Yearender 2009

= = Happy New Year = =

In another day’s time, another year will be done. Time flies, as they say. Every year. So what is it about 2009 that we best remember?

Certainly, there was the big recession that gripped the world as the subprime mortgage crisis in the US from the year before grew into a full-blown economic crisis, sending governments into a tizzy of bailouts or stimuli. Or both.

There was the ongoing conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan; the worsening news about global warming and our apparent inability or unwillingness as a species to bite the bullet and begin to take real and meaningful action; the acrimonious state of politics in Malaysia beginning with the February defections in Perak that toppled a Pakatan state government not yet one year old, not to mention the leadership feud within the MCA.

Of course, there was also the death of one Michael Jackson.

That was one of 2009’s biggest news. The Prince of Pop’s death from drug overdose came as a shock amidst news of his comeback attempt with his This is It concerts.

Sadly, it was not to be. The Thriller is gone. But in death did Jackson enjoy a resurgence in popularity, winning fans among a new generation that, till then, had never heard of him. In the annals of history, though, the death of a celebrity will be but a mere footnote.

The other African American who made the news in a really big and significant way was Barack Obama. His rise to the highest office in the Land of the Free, becoming the 44th president of the United States of America, brought the shameful story of slavery to a full circle. It was a momentous and emotional occasion, and in him, America had an eloquent president who could move anybody. Except the Republicans.

The world heaved a collective sigh of relief. The Wild West and language-mangling days of George W. Bush were finally over. Obama promised the world the world — to end Guantanamo, to take the lead in facing global warming, to extend a friendly hand to the Muslims, to reform healthcare, to roll back the Washington lobbies, to return America to its rightful place as a civilised nation, the first among equals. The euphoria could not last, however.

The Jewish settlements in the West Bank continued to expand apace, and as does the appalling blockade of Gaza, with Washington barely raising a squeak. The Goldstone Report on Israeli conduct in the Gaza massacre, authored by a respected South African Jewish judge, was ignored. Obama’s healthcare reform has been criticised as hopelessly compromised for failing to remove profit (i.e. insurance companies) from the equation. Copenhagen looks like Kyoto II. Only worse.

And Wall Street, having been bailed out, is back to its greedy ways, paying record bonuses to employees for an excellent job wrecking the world’s economy. Perhaps the most ironic image of this iconic president is his receiving the Nobel Peace Prize shortly after ordering 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan. Just last
month, he announced he would not sign the International Mine Ban Treaty. In September, he okayed the US’s biggest defence budget ever at US$663bil.

Bush must be pleased.

Barely one year after taking office, Obama is no longer looking as newly minted and hopeful as the day he set out on his inspiring election campaign.

On the home front, we saw Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak become Malaysia’s sixth Prime Minister on April 3, promising reform and a more inclusive administration. 1Malaysia became the catchphrase of his administration with its tagline of People First, Performance Now.

The new Prime Minister released 13 ISA detainees 10 days after coming to power but did not abolish the ISA. He also removed the 30% bumiputra equity requirement from 27 sub-sectors within the service industry and moved to curb the worrying crime rate. Today, Malaysians are seeing more policemen on the streets, whether in the makeshift beat bases, roadblocks or even on horseback. The effects on crime have, happily, been telling.

Not everything is shipshape, however.

The toppling of the Perak’s Pakatan government has seen an ugly series of events taking place, from the defections of PKR reps to BN after their arrests by the MACC and the MB vs MB battles, to the assembly sitting under a tree and the forcible removal of Perak speaker V. Sivakumar from the state assembly by the police.

The Perak Debacle cast a shadow over our important institutions, including the monarchy, judiciary, police, and MACC – which brings us Teoh Beng Hock’s shocking death following a mysterious plunge from the
MACC HQ after being held for overnight questioning.

Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister Kohilan Pillai reported that 210,00 Malaysians migrated between Jan and August this year, compared to 94,000 between Mac and Dec 2008. The brain drain is worsening.

Did the chaotic political situation play any part in this?

On another note, Malaysians mourned the passing of one of its best filmmakers. Yasmin Ahmad died aged 51, just six movies into her remarkable film career. A maker of TV commercials and films who had always celebrated multiculturalism, Yasmin was the face of 1Malaysia before there was a 1Malaysia. Her untimely death was a loss not only to the entertainment industry but also to the country.

Elsewhere in the world, Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao was the outstanding athlete of 2009 after having singlehandedly put the excitement back in boxing. Pacquiao, considered the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter, set the boxing world alight after he pulled off three stunning victories over Oscar de La Hoya (TKO,
Dec 2008), Ricky Hatton (KO, April 2009) and Miguel Cotto (TKO, Nov 2009).

Pacman is set for immortality and what is widely expected to be the biggest payout in boxing history if he and Floyd Mayweather can agree to a showdown. Meanwhile, he’s gunning for a congressional seat in May.

On the flip side, Tiger Woods — always brilliant, never controversial — fell from grace and became the butt of jokes after a car crash opened the floodgates to his many extramarital affairs.

But the biggest news of them all this year is probably the seismic shift taking place in world politics. One day when we look back on 2009, we will perhaps see it as the crucial moment when the West relinquished its leadership role.

With the memories of Guantanamo and the deceptions and miseries of Iraq and Afghanistan still fresh in the mind, the world saw just how much havoc the neoliberal economic model and its promulgation of unfettered greed could wreak. And what did the West prescribe as remedy?

Bailouts, easy credit, stimulus packages; in short, the very things they warned Asian economies against during the economic flu of 10 years prior.

That China is credited with pulling the world, especially the Asian economies, out of the current slump, is a sign of the times. As is the fact that a communist country (in ideology, at least) now bankrolls the world’s mightiest capitalist country.

Just 20 short years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the West trumpeted the “end of history” and proclaimed their free market and democratic system as the only model left standing, that triumphalism has
been deflated.

Don’t we live in interesting times?

Credit: Wednesday 30 December 2009 StarSpecial