Former Malaysian leader arrested, to be charged for graft
By EILEEN NG
Tuesday, July 3
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was arrested Tuesday by anti-graft investigators and will be charged over his alleged role in the multibillion-dollar looting of a state investment fund, officials said.
A government task force probing alleged theft and money laundering at the 1MDB state investment fund said Najib’s arrest was linked to the suspicious transfer of 42 million ringgit ($10.6 million) into his bank account from SRC International, a former 1MDB unit, using multiple intermediary companies.
It said in a brief statement that Najib will be brought to court on Wednesday to be charged, but didn’t give details of the charges against him.
Najib’s arrest comes nearly two months after his coalition’s stunning rejection by voters in a May 9 general election.
The new government has reopened investigations into 1MDB that were stifled under Najib’s rule. Najib and his wife, who have been questioned over the SRC issue by the anti-graft agency, have been barred from leaving the country. Police have also seized jewelry and valuables valued at more than 1.1 billion ringgit ($272 million) from properties linked to Najib, who has denied any wrongdoing.
“This was the inevitable outcome when Najib lost the election and lost his political immunity,” Bridget Welsh, a political science professor at John Cabot University in Rome, said in an email. “It shows the resolve of the new government to address previous abuses of power. It has been done judiciously so far and speaks to a needed reckoning for Malaysia and a key step toward a cleaner governance.”
Malaysia’s Bernama news agency said Najib is expected to face more than 10 counts of committing criminal breach of trust linked to SRC International. It said Malaysia’s new attorney general, Tommy Thomas, will head the prosecution in the case.
The anti-corruption agency earlier Tuesday questioned Riza Aziz, Najib’s stepson and a Hollywood film producer, as it stepped up its probe on 1MDB. Riza was solemn as he arrived at the anti-graft office and didn’t speak to reporters.
U.S. investigators say Riza’s company, Red Granite Pictures Inc., used money stolen from 1MDB to finance Hollywood films including the Martin Scorsese-directed “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Red Granite in March agreed to pay the U.S. government $60 million to settle claims that it benefited from the 1MDB scandal.
The civil suit against Red Granite was part of an effort to recover some of the $4.5 billion that U.S. prosecutors say was stolen from 1MDB. They say hundreds of millions from 1MDB landed in Najib’s bank accounts.
The 1MDB government task force this week said 408 bank accounts involving funds of nearly 1.1 billion ringgit had been frozen. It said the accounts, belonging to 81 people and 55 companies, are thought to have received funds from 1MDB between 2011 and 2015.
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Cities of Tomorrow Will Need Conservation and Sustainability
June 25, 2018 by William McKenzie
Klaus Desmet, a Southern Methodist University economics professor, spoke with William McKenzie, editor of The Catalyst: A Journal of Ideas from the Bush Institute, about how cities across the country are competing to offer parks, green spaces and other urban amenities as a way to attract residents and jobs. The challenge is an increasingly competitive one in the service economy.
Question: As you look at places like Dallas, Brooklyn and Denver, people are talking about making cities more livable, walkable and enjoyable. How did this renewed focus on parks, greenbelts and public spaces come about?
Desmet: One factor is a shift toward a more comprehensive view of wellbeing that is not simply based on income. We are becoming more focused on quality of life, and that includes a healthy lifestyle. People want to go outside. They enjoy the outdoors and like being in nature. And they want to have these possibilities not just in the countryside, but also in urban settings.
A second factor is that in a service-based economy businesses are freer to go where people want to live. In the past, say during the Industrial Revolution, there often was a disconnection between places that might be nice for living and places that might be good for production. Factories had to go to areas where they had easy, cheap access to energy. Industries were sprouting up in the coalfields of northern England. Whether those locations were pleasant places to live was secondary.
In a service-based economy, things are different. Companies can produce anywhere, so cities compete vigorously to attract residents and employment. One dimension they are increasingly competing on is these urban amenities.
A third factor is more generally related to the revival of the central city. Crime rates in the United States peaked at the beginning of the ’90s. Many city centers were not very attractive places to live, independently of whether there were many parks. Since then, crime rates started to experience a rapid decline. City centers are again more livable and people are coming back. As they do, they want these amenities.
Q: Is this a luxury for a more affluent America? Or is this some return to a human need to connect with nature?
Desmet: You could view the increasing emphasis on quality of life and healthy lifestyle as a bit of a luxury. But the growing emphasis on urban amenities is not limited to the affluent. It is a much broader phenomenon that recovers the idea that cities have always been built around public spaces. If you go back to the Greek cities of antiquity, they were built around public spaces.
Parks and greenbelts bring people together. They create community and there’s a human need for that. We like nature for its own purpose, but also as a place that brings people together.
Q: Is there evidence that this focus on conservation is helping cities grow economically?
