Friday, May 29, 2009

Upturn the Downturn Video....

"We are pro-workers oi oi , we are pro-business oi oi...."

- Upturn the Downturn Song

I've never heard of a workers union anywhere else that is pro-workers and pro-business at the same time.

More Tweaks to the Political System....

When you get a gift from the PAP govt, it is usually to stop you from asking for more. What the people want is a motocycle, they got a bicycle instead. Instead of greater democracy, the PAP tries to reduce the demand for greater democracy. It has done it in the past by introducing the NCMP and NMP schemes now they are giving more of the same. Yesterday, PM Lee announced the following changes[Link]:

  • Increase the number of NCMPs from 3 to 9.
  • NMP to become permanent feature.
  • Increase in single constituency wards from 8 to 12.
  • Reduce the average GRC size from the current 5.4 to 5 as a max.

The PAP does not make these changes out of generosity - they are doing this because there is a rising risk of losing more ground without these tweaks. PM Lee himself said these changes were made in response to the changing aspirations of Singaporeans. They are clearly tweaks of the existing system because there are mainly changes in numbers not the system itself. The main message is to tell you that you don't have to vote for the opposition, they will get in anyway as NCMPs. But to understand why the PAP govt feels the need for these changes one has to look at the bigger picture....

40 years ago, Singapore was the most democratic nation in the region. The Thais and Indonesians were under martial law and the Philippines ruled by a corrupt dictator. S. Korea had a succession dictators and generals running the place. Taiwan was under the control of KMT which had the country under martial law. Where are all these countries today relative to Singapore in terms of political progress? As these countries transform to vibrant democracies in the past decade, the Singapore govt took many steps backwards culling the opposition, reducing the freedom of the press and taking away the rights of the people...all the infamous acts (Printing Presses Act, Film Act, Public Order Act) that took away the freedom of people to gather and exchange ideas. In the late 80s, the citizens realised that it was in their own interest to have more opposition members in parliament and there was a clear shift in support for the PAP as seen from the rising % of votes for the opposition. To preserve its hegemony, the PAP govt introduced the GRC and linked votes to estate upgrading. That was the most blatant form of pork barrel politics in the world. Later they introduced the NMP & NCMP schemes to persuade the people that they don't have to vote against the PAP to be heard. The pattern is always the same, whenever there is a shift towards the opposition, the PAP tweaks the system to preserve its own power and the system becomes less democratic with every change. These changes I believe will ultimately hurt not just Singapore but the PAP itself - I will explain this a little later. Whatever change they can invent, the one thing they cannot do is remove the "one man one vote" system.

When the PAP govt created the GRC, the initial size was 3 but the grew it to 6 over time. The GRC tied in very nicely to the PAP internal system of selecting candidates to run for MPs. They selected from a list of elites that consisted mainly ex-civil servants, SAF officers, GLC directors etc. According to PM Lee's own account, many of these people were reluctant politicians who had to be persuaded to run for office. The GRC provided a 'guaranteed' way enter parliament on the coattails of more established politicians usually ministers. In a true democracy, politicians have to spend time campaigning to connect with the people. Using the GRC system, the PAP could bring onboard many part time politicians with busy careers into parliament. The GRC is probably the main reason why we ended up with so many disconnected MPs who show no passion for the job and no compassion for the people. Many of them won't get in without the GRC - why would anyone vote for an MP who hardly speaks in parliament and can barely squeeze in the time for meet the people sessions. These mollycoddled MPs were chosen primarily because they have succeeded within the PAP govt's elitist system and are unlikely to rock the boat ...not for their ability to represent and serve the interests of their constituents.

PM Lee talked about the need robust leadership when he announced these changes to the system but wouldn't we have more robust leadership had they kept our democracy intact and politicians have to compete fairly for votes. I believe the PAP govt has gotten itself and the country into more trouble in the long term continuous tweaking the system in the wrong direction.

For a long time, the PAP received strong support as a result of rapid economic growth. In the 70s, 80s and early 90s, living standards improved every year and every 4-5 years when elections are held, people voted for the PAP simply because they were better off since the previous election. The one-off economic transformation when Singapore became industrialised and many people move from the poverty into the middleclass is now over. We are starting to see a generation of people whose lives are no better or sometimes worse than their parents. The bottom 20-30% see their lives are worsening year after year for more than a decade due to the growing income gap. Many Singaporeans travel or are educated overseas can see for themselves the freedom they are missing in Singapore. The Internet broke the PAP's monopoly on the dissemination of views and information. The PAP runs a system that cannot meet the aspirations of a growing number of Singaporeans, many of whom want a fair, transparent and open system. The latest tweaks does not take us one inch closer to what many Singaporeans want.

Our forefathers fought for Singapore to be freed from the shackles of colonialism and for us to be able to run this country for our own interests instead of those of our colonial masters. Two generations later we find ourselves struggling again to restore democracy and bring about a govt that works for our interests instead of its own.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Leaders without sympathy and empathy.

Sometimes I really wonder how the PAP govt do they pick so many MPs that don't seem to have any empathy for the ordinary people. One called us lesser mortals, another said we are mollycoddled, and one likes to ask pointed questions of people coming to her for help. What has happened to the leadership? They say you will know the true colors of people during the time of crisis. We had a taste of that during the minibonds saga - first they deny responsibility, then they ignore the people in need and after than they try to push the blame to the victims.
This is the worst economic crisis faced by the world and our nation since independence and the PAP leaders are asking what the people can do for them rather than what they can do for the people. The ordinary people are the ones to take the pain and the bitter medicine. This says a lot about the leaders and how they take care of their own interests first ahead of those of the people. The PAP runs an economy that will now perform the worst in Asia yet the blame for this mess falls on the shoulders of ordinary people. It is the people who spend too much, the people who did not save enough and refuse to change their lifestyle that are responsible for all their own pain. Nevermind that many people cannot adjust their lifestyle anyway because they are already at rock bottom find it hard to pay for basic necessities and the relentless cost of living increases that the PAP levied on the people made it hard for many to save money. It is the fault of the people that they are in pain. The people should adjust but the govt need not - no GST cut, no transport fare cuts. The people need to be toughened up, take the bitter medicine and blame for the economy. The PAP has created a world in which the elites can go and lose billions without repercussions and the ordinary old folks can lose their livelihoods because they took too many days of sick leave because there is no protection for those employed and old.
Sometimes I wonder what kind of selection criteria they applied to get leaders who are show so much elitism, arrogance, despise for the ordinary people and willingness to serve the interests of the establishment over the ordinary citizens? We are in a dark hour - the ordinary people are already suffering the pain of rising unemployment, pay cuts and fear that they will not be able to support their family....yet we have to hear these unhelpful and hurtful remarks from our leaders. What is said and done in this difficult period truly reflects the characters of our leaders.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

MP Sam Tan : Singaporeans are too mollycoddled....

Wow. Singaporeans are so pampered by their govt according to MP Sam Tan. Sam Tan gets about $217K a year for his part time MP job and probably much more for his full time job. Sam Tan is not mollycoddled, it is the thousands of Singaporeans hired in the volatile manufacturing sector, temp jobs who have to struggle to make ends meet that are mollycoddled. It is the $800 cleaner who has to go to the govt for help when she loses her job because it was not possible for her to save any money given the rising cost of living that is mollycoddled. It is not the job the govt to help all these people, MP Sam Tan is saying the govt should walk away and that will toughen up Singaporeans.

This is all very interesting especially when Sam Tan has a safe job in the CDAC which is recession proof and a part-time MP job that pays $217K - Sam Tan is not mollycoddled, ordinary Singaporeans who lose their low paying jobs easily and have no choice but to seek help are the ones who are mollycoddled. Sam Tan who got into parliament in Tanjong Pagar GRC thorugh a walkover on the coattails of MM Lee is not a mollycoddled politician but the Singaporeans who have to compete against the foreign workers who come in by the thosands are mollycoddled.

