Najib offers aid to palm oil farmers ahead of election

KUALA LUMPUR, July 23 (Reuters) - Prime Minister Najib Razak gave cash handouts and offered debt waivers on Sunday to Malaysian palm oil farmers, a key voter base for the scandal-hit leader who is preparing to seek re-election. Addressing tens of thousands of farmers and small landowners in the administrative capital Putrajaya, south of Kuala Lumpur, Najib said 94,956 eligible families will be given 5,000 ringgit each - costing the government 475 million ringgit ($111 million). Additional funds amounting to over 950 million ringgit ($222 million) would be used to erase the debts of the farmers who are all linked to state plantation company Federal Land Development Authority (Felda), and are often called Felda settlers. A portion of loans taken to buy shares in Felda Global Ventures (FGV), a listed unit of Felda, will also be waived, Najib said. "Putrajaya would not have existed without the Felda settlers," Najib said in his speech to the settlers, state news agency Bernama reported. "The presence of more than 25,000 settlers in the celebration reflects the support of Felda settlers for the government in which they are the hard core supporters of the government in the land schemes." Felda settlers, who are ethnic Malay, are the majority voters in at least 54 of the 222 parliamentary seats. They have been a solid vote bank for Najib's ruling coalition as urban Malays have poured into the opposition camp in recent years, alienated by a series of political scandals. Najib's coalition lost the popular vote in the last general election in 2013, but still won a majority of seats. Getting settlers' votes in the upcoming polls is critical for Najib's party, which has been accused of graft and mismanagement at a state-linked firm. State fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), founded by Najib, is being investigated in at least six countries for money laundering. A management crisis at FGV has also frustrated settlers, who are already disappointed by the near 70 percent plunge in the company's shares. Many of them had taken loans to buy shares in FGV following its $3 billion listing in 2012. Malaysia's anti-corruption agency is investigating officials at FGV, with the FELDA chairman himself raising questions about what happened to the IPO proceeds. Najib is expected to call an election earlier than the scheduled time of mid-2018, as he may want to take advantage of an economic recovery and a currently fractured opposition.

Malaysia bans ‘Despacito’ on national radio and TV for offensive lyrics

A parody of Despacito that has gone viral with over 370,000 views.
Screengrab/ SGAG
Kuala Lumpur - Malaysia has banned the catchy summer dance song "Despacito" from state radio and television broadcasts after critics in the Muslim-majority country complained the lyrics were obscene. The ban was announced on the government's Radio Televisyen Malaysia (RTM) on Wednesday (July 19) by Salleh Said Keruak, the communications and multimedia minister, but the song can still be played on private stations and online platforms. "As such, RTM will not be airing the song on any of its television or radio stations with immediate effect," the minister said in a statement to Reuters, adding that the decision followed complaints from the public. "This decision applies only to RTM," he added. "All other TV and radio stations are guided by their own evaluation processes against the Communications and Multimedia Content Code." The women's wing of a Malaysian Islamist party, Amanah, had called for a ban over the song's "obscene lyrics". "I see this as a serious matter as the song is being sung by young people without knowing the real meaning of the words," Amanah official Atriza Umar said in a statement. The song, first released in January in Spanish by Puerto Rican singer Luis Fonsi and rapper Daddy Yankee and then in a remixed version featuring Justin Bieber, has topped charts in 35 countries around the world and dominated radio. Its 4.6 billion streams on leading platforms make it the most successful Spanish-language pop song of all time. Malaysia has previously blocked the release of Hollywood movies deemed offensive to religious values. The release of Walt Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" was postponed this year after censors cut a "gay moment" in the film. Here are some quirky renditions of the hit song that popped up on social media news feeds recently. A Singapore production by social media site SGAG, "Breakfasito" was released during the Ramadan period and has since been viewed over 370,000 times. Another parody was done by some talented Malaysians who rewrote the lyrics into a song about a heartbroken man who was cheated on by his lover. The entire song is in Malay and has been viewed around 3,500 times. Posted by Malaysian TV artiste Danny Koo on his personal Facebook page, his cover of Despacito in a mix of Mandarin and Malay garnered him almost 760,000 views. A four-year project in the making, the wife of Raúl Amador Márquez recorded his snoring and remixed it with the help of her nephew to the tune of Despacito. The video went viral after Peruvian actress Daniela Camaiora shared it on Facebook according to The Daily Mail. Last but not least, who can forget this rendition by Philippino-Canadian singer and funnyman which has garnered more than 2.8 million video views on YouTube. Word of caution: What has been seen cannot be unseen.

