Thursday, March 31, 2011

For Want of A Better Name, StanChartGate?

Forced to come to terms with Watergate, Nixon told David Frost, "And so I can only say that in answer to your question that while technically I did not commit a crime, an impeachable offence - these are legalisms." As far as the handling of Watergate was concerned, he would only admit "it was so botched up, I made so many bad judgments."

Maybe the sentiments can be said of the MSM attempt to tar the netizens with "vicious comments" and "online vitriol", implying, of course, only they have access to the ugly truth.

But in this round, it looks like they kicked in their own goal. Their own investigative efforts only foraged out more dirt on the MP material. It turns out hubby Bernard Chan Teck Hock was served with a bankruptcy order but...
So why was the bankruptcy order withdrawn? Was Ms Foo such a powerful figure at the Standard Chartered Bank hierarchy? Worse, was StanChart given a directive by a higher up in the Cabinet to do the right thing (these too are legalisms)? Doubtless, the less restrained bloggers will have a field day with the more salacious variants - the blow by blow account will have to be rated R21. And you thought Clinton had it easy with the Monica Lewinsky disclosures.

The problem with people who don't bother with history, like the Janil Puthucheary who dismissed his father's incarceration as "something that... happened in the long history that we were told about", is that they never learned from the painful lessons either. And the bad judgements of the PAP will be repeated again in the future.

Comrades In Arms

And you thought only 27-year-olds hold hands
Was the photographer being cheeky or, gasp, were the brotherly generals holding hands just before the shutter clicked? The run up to the general election, as the gamut of candidates go, has seen everything thrown in but the kitchen sink, so why not something for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) crowd as well?

Never one accused for being out of touch, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew told 400 Young People's Action Party members in April, 2007, "If in fact it is true, and I have asked doctors this, that you are genetically born a homosexual -- because that's the nature of the genetic random transmission of genes -- you can't help it. So why should we criminalise it?" No, no, he wasn't touched in the head, yet.

On Jan 25, 2011, Malaysia’s The Star newspaper proclaimed in a headline: “LKY will accept it if grandchildren are gay”. "That's life. I mean none of my children is gay, but if they were, well that's that,” Lee was quoted in response to a question in "Hard Truths" about how he would feel if one of his grandchildren were to come out to him. So is he getting soft?

Rev. Oyoung Wenfeng, a Malaysia-born, New York-based ordained Christian minister, author and an openly gay man, told Fridae in an email: “I am so glad Lee Kuan Yew has said those things. It is interesting and uplifting to observe that an old man can also be open-minded and willing to learn.” He likened Lee’s remarks on homosexuality to a coming out statement. “Of course he didn't come out as a gay man, but he came out as a gay friendly and reasonable person, and it has made some significant changes in people's view on homosexuality.”

The United States Army is already admitting openly gay and lesbian candidates into its ranks, in line with a court ruling that suspended a ban on homosexuals serving openly in the military. The Singapore generals who trained at West Point would surely feel left out, if they didn't learn anything from their American brothers.

SM Goh Chok Tong just announced that the PAP will usher in one of the two former military top brass, Major-General Chan Chun Sing and Brigadier-General Tan Chuan Jin, as candidate for the Marine Parade GRC team. Recall in 2003, then prime minister Goh said that homosexuals "are like you and me" and shouldn't face discrimination in Singapore's civil service. Is this one coincidence too many or what? Party chairman Lim Boon Heng did say, "We cast our net wide in the search for new candidates, reaching out to all sectors of society." You heard the man.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Daddy Big Bucks

Daddy's civil service salary is paying for all this
Court records in Manhattan Supreme Court show that Melissa Chin, a scholar in molecular biology at Boston University, and IT consultant husband Steve Choi have dropped their case against David Tutera, U.S. celebrity wedding planner for her US$300,000 over-the-top bash at Singapore's 5-star Shangri-La Hotel on 22 Aug 2010.

“Chin herself asked for publicity but requested that the dollar amount her family spent was not made public in respect to her father’s political position,” said Tutera, detailing that he bailed because Chin's dad griped about the bloated budget when he called about a missed payment. "There is no more money," the dad supposedly said. "Don't get on the plane." Tutera was promised a US$100,000 deposit, 4 round-trip tickets from New York plus 6 six nights at the Shangri-La.

The civil servant in the affair presumably was reminded of the brickbats Permanent Secretary Tan Yong Soon received for bragging about his S$45,000 holiday, cooking pastries with wife and kid at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. His boss had to apologize for his political insensitivity, "Taking 5 weeks' leave from work is not as difficult as one thinks." Even MP Charles Chong was mired in the crossfire with his own odious remark, "Maybe it made lesser mortals envious and they thought he was a little boastful." Lesser mortals at Joo Chiat please take note. Outgoing MP Chan Soo Sen's fan base at Ho San Kong Hoey clan may need help with the translation.