Ordinay Singaporeans who have no safety net and have to work until they are old are mollycoddled. But Sam Tan who will get pension after serving as MP is not mollycoddled. The old ladies digging the trash for aluminium cans and collecting cardboard boxes for a living are mollycoddled but Sam Tan is not mollycoddled. The thousands of ordinary Singaporeans who squeeze like sardines in the public transport, struggle to pay for the costliest public housing in the world and the non-stop hikes in fees, fares and rates of govt agencies are the ones who are mollycoddled but MP Sam Tan who makes more money in his part-time MP job in one month than many Singaporean workers in one year is not mollycoddled.
MP Sam Tan who never have to feed his family with less than $2000 a month is qualified to say that ordinary Singaporeans are mollycoddled. It is not the job of govt to help the poor and needy....what is the job of the govt? To squeeze ordinary Singaporeans so that can barely breathe to ensure that the people struggle ? Sam Tan says this will 'toughen' Singaporeans up. Yes, Sam Tan is one tough person who has never worked in the private sector and has never been retrenched to tell us all that.
The Straits Times May 25, 2009 8:00 PM
We're too mollycoddled [Link]
MANY Singaporeans see Government help as an entitlement, something they would tap on as a first port of call rather than as a last resort, said a backbencher in Parliament on Monday.
Mr Sam Tan, MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, is worried that Singaporeans might have been so mollycoddled by the Government that they have become 'practised at the craft of recession cushioning', and so accustomed to the government largesse. '
Each time the economy shows signs of slowing down, we've the NTUC and the e2i coming out to the forefront to job match, provide training, reduce retrenchment,' he said in his speech on the President's address. 'We've Ministry of National Development pump-priming with infrastructure projects.
We've, of course, the Ministry of Communications, Youth and Sports and its numerous help schemes.' Making clear that he is 'not diminishing the efforts' of civil servants and unionists, Mr Tan added: 'I am, however, wondering what the true impact of all these efforts are.
'Suppose you're the father of an eight-year-old boy who wants to learn how to cycle. Do you line the streets with cushions so that he would not hurt himself if he loses his balance? '
Do you brace his knees, and every conceivable part of his exposedbody with padding? You might, if you were an extremely protective father.
But a commonsensical approach would be to let the boy have a go at it himself, and take the knocks and spills as they come.
'A boy who's mollycoddled is a very different person from the one who is physically tough and take the spills without fear, and whining.
The latter, I think could be the approach that we take towards helping Singaporeans during tough times.' Citing an example to back his point, Mr Tan said recently he has seen many residents, especially the elderly, come and see him at meet-the-people sessions.
'The difference is that while in the past, many of them would be hesitant to do so, and would rely on their children first. Today, many see the government help as an entitlement, something that they should tap on as a first port of call, rather than a last resort.
'I want to spare my children the burden of caring for me', they tell me. I am frankly astonished and dismayed, for my traditional Confucius values tell me that it is the natural obligation for children to look after their parents, and for the parents to be cared for by their children when they grow old. 'I would sometimes tell them 'You should let the children care for you, not the state, not because this is a good public policy (although it is), not because society expects it (although it might), but because it is the right thing to do. 'It is filial piety, one of the most fundamental values of the human race.'

Monday, May 25, 2009

Why there is no subsidy for the poor....

I'm overseas until the end of this week. Was sent to one of those miserable countries where everything is subsidised - free medical care, unemployment benefits and care for the aged. Obviously, the leaders here have not heard about the great success of Singapore and how we have created so much happiness in our society by avoiding subsidies. Strange that there are so many smiling people here - they must be trying to hide their misery from a foreigner.

The CEO of SMRT goes to work in a Mercedes. She deserves it because the profits of SMRT has doubled in the past few years. Even as the economic crisis put thousands of Singaporeans out of the job, the SMRT's latest quarter results show another increase in profits. Yes, the CEO deserves the credit for this success and along with it, her Mercedes Benz. As the CEO of SMRT, her main KPI is PROFITS - the more, the merrier. You may think that being a virtual monopoly makes it easy to turn a profit - it is not like Singaporeans have many options when it comes to public transport. You may think of it like this lower frequency of trains = higher profits, higher density packing of trains = higher profits, higher fares = higher profits, and so on. There is little to be gain in the way of efficiency when it comes to public transport after operating for a few years so the gains have to come from the customers. You guys might want to scream about being packed like sardines on the trains or the countless fare hikes. But I asked you to hold back. It is not even your turn to complain yet. It isn't even the turn of the poor people struggling with the fare increase - they too have to wait.....and those students in poly who complain about the lack of subsidy...please wait. See, in the pursuit of profits through the endless squeezing of Singaporeans (financial and in the MRT trains), they have really squeezed the people all the way ...even the handicapped are not spared. Last weekend, in Hong Lim, a group of them gathered to protest for higher subsidies. It is already hard enough for them to get a decent job and they too are made to struggle with those high fares.

The CEO of SMRT deserves her Mercedes ride to work but the blind, deaf, and wheelchair bound don't deserve a subsidy so that their lives can just a little better. The Mercedes comes when profits grow and giving the poor, disabled and old a more affordable fare does not help with the maintenance of that Mercedes. If that is the spirit with which we run our 'public' transport system....what does that say about everything else?

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Real Marxist Conspiracy....

What is really terrifying about the Marxists is not their ideology but what they do to a country after taking over. Many years ago, we had a communist underground that the British Special Branch (predecessor of the ISD) had to contend with in the 1960s. The communists had strong support in Singapore and published a widely circulated newsletter. Do you know what the communists called their newsletter? Freedom News. Copies of the Freedom News can be found in a CD found in a book on the ISD published recently[Link]. Articles in Freedom News talked about the promise of freedom, equality and justice that communism would talked about power to the people who deserved rights and so on. What usually happens when communists take over a country is the repression of opponents, concentration of power in small group of people, control of the media to spread propaganda and disregard for human rights. The communists figured that they wouldn't get any support from masses if they told the people they were out to repress them.....who would read the newsletter if they called it Repression Propaganda...who would read it if they wrote about their real intent for a communist state. Marxism may have some problematic economic ideas that don't work but the real problem is the leaders who pledge to take the people to the promise land of justice,equality and freedom but once in power take a detour towards repression and central control.....That is the real conspiracy ...a group of men who seduce the masses with an attractive ideology for support then proceed to alter the system to consolidate their power for their own narrow interests by using propaganda and repressing their opponents.

" build a democratic society,
based on justice and equality...." - Singapore Pledge.

You really wonder what the Young PAP learned from the Chinese Communists but I think the lesson is probably not a one way street - the Chinese have a lot to learn from Singapore on how to maintain one party rule as the society become more exposed to the rest of the world. I guess there is a lot for them to share on how to handle the Internet, the Western media and how to keep the people happy with the status quo using the state controlled main stream media. The Chinese, I guess, would definitely be interested in replacing some of their archaic tools like simply making dissidents disappear with something more modern like defamation lawsuits.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Lest we forget....

The other day a BBC reporter went to China and spoke to a few young people, aged below 20, at a shopping centre. He asked them if they knew what happened at Tiananmen more than 2 decades ago and they replied with blank stares. See the Chinese govt with its propaganda machine and its economic success has managed to fade away memories of its dark past. But the fight for justice never really dies completely - from the Chinese peasants whose land has been taken by violent 'land grabs' to the parents of children who died in the collapse of 'tou-fu' school buildings during the Sichuan earthquake[Link], the Chinese people yearn for justice and freedom. As the Chinese economic engine hums along, there are 600 riots a year (based on official figures, unofficial figures put it a lot higher) and for thousands of Chinese the search for justice is elusive[Link].
If you go to a shopping centre in Singapore and ask the young shoppers there if they have heard of Operation Spectrum [Link]and the 'Marxist Conspiracy', will you get the same blank stares as the BBC reporter? On 21 May 1987 in the wee hours of the morning, a group of 16 Singaporeans were arrested from their homes and detained. They were accused of trying to overthrow the govt by force and replacing it with a Marxist govt. They were found with no weapons,....11 of the 16 people arrested were women...they were supposed to have plotted to 'overthrow the govt by force' defeating the SAF and the Singapore Police Force. The detainees were interrogated under harsh conditions, forced to confess on TV and sign various documents. Over the next few weeks, Singaporeans were fed with a colorful plot centered around this person called Tan Wah Piow, a former student activist in the 70s who fled to England when the govt came after him for helping to fight for a group of workers seeking justice.

