Prime Minister, Mahatir Mohamad, who has just shut down the King Salaman Centre for International Peace, KSCIP, established in Putraya, (Malaysia's administrative capital). The new head of government has decided to transfer the powers of the KSCIP to the Malaysian Institute of Defence and Security. The Western (...)

The Lures of Kleptocracy: Malaysia’s Najib Condition

Words can be teasing in their meaning.  In the realm of political and financial discussion, they can become absurdly changing.  Take Malaysia’s political status. On the surface, all looks delightfully democratic in that multi-ethnic state.  Once the eyewash is applied, a certain ugliness manifests: the ethnic tensions that are only ever a stone’s throw away from bloodshed and riot; the thieving of state assets as a measure of self-enrichment by representatives; the periodic threatening and at stages jailing of opponents and dissidents unhappy with the vision of its leaders.

While the Mahathir Mohamad show is in full force, the former prime minister Najib Razak, finds himself in the dock facing graft charges. His plight is no doubt a good demonstration that embezzling funds and gaining assets should be done in spectacular fashion.  Do not stop at the pennies and mild theft: go the whole hog.

The 1Malaysia Development Berhad fund, founded by Najib in 2009, is no small beer.  Here is an infrastructure pool with tax payer moneys that found its way into all sorts of mysterious and diffuse channels.  As such funds tend to generate a growth industry involving subsidiaries, it fell to SRC International to become the financial juggernaut to deal with overseas investments in energy resources.  It is alleged that SRC International was the conduit for much of the $4.5 billion that supposedly found its way into various accounts connected with Najib and his inner circle.

The money going missing from 1MDB became an international matter spanning numerous jurisdictions interested in the issue of laundering.  In 2016, Swiss investigators found “serious indications” that $4 billion had been misappropriated from state owned funds.  Since 2016, the US Justice Department has been conducting an investigation claiming that $4.5 billion from the 1MDB fund was moved to offshore bank accounts.  A civil claim has also been filed to the tune of $1.7 billion by US prosecutors to recover assets supposedly gained by using appropriated funds.

Malaysian police, not wanting to be left in the cold, have seized some $275 million worth of handbags, jewellery, watches and cash from Najib’s associated properties, while freezing over 400 bank accounts as part of the 1MDB investigation.

Less the cunning of history than its twisted grin must be the link claimed by US authorities between Najib’s stepson Riza Aziz, his co-founded company Red Granite Pictures, and Hollywood.  This is somewhat delightful, if you fancy seeing a connection between appropriated Malaysian funds that end up assisting the making of The Wolf of Wall Street, a Martin Scorsese film about insatiable greed, ill-gotten gains and ignominious fall.

Mahathir has been on Najib’s case for a time, suggesting that his former protégé had become a bad apple in an otherwise vast orchard of prospects.  But questions have been raised about his motivations over the issue.  Were the missing assets initially claimed as misappropriations or raised borrowings to supplement the fund?  Inventive accounting can be the hand maiden of expansive laundering.

None of this seems to matter now except to the prosecutor’s details, which have so far laid three charges against Najib regarding criminal breach of trust between 2011 and 2015.  Each charge, if proven, can carry a maximum penalty of twenty years in prison. In an additional smattering of brutality, the charges would normally carry whipping, but Najib would be exempt by virtue of age, being over 60 years old.

The latest turn of events heartens Maria Chin Abdullah, an MP long engaged in human rights battles. “I think it’s about time.  I must say I was very happy because at last we are going to get to the bottom of this and this is only the tip of the iceberg.”  Government MPs such as Wong Chen claim being swamped by messages of hope, with constituents calling the Wednesday charges against Najib “the happiest day” of their lives.  Such hope may prove misplaced, a case of removing the man rather than allaying the condition.

Soon after Najib’s defeat, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission pressed Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor about the alleged transfer of $10.6 million from SRC to Najib’s personal account. This had been previously given a clean bill of health by attorney-general Mohamed Apandi Ali. But the amount that did stand out was the $681 million that found a home in his accounts in July 2015.  This, he claimed, was a generous donation from Saudi royalty.

He then claimed, just to spread the rot, that former central bank governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz who now sits on Mahathir’s advisory council, had full knowledge of the transfer at the time.  Her initial reluctance to comment turned to a matter of sheer clarity: the claims by Najib were “categorically false”.  She had been blessedly ignorant.

When we revisit such terms as democracy, kleptocracy and autocracy, Malaysia has been all three and none. It is a state that has been looted by its all too rapacious political classes, mangled by an opportunism pitched between racial politics and acquisitiveness.  The prosecution of Najib is less an issue of reform than the removal of irritating situated scar tissue, or, the iceberg’s gleaming, conspicuous tip.  Leaving Mahathir to head the removal operation is much like telling ambitious parents to punish their overly successful children. Najib’s alleged theft remains the all afflicting condition for the powerful in Malaysia, as much individual initiative as historically inspired.