The unidentified civil probably was not in danger of being bankrupted by David Tutera's final bill, not unless he was planning to out spend Burma's Senior General Than Shwe in the 2006 ostentatious wedding for his daughter, Thandar Shwe. A recent Forum letter writer from Colorado penned, "We have had a government ranked among the highest for being corruption-free." There is certainly no need to grease any wheels in Singapore to get things done, not when the grease comes ready packaged with the job appointment. One can almost see the rehash of an old Italian joke in the works. How do you get a free oil change and a grease job? Answer: run over a fat Singapore civil servant.

Sadly, the joke is ultimately on us. The back page of today's ST is listing top salaries in the private sector. Which means the greedy buggers are already hinting that they are underpaid, never mind if they are cost centers and the bankers are profit centers.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Peril Of Youth

She's so young that the 27-year-old is now sometimes billed by her handlers as 28. Sure she has youth on her side, but should taxpayers have to pay her $216,000 a year tuition to learn to tell the difference between G-7 and G-spot?

To be fair to Ms Tin Pei Ling (please don't cry, politics can be rough - just ask the uncles who have been locked away without trial), she's not the only fresh face to make one wonder if the PAP candidate has the life experiences to appreciate the struggles to keep a job, pay the bills and stay sane with inflationary pressures and the challenge of the foreign hordes. Even the generals coming on onboard look like NCC recruits trying to earn ECA points. PAP chairman Lim Boon Heng said on Monday that a key issue that the party will fight the coming election on is the kind of future Singaporeans want for themselves and their children. Surely that kind of responsibility should be entrusted to individuals who have married, raised a family and (for females) personally experienced the joy and pain of birthing a child into this harsh world. Someone who can declare with confidence, "I eat salt more than you eat rice". The Chinese phrase is actually "我食盐多过你食米”.

Like other PAP candidates, Tin has a polished paper CV, supposedly a Senior Associate at Ernst and Young Advisory Pte Ltd. But she should really drop that reference to her involvement in the YOG Youth Engagement Committee. If she was there in any meaningful role, such as acting on our behalf to protect public funds from being abused, she should have on good conscience raised the alarm when the budget started to head for the stratosphere. Unless of course, her mentor, Mathias Yao, taught her to keep her mouth shut and not to tell the Minister he's not wearing any clothes. Yao had a good run for five terms, which means his bank account is in a very healthy state, the archetypal PAP role model. As for his contributions to society - what contributions? Oh, we forgot, Tin says he's very well loved. Don't you just love those PAP candidates to death?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Our Future At Stake

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singaporeans should think carefully and calmly about the long term-future during the coming General Election. He even admonished the mainstream media for "getting a bit breathless" in their coverage. Perhaps the excitement over the epic battle ahead is getting too much for his father's make of pacemaker. Well, if you can't stand the heat, the usual advice is to stay out of the kitchen. And save the taxpayers $3 million.
Actually, hor, before I joined the grassroots organisation, I didn't know that there were poor people in developed countries.
During the recent National University of Singapore forum on 23 March 2011, themed "What’s at stake?", PAP MP Michael Palmer's pitch was to "vote strongly for the PAP to secure your future because the next generation of leaders are in the present slate". All we can say is that if the present slate is anything to go by, we have seen enough and the future looks pretty dim. A guy who places self before father and wife, a rich corporate bitch who lets her husband be bankrupted - the PAP sure knows how to pick them.

Now listen to what one opposition party said: Unless you vote strongly for WP, Singaporeans can’t secure their future because we’ll never have a second line of defence should the PAP abuse us again with lies and deceit. To refresh our short term memories, Sylvia Lim recalled how in 2006 Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan had proposed, just before the general election, means testing for those who wanted to enjoy the subsidies that came with C-class hospital wards. The Workers’ Party spoke for all of us when they argued strongly against it during the campaign as the party’s view is that “health care is an essential public good”. Faced with potential public outrage, Khaw held back on its implementation. Having secured "the mandate of the people" for another term of office, the government quietly reintroduced it two years later, after the excitement of the polls had died down. This year the cooling off period actually starts before the balloting begins.

This year we are told there is no need to vote strongly for opposition parties because they were assured of NCMP seats - at least 9 non-PAP members (whether non-constituency — NCMP — or fully elected) and 9 nominated members of parliament. What they don't tell us as clearly is that NCMPs have limited voting rights, and therefore their views are easily dismissed by the government. See, the deceit goes on.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Another Bum Deal

Chair of choice for expensive bums
When it comes to his own money Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan was prepared to spend only $8 for his surgical bypass operation, but if taxpayers are paying, he'll splurge $575 for an office chair without so much as batting an eye.

Apparently Khaw ordered 150 sets of the Herman Miller® Celle® for office use in National University Hospital some 25 years ago. This came to light when the New Paper queried the Ministry of Manpower's decision to purchase 472 similarly expensive chairs. Khaw said cheaper alternatives will not last as long. Strange, that was the same reason disgraced monk Ming Yi gave when asked why he bought Mont Blanc pens.

