Thursday, December 04, 2008

What will you defend in S'pore?

Hopefully, S'poreans can look beyond self-interest in their answers
By Goh Chin Lian - as carried in the Straits Times.

I will defend my right to live in a country where the majority votes to keep one party in power.

I will defend my right to live in a country where the majority votes to keep paying excessive amounts for basic services such as water, electricity and telecom services so that these formerly national services can go on international shopping sprees from which I gain no absolute or relative benefit.

I will defend my right to live in a country where the world's highest paid goverment officials reside and work.

I will defend my right to live in a country where the Unions appear to be subjugated and are bascially toothless paper toilet trained cats.

I will defend my right to choose to subject myself to all of the above until otherwise.

Now will someone please issue me an M16, an automatic grenade launcher and a Steyr with ammo enough to take on the entire Iraqi forces under Saddam's time please? So that I can proudly defend my nation and my home with its built in bomb shelter on the 21st floor.

Well Done on This Policy!!

When Singaporeans should come last
Shed foreign workers first in tough times, says labour chief
By Goh Chin Lian

Present at The Singapore Tripartism Forum yesterday were (from left) labour chief Lim Swee Say, NTUC president John De Payva, Acting Minister for Manpower Gan Kim Yong and SNEF president Stephen Lee. -- ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

LABOUR chief Lim Swee Say wants companies to put Singaporeans at the end of the queue when shrinking the number of their rank and file workers.

Mr Lim believes the way to go in the current downturn is for firms to let non-Singaporeans go first, by not renewing the contracts and work permits of their foreign workers.

The secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress held up this approach at a forum yesterday with about 450 employers and 100 unionists.

The one-hour dialogue focused on ways to handle worker issues in the current economic downturn, from wages to dealing with excess manpower.

Mr Lim said companies that retain Singaporeans will help to minimise unemployment.

But more importantly, they will have a head start in an upturn, he noted, because they will have enough resident workers to meet the ratio required by the Manpower Ministry to hire foreign workers.

Mr Lim, a Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, was one of three leaders who tackled the questions from employers and unionists.

The other two were Manpower Minister Gan Kim Yong and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) president Stephen Lee.

The question that got them talking about foreign workers came from the general secretary of the United Workers of Petroleum Industry, Mr Karthikeyan Krishnamurthy.

He wanted to know if there were any guidelines for employers on shedding foreign workers first, or can a free-for-all approach be taken.

Mr Lee noted that some companies already do not renew the permits and the contracts of foreign workers when they expire.

To illustrate, Mr Lim gave an example of a factory that has to lay off, say, 10 workers from among 100 workers, half of whom are Singaporeans.

It can expand its workforce more swiftly in a future upturn if it sheds 10 foreigners now instead of five Singaporeans and five foreigners.

'When they have to hire another 10 workers, where do they find the 10 workers? While their competitors are competing for Singaporeans in a tighter labour market, they can quickly ramp up with 10 foreign workers.'

That's because they have the 50 Singaporean workers to meet the required ratio of local to foreign workers.

For instance, the ratio is 1:1 in the service sector, which means companies can employ one foreign worker for each local worker on their payroll.

'It actually makes business sense for companies to release progressively the foreign workers in times of excess manpower, assuming there is no skills mismatch,' he added.

However, the exception is when a foreign worker has a specialised skill that cannot be easily replaced with an untrained Singaporean, Mr Lim said.

Minister Gan emphasised the importance of keeping a balance of foreign and local workers so that companies can keep their operating costs low.

Recalling a conversation with a food manufacturer, he said: 'His remark is that if he is asked to employ only Singaporeans, his cost would have gone up and he would have no choice but to shift the whole company out of Singapore to China.' [Reminiscent of GCT's 'Greed is good' and also a product of the free market / open market system - are there any other choices for this manufacturer? Especially when Singaporeans ourselves want cheaper and cheaper fishballs? This is a good time for ALL Singaporeans to reflect on paying that little bit more to keep the money in OUR economy and to help our fellow countrymen instead of pinching the last penny till blood comes out of it. And yes, that applies to the public sector as well!!]

The 100 Singaporean workers in his company would then lose their jobs.

The call for foreign workers to go first comes amid fears of further retrenchment as the world economy is set to slow further next year.

Compounding the worry is DBS Bank laying off 900 workers here and abroad last month. The labour movement fears more companies may follow the lead of the bank, which is popularly seen as a government-linked entity.

Already, layoffs in the electronics sector are expected to hit 1,000 in the last quarter of this year.

Although more jobs will be at risk, Mr Gan, in a speech at the start of the forum, sought to reassure Singaporeans, saying the country is in a position of strength following several years of good economic growth. Also, its resident employment rate is high, standing at 77 per cent in June this year.

To get workers trained and ready for an economic recovery, Mr Gan also opened the Institute for Adult Learning earlier in the morning.

The institute will further reinforce Singapore's masterplan for the continuing education and training of resident workers.

It will do so by, among other things, training trainers to conduct more effective adult training.

Proposed Wage Schemes

For the Electricity Sector

1. Given that electricity tariffs are adjusted every quarter and

2. Given that the price of electricity is economically elastic, since that is the way the policy on usage and taxation treats electricity pricing

3. Given that Singapore is a free market economy where nothing should stand in the way of potential consumption (read as protectionism in its various forms) then:

It makes obvious sense and is highly recommended that the wages of those in the Electricity generation and distribution channels and networks be adjusted on a quarterly basis as well based on final consumption figures - just like the rates for consumers are adjusted every quarter.

For the Ministerial Sector (including Senior Civil Servants)

1. Given the gross (sic) implementation of the balanced scorecard system in the civil service and

2. Given the competitive (?) benchmarks used from the private sector to determine high level civil service pay then:

It only makes sense that the rest of the private sector system is implemented and this includes wage adjustments every quarter based on performance and KPI fulfillment of each and every Minister.

Also in light of recent private sector developments, perks such as flying First or Business class should now be revoked just like the for the majority of CEOs in the world now.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Opening Up The Web to Politics?

Get it while its hot. The link works as of 2130hrs SST, 2nd December 2008. Not my fault if THEY decide to remove it.

In brief:

[Start Abridged Quote]

Guiding Principles

1.13 Our work was guided by the following four principles:

(a) Government regulation should be used as a last resort

1.14 One of the long-standing debates about the Internet is whether it should and can be regulated. Given the borderless nature of the Internet, it is difficult to enforce laws regulating the Internet across different jurisdictions.

1.15 Hence, one principle is to avoid regulating what is arguably "unregulable". Laws are important, but they should be used only as a last resort. As the maxim goes, "legislate in haste, repent at leisure". Using laws as a first measure to deal with online problems is unwise as the Internet and its users are continuously evolving and can creatively route around laws and regulations, especially if they are not well thought through.

(b) "Free-for-all" is not feasible

1.16 However, placing less emphasis on regulation does not mean that there should be no regulation. The key issue is, what kind of regulation can allow us to harness the benefits of the Internet while minimising the potential for harm? Many dangers lurk in cyberspace and there should be regulations that society can call upon to address such dangers. In all the countries we visited, the consensus is that some regulation of the Internet is necessary, even though enforcement is difficult. Some countries regulate more than others. The question then is how the regulation should be effected.

1.17 In Singapore’s multi-racial and multi-religious society, it is paramount that racial and religious harmony be maintained. Few, if any, dispute that any attempt to disturb harmony in society with racist or hate speech online 8 // Introduction /
or offline must be dealt with swiftly. Even within the more culturally and ethnically homogeneous countries in Europe, denial that the Holocaust occurred is a crime.3 In all the countries we studied, persons responsible for harmful online material like child pornography, sexual predatory practices and sexual grooming face the full force of the law. Where the risk of harm is high, there should be legislation. Conversely, where the risk of harm is low or moderate, the imposition of legal controls should be avoided.

(c) Shifting the focus from regulation towards engagement

1.18 All sorts of opinions are espoused via the Internet, whether moderate or extreme, reasoned or irrational. Traditionally, the Government’s regulatory efforts have been focused on containing extremist and harmful content. Moving forward, the emphasis should be on leveraging on the opportunities that the Internet provides for enhanced communication and engagement between the public and Government.

1.19 There are many groups of people who are utilising the Internet to advance political and civic discussion in a measured and reasoned manner. They want to be heard and are willing to contribute time to thinking about and proposing solutions. This should be encouraged. It should also be noted that there is a difference between being heard and being watched. Netizens want to be heard, not watched.

(d) Community participation is key

1.20 The sheer amount of content available on the Internet makes it impossible for any one agency to monitor and regulate it efficiently. The wider community has a role to play in fostering an online environment which is conducive to the good of society. A relationship built on trust among all parties is more likely to last compared to one built on a list of do’s and don’ts. One good example is the former Parents Advisory Group for the Internet (PAGi), a volunteer group made of parents that served as a support network to share ideas and concerns on guiding their children on the use of the Internet.4 Similar volunteer groups should be encouraged and supported.