This supposed evil mastermind Tan Wah Piow is now a human rights lawyer in England. He now spends large part of his time helping immigrants seeking justice. His career choice probably says a lot about how credible the mastermind accusation is. After the detainees were released, a number repudiated their confessions and wanted to sue the govt, they were rearrested and detained.

.Why should we not forget what happened to this group of Singaporeans 22 years ago? Because nothing has changed - the same law (ISA), the same govt (PAP) and the same media(ST) that helped to perpetuate this unjust act exist today as they did 22 years ago. Forget the fairtale Marxist Conspiracy theory...what this whole thing is about a group of men who wanted to preserve their single-party hegemonistic rule through repression.

"Do we want a Singapore where only because of a slight dissent against the Government, people are arrested? Do you want a country that has a widespread fear, apathy?”

- Chiam See Tong in parliament, 1987

There is no reason for the PAP govt to keep the ISA as it is except to be able to use it again to preserve its own power. The Malaysians have taken steps to review the ISA [Link] and it is likely they will replace with an anti-terrorism act. It is useless to talk about wanting an open inclusive society when such a draconian law exists to permeate a climate of fear among the people.

SGX website upgrade - Secret tip to quick access..

The newspapers has reported that there are more than 600 complaints about the SGX's new website. While many don't like the fonts, colors and the way the data is presented, the biggest problem is the slowness of access to the website - I'll tell you how to overcome this later. It is a real wonder why SGX spent all that money to redesign its website into something that few people appreciate. Personally, if I were managing the website upgrade for SGX, I would deal with the following issues:

1. Speedup access time to the site. If possible, offer streaming live quotes. This technology is already widely available as seen from Ameritrade, IG etc.
2. Better charts. The people ugrading don't seem to have any ideas what people want to see in a chart. One example of a good charting service is the charts provided by

3. More company information. I think SGX now only gives announcements of the company going back a few (2?) quarters when most investors would like 5 years if not all the data available. It is little wonder why it is so hard to provide this data when harddisk space is actually cheap. SGX should also be repositories for annual reports which increasingly are available in softcopies.
Now for the big tip on how to make the SGX website faster and more usable. After its upgrade, I gave up on the SGX website and switched to POEMS for checking stock prices because it was simply too slow. Even for a person who checks these prices leisurely after work when the market is closed, the slowness is unacceptable. I did some simple analysis and found the new website makes extensive use of Java and its Java code executes very slowly under the Sun Java VM. You can get the SGX website access speeded up tremendously by switching to Google's Chrome because it uses a much faster Java VM called V8 developed by its team in Denmark[Link]. While Chrome may be lacking in other areas, its Java script execution speed is No. 1. The SGX stock price access speed up to almost 'instantaneous' under Chrome making it usable. I'm not advertising for Google but if you want to overcome the pain of using the new SGX website you can download Chrome here[Link] and give it a try.
SGX fixing under-fire website [Link]

LOCAL investors may understand many things, such as how to place butterfly spreads or hedge futures - but what they simply do not understand is why the Singapore Exchange (SGX) would fix something that is not broken.
Since the launch of the new SGX website on May 8, users have been up in arms over its new interface.

According to SGX, the feedback and suggestion count about the new website had mounted to about 600 over the work-week. The website is among the three most-visited in Singapore and logged one million individual users last month.

Some were nostalgic about the old website. Others raised navigational issues about the new one and complained about its appearance and glitches in the system.
The complaints have not fallen on deaf ears.

'About 60 per cent of the problems to date relate to Internet settings and locating information and these have been addressed immediately through our hotlines and by email,' said Amy Balan, head of corporate communications at SGX.

'About 10 per cent particularly from our older users gave feedback on font size and readability. The colour and font will be improved starting Monday, May 18.'
The website's slow speed made up another 10 per cent of the complaints received.
'We are currently determining the different variables affecting slowness, some of which pertain to user environment. We are working with our technology and network vendors to resolve this,' said Ms Balan.
The inflexibility of the navigation system for company announcements that limits filtering options has also drawn fire.
'The worst thing is you have to navigate by selecting the stocks you want to see using the dropdown menu which makes it troublesome and a waste of time,' said online user 'chiapeipei' on a forum last Monday.
Other users have taken issue with how returning to a previous page on certain parts of the website could only be accomplished with a specific button tucked away at the bottom of the page, instead of with the 'Back' browser button as was previously possible.
Analysts on the go have also been irked by the new website's lack of optimisation for mobile phones and PDAs, resulting in longer loading times and difficulty in site navigation.
'The SGX seems to have forgotten that people look at the website on their mobile phones, too,' an analyst with a local firm said.
Glitches have also surfaced. An online user noted that 'Raffles Education Corp' and 'Raffles Education Corp Ltd' both existed on the company announcements menu as separate options, with their own set of announcements, even though only one such firm exists.
BT also found that the announcements for certain counters only go back as far as January this year, even though announcements made by listed firms over the last 24 months should be available on the SGX website.
While acknowledging 'teething issues', Ms Balan thanked users for their feedback and said the website would be refined.

This article was first published in The Business Times.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Norway's Big Score During Crisis!

Norway's sovereign wealth fund is also managed by a woman. One with real nerve and spectacular timing. A socialist who understood the market.....
Thriving Norway Provides an Economics Lesson
OSLO — When capitalism seemed on the verge of collapse last fall, Kristin Halvorsen, Norway’s Socialist finance minister and a longtime free market skeptic, did more than crow.
As investors the world over sold in a panic, she bucked the tide, authorizing Norway’s $300 billion sovereign wealth fund to ramp up its stock buying program by $60 billion — or about 23 percent of Norway ’s economic output. “The timing was not that bad,” Ms. Halvorsen said, smiling with satisfaction over the broad worldwide market rally that began in early March.
The global financial crisis has brought low the economies of just about every country on earth. But not Norway. With a quirky contrariness as deeply etched in the national character as the fjords carved into its rugged landscape, Norway has thrived by going its own way. When others splurged, it saved. When others sought to limit the role of government, Norway strengthened its cradle-to-grave welfare state. And in the midst of the worst global downturn since the Depression, Norway’s economy grew last year by just under 3 percent. The government enjoys a budget surplus of 11 percent and its ledger is entirely free of debt. By comparison, the United States is expected to chalk up a fiscal deficit this year equal to 12.9 percent of its gross domestic product and push its total debt to $11 trillion, or 65 percent of the size of its economy.
Norway is a relatively small country with a largely homogeneous population of 4.6 million and the advantages of being a major oil exporter. It counted $68 billion in oil revenue last year as prices soared to record levels. Even though prices have sharply declined, the government is not particularly worried. That is because Norway avoided the usual trap that plagues many energy-rich countries. Instead of spending its riches lavishly, it passed legislation ensuring that oil revenue went straight into its sovereign wealth fund, state money that is used to make investments around the world. Now its sovereign wealth fund is close to being the largest in the world, despite losing 23 percent last year because of investments that declined. Norway’s relative frugality stands in stark contrast to Britain, which spent most of its North Sea oil revenue — and more — during the boom years. Government spending rose to 47 percent of G.D.P., from 42 percent in 2003. By comparison, public spending in Norway fell to 40 percent from 48 percent of G.D.P. “The U.S. and the U.K. have no sense of guilt,” said Anders Aslund, an expert on Scandinavia at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “But in Norway, there is instead a sense of virtue. If you are given a lot, you have a responsibility.” Eirik Wekre, an economist who writes thrillers in his spare time, describes Norwegians’ feelings about debt this way: “We cannot spend this money now; it would be stealing from future generations.” Mr. Wekre, who paid for his house and car with cash, attributes this broad consensus to as the country’s iconoclasm. “The strongest man is he who stands alone in the world,” he said, quoting Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. Still, even Ibsen might concede that it is easier to stand alone when your nation has benefited from oil reserves that make it the third-largest exporter in the world. The money flowing from that black gold since the early 1970s has prompted even the flintiest of Norwegians to relax and enjoy their good fortune. The country’s G.D.P. per person is $52,000, behind only Luxembourg among industrial democracies. As in much of the rest of the world home prices have soared here, tripling this decade. But there has been no real estate crash in Norway because there were few mortgage lending excesses. After a 15 percent correction, prices are again on the rise. Unlike Dublin or Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where work has stopped on half-built skyscrapers and stilled cranes dot the skylines, Oslo retains a feeling of modesty reminiscent of a fishing village rather than a Western capital, with the recently opened $800 million Opera House one of the few signs of opulence. Norwegian banks, said Arne J. Isachsen, an economist at the Norwegian School of Management, remain largely healthy and prudent in their lending. Banks represent just 2 percent of the economy and tight public oversight over their lending practices have kept Norwegian banks from taking on the risk that brought down their Icelandic counterparts. But they certainly have not closed their doors to borrowers. Mr. Isachsen, like many in Norway, has a second home and an open credit line from his bank, which he recently used to buy a new boat. Some here worry that while a cabin in the woods and a boat may not approach the excesses seen in New York or London, oil wealth and the state largesse have corrupted Norway’s once-sturdy work ethic. “This is an oil-for-leisure program,” said Knut Anton Mork, an economist at Handelsbanken in Oslo. A recent study, he pointed out, found that Norwegians work the fewest hours of the citizens of any industrial democracy. “We have become complacent,” Mr. Mork added. “More and more vacation houses are being built. We have more holidays than most countries and extremely generous benefits and sick leave policies. Some day the dream will end.” But that day is far off. For now, the air is clear, work is plentiful and the government’s helping hand is omnipresent — even for those on the margins. Just around the corner from Norway’s central bank, for instance, Paul Bruum takes a needle full of amphetamines and jabs it into his muscular arm. His scabs and sores betray many years as a heroin addict. He says that the $1,500 he gets from the government each month is enough to keep him well-fed and supplied with drugs. Mr. Bruum, 32, says he has never had a job, and he admits he is no position to find one. “I don’t blame anyone,” he said. “The Norwegian government has provided for me the best they can.” To Ms. Halvorsen, the finance minister, even the underside of the Norwegian dream looks pretty good compared to the economic nightmares elsewhere.
As a socialist, I have always said that the market can’t regulate itself,” she said. “But even I was surprised how strong the failure was.”