The ailing political body continues to remain intact, and the total exposure of the depth of financial abuse is unlikely to take place.  Mahathir will do, as he did before during his initial, lengthy stint as prime minister: maintain control, rein in the contrarians and make cosmetic adjustments.  Unlike Najib, he will just be less vulgar about it.

Eternal Disappearance: MH370 and the Hangar Gossipers

It has fuelled enough speculation to fill libraries and populate databases at catchy speed.  The disappearance of MH370 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014, one of two Malaysian Airlines flights to perish that year, continues to torment relatives and tantalise the diviners of mystery.

Ocean Infinity, the Houston-based company retained by the Malaysian government to conduct the vain search for the missing flight, will conclude its contract on May 29.  The incentives for Ocean Infinity were considerable, not least the $93 million promised in the event of a successful find over a 90-day search of the southern Indian Ocean. (The company had requested an extension till May 29.)  To date, tormenting samples of the flight have washed up.

With little on the table, legal representatives for the families of victims could only scrounge for faint praise for the newly constituted Malaysian government.  “As a lawyer who acts for 76 relatives of passengers on board MH370,” reflected Ganesan Nethi, “I find this to be a very heartening approach and refreshing change of approach by the new Government.”

Inhabiting the grieving world of the living, relatives have been met with opaque processes and unfulfilled promises.  MAS was always reluctant to part with compensation monies.  The airforce and the Department of Civil Aviation ventured to strike out the claims by families due under law.  Claims have been filed in Australia, the United States and China.

Interest in the plane has not diminished. Sporadic reports bubble with near feverish speculation.  Last March, an Australian mechanical engineer, Peter McMahon, made the bold and boastful claim that he had found the plane.  The mystery had been solved by a meticulous search of Google Earth. With precision, McMahon claimed that wreckage could be found 16km south of Round Island, some 22.5 km north of Mauritius.

This finding was complicated by a minor inconsistency noted by a spokesperson for the Joint Agency Coordination Centre: the prize image had been snapped on November 6, 2009, “more than four years before the flight disappeared.”

Central to McMahon’s contention is secrecy and subterfuge. “They have made sure that all information received has been hidden from the public, even our government – but why?”  Happily for McMahon, an explanation offers itself: the area cannot be searched because it is being kept out of bounds by US officials.  They “do not want it found as it’s full of bullet holes, finding it will only open another inquiry.”

Surviving relatives have offered their own explanations.  Ghyslain Wattrelos, who lost his wife and two children, propounds the theory that the plane was shot down.  Silence, notably on the part of Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand, is taken as admission.

Another particularly attractive version is doing the rounds: did the pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah land the plane somewhere in the Indian Ocean with malicious intent?  Unlikely, suggests aviation expert Christine Negroni, dismissing the claim by Canadian air crash investigator, Larry Vance and fellow hangar gossipers.

Vance has been busying himself with the MH370 circuit, which has become something of a cottage industry and extensive meal ticket.  Earlier this month, he suggested to Australia’s 60 Minutes that the pilot had taken off fully intent on accomplishing a suicide mission.  He “was killing himself; unfortunately, he was killing everybody else on board, and he did it deliberately.”

Much of this amounted to recycling, given Vance’s debut on the MH370 circuit in 2016.  Then, Australia’s 60 Minutes similarly pumped Vance for his views, courtesy of prodding by a fairly uncritical correspondent Ross Coulthart.

The suicide theory thereby made its blazing march to absurdity, despite the contrary assertions of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau suggesting that the aircraft “was in a rapid rate of descent” when it met its doom.  So much for the guided-landing theory.

Simon Hardy is of similar mind to Vance but prefers to outdo him, even going for a sentimental, soap opera touch.  As the pilot flew the plane over Penang, he tipped, according to the mind-reading Hardy, the aircraft wing as a “farewell gesture”.

Negroni will have none of that, withering in her criticism of the Vance-Hardy version as “far-fetched” and peppered with “hokum”.  “Ladies and gents, thanks to 60 Minutes, pilots Vance and Hardy are in the cockpit.  They’ve fuelled up with alternative facts and are taking us on a flight to the absurd.”

A battle of expertise and faith was bound to propel matters the longer the fruitless search for the plane continued.  To Negroni’s own work The Crash Detectives can be added Florence de Changy’s Flight MH370 Did Not Disappear.  These struggle in seemingly unsuccessful standoffs with spectacular theories, of which the Vance-Hardy version is one.  For Negroni, evidence counts, and Vance, with deluded self-confidence, has ignored such points as a forensic examination which “showed the flaperon was very likely stowed, not deployed when the plane crashed.”

As with other events of the disappearing kind, such events are drearily eternal.  Competitive inventiveness displaces the pursuit for empirical verification.  Even as Ocean Infinity prepares to pack up its mission, the one thing that will continue humming will be the sort of speculation that, unfortunately, serves to line pockets and garner airtime rather than terminate fables.