Khaw also claimed that he, like MOM, got a good bargain as the Celle® chairs supposedly retail at $1,200. Xtra Designs's managing director Lim Choon Hong, would not offer the same price to others, even for enquiries of 10 sets. Earlier in 2005, Xtra also gave NTU a special deal for another top of the line model:

From: aehchua@xxxxxxxxxx
Date: 13 Nov 2005 20:13:36 -0800

Dear colleagues,
I refer to the above press article in the Sunday Times dated 13 Nov 2005 and would like to update you on the background of the matter.

1. The retail price of S$2200 quoted by the journalist for a Herman Miller Aeron chair is exaggerated and may be the list price before discount. The price of this chair offered to NBS is much lower around S$900. The Herman Miller chair has a warranty period of 12 years compared to a normal office chair with a 1 year warranty period and an average life span of 4 years or so. Hence over the 12 year period, the capital outlay of a Herman Miller chair is about the same as the outlay for 3 normal office chairs required for the 12 year period. In addition these chairs have the advantage of ergonomic design for health and posture and is intended to give faculty and staff a more healthy and comfortable work environment.

This staff member stood/sat loyally by the university's decision:

(1) All NBS staff were told the price and certain contract details about the chairs the day the news broke in the Straits Times.
(2) K-mart can try to sue. The fact was I bought such a chair, my back hurt, I replaced the chair.
(3) It is exam time right now. At the moment, I'm doing two things:
(1) marking and checking exam scripts (very boring), (2) trying to dig up old posts from this newsgroup on the conflict between the YPAP and other netizens circa 1996.

Cecil Chxx

Meanwhile, an orthopaedic surgeon in Mt Alvernia Hospital said, "You don't need an expensive chair to prevent back problems. You need a chair that is wide enough, and is set for your eyes to be around the height of the computer. Ergonomic chairs are meant for those with back problems caused by poor sitting posture."

MOM claims Xtra offered ergonomic design, durability and value for money, skipping their other sales pitch, "When it becomes a designer icon, its worth goes beyond its function." In other words, the minister fell for the snob appeal.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Return Of The Generals

Major-General Chan Chun Sing, 41, followed BG Tan Chuan-Jin in "retiring" from the Singapore Armed Forces to join the ranks of the ruling party. He won't actually say so, but who is he kidding? How can one "retire" as a Chief of Army when one has served only one year of service - the uniform is barely wrinkled. Chan's supporters claim he is able to connect with the ground very well, talking with instead of down to his soldiers, an admirable trait given his White Horse credentials of being a President's and SAF Overseas Scholar.

"One can never have enough time to complete the work of the army," said Chan. So why is he dumping the Temasek Greens prematurely when his professional job is not yet done? Singapore generals are very well paid, and were once driven around in Mercedes cars so that "the men will look up to them." Okay, maybe not enough to move into $20+ million bungalows occupied by the likes of George Yeo, Teo Chee Hean and Lim Hng Kiang, the original Mindef Mafia.

On the plus side, we can sleep soundly knowing there are ex-generals in the cabinet guarding the nation's interest. Especially when fast tracked foreigners are already sneaking past the defences via the Trojan Horse of the GRC. More than the temptations of our Sovereign Wealth Fund is at stake here. Imagine waking up tomorrow to find that the national dish of chicken rice is replaced by Ipoh kway teow! It's bad enough that one FT embraces the ISA instead of his father's torment, we have another who would not publicly knowledge the MP who bestowed her his imprimatur. Is loyalty so out of fashion these days?

In Indonesia, ex-generals are giving their President Yudhoyono restless nights. Men like Tyasno Sudarto, Chief of Army till 2000, who says the government has not helped the poor or done enough for migrant workers. Or Endriartono Sutarto, Armed Forces chief till 2006, who said the number of poor has increased under Yudhoyono's administration. Men of gravitas, whose uniforms are well worn and tattered by the scars of service. But the soldier who will warm your hearts, especially the loyal citizens who sacrificed 2 years for NS, has to be Sergeant Dip Prasad Pun. When he ran out of ammunition and grenades fighting the 30 Talibans, he battered the enemy with the tripod of his machine gun. Sgt Pun carried on the family tradition of being decorated for bravery, after his father, and his grandfather. Now, that's the kind of candidate to welcome for political office .
Guess who's been invited to the tea party?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Old Soldiers Never Die

When you gotta go, you gotta go!
The headline hit like another 9.0 magnitude tsunami, veteran Jayakumar quitting his Senior Minister paying job at age 71? He could easily collect another $30 million by shaking legs for one more decade, just like the char tau Goh Chok Tong. Can there be honour in this same man who once directed then AG Chan Sek Keong to draft the legal opinion that Goh could be in a prohibited balloting area without walking across the off limits zone?

Perhaps we have been too harsh on the man, he could have been merely taking orders like the rest of the sycophants. Maybe he is not as thick skinned as the remaining others. "You will not find anyone in Bedok who is pleased that he is stepping down," looks like a nice epithet. Better to go off with a pleasant memory than be haunted by regurgitated abuses of the past.