Keeping an Open Mind

1.21 Harnessing the best of the technology available will require all parties to keep an open mind. As the new media challenges old assumptions, we should all be open to discarding old attitudes and embracing new ones. This applies to both the government and the citizens. Without a mindset shift, we will not be able to reap the full benefits of the new media. At the same time, we should always be mindful of the need to protect Singapore’s interests, social values and institutions.

1.22 The Council is aware that these recommendations will not satisfy everyone. There is always room for improvement and there will be areas which require closer study. The Internet is a never-ending worldwide conversation. We see the recommendations in this report as part of an ongoing conversation which started when the Internet became a part of our lives.

Executive Summary (abridged)

(II) Online Political Content

2.25 New media technology has radically changed the way political contests are fought the world over. In the case of the March 2008 General Election in Malaysia, the result was quite remarkable. In the case of the U.S. Presidential Election that took place in November 2008, the importance of new media is already apparent. Clearly, the new media offers opportunities for the dissemination of political content and views which is readily embraced by digital natives. It is therefore timely to review existing regulations governing the online dissemination of political content. Current regulations have been criticised as being too broad and vague. While such laws might have been effective in curbing the excesses of irresponsible speech, they may also unduly limit the use of what can be a valuable, and probably indispensable, channel of communication.

2.26 Rapid developments in technology since Section 33 of the Films Act was enacted 10 years ago have rendered it irrelevant and extremely difficult to enforce. Meanwhile, Singapore’s socio-political landscape has changed and Singaporeans increasingly want greater political expression.

2.27 The overarching intent of our recommendations is to liberalise existing regulations to encourage active, balanced online political discussion while minimising the adverse effects that such changes could bring.


» Update the Internet Class Licence Scheme

2.28 During our consultations with the public, the need for the Internet Class Licence Scheme was questioned. It was suggested that it be dismantled. Not everyone agrees with this view, however. AIMS believes that the Class Licence Scheme is still relevant in today’s new media
environment. We note that the scheme is a complaints-based system. Under this scheme, the Government practises a "light-touch" policy which has proven effective. It is better to continue with this policy than to remove the scheme and then resort to laws like the Penal Code, which is relatively more heavy-handed.

2.29 However, AIMS recognises that twelve years have passed since the Class Licence Scheme was first established in 1996. We have reviewed the matter and feel that changes are in order for these reasons: First, the rules unnecessarily deter free speech. Second, it has hardly been enforced. Third, Singaporeans deserve more political space. We therefore make the following recommendations:

(a) Lift registration requirement for individuals, bodies of persons and political parties.

AIMS recommends the removal of the registration requirement for individuals, bodies of persons and political parties that provide any programme for the propagation, promotion or discussion of political or religious issues relating to Singapore through the Internet websites.

(b) Make processes of the Class Licence Scheme more transparent

The Media Development Authority (MDA) should study how to make the existing processes more transparent to assuage netizens’ concerns that these rules are in place to clamp down on them. For example, details of MDA investigations should be made public so that people can judge for themselves whether the processes and decisions were fair.

» Extend positive list for Internet election advertising

2.30 Under present regulations, only political parties, their candidates and their election agents may carry out prescribed election advertising activities using new media during the election period. There is a "positive list" of permissible election advertising on the Internet. They are allowed to post photographs or representations of their candidates, party histories, biographies of candidates and their manifestoes on their websites. Political parties are also allowed to host moderated chat rooms and discussion forums on their websites. The use of e-mail to promote or oppose a party or candidate is also allowed, subject to certain conditions.

2.31 We recommend that the Parliamentary Elections Act should be changed
to allow more digital content by expanding the positive list for Internet election advertising. The present list is too restrictive, and denies political contestants greater use of digital technology, which value has been well demonstrated. The extended list should include videos or recordings of live events, such as election rallies, party press conferences and constituency tours. Broadcasts of party manifestoes and stories already aired over radio and TV should also be allowed. So should the use of Web 2.0 technologies, such as blogs and social networks.

2.32 Allowing use of Web 2.0 tools ensures that regulations keep pace with changing technology. With this amendment, all election candidates and their political parties and agents can use podcasts, vodcasts, blogs and other new media tools to promote themselves, their agendas and election manifestoes.

» Liberalise Section 33 of the Films Act

2.33 There is a need to liberalise Section 33 of the Films Act that prohibits the making, distributing and exhibiting of party political films. The key reasons are:

i. The ban on party political films is too wide-ranging and stifling as the definition of a party political film could cover any film that touches on politics or government policies. As a result, films that clearly contribute to well-informed, rational and insightful debate cannot, in theory, be made and exhibited.

ii. Technology has out-paced the law and has made it extremely difficult to enforce. Section 33 can be bypassed using YouTube or other online video-sharing services that cannot be blocked or otherwise regulated without serious damage to Singapore’s interests.

iii. Other legislation is in place to deal with potential threats to our society, like the exploitation of race and religion for political purposes.

iv. Since the introduction of Section 33, Singaporeans have been exposed to a wider spectrum of content online, thanks to extensive use of broadband technology. The present legislation is simply too restrictive.

v. In recent years, new media technology has proven to be an important platform for political purposes. There is no reason why it cannot be responsibly used by political parties and the public at large.

2.34 AIMS has looked at how other countries deal with such issues. Japan and South Korea regulate the use of new media technology for political purposes, though not in the same way as in Singapore. Other countries have no restrictions at all. Singapore cannot blindly adopt what is done elsewhere especially when there is no single "best practice" to follow. We must find solutions that suit our own circumstances. What we should achieve is maximum space for political discourse, but be sensitive at the same time to the need to keep out harmful material online. We believe there are three main ways to liberalise this law. One would be to narrow the scope of the law. Another is to repeal Section 33 altogether. The last option is a combination of the first two options, namely narrow the scope of the law first with a view to eventually repealing it. The three options were submitted to the public for discussion.

2.35 It is, in theory, possible to prohibit political films that are clearly misleading. These could be films that dramatise events, edit footages or splice images together to distort facts and mislead the viewer. We could therefore re-word the definition in the Act to keep out such films, while expanding the space for political discourse. However, the key challenge is the difficulty in defining what distinguishes misleading films from those that should be considered to be valuable and harmless to society as a whole.

2.36 One approach might be to establish an independent advisory panel which should be made up of citizens of high standing, who are non-partisan, and whose views carry weight with the public. The panel’s work should be transparent and its decisions should be made public in order to inspire confidence in its judgments. Its work will however be made even more difficult by technology. In the digital age, films that are denied classification or prevented from being distributed will simply be distributed via YouTube or other video-sharing services. Furthermore, if there is public dissension from the views or decisions of the panel, the entire system may be called into question.

2.37 Another way of liberalising Section 33 of the Films Act would be to repeal it. However, if Section 33 is repealed in its entirety, various risks should be managed. AIMS has considered the following ideas which are discussed in detail in Chapter 2:

(a) Classification rating for political films;
(b) Notification and right of reply; and
(c) Restrict the distribution and exhibition of party political films under the Parliamentary Elections Act.

2.38 If Section 33 is repealed, AIMS proposes that the risks that follow be managed in a more targeted manner by restricting the distribution and exhibition of party political films during elections period under the Parliamentary Elections Act. The proposal is to impose a blackout period for party political films issued by political parties, candidates and
their agents as well as individuals during the election campaign period, beginning from the issue of the writ of election to the end of the polling day. During this blackout period, political parties, candidates and their agents as well as individuals are not allowed to distribute or exhibit new7 party political films as defined under the present Films Act.

2.39 This is again open to criticism. The incumbent political party may be said to have prior knowledge of when a General Election would be called, and may release party political films just before elections are called. In any event, the ability of films to cast an effect on elections may persist long after a film is first shown. Nevertheless, between a "free-for-all" regime, where there are no controls whatsoever, and a "not-at-all" regime, where all online election campaigning is disallowed, we think that this option is a possible compromise.

» Repeal Section 33 in phases

2.40 After much consideration, AIMS recommends repealing Section 33 in phases. We do so for the following reasons: First, the public, like AIMS, accepts that concerns over misleading material are valid. An immediate and outright repeal of Section 33 does not adequately address those concerns. Second, there is value in giving the community an opportunity to evaluate how narrowing the scope of the law would work in practice. Third, while we accept that video-sharing sites like YouTube can allow the law to be circumvented, our recommendation will restrict circulation of prohibited material offline, for example in public screenings and through DVDs. Fourth, partial repeal will assuage the concerns of respondents arguing against total repeal. Therefore, it would be more prudent to abolish the law in stages, rather than immediately and unconditionally.

2.41 As a first step, the Government should decriminalise the making of party political films and narrow the scope of the law to target only party political films that are made to intentionally mislead viewers.

» Section 35

2.42 We did not review Section 35 of the Films Act. However, we received feedback arguing for its repeal. This law essentially gives power to the Minister to ban any film that is against the public interest. Thus far, there is just one film, "Zahari’s 17 Years", that has been known to be banned under this law.

