Wednesday, June 26, 2013

China loses control of Frankenstein economy

26 June


By William Pesek

The world has grown used to the idea that China’s leaders are masterful stewards of their gargantuan economy. They steered brilliantly around the iceberg of the 2008 financial crisis, maintaining growth of near-double-digit rates.

So when People’s Bank of China chief Zhou Xiaochuan began clamping down on excessive liquidity last week, some observers viewed him as a Chinese Paul Volcker. Now that the worst was over, Mr Zhou seemed to indicate, it was time for China to rein in lending and prevent a credit bubble from swelling. Then reality intervened. After the overnight repurchase rate zoomed to a record 13.91 per cent, Mr Zhou had to back off, hastily injecting fresh funds to stem the turmoil. The chaos traumatised money markets. Some were dismayed by signs that Mr Zhou would end the era of easy money in China. Others feared that he could not.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How corruption is fuelling the haze

Jun 25, 2013

Observers say local officials are key to tackling deforestation in Indonesia. The central government and activist groups need to make sure local governments abide by national laws.

By Sara Schonhardt

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Indonesia's mindset on haze casts pall on ties

Jun 22, 2013

Indonesia should act more responsibly to its neighbours, says one writer, while the other points out that Singapore can monitor palm oil-related companies based on its shores that operate in Indonesia.

By Derwin Pereira For The Straits Times

INDONESIA is behaving less than responsibly over the haze. Wondering why this is so sent me back 16 years ago, when I was based in Jakarta as a correspondent for this newspaper.

The 1997 haze was one of my big stories. But covering it from Jakarta was an intensely ironical exercise: It was a non-story there. The clear blue sky made people ask what the fuss elsewhere was all about. In Jakarta, life went on as usual - biasa saja in Indonesian.

It still does today as I write this in Jakarta on a week-long visit, as the PSI crosses the 400 mark in Singapore.

Haze may hurt economy if conditions don’t improve, analysts say

21 June 2013


SINGAPORE - Economists said the thick haze that is shrouding Singapore could potentially cast a pall over its economic growth if the situation does not improve in the coming months.

CIMB Research estimated that for each day the haze lingers, over S$60 million in tourism receipts could be at stake.

klapsons The Boutique Hotel, located in Singapore’s central business district, has shut two outdoor dining outlets for now as air quality remains in the unhealthy range.

The two outlets contribute about 40 per cent of the hotel’s revenue.

It said some guests have also decided to give Singapore a miss.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Profits Without Production

June 20, 2013

New York Times


One lesson from recent economic troubles has been the usefulness of history. Just as the crisis was unfolding, the Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff — who unfortunately became famous for their worst work — published a brilliant book with the sarcastic title “This Time Is Different.” Their point, of course, was that there is a strong family resemblance among crises. Indeed, historical parallels — not just to the 1930s, but to Japan in the 1990s, Britain in the 1920s, and more — have been vital guides to the present.

Yet economies do change over time, and sometimes in fundamental ways. So what’s really different about America in the 21st century?

A test for S’pore: Not being hazy about the haze

21 June 2013

Devadas Krishnadas

Singapore is facing a multi-dimensional crisis due to the haze. The crisis has an environmental origin but it is manifesting itself upon several planes – health is the most obvious.

However, given the acute and protracted nature of the phenomenon, we will soon see the effects on social, economic and political dimensions as well. How will we, as a nation, cope with the haze? What needs to be done?

Haze 2013

Jun 21, 2013

Haze update: Seek solutions, not harsh words: PM Lee

By Zakir Hussain Indonesia Bureau Chief In Jakarta And Tan Dawn Wei

Instead of countering scathing remarks made by a senior Indonesian minister, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday that he preferred to focus on solving the haze problem and reassuring Singaporeans they will be fine.

Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Agung Laksono, who is coordinating his country's relief and response efforts, had hit out at Singapore earlier at a press conference in Jakarta, saying: "Singapore shouldn't be like children, in such a tizzy."