What's Happening

China’s debt spectre could haunt Fed’s policy meetings

HONG KONG, July 24 (Reuters) - In September 2015, the U.S. Federal Reserve cited risks from China as a key reason for delaying its first interest rate hike in a decade. A wall of Chinese debt maturing in the next few years could jolt the country back into the U.S. central bank's policy deliberations. Two years ago, it was a collapse in Chinese stocks, a surprise yuan devaluation and shrinking foreign exchange reserves that roiled financial markets that delayed the Fed, but it did raise rates three months later and has tightened further since. Now, some see risks emerging in China's dollar-denominated bonds that could give the Fed greater pause for thought as it raises rates, even as other central banks signal a shift from ultra-easy policy. To be sure, Fed officials have not publicly flagged China's debt as a major risk in their policy discussions. However, debt analysts point to the possibility of another September 2015 moment in which the Fed takes its cues from concerns about China. "Back then, I said that U.S. monetary policy is not made in Washington, it's made in Beijing," said Joachim Fels, global economic advisor at bond giant PIMCO. "China does have a major impact on monetary policies elsewhere ... This year has been smooth sailing for global central banks because there were no shockwaves from China but I expect that to change if we think beyond the next few months." The outstanding amount of dollar bonds issued by Chinese entities has grown almost 20 times since the 2008-09 global financial crisis to just over half a trillion dollars, according to data from the Bank for International Settlements. Since September 2015, it has grown almost 50 percent. China's dollar bonds are now almost a third of the emerging market total dollar issuance, up from a quarter in September 2015 and less than 5 percent before the Fed first began printing money in December 2008. A fifth of China's dollar bonds mature within a year, according to BIS data. More than half are due in the next five, Thomson Reuters data show. If U.S. borrowing costs start rising as a result of the Fed's exit from its unconventional monetary policy, that debt would have to be rolled over at higher costs, chipping away at the real economy in China. Alternatively, Chinese companies might decide to refinance their debt in local currency, creating weakening pressure on the yuan. Either development would reverberate globally and create a major external challenge for Fed policy. FEEDBACK LOOP For its part, the Fed doesn't see any immediate dangers with China's dollar debt. "You'll find if you look at China they certainly have dollar-denominated debt but ... you'll see that they are not as reliant on external debt as people might have thought," Dallas Fed chief Robert Kaplan said in Mexico City on Friday. Also, a significant portion of Chinese dollar borrowing makes economic sense -- such as companies funding overseas investment projects. And if those dollars are converted into yuan, they could help ease any weakening pressure on the Chinese currency. For now, dollar borrowing conditions remain stable with 10-year benchmark U.S. yields still low by historical standards, despite four Fed rate hikes since September 2015. Broadly, the dollar is as strong now as it was back then. Indeed, the bigger risk focus for many analysts currently is not China's dollar bonds, but its local currency debt, which ratings agencies estimate to be almost three times the size of the economy. But analysts say that the longer China's rapid accumulation of dollar debt continues, the harsher the future adjustment for the economy will be, especially if lenders start repricing Chinese credit risk. "Regardless of how you cut your pie, you'll discover debt is a big problem. China has made a major contribution to global leverage since 2008," said Aidan Yao, senior emerging Asia economist at Axa Investment Managers. "When markets start to wobble, there's a feedback loop that has an impact on the Fed's trajectory. Policy normalisation is not going to be in a straight line." A forced deleveraging could renew weakening pressure on the yuan as dollars find their way out of the country, although capital controls help mitigate that risk. "While the market generally believes that money flows have stabilised and the worst of the yuan's slide is over, the reality may well be the opposite," said Kevin Lai, chief economist for Asia ex-Japan at Daiwa Capital Markets. "As more dollar debt has been taken up, the pressure on outflows is merely being delayed. Such pressure is also getting bigger, not smaller. This would eventually feed into even bigger downward pressure for the yuan."