Desmet: There definitely is. A good illustration is the competition for the second headquarters of Amazon. They have set forth a number of criteria and one is quality of life — think of outdoor recreational opportunities, hiking trails, bike paths. Amazon itself does not need this to be productive, but that’s what their employees want.
Cities that are able to compete on those dimensions will be able to attract more employment and residents. This game of competition between cities and locations is connected to urban amenities and future employment.
Q: More people across the world are living in cities. So, how do cities accommodate the need for housing and jobs and yet have some room for greenbelts, parks and urban amenities?
Desmet: I am a strong believer that these two objectives are not in contradiction with each other. In fact, when cities chose to ignore urban amenities, things did not always work out well. In the 1950s and 1960s, highways were built to connect the central business district to the suburbs. This may have been an efficient way to bring people to work, but it made the downtown area very inhospitable as a place to live. Not surprisingly, people fled the city center.
But in recent decades things have started to turn. The objectives of accommodating jobs and allowing for green spaces and other amenities are not in opposition to each other — quite the contrary.
Q: So what role will conservation and natural resources play as cities plan for the future?
Desmet: When you talk about large cities, you’re talking about the geographic concentration of many people on a fairly small space. That will always put some type of pressure on resources, such as water.
This implies that we need to think about how to make our cities as sustainable as possible. That includes thinking about native plants and landscapes and incorporating those into our green spaces and parks for the simple reason that they don’t disrupt the overall ecosystem and they will be more adapted to the local climate and soil. They will be less demanding on the environment.
About the Author
William McKenzie is editorial director for the George W. Bush Institute, where he also serves as editor of “The Catalyst: A Journal of Ideas.”
Point: ‘Black Panther’ Exposes Immigrant Resentment in the Black Community
March 14, 2018 by Patrice Lee Onwuka
“Black Panther” is a great movie, but not stellar.
I appreciated the action scenes, the smart and strong female characters who keep their clothes on, the healthy interactions between men and women based on respect, and the main character who is not just a good guy but a good man. The fictional country of Wakanda paints a vision of Africa that is stunningly beautiful, economically vibrant and far more technologically advanced than even Western countries.
Yet, for all of the “Wakanda Forever” memes and Instagram photos that the movie has inspired, there were some troubling things. It’s preachy and exposes some uncomfortable tensions between blacks in Africa and America.
Black Americans — those whose ancestors were enslaved in the United States — harbor anti-African immigrant sentiments. They may love the bright prints of African clothing and the idea of African wealth, but there is some deep-seated resentment about immigrants from black countries that spilled out on the screen in “Black Panther.”
The antagonist of the film, Erik Stevens (later renamed Killmonger), is the son of two worlds: Wakanda and America. Though his father was from Wakanda, he grew up in South-Central Los Angeles during the 1990s, so we can assume that the poverty and violence of his environment shaped him.
Stevens’ goal of finding Wakanda was about more than finding his roots, but a chance to scold the people of Wakanda for abandoning him and blacks in America to slavery and injustice. He says, “Two billion people all over the world who look like us whose lives are much harder, and Wakanda has the tools to liberate them all. Where was Wakanda?”
The movie goes back to the point when T’Challa, the king of Wakanda and the Black Panther, confronts his father and the kings of his past in a vision for their isolationism from the rest of the world. We are also hit over the head with the message that Wakanda is for Wakandans, not outsiders like Killmonger.
In light of “Black Panther,” some black Americans are asking whether they would even be welcome in the fictitious Wakanda. The real question is whether black immigrants are welcome in the United States by black Americans. The answer to both questions is likely the same.
Black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean who migrated to America in the 1960s recount the racial slurs and harsh treatment they faced from native-born blacks. Before the 1988 movie “Coming to America,” Eddie Murphy’s joke about Africans “riding around butt naked on a zebra” informed the views of many blacks about Africans being primitive. Decades later, second-generation Nigerians still talk about black American kids calling them “African bootyscratchers” and making fun of their dark skin tones, their smells, or the proper English they spoke.
Black immigrants from the Caribbean didn’t escape either. We, too, were teased for how we spoke — even if it was British English. Television shows such as “In Living Color” in the 1990s painted us as judgmental, unsympathetic and obsessed with working multiple jobs simultaneously.
Sharing the same skin color did not lead to shared appreciation and friendships between the ethnic groups. Time has not healed those wounds.
Black Americans still view all immigrants skeptically with 68 percent saying that immigration is too high. They believe that immigrants erode their employment opportunities. Because black Americans tend to be concentrated in low-wage, low-skilled positions they compete for those jobs with legal and illegal immigrants. Over eight out of 10 black Americans think there are more than enough Americans to fill unskilled jobs.
Young black Americans also harbor resentment against the academic success of black immigrants in top American colleges and universities.
Foreign-born blacks are more likely than U.S.-born blacks to hold a bachelor’s degree. They make up 41 percent of the black population of Ivy League schools.