The Mummy Returns: Mahathir Mohamad and the Malaysian Elections

It was a victory, but it could hardly count as a truly revolutionary one.  Grizzled, aged but formidably stirring, Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s former prime minister, is set to form government as the world’s oldest elected leader.  His Pakatan Harapan coalition ventured past the 112 seat threshold required to form government, while a weary Barisan Nasional limped through with 79.

Shocks were registered some four hours after voting closed.  Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai, head of the Malaysian Chinese Association, fell to Wong Tack of PKR.  Then came the caretaker health minister S. Subramaniam. The ballot box slaughter would continue for the ruling party through the night.

This election result is only surprising if one considers the seemingly immutable nature of BN’s rule, which has lasted six decades and resisted change with studied fanaticism.  Prime Minister Najib Rajak had thrown everything bar the kitchen sink at this election, enacting laws to curb the reporting of “fake news” and holding the election at an inconvenient time of the week, but even those actions could not conceal the rot that had set in.

The decay was such as to give Najib international notoriety, featuring the alleged misappropriation of funds from the state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).  Mahathir, hardly a squeaky clean figure himself, took this as his cue to return to Malaysian politics, this time under the aegis of a new party, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.

Barisan Nasional was very much a beast Mahathir understood, having lead it for 22 years. He was its stalwart and steward before retiring.  As prime minister, he pursued a modernisation agenda at some cost while also poking international rivals with vigour.  “Asian values” remained a favourite theme of his, fashioned to outwit advocates of greater civil liberties.

At times, it seemed that the wily politician was right.  He took considerable and understandable umbrage at the efforts of such figures as former US Vice President Al Gore to insist on his ouster in the wake of student protests against his ruthless treatment of former deputy Anwar Ibrahim. “Citizens who gain democracy,” proclaimed Gore before some thousand business leaders on a visit to Malaysia in November 1998, “also gain the opportunity and the obligation to root out corruption and cronyism.”

Such statements of sanctimonious interference merely served to shore up Mahathir’s authority.  “If the attempt [to oust him] had succeeded,” penned Eiichi Furukuwa in 1999, “it would have strengthened and expanded the power of the Islamic radicals and exacerbated conflicts with the Chinese community, leading to possible Kosovo-type ethnic conflict in Malaysia.”

Economically, Mahathir was a dark sheep.  He refused, much to the surprise of common wisdom at the time, to accept the orthodoxy of the International Monetary Fund clique in the wake of a financial crisis that burned through various Asian economies in the late 1990s.  Capital controls on global investors were put in place, a heresy that enraged such currency speculators as George Soros, deemed by the then prime minister as one of various “unscrupulous profiteers” engaged in an “unnecessary, unproductive and immoral” trade.  Currency trading, argued Mahathir, “should be made illegal.” Soros preferred to think of it as unstoppable.  Mahathir, it seemed, won through on that one.

As part of his political kit, Mahathir nurses a fair number of conspiracy theories that are amply consumed in certain constituencies. His address before the Organisation of the Islamic Conference summit in 2003 held in Kuala Lumpur is still held up as an exemplar of anti-Semitic outrage.  “1.3 billion Muslims cannot be a defeated by a few million Jews,” he explained to the applauding delegates.  “There must be a way. And we can only find a way if we stop to think, to assess our weaknesses and our strength, to plan, to strategize and then to counterattack.”

Themes of extermination and subjugation featured in an address that would have found easy room in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.  “We are actually very strong.  1.3 billion people cannot be simply wiped out.  The Europeans killed six million Jews out of 12 million. But today the Jews rule this world by proxy.”

He was also its crudest of weapons when required, manipulating ethnic insensibilities and political weaknesses for reasons of political survival.  His 1970 publication The Malay Dilemma advanced the cause of ethnic Malays in the face of their more productive Chinese counterparts, an assertion of ownership and blood purity that seemed, at best, anachronistic.  Malaysia’s ethnic composition – Malay, Chinese and Indian – has never been the rosy one recounted in state propaganda, but Mahathir managed to place himself, if somewhat falsely, above the fray as a unifying voice tempering violent Islamic tendencies.

He always remained the foundational pugilist, banishing opponents and anointing successors in a semi-autocratic style that won him fame.  His understanding of politics is such that he will even promise enemies relief and rehabilitation if required, the most notable of this being his courting of his jailed rival Anwar.

Even now the agreement Mahathir supposedly hammered out with Anwar looks shaky and unsure, sketched in the heat of political expediency.  It must involve the securing of a royal pardon, then a by-election victory to enable the former deputy prime minister to assume the reins of power from his nemesis.  Yet even at the age of 92, Mahathir’s political instinct is animal like and impossible to contain.  The shock here was not his victory but the lack of variety and options in Malaysian politics that might count as reform.  The mummy, albeit in different wrapping, has returned.