Temasek : Time for Reform........

First more questions.....
Letter from ST Forum [Link]
Temasek must set example on transparency
I REFER to last Saturday's column, 'Temasek should clear the air', on the massive loss arising from Temasek Holdings' sale of its stake in Bank of America (BoA).
Temasek is neither a private equity fund nor a hedge fund, but it handles billions of dollars which belong to Singaporeans.
BoA's share price ranged between US$2.53 and US$14.81 during the period Jan 2 to March 31, when the sale is believed to have been made. This makes it well-nigh impossible to guess the size of the loss, except that it must be in billions of dollars.
After being told that the investments were for the long term - when the markets in the United States crashed after Temasek had invested heavily in US financial stocks - Singaporeans expect Temasek to explain the timing of the sale and the reasons for it. Do the reasons relate specifically to BoA or generally to the US stock market? Surely it cannot be due to diversifying the geographical distribution of future investments.
Temasek must give the lead and be transparent if other listed companies on the Singapore Exchange are expected to do so.
Denis Distant
Actually, I think there are more questions related to the purchase of Merrill stock than the sale of BoA stock. There were many "voices of reason" warning about the toxic assets in these finance companies yet Temasek ignored the warning signs and went in to lose all that tax payers' money. John Thain whom they said they had "great confidence" [Link] in turned out to be one of the greedy executives who paid himself handsomely as the company sank. He is now one of the poster boys for greed and incompetence[Link]. I'm less disageeable with Temasek's sale of BoA stock as I think BoA is crappy given its toxic assets but Temasek's timing was so unfortunate....BoA stock rose about 50-70% after Temask sold its entire stake.
Watching this sorry saga unfold has prompted many Singaporeans to demand greater transparency from Temasek. The commonly given excuses by the govt for Temasek to remain secretive are that they are afraid that their fantastic investments decisions will be copied by other lesser investors or that hedge funds with find ways to attack Singapore financially if they know how our reserves are managed. ...come on... don't insult our intelligence. If our reserves are managed in a way that makes us vulnerable to hedge fund attacks, all the more we should change the way our money is invested.
Beyond the issues surrounding the massive losses in American banks is the way Temasek invests our money. Instead of hiring hundreds of people to invest our money in piecemeal fashion - negotiating an 'exciting' deal here and there - shouldn't taxpayer's money be more efficiently managed? They should release all those talents in Temasek to boost our fund management sector and start a few green shoots in our economy. These top elites, the former generals, former civil servants, top scholars if they are as talented as they claim will be snapped up by the private sector to give a boost to our economy.
Temasek can do with fewer people. Buffett manages his funds with fewer people than 10 people. Lets put it this way, they hundreds of great minds in Temask didn't stop it from making those disastrous investments in Western banks. One way for Temasek to invest is to allocate its funds to broad asset classes, say, commodities, stocks, bonds, foreign currency etc. Have a small but outstanding team assigned to each. Now take the example for stocks, Temasek can be a lot more efficient by investing in country the S&P index rather than individual stocks....instead of buying Shin Corp which they claimed was a good investment because of the rising middle class in Thailand, they could have purchased a diversified portforlio of Thai blue chips. Instead of taking huge stakes in ABC Learning, they could have bought S&P ASX Index. Hiring hundreds of people and taking huge stakes in various companies in high profile deals is an inefficient to invest our money and that was how Temasek got into so much trouble in Shin Corp, Merrill, Citigroup, Global Crossing etc. Such large stakes in individual companies are hard to unload in times of crisis ....and buffer for crisis is the PAP govt's main reason for having such huge reserves in the first place.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

CNBC Faber Report on Temasek

Here's the CNBC coverage of Temasek's BoA stock sale. The part about Temasek comes right at the end:
"...but this one guys is right up there as one of the worst investments during this period for a single investment fund..."- David Faber, Faber Report CNBC, 15 May 2009

"Singapore's acquisitive Temasek is up to its old tricks again, buying high selling low...." - Financial Times [Link]

Friday, May 15, 2009

Temasek Sells its Long Term Investment...

"When we invest, we are investing for 10, 15, 20 years. You may look as if you are making a big loss today, but you have not borrowed money to invest. You will ride the storm, the company recovers, your shares go up." - MM Lee Feb 2009 [Link]
Temasek has sold its entire stake in Bank of America[Link]. Bloomberg reports that Temasek might have lost close to US$4.6B in the investment. Temasek received Bank of America stock after Bank of America took over Merrill. Temasek spent US$5.9B on its Merrill investment. Temasek sold its stock in first quarter of 2009. Although Bank of America's stock has since recovered, it is unclear if this recovery is sustainable - I still believe US banks face numerous challenges going ahead. Tim Geithner's "wayang" show using "stress tests" to show that US banks are healthy was brilliant as a move to restore confidence and allow banks to raise money through bonds and secondary stock sales.

938Live :"Should old folks be given a choice to work?"

This morning's Talkback on 938Live discussed the issue of old folks working and the DJ asked whether the old folks should be given a choice to work or stay at home as many are compelled today to work for the next meal and pay for necessities like electricity and water. As very few companies are willing to hire the old many end up working as cleaners and garbage collectors.
One caller suggested that old folks should be made supervisors and younger workers should do the hard work instead. Another called to say that it is good to have old folks working but she was concerned about the health hazard posed by the garbage they have to handle in some of these man called to say this:

"You go to any country in Asean and Singaporeans are the ones who make people who should be grand fathers and grand mothers take up jobs like these. It is so shameful for us as a country. The govt can spend billions and even lose a few billions why can't they spend a few hundred million to take care of the old...." - 93.8Live caller 15 May 2009.