The press didn't highlight the election incident of 1997, when the Workers' Party had complained to the police that Goh Chok Tong, Tony Tan and Brigadier-General (NS) Lee Hsien Loong had been sighted inside a Cheng San GRC balloting station on Polling Day. Instead, they flagged him with the Contemplacion case. "He was very determined not to let this case become a cause for the rupture of Singapore-Philippines relations," wrote the press. Although "he managed the whole case in a very clinical and effective way", there were ugly protests in front of the Singapore Embassy in Manila and diplomatic relations with the Philippines were strained for quite a few years.

"Life has an unfair, unpredictable quality about it and you must take it as it comes. But then, that's not what I would have thought if you had asked me when I was 30 years old. Now it's a different perspective. How many of my generation as alive, never mind being fit and mobile and still compos mentis?"

That was Lee Kuan Yew circa 1998, speaking to Han Fok Kwang, Warren Fernandez and Sumiko Tan for the book, "LKY, The Man And His Ideas." He adds, "At 70-plus, what do I need? Time to reflect." Perhaps the same thoughts went through Jayakumar. On the other hand, if he teams up with similarly outgoing Abdullah Tarmugi and the bunch of Chinese-educated MPs arm twisted into early retirement, now that should make one hell of a GRC team. We can dream, can't we?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Days Of The Mandarins Are Numbered

Looks like Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng let loose a whopper of a blooper when he said "over time, it (PAP) will field fewer Chinese-educated ones". That's when you start to notice that the recent PAP line up announced is mostly English educated, Chinese and "less likely to cause riots". Ignore the anomaly who embraces the ISA ("for pragmatism") even though his own flesh and blood father was locked away without benefit of trial with that same instrument.

The ST article about the 5 MPs who are stepping down didn't draw much attention, since most of them only showed their faces around election time. Joo Chiat's Chan Soo Sen, 55, was more visible in the clan gatherings, where he was immensely popular at karaoke time, belting out Hokkien ditties with gusto. But he was bitter about being made to step down earlier from Minister of State heights, whinging to anyone with a sympathetic ear, "they had to bring 3 guys in to do my job". Maybe it was just the alcohol and/or Newater talking.

Wong was responding to a question on whether the PAP's new slate of candidates will be able to replace outgoing seasoned MPs with a Chinese background. The party is not against fielding Chinese-educated candidates, he insisted, but must look beyond them for party renewal. "Because of the education system, increasingly you'd find that there are not many who are completely proficient Chinese speakers," was his lame excuse. Or attempt to blame the Ministry of Education for their failings in Mandarin education.

Meanwhile another PAP newbie Steve Tan, 37, took exception to Wong's slight about his personal proficiencies. He claims he is not only bi-lingual, but also bi-cultural. For a moment you actually hoped he would add that he is also bi-sexual, i.e. say anything to grab the LBGT vote. That would offset the damage inflicted by fellow newbie Desmond Lee, 34, who stated in no uncertain terms, "I agree with the Government's position. Section 377A states the position of the majority." This despite what even PAP lawyers had argued in parliament that it makes no sense to keep a law and not enforce it. Desmond, we are told, is a former legal service officer who served in the Supreme Court, the Attorney General's Chambers and the Law and Health ministries. Maybe he spent too much time drinking tea instead of pontificating over fine points of the law.

If you still haven't had enough of the ongoing crap, listen to this "fooled-me, hah!" circuitous narration of when and how she actually became a citizen.

Who Is Dominic Puthucheary?

Dominic Puthucheary appeared for Mohd
Adnan Robert and Joseph Pairin Kitingan
 in the 1985 Sabah state election case
Dominic Puthucheary was mentioned only once in Lee Kuan Yew's memoirs, "The Singapore Story", on page 367. He was described as one of the "Big Six" trade union leaders - including Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan, Sidney Woodhull, Jamit Singh and ST Bani - who called for "genuinely full internal government" and abolition of the Internal Security Council. Lee had private plans for keeping the latter, it would be his weapon of mass destruction for political adversaries.

His brother James Puthucheary was more active and featured on pages 159, 196, 209, 249, 290, 310, 312, 373, 378-81, 399, 473, and 513-14. Lee first met James in 1963 when he was released from St John's Island together with Samad Ismail and Devan Nair, and summed him up dismissively as "superficially clever but unreliable". Regardless of what Lee thinks, he was part of the English educated associates who helped the Chinese-educated to demolish the British colonial system, a first step for Singapore's path to independence. For all their nationalistic efforts, which included a spell in Changi prison, every single soul was swept up in the treacherous Operation Cold Store of 2 February 1963. Even Dominic Puthucheary was not spared.

Recent declassified documents from the British National Archives suggest that the “communist threat” was “played up” by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew to persuade the British and Malayan governments to agree to a joint security operation to eliminate his political opponents in Singapore.

