Saturday, February 28, 2015

National service for women: Time to change mindset

Feb 28, 2015
Ho Kwon Ping

The writer suggests starting with short stints of a few months for all women to learn the skills needed by a rapidly ageing society
For The Straits Times

In a recent dialogue session, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen was asked about female conscription, and he answered that it should not be for reasons of equity. In other words, it should be only for demographic reasons - if there are not enough young men to defend the country. To start young women thinking about this possibility, a volunteer corps has been started.

I wholly agree that female conscription should not be undertaken simply for equity reasons.
It has been argued that the moral equivalence of national service for women is bearing children, and while this is not directly comparable - not all women bear children, and some bear more than one, for example - the debate quickly degenerates into a male-female divide with emotionally competitive overtones.

The reasons for female conscription must instead be underpinned by national need.
However, as I argued in my recent Third S R Nathan Lecture at the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) on the topic of Security and Sustainability, national need can be more broadly defined than as simply military defence.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Ease stamp duties on high-end properties: REDAS

By Eileen Poh, Reporter, Channel NewsAsia

27 Feb 2015

The Real Estate Developers' Association of Singapore (REDAS) says the Additional Buyers' Stamp Duties in the high-end retail market "runs counter to the Government's efforts to encourage foreign investment flows into the country".

SINGAPORE: In its latest call for the Government to scale back on property cooling measures, the Real Estate Developers' Association of Singapore (REDAS) took aim at the imposition of the Additional Buyers' Stamp Duties (ABSD) on the high-end real estate market.

Speaking at its Lunar New Year celebration lunch held at Shangri-La Hotel on Friday (Feb 27), REDAS President Augustine Tan said the high-end market is "not a segment the Government needs to safeguard".


[I dunno why they say it's blue and black. It's obviously white and gold.]

Why the colour of a dress has divided the Internet

 FEB 27, 2015 
Is a dress blue and black or white and gold? That is the question that has people around the world scratching their heads and rubbing their eyes in disbelief. -- PHOTO: SWIKED/ TUMBLR

Is a dress blue and black or white and gold? That is the question that has people around the world scratching their heads and rubbing their eyes in disbelief.
Seeing is believing, but in this case, the vote was almost evenly split on what many people take to be uncontentious - the colour of a piece of clothing.

Court strikes out application to review prisons’ grooming policy

27 Feb 2015

TODAY reports: Mr Madan Mohan Singh, a former volunteer Sikh religious counsellor with the Singapore Prison Service (SPS), had taken issue with the prison’s hair grooming policy for Sikh inmates and said his right to propagate his faith had been violated, after the SPS did not renew his pass.

SINGAPORE: The High Court has struck out an application by a former volunteer Sikh religious counsellor with the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) who had taken issue with the prison’s hair grooming policy for Sikh inmates and said his right to propagate his faith had been violated, after the SPS did not renew his volunteer pass.

Justice Quentin Loh said the applicant, Mr Madan Mohan Singh, did not have reasonable cause and that his application to start judicial review proceedings on these issues was “frivolous, and vexatious and/or otherwise an abuse of the processes of Court”.

Mr Singh, who was represented by lawyer M Ravi, had filed an application in 2013 to quash the labelling of Sikh prisoners as “practising” or “non-practising”. He had also sought a declaration that the SPS had violated his right to propagate his religion - which is contingent on him obtaining leave for the quashing order.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

China dangerously close to slipping into deflation, says central bank newspaper

Feb 25, 2015

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China is dangerously close to slipping into deflation, the central bank's newspaper warned on Wednesday, highlighting increasing nervousness in policymaking circles as a sputtering economy struggles to pick up speed despite a raft of stimulus steps.

The article, published in Finance News, quoted the secretary general of the China Urban Finance Society Chan Xiangyang as saying that risk of deflation is greater than many appreciate.

The Society is a national academic group not directly affiliated with the People's Bank of China (PBOC), but in many cases the publication of such pieces in the central bank's newspaper indicates tacit approval of the message.

As a slowdown in China's economy over the past year was accompanied by a chill in global demand, Beijing has stepped up measures to prevent the Asian economic powerhouse from stumbling.

In November last year, the PBOC startled markets with an unexpected interest rate cut - the first since 2012 - and then followed up with a cut to banks' required reserve ratio in early February.

Analysts have speculated that the central bank will be forced to take more aggressive easing measures in the coming months if price and credit data continues to drift lower.

US ruling on Net neutrality will have impact worldwide

 Feb 25, 2015

By Ang Peng Hwa And Kyu Ho Youm For The Straits Times

THE recent announcement by Mr Tom Wheeler, chairman of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), that the US government will ensure Net neutrality signals a significant shift in how the Internet will be treated in the future.

The signal was clearly timed for the start of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) meeting in Singapore that began on Feb 9 after Mr Wheeler's announcement.

"These bright-line rules," he declared, "will ban paid prioritisation and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services."

Net neutrality is based on the core principle that Internet providers should treat online content equally. There should be no such thing as "fast lane" or "slow lane" in the Internet traffic for those who can or cannot afford to pay.

Paying for that surge in Budget spending

Feb 26, 2015

By Chan Kok Hoe For The Straits Times

BUDGET 2015 calls for a massive $11 billion rise in expenditure on the previous year.

While substantial grants are planned for the middle class, the poor and elderly, innovative businesses and workers keen on skill mastery, a large proportion of the increased spending has gone towards improving Singapore's transport and logistics infrastructure.

Development expenditure will increase by more than 40 per cent over FY2014 and is expected to grow to $30 billion by the end of the decade. By then, overall spending will have reached 19.5 per cent of gross domestic product.

How does the Government plan to pay for all of this? For the current Budget year, the Government has eschewed tax increases, choosing instead to run a deficit of $6.7 billion, or 1.7 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).

Improving the lot of on-demand workers

Feb 26, 2015


THE creeping use of on-demand workers linked to firms via smartphones and laptops might look like an appealing option for Singapore businesses in a labour- tight market. It smacks of innovation, taps deep skills wherever located, reins in costs and could improve labour productivity. The other side of the coin must also be considered: difficulty in controlling quality and verifying authenticity, loss of exclusivity of services, and possible compromising of strategic business information.

For workers who turn to freelancing, there is a loss of job security, Central Provident Fund contributions, medical insurance and paid leave. Worse, they risk getting paid less than fair value as they strive to outbid each other to lay hands on work.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Impractical to make all key festivals public holidays



Feb 14 2015

We appreciate the perspectives shared by many Singaporeans on whether Thaipusam should be reinstated as a public holiday.

As many have noted, Thaipusam was a public holiday until 1968. The prospect of the British withdrawal and the need to compete for a living in world markets necessitated many changes in the country. The government decided to reduce the total number of public holidays, amongst other things.

The decision on which public holidays to give up in 1968 was reached only after careful consultation and discussions with various religious groups. The Muslims chose to give up Prophet Muhamed’s Birthday as well as an extra day for Hari Raya Puasa. The Christians, who had to give up two days as well, chose to give up the Saturday after Good Friday and Easter Monday. The Hindus had to choose between retaining Thaipusam or Deepavali as a public holiday, and chose the latter.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Singapore Budget 2015: Low-income senior citizens to get $300-$750 in payouts every three months under Silver Support Scheme

FEB 23, 2015


SINGAPORE- About 150,000 of today's elderly will get payouts every three months, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam announced during his Budget speech on Monday.

Current and future low-income senior citizens will receive these payouts under the Silver Support Scheme, a permanent initiative which aims to help the bottom 20 per cent of Singaporeans aged 65 and above. They will receive between $300 and $750 in payouts. The average recipient who qualifies for the scheme will get $600, based on the criteria of amount of lifetime wages, housing type and household support.