It is one thing to force young abled Singaporeans compete against foreigners but to ask our old folks in the last years of their lives to compete is downright cruel and wrong. We (myself included) should all be ashamed, we have all not done enough, we are all selfish cowards. Another caller reminded the DJs that they too can be that old person who has to dig the dustbin for aluminium cans when they grow old. What is stopping the govt from doing the right thing? Moral hazard to help these old folks? No welfare because it is a dirty word? ....whatever small moral hazard the govt fears that cause them not to take care of our old folks ...what really hurts our society far more is the damage to our soul and shame this brings to all of us. A govt that does not even take care of the old folks can never be trusted to take care of you in your time of need.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Singapore workers : What's in it for us?

UPDATE: Reading one of the comments on how the PAP leadership makes the ordinary people compete as it excuses itself from competition reminds me of what I heard on BBC yesterday when Stephen S. Roach [Link] was interviewed. He said that democracy is key to the economic well being of a society because of the open competition for political leadership is essential to ensure the interests of the people are served.

During the good times, prices go up and ministers and other elites take the chance to raise heir own pay to the stratosphere. But what is in it for the Singapore workers? They struggle during the good times with price hikes and during the bad times with the fear of job loss. They struggle to pay their for their public housing, may not be able to retire properly and have to cope with ever rising cost of medical care. Many Singaporeans are beginning to ask - what was all the struggling for? From the ultra-competitive school environment to the even more competitive work environment, Singaporeans are working harder to stay afloat but does the hard work translate to a better life? For resources that are limited and allocated based on market pricing such as land and housing, competition means you work harder to get less - indeed our homes have been shrinking in size even as it consumes a greater % of our income for mortgage payments. One friend of mine called my up last year delighted that he could finally 'buy' (hmm...borrow for?) his dream home working hard as an engineer for 8 years. When I visited, the place was much smaller than the 1st flat (a 4 room flat) my father bought when he worked as a technician. Still, my friend who works an engineer has a future to look forward to but what about the technician in Singapore's economy today? ...

The struggle doesn't even result in job security - Singapore becoming the worse performing economy in Asia this year and seeing an unemployment rate of 4.9%. The competition only results in more intense competition...higher stress, rising home prices & cost of living, ...after a while you feel like you have been put on a threadmill running hard but going nowhere.

Something seems to have gone wrong with the system. As a whole, the Singapore economy has been a money making machine during the boomtimes. The problem is distribution. In the past 2 decades, profits as a % of GDP has grown to record levels and at the same time the income gap ballooned...this has spilled over into middleclass families & professionals. So what is in it for us as the leaders urge workers to work harder and longer when the wealth distribution is so inequitable?

All this is no surprise as we have leaders who are mis-incentivised. Our leaders have pegged their own salaries to those in the highest income bracket. Think about it - it is in their interest to keep this system you struggle harder every year.
Published May 13, 2009 (Business Times 13 May 2009)
Short on bonuses and high on stress [Link]

Local professionals among worst hit by cost cutting and overwork: survey

The typical Singaporean professional is cowering at his desk, a sneezing and overworked heap, if the numbers are to be believed. The latest Robert Half survey indicates that local professionals have gotten the shortest end of the stick globally, being on the receiving end of cost-cutting and management ineptitude in bad times. Some 59 per cent of respondents in Singapore reported bonuses being cut or lowered - the highest globally. Coming in a distant second in the region is Hong Kong, with 42 per cent. Local firms have also reported among the highest incidents of hiring freezes, with 55 per cent of firms no longer hiring in view of the economic climate, compared to the global average of 42 per cent. Even as local companies trim the fat, with budget cuts being cited as the main reason for shrinking finance and accounting teams, employees in Singapore who are already overworked will have no respite. Some 55 per cent of local respondents do not expect their employers to give them the option of shorter work-weeks in order to cut costs. Even if their immune systems were to fall prey to stress, employees in Singapore will not be calling in sick. None of this bodes well for workplace stress levels, with 69 per cent of local employees foreseeing an increase in stress for the rest of the year, second globally only to Japan, where 71 per cent of respondents feel the same way. 'We are living in very uncertain times and I would not be surprised if visits to psychologists increase, because some people cannot handle the stress,' said Paul Heng, managing director of Next Career Consulting. Even if their immune systems were to fall prey to stress, employees in Singapore will not be calling in sick. The top three reasons cited by local respondents for coming in to work despite being ill are all fear-related: the fear of falling behind on work; being perceived by superiors or peers as not working hard; and having too many sick days count against them. However, what some might call 'fear', others call 'character-building'. 'There are junior employees in the finance and accounting industries who have lived only through upswings and take sick leave if they so much as have a sniffle. The current situation will improve their work ethic, resilience and productivity,' said Tulika Tripathi, managing director of Michael Page Singapore. When employees are not at work, they are thinking about it. Sixty-five per cent of respondents here spend a daily average of 30 minutes or more on work emails after work hours, against the global average of 57 per cent. All this is par for the course in this era, according to Mr Heng. 'It is necessary especially when you work for global companies with operations in different timezones. You still have to answer emails at 11pm,' he said. Such high levels of strain being borne by employees will have negative implications for firms, warns Tim Hird, managing director of Robert Half Singapore. 'Very often, cost-reduction measures that cause undue pressure to workers not only lead to a loss in valuable talent, but also adversely impact the company's overall performance and eventually its bottom line,' said Mr Hird. With quality of life coming under siege for the white-collar worker in Singapore, it is no wonder that what they crave most is non-monetary in nature. 'Open and honest communication' and 'manageable staff workloads' were the top two most desired elements for improving employee morale, with 34 per cent and 19 per cent of employees voting for them, respectively. The survey polled 6,167 managers across 20 countries, 202 of whom were based in Singapore.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Speculation, the economy and you....

If you have seen the 2 videos, you may be wondering what is the point of this posting. The 1st video shows how money is created, the 2nd video shows the US Federal Reserve is able to create trillions in new money. The 3rd part is an article by Larry Haverkamp (aka Dr. Money) a columnist with the New Paper : [Link]. An extract from his article:

"US$200 trillion in world wealth is small compared to the new centrepiece of this recession: derivatives. They are US$1,232 trillion, which is - get ready - US$1.232 quadrillion. A quadrillion is 1,000 trillion, or 1 followed by 15 zeros........looking at the value of all derivatives. As explained, it stands at US$1,232 trillion, which is six times the US$200 trillion value of the world's wealth." - Larry Haverkamp.

Analogy is something like this : soccer is a game that many love and players earn their income by entertaining the fans, clubs earn money selling souveniors, ticket sales, TV broadcast rights etc. At the side, another game take place - soccer betting. Suppose the betting game grows and the money involved in betting on soccer games become larger than the money generated by the game itself. What happens? The players in the second game start to try to fix the actual soccer game and influence the outcome.

In the past, the amount of speculative money in the financial markets is a small fraction of the total wealth in the world. A small amount of speculation is good for markets because it helps to make markets liquid and more efficient. But through leverage and use derivatives the total amount of money used for speculation has grown to an amount several times the total wealth in the world. The 2nd game - that of speculation in the financial markets - now has great influence over the actual economy. Speculators acting in herd-like fashion can create a recession by betting that there is going to be one. During the Asian Crisis, Dr. Mahathir was ridiculed for calling currency speculation 'evil'. ..he was laughed at for trying pin Malaysia's economic woes on someone else and also for being a naive authoritarian who couldn't understand and accept the natural outcome capitalism. Looking back weren't those speculators attacking the ringgit causing a loss of confidence that made investors flee thereby bringing the Malaysian economy to its knees. ...that was downright different from the Somali pirates who hijack ships for a ransom.

Why is all this important? We, the good people of this earth, study hard, work hard and obey the law yet our lives can be disrupted and even ruined by people whose activities are unproductive and unbeneficial to society...whose goal is to line their own pockets with money.


If you watched the earlier video, you might want to watch this video in which the US Inspector General is questioned about the Federal Reserve...listen to it carefully.

A small but growing number of Americans are calling for the Federal Reserve to be shutdown and the ability to 'create money' put back in the hands of the US govt. Given the current crisis can be traced back to the actions of the Federal Reserve under Alan Greenspan and over-leveraged banks, Americans are beginning to ask if the entire system is rigged so that while ordinary citizens work like slaves servicing their debts, another group of people just sit around creating and lending money earning interest and manufacturing inflation that eats away the savings of ordinary folks. ....