Japan PM Abe denies favours for friend amid falling support

TOKYO, July 24 (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, his ratings sinking over a suspected cronyism scandal, said on Monday he had never instructed that preferential treatment be given to a long-time friend and that his friend had never lobbied for favours. Abe and his aides have repeatedly denied intervening to help Kake Gakuen (Kake Educational Institution) win approval for a veterinary school in a special economic zone. Its director, Kotaro Kake, is a friend of Abe. Abe acknowledged that Kake had been his friend since they were students and told a special session of parliament's lower house budget committee that Kake had "never once" sought favours. "There was no request or lobbying regarding the establishment of a new veterinary school," Abe said. Asked if he had intervened in the approval process, Abe said: "I have never issued instructions regarding specific cases." The scandal, and a perception among many voters that Abe's administration is taking them for granted, are encouraging rivals and casting doubt on Abe's hopes for a third three-year term as ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader. Several opinion polls have shown Abe's support has plunged below 30 percent and, while this does not immediately threaten his job, it does cloud the longer-term outlook. Abe was until recently seen as being on track to become Japan's longest-serving prime minister by winning a third three-year term when his current tenure ends in September 2018. Further pressure is likely to come from Sunday's victory by an opposition candidate in a mayoral election for the northern city of Sendai. That follows an historic defeat for the LDP in elections for the Tokyo assembly earlier this month, a devastating blow since much of Abe's clout has come from his record of leading the party to victories at the polls. A July 22-23 Mainichi newspaper poll published on Sunday showed Abe's support slipping 10 points to 26 percent from the previous survey in June. It also showed that 56 per cent of respondents did not back Abe's government, a 12 point rise. Also scheduled to appear at Monday's session are Abe's aide, Hiroto Izumi, and Kihei Maekawa, who resigned as the education ministry's top bureaucrat in January and has accused the government of distorting the approval process for the veterinary school. Abe is expected to reshuffle his cabinet early next month in an effort to repair his damaged ratings, a step often taken by beleaguered leaders but one that can backfire if novice ministers become embroiled in scandals or make gaffes. Also in trouble is Defence Minister Tomomi Inada, an Abe protege, who faces calls to resign over media reports of direct involvement in a ministry cover-up of documents about a sensitive peacekeeping operation. She denies the reports Opposition lawmakers are also expected to grill Abe about media reports that Inada allowed defence officials to conceal logs about the activities of the Self-Defense Forces, as Japan's military is known, in a U.N.-led peacekeeping operation in South Sudan.

