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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Malay Political Sophistry, Not Sophistication

Malay Political Sophistry, Not Sophistication
M. Bakri Musa

The Malay community’s underdevelopment is not confined to only one or two areas, for example, the often cited and very obvious spheres of economics and education. On the contrary Malay underdevelopment is widespread, to include especially our understanding of our faith Islam. I do not mean to shock by my assertion. Rather this state of affair is obvious except to those who refuse to acknowledge it. The Islam that is being practiced by Malays today has been reduced to the mindless repetition of its rituals. As Islam is central to Malay life, I will address this particular issue in depth later (Part Seven).

            Malays are proud of our dominance in politics. That however is purely the consequence of demography, not political skills, maturity, or sophistication. Our politics resembles more of the Third World authoritarian variety rather of mature democracies. Malay political skills despite our over representation in that sphere are still primitive. As a result, we are unable to leverage our considerable political clout derived from our demographic dominance effectively to solve our problems.

            Instead, the contrary is what is occurring. Our political dominance aggravates our problems. As a community we are obsessed only with achieving political power and not on how to effectively leverage it to benefit our people. Further, politics and political power detract us from other equally vital spheres. We have perverted the political process for our personal gains and in the process making corruption an integral part of our politics and governance. We have legitimized politics as the route to untold riches through our acceptance of cronyism, corruption and nepotism among its players.

            The other sphere where Malays could claim dominance is the civil service. Again, this is not achieved through merit rather through legislative fiat, the imposition of strict quotas and constitutional provisions. As such we cannot be proud of our achievement; it is not legitimate. As a consequence, the civil service is far from being exemplary or a source of pride. It is the but the butt of endless jokes and embarrassments. The civil service is on par with our political institutions in being corrupt, incompetent and ineffective.

            The fragility and incompetence of both the civil service and political institutions are readily exposed in their inability to handle seemingly routine and minor conflicts. Because of this ineptness and frank naiveté, trivial administrative problems are let to fester until they explode. At the local level, minor conflicts over stray dogs for example would quickly escalate, threatening our fragile social stability by pitting members of one community against another.

            What should be a simple public health and safety matter (preventing dog bites and subsequent risk of rabies, a major problem in China and India, and now fast becoming one in many parts of Malaysia) is allowed to degenerate through administrative and political incompetence into a potentially acrimonious communal conflict between Malays, who generally consider dogs as dirty and haram while to Chinese they are favorite family pets.

            In American cities there are ordinances requiring those walking their dogs to carry plastic bags to pick up their droppings. Failure to have those bags or pick up the dog’s waste would result in severe fines. Dogs must also be on a leash, and stray dogs will be captured. If they are not claimed within a few weeks they are “put to sleep.” Owners of certain breeds (like pit bulls) also have to carry liability insurances. These are sensible rules to serve the public good. Yet we are unable to establish them without getting entangled in silly and dangerous public arguments about race.

            At the national level, consider the annual exercise of awarding scholarships to Sijil Persekutuan Malaysia (SPM) candidates. This is not a matriculating examination; those students still have to undertake two more years of schooling before they could qualify for university entrance. Meaning, SPM is only slightly above middle school qualification. Yet invariably around June of each year there would be a national outcry over the distribution of scholarships based on this examination. We are not here dealing with graduate fellowships or post-doctoral grants!

            Again, like the municipal dog ordinance (or lack of), this scholarship problem could be readily solved through simple transparent administrative rules. For example, instead of using SPM scores which are poor predictors of academic success anyway, why not wait till these students are actually accepted to top universities and only then award them the scholarships. Publish the list of acceptable universities where these scholarships would be tenable and then if there are too many students for the funds available, have a sliding scale so those who are well off get less money. Such a simple and sensible solution, yet it escapes these Malay politicians and civil servants, again reflecting their incompetence and lack of imagination in solving the nation’s problems.