2.43 AIMS is in favour of keeping Section 35 because there are indeed films that are against the public interest. One example of such a film is "Fitna", a film produced by a Dutch film-maker that attacked Islam and which was widely condemned by the general European public. The Government should have the power to deal with such films. AIMS also notes that the Government has used this power very sparingly, as it should be. However, to address concerns of those who fear that Section 35 would be used to limit political debate, we recommend that it should be amended to spell out clearly on what basis the Government should ban a film contrary to the public interest. In addition, AIMS recommends that the independent advisory panel for party political films should advise the Minister before a film is banned under Section 35 and the Minister should be obliged to give reasons for the ban.

2.44 In conclusion, regular revision of the rules will be needed from time to time as social conditions change. It is probably impossible to completely eliminate the risk of destructive online content. The best defence against distortive material is trust – trust that is hard earned and demonstrated. Furthermore, the continued existence of credible sources of mainstream media will help to ensure balanced and informed discussions. It is also in the best interest of those who use new media to press their case to acquire the communications skills to do so.

2.45 Singapore is best served by political discourse that is well-informed, serious and factual. What we seek to do is to allow voters to consider the issues rationally, and not be unduly swayed by films or videos that mislead or trivialise important issues.

[end abridged quote]

Uniquely Singaporean Economic Theorizing

Following my 2 previous posts on why money should be given to Singaporeans for consumption an interesting rebuttal took place.

The gist of that rebuttal over a period of 3 days basically stated that money in the hands of Singaporeans would basically end up flowing out of the country. Hence, money should be given to businesses instead.

Fast forward to today. We read of a hawker who is imploring the authorities to allow them to hire foreigners since the locals apparently consider such jobs way too far beneath their social status / work abilities & likes/dislikes.

Soooo ...... if money is given to businesses it stays in Singapore?

Let's count the ways:

1. Businesses look for lowest cost. Almost everything that a business buys these days, or just about anything in Singapore, is imported. Money flows out.

2. Businesses, again in the interest of lowering costs, are likely to try for foreign workers who command a lower salary with a lower amount of perks. And foreigners will spend more in Singapore then Singaporeans do? OK, I'll be fair and say 50/50 since they have to live here like Singaporeans do, eat here like Singaporeans do and purchase general living items like Singaporeans do. Though I expect that a lot of money gets repatriated back to their home countries - do we collect statistics on this? Perhaps its time to start. Net result. Same amount of money flows out of Singapore anyway no matter who it is given to.

Now if the Singapore government is able to make any darned car go beep while it is driving at no matter what speed, or any motor cycle no matter which part of a lane it is on I see no reason why money given to Singaporeans cannot be contained within our borders. Naturally it all ultimately flows out given that we import everything. Or does it?

Perhaps logic was never my strongest class in university.

Besides, the previously quoted report had funds MEANT exclusively to take Singaporean businesses OUTSIDE of Singapore. Does that mean money is staying in or coming in? I'm not sure. Its hard to understand English as it is used in politics is my opinion - if I'm allowed one.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Pseudo Democracy? Real Choices? Or the choice to return to the DARK side?

Sunday evening prime time news on 5 can be quite a shocker.

Parents to decide what to do with school sessions? The choice is in their hands?

Residents to decide on how to invest Town Council sinking [would have been an excellent pun here] funds? With a veiled threat that if residents choose to invest in Fixed Deposits the funds could diminish in value due to inflation?

WOW! The sudden surge of the push of responsibility and decision making to the general public is GREAT!

I've been calling for it for the longest time. And now its finally beginning to happen.

Now Singaporeans old and young will have to start thinking critically!

This is an opportunity to make democracy work in the community. Or is it?

[As an aside, in the corporate world, when a sale is occuring it signifies only 2 things. One, there is nothing left to make and the market is dry. Two, the impending losses will be unbearable for the selling company thus the urge to hive off the business. There is no such thing as 'strategic posturing' or 'market consolidation.' Its all business school manure they've shovelled down students' throats for 4 years in the prime of their lives.]

Let's take a quick look AGAIN.

Why, why would the Ministry of Education now place the choice of school sessions in the hands of parents? The question for me is how big is that piece of turd that is going to float up in the next few years ...... could be be related to costing? Population explosion / implosion? Not enough or too many foreign students coming? Very interesting puzzle.

Why would Town Councils now allow residents to decide on which funds to invest their excess collections in? Well ... this piece of turd has already floated so. But is there more turd? AND IF residents do make the decisions then do we still need to keep the Town Council chiefs on the payroll? Would the axing of the TC chiefs yield a better return on investment (ROI) as well as return on assets (ROTA) since the chiefs now appear to be neither investments nor assets? And where do the MPs on these Town Councils stand on this issue? Is there some scapegoating going on?

Curious how the freedom to make decisions lead to more questions doesn't it?

The lack of answers is actually more telling!

Will the PAP then proclaim in the coming election that Singapore is even MORE democratic now that we have 'choices' when it comes to some facets of Education as well as the investment of Town Council funds? Is this truly democracy or pseudo democracy?

For me, the process is by far the more important. Thanks to whatever is happening behind the scenes to push these two pseudo democratic practices we will be forced to start making real decisions that will ultimately impact all of us collectively.

And while I feel a twinge of apology for those not accustomed to thinking critically or those who think 'politics are for those who have nothing better to do' I do believe this pain of learning - and there will be some horrendous mistakes along the way - will yield a better and stronger Singapore in the long run. If we don't collectively run back to the nanny's arms the first few times we fall down that is.

Or perhaps that is the strategy after all? Who knows?

Civil Service Pay Cuts!!!

Never thought I'd see this headline. But here it is!

In all fairness. This is an excellent move by the government. Now I wonder why no one is clamouring for pay increases since they are doing a swell job of (going to) leading us out of this impending time of gloom. I would! Our glorious PAP ministers should be paid much more since they are going all out to help Singaporeans to ensure that 'every child is taken care of!'

[I think if any other political party were to say this it would be slammed as WELFARISM straight out. And the public would support that statement too!]

Back two articles/ravings ago on where the money should be spent we can see again that there is some nonsense and political posturing going on.

Ministerial and high level civil servant pay cuts make the headlines because us ordinary mortals have no way in hell of reaching those levels (or do we?). But what is more catching for me is that the bonusses and the salary (AVC / MVC ... whatever) for the rank and file civil servants will also be slashed.

Perhaps it is impolitic for the government to keep civil servant salaries and bonusses intact but once again, our economic model is premised on consumer spending! There I've spelt it out, don't have to read between the lines anymore. Talk about a party making the hard choices. Really? Not pandering to populist pressures eh?

Cutting a $2M salary to $1M hardly boosts consumer spending by much since all right minded staticians and economists know that the $1M cut is actually more hurting on the ego then on the wallet. But cutting 10% of the pay off about 40% of Singapore's workforce (the civil service hires directly and indirectly about 40% of Singaporeans and PRs - they can't tell the difference) with an average household income of $3,700 (2006 GHSS mumbo numbo) will be far more devastating!

Let's try with the numbers
10% pay cut off 2006 GHSS survey (to be generous about it): $370
Population: 4 million
Number of Working Adults: 25% (assumed number of working adults since the DOS keeps changing the damed target)

Total estimated drain on the economy from this 10% wage cut on ordinary civil servants = $370 x 1M. Only $370M. Do we have 370 ministers from which to cut $1M each? (We could get there - 370 ministers - with the current voting patterns and levels of interest in critical thinking and politics.)

And this $370 M is in the hands of the spending public. The nett trickle down effect could well be over $1B after the money has changed hands a little over two times and if we don't whack the 7% GST on top of it which only serves to slow down economic growth in these harsh times.

Oh, and to the numbers people out there reading this and scrutinising the numbers. Don't even think about pointing out 'errors.' It must be error free since this is the same type of logic applied in Parliament last I checked. If the best and brightest are doing it this way it MUST BE RIGHT for all of us.


Let your votes do the talking when the time comes.

State Ownership or State Receivership?

Last week or the week before a Straits Times writer inked about the perils of states going the communist way with a plea to maintain the free market economic model.

Fast foward to this week. The US is bailing out banks and automakers for 'public ownership' stakes ..... communist sounding? There should be a public slap on the face somewhere for someone(s).

We may live in a country that was never meant to exist but sometimes I think our writers (and senior writers) who wield much influence with their keystrokes live in a fantasy far more outrageous. And the effects of their fantasizing are more deletrious on our society then any Marxist or Communist efforts or conspiracy!

[Greed is good for all of us {but especially me since I'm a shareholder in so many companies and/or it will uphold the value of my property} and will keep the economy going!]

Today's crisis is a nett result of greed. The same greed which is once touted as so good by current SM Goh Chok Tong. But this greed also allowed for the accumulation and amassing of wealth, in rather limited hands I think, which has further promoted growth.

What happened to this wealth?

How is it that, in an economic model where growth is supposed to be an ever upward inflationary spiral, all this wealth can be wiped out and lost? As far as an unsavvy investor like me who is a financial know-nothing knows there must be willing buyers for sellers. Yes, prices may drop without buyers and in fact it should but this just goes to demonstrate that wealth is once again an illusory pipe dream. Built on nothing but hot air and mumblings secured by orders placed in black and white to buy or sell.