These 5 specialist bars in KL are perfect for every type of drinking occasion

There is no shortage of good watering holes in Kuala Lumpur, but what if all you want is a glass of great Japanese whiskey and nothing else? The beauty of going to specialist bars is not only in the range of choices you can get for a particular drink, but also the guaranteed quality of expertise you can expect to receive on a particular drink type. Whatever your poison of choice, these five bars are definitely worth a visit the next time you need a reason to raise a toast. JungleBird [caption id="attachment_354407" align="alignnone" width="960"] JungleBird's Facebook page[/caption] Specialty: Rum Where: 15, Plaza Damansara, Jalan Medan Setia 1, Bukit Damansara, 50490 Kuala Lumpur If the tropical flavours of rum are your thing, this bar at Bukit Damansara is a good bet. Although big palm trees and Hawaiian shirts make up the design of this place, its decor and presentation remains classy and unique. With a fun-but-not-too-crazy vibe, JungleBird is the kind of place you go to let your hair down and enjoy a couple of drinks with friends and colleagues. Claret Wine Bar [caption id="attachment_354409" align="alignnone" width="640"] Claret Wine Bar at Troika Sky Dining's Facebook page[/caption] Specialty: Wine Where: Level 23a, Tower B, The Troika, 19 Persiaran KLCC, 50450 Kuala Lumpur Perched on the 23rd floor of The Troika, Claret Wine Bar is the type of place you bring business associates you want to impress. The jazz music, luxe interior and breathtaking views make Claret undeniably one of the most elegant bars in KL today. Relaxing yet sophisticated, Claret offers an extensive selection of curated wines and other drinks that will leave you spoilt for choice. PS150 [caption id="attachment_354410" align="alignnone" width="960"] PS150's Facebook page[/caption] Specialty: Cocktails Where: 150 Ground Floor, Jalan Petaling, City Center, 50000 Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Probably one of KL’s hottest bars, PS150 is well known for its creative twists on familiar drinks. You can trust the bartenders here with your drinks for sure - co-founder and head bartender Angel Ng is one of KL’s most well known mixologists, taking the crown at last year’s Kuala Lumpur Gin Jubilee with her Cantabria Imperial, a gin & tonic made with hibiscus gin and flowers. The establishment itself has an alluring history - the pre-war shophouse it calls home is located in Chinatown and was once a brothel. Its entrance is hard to find and its opium den-inspired interiors give it an air of secrecy and mystery. If you’re looking to wow and surprise, this would be the place to bring your guest. Torii [caption id="attachment_354411" align="alignnone" width="960"] Torii's Facebook page[/caption] Specialty: Japanese whisky Where: 8, Jalan Batai, Bukit Damansara, 50490 Kuala Lumpur Simple and modern, this Jalan Datuk Sulaiman restaurant is all about two things - yakitori and whisky. The bar area is dedicated to Malaysia’s largest selection of Japanese whisky but also includes various types of Scotch from Speyside to Islay. This is the kind of place you go to when you feel like forgoing the pretense, and simply want to have a really great drink with friends and business associates. Plus, they don’t just serve meat skewers. The wagyu steaks (A3 to A5) are beautifully cooked and the perfect accompaniment to the premium whisky served here. Taps Beer Bar [caption id="attachment_354415" align="alignnone" width="780"] Taps Beer Bar Facebook page[/caption] Specialty: Beer Where: Jalan Nagasari, Bukit Bintang, 50200 Kuala Lumpur, It’s the weekend and the weather is hot and humid. The perfect cure, without a doubt, is a pint of ice cold beer and random banter with friends and family. Equipped with 15 beers on tap at the 1 Mont Kiara Mall branch, and 14 at Jalan Nagasari, Taps is a craft beer heaven for those who can appreciate a good ol' mug of frothy golden goodness. The decor is warm, friendly and perfect for just chilling out on a lazy Saturday night. And it doesn’t hurt to know that the food is pretty raved about too.