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Get on with job of running town councils

Jun 18, 2013

IT IS a mercy the irritable exchange between a state agency and a Workers' Party-managed town council over the cleaning of food centres appears to have ended. Members of the public were discomfited to witness the party's MPs and officials of the National Environment Agency slugging it out over interpretations of contractual obligations, amid recriminations of victimisation and breach of faith. Government leaders had little choice but to respond once a state agency was charged with being politically motivated, as it is incumbent on the authorities to uphold the integrity of public institutions. Besides, HDB residents and business operators would have cause to feel something is amiss if the politicisation of the role of councils results in an adversarial relationship developing between public service organs and certain town councils.

Why full-time NS can’t be shortened

18 June 2013

According to a government poll conducted in 2011, over 90 per cent of those surveyed said National Service (NS) is necessary. Arguments that it can be shortened, however, are regularly made.

These arguments typically rest on two assumptions. The first concerns time. Some argue the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) uses it too inefficiently. “Hurry up to wait”, or “wait to rush, rush to wait” is often used to describe one’s experience in NS. They reason that NS could be shorter if time were more efficiently used.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

From news hound to feral beast... [excerpt]

[Blast from the past. This is an excerpt from a longer speech given by Tony Blair shortly after he left office. He spoke of the media and how the job of govt has changed and become more difficult because of changing nature of media.]

June 14, 2007

by Tony Blair

... First, scandal or controversy beats ordinary reporting hands down. News is rarely news unless it generates heat as much as or more than light.

Second, attacking motive is far more potent than attacking judgment. It is not enough for someone to make an error. It has to be venal. Conspiratorial.

Third, the fear of missing out means today's media, more than ever before, hunts in a pack. In these modes it is like a feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits. But no one dares miss out.

Fourth, rather than just report news, even if sensational or controversial, the new technique is commentary on the news being as, if not more important than the news itself. So - for example - there will often be as much interpretation of what a politician is saying as there is coverage of them actually saying it. In the interpretation, what matters is not what they mean, but what they could be taken to mean. This leads to the incredibly frustrating pastime of expending a large amount of energy rebutting claims about the significance of things said, that bears little or no relation to what was intended.

In turn, this leads to a fifth point: the confusion of news and commentary.

Comment is a perfectly respectable part of journalism. But it is supposed to be separate. Opinion and fact should be clearly divisible. The truth is a large part of the media today not merely elides the two but does so now as a matter of course. In other words, this is not exceptional. It is routine. The final consequence of all of this is that it is rare today to find balance in the media. Things, people, issues, stories, are all black and white. Life's usual grey is almost entirely absent. 'Some good, some bad'; 'some things going right, some going wrong': these are concepts alien to today's reporting. It's a triumph or a disaster. A problem is 'a crisis'. A setback is a policy 'in tatters'. A criticism, 'a savage attack'. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Do SMSes, e-mail make the heart grow fonder?

Jun 11, 2013

By Jonathan Safran Foer

A COUPLE of weeks ago, I saw a stranger crying in public. I was in Brooklyn's Fort Greene neighbourhood, waiting to meet a friend for breakfast. I arrived at the restaurant a few minutes early and was sitting on the bench outside, scrolling through my contact list. A girl, maybe 15 years old, was sitting on the bench opposite me, crying into her phone. I heard her say, "I know, I know, I know" over and over.

What did she know? Had she done something wrong? Was she being comforted? And then she said, "Mama, I know," and the tears came harder.

What was her mother telling her? Never to stay out all night again? That everybody fails? Is it possible that no one was on the other end of the call, and that the girl was merely rehearsing a difficult conversation? "Mama, I know," she said, and hung up, placing her phone on her lap.

I was faced with a choice: I could interject myself into her life, or I could respect the boundaries between us. Intervening might make her feel worse, or be inappropriate. But then, it might ease her pain, or be helpful in some straightforward logistical way. An affluent neighbourhood at the beginning of the day is not the same as a dangerous one as night is falling. And I was me, and not someone else. There was a lot of human computing to be done.