Then British Commissioner to Singapore Lord Selkirk told his superiors in London that:
“Lee is probably very much attracted to the idea of destroying his political opponents. It should be remembered that there is behind all this a very personal aspect…he claims he wishes to put back in detention the very people who were released at his insistence – people who are intimate acquaintances, who have served in his government, and with whom there is a strong sense of political rivalry which transcends ideological differences.”

It is hard to believe that a man of Janil Puthucheary's education level can fail to grasp the significance of the betrayal. But wait, this man openly declares that "the philosophy is not as important as the pragmatic implications for our state". Which speaks volumes of the heartless mercenary crowd he plans to hang out with, pillaging and raping peasants mercilessly to satiate their unquenchable lust for greed and power.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Confessions Of A Cab Driver

If You Have To Ask, You Can't Afford It
The sub-editors at Straits Times should have been more prudent about uplifting the article from the Oriental Daily News (Chinese: 東方日報, is one of Malaysia's daily Chinese-language newspapers). The purported conversation between a Chinese Malaysian medical tourist and a Malay Singaporean cab driver is loaded with unpleasant truths.

On the surface, the column was a chance opportunity to cock a snook at Mahathir, by quoting the talkative cabby: "Many of his statements are actually very hurtful. It clearly shows that he does understand his fellow Malays in Singapore. He has lost touch with us."

His Malaysian passenger, a Gu Yuan You, had initiated the chit chat by engaging the cabby in Malay, claiming it would give him a sense of familiarity. The driver's reply was a surprise to him, "Actually, I have few opportunities to ferry passengers of my race, including those from Malaysia. So, of course I speak mainly English." Has the structure of the taxi-fares created another elitist socio-economic class for the privileged? An online guide to Singapore's taxi services has this blurb: "Zipping up and down the expressways and going from point to point is always more comfortable in a taxi, but this is a lifestyle that not many can afford. Thus, this enforces its symbol as an almost-luxurious way of travel."

While you ponder on the ramifications of the above curtain raiser, our knowledgeable cabby has this gem about affordability of medical care here:
"Mister, you are right (about standard of medical services). We are certainly more advanced than Kuala Lumpur. But we Singaporeans often pray that we only suffer from minor ailments. You must make sure you do not have to be hospitalised for another surgery. You'll be in trouble if you cannot pay the deposit. The hospital will not show you sympathy. I have come across one actual case whereby the patient, who was my passenger, was refused admission. We are very good in everything, except this."

So there must be a smidgen of truth in the story of the bicyclist, knocked down by a hit-and-run driver, who refused to be sent to the hospital because of his financial situation. It was making the rounds during GE 2006. What new horrors will surface in this year's election?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Look Out For Flying Crap

Teo Chee Hean revealed today that half of PAP's newbies will be in their 20's and 30's (age, not Pampers size). Which means a whole lot of them will be doubling their take home pay in a hurry. What do you think a assistant-general secretary of a labour union should be paid? Or a 33 year old civil service deputy director?

Worse, these guys have no compunction about lying at the proverbial drop of a hat. Ong Ye Kung claims to prize long-term gain over short-term pain and is "key to his outlook". When the reporter asked whether he thinks he is ministerial material, he gainsays, "I like to think long term but when it comes to my personal career, I want to be short-term." So it is long-term pain for the people and short-term gain for himself? He is so typical of those who signed up for the Faustian pact -Tell me to jump, and I'll ask "How High?"

Dr Janil Puthucheary, in his heart of hearts, probably knew it won't be easy on his father, who was detained by the nefarious ISA goons in 1963. That's why he scripted the presentation in advance: "I spoke to him and I started explaining about the Meet-the-People sessions and the tea that I was drinking and I had a whole plan of how I was going to explain all of this." What was the old man to do? Scream at him for turning over to the Dark Side, and risk  being thrown back to his old cell? The ingrate might even refuse to pay the $100 deposit on his behalf in event of hospital admission, or ship him off to a nursing home in Bintang, Batam or Johore.This is a guy who broke his promise to his wife about entering politics.

As for ex-Barisan Sosialis Ong Lian Teng, you can almost feel the resignation in his words, "It's a new generation, we have to move on." Gone was the fight in him when he defeated PAP incumbent Lee Khoon Choy for the Bukit Panjang seat in the Legislative Assembly election of 1963, mano-a-mano. Not for him the GRC perversity which lily livered wimps are using to sneak into parliament. One thing's for sure, his son Ong Ye Kung won't be on a SMC ticket. Neither will Puthucheary (slated for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), despite his hollow rhetoric, "The question is not where we come from. It's who will be prepared to stay and fight." It will be more convincing if not for the fact that he was a citizen only in 2008, having spent most of his adult life in North Ireland, London and Sydney.

Whatever happens at the Fukushima nuclear plant, radiation fallout in Singapore is the last of worries. It's started  to rain crap.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Meeting The Masses In Style

Popemobile (Italian: Papamobile) is an informal name for the specially designed motor vehicles used by the Pope during outdoor public appearances. The Popemobile was designed to allow the Pope to be more visible when greeting large crowds, not because he has ambulatory concerns. Pope John Paul II was the first to use a modified truck to greet supporters on his trip to Poland as the newly installed Pope.