Assessment of eligibility for the permanent scheme will be done automatically, and the payouts will start around the first quarter of 2016, said Mr Tharman.

China in an online world of its own

FEB 24, 2015


IS CHINA, the poster child for globalisation, about to shift into reverse gear on international engagement?

A series of recent measures by Beijing to ostensibly protect its cyber sovereignty have raised serious questions about whether the country is turning its back on the World Wide Web, a key facet of globalisation.

At a moment when China should be basking in the glory of becoming the world's largest economy, the apparent insecurity of its leaders seems to be instead driving it into a parallel online universe of its own.

The "Great Firewall of China", created in the early part of this century as a crudely simplistic effort to block anti-government content on the Internet, has now pushed China onto a separate Internet continent.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Singapore Budget 2015: Extra 1% interest on first $30k of CPF savings, higher contribution rates and salary ceiling

Feb 23, 2015

By Joanna Seow

SINGAPORE - Central Provident Fund (CPF) members will be able to grow their retirement savings further next year as the Government will raise interest rates on account balances, the salary ceiling for contributions and contribution rates for older workers.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam announced these enhancements to the national savings scheme in his Budget speech in Parliament on Monday.

An additional 1 per cent interest will be applied to the first $30,000 of CPF savings for those aged 55 and above next year, on top of the existing 1 per cent extra interest on the first $60,000 of savings. This means that the first $30,000 in Special, Retirement or Medisave accounts can earn up to 6 per cent interest.

Currently, the basic interest rate for the Special, Retirement and Medisave Accounts is 4 per cent, while the rate for the Ordinary Account is 2.5 per cent.

When obsession and suspicion collide

FEB 23, 2015


WHEN the Ukraine crisis erupted one year ago this week, most governments dismissed it as an obscure dispute in a far-away country, of short duration and no lasting consequences.

But it is now clear the showdown over Ukraine has transformed Europe and will define the continent's security for at least the rest of this decade, and probably much of the next one as well.

Ukraine's future is obvious: the country will be the scene for a proxy battle between Russia and the West, a confrontation over spheres of influence. This nightmare was predictable since the end of the Cold War a quarter of a century ago. And it has now become a reality, although some governments are trying their hardest to ignore it.

The Soviet Union collapsed because of its own internal contradictions: a country which produced multi-warhead intercontinental ballistic missiles by the thousand but could not make a household fridge which worked, or feed its own people, was never likely to last. It was not the West which defeated the USSR, but its own political system.

More tenants under HDB's rental scheme buying own flats

Feb 21, 2015

By Yeo Sam Jo

SINGAPORE - More tenants under the Housing Board's subsidised rental scheme are buying their own flats.

Since 2011, about 2,500 tenants have bought their first units during new flat launches, said the HDB. Some 610 tenants bought new flats from the HDB in 2011. While this number was 530 in 2012, it subsequently rose to 600 in 2013 and 750 last year.

Under the HDB's Public Rental Scheme, eligible needy families with a household income under $1,500 are provided with rental flats at highly subsidised rates. Monthly rentals for one- and two-room flats start at $26 and $44 respectively, with each tenancy lasting for two years.

Thereafter, the HDB reviews and assesses the tenancy renewal, and tenants deemed financially stable are encouraged to consider buying a flat.

If the elderly need help, let's provide what they need

Feb 22, 2015

By Han Fook Kwang

Editor At Large

It is Chinese New Year, and a good time to talk about elderly people.

They have always had a special place during this festive period, when families show respect to them in time-honoured tradition.

For Singapore, it has also been a time when more people are asking for more to be done for them.

The Government has said it will be introducing a Silver Support Scheme during the Budget statement tomorrow.

When the Prime Minister first mentioned it last year, he said it was aimed at helping the bottom 10 per cent to 20 per cent of the elderly who have limited means because they did not save up enough in their Central Provident Fund accounts, or are without family support.

Together with the Pioneer Generation Package, these schemes signal a growing acceptance that older Singaporeans need more help from the community.

It is a welcome development and part of how the Government's views on welfare and assistance have changed in recent years.

As more such schemes are being introduced, it is important for Singaporeans to have a common understanding on the broad approach to this issue.

You could start with answering the basic question: Why do we want to help the old?

I can think of three good reasons.

Obama at the Prayer Breakfast on Religious Violence

[Using Religion to justify man's inhumanity to man is a long-cherished tradition. Three articles on Obama's speech at the National Prayer Breakfast. ]

The problem with Obama's self-criticism

FEB 10, 2015


US PRESIDENT Barack Obama, like many well-read inhabitants of public life, is a professed admirer of Reinhold Niebuhr, the famous mid-20th-century Protestant theologian. And more than most presidents, he has tried to incorporate one of Niebuhr's insights into his public rhetoric: the idea that no society is innocent, and that Americans, in particular, need to put aside illusions about their own alleged perfection.

The latest instance came at last week's National Prayer Breakfast, when the President, while condemning the religious violence perpetrated by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), urged Westerners not to "get on our high horse" because such violence was part of their own past as well: "During the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ."

These comments were not well received by the President's critics - as, indeed, his Niebuhrian forays rarely are.

Fresh ingredients needed to fix eatery troubles

Feb 19, 2015


Eateries need to look at other ways besides foreign worker flows to create value amid entrenched practices, low profit margins, lack of manpower and low productivity

By Jessica Lim Consumer Correspondent

STEP into the kitchen of most Cantonese restaurants here, and there's a sight past its use-by date. Preparing your meal are a head chef, a second chef, a head chopper, a second chopper, a steamer, a second steamer, one to stir fry, one to deep fry and a general kitchen hand. There is also the person whose role is to pick out a dish's ingredients and place the right amounts on a plate for the chef.

Such a set-up, where each person does a specific task and little else, is a luxury in today's tight labour market: When a worker does not show up, another lacks the skills to take over. There is also redundancy - when no one orders a fried dish, the one who does the deep frying twiddles his thumbs.

Will driverless cars cost us more than they’re worth?

February 20, 2015

Dear Cecil:

I've been waiting for autonomous cars to become a reality. But I’m wondering how much revenue will be lost when there are no more speeding tickets, traffic violations, parking violations, or probably quite a few other kinds of fines that I haven't even considered. How much money will state and local governments lose when traffic tickets become a thing of the past?

— Jeff Grippe, White Plains, New York

Cecil replies:

What I’m wondering is why you’re even thinking about this. Driverless cars may well reshape the urban world — for one thing, autonomous car-sharing could wipe out taxis, limos, and Ubers in a single swat — and you’re focusing on parking tickets. Could you possibly have picked a more boring aspect of this development to analyze? But since you asked, yes: this particularly irritating form of revenue extraction would be mostly eliminated in the event cars became autonomous.

As it stands, issuing tickets is something governments do a lot of. New York City gave out more than a million in 2012. Roughly 23 percent were for tinted windows or seat belt violations (conjuring a rather unsavory image of what New Yorkers are doing in their cars), but the rest were for infractions that wouldn’t’t exist if cars were automated: speeding, phone use while driving, etc. Financially, this is an incredible boon for states and municipalities — the NYPD’s recent hissy-fit strike against Mayor de Blasio cost the city $10 million a week in parking-ticket money. It’s hard to find an ironclad nationwide total for ticket-fine revenue, but (for example) Virginia raked in roughly $97 million on speeding tickets in 2010; scale that up to a population of 320 million and you get a national figure of about $3.7 billion. If autonomous cars make that sum just go away, budget committees are likely to notice.

