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."

Monday, April 28, 2008

So THIS Is Justice - Part II

So the judicial system is letting this go with a fine of $200 and 9 demerit points?

What is the message to Singaporeans from this? That it is perfectly alright to cause potential death and mayhem? That we tolerate this kind of behaviour which causes the massive jams which are partly in the first place responsible for all this ERP nonsense to begin with?

If Singaporeans are bound by rules of law then these rules should serve as a reflecting guide to a more gracious society. By incidentally condoning such behaviour, which breaks all senses of natural justice, we get onto PAP's favourite slippery slope argument and all end up worse for the wear.

Ciggarette smugglers are dealt with far more painfully and the only effect they have on the state is a loss of revenue. Overstayers are jailed, caned and deported. But intentionally causing possible death and mayhem is 'rewarded' with a $200 fine?

Do you get it?

What I get is that the protection of the state coffers is far more important, in orders of magnitude, then the safety and well-being of its citizens. Can this be right? But this is the loud and very clear message I am getting.

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From The Electric New Paper

By Chong Shin Yen
April 29, 2008

HE stopped his car abruptly on the fast lane of a busy highway to insert his CashCard.

And it caused an accident that left a woman seriously injured.

But to Mr Lim Huang Khim, 45, it was the 'natural thing' to do. He does not think he did anything wrong.

This, despite being fined for his inconsiderate driving that caused a motorcyclist to slam into the car behind him - which had braked in time to avoid hitting Mr Lim's car.

This, despite a judge ruling in a civil suit that Mr Lim was 50 per cent liable for the accident.
The motorcyclist, Miss Tiong Zhen Cheng, 33, was flung more than 20m and landed beside Mr Lim's car.

The sales executive was warded in the intensive care unit and spent about a week in hospital. She still suffers pain and some memory loss.

Miss Tiong ended up being sued by the driver of the second car, Mr Lye Chiew Meng, for the damage to his Toyota.

His rear windscreen was shattered and the repair bill came to $7,000.

But her insurance company felt Mr Lim should also be liable and he was named as the third party in the civil suit.


TNP Photo Illustration

Earlier this month, Mr Lim, who works as a driver, insisted he was not to blame and smiled several times as he recounted the accident on the stand.

He was chided by District Judge Lim Wee Meng for his cavalier attitude.
Judge Lim said: 'I don't think it's funny. Someone was seriously injured and I don't think it's funny at all.'

The accident happened around 7.50pm on 29 Nov 2006 on the Central Expressway, just before the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) gantry near the Braddell exit.

Mr Lim was driving a rented silver Mitsubishi car and was travelling on the extreme right lane on his way home with his wife and four children.

When he saw that the gantry was activated, he switched on the car's hazard lights and stopped to slot in his CashCard.

Mr Lye, a finance manager, who was behind him, managed to stop in time. But Miss Tiong's 400cc Honda motorbike crashed into Mr Lye's car.

When cross-examined by Miss Tiong's lawyer, Mr Lim maintained that he was not at fault.

Her lawyer, Mr William Chai, asked: 'A car was damaged, a person was severely and mentally injured, are you saying you are not responsible? Not even 1 per cent?'
Mr Lim replied: 'I'm saying that I'm totally not to be blamed.'

He told the court that he had not inserted his CashCard into the in-vehicle unit (IU) earlier because he did not know that the ERP gantry was activated at that time.

When asked if seeing the activated gantry was a big surprise, Mr Lim said he had seen it from afar and was trying to insert the CashCard in time.

He also told the court that he did not see Miss Tiong's bike behind Mr Lye's car.

He admitted that following the accident, he had purposely left out in his police report the reason for stopping his car as he knew that it was an offence.

Mr Lim, who has been driving for 24 years, was fined $200 by the Traffic Police for inconsiderate driving and given nine demerit points.

But in his affidavit tendered to the court, he said: 'I decided to pay the $200 out of convenience even though I do not believe that I should be responsible for the accident.
'I did not want the trouble to engage a lawyer to contest the claim because this would be time-consuming and the legal fees would definitely exceed $200.'

In contrast, Mr Lye was apologetic about what happened to Miss Tiong. His lawyer, Miss Bonnie Kwok, told the court: 'My client would like to extend his sympathies to Miss Tiong.'
She also said that while Mr Lye could clearly see the traffic conditions in front of him, Miss Tiong could not.

Said Miss Kwok: 'It's not a situation whereby the vehicles were approaching a traffic light junction, so there's no reason for Miss Tiong to anticipate a sudden stopping.
'Mr Lim had created a dangerous situation. I found it rather distasteful that Mr Lim's demeanour in court showed that he couldn't be bothered that Miss Tiong had suffered severe injuries and trauma.'

Before giving his verdict, the judge pointed out that Mr Lim could have gone through the ERP gantry and paid an administrative fee of $10 for not having a CashCard.


He ruled that Mr Lim and Miss Tiong were each 50 per cent liable for the damage caused to Mr Lye's car.
When contacted by The New Paper, Mr Lim insisted that he was not in the wrong.
He said in Mandarin: 'Are you a driver? Have you driven a car before?
'If you have, you should know that it's a driver's natural reaction (when you see an activated gantry).
'You can't say it's right or wrong because there's no right or wrong in such situations. I did switch on the hazard lights to warn the vehicles behind me.'

Mr Lim said that he felt sorry for the injured Miss Tiong, though he did not speak to her in court.
'She might think that I have an ulterior motive if I went up to her and apologised,' he said.
Just two days before the accident involving Miss Tiong, Mr Lim said he was involved in a similar accident along the East Coast Parkway.

Mr Lim told The New Paper that the car in front of his had slowed down suddenly.
'So I also braked and stopped my car to take a closer look at what the driver was up to and to take down his licence plate number,' he said.

'But the car behind me couldn't stop in time and ended up crashing into the rear of my car.'
Mr Lim said the first car then drove off. His car, a Honda Stream, ended up at the workshop for five days.

That was why he was driving a rented car, which did not have a CashCard in the IU.
Mr Lim added: 'If I was driving my car, this wouldn't have happened because I always have the CashCard inside the IU.'

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