The modified Mercedes-Benz M-Class sport utility vehicle Popemobile most often used by 265th and current Pope Benedict XVI when traveling abroad does not have a Warren Golf & Country Club sticker on the bonnet. But this version of transportation boasts of accoutrements that even the Popemobile does not have.

[1] - Electrical heating pads to soothe aching limbs, mobile variant of full time staff at Istana employed as hot towel dispensers
[2] - Extra buoyant flotation tyres in case of freak floods since it looks like Yaacob Ibrahim is still in charge of drainage systems
[3] - Proximity sensor for opposition members in the vicinity to avoid repeat of Goh Chok Tong - Chee Soon Juan style encounter, with latter badgering, "Where is the money Mr Goh?"
[4] - Token minority ethnic group driver, in full compliance with George Yeo's "less likely to riot" stipulation
[5] - Specially treated glass visor that turns dark at the flick of a switch, in case some precocious kid among the spectators yells out, "The Emperor has no clothes!"
[6] - World's most expensive jaga kereta - add Annual Allowance, Special Allowance, "Public Sector Leadership" Allowance, Annual Variable Component, Special Variable Payment, GDP Bonus, Performance Bonus - at a total cost to the taxpayer of 36 months' pay estimated in the region of $3 million a year. That explains why he still maintains HDB pricing is affordable.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

We Don't Know Why He Did That Either

"I don't know why he did that. He kicked an own goal." Dr Seet Ai Mee was using a football metaphor, much favoured by Goh Chok Tong, to summarise how a klutz robbed her of Ministerhood, and the financial riches associated thereof.

In this latest retelling, her political opponent in the 1988 elections, Singapore Democrat Party leader Ling How Doong, highlighted how she had washed her hands fastidiously after establishing tactile contact with a fishmonger at a wet market in Bukit Gombak. That did not stop her from triumphing at the polls, albeit by a 7 percent margin. 

Years later at the next hustings in 1991, then Prime Minister Goh inexplicably resurrected the irksome episode, a harbinger of how he would rehash the Dhanabalan turn-the-other-cheek affair at the 2005 national day rally.  Just two days before the balloting, Goh told the Bukit Gombak crowd that Dr Seet had a habit of washing her hands frequently as she was a pharmacist. "After shaking hands with a fishmonger, she washed her hands. But she has not done this since." The way he phrased it, nobody can tell whether Dr Seet had stopped shaking hands with fishmongers, or ceased washing hands altogether. Whatever. Although her supporters blamed the importunate story-telling for her electoral defeat, Dr Seet says her loss stemmed from a general national unhappiness at the rising cost of living, specifically the removal of 3 bus routes from Bukit Gombak and fares were being hiked. Looks like not much has changed since 1991, except maybe income disparity has widened, foreigners have displaced local born, and housing is now barely affordable.

Speaking from the benefit of hindsight, Dr Seet believes she was the wrong candidate for the Mandarin and dialect speaking blue collar ward. She does not speak a word of Mandarin, her second language is Malay.  But hey, those handicaps never stop the guys from riding the GRC gravy train to a higher income tax bracket.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Of Mice And Men

On Saturday 12 March 2011, one day after northeast Japan was hit by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake, officers from the Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) contingent of the Singapore Civil Defence Force (codenamed Operation Lionheart) flew off on Flight SQ 12 to help with the rescue work.

SCDF said the five search specialists and five search dogs, led by Search Platoon Commander Major Tan Loo Ping, departed Japan on Wednesday morning 16 March. Minister of State for Home Affairs and Education Masagos Zulkifli, SCDF Commissioner Peter Lim and Japanese Ambassador to Singapore Mr Yoichi Suzuki were on site to receive the returning team on Thursday. Major Tan and three of the officers in the team for Japan were also part of the 55-man search and rescue team dispatched earlier to Christchurch, New Zealand, from 23 February to 6 March. In view of the shorter stint, perhaps the Japan junket should be renamed Operation Pussycat.

While thousands of people have been evacuated due to high risks of radiation near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, a small group of 180 workers are staying on at the risk of their lives to prevent a major meltdown. The group of nearly 200 technicians, reportedly labeled the Fukushima 50 because they work in shifts of 50, are likely being exposed to massive amounts of radiation. Monitoring at the Fukushima Daiichi site has recorded radiation as high as 400 millisieverts an hour -- a level known to be a risk to human health. These are modern day Kamikaze heroes, men and women willing to die for their nation. These are times that separate men from mice.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Anatomy Of An Apology

In the face of great tragedy, it is inevitable that the foibles of ordinary mortals sometimes result in careless expression of word or thought, in that impetuous moment of insensitivity that cause more grief than physical pain. All is not lost, if the transgression is followed up with genuine expression of remorse.