Google, the apparent front runner in the race to driverless cars, claims their increased efficiency (in part because they can travel in a tightly spaced convoy, reducing drag) will ultimately cut commuting waste by 90 percent. Forbes works the annual savings out as 1.9 billion gallons of gas and 4.8 billion commuting hours, for a total value of $101 billion. I’m not sure I completely buy the details where Google is concerned — two of the last five times I trusted Google Maps I spent a lot longer in Indiana than I’d intended — but undoubtedly the government would lose some money here too. The current federal tax on gasoline is 18.4 cents a gallon, and the average state tax is 23.5 cents a gallon, so 1.9 billion gallons saved means a $350 million annual loss in federal tax revenue and a loss of $447 million for the states.

On the other hand, the total yearly economic cost of all U.S. motor vehicle accidents dwarfs both these figures — in 2010 it was $277 billion. Driverless cars would probably have the occasional accident as well, but the most dangerous factors could be eliminated — crucially, drunk driving. Of the roughly 33,000 traffic fatalities each year in the U.S., about 10,000 result from alcohol impairment. On a pure dollars-and-cents level, that’s a total loss of something like $19 billion in future earnings that the government won’t get to collect taxes on.

Additionally, the government savings on public transportation would be huge. The Chicago Transit Authority system gets about $700 million in annual public subsidies; much of this could be eliminated if bus service, which runs up major labor costs, were replaced by privately operated fleets of driverless minivans. Other pluses on the balance sheet: the disabled and elderly would have greater taxable earnings potential because transportation would be easier, and fewer Medicaid and Medicare dollars would be spent on those involved in car accidents.

The journey from a Google engineer’s wet dream to reality is a long one, of course, and we’ve still got a ways to go before any of these considerations becomes relevant. Some don’t think we’ll ever get there: Elon Musk, founder of Tesla, is working on a driverless car too, but he doesn’t think the human element can be totally eliminated — his version would be more of an autopilot feature. Google’s autonomous car has covered 700,000 miles without incident in and around the Bay Area, but the programmers have fed it tons of data specific to local roads — it wouldn’t work if you dropped it in the middle of Tokyo. Google has preempted one obvious objection by saying it should be liable for any tickets its cars incur, but plenty of unresolved questions remain: How will the car choose in a no-win situation — say, when it has to hit either a jaywalker or another car? Is there a cheat code to get the car to drive faster? Or can you trick the software into speeding by telling it your wife's in labor?

But if you’re asking whether driverless cars are, on balance, actually worth pursuing, the answer is: duh. It’ll surely take a while for it all to play out, but if this thing winds up being half the big deal it could be, the change in traffic-ticket revenue is going to look like a rounding error.

— Cecil Adams

[The figures are for the US. For Singapore, if Autonomous Cars/Driverless Cars (AC/DC) become widely adopted and replaces the current flawed model (the one with a human driver), these will also be the loss and savings. The better safety will mean less loss of life and loss due to injury, which will be an improvement. 

The other questions Cecil suggests are intriguing - whether to hit a jaywalker or another car - this can be subject to Asimov's 3 laws of robotics. The problem is whether the computer can compute fast enough to decide.

See this:
And this:
and just google "Moral Reasoning Driverless Cars"

More interesting would be communicating cars. That is, the cars are not just individually autonomous. They are also communicating with each other (need standardised communication protocol), as well as traffic signals and other traffic control and information system. So AC/DC will be seen to be "dancing" - speeding up or slowing down and moving left or right in the most efficient manner for ALL vehicles on that part of the road. So the scenario that Cecil proposes - hitting a jaywalker or another car - would not arise. As the Jaywalker is spotted, the AC/DC that would hit him would swerve and the car which it would have swerved into, would have sped up or made way for the swerving car. All other cars that need to give way, would do so.

Of course, all this will be moot if you have a "signal lost" and the cars are "dumb".]

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Currency war gets pushed to brink of nuclear option

FEB 17, 2015


SWEDEN has fired another salvo in the escalating currency wars by joining Denmark, Switzerland and the European Central Bank in introducing negative interest rates. As this battle intensifies, some market soothsayers are starting to whisper about capital controls as a possible nuclear option for central banks determined to win the race to the bottom of foreign exchange rates.

The Swedish Riskbank has introduced what it called a "more expansionary" monetary policy, cutting its repurchase rate to minus 0.10 per cent from zero and announcing a bond purchase programme. Two-thirds of the 19 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News had predicted no change in rates. One US dollar now buys 8.5 Swedish krona; a year ago, that figure was below 6.5.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Malaysia, S'pore and two views on the last 50 years

A new book fails to give due weight to the cooperative aspect of bilateral ties, says the writer.

FEB 18, 2015



I HAVE known Tan Sri Kadir Mohamad, the former KSU (the equivalent of our permanent secretary) of Wisma Putra, for more than 30 years. We first met in 1984 when he was the deputy chief of mission at the Malaysian Embassy in Washington, DC and I was a newly minted first secretary at our embassy.

In the subsequent decades our paths often crossed - the world of South-east Asian diplomacy is not large and Malaysia is our closest neighbour - and on occasion I worked with him in Asean and on some bilateral matters. So when I heard that he had written a book on Malaysia-Singapore relations, I hastened to procure a copy.

The content was as I expected: a very journeyman-like effort. There were no significant errors of fact on bilateral issues that I could detect. Mr Kadir is nothing if not a consummate professional, and contrary to popular belief, good diplomats of every country generally tell the truth and stick to the facts, although there is no obligation to always tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

In any case, all the most important facts have long been placed in the public domain, mainly by Singapore in answers to parliamentary questions or by the release of documents on water talks more than a decade ago. A reader expecting dramatic new revelations will be disappointed.

US plans to rotate 4 combat ships operating out of Singapore by 2018


FEBRUARY 17, 2015

SINGAPORE — The United States Navy plans to have four Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) operating out of Singapore — one at a time — by 2018.

These LCS vessels are smaller-sized than destroyers, and are capable of quick operations in shallow waters close to shore such as the waters of South-east Asia, the navy said today (Feb 17).

The announcement was made as the LCS USS Fort Worth returned to Singapore for maintenance and a crew swap, after operations including a deployment as part of multinational search-and-rescue efforts for AirAsia flight QZ8501. Singapore is the ship’s primary logistics hub in South-east Asia, and the USS Fort Worth is currently the only LCS operating out of Singapore.

Part of the US Navy’s 7th Fleet, which operates in the Asia Pacific, the USS Fort Worth will also be participating in regional exercises such as the annual Foal Eagle exercise with the South Korean navy.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Liak Teng Lit: 5 million people, 70,000 cleaners...that’s ridiculous!

FEB 16, 2015


Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong ticked off Singaporeans earlier this month over the trash left after the Laneway music festival. Cue Mr Liak Teng Lit, 61, chairman of the Public Hygiene Council, which leads the Keep Singapore Clean Movement. The group chief executive of Alexandra Health System tells Rachel Chang that his interest in cleanliness started out as a fear of communicable diseases spreading. Now, he fears that the disease is in Singapore’s societal values.

Add value to SRS

FEB 17, 2015


RESPONDENTS to a recent DBS Bank study on retirement planning say they expect to have an average of $3,500 a month over 15 to 20 years to cover spending in their golden years.

But this sum is considerably higher than the monthly payouts as envisioned by the Central Provident Fund (CPF) review panel charged with revamping Singapore's retirement system. Those payouts range from $650 to $1,900 to cover a person's basic needs, depending on whether he chooses to lock away a basic sum of $80,500, a higher sum of $161,000, or an enhanced sum of $241,500.