Can such an economic model sustain the world into the future?

Is it not far better to go a semi-socialist route where public goods are handled and owned by the state though this promotes lower rates of economic (sic) growth (double sic)?

And while the US is scrambling to save companies and banks with tons of strings attached the Singapore goverment is scrambling to issue 'bonds' and 'loans' (intentional inverted commas) which may never materialise since they are premised upon banks first making the move to loan these monies out - a proposal guaranteed to fail since banks are highly risk averse creatures by definition.

But perhaps a more important question is: should those who have made the wealth all these 'invisible' transactions pay a price for this degradation in economic conditions for humanity? Or will the argument that these multi-salaried honchos create jobs and thus wealth once again stay the course?

Singapore on the other hand has gone the route of privatisation for most of its essential services. There appears to be no risk of collapse of say Singapore Power or Singapore Telecoms for instance. Why and how is this so given that other similar companies all around the world are struggling?

Could it be that Singaporeans have been paying SO MUCH that firms such as Singapore Power and Singapore Telecoms will not only weather this storm easily but still have funds to buy up foreign entities? I imagine when I pay my electricity and water bills that a good chunk of it is going to buying some foreign company for which I will have no share holdings in much less any dividends or returns.

Where then does this greed end and what price are Singaporeans willing to pay? Especially in light of the fact that there will be more homeless on the streets now since HDB also privatised and has started farming out its loan activities to private banks (who have refused to divulge the number of forced re-possessions of HDB flats to my knowledge). Will the HDB go into practices where Singaporeans, eventually, as a nation could possibly go into national receivership (bankruptcy proceedings)? While the formerly government services but now privatised companies make a killing buying over half the world?

Who is making whose money anyway and aren't we all Singaporeans?

Say what you want about having enough reserves to tide us till Armageddon but for this practice to filter down to Town Councils, Power companies, other formerly State Owned companies forces Singaporeans (a captive market) to pay far beyond true market value for goods and services.

And market value is based on fair competition, which our writers and senior writers conveniently ignore when blurting out their feelings about how the economic situation should be 'handled.' And why is this so? Because our market is so small it does not make sense to have competition?

Then nationalise the services and provide it at a fair price with real accounting for inflation instead of some mumbo jumbo numbers which cannot be compared year on year due to the apparent lack of data collected by the Department of Statistics - who the hell is the chief statistician anyway who allows this sort of rubbish where apples are measured against oranges against mangoes and durians followed by gap years of data?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Welfare wrongly distributed!


SINGAPORE: From next month, the government will enhance its business financing schemes to support an additional S$2.3 billion in loans to help local firms gain access to credit in the current economic slowdown.

The measures will take effect 1st December 2008, and will be valid for one year at which point the enhancements will be reviewed for further extension.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry says the enhancements to its business financing schemes include increasing loan quantums and raising of government risk sharing of loan defaults.

Up to 124,000 local companies will be able to benefit from the schemes.

The enhancements are part of the government’s efforts to act early and ensure local enterprises have sufficient resources to operate.

Under the enhancements, the government also announced a new loan scheme for working capital.

The Bridging Loan Programme allows all local enterprises with more than 10 employees to access credit of up to S$500,000. The default risk is shared equally by the government and the financial institutions.

Small businesses with no more than 10 employees will have access to SPRING’s Micro Loan Programme.

The limit of this loan has been doubled to S$100,000, and the government will increase its portion of risk to 80 per cent to encourage lending to the businesses.

To encourage start—ups, the government will be raising investment capital from S$300,000 to S$1 million under the SPRING’s Start—up Enterprise Development Scheme.

Its Business Angel Scheme will also be raised to S$1.5 million as a permanent feature.

The government will also temporarily increase its co—match ratio, which means that start—ups will receive S$2 from the government for every dollar an investor puts into the firm.

Firms will also gain support in branching overseas.

To help the firms spread their wings, eligibility criteria under the existing Internationalisation Financing Scheme (IFS) will be widened.

The caps will be raised to S$300 million for non—trading companies, private non—trading companies and listed trading companies.

This will help to increase the number of companies that qualify for IFS benefits.

Commenting on the move to enhance financing schemes, Senior Minister for State and Trade S Iswaran said if the take up rate exceeds expectations, more help could be available to

“This should have a positive effect on flow of funds — it is backed up by a loan line of S$3.9 billion available for enterprises to tap on. And if the take up rate exceeds expectation, we will make available more resources with the support of the Ministry of Finance."
— CNA/sf/yt

:End Quote

I still don't get it! And I'll bet Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman is shaking his shaggy head as well somewhere in Boston!

THE current economic model is one based on consumption. The current crisis is one based on a tightening of credit & dampened consumer sentiment due to shocks coming out of the financial sector. This is a natural correction stemming from over consumption. Simply worsened by deliberately creative 'derivatives.' As I've argued before in Uni and I'll argue again now - one cannot indefinitely create wealth based on nothing.

Any throwing of money should be at the consumers who will thus shore up demand for consumables with a net trickle down effect for the entire local economy. Jobs will be created since demand is on the 'up' due to consumer spending - provided they have money in their collective hands.

Yet money is being pumped into the supply side of this economic equation when it is the demand side that needs help? Business, just like investors, take risks. And taxpayers are asked to bear this risk in a downturn? What returns do taxpayers then get in an upturn? Tax more on businesses? FAT HOPE! Businesses have a much healthier chance of survival if consumers spend. The recovery is steadier and deeper. Simply opening up credit lines worsens the existing situation by allowing companies with poor working capital management and lousy customers (in terms of payments) to exist yet another day to wreak havoc somewhere in the future.

The short term credit and cash flow crunch once again belies the fact that it may be that the biggest single buyer of services and goods, i.e. the government, may have reverted back to its nasty habits of delaying payments for a zillion and one reasons. A loosening of payment from that quarter, contractual obligations met of course, should ease some of the M1 issues currently being faced. Perhaps even impacting some M2.

IFS schemes? To take the money out of Singapore and throw it in China? How then do we re-instate the level of demand that can prop up the local economy?

$2.3 billion in loans? $3.9 billion available to tap on? THAT is a grand total of some $6.2 billion. Not yet counting all the other schemes for re-training and re-employment efforts.

At last count Singapore was some 4 million citizens and PRs. THAT is going to work out to greater then $1,500 for each man, woman and child. Less the destitute and the low income salaried workers .... who knows how long more we'll be paying for this financiall folly - with no direct gain except the 'promise' of jobs being kept. And we all know how very likely that will be!

So, we are not a welfare state for citizens. It seems that we are a welfare state for coporate citizens. What price will Singaporeans pay?

What price will be exacted in 2010/11? Probably none. Just keep paying!

THIS is a golden opportunity for governments of the world to re-write the rules of commerce and credit so that such a meltdown does not ever occur again.

Hard work has its staunch and lasting dues.

Vote wisely if you get the chance. The next whammy that comes after another 50 years of complacency may just wipe this tiny red dot out no matter how bleeding squeaky clean the incumbents are.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Political Theories ...

The often quoted 'theory' in politics that people chance their votes with the underdogs only during good times is now officially debunked with Obama's presidency!!

Reality 1 - Armchair critics 0

Monday, October 13, 2008

Economic Crisis - Gainers and Losers

As news breaks on France, Germany, the UK and the US pledging incredible sums of money to shore up markets worldwide we need to bear in mind that when such actions take place it is ultimately the tax payers who are footing the bill. That is the only way governments obtain the 'cash' to spend.

While it may be the duty of 'governments to help their peoples, businesses, savers' and all - it is not the duty of governments to rein in the greed that the 'ordinary' citizen has. Flashback to 1997 when then PM Goh declared that 'greed is good.'

The outcry against 'minibonds' in Singapore are a reflection of a deeper seated problem. That of simple, blind and perhaps uncalled for ultimate trust in the government or such equivalent 'authorities.'

All the social engineering that the Singapore government has done has led to a nation of uncritical thinkers. The ability to think critically and challenge authority has been so well stamped into the Singaporean psyche that it may take generations to undo the stigma of independent thinking.

Investors who have 'lost' money may be losing their retirement savings and hard earned money but should there have been gains as massive as the losses have been would these investors have petitioned to force the government's hand to tax them? It makes one wonder - more so when many of these investors happen to be teachers ...... prior to retirement.

What is needed is not just more financial literacy classes which teach about savings and interest rates (how they compound) and budgeting as is done in numerous secondary schools and JCs now but that of independent thinking including that of encouraging the challenging of authority.

Some half a decade ago the then celebrated Nobel laureate Paul Krugman - economist extraordinaire, and I believe professor at MIT - decried the free market economic model. It fell on deaf ears. People were too busy 'making hay while the sun shines.'