It is harder to intervene than not to, but it is vastly harder to choose to do either than to retreat into the scrolling names of a contact list, or whatever one's favourite iDistraction is. Technology celebrates connectedness, but encourages retreat. The phone did not make me avoid the human connection, but it did make ignoring her easier, and more likely, by comfortably encouraging me to forget my choice to do so. My daily use of technological communication has been shaping me into someone more likely to forget others. The flow of water carves rock, a little bit at a time. And our personhood is carved, too, by the flow of our habits.

Psychologists who study empathy and compassion are finding that unlike our almost instantaneous responses to physical pain, it takes time for the brain to comprehend the psychological and moral dimensions of a situation. The more distracted we become, and the more emphasis we place on speed at the expense of depth, the less likely and able we are to care. Everyone wants his parent's, or friend's, or partner's undivided attention - even if many of us, especially children, are getting used to far less. Philosopher Simone Weil wrote, "Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity." By this definition, our relationships to the world, and to one another, and to ourselves, are becoming increasingly miserly.

Most of our communication technologies began as diminished substitutes for an impossible activity. We could not always see one another face to face, so the telephone made it possible to keep in touch at a distance. One is not always home, so the answering machine made a kind of interaction possible without the person being near his phone. Online communication originated as a substitute for telephonic communication, which was considered, for whatever reasons, too burdensome or inconvenient. And then texting, which facilitated yet faster, and more mobile, messaging. These inventions were not created to be improvements upon face-to-face communication, but a declension of acceptable, if diminished, substitutes for it.

But then a funny thing happened: We began to prefer the diminished substitutes. It is easier to make a phone call than to see someone in person. Leaving a message on someone's machine is easier than having a phone conversation - you can say what you need to say without a response; hard news is easier to leave; it is easier to check in without becoming entangled. So we began calling when we knew no one would pick up.

Shooting off an e-mail is easier, still, because one can hide behind the absence of vocal inflection, and there is no chance of accidentally catching someone. And texting is even easier, as the expectation for articulateness is further reduced, and another shell is offered to hide in. Each step "forward" has made it easier, just a little, to avoid the emotional work of being present, to convey information rather than humanity.

The problem with accepting - with preferring - diminished substitutes is that over time, we become diminished substitutes. People who become used to saying little become used to feeling little.

With each generation, it becomes harder to imagine a future that resembles the present. My grandparents hoped I would have a better life than they did: free of war and hunger, comfortably situated in a place that felt like home. But what futures would I dismiss out of hand for my grandchildren? That their clothes will be fabricated every morning on 3-D printers? That they will communicate without speaking or moving?

Only those with no imagination, and no grounding in reality, would deny the possibility that they will live forever. It is possible that many reading these words will never die. Let us assume, though, that we all have a set number of days to indent the world with our beliefs, to find and create the beauty that only a finite existence allows for, to wrestle with the question of purpose and wrestle with our answers.

We often use technology to save time but, increasingly, it either takes the saved time along with it, or makes the saved time less present, intimate and rich. I worry that the closer the world gets to our fingertips, the further it gets from our hearts. It is not an either/or - being "anti-technology" is perhaps the only thing more foolish than being unquestioningly "pro-technology" - but a question of balance that our lives hang upon.

Most of the time, most people are not crying in public, but everyone is always in need of something that another person can give, be it undivided attention, a kind word or deep empathy. There is no better use of a life than to be attentive to such needs. There are as many ways to do this as there are kinds of loneliness, but all of them require attentiveness, all of them require the hard work of emotional computation and corporeal compassion. All of them require the human processing of the only animal who risks "getting it wrong" and whose dreams provide shelters and vaccines and words to crying strangers.

We live in a world made up more of story than stuff. We are creatures of memory more than reminders, of love more than likes. Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be messy, and painful, and almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die.


Party monopoly = less competitive economy?

Jun 10, 2013

The jury is still out on whether party monopolies boost or impede a country's competitiveness

By Amit Jain For The Straits Times

THE post-election ruckus in Malaysia and the subsequent crackdown on opposition activists had investors in jitters. The business mood could easily have turned from rosy to gloomy if the acrimonious stand-off between the long-ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition and the opposition had continued on the streets.