As such, it is obvious that unless Singaporeans make efforts to build a much bigger nest egg than what they now put aside in their CPF accounts, they may find themselves having to work well beyond their retirement age, or facing the daunting prospects of running out of money and downgrading their lifestyles during retirement.

Fortunately, there is another savings mechanism - the supplementary retirement scheme (SRS) - which was established 15 years ago specially to encourage voluntary savings for retirement.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Online freelancers the new labour pool

Firms finding cheaper ways to do business amid labour crunch

FEB 16, 2015


AT HOME-RENTAL portal Roomorama, freelancers are a permanent fixture.

They do design, research, translation, data-mining and even sales at the Singapore-based website for short-term rentals.

"I don't need to worry about paying for Central Provident Fund contributions or bonuses," said co-founder Teo Jia En, 32, who has relied on flexible labour since starting the business in 2009.

"I have saved about 50 per cent of my operating cost by hiring freelancers," added the boss of 35 permanent staff.

Like Roomorama, more Singapore firms are hiring temporary staff who work remotely, and the demand is met by a growing supply of these online workers.

Tunku takes potshots at Singapore leaders


His remarks during visit here underlines distrust between Umno and PAP

FEB 15, 2015


Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman urged Malaysians to unite against the Indonesian threat, even as ties between politicians on opposite sides of the Causeway worsened.

"The communists are creating trouble in pursuit of their ideology, but the confrontationists are out to crush us from within by sowing the seeds of discontent and racial discord," he said, referring to those involved in Konfrontasi, or the undeclared war waged by Indonesia against the formation of Malaysia.

The Tunku was in town for the launch of the Singapore office of Malaysia's ruling United Malays National Organisation (Umno). He and other accompanying federal ministers took the chance to take potshots at Singapore leaders.

At the opening of the Umno House in Changi Road, the Tunku said certain political leaders were not satisfied with being leaders in Singapore and were trying to extend their influence.

"As an old man, my advice to Singapore leaders is to concentrate on building up Singapore as the biggest city in Asia," he added.

The Tunku was referring to how the People's Action Party (PAP) had contested federal elections outside Singapore in 1964. In 1963, Umno took part in Singapore's internal elections but did not win a single seat.

Mid-East carriers muscle in on SIA's home ground

Their dominance poses threat to Changi's air hub status

FEB 16, 2015


MIDDLE-EASTERN carriers are growing their dominance in Singapore, posing a serious challenge to Singapore Airlines (SIA) on its home ground and putting Changi Airport in a bit of a fix.

Last year, the number of passengers travelling to and from South Asia and West Asia, which include the Middle East and India, grew strongly by 5.6 per cent year-on-year, compared with 0.7 per cent overall for the airport.

More flights and passengers are good for Changi, especially when traffic growth within the region is slowing down.

But with more than nine out of 10 passengers who fly Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways from Changi Airport using the Middle East as a stopover for flights to Europe, the United States and elsewhere, there is a risk to Singapore's air hub status, industry analysts said.

"This is a growing threat not just for Changi but other major airports as well," said Endau Analytics analyst Shukor Yusof.

"The three major Middle-Eastern carriers are dominating sectors to key points in Asia, Europe and the Americas. They are pretty much unstoppable."

Knowing yourself is key in new economy

To succeed, workers have to work harder to know what they are good at

FEB 15, 2015


In his TED talk, British education expert Ken Robinson tells a story about a little girl who got into trouble because she was always restless in class, so restless her teacher called her mother in and told her there was something wrong with her daughter.

The mother took the girl to a doctor who turned out to be unusually perceptive. During the consultation, he asked to speak to the mother privately, then he turned on the radio as they left the room. They watched as the little girl got up and danced.

The doctor turned to the mother and said: "There is nothing wrong with your daughter. She is a dancer."

Later, when the mother enrolled her daughter in a dance school, the little girl exclaimed: "Finally, people like me! They have to move to think."

The girl grew up to become Dame Gillian Lynne, a British ballerina, theatre director and choreographer of blockbuster musicals Cats and The Phantom Of The Opera.

HSBC's dirty secrets exposed

Leaked files alleging bank helped clients dodge taxes have caused shock waves

FEB 15, 2015


The elements could have come straight from a Hollywood thriller: secret meetings held in posh hotels around the world, people using code names to avoid detection and the handing over of bags loaded with cash.

Only that this is not a movie and the players are bankers from one of the world's biggest financial institutions and their super- wealthy clients.

Files leaked by Herve Falciani, an IT worker turned whistleblower at HSBC's Swiss division, allegedly show that the bank actively helped its clients hide millions of dollars of assets and evade taxes, and provided services to drug smugglers and corrupt businessmen and politicians.

Falciani is now in France, which has refused to extradite him to Switzerland, where he faces criminal charges of qualified industrial espionage, unauthorised obtaining of data and violation of banking secrecy.

The revelations came to light earlier this month as a result of the SwissLeaks project led by French newspaper Le Monde and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which worked with more than 140 reporters in 45 countries to analyse the 60,000 files leaked by Falciani.

These files expose how employees at HSBC's Swiss branch told clients that the bank would not report details of their accounts to their home tax authorities, and outlined options for how clients could avoid paying taxes on those assets.

IR Casino - stories from 15 Feb 2015

Hard to pin down social costs of IRs

Five years after the opening of the two casinos, Theresa Tan takes stock of the social costs and economic benefits.

FEB 15, 2015

Five years after the opening of Singapore's two casinos, it would appear that the novelty has worn off and fewer Singaporeans are visiting them.

The entry levy collected has fallen from $223 million in the Singapore Totalisator Board's (Tote Board) financial year ended March 2011 to $151 million in its last financial year.

Singaporeans and permanent residents (PRs) have to pay a $100 daily or $2,000 annual levy to enter the casino, a safeguard introduced to remind Singaporeans that "gambling is an expense and not a way to make a living", according to the Casino Regulatory Authority website.

The Tote Board, a government statutory board, channels the levies collected to fund social causes.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

'Singapore respects us as few nations do'

Feb 14, 2015
Sourav Roy, 
For The Straits Times

A few days ago, I participated in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's Facebook chat session. My wife and I had just finished arranging beautiful origami lanterns for our three-year-old toddler, given to him by "Uncle Thomas Lau" from the FairPrice supermarket at Clementi Mall.

I wanted to let Mr Lee and every Singaporean in that chat session know why my wife, a German national, and I, an Indian, had decided to make Singapore our home.

After having worked with the BBC, Al Jazeera, Glasgow Herald and the United Nations across different parts of the world, I decided to shift base here in 2009 from Doha, Qatar. There were many factors that made us move here.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

AHPETC - The Cut and Thrust?

[No. Not really cut and thrust. At least not the two articles/speeches included here.

The first is Shanmugam's speech which summarises or comprehensively spells out the issues from the AGO audit report of AHPETC. That's the cut. Maybe also the thrust.

The second is Low Thia Khiang's "response" to the audit - such as it is. Really, it is not much of a response. Basically it is a complaint that life isn't fair. 


I have found that generally life isn't fair. But maybe he has a point. I do not know. But I do find that people who complain that life isn't fair, usually aren't very... matured. If you are 15 years old and you complain that life isn't fair, you still need some growing up to do. If you are 40 and you complain that life isn't fair... what's your excuse? Life. Isn't. Fair.

That said, this is politics. At its worst? Maybe not. But I can do without the full-court press from the mainstream media. And the PAP

This is big? Maybe.

This is boring? To me? Definitely.]

Friday, February 13, 2015

Potential pitfalls of CPF changes

Changes to the CPF may give the impression that the new Basic Retirement Sum of $80,500 is enough for basic retirement needs. It is not.