There is inherent instability in an economic system that proposes quantum growth through the introduction of derivatives. These instruments, basically based on nothing but paper and credit, for the investment backbone of many an investment house. The money reaped during the good years by top investment bankers, several of whom have collapsed faster then you can say 'boo,' ...... wonder what happens ..... is it fair for some to 'knowingly' benefit at the expense of the masses?

These net gainers pulling in multi-million packages, sounds familiar?, are basically getting away scot free in that nothing illegal has been performed. The regulators worldwide have moved too slowly and are even hesitant of moving now since many prominent toes will be crushed. What then becomes of the 'ordinary investor' and 'saver?'

History is replete with lessons of the masses getting done over in a variety of ways and means ....... but the lesson never really sticks ..... much like the soap for gold or oranges for gold scams resurfacing every so often ......... why would this be?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

State of the Nation: Fit for Print Letters in National Education Machinery Series ...

Straits Times Forum

July 19, 2008

Introduce disincentives to deter small families

THE Saturday Special last Saturday ('We'll have more babies if...') featured the effects of our population control policies. It also highlighted the mentality of modern-day married couples who seek to maximise the subjective well-being of their marriage and small family, and reject the need to integrate their personal aspirations with those of the society they live in.
This self-centred mindset, if left uncorrected except by soft-touch incentives promoted by the Government, will take more than a full generation to correct. For the greater good, the Government must introduce firmer pro-family control policies to address this delinquent social behaviour, just as a parent sometimes has to take drastic action to correct a wayward child, no matter what his age.

Before the introduction of population control in the 1970s, the public mindset was not confined to two children, and yet government disincentives managed to change that mindset so successfully, parents started to have fewer children. To hasten the reversal of the current sad situation, and re-emphasise that having a family of at least two children is an intrinsic good, why not introduce disincentives to married couples who deem a reasonably sized family an anathema to their marriage?

The key reasons given by couples who choose to remain childless or have a small family - more, more savings, more wealth, smarter kids and so on - are overly materialistic. The Government affords privileges to the marital status, and the effects of a marriage are not confined merely to companionship but to sustain society via procreation. For married couples to accept the benefits of marriage but purposefully frustrate the individual and social responsibilities of their marital status, is a selfish and unhealthy mentality the Government should address with disciplined and corrective measures.

This will have to be well thought through as there will be consequences, such as couples avoiding marriage which may worsen the already bad situation of failing marriages; the perception of an anti-business environment which deters knowledge workers from settling in Singapore; and even arguments that some basic 'human right' will be infringed.

These will need to be sorted out and the Government will have to re-educate misled citizens that the myth of a population explosion (and an associated depletion of natural resources) needs to be balanced against the truth that having children within a reasonably sized family is necessary to ensure the stewardship of society and Mother Earth can be sustained.

Edmund Leong

Makes one wonder why the PAP stays in power doesn't it? ........

Year 2025 ...... somewhere in the hardlands ........ where hopefully curiousity in a child has not been completely deadened by our wonderful education system .......

Child: Daddy, mummy who do I have so many brothers and sisters?

Daddy: It is government policy child. We were being punished for not having enough children and had to pay more taxes.

Child: Why do we have to pay so much taxes? Is that why we are so poor with not enough food for all of us in the family?

Daddy / Mummy: Child, we are poor because of things happening in the world beyond our control. Things like globalisation. And we do not actually pay so much taxes because we did not want to so we had all 6 of you lovely children.

Child: But why must you have 6 children when so many of my classmates are from other countries and they are always taking the top spots and going to the good schools? Why can't I and my brothers and sisters have the same opportunity? And what does globalisation have to do with us being poor?

D / M: Ah ... child, you do not understand. This is the way of the elites! We take in these students so that we can have better friends with our neighbouring countries and at the same time promote some competition at home. Your brothers and sisters just have to work harder to get back into school. Pretend you are competing with the whole wide world!! And we are poor because ... well ... we have to feed 8 of us you see, and including Ah Kong and Ah Ma that makes 12 of us.

Child: So what about globalisation? And .... so if I want to compete and become better then others I should go to another country who will pay for me to go to school so that our family is not so poor? And brother and sister can also go to school without being kicked out by overseas students who do so much better because they are so smart to begin with?

D / M: Well child, when you grow up you will understand the ways of our elite government. They always know what they are doing so just trust them no matter what! Competition is always good!! And it is healthy for Singapore!! Nobody can explain or control globalisation!!

Child: But Daddy, if competition is so good why is there no competing government? And why do all our phone bills come from only one company? And if nobody can explain or control globalisation why do we believe in it as a reason to do so many things?

D / M: Child, you ask too many questions. Shut up or I will send you to your room without dinner!

Child: But we do not have dinner anyway!! We have not had dinner for the last 2 months. And my room is your room and mummy's room and all brother's and sister's room.

D / M: Shut up or the policeman will catch you throw you in jail for asking so many questions!!

......... Or was it 1975? What a difference 50 years makes!

The End.

Vote Wisely! Your Children Depend on You!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Shades of Grey Part 2.5

Much Ado Over Humanity.

While the 'rights' debate has been largely 'kept silent' after the initial outburst reported in the local press others have taken headlines. These include the IBAHRI report and a UK author. Let's put the disparate pieces (as the press is wont to do to keep our minds befuddled until the next progress package comes along) together to complete the puzzle ....

Both were in for 'withering and scathing' comments by no less then MM Lee and a certain Mr. Teo from the UK High Comm / Embassy (who cares what difference it makes to debates like this - they're both representative of the Singapore government and Singapore at large).

The US weighs in on Anwar's 'detention' again in a seemingly old tactic of 'physically destroying the evidence' or removing the 'witness' as the case may be but here there is absolutely no comment from our First World Government in Singapore.

Seems to be a case of mind your own business while we mind ours no?

So why does Singapore send aid and technical assistance to other countries (too numerous to list here) if not to assist in humanitarian 'disasters?' If a corollary can be drawn to the silence of political stormtrooping tactics used in Malaysia then by extension of logic Singapore should not have sent aid to Burma / Myanmar. But we did.

A case of economic expediency in the hope that Burma will become a huge trading partner for Singapore? Or that Burma, as represented in the United Nations, will 'trade' aid for votes when Singapore is pushing an agenda item - particularly in the Security Council?

And on the one hand while it is criminal to hurt someone else here in Singapore, as it is in most other countries in the world, it appears the same rule does not apply (for Singapore at least) when it comes to the hurt occurring elsewhere? Not a peep? Do we, as a country, have enough backbone and principles? Really?

Or only enough to 'bully' our mostly submissive / apathetic population?

Can we be first in ASEAN to champion rights (not privileges) that can be accorded across the spectrum of political facetiousness in and around ASEAN? Or are the principles of law only subjectively and selectively applied? If subjectivity and selectivity apply from the standpoint of the moral compass would it not be possible then that even within our local jurisdictions this subjectivity and selectivity might occur? I do not have the answers but I do ponder the question.

The right to life, in the absence of mitigating factors such as a crime that warrants death, is a virtual universal right recognized by every legal system in the world. The failure to extend that right beyond one's tiny borders in today's highly interconnected world portends a moral failure. The kind of morality that obliges an able human being to assist another in times of dire distress regardless of condition, save that of sane choice, by which the circumstance was arrived at.

But we can't criticize recent Malaysian actions now can we since we have our own little yards to tend to eh?

As I look around in astonishment and wonder every single day I cannot help but be reminded of the Chinese adage (though I'm sure there is a similar one in many if not all cultures): progenitors beget the offspring they sire and nurture.

Put more loosely in a transliteration from hokkien: this type of parent gets this type of child. Something to bear in mind as we idolise parent figures while taking the MRT or driving around or simply even walking while other pedestrians are around or any social setting in Singapore.

In plain english: Reap What You Sow.

And if there are claims that subjectivity nor selectivity are in place then the full weight of the law must be brought to bear on those whom we can make a direct impact and influence on be they in our borders (a man made illusion of control) or without (the real world as it existed before and will exist in time to come). In this case, Singapore should take a stance on what is happening in neighbouring Malaysia just as we did, collectively in Burma.

Psst, by the way. A strong defence and critique, witty as some of them may be, in return to the comments of others, in the diplomatic and legal world, typically points to some fire behind all the smoke.

Here's how to intepret what's really going on. Charge: you are authoritarian. Response: we are special and what works for you does not work for us. You claim you are right and we claim we are right!

(Nevermind what the truth is - it is rarely self-evident especially when there are iron veils of stupidity, misinformation, malinformation and outright brown nosing foisted upon the population on a daily basis.)

See! Intelligent huh? No admission. That's what happens when lawyers become politicians!

There is a great deal more to learn from observing the tactics and reading between the lines! Now, can we turn the tables and return the favour?

Majulah Singapura

Vote Wisely, your children depend on it.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

More Pay for Ministers The Answer Then .... ??

'More pay not the answer'

SINGAPORE : Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam has warned that Singapore could face another round of inflation if companies increase wages to help workers cope with the higher cost of living today.

He said this will also affect Singapore’s competitiveness and the ability to create jobs.

Mr Tharman was speaking to some 500 workers at the Singapore Industrial and Services Employees’ Union dinner on Wednesday evening.