Your approach to yoga may have been wrong all along – here’s why

The point of stillness in your own posture is the goal, not what the posture looks like in the mirror. Source: Maria Lourdes Chan
The popularity of yoga is experiencing a boom, just 40 years or so since it was introduced commercially to the Western world. But modern-day yoga and how it’s run is slightly off-track. Today’s yoga model is a business. Yoga is, by and large, sold as a fitness regime, with studios running on a gym or club model – that is, on a “membership” scheme. You buy class packages, and are encouraged to look at facilities as part of your decision-making process on where you practice. The truth of yoga is that it is an education that doesn’t just make better bodies, it makes the practitioner better at dealing with life. But because the “gym model” is so prevalent in yoga, students are approaching the practice in a skewed way and it’s time for the dynamic to change. Here are 5 tips on how to create a mind-shift that will affect the way you view yoga, and how you practice. Don’t let your GuavaPass determine where you practice. Choose your studio based on who’s teaching, not on how much a class costs. Look first and foremost at the quality of the teachers and programme, just like you would a university. The questions to ask are: Who are the teachers? Who did they study with, and what lineage does the yoga they teach come from? If you’re new, just finding a style you enjoy is the goal, and that’s where cheap classes, trial sessions and GuavaPasses come in handy. But as someone moving into more regular practice, ask who, ultimately, you would be learning from. Yes, how much you can afford will be a consideration, and that’s fine. But the idea here is, don’t chase the price tag – make quality the priority. Don’t relate to your yoga teachers like they’re a gym trainer. Many students – whether they know it or not – relate to their teacher as they would their gym trainer. It’s not their fault, it’s again because yoga is perceived as “fitness”. Yoga, traditionally, is not “gym training” or simply “exercise”. Yoga, beyond the physical, is a meditation technique. Meditation is defined as “concentration”. Each posture or pose allows you to focus very deeply on the part of the body you’re working. You also are given the opportunity to look at how you are approaching the pose, and how you relate to your body. Over time, the effect is that you know your own mind. So, relate to your teacher as a sinsei, one who can Show You The Way. Your teacher is not just a physical trainer. They are someone who is helping you open the door to deeper self-realisation. Select one yoga to practice. There’s a “buffet” approach to yoga, thanks to yoga centres “diversifying”.  In order to appeal to the masses, many commercial centres will offer everything from Hatha to Yin. The result is confusion. One moment, you’re doing Vinyasa. The next, you’re checked into a Bikram class. The following week, you’re signing yourself up for an Ashtanga session. This approach leads to a focus on what “entertains” you, and distracts you from actually learning. So, pick one discipline to follow. If you love Ashtanga, find out who the foremost authority is in your area, and learn from the teachers there. If you’re into Iyengar, go to the centre in your country. Be a seeker. Get as close to the original source of the yoga as you can, and absorb. The point is not the posture. Often, questions arise when a posture is taught in class. Questions like “how do I do Crow?” and “how do I improve my hand stand?” show a curious mind that is interested in progress. But the definition of yoga “asana”, which means “posture”, is actually: “Posture holding still, breathing always normal”. When one holds posture in perfect stillness with ease of breath, is where yoga actually happens. Yoga champions have a say that it’s not about getting into the posture, it’s about what you do there. The point of stillness in your own posture – whatever it may be at this moment – is the goal, not what the posture looks like in the mirror.  Understand that yoga is actually therapy. In the system of Ayurveda, which yoga comes from, postures were used to help with diseases and chronic health issues, from heart issues and hypertension to diabetes. Traditionally, specific postures were “prescribed” by Ayurvedic doctors to individuals, based on the health needs of each person. How does this relate to you? Save this information for when you need it. If you’re young and in reasonable health, know that yoga is an option for you when you’re old and infirm. Yoga, when you’re 80 and can no longer run, will be waiting patiently for you to discover it, and for your journey to begin. Jill Alphonso is a writer and has been a yoga practitioner of 15 years. She has taught Bikram yoga since 2013, and has participated in the International Yoga Asana Championships.

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Cheong wins gold at Fina World Championships, becomes Malaysia’s first diving world champ

National diver Cheong Jun Hoong won Malaysia's first-ever gold medal at the International Federation (Fina) World Championships in Budapest on Wednesday, beating 12 other top participants. Her win (397.50 points) upset the Chinese team in the women's 10m platform diving event, beating defending Olympic gold medalist Ren Qian (391.95) who took the bronze. Chinese Si Yajie (396.0 points) won the silver medal. Cheong, 27, who is from Perak, was ranked fourth after the first two dives but moved to the top spot in an unexpected comeback. She was ranked seventh in the final based on results from the semi-final stage. Cheong had already won a bronze medal at the event with team mate Pandelela Rinong in the synchronised platform event. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak joined Malaysians on Thursday (July 20) in celebrating her gold. He wrote in a Twitter post: "Congratulations @cheongjunhoong! First world champion #Negaraku in the women's platform event at #FINABudapest2017."