 FEB 13, 2015


The recent recommendations by the Central Provident Fund Review Panel are intended to provide greater flexibility in CPF savings and withdrawals - and help Singaporeans better understand what is in store for them in retirement.

However, the new terminology used for the different retirement sum options poses potential pitfalls, as it could lead to the wrong perception of what is required to support retirement living.

Currently, the Minimum Sum totals $161,000, which contributors are required to set aside in their Retirement Account (RA) at age 55.

The panel proposes that impending retirees choose one of three retirement sums: the Basic Retirement Sum (BRS), the Full Retirement Sum (FRS) and the Enhanced Retirement Sum (ERS).

The BRS is set at $80,500 for 2016, and is for those who have used their CPF funds to purchase a property.

Existing CPF rules already allow a contributor to pledge property up to half the Minimum Sum, but what has changed is that there is now an explicit mention of the expected CPF Life payout for those doing so: $650 to $700 a month.

Reading The Bible Like We Read The Quran

From HuffPost

10 Feb 2015

Only 0.6% of the population in the United States is Muslim.

Most of us in the 99% haven't even held a Quran in our hands.

Yet, remarkably, we are a country full of Islamic experts; many of whom are self-professed Christians.

From Facebook to cable news to talk radio, we're a nation swarming with folks convinced they know what Islam is really about and we've got verses from the Quran to prove it.

Armed with these contextless passages from a book we've never read and know nothing about about, we beat the drums of war and sanctify our hatred. Not simply against ISIS, but against anyone of a different skin color who reads the Quran and worships at a mosque.

But here's the thing....

If we cherry-pick verses from the Bible the way we cherry-pick verses from the Quran, we can "read" the Bible exactly like we "read" the Quran and come to the exact same conclusions about Christianity that we do about Islam being a religion of hate, violence, and oppression.

Current COE system to stay: Josephine Teo

By Kenneth Lim

12 Feb 2015

ChannelNews Asia

SINGAPORE: The Land Transport Authority (LTA) had considered possible ways to ease COE prices. These included restricting car dealers from COE bidding and adopting a "pay as you bid" model for applicants.

However, the LTA has decided to retain the current system after an extensive consultation yielded mixed views. This is according to Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo, who spoke in Parliament on Thursday (Feb 12).

Mrs Teo was responding to a question by Member of Parliament Gan Thiam Poh on revamping the current bidding system. She said the current system gives vehicle buyers flexibility.

[And the govt, about $6b in revenue. COE premiums (or Vehicle Quota Premiums) are the 4th largest revenue stream for the govt. It is not in the interest of the govt to roast the goose that lays the 4th golden egg.]

Some of those involved in the consultation also said banning dealers from bidding might not lead to lower COE prices. Such a ban could also be easily circumvented. Applicants might also spend more time and money adjusting their bids under a "pay as you bid" system.

Mrs Teo said: "80 to 90 per cent of the successful COE bids are typically clustered within the 5 to 10 per cent range of the final COE price. This suggests that the current bidding model is fairly robust, with not many extreme bids.

"In fact, experts in auction theory agree that the current system, which prices all COEs within a category uniformly, incentivised bidders to bid their true valuation."

- CNA/ms

[So everything they found out about Sunk Cost Fallacy, Behaviour Economics, nudging people to do the desirable, all out the window?

So the current COE scheme does not require improvements?]

Thursday, February 12, 2015

China’s rising military not ready to win wars, US Report says


HONG KONG — China’s military isn’t ready to win wars despite spending heavily to modernise, according to a report commissioned by a US congressional committee.

The People’s Liberation Army suffers from “potentially serious weaknesses” that could limit its ability to conduct the operations required to fight and win future conflicts, the report by Rand Corp. a Santa Monica, California-based research group said.

“Although the PLA’s capabilities have increased dramatically, its remaining weaknesses increase the risk of failure to successfully perform the missions the Chinese Communist Party leaders may task it to perform,” the report said. It cited Taiwan contingencies, maritime claim missions, protecting sea lines of communications and some non-war military operations.

China has been modernising its army as its economic expansion accelerated in the early to mid-1990s, with double digit spending increases on the armed forces in most years. President Xi Jinping, also chairman of the Central Military Commission, has ordered the PLA to prepare itself to win local wars supported by modern technology and by rooting out corruption.

China has the second-biggest military budget in the world after the US, which spent about four times more on defence than China last year. Its budget for this year is expected to be published next month at the meeting of the National People’s Congress. The Rand paper was commissioned to support the deliberations of the US-China Economics and Security Review Commission, which reports to the US Congress.

Nobody knows how to deal with debt


Many economists, including Ms Janet Yellen, chairwoman of the United States Federal Reserve, view global economic troubles since 2008 largely as a story about “deleveraging” — a simultaneous attempt by debtors almost everywhere to reduce their liabilities.

Why is deleveraging a problem? Because my spending is your income, and your spending is my income, so if everyone slashes spending at the same time, incomes go down around the world.

Or as Ms Yellen put it in 2009: “Precautions that may be smart for individuals and firms — and indeed essential to return the economy to a normal state — nevertheless magnify the distress of the economy as a whole.”

So how much progress have we made in returning the economy to that “normal state”? None at all.

You see, policymakers have been basing their actions on a false view of what debt is all about, and their attempts to reduce the problem have actually made it worse.

Japan's re-emergence and South-east Asia

FEB 12, 2015

[A "rebuttal" of sorts to the previous article.]


JAPANESE Prime Minister Shinzo Abe kicked off the year with a bang, endorsing a US$42 billion (S$56 billion) defence budget, which is set to cover state-of-the-art military acquisitions, featuring F-35 stealth fighter jets, P-1 maritime patrol aircraft as well as components of Northrop Grumman RQ-4 drones and Aegis combat systems, among others.

The newly endorsed budget marks a 2 per cent year-on-year increase, bringing Japan's defence spending closer to 1 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP). Despite the landmark increase in the Japanese Self-Defence Forces' budget, the country is still spending considerably less than other Pacific powers such as China, Russia and the United States, which have allocated between 2 per cent and 4 per cent of their GDP to augmenting their military muscle.

Yet, Japan's imperial past - this week marks the 73rd anniversary of Japan's occupation of Singapore - and what are seen as "historically revisionist" statements by ultra-conservative elements in Tokyo have, in the view of certain neighbouring countries, cast a negative light on the Abe administration's efforts to beef up Japan's deterrence capabilities.

Japan, Singapore, and 70 years of post-war ties

Ties between Singapore and Japan will move forward, even as both remember what happened in February 1942.

FEB 11, 2015



AS THE world prepares to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in August, ties between Singapore and Japan are positive and mutually beneficial.

Among Singaporeans, aspects of Japanese culture have won favour, especially its food.

A poll last year by Borders Asia Market Insight and AsiaX found that Japanese food is the most popular foreign cuisine among Singaporeans.

And Japan ranks third, after Australia and New Zealand, when it comes to foreign countries that Singaporeans are interested to live in.

These good impressions flow from many decades of cooperation and cultural exchange, following the end of the war in 1945 and, with that, the end of Japan's occupation of Singapore, then a British colony.

In the 1970s, after Singapore became independent, Japan became its largest foreign investor and trading partner.

Oil price fall 'will boost global growth'

It should also allow some states to reassess fiscal policies, says G-20

FEB 11, 2015

ISTANBUL - The recent sharp decline in oil prices will provide "some boost" to global growth and should allow states to "reassess" fiscal policies to sustain economic activity, the Group of 20 (G-20) leading economies said in a draft communique obtained by the media.

"The fall in oil prices will provide countries with an opportunity to reassess their fiscal policies," finance ministers and central bank chiefs from the group said in the statement.