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Thio Li-Ann's Mother's Day Tribute....

I don't know why but I just can't resist putting this picture from today's New Paper in my blog. It shows NMP Thio when she was four walking with her mom (also known as Feminist Mentor Thio) in 1971. Notice that NMP Thio had a plaster on her right knee.....

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Spin on Mas Selamat's Capture....

UPDATE: PM Lee in a statement[Link] on 9 May 2009 clarified that he knew of Mas Selamat's capture earlier from DPM Wong Kan Seng before he met Malaysian PM Najip in Pattaya. Many have posted comments to this post saying that Mas Selamat is detained without trial under the ISA and that he might not even be a terrorist since all the allegations against him have not been proven in court. I agreed in principle that detention without trial is wrong. This is a false compromise between security and principles as countries like UK faced deadlier terrorist threats without resorting to such legislation. However, our security agencies have build a homeland security strategy that depends on the ISA for expediency - a removal of ISA will be a step forward for our nation but it will have to be planned and new strategies to fight terrorism developed. Malaysia is reviewing their ISA [Link] by turning it into an "anti-terrorism act" so that it cannot be use for political detentions anymore. For a start, to prevent abuses, the ISA can perhaps be modified to shorten the detention period before the detainee has to be released or a trial has to take place. Those detained wrongfully should be allowed to sue for damages.
""Mas Selamat has been arrested by the Malaysian Special Branch (MSB) in a joint operation between the MSB and the Internal Security Department (ISD)."
- Minister Wong Kan Seng [Link].
Singapore had a "joint operation" with Malaysia to capture Mas Selamat so it is very strange that Malaysian paper The New Straits Times reported PM Lee was not aware of Mas Selamat's capture until Malaysian PM Najib told him about it in Pattaya.
He said the successful capture was relayed to his Singapore counterpart Lee Hsien Loong in Pattaya, Thailand early last month.“I’ve mentioned this to Singapore Prime Minister when we talked in Pattaya and he’s happy Malaysia had succeeded in apprehending Mat Selamat,” he said.[The New Straits Times]

The facts are plainly Indonesia caught Mas Selamat handed him over to Singapore, Singapore lost him and couldn't find him, and Malaysian authorities caught him in April in Johor. Yesterday's Straits Times had these headlines about "Singapore's role arrest" and "Lead came from Singapore" . It was as if Malaysian authorities were guided by Singapore to capture Mas Selamat. Strange isn't it....because our home affairs ministry seemed to believe that he had escaped to Indonesia[Link][Link].

“We believe he fled to Indonesia soon after he escaped from the detention centre amidst a major manhunt mounted to recapture him in the island state.” - A spokesman for Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs[Link].

WayangParty did an interesting comparison of Singapore and Malaysian reports on the capture[Link] and The Online Citizen also had an article on how Singapore authorities"congratulated itself" for the capture of Mas Selamat by Malaysian authorities[Link].

Singaporeans interviewed by the Straits Times have forgiven the govt for the escape and are appreciative of his arrest:

'I was so proud when I read that the Malaysian authorities caught him with help from Singapore intelligence. We may have made a mistake when he got away, but I think we've more than made up for it with this arrest', said Mr Mirza Khan [Link].
'His arrest will bring closure for those who were responsible for inadvertently letting him escape last year. I hope they will feel better, and not blame themselves so much now', said Ms Clara Loy[Link].
I think we should all be relieved that Mas Selamat has been captured. He is afterall our most dangerous terrorist. Many Singaporeans are genuinely happy with his capture - but to spin this whole episode into a success story that Singaporeans should be proud of is really hard to swallow.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Geithner Redeemed!!!......

Sometime in Feb 2009, Tim Geithner was scheduled to address the public on a plan to save the banking sector. The market was high on hope and expectations. Geithner delivered a vague plan without details causing the markets to lose confidence - the DOW fell 382 pts. This half-baked plan shattered hopes that the new US treasury secretary had a solution and left more questions than answers[Link]. Shortly after the disastrous address, many were asking for him to be fired[Link]. Obama was made to defend Geithner on numerous occasions...critics called his plan a disaster, Krugman was trashing it mercilessly[Link]. Just imagine the enormous pressure Geithner was facing as US Treasury Secretary- you can say the global economy was resting on his shoulders.

I went through Geithner's Feb 2009 plan and thought it had some merits and was the only logical way to move forward although the details were lacking. I wasn't really sure and looked around but couldn't find somebody who had anything positive to say about the plan until I read Jim Jubak's article[Jubak's Article Link, My blog entry Link] - Jubak is outstanding! Not only did he go against the prevailing overwhelmingly negative views on the plan he gave an insightful explanation why the plan actually had a good chance of succeeding. Jubak contrarian view of the plan is starting to look correct with the conclusion of stress tests for the banks[Link].

For Geithner, he must have had the toughest job in the world for the past 3 months - he was grilled by congress numerous times, asked to resign[Link]...many wanted him fired as he was trying to solve the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. He was painted as a villian in the AIG bonus scandal and many wrote that he was unqualified as he had no economics degree. It was very tough for President Obama to stand by this man but his support never wavered. There must be a reason for Obama to choose Geithner over more prominent candidates including Nobel Prize winners - it was a huge risk and perhaps we are seeing big payback.

Mas Selamat CAPTURED!!!!!!

He was captured by Malaysian authorites 6 weeks ago in Johor on 1 April. It is not clear how he slipped through immigration to get to Malaysia ....maybe he did what Took did.
BTW, where is that 'hit and run' lawyer David Rasif[Link]? Maybe the Malaysian authorities can help to find him.

Singapore's JI leader Mas Selamat arrested in Malaysia
By TODAY Posted: 08 May 2009 0143 hrs

SINGAPORE: Mas Selamat Kastari, Singapore's Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) leader who escaped from Whitley Road Detention Centre on February 27 last year, has been arrested. The terrorist, who once plotted to hijack a plane and crash it into Changi Airport, was arrested in Malaysia in a joint intelligence operation involving the internal security agencies of the two countries. It is understood that Mas Selamat was actually arrested over a month ago but had been under interrogation in Malaysia. It is believed that the fugitive will soon be brought back to Singapore. Last December, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said: "He is one up on us, but the game is not over. One day we will catch him."
Most security experts had expected the fugitive to head for Indonesia, where other JI members are believed to be based. So, it came as a surprise to some that he was arrested in Malaysia. Mas Selamat gave his guards the slip while he was being taken to the toilet at the detention centre. The escape sparked the largest manhunt in Singapore's history. Thousands of police and military personnel were roped in to comb the island for the fugitive. Checks at the borders were stepped up, road blocks were set up, officers went house to house, and forested areas were swept. There were also offers of a million dollar reward by two businessmen for his capture. Mas Selamat, however, remained elusive although dozens of illegal immigrants were flushed out. Posters bearing his face and description were put up everywhere and every mobile phone here was sent either a text description or a picture of him. Mas Selamat's escape also resulted in the dismissal of the detention centre's superintendent over security lapses. The superintendent's deputy was demoted. The two were the most senior officers in charge of the ground management of the detention centre, and were among six Internal Security Department (ISD) officers charged over the escape. Mas Selamat fled Singapore in December 2001 following an Internal Security Department operation against the terrorist organisation. The militant leader had been on the run after Singapore authorities discovered plans to crash seven trucks filled with bombs at various locations around the island. Investigations also revealed that he was the mastermind behind a plan to hijack an airplane and crash it into Changi airport. Mas Selamat was arrested by the Indonesian police on Bintan island in January 2006. He was detained for using a fake identity card. When he was arrested, officers found literature on bomb-making on him. Based on investigations then, Indonesia's elite anti-terror police then discovered he was the leader of the Singapore Jemaah Islamiyah network. They then deported him to Singapore, where he was detained at Whitley Road Detention Centre under the Internal Security Act. The 48-year-old father of four was said to be involved in JI's plans to mount attacks against foreign and local establishments in Singapore. These included the US Embassy and American Club, the Defence Ministry headquarters at Bukit Gombak and the Education Ministry building at North Buona Vista Drive. - CNA/TODAY/de

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Boy arrested for slamming chair at MP Office!