Higher rice and oil prices have led some Singaporeans to call on the government to set the tone by raising wages.

But Mr Tharman said such short—term measures are not prudent. Instead, he said the government has provided assistance to help Singaporeans deal with the higher cost of living.

These include S$500 million in GST Credits — to help citizens cope with the increased Goods and Services Tax — and special bonuses for senior citizens.

Mr Tharman said Singapore also addresses the problem of inflation mainly through its exchange rate policy. Since the beginning of last year, the Singapore dollar has appreciated by 11 per cent against the US dollar.

However, the minister said there is a limit to how much Singapore can allow its dollar to rise to fight inflation. Mr Tharman said if Singapore dramatically strengthens its dollar to offset the higher prices, it will instead hurt economic growth badly.

He said oil prices have increased by 50 per cent since the start of this year. And it has gone up by about 100 per cent compared to a year go. Food prices globally are now up to 60 per cent higher than one year ago.

Mr Tharman cautioned Singaporeans to brace themselves as oil prices may increase further.

He said, "We expect inflation to be between 5—6 per cent on average this year, with inflation being lower towards the end of the year. We also expect inflation in the second half of the year to be lower because the effects of last July’s GST increase on inflation will wear out.

"However, the recent sharp increase in global oil prices will add pressure on inflation. So we are monitoring this and the impact on inflation closely, and will decide if inflation forecasts for this year need to be revised."

Looking at the global situation, Mr Tharman said the weakness in the US economy could extend into next year. But he maintains that Singapore can expect Gross Domestic Product growth to average between four and six per cent this year.

Mr Tharman said the lasting solution to inflation is to continue with efforts to help workers upgrade their skills and earn better wages.

He said it is also important to help experienced, mature workers stay employed and help home—makers get back to work. This will not only increase the household income, but help improve Singapore’s tight labour market. — CNA/ms

Majulah Singapura!!

Vote Wisely!!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Illustrious Press Freedom topic again ....

"Responding, the minister outlined the Government's attitude: 'The most important attribute is that we want accurate reporting. Because, if the journalists are just writing fiction and are just writing glowing portraits of me that nobody believes, then it is pointless.

'Our attitude towards the press in Singapore is that they are partners in nation-building.

'Our mass media also understand our key vulnerabilities and our hopes and dreams and are, therefore, partners in their construction.

'But they are not the mouthpiece of the Government and they are not there to give a one-sided view.'" Straits Times.

Accuracy in reporting is also indicative of 'today's truth' ... the Minister went on to cite 'falsity' in the Copernican light of the Sun revolving around the Earth. These were the truth of those times when 'wise men' ruled the Earth then in Europe.

Who is to say what is true or false to the human mind when psychology plays a larger part in life then science does in most cases?

Especially when the press, under explicit admission as quoted, is involved in nation building. Is the press then to be held liable and responsible for what is today a truth and proved to be a lie tomorrow? Or vice-versa?

The issue here is accountability as well. And in my opinion it is not the journalists who ought to be taken to task. It would be the Editors and their superiors - since all pieces ultimately pass through 'editorial consent' prior to publication.

So in the case of the press in Singapore how far are operations divorced from policy making? And where does the accountability lie?

Much like out Education system of trials and errors of the past 43 years. Many have succeeded, many have suffered through the policy flip flops. Who is ultimately responsible?

The likely response will be: there can be no responsibility because wisdom changes with time ...... despite claims to 'wise men and women,' who are paid wheelbarrows of money, running the show right now. The perfect job security option! If it screws up its not my fault, if it succeeds please erect some kind of statue in my memory. This is the way forward? This is the PAP way?


To opposition supporters: if you have to, be aware of who you 'penalise' in your minds. Journalists are usually not the ultimate harbingers and controllers of 'incomplete truths.' There is a subtle difference between lying outright and simply not relating the whole truth which can stymie and psychologically affect an entire population. Thus the power of the press, which if not completely and totally free, needs to be kept in serious check.

Before this becomes a full fledged defamation law suit from SPH ..... I had better be a little paranoid and cover my behind: Numerous times accidents have been reported on scuba diving. Numerous times I have written in to the different journalists covering the stories to explain that one does not scuba dive on Oxygen tanks but Air tanks instead. The power of the press is such that today the public mind associates diving with Oxygen tanks. Which of course is utter rubbish!

FYI, Oxygen toxicity occurs at a depth of less then 10 metres of sea water if one uses Oxygen tanks to go scuba diving. One suffers from CNS convulsions which means one is not able to control one's body movements any more hence death in shallow water in this particular case. Case closed.

The press = the truth? Hardly in the example cited and if that is the case then what of other topics? Nation building role and not a government mouthpiece? You decide!

IMHO, press freedom should be curbed by the ability of journalists and editors to truly understand the situation at hand in all its complexity involving the dynamics of mass psychology before any publication is fit to print. I do not see any journalists nor editors trained in these aspects.

Vote wisely - your children depend on it!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

ERP again?

The speed of vehicular movement downtown where the brand new ERP gantries with their very expensive cameras to catch 'recalcitrant' motorists are an abonimation of the common sense when it comes to this form of 'taxation'.

How could the case that ERP is not simply for revenue but rather for 'ease of traffic flow for motorists' stand in the CBD area when:

1. The grid system of lights ensures there is never a 'green' flow one way

2. The number of pedestrian crossings, with both pedestrians and vehicles always trying to break into each other's 'green light' time essentially causes more slowdowns

3. The sheer number of lights to and before these new gantries are simply mind numbing

4. The number of tourist who wander about aimlessly (on foot or in vehicles) in town will probably cause some form of traffic slowdown though this may be neglible (every drop counts just as every vote does)

5. That touristy areas will inevitably attract busloads of tourist who's busses will invariably drop them off wherever they please (like taxis) and cause a 2 lane foul up on a 4 lane thoroughfare

6. Are any of these factors in the control of motorists who have to use these roads?

IF for the other areas with ERP (i.e. expressways) the idea that a charge reduces flow works then it may be fair in that it is sensible since there is only vehicular traffic. But in town?

Sounds a bit like Malaysian thinking to me according to today's news on the northerners wanting to build a elevated expressway but charging those using the Causeway for it. A bit of logic mis-match from our first in class policy makers I would say - unless they proclaim or acknowledge that it is purely for revenue purposes.

And talk about never a good time to levy these increases? In the midst of a runaway inflationary period? Soaring commodity prices? Relentless price surges by the speculative market? More policy work can be done in these areas is my opinion.

Clamp down on the speculative markets related to commodities for a while. Let the world (the majority anyway) who are not in these markets survive a little more. As policy makers you do not have to knowingly raise the water levels to just under a tall man's nose and claim that he is still alive anyway. There are many shorter people out there. And there are non-swimmers as well.

A vote of no confidence in the government for the future of policy making is called for.

Chicken Relief

Why Did The Chicken Cross the Road??

BARACK OBAMA: The chicken crossed the road because it was time for a change! The chicken wanted change!

JOHN MCCAIN: My friends, that chicken crossed the road because he recognized the need to engage in cooperation and dialogue with all the chickens on the other side of the road.

HILLARY CLINTON: When I was First Lady, I personally helped that little chicken to cross the road. This experience makes me uniquely qualified to ensure right from Day One that every chicken in this country gets the chance it deserves to cross the road. But then, this really isn't about me.

GEORGE W. BUSH: We don't really care why the chicken crossed the road. We just want to know if the chicken is on our side of the road, or not. The chicken is either against us, or for us. There is no middle ground here.

DICK CHENEY: Where's my gun??

COLIN POWELL: Now to the left of the screen, you can clearly see the satellite image of the chicken crossing the road.

BILL CLINTON: I did not cross the road with that chicken. What is your definition of chicken??

AL GORE: I invented the chicken. It was the environmentally sensitive thing to do and remains an inconvenient truth of chickenhood.

JOHN KERRY: Although I voted to let the chicken cross the road, I am now against it! It was the wrong road to cross, and I was misled about the chicken's intentions. I am not for it now, and will remain against it.

AL SHARPTON: Why are all the chickens white?? We need some black chickens.

DR. PHIL: The problem we have here is that this chicken won't realize that he must first deal with the problem on this side of the road before it goes after the problem on the other side of the road. What we need to do is help him realize how stupid he's acting by not taking on his current problems before adding new problems.
OPRAH: Well, I understand that the chicken is having problems, which is why he wants to cross this road so bad. So instead of having the chicken learn from his mistakes and take falls, which is a part of life, I'm going to give this chicken a car so that he can just drive across the road and not live his life like the rest of the chickens.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: We have reason to believe there is a chicken, but we have not yet been allowed to have access to the other side of the road.

NANCY GRACE: That chicken crossed the road because he's guilty! You can see it in his eyes and the way he walks.

PAT BUCHANAN: To steal the job of a decent, hardworking American.

MARTHA STEWART: No one called me to warn me which way that chicken was going. I had a standing order at the Farmer's Market to sell my eggs when the price dropped to a certain level. No little bird gave me any insider information.