There were 3 notable instances of apology during this week. In Tokyo, outspoken conservative governor Shintaro Ishihara, well known for his nationalistic views and denial of the Nanking massacre, apologised on Tuesday for describing Japan's deadly earthquake and tsunami as "divine punishment". He said Japanese people were becoming "greedy" and highlighted the case of people who continue to pocket their parents' pensions by delaying death notifications, "It is necessary to wash away the greedy mind ... by using tsunami."

In Singapore, MediaCorp issued an apology for sending out a marketing e-mail in its eagerness to urge advertisers to capitalise on breaking news about the earthquake in Japan. Responding to the backlash, Edwin Koh, senior vice-president of marketing & sales planning in Mediacorp, clarified that the email was targeted at a group of clients and agencies that had interest in being part of Channel NewsAsia's “breaking news” coverage.

In Malaysia, the Malay-language Berita Harian apologised for publishing a cartoon depicting the popular Japanese icon Ultraman running away from an oncoming tsunami. "We do not intend to be insensitive or to poke fun at last Friday's incident," the paper said in a front-page apology on Monday, adding that it was "very sympathetic" to the plight of the Japanese people.

The victims of the infraction are unfortunately in no position to comment, they have more urgent concerns to address. As for the apologies, their presentation speak for themselves. Some say a proper apology should always include the following:
  • a detailed accounting by the offending party which will serve to legitimize the reaction of the recipient
  • an acknowledgement of the hurt or damage done to validate the feelings of the recipient
  • a recognition of the offender's role in the event to avoid defending the action or justifying the situation
  • a clear statement of regret, with no vacillation of expression
  • a request for forgiveness
  • a promise that it won't happen again
  • a form of restitution whenever possible
Sometimes, a paltry "I stand corrected" just won't do.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Is There A Racist In The Room?

"Was that you talking, or the Newater in your drink?"
There's this lingering suspect that Lee Kuan Yew's retraction of his offensive allegation about Muslims being last to integrate into the multi-racial milieu of Singapore society is less than sincere. It has to do with his half hearted press statement and his unusual reticence to show his face in the aftermath of the outrage. George Yeo could provide valuable clue when he told a religious conference yesterday that "Satanic Verses" was banned while "Last Temptation of Christ" was allowed because - brace yourself for the aftershock, folks - "Christians are less likely to riot."

Talk about throwing a monkey wrench into the works.  Now that should go down well in his Aljunied GRC.

George Yeo was positing that maintaining racial harmony is a "daily struggle for Singapore", at the dialogue attended by religious leaders from eight countries in Asia. The way he painted it, riding the MRT is a time-bomb, with closely packed commuters seething with bottled up racial under currents, ever ready to tear at each other's throats at the slightest provocation. Whatever he's got in his cocktail glass, none of us want to drink of the same poison. Call us daft, call us whingers, but please don't call us Singaporeans closeted racists.

Besides the Salman Rushie / Nikos Kanzantzakis illustration, Yeo also aired how the Government allows Punjabi Sikhs to wear turbans to class, but forbids Muslim girls to wear headscarves in school. Outsiders might see this as selective social engineering, dividing the minions to justify the subjugating hand. Like the Brits used to do in the bad old colonial days. The Belgians did it in Rwanda too, favoring the Tutsis over the Hutus, with catastrophic consequences. Yeo likens the citizens to plants in a garden, claiming that Singapore is beautiful because it is" all the time being interfered with." He got the last part right, but conveniently omitted the bit about peasants being treated like mushrooms, always kept in the dark and fed with bullshit.

Whatever happened to "one united people, regardless of race, language and religion"? One theory is that a united people will scare the pants off these genetic supremacy adherents, like how the sight of Falungong followers doing morning exercises unnerved the Chinese Communist Party. "The day we stop worrying, the problem may get out of control," George Yeo claimed. He shouldn't lose sleep over imagined ghosts, the real worry is about the dilution of the Singapore identity by the influx of foreigners. That plus affordable housing and the widening income gap.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A History Of Heartlessness

It's a terrible picture by any standard. The stoic Japanese, reduced to utter despair by the devastation at Natori. They are human after all, and every human has his or her own threshold of pain. Japan has more suicides than the United States, yet less than half the population. Still, the use of drugs in Prozac's class has only recently begun to spread. Tell that to the despicable Goh Chok Tong.

Goh shamefully used the tsunami tragedy to forward his own political agenda. He abused the dignity of the suffering Japanese to lambaste Singaporeans for expressing disgust at the folly of the street floods, caused by lack of drainage maintenance, and not act of God as claimed by the Environment Minister. Speaking to some 200 REACH contributors at a forum held at the Marine Parade Community Club, Goh quoted an example of how Singaporeans reacted strongly to the Orchard Road floods that happened last year, saying that "Singaporeans should not complain too much but instead learn from the Japanese tsunami incident". And you thought Mrs Goh was the insensitive brute, rallying support for NKF's TT Durai at his day in court. Despite public calls for an apology, Mrs Goh Chok Tong never did recant her odious remark, "$600,000 per year is peanuts compared to the reserves the NKF has." At that time, "I stand corrected" was not yet a fashionable statement.