FURTHER UPDATE: "There is a clear line between being frustrated or disappointed and being violent. The thrown chair could have killed somebody." - Minister Lim Hwee Hwa on why she rejected the written apology of the 17 year old boy. I've never heard of someone killed by an aluminium chair and anyone trying to kill someone by slamming it onto a door. But Minister Lim is not letting these people way to her they are a real danger and have to be contained by the full force of the law.

UPDATE: The 17 year old boy will be charged in court on 12 May 2009 (Tuesday). He is now out on bail. I was thinking if it happened somewhere else and the police were called, would they even bother to turn up. The "rash act" law is very interesting. In this case the boy took an aluminium chair and slam it on the glass door. As I understand from the reports, the door is still intact and nobody was injured....yet there are grounds to charge the boy. "Physically showing anger " is against the law in Singapore especially if you're in an MP's office. Insulting a public servant is also a crime....the law is heavily stacked against people with short temper but don't hurt others physically. It is sad that we still need these laws after all the courtesy campaigns, smile campaigns and kindness campaign....yeah I remember we are still in Kindness Month(?)...yes Cynthia Phua was motherly but was she kind to the mother and child...were the grassroots leaders kind to call the police and have him arrested...and was MP Lim or Phua kind not to stop them.
A 17 year-old-boy was arrested by the police for slamming a chair against a glass door at a meet-the-people session at Serangoon North. This happened after the boy and his mom walked out of MP Cynthia Phua's office. It is not clear what transpired in the office to trigger such rage but in an interview with the New Paper, the mother said that Cynthia Phua had asked her son a series of questions : "Who are you? What are you doing? Why are you not working?". The mother explained that she wanted to answer the questions but was not given a chance. The mother and son said that they felt like they were "being scolded". The mother was working as a cleaner at $400 a month salary (Singapore has no minimum wage laws) and lost her income when she broke her wrist fixing a ceiling fan. As there is no comprehensive safety net in Singapore she had to go to the MP office wait in line for help. She goes to the MP office every month for financial aid. In this MPS, she had defaulted on her HDB loan and HDB threatens to repossess the flat and give her a rental unit but she cannot afford the $138 rental deposit & stamp duty. She was at the MP office to get MP Phua's signature for an appeal letter. Although the request was granted, the mother and son said they walked out of the office feeling like they have been put down.

"I had to ask some pointed questions about his employment status to understand the root cause of the problem, so that I can be more effective in helping them" - Cynthia Phua
I thought that the root cause of the problem is the govt opening the floodgates for foreign workers to depressed the wages of our low income workers and the refusal to set a minimum wage. ...may be Cynthia should be asking her own party pointed questions instead.
"From what I understand, Madam Phua was being very motherly and very helpful inside the room with them" - MP Lim Hwee Hua
According to the New Paper, the 17 year old boy has low IQ and suffers from thalassermia which renders him weak and sickly. He may be charged in court for "committing a rash act" which carries a fine of up to $2500 and a jail term of up to 6 months.
I wonder what we gain out of making needy people in our society seek aid this way : cutting it into small little pieces and making poor people go all over the place to make multiple requests from many different agencies. Isn't it clear that a woman making $400 a month with a sick kid will need help with housing, utilities, medical care and food the moment she loses her job? So she is made to 'tackle' the HDB which threatens to take her flat, Singapore Power which cuts her utilities, go apply for medical aid separately when she is sick and visits the MP for piecemeal financial help every month. Maybe the govt believes that putting obstacles to help can make being poor so painful people are motivated to get rich - not working lah, the number of poor people have been growing year after year. For a govt that prides itself for being efficient, they have the most inefficient way of helping the poor euphemistically called the "many helping hands" is more like "the many obstacles" approach.
You would think a govt that pursued policies that resulted in the biggest income gap among east asian economies - by opening the floodgates to cheap foreign labor, regressive taxation such as GST, and allowing state owned monopolies to increase profits by raising prices for transport, utilities etc - would feel responsible for increase in number of people who cannot cope with rising prices and falling wages. Hong Kong has a comprehsive social safety net, Taiwan has universal healthcare...and poor Singaporeans continue to struggle because its govt cannot overcome its own ideological barriers and doesn't want to fix a problem that it has caused.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Can someone explain SMRT's Logic...

SMRT's train frequency to be reduced if flu alert hits red
SINGAPORE: SMRT said train frequency will be reduced by 30 per cent once Singapore's pandemic alert level hits red. This is because its service staff are divided into two teams to prevent the potential spread of the H1N1 virus. SMRT has increased its cleanliness vigilance level in trains and buses by more than three times ever since the Health Ministry raised the flu alert to orange. Public areas are cleaned once every two hours and temperatures of SMRT officers are checked twice daily. There is also a quarantine room for passengers who display flu symptoms.Ventilation within the trains has been increased, while windows and doors of buses parked at interchanges will remain open.Temperature of bus captains are also being checked at bus interchanges.- CNA/so

The person who decided to do this probably doesn't take the MRT everyday. By reducing the trains by 30%, the sardines will be packed 30% closer and the risk of spreading the flu will increase.

The best thing the SMRT to do if the alert turns red is to increase the train frequency by 30% so the trains are less packed.

As for cleaning the trains obsessively every 2 hours - don't they know that unlike SARS, flu is spread by people coughing and proximity to the person coughing is probably the most important factor in its spread.

More than just a Mentor....

"Last February, a USSPN Washington Regional Coordinator was present during a report given by an international lawyer from Singapore, Thio Su Mien (Su), who is gifted in prophetic intercession and healing. She shared about some of the things going on in the area of Indonesia before the tsunami. She explained how the SARS virus hit Singapore a year prior to the earthquake/tsunami. The Lord alerted the intercessors and told them that if they did not get on their faces and repent on behalf of their nation's involvement in abortion as the contraceptive of choice, that the land would suffer from His hand of judgment. Because they saw how devastating the SARS virus had been, the intercessors immediately took action to seek His mercy and forgiveness. Singapore was not touched by the earthquake disaster. The Malaysian intercessors joined them in diligent prayer and also opened healing rooms in Kuala Lampur. The area on the Northern Coast of Malaysia was hit hard. There are amazing stories of God's grace and mercy in saving souls and lives there.It was the prayers of the intercessors that had saved the disaster from affecting an even larger area. She emphasized that the intercessors crying out with repentance and asking for mercy, along with declarations of the Word of God over the land (both written and rhema), released the curse upon the land and the people were spared. It was a plea for intercessors to step up to the plate and continue to press into God for mercy from judgment coming."
I would like to thank Dr. Thio for her intercession to prevent the tsunami from hitting Singapore. All along I thought Singapore was not hit because we were shielded by land masses in our vicinity but I guess I was wrong. Unfortunately, too many Singaporeans have sinned by undergoing abortion and that caused the SARS to spread to Singapore. Thank goodness the govt now encourages Singaporeans to have more babies these days and not to go for abortion otherwise we would be hit badly by the current swine flu.

Monday, May 04, 2009

AWARE : One Saga, Many Lessons...