DR. SEUSS: Did the chicken cross the road?? Did he cross it with a toad? Yes, the chicken crossed the road, but why it crossed I've not been told.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY: To die in the rain, alone.

JERRY FALWELL: Because the chicken was gay!! Can't you people see the plain truth?? That's why they call it the 'other side'. Yes, my friends, that chicken is gay. And if you eat that chicken, you will become gay too. I say we boycott all chickens until we sort out this abomination that the liberal media whitewashes with seemingly harmless phrases like 'the other side'. That chicken should not be crossing the road. It's as plain and as simple as that.

GRANDPA: In my day we didn't ask why the chicken crossed the road. Somebody told us the chicken crossed the road, and that was good enough.

BARBARA WALTERS: Isn't that interesting?? In a few moments, we will be listening to the chicken tell, for the first time, the heart-warming story of how it experienced a serious case of molting, and went on to accomplish its lifelong dream of crossing the road.

ARISTOTLE: It is the nature of chickens to cross the road.

JOHN LENNON: Imagine all the chickens in the world crossing roads together, in peace.

BILL GATES: I have just released eChicken2008, which will not only cross roads, but will lay eggs, file your important documents, and balance your checkbook. Internet Explorer is an integral part of eChicken2008. This new platform is much more stable and will never cra% #@&&^ (##(C^%............ reboot.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Regards to Mrs. Lee

Wishing the Prime Minister's mother a speedy recovery and good health.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Of Politics and Economics

As the Myanmar crisis mounts there is a lack of voices in ASEAN, perhaps particularly from Singapore when it comes to 'supporting' the military junta's style of governance in Myanmar.

Surprisingly there are no more calls of "let them handle it internally" in relation to the Safron Revolution some months ago. Back then, several countries in ASEAN repeatedly refrained from commitment to political change which would herald more democracy by proclaiming outright support for General Tan Shwe's (sp?) government.

In the current humanitarian crisis there suddenly seems a silence supplanted by words and deeds of NGOs of all hue, colour and ideological persuasion. Western nations are clamouring to get in to provide relief while ASEAN generally looks on and keeps mum. Ever wonder why?

Funny isn't it?

So the oligarchs rule a region together and openly support each other's style of governance and model of 'democracy' and even defend such 'styles' when the matter is that of political import. But come a natural disaster and the ASEAN governments who spoke up so eloquently and firmly suddenly become quietly reclusive - when human lives are at stake. So it must be true that money and power rules the world at the expense of general humanity.

All the more the Burmese should vote no to the national referendum which grants (if it is true) the military junta even more 'legalised' power (as if they did not already have enough but have to go through the motions of putting up this road show to 'appease' westerners). A vote for your stomach today leaves the future of your children in greater and perhaps triple jeopardy.

Jeopardy 1: military rule is continued and social progress is retarded since voters vote with their stomachs

Jeopardy 2: military rule is continued and international aid, if and when required, is hampered, economic growth is stunted as a result of embargoes and trade restrictions (though not with friendly countries like Singapore)

Jeopardy 3: military rule is continued and such 'threats' (natural or otherwise) to even life and limb will befall future generations going back to point 1 above

Roman strategy of bread and circuses. Except in Asia apparently we cannot even afford circuses so we just go with the bread part while wielding a huge stick. Is Singapore approaching this stage of political 'maturity?'

These three forms of jeopardy are a vicious cycle that military and other forms of oligarchs try to impress on their respective societies to different degrees. Some apparently more democratic and others less so.

In Singapore I expect that these three jeopardies will once again play out in GE 2010/11 since there appears to be no end in sight nor reprieve from internationally rising prices of staple commodties and derivative commodities. Which brings us to into the economic realm from the political.

The news today of a new 'market' being set up in Singapore today in an attempt to try to rein in prices of these commodities is a farce in my opinion. With a new 'market' comes regulation. With regulations come restrictions on entry - which usually result in the rich gaining access first, if not only. With a market mechanism also comes speculation (as a method of making money on the backs of others) which further drives 'inflation.' And the poor are left to fend for themselves literally.

Liberal economic theory is premised on inflation in a manner of speaking. In turn, the idea of a 'growing pie' is premised on infinite resources. And any sane person will tell you that there is no such thing as 'infinite resources' on planet Earth. Or is common sense not so common? Or is common sense prevalent but the will to change so dampened because of the culture and environment?

Singapore should work out a model system of redistributive justice based on the understanding of her entire population so as to meet the demands of 'sustainable development.' Not just some Ministerial hogwash on greener stuff and a literal drop out of our budgetary bucket to appease the 'greenies' in the international audience from whom Singapore craves such attention due to our inherent sense of insecurity.

Addressing the symptoms only alleviates the problem momentarily and is usually only great for fooling oneself and others in the short run until you run out of ideas. Yes, even the JV Tianjin eco-city project addresses only the symptoms! Addressing the root causes requires far more in-depth thinking, innovative thinking and a daring to challenge the status quo -- even if it means challenging international norms and assumptions! And challenging the PAP.

But this should never be the case for political participation because democracy is the only way to acheive a 100% buy-in, or as close to 100% as is possible, when it comes to changing the ways and habits of a country. And then serving as model for development for the rest of the world. The rules of system thinking (Peter Senge) apply only when democracy is allowed to work and the independence of each voter is neither compromised nor disallowed. In a 'soft-authoritarian' nation like Singapore, a systems thinking approach to long term policy design and implementation is likely to run into serious obstacles (as it relates to change management) requiring the interventions of a 'nanny state.' And thus the vicious cycle of 3 jeopardies repeats itself every 5 years or so in Singapore - as it will now do in Myanmar.

Majula Singapura!

Vote wisely.

Thursday, May 08, 2008


The Workers' Party Youth Wing (WPYW) wishes to thank, once again, all participants who attended the inaugural YouthQuake forum on Vote @ 18 on Saturday, 3rd May 2008.

A full house with many new and youthful faces is testament to the timeliness and impact of this matter but more so an editorial by Andy Ho of the Straits Times (8 May 2008) perhaps alluding to the WPYW forum (as a public forum - which is factually accurate).

We agree with the arguments raised in Mr. Ho's editorial, since virtually all of these arguments were raised by the speakers at the above event and duly recorded by Mediacorp, and urge that this matter be debated in Parliament regardless of partisan standing.

We stand united for the betterment of the nation.

Watch this space for the next forum coming up on issues of national importance and their impact on Singaporean Youth!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

May Day

Labour Day, May Day, ..... protests ..... rallies .... dinners .... gatherings ..... public holiday ... continual good news from our friendly local press ...

This holiday gave me a chance today to get together with a close friend's family today, May 1st, 2008 ...

Ever since I've known Uncle (my friend's dad) he has always having been an open and vocal PAP supporter. Nevertheless Uncle respects my choice to be in an alternative party and occassionally asks ... "so how's your political career coming along young man?"

The question is followed quickly by ".... you know, the PAP government is good, they know what they are doing, they have brought the country so far, you should respect them ..... and so on ..." This is a track record in the sense that ever since they knew of my participation via WP they have been 'advising' me thus.

Today was no different as we set out together in one car for lunch with the family. The kicker came really quick this time in the conversation though. No more accolades for the ruling regime.

After the regular question the shocker came in the form of " ... you know, the government is really too much. Things are so bad in the US and Europe and eventually it will hit Singapore but the government just continues to talk as if nothing is going on - a lot of hot air. They should not cause price rises so fast this year, by forcing GST increases over other increases, due to the overall bad situation internationally especially with food prices going through the roof."

"I think it is time to teach the PAP a lesson ... they are too far removed from their roots to know what is good governance anymore. I hope you guys get at least one or two GRCs the next round."

I've heard this during GE2006 on walkabouts in East Coast - then the 'landed' silver generation Singaporeans were saying somewhat the same (switching of political allegiances) though the heartlanders felt otherwise (perhaps due to the excellently timed Progress Package of May 1st 2006 which had an up to SGD $800 impact on some individual voters). The stunner this time around was that a known hard core over-my-dead-body-heartland-supporter is saying the same things. Along the same lines.

By the way, Uncle is a long time business man who is close to 70 and who has supported the PAP all his life. Uncle is a heartlander.

If GE2006 results are anything to go by WP might have walked into perhaps a few SMCs had they not been under the guise and protection of GRCs. And oddly enough, these 'could have been SMCs' were primarily landed. Ironically for WP we lost relatively 'heavily' in the heartlands. For whatever reasons those might be (you should have, by today, received a nicely printed 2 page flyer on how much Singapore bonus you and your family are going to receive this year - though if you are landed the amount is close to zero).

So you see Dear Mr. Goh Chok Tong, we have the numbers too though the local press has not been favourable of publishing how these numbers are gotten whether by PAP or otherwise. So let me give the press a hand here.