It said that fiscal policy "has an essential role" in building confidence and sustaining domestic demand.

At their two-day meeting in Istanbul this week, the G-20 have sought ways to boost faltering global growth against the background of the debt crisis in euro zone member Greece.

Making a sound retirement scheme better

FEB 12, 2015

THE bequests of the nation's retirement scheme represent mixed blessings. The Central Provident Fund's legacy of time-tested reliability is an asset, while some conceptual legacies call for updating to reflect current realities. For example, successive rounds of CPF reforms have failed to scrub from people's minds the notion of 55 as the appropriate CPF withdrawal age, when decades of hard-earned savings can finally be unlocked and taken out as a lump sum to be spent at will.

That is unfortunate as life spans have lengthened considerably since the British - who set up the CPF - landed upon that figure over half a century ago, when the life expectancy was around 63. Today, many live past age 80 or even 90, made possible by better health care which also comes with higher medical costs.

Pot of gold at the end of the rail line?

Three sites - Tuas West, Jurong East and city centre - are in contention to be the terminus for the Singapore end of the planned high-speed rail link to Kuala Lumpur. A lot rides on the eventual choice.

FEB 12, 2015


IMAGINE a mode of transport that almost halves the current fastest door-to- door travel time between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

That is the exciting prospect offered by the KL-Singapore high-speed rail (HSR) project, where instead of 4.2 hours by air, you will be whisked city to city in 2.5 hours. These times include airport/station transfers, wait time and immigration clearance.

Because of this sheer speed and accessibility, the KL-Singapore HSR - which can be up and running by 2025 if work starts next year - is expected to change profoundly the way people in both countries live, work and play. An HSR links up cities far more effectively than planes can.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

China building a second aircraft carrier: Reports

Feb 02, 2015

BEIJING (AFP) - A company has won a contract to supply cabling for a second Chinese aircraft carrier, comments by the local authorities suggested, in the latest sign that Beijing is boosting its maritime power, although news of the development was swiftly deleted online.

The authorities in Changzhou said on a verified social media account that "in 2015, our city will focus on promoting some major programmes", including Jiangsu Shangshang Cable Group "winning the contract for China's second aircraft carrier".

The Changzhou Evening News carried a similar report at the weekend, although both the newspaper article and the post on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like microblogging service, were deleted shortly after publication. Neither report gave details of the ship.

Putting concerns over columbarium to rest

 Feb 10, 2015


THE Sengkang columbarium episode holds important lessons from a public policy point of view. The most important of those lessons is that of alertness. National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan told Parliament that the project had been awarded to funeral services firm Eternal Pure Land because Housing Board officers had assumed that the company was acting for a religious group. Such a supposition was based on the experience of the past 20 years or so, not a negligible span of time, which suggested that a for-profit company would not participate in a non-profit-making venture, such as building a Chinese temple.

HDB's decision to disallow a commercially run columbarium at the site would partially relieve a proportion of future residents of Fernvale Lea, the project to be built nearby. The relief is partial for some because the Chinese temple that is built eventually in the estate might still include a resting place for the dead. If future residents do not want any sort of columbarium in the vicinity, that would be another instance of the not-in-my-backyard syndrome here that can lead to bitter and divisive turf wars if not nipped in the bud.

Unscientific fears over vaccines a threat to all


FEBRUARY 11, 2015

A rare, deadly and highly contagious disease is spreading across the United States, having infected more than 100 people since the beginning of the year, with thousands more at risk. This is not the doomsday Ebola scenario that so many were envisioning when the first case in the US was diagnosed five months ago. The resurgence is of the measles — a disease that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared eradicated in 2000, thanks to a highly effective and safe vaccine. What went wrong?

Since 2000, measles cases in the US have been attributed largely to travellers bringing the disease into the country.

However, in recent years, measles has become increasingly common, with the number of cases climbing above 150 in 2013, and then jumping to 644 last year — the most cases recorded in a single year since the late 1990s. This year already appears likely to top that record.

MediShield Life a strategy for building more inclusive society: WHO Director-General

By Vimita Mohandas,
News 5 Tonight

10 Feb 2015 22:43

The WHO also commends Singapore's foresight in achieving first-rate healthcare with outstanding outcomes at a cost lower than in any other high-income country in the world. 

SINGAPORE: The World Health Organization (WHO) is confident that the various healthcare schemes and programmes available in Singapore will put the country in good stead to deal with more complex healthcare challenges in the future.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan - who is in Singapore for the two-day Ministerial Meeting on Universal Health Coverage - singled out MediShield Life, which provides universal health coverage for Singaporeans facing large hospital bills. She said that besides giving citizens more assurance, the scheme also works as a strategy for building a more inclusive and progressive society.

Japan's govt looking at $467b revenue shortfall

Feb 11, 2015

TOKYO - The Japanese government is on target to post a US$345 billion (S$467 billion) revenue shortfall in the fiscal year to March 2021, the target year for returning to a primary budget surplus, according to Finance Ministry forecasts.

The calculations, presented to a panel of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling party yesterday and seen by Reuters, underscore Mr Abe's difficulty in reducing Japan's debt burden - the heaviest in the industrial world - despite growth policies that have boosted tax revenues.

The ministry forecasts that even with more robust annual economic growth of 3 per cent, general budget spending will exceed tax and other revenues by 40.8 trillion yen (S$465 billion) in the target year, widening from a 36.9 trillion yen shortfall forecast for the coming fiscal year.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Solar power map to help S'poreans see the light

Apr 28, 2014

Project will assess every rooftop here in bid to boost use of solar panels

By David Ee

A SKY-HIGH government-funded project is under way to map and analyse each and every one of the thousands of rooftops here.

The aim? To figure out on average how much each is exposed to the sun.

This information will be shared with Singaporeans in the hope that more will warm towards installing solar panels, as the nation ramps up its use of the sun's energy.

This work by the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore (Seris) is part of an ambitious, wider effort by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) to photograph and map, in 3D, the entire country's landscape.

Since April 10, light planes have been criss-crossing the island at an altitude of up to 1,200m, taking aerial shots and doing laser scans. The effort will take about 40 days.

The project is expected to be completed by 2016.

An SLA spokesman said that the mapping would "improve decision-making" as users such as government agencies can then visualise, analyse and understand the landscape better.

For example, national water agency PUB will be using the map to better manage storm water. The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore will harness it to design more efficient flight paths.

The first of the project's two phases will cost about $3.3 million. When complete, the 3D map will be adapted for public use.

As for Seris, which is funded by the National Research Foundation, the Economic Development Board and the National University of Singapore, it aims to make its version of the map publicly available online within a year.

The Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences, which mapped the German city last year, has a similar map on its website.

Every rooftop on the Singapore map will be coloured red, orange or yellow, depending on how suited it is to harnessing solar energy.

Seris will rate this by using models to assess the slant of each roof, and simulate shadows formed as the sun rises and sets. For example, a higher building may shade a nearby one, giving it less sun, while flat roofs are more suitable for solar panels.

Far from being just a technical exercise, the aim here is education, said Seris deputy chief executive Thomas Reindl.

A bungalow owner, condominium developer or factory owner who clicks on their rooftop would learn how much solar panel capacity they could fit on it, what this might cost, and how quickly they could recoup their investment.

It is about informing people, he said. "Solar energy has not fully taken off because people don't know too much about it yet... it has come down in price."

[Yes, the market price for it has come down... many if not most solar panels are made in China, where the raw materials - rare earth elements are mined - and the labour costs are low, and the environment is not protected. China is "Selling" its environmental health.]