This one is not about whether being gay is morally correct or wrong but on how to further your own cause. Suppose I'm a fundamentalist right wing religious person who believes that God has spoken to me as he did to Noah - how do I go about to do what I believe is right and rid the world of sin. The answer I believe is in the movie Evan Almighty...the lesser sequel to Bruce Almighty. God spoke to Evan one day and told him about an impending flood. He tried his best to warn the people but all they do was laugh at him - it was a waste of time. Even his family couldn't believe and thought he was mad. He was only able to redeem himself when the flood came and he saved a group of people who actually turned up at his ark to mock him. If you want to bring people to your worthy cause who don't share your faith, you can only convince them with evidence. When the evidence is compelling like the flood in the movie your harshiest critics will become your biggest supporters. Regardless of how much you believe something is right and how much faith you have - the rest of the world needs evidence. The more you try to push your ideas without evidence, the more people will push back and they will laugh at you.....
Lesson 1: There are very few people who can call themselves MENTOR without being laugh at. As one participant of the EOGM put it, respect is earned. You can't force people to respect you. You can make them fear you by force but respect has to be given. You can't make yourself mentor something just because you think you're somebody who deserves respect. The title "mentor" something is given when there is clear consensus about your status otherwise there will be some people laughing at you all the time.
Lesson 2; Think ahead & do basic planning. Step 1 was takeover Aware....hmmm step 2?? Step 3? A Christian group taking over a secular organisation will definitely result in national scrutiny in Singapore. People will want to know why you're doing this...what is your justification and it better be compelling. They didn't even think of the immediate consequences of their act and look totally lost when the spotlight shone on them. When you do something like this you better have a dossier of solid evidence to justify it otherwise you end up getting condemned by the media and your opponents.
Lesson 3: Start with the end. Before you do something, ask yourself what you're out to achieve. Then you try to get there with the least effort. Stripping away all the baseless accusations and suspicions, the main grouse was that Aware ran a CSE programme that has contents they didn't like. The easiest way to do get it fixed was to collectively complain that the contents were unsuitable and insensitive to people of their religion. You can be very sure the MOE will move to revise the content and Aware would be put on the defensive for having controversial contents in its CSE. No need to takeover Aware to get this done.
Lesson 4: Know your opponents. The women in Aware were not the type to walk away quietly from a fight - they fought for a long time to set up the organisation and that required tremendous commitment. They have links to the media and allies in positions of power. They have helped thousands over the years and these people are looking for a way to pay them back.
Lesson 5: Perception is important. No matter how they tried they cannot change the perception that this is whole thing was about a Christian group taking over a secular organisation to impose its own values on others. Its a case of "it looks like a rat, smells like a rat....".
Lesson 6: Understand everyone's interests. Otherwise you will find yourself the enemy of many. When the CSE programme was dragged into the spotlight, MOE was forced to step in to explain and deny what was said hurting the credibility of the Aware exco and their mentor. National Council of Churches had to say that it did not support the use of the pulpit for social causes[Link] as religious harmony is one of its . That was a rebuke for the pastor who asked his flock to lend their support.
Lesson 7 : Actions must reflect intent. Saying you're also inclusive but have members from the same small group is not convincing. Saying you're for feminist causes then sacking feminists in the organisation is not credible. Saying you're not anti-gay but having given speeches and written letters to public forums against gays makes it look like you're not telling the truth and cannot be trusted.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

H1N1 : Hysteria is the real danger!!!

In 1976, fearing the spread of a new strain of flu, the US govt started to innoculate the population. The problem was the side effects of vaccine caused a higher death rate that the flu itself which was quite mild.

It appears the Mexican authorities have grossly overestimated the number of deaths due to the H1N1 virus and have cut the number of deaths from 176 to 101 [Link]. President Obama said at a press conference to mark his 100 days in office that the primary concern is that the virus is new - if it was an old virus spreading in the same manner, the extra precautions would be unnecessary. The hysteria over this flu which so far has proven quite mild has caused people to overcrowd emergency rooms all over the world causing those with genuine health emergencies to wait. The negative economic impact threatens what appear to be a weak recovery. In Egypt the plan to cull thousands of pigs[Link] have caused riots between Christian farmers and the police. The move makes no sense given the flu has not spread to Egypt and the virus is capable of human to human transmission which means killing all the pigs in Egypt will not do anything to stop the spread. The mortality rate of those infected by H1N1 appears no worse than that of the common cold. The Chinese have started retaining Mexicans and quarantining them even though they showed no symptons of the flu[Link]. It looks like the fear surrounding the H1N1 is starting to cause more harm than the virus itself.
Hysteria over swine flu is the real danger, some say
Story Highlights
Ron Paul: "There is too much hysteria ... there hasn't been that great a danger"
"I haven't seen such a panic," says Southern California medical official
Some say there are other diseases to worry about: "Malaria is killing thousands"
updated 1 hour, 17 minutes ago
By By Faith Karimi CNN

(CNN) -- As the number of swine flu cases rises around the world, so is a gradual backlash -- with some saying the threat the virus poses is overblown.

Workers in South Korea, where one case of swine flu is confirmed, disinfect a terminal Sunday at Incheon airport.

By Sunday, 787 cases of the virus, known as influenza A (H1N1), had been confirmed in 17 countries, the World Health Organization said. The number of fatalities grew to 20.
"There is too much hysteria in the country and so far, there hasn't been that great a danger," said Congressman Ron Paul, a Republican from Texas. "It's overblown, grossly so."
Paul, who was a freshman senator during a swine flu outbreak in 1976, said Congress voted to inoculate the whole country at the time.
Twenty-five people died from the inoculation while one person was killed by the flu, Paul said, adding that he voted against inoculation. Watch Ron Paul talk about 1976 swine flu »
The United States' only death this year from the virus was a 22-month-old boy in Texas who was visiting from Mexico. The other 19 cases were in Mexico.
"I wish people would back off a little bit," Paul said.

Others shared Paul's sentiment, saying the fear of the flu has gotten out of hand.
"We have people without symptoms going into the emergency rooms asking to be screened for swine flu at the expense of people with real illness," said Cathy Gichema, a nurse in Pikesville, Maryland.
"Schools are being shut for probable causes - sending these kids congregating to the malls. How is that helping," Gichema said.
Dr. Mark Bell, principal of Emergent Medical Associates, which operates 18 emergency departments in Southern California, said the level of fear is unprecedented.
"I haven't seen such a panic among communities perhaps ever," Bell said. "Right now, people think if they have a cough or a cold, they're going to die. That's a scary, frightening place to be in. I wish that this hysteria had not occurred and that we had tempered a little bit of our opinions and thoughts and fears in the media."
Governments and health officials, however, say the concern is not unfounded.
The virus -- a hybrid of swine, avian and human flu -- can jump from person to person with relative ease. And while most of the cases were reported in Mexico and the United States, it has also been confirmed in countries outside North America.
On Saturday, the virus strain was found in a herd of swine in Alberta, Canada, and the animals may have caught the flu from a farmer who recently returned from a trip to Mexico.
It could be the first identified case of pigs infected in the recent outbreak.
"We have determined that the virus H1N1, found in these pigs, is the virus which is being tracked in the human population," said Brian Evans of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
But Evans and other officials said it is not uncommon for flu viruses to jump from humans to animals, and that it does not pose a risk for consuming pork. The number of pigs infected was not disclosed.
In his weekly radio address Saturday, President Obama said the concerns over the new virus are justified because lack of immunity makes it potentially risky.
"Unlike the various strains of animal flu that was in the past, it's a flu that is spreading from human to human. This creates the potential for a pandemic which is why we are acting quickly and aggressively," Obama said.
The president, who said the virus is a "cause for concern but not alarm," added that the government has anti-viral treatment to treat the current strain of H1N1.
In addition, the WHO started distributing 2.4 million doses of a common anti-viral drug to 72 nations.
"I think the world is infinitely better prepared than it was 90 years ago," said WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl, referring to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that killed as many as 20 million people.
In Mexico -- the epicenter of the outbreak -- masks have become a common fixture. Nearly half those cases in the country involve patients 19 and younger, the health ministry said.
"I can hold for maybe another week or two and that's it," said Guillermo Jimenez, a waiter who hasn't worked in a week since the government ordered about 35,000 public venues to shut down. "We don't have any money. We have mouths to feed. I don't know what I'm going to do now."
Still, some say the hype over H1N1 has led to undue hysteria.
"I'm sure the deaths in Mexico have something do with the infrastructure," said Anthony Markovich, a graduate student in Marina del Ray, California. "I know our health care system has its flaws, but it is more advanced."
The world should focus on diseases that have more fatalities, according to Markovich.
"This is a joke compared to other things going on," he said. "Malaria is killing thousands of people daily, the economy is not getting any better, it is time to move on."
Pakistan resident Faisal Kapadia agreed.
"When you put it in context, 700 cases in the world is nothing," said Kapadia, a commodities trader in Karachi. "I understand it is a horrible new disease and governments should find a cure for it, but the media has created too much paranoia."
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