FYI to the public, these numbers are collatable at the voting precinct level of some 3,000 individuals per 'precinct' on the night of polling when votes are counted by civil servants. I was witness to such counting, confirmation and sealing of ballot boxes containing counted votes which were then delivered direct to the High Court vault. The voter register is also dumped into these boxes together with the voting slips. No individual information is available at any point in time during the entire process. And nobody has the time of day or night to go through >120k voting slips to pick out particular voters!

Shall we use the same tools to level the playing field in the future when the landscape looks a little different?

Are we crossing the social and societal 'divide' now where the social movement, usually starting with the 'landed gentry' and flowing down several years later into the bulk of society, is gaining momentum for political alternatives?

I predict the next GE (legally by 2011) will occur either in the month of May or October given that our money (CNA conveniently converted this phrase into "the Government's money" during GE 2006) is given back to us these two months as a matter of practice since GE2006.

Majulah Singapura!

Should Countries Trade with Abusive Regimes?

Should a First World country like Singapore continue supporting oppressive regimes like Myanmar? And where should we stand on China vis-a-vis Tibet? Do we export arms and ammunition to conflict regions?

Are we ready to stand by our beloved crescent moon and five stars on a background of red and white? Internally? Externally? Given our inextricable global position and interactions what do these 'oppressive' regimes bode for the sustainability of OUR pledge?

"We, the citizens of Singapore,pledge ourselves as one united people,regardless of race, language or religion,to build a democratic societybased on justice and equality so as to achieve happiness, prosperity andprogress for our nation."

Bad Business: Why Companies Shouldn't Trade with Abusive Regimes
Published: April 30, 2008 in Knowledge@Wharton

Is selling police equipment to a notoriously brutal government tantamount to assisting in torture?

William Schulz believes that it can be, and that these types of sales are one of the principal ways in which businesses can entangle themselves with torturers. Schulz, former executive director of Amnesty International, spoke during a presentation last week sponsored by Wharton's Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research.

Seldom are businesses in the developed world implicated directly in torture, but too often they avert their eyes as their products, purchases or independent contractors support abuses, according to Schultz, who is now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank based in Washington, D.C. He cited the case of Taser International, the Scottsdale, Ariz., manufacturer of "stun guns." Taser's devices, sold domestically to police departments and private citizens, shoot electrified barbs that cause a flash of intense pain and momentary muscle failure. Police use them in place of pistols and clubs to protect themselves and subdue unruly people.

The U.S. Commerce Department has documented the sale of Tasers to countries, including Saudi Arabia, that are known for using electro-shock devices as tools of torture, Schulz said. He debated Taser's chief executive, Rick Smith, three years ago at Claremont-McKenna College in California. At the time, he asked Smith to stop selling his company's wares to countries that the U.S. State Department had classified as torturers. Taser's president indicated that the company "would sell to any country it pleased," Schulz stated.

[In a response to Schulz's remarks last week, Taser spokesman Pete Holran noted that, "For anything that we sell abroad, we have to get a license from the U.S. Department of Commerce.... That licensing process has input from the State Department and many other federal agencies. They are supposed to inform us if there is a region or a regime that should not receive our devices." In addition, he said, "We don't know of any direct use of our devices for torture. Amnesty has never been able to bring that direct charge."

Electro-shock devices, including stun guns, stun belts and stun shields, are the most commonly used tools of torture after the human fist, Schulz said. As far back as 1994, Amnesty International documented their export to repressive foreign regimes. "Export license records revealed that [the U.S. Commerce Department] authorized the sale to Saudi Arabia of handcuffs and stun shields used for torture," Schulz noted. "In 1996, the department approved a shipment of thumb screws -- miniature cuffs that are attached to the thumbs and are useful for nothing except torture -- to Russia."

Selling tools isn't the only way in which firms find themselves linked to torturers, Schulz said. Sometimes, they hire guards who end up abusing people while protecting a company's property. Unocal, a California oil-and-gas company, for example, was accused in U.S. courts of employing soldiers in Myanmar (formerly Burma) who tortured, raped and killed villagers while guarding a pipeline. The villagers sued in the United States under the Alien Torts Claims Act, and Unocal settled in 2004.

As a result of disputes like this one, multinationals have become more assiduous in their monitoring of the conduct of security contractors abroad, Schulz said. British Petroleum, for example, has entered into an agreement with the governments of Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan to allow the oil company to provide human rights training to their security forces. A BP oil pipeline traverses the three countries.

The Cost of a Diamond

Firms sometimes do business directly with repressive regimes or rebel groups and, in effect, fund their practices, according to Schulz. This predicament arises most often in extractive industries, like mining and oil and gas, where the largest remaining reserves tend to be located in developing countries that either have autocratic governments or are embroiled in civil war, he noted.

Perhaps the most notorious example is the diamond industry. In Sierra Leone and Angola, diamond sales supported insurgencies to such an extent that the United Nations adopted a resolution condemning trade in what it called "conflict diamonds." Liberia's former president, Charles Taylor, has been accused of supporting the rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone in exchange for diamonds. The rebels committed a host of atrocities, including intimidating civilians by chopping off the hands and feet of noncombatants. Today, Taylor faces trial in The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Bad publicity from products tainted by links to torture can rebound to retailers, Schulz pointed out. To underscore the connection between diamonds and brutality, for example, Amnesty International and other human rights groups launched an anti-conflict-diamond campaign in the United States. An online video produced as part of the effort showed a woman's hand stretched out to receive a diamond ring, but then showed her hand being chopped off before the ring could be slipped on her finger. "That influenced a bunch of college students to go into their local jewelers and ask how much blood each diamond cost," Schulz said. "That was all it took to get the industry to quickly institute new procedures for monitoring the sources of its diamonds."

A similar conflict rages today in the Sudan, one that has been fueled by oil revenues, Schulz added. There, crude sales sustain a government that has been accused by the United Nations of committing genocide in the country's Darfur region. More than 200,000 people have been killed in Darfur and about 2.5 million have been forced from their homes. Many Western oil companies now refuse to do business with the Sudanese government, but Chinese oil firms, backed by the Chinese government, have stepped into the void. According to The New York Times, "Chinese oil purchases have financed Sudan's pillage of Darfur, Chinese-made AK-47s have been the main weapons used to slaughter several hundred thousand people in Darfur so far, and China has protected Sudan in the U.N. Security Council." Grassroots activists from around the world are trying to use the approaching Beijing Olympic games as venue in which to pressure China to stop supporting the Sudanese regime through oil purchases.

Schulz stressed that situations like Taylor's diamond trade and Sudan's oil both demand action because the link between commerce and brutality is so stark. In each case, trade in a commodity directly supported, or continues to support, a group or government committing atrocities.
In contrast, Schulz said that he doesn't believe that businesses must refuse to operate in any nation with a poor human rights record. "If I could get every country that commits torture to change their stripes by threatening them with the withdrawal of investment, I would do it," he said. "But that's not a practical way to bring about change, and I don't believe that poverty is a friend of human rights. So we have to make judgments."

Consider the oil industry. The list of the world's top producers is crowded with countries that have been accused of torture. (Schulz would add the United States to that group in light of the revelations at the Abu Ghraib military prison in Iraq and the Bush administration's refusal to forswear waterboarding, a form of torture that simulates drowning.) Today's world depends too heavily on oil for companies to refuse to do business in any place where torture has occurred or been alleged, Schulz said. "We have to be selective. There are some cases in which the connection is very direct. If oil companies are directly responsible for human rights violations -- as it was alleged that Unocal was -- then they have to be held accountable."

Reebok's Lead

In making judgments about whether to refuse to operate or invest in a country, Schulz said that firms must consider a variety of factors. The most obvious, besides the directness of the link, is the severity of the abuses. Another is how dependent the country's government is on the sales of a given commodity. In Sudan, for example, oil is the country's lifeblood. "I don't pretend that the ethical questions are easy. You make judgments where you think you can have an impact and where the crime is serious enough."

In some cases, home governments may make decisions for companies by barring activity via sanctions, Schulz pointed out. Again, the utility of sanctions has to be evaluated case by case. Among the criteria to consider is whether the local activists have asked for sanctions as a way to pressure their government. Schulz also pointed out that sanctions and boycotts have a mixed record of effectiveness.

Declining to do business somewhere or acceding to sanctions isn't the only way that companies can forestall torture and other human rights abuses. They can also take active steps to publicize and prevent bad acts -- and many of them do. Paul Fireman, chief executive of Reebok, is a case in point. "He intervened actively on behalf of the leader of the labor organization in Indonesia that had given Reebok a load of grief about its factories," Schulz said. In 1999, Fireman wrote to Indonesia's president seeking the release from prison of human rights activist Dita Sari. Fireman has also refused to do business in Myanmar, as have many companies, and, in 2005, wrote an editorial in The Wall Street Journal calling on corporate colleagues to follow Reebok's lead.
"More and more corporations are recognizing that it's in their interest to be good global citizens" Schulz added. "One of the most promising developments in the field of human rights during my years at Amnesty was the growing sense that human rights were good business and that countries that don't respect the rule of law, don't educate their children and don't use the talents of half of their populations because of their gender are unlikely to be places where businesses will prosper in the long run."