In October 2012, The Straits Times reported that the cost of installing and maintaining solar panels had become on a par here, for the first time, with that of using conventional electricity. Conventional electricity tariffs are 25.73 cents per kilowatt hour.

Seris is also revamping its National Solar Repository website to better educate people. Giving the public "full understanding" of solar energy's potential would help them harvest it, added Dr Reindl.

But he stressed the need to manage the impact of connecting more solar power to the national grid, an issue the Government is aware of. Solar energy generation can vary, depending on factors such as weather.

Seris will work with the Energy Market Authority to simulate the impact, using the 3D map.

Solar panels installed here as of June last year can generate at most about 12MW, six times that of 2009's figure, but a tiny fraction of the country's electricity demand. [12,521 MW in 2014. Source EMA.]

[Currently, installed solar panels produce about 0.1% of our power needs. If the new solar power map shows that it is possible to increase our harnessing of solar power by a factor of 100, we would produce about 1200 MW or only about 10% of our need in 2014. 

While we pursue solar power, we may also want to pursue energy savings, and what would really "sell" is low energy airconditioning for tropical Singapore.]

Look mum, no hands? Singapore looks into driverless vehicles

Aug 27, 2014

By Lee Jian Xuan

SINGAPORE - Imagine a Singapore where cars and buses zip on the roads without drivers. Commuters can hop from one town to the next on board shared vehicles steered by autopilot. This was the bold vision outlined by a new government committee set up to oversee research into driverless technology.

"(This) technology has the potential to transform our lives... For example, instead of driving to work in the morning and being stuck in peak hour traffic, you could get a head-start on your emails," said Senior Minister of State for Transport and Finance Josephine Teo, speaking at the committee's launch on Wednesday.

To do this, the committee has roped in international experts, academics, industry members and government agencies such as the Land Transport Authority and Agency for Science, Technology and Research.

Some areas that they are looking at include driverless buses to operate on fixed routes and timings and deploying shared vehicles for intra-town travel to reduce dependence on cars. Trials on driverless vehicles, which are already ongoing in local universities, will also start on public roads in the one-North area next January.

[Technology works with Socio-cultural values, vision, memes, lifestyle. 

Take the MP3 player. Until the Apple iPod came along, the MP3 player was just a technical marvel. Then Apple made the iPod a cultural (well, techno-cultural if you want a flashy hyphenate) icon, a must-have, a lifestyle, a badge of cool.

So, LTA, ASTAR, experts and academics will try to figure out how to fit driverless cars into our lives?

I'll just laugh quietly in the corner so as not to demoralise them.

We need a visionary to sell this. Not techno-geeks and civil servants. We need a Steve Jobs, and we are getting a Bill Gates. Or a whole lot of little Bill Gates wannabes.

Colour me unimpressed.

Oh I don't doubt that they will be successful partly - Driverless buses? No problem. Driverless Taxis? Highly probable.

Mr Tan trading in his BMW 7-series for a supersized iRobot so he can catch up on his email on the daily commute? You have to understand the BMW is more than a car. It is a status symbol. Otherwise, he could have taken a cab for the same effect.

Of course there are more than one way to skin a cat. Introduce a new COE category for driverless cars, increase the quota for it while decreasing the quota for the other categories and viola! driverless cars.

But that is NOT solving the problem of cars on the road, congestion on the road, and inefficient use of resources (one car, one passenger/ex-driver)

What drives us?

Culture, not technology alone.]


‘Stall speed’ syndrome in global economies

From September 18, 2014

Relapse is the rule in the post-crisis global economy. In the United States, Japan and Europe, gross domestic product growth faltered again in the first half of this year.

These setbacks are hardly a coincidence. Persistent sluggish growth throughout the developed world has left major economies unusually vulnerable to the inevitable bumps in the road.

Sure, there are excuses — there always are. A contraction in the US economy in the first quarter of the year was dismissed as weather-related. Japan’s plunge in the second quarter was blamed on a sales-tax hike.

Europe’s stagnant growth in the second quarter has been explained away as an aberration reflecting the confluence of weather effects and sanctions imposed on Russia.

Fear of Genetically Modified Organisms

[Two articles worrying about GMO.]

The trouble with the genetically modified future


NOVEMBER 18, 2014

Like many people, I have long wondered about the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMO). They have become so ubiquitous that they account for about 80 per cent of the corn grown in the United States.

["Like Many People" - Logical fallacy. Appeal to the Popular. Think for yourself man!]

Yet, we know almost nothing about what damage might ensue if the transplanted genes spread through global ecosystems.

How can so many smart people, including many scientists, be so sure that there is nothing to worry about?

[There are two possibilities. The first, as implied by your question, is that, they are not that smart after all. The second, which you are blind to, is that your question is stupid in the first place. It is like asking, "how can we be sure that the full moon does not cause crime? How can such smart people just ignore statistics on crime during full moon?"]

Judging from a new paper by several researchers from New York University, including The Black Swan author Nassim Taleb, they cannot and should not.

The researchers focus on the risk of extremely unlikely, but potentially devastating events. They argue that there is no easy way to decide whether such risks are worth taking — it all depends on the nature of the worst-case scenario.

Their approach helps explain why some technology, such as nuclear energy, should give no cause for alarm, while innovations such as GMOs merit extreme caution.

The researchers fully recognise that fear of bad outcomes can lead to paralysis. Any human action, including inaction, entails risk.

That said, the downside risks of some actions may be so hard to predict — and so potentially bad — that it is better to be safe than sorry.

The benefits, no matter how great, do not merit even a tiny chance of an irreversible, catastrophic outcome.

[Fear-mongering at its best!]

For most actions, there are identifiable limits on what can go wrong. Planning can reduce such risks to acceptable levels.

When introducing a new medicine, for example, we can monitor the unintended effects and react if too many people fall ill or die.

Mr Taleb and his colleagues argue that nuclear power is a similar case: Awful as the sudden meltdown of a large reactor might be, physics strongly suggests that it is exceedingly unlikely to have global and catastrophic consequences.

Not all risks are so easily defined. In some cases, as Mr Taleb explained in The Black Swan, experience and ordinary risk analysis are inadequate to understand the probability or scale of a devastating outcome.

GMOs are an excellent example. Despite all precautions, genes from modified organisms inevitably invade natural populations and, from there, have the potential to spread uncontrollably through the genetic ecosystem. There is no obvious mechanism to localise the damage.

Biologists still do not understand how genes interact within a single organism, let alone how genes might spread among organisms in complex ecosystems.

Only in the past 20 years have scientists realised how much bacteria rely on the so-called horizontal flow of genes — directly from one bacterium to another, without any reproduction taking place.

This seems to be one of the most effective ways that antibiotic resistance spreads among different species. Similar horizontal exchange might be hugely important for plants and animals. No one yet knows.

In other words, scientists are being irresponsibly short-sighted if they judge the safety of GMOs based on the scattered experience of the past couple of decades.

[Right. Because simple organisms like bacteria has "so-called horizontal flow of genes" so therefore complex organisms also have "so-called horizontal flow of genes". Complex organisms can also reproduce asexually, right?

I was going to point out that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but more dangerous than that is a little brain.]

It is akin to how, ahead of the 2008 financial crisis, analysts looked at 20 years of rising house prices and assumed they would always go up.

[Right. Because Financial Analysts ALWAYS practise scientific discipline in their analysis.]

The honest approach would be to admit that we understand almost nothing about the safety of GMOs, except that whatever happens is pretty likely to spread.

Science is at its best when it acknowledges uncertainty and focuses on defining how much can be known. In the case of GMOs, we know far too little for our own good.