For now though the crisis appears to have blown over. Last Monday, opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim told journalists he will participate in Parliament, push for electoral reforms and contest the election results through legal petitions.

Perhaps it is time to revisit that old debate: is there a correlation between party monopoly and economic competitiveness?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

COMMENT: Keep calm and carry on posting

From an article published on Yahoo.

6 June 2013

The drama that has unfolded over Singapore’s Media Development Authority’s decision to license some news websites in Singapore is tragic.

On the one hand, we have a government completely bewildered over the reaction towards what they see as a minor update to its regulatory laws.

On the other hand, we have freedom-of-the-internet advocates going apoplectic over what it sees as a major policy decision that amounts to curtailment of free-speech and the death-knell of alternative news websites in Singapore.

The two positions and the reactions are so far apart and so irreconcilable that the call for dialogue seems futile.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Rethinking Singapore’s housing policies

04 June

Public housing policies in Singapore have been highly successful in enabling home ownership for the majority of Singaporeans and in giving citizens a stake in the country. The provision of affordable public housing is perhaps the clearest manifestation of Singapore’s “growth with equity” story.

But the social contract that has enabled this is now coming under stress.

'Some time the hating has to stop'

Jun 05, 2013

This story was first published in The Straits Times on June 1, 2013

By Elgin Toh

ON HIS visit to Japan last week, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong could hardly have been accused of pandering to his hosts.

Twice in two days, he spoke frankly about the long shadow that Japan's World War II record cast on its relations with some of its Asian neighbours 70 years on.

Once, he did so to a room full of Japanese businessmen during the Nikkei Conference. He spoke about his uncle who was "taken away and never came back" and how, as a 10-year-old, he had seen a mass grave being dug up beside his school.

Legal culture that discourages risk-taking

Jun 04, 2013

By John Yohan Kim, For The Straits Times

IN A dimly lit private dining room at the Tower Club, 10 wide-eyed alumni from the University of Pennsylvania had the opportunity to welcome Messrs John and Arthur Sculley, two of our University's most illustrious alumni.

After a brief introduction that simply could not do justice to these two scions of business, Mr John Sculley, who is most well known as the former chief executive officer of Apple, turned to us and asked: "What do all of you think about the future of innovation and entrepreneurship in Singapore?"

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Why the population is healthier as joblessness rises

Jun 03, 2013

By Peter Orszag

THIS is a morbid column about some unexpected and encouraging news: Deep economic declines, such as the one experienced in the United States a few years ago, probably lengthen life expectancy. This is exactly the opposite of what most people believe.

A reasonable estimate is that for every percentage point increase in the unemployment rate, the US mortality rate drops by 0.3 percentage point. In other words, and although it runs counter to our intuition, recessions may be bad for our wallets but good for our health.

The political economy of longevity

Jun 03, 2013


SINGAPORE should be less flattered that the World Health Organisation has ranked it fourth in longevity and more concerned about what is being done to prepare for it. While one can take pride in the rising quality of life here, particularly the standard of health care, longevity is not an unmixed blessing to the individual. Declining health, financial difficulty and possible family neglect or abandonment are part of the worries saddling seniors.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Life starts at 60, how long will funds last?

Jun 02, 2013

Retirement income scheme needs urgent fixing to smoothly ride crest of silver tsunami

By Han Fook Kwang Managing Editor

When you turn 60, the universe conspires to remind you how young you really are.

That's how I felt last Monday when the front page of The Straits Times declared that Singaporeans live longer than most people elsewhere and that a 60-year-old today can expect to live another 25 years.

That's the same as 60-year-olds in 12 other countries, outlived by only the Japanese who can expect to live one year longer.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Doing the right thing by Singapore pioneers


31 May 2013

The 50th anniversary of the independence of Singapore will be in 2015. It is by all measures a significant milestone. We were once a people with almost total dependency on the colonial power for our direction and sustenance. In the beginning, our economic prospects were doubtful; today, we are economically and militarily secure.