Recently, black American students at Cornell demanded that the university start favoring them above black immigrants saying, “While these students have a right to flourish at Cornell, there is a lack of investment in black students whose families were affected directly by the African Holocaust in America.”
“Black Panther’s” message of a Pan-African unity against injustice is a nice sentiment. However, those preaching it should practice it.
It’s fashionable to wear African print skirts and natural hair styles to demonstrate a connection to Africa, but how black Americans view and treat black immigrants has been slow to change and a great movie may not be enough.
About the Author
Patrice Lee Onwuka is a senior policy analyst at the Independent Women’s Forum.
Counterpoint: ‘Black Panther,’ Disconnected and Unburdened
March 14, 2018 by Ebony Slaughter-Johnson
“Gone With the Wind,” regarded as one of the quintessential symbols of American film at its best, gave the world the equally quintessential symbol of Black stereotypes: Mammy. With her booming voice, wide girth and dark complexion accentuated by glistening beads of sweat from working (literally) like a slave, Mammy represents white America’s conceptualization of what black womanhood is (and ought to be).
To say that her life revolves around her charge, Scarlett O’Hara, is both figurative and literal. Mammy spends her life worrying about Scarlett, caring for Scarlett, and helping Scarlett. Pork, Gerald O’Hara’s valet, and Sam, the foreman at the O’Hara plantation, are just as irrelevant. Pork is loyal, but dim-witted and dependent. Sam is large and hulking with no other aspiration than to serve white folks. Existence for all three is tethered to the more developed white characters.
Almost 80 years later, Mammy has been transformed into the “magical Negro” and the “sassy black friend.” Modern Mammy offers the white protagonist unwavering encouragement and sage advice. Pork lives on in the black fool meant to provide comedic relief. Sam, still large and hulking, has evolved into an inherently criminal thug. Both function as human plot devices that allow the white protagonist to save the day.
An analysis of 160,000 credited roles from 26,000 “major” American films speaks to the stamina of the black thug trope. It discovered that black actors constituted 66 percent of actors credited for the role of “thug,” 62 percent of actors credited for the role of “gang member,” and 60 percent of actors credited for the role of “gangbanger.” Meanwhile, only 9 percent and 3 percent of actors credited with the more professional roles of “doctor” and “pilot,” respectively, were black.
“Black Panther” rejects these tropes, ushering in a new age of expression in which blackness is disconnected from and unburdened by whiteness. Gone are the days, the film insists, of black characters as one-dimensional and underdeveloped in order to make room for and advance the development of white characters.
T’Challa, the titular Black Panther, and his rival, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens are compelling on their own merits, exhibiting a range of emotions and dynamic development that emphasizes their individual humanity. Brave but untested, T’Challa uses his predecessors’ missteps to chart his own course as king of Wakanda, the fictional African nation in which the story is set, and the Black Panther.
Violent, resentful and highly intelligent, Killmonger has been hardened by the disenfranchisement he experienced as a young black man in the United States to complex results: He vows to use the resources of Wakanda to establish it as a world superpower that liberates the oppressed and that subjugates the oppressors.
“Black Panther” scoffs at stereotypical expectations foisted upon black womanhood by white hegemony. In Wakanda, black women are intellectuals like Shuri, who uses her brilliance to elevate Wakanda’s technological development to new heights. Black women are activists determined to improve the human condition like Nakia, who has been disturbed by the hardships she has witnessed elsewhere in the world. They are skilled warriors like Okoye and the other women of the Dora Milaje.
That “Black Panther” tells a story in which blackness is separate from whiteness is reflected even in its setting. One of the most radical features of the story is that Wakanda escaped the grip of European pillaging and colonization, instilling the nation with individualism of its own.
If anything, the plot devices in “Black Panther” are its two main, but very much minor, white characters, who, ironically, assume the tropes usually reserved for black characters.
Ulysses Klaue, a thug specializing in smuggling black-market weapons whose only aim is profit maximization, serves to edge the plot closer to the ultimate clash between the film’s central black characters: T’Challa and Killmonger. CIA agent Everett Ross provides comedic relief: His whiteness jokingly renders him a “colonizer.” His ineptitude is thrown into sharp contrast by the adeptness of the Wakandans whose lead he follows.
Especially in the age of Trump, witnessing the terms of a white man’s heroism get dictated by a young, more-able black woman is revolutionary. Here, whiteness is lent relevance only insofar as it is associated with blackness.
In a world still rife with characters like Mammy, Pork and Sam, “Black Panther” offers the realism of the black experience. It imbibes its black characters with the revolutionary concept at the heart of the global black community’s 400-year-old struggle with oppression: individuality.
About the Author
Ebony Slaughter-Johnson is a freelance writer, a former research assistant at the Institute for Policy Studies and a recent graduate of Princeton University, where she majored in history and received a certificate in African-American Studies.