Mark Buchanan, a physicist and Bloomberg View columnist, is the author of the book “Forecast: What Physics, Meteorology and the Natural Sciences Can Teach Us About Economics.”

[He is also a specialist in taking unrelated and incomparable examples and linking them irresponsibly to create fear-mongering.]


Millions of GMO insects could be released in Florida Keys

JANUARY 26, 2015

KEY WEST — Millions of genetically modified mosquitoes could be released in the Florida Keys if British researchers win approval to use the bugs against two extremely painful viral diseases.

Never before have insects with modified DNA come so close to being set loose in a residential US neighbourhood.

“This is essentially using a mosquito as a drug to cure disease,” said Mr Michael Doyle, executive director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, which is waiting to hear if the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will allow the experiment.

Dengue and chikungunya are growing threats in the US, but some people are more frightened at the thought of being bitten by a genetically modified organism. More than 130,000 people signed a petition against the experiment.

Even potential boosters say those responsible must do more to show that benefits outweigh the risks of breeding modified insects that could bite people.

“I think the science is fine, they definitely can kill mosquitoes, but the GMO issue still sticks as something of a thorny issue for the general public,” said Dr Phil Lounibos, who studies mosquito control at the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory.

Mosquito controllers say they’re running out of options. With climate change and globalisation spreading tropical diseases farther from the equator, storm winds, cargo ships and humans carry these viruses to places like Key West, the southern-most US city.

There are no vaccines or cures for dengue, known as “break-bone fever”, or chikungunya, so painful it causes contortions. US cases remain rare.

Insecticides are sprayed year-round in the Keys’ charming and crowded neighbourhoods. But Aedes aegypti, whose biting females spread these diseases, have evolved to resist four of the six insecticides used to kill them.

Enter Oxitec, a British biotech firm that patented a method of breeding Aedes aegypti with fragments of genes from the herpes simplex virus and E. coli bacteria as well as coral and cabbage. This synthetic DNA is commonly used in laboratory science and is thought to pose no significant risks to other animals, but it kills mosquito larvae.

Oxitec’s lab workers manually remove modified females, aiming to release only males, which don’t bite for blood like females do. The modified males then mate with wild females whose offspring die, reducing the population.

Oxitec has built a breeding lab in Marathon and hopes to release its mosquitoes in a Key West neighbourhood this spring.

FDA spokeswoman Theresa Eisenman said no field tests will be allowed until the agency has “thoroughly reviewed all the necessary information”.

Company spokeswoman Chris Creese said the test will be similar in size to Oxitec’s 2012 experiment in the Cayman Islands, where 3.3 million modified mosquitoes were released over six months, suppressing 96 per cent of the targeted bugs. Oxitec says a later test in Brazil also was successful, and both countries now want larger-scale projects.

But critics accused Oxitec of failing to obtain informed consent in the Caymans, saying residents weren’t told they could be bitten by a few stray females overlooked in the lab.

Instead, Oxitec said only non-biting males would be released, and that even if humans were somehow bitten, no genetically modified DNA would enter their bloodstream.

Neither claim is entirely true, outside observers say.

“I’m on their side, in that consequences are highly unlikely. But to say that there’s no genetically modified DNA that might get into a human, that’s kind of a grey matter,” said Dr Lounibos.

[Unfortunately, Dr Lounibos is a Doctor who studies Mosquito Control at Florida. And he expresses doubt. Is he a molecular biologist? A geneticist? He is listed as having a PhD in Ecology and Behavior (of insects, presumably). 

So in the rare or rather highly unlikely instance that a female mosquito were released (accidentally), and bit a human, how would the DNA of this mosquito get into the bloodstream of the human? Mosquito saliva? Mosquitoes have been biting humans for tens of thousands of years, presumably their saliva enters our bloodstream. We itch. We don't become mosquitoes, or become Mosquito-Man. DNA in saliva is just protein (?) at most. It cannot affect your DNA, or turn you into a superhero. 

Maybe if it were radioactive. 

Same for when a dog bites you. You might get Genetically Modified Rabies.

WAIT! Wait! Wait! 

Worst case scenario: Mosquito bites you in the testicles (or thereabouts) and its genetically modified saliva somehow gets to your sperm, and.... SOMEHOW... enters your sperm (sorta the reverse of what usually happens with sperm), and MODIFIES your sperm (the mosquito saliva RAPES your sperm and "impregnates" it) with genetically modified DNA which in turn Genetically modifies your sperm. THEN you subsequently fuck a woman at the right time of the month, and the one or one of your genetically modified sperm (out of the millions that were not affected by the mosquito saliva) then fertilises her egg, nine months later, boom! Mosquito-baby is born!

The solution then is very simple. If you are a man and you were bitten by a mosquito near your genitals, and you suspect the mosquito may be a genetically modified female, you should masturbate (to ejaculation) and evict that genetically modified sperm. Of course you cannot be sure when the genetically modified saliva might genetically modify your sperm, so you should ejaculate several times. Over the next few days. Just to be safe.

And use a condom if you are going to fuck a woman.

And for god's sake DO NOT PRACTICE BESTIALISM. Your genetically modified sperm could impregnate a sheep and create Sheep-quito-man or something.]

Ms Creese says Oxitec has now released 70 million of its mosquitoes in several countries and received no reports of human impacts caused by bites or from the synthetic DNA, despite regulatory oversight that encourages people to report any problems. “We are confident of the safety of our mosquito, as there’s no mechanism for any adverse effect on human health. The proteins are non-toxic and non-allergenic,” she said.

Oxitec should still do more to show that the synthetic DNA causes no harm when transferred into humans by its mosquitoes, said Dr Guy Reeves, a molecular geneticist at Germany’s Max Planck Institute.

Key West resident Marilyn Smith wasn’t persuaded after Oxitec’s presentation at a public meeting. She says neither disease has had a major outbreak yet in Florida, so “why are we being used as the experiment, the guinea pigs, just to see what happens?” AP

[er... Yes? Duh!

No! No! No! This is NOT NIMBY-ism. This is not about "Not In My BackYard". This is "Not In My Blood Stream!" - NIMBS!

The mad scientists should just wait until there is an outbreak in Key West and sufficient residents who would object to their mad experiment has died before trying to roll out this "experiment".]

The politics of liveability in S’pore, HK


FEBRUARY 4, 2015

Singapore has again been ranked the world’s most liveable city for expatriates in a recent survey conducted by consulting firm ECA International. In contrast, Hong Kong has fallen out of the top 30 most liveable cities. It is now ranked 33rd, a precipitous decline of 16 spots from last year’s ranking. Hong Kong’s decline has largely been attributed to its poor air quality and instability arising from last year’s pro-democracy protests.

Underlying this growing gap between Hong Kong and Singapore in the liveability index is a divergence in the two cities’ sociopolitical circumstances. While both cities share many similarities as leading Asian financial centres and small city-states, they face very different challenges today.

To improve its position on the liveability index and regain its reputation as an attractive location for expatriates and global talent, Hong Kong needs to address its sociopolitical challenges and focus on achieving good governance.

Close to $8 billion a year spent on gaming

FEB 8, 2015


Singapore punters bet close to $8 billion a year on 4-D, Toto, horse racing, soccer and other games - more than the combined revenue of the two casinos.

With the exception of horse racing, the turnover for 4-D, Toto, the Singapore Sweep and sports betting such as on soccer matches continued to grow even after the casinos opened five years ago.

According to CIMB Research, the combined gross gaming revenue for the two casinos here for 2013, the latest full year available, was $7.66 billion.

Compare that to the $7.89 billion turnover for games run by Singapore Pools and Singapore Turf Club for their financial year that ended in March last year.