Next:  Failure of Institutions And Personnel

Adapted from the author’s book, Liberating The Malay Mind, published by ZI Publications, Petaling Jaya, 2013. The second edition was released in January 2016.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Many Bedeviling Malay Hantus

The Many Bedeviling Malay Hantus
M. Bakri Musa

The central and controlling figure in many Malay myths is the hantu (ghost, devil, or evil spirit). Hantu is powerful and mysterious, beyond the realm of rational explanation. What, whom, or when the hantu wants, it gets. When Malay parents want to frighten or thus control their young they invoke the fear of hantu, as with hantu senja (twilight) to scare us from playing outside after dark, or hantu laut (sea), from venturing out to sea. The mere mention of hantu would be enough to bring the most recalcitrant son back into the fold.

            Malay political leaders too have learned that silly little trick from our parents. Unable and unwilling to comprehend and thus come up with solutions to our community’s problems, they resorted to invoking these various hantus to instill fear and thus effect control on their followers, just as surely as our parents did when we were toddlers.

            First there was the old standby, the hantu of colonialism. All our problems then were related to the machinations of those heartless, terrible foreign devils. Those colonials were also white, the very color of our devils! Colonialism is now long gone, and with it the fear of its hantu. Our problems should then also be gone. Hardly! Those hantus are resilient creatures, readily morphing into new forms. Enter the hantu of neo-colonialism.

            As in all hantu stories, the rational mind could readily see through the holes in the plot, but we suspend our rational thinking. Consider the hantu of colonialism. Yes, it was evil, but if you were to ask the Chinese in Hong Kong about their “suffering” through a century of British colonial hantu, they would thank their lucky stars. At least they were spared the convulsions of the Cultural Revolution and other mass hysteria that regularly gripped their kin on the mainland. Even if you were to pose the same question today, those Hong Kong Chinese would much prefer their old hantu of colonialism to the variant now haunting them from Beijing.

            After over half a century of independence, the hantu of colonialism (and its variant, of neocolonialism) has lost its spell among Malays. We are no longer gripped with fear whenever it is invoked. Our leaders now have to invent new ones, again illustrating their and our ignorance.

            Enter hantu pendatang (of immigrants). Never mind that those pendatangs have been with us for generations, it is only now that their hantu is being mobilized. This hantu pendatang holds its greatest grip on those ultra-Malays within UMNO as well as outside, as with PERKASA (the acronym for a Malay ultra-right wing group). Just in case hantu pendatang does not scare us enough, we have also invoked hantu globalisasi (globalization). It too is bent on doing Malays in, if we can believe our leaders.

            There is much that we do not know why Malays remain marginalized in our own country despite it now being under our own leadership. To me this ignorance is a problem, not a mystery. We need to study and analyze it, and venture beyond mere pontificating and posturing. We must also be diligent in assessing the magnitude of our problem as well as be ruthless in evaluating the effectiveness of our interventions.

            We must also appreciate that these problems are not unique unto us. Others too have experienced and are experiencing them. Some are more successful in overcoming theirs, others less so. We must thus have the humility and willingness to learn from others; from the former on what to do and the latter, on what not to.

            The necessary ingredients for this exercise are first of all humility. We must have the humility to acknowledge our ignorance. That is not only a prerequisite to but would also ease our learning. Beyond that we have then curiosity and the urge to explore new and all avenues, fearless of where those might lead us. We must also be smart so we could craft novel and effective solutions while not repeating the same mistakes. Most of all, we must have a free mind so we could approach our problems with an open mind. Mindless chanting of verses from holy texts would not do it, nor would endless hollering of slogans attributed to our ancient mythic heroes.

Next:  Political Sophistry, Not Sophistication

Adapted from the author’s book, Liberating The Malay Mind, published by ZI Publications, Petaling Jaya, 2013. The second edition was released in January 2016.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Time For Single-Payer Helath Insurance - Support SB 562, The Healthy California Act

Time for Single-Payer Health Insurance – Support The Healthy California Act
M. Bakri Musa, M.D.

Insurance companies are the problem; they are not the solution to our current healthcare crisis. The current system is not sustainable, prohibitively expensive, and leave many vulnerable. It is for these reasons that physicians at St. Louise Regional Hospital last month (June 15, 2017) endorsed SB 562, The Healthy California Act, that would provide universal healthcare coverage to all Californians through a single-payer system.

            We depart from our colleagues elsewhere in the state who have chosen to remain silent on this important legislative initiative. Physicians have an obligation to the public in general and our patients in particular to assert our views on such matters. Remaining silent is not a responsible option.

            This legislation is now on hold by the Speaker of the State Assembly. Physicians should grab this opportunity to emulate our fellow professionals in the California Nurses Association in being engaged–and early–so we could have a voice in fleshing out the details of SB 562. Remaining silent would reduce us to be marginal players at best, and be ignored at worst. This legislation will impact us directly.

            Physicians currently navigate a byzantine trail just to get “Treatment Authorization Requests” (TAR) for our patients. We go through a gauntlet of voice mails telling us to “Press 1 for …, Press 2 ….” Our calls are important, we are being repeatedly assured, but not important enough to warrant insurance companies to hire a human being to answer them.

            Patients are assaulted with daunting, mindless and repetitious patient information slips at every encounter. Couldn’t these insurance companies issue “smart cards” like what those Taiwanese have? If with my not-so-smart credit card I could shop at any store in any country with ease, surely our health insurance card could do better than issue just identification cards.

            Peruse your medical bills. Even the most sophisticated struggles to decipher the “Explanation of Benefits,” what with terms like “not covered services,” deductibles, and co-pays liberally sprinkled to justify their reneging to pay in full.

            Health insurers have tinkered with the system with PPOs (Preferred Provider Organizations) and their bewildering list of in-network providers and fee schedules, through capitations and managed care (HMOs), all in the guise of “quality care” and “cost containment.”

            An alphabet soup of initials later, the ugly reality is that providers are crushed with administrative load that impedes quality and compassionate care, quite apart from imposing delays and needless costs. Meanwhile the obscene compensations to healthcare insurance executives escalate unabated.

            Time to get rid of insurance companies and have a single-payer system. The Canadians and Taiwanese are very satisfied with theirs. Their healthcare indices too are far superior to ours, and costs much lower.

            For many Americans, financial catastrophe is only an illness or accident away. SB 562 would spare them that fear.

            As with the introduction of Medicare two generations earlier, the same old bogeyman of socialized medicine is being resurrected against SB 562. Many, including doctors are again being trapped by labels. Is Medicare or Social Security socialistic?

            Worth noting that while Medicare is a governmental program, it is run by private contractors. Civil servants dictating to doctors is a myth. What is not are doctors being dictated to by insurers.
            The legislative analyst estimated that SB 562 would cost an eye popping $400 billion annually. What is not appreciated is that we already spend about $370 billion today, while still leaving 2.7 million Californians uninsured. About a third of those insured are vulnerable because of high deductibles and co-pays. Further, taxpayers contribute over half of that $400 billion through Medicare, MediCal, and county hospitals.

            A small but not insignificant portion is borne exclusively by providers and hospitals through uncompensated care. We don’t mandate restaurants to feed the hungry, nor hoteliers to house the homeless. We accept that as our societal obligation.
            If all my bills were paid (under SB 562 they would be!), I could lower my fees by a third and would still take home the same amount. With the reduced administrative load of a single payer, I could cut further my fees. With the negotiating clout of nearly 40 million Californians, we would slash the price of drugs and supplies, as currently enjoyed by the Veterans Administration and Canadians.

            An independent study shows that with SB 562 today’s healthcare would have cost about 340 billion, not the current 370. With that we would cover all Californians and upgrade those currently underinsured.

            With SB 562 we would trade insurance premiums for taxes. The latter could be increased only with a supra-majority vote; with premiums, the whims of insurance executives.

            Providing health insurance for all Californians is the right thing to do. That is why St. Louise doctors endorse SB 562. That it would also streamline our practices, pay all our bills, and reduce our administrative load are but welcomed bonuses.

The writer, a general surgeon in private practice in Gilroy, is former President of St. Louise Regional Hospital Medical Staff, Gilroy, Ca. A slightly version of this article wappeared as the in as an Op-Ed piece in the Gilroy Dispatch June 30, 2017.