Goh's cold fish temperament was earlier demonstrated in 1995, when domestic help Flor Contemplacion, a 42-year-old mother of four children, was hanged. Then Philippines President Fidel Ramos was flabbergasted at his lack of comprehension of the heightened emotions in his country regarding the perceived injustice. A pile of Manila local dailies was couriered across, to let Goh witness at first hand the large print headlines, Singapore prefixed with a four-lettered expletive. It should be noted that Yeo Cheow Tong and George Yeo, each in their own ministerial capacities, had made advance trips to Manila to prepare for Goh's April visit to the Philippines. Neither had any clue of the Pinoy reaction to the Singapore brand of justice. There was this talk host of a children's TV program, instructing the kids to burst balloons by stomping on them, "Just imagine they are Singaporeans."

Maybe Goh Chok Tong does have a heart, maybe it's just buried too deep in the mountain of cash acquired over the years. Or maybe he needs see a psychiatrist after all. That prognosis still stands, unless otherwise corrected.

Inside Job

"Inside Job" won the 2011 Oscar for Best Documentary. In Charles Ferguson's documentary about the great financial crash, there are many memorable quotes - like former US treasury secretary Hank Paulson's "If you're growing, you're not in recession … right?" - that sum up the attitude of the super-rich banking apparatchiks and their eager political supporters. As long as the bubble's getting bigger, there's no worry about the bubble contracting … right?

This film is a far cry from the wacky and tricksy version of Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story". Still, by the time the credits roll, you won't be exactly enamoured of the likes of Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke, Larry Summers, Timothy Geithner, Henry Paulson and other financial gurus, some of whom are still in office. Not when you see the roles they played in the deregulation of the banking industry that made possible the debacles of Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, AIG, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae and so on. There are so many villains on the set, you will need a score card to keep tab.

But did you know PM Lee Hsien Loong has a cameo in the opening scenes? We don't know what was the question posed to him, but he is caught on camera, mouthing this line, "When you start thinking you can create something all of nothing it's very difficult to resist." Just before his scene ( at 00:08:45 ), there's a clip of Andrew Sheng, Chief Advisor of China Banking Regulatory Commission, saying this, "They were having massive private gains at public loss." If irony was intended, the movie deserves an award for film editing too.
"You know my day rate, right?"
"'s very difficult to resist."
Channel 8 artiste Zoe Tay was once taken for a ride when she was subject of a storefront ad for Singapore-based skin care pill Imedeen. She was featured in the advertisement of the anti-aging supplement, with a tagline that reads, “My secret to beautiful skin? I swallow.” The copy writer took advantage of her command of the English language, but smucks come in all shapes and sizes.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Keep It Simple, Stupid

ChannelNewsAsia kept playing the video clip over and over on national television, of Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam rebutting Opposition leader Low Thia Khiang's contention that the Goods and Services Tax is hurting the lower-income group.  Altogether now, let's say it one more time, GST is a regressive tax.

While Tharman got his knickers in a twist trying desperately to avoid using the "R" word, he could only get so far as to declare that, "on its own, the GST is a flat tax" and "not a progressive tax". Oh, he did throw in the colourful graphs and stuff about "Grow and Share package" and "special transfers to help the lower- and middle-income groups", one time exercises that seem to crop up only in an election year. The "GST plus" invention - workfare and the other schemes - can hardly be of solace to the Ah Soh who collects cardboard and empty cans for threadbare subsistence.  Tharman chose to ignore the fact that the GST millstone is there for all perpetuity, once PM Lee Hsien Loong hiked it from 5% to 7% at one go.  The combobulation of after measures following the implementation only serve to confirm the short comings of poor decision making.

The genius of Low's counter argument is in it's simplicity, "Why you first of all tax the low-income family and give him offset package?" Indeed, would you let someone cut your finger so he can give you a free band-aid?

To illustrate that the rich contribute to the bulk of the GST receipts, Tharman coughed up the statistic that the GST paid by the lower-income group - up to the 60th percentile - formed about 16 per cent of all GST collected. Big deal. We know the GST for a $45 cut of porterhouse steak at Morton's is several times the GST on a $3.50 plate of chicken rice. So is the $133,000+ monthly pay check (for someone in Tharman's tax bracket) several times more than the $2,000 per month some families are surviving on in First World Singapore. What Tharman and people of that ilk fail to comprehend is that the poor can seldom afford to eat out in the first place. For them, survival is affordable rice, cooking oil, salt and sugar. Exactly why Low made the call for the Finance Minister to reduce GST from 7 to 5 per cent and to waive the tax for basic necessities. As Confucius would say, "Life is really simple, but we (they) insist on making it complicated."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Feeling The Tremors

With the media engrossed in the devastation of tsunami hit Japan, it was easy to miss the tremors at Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) that could have resulted in Ogawa Ryuju being finally accorded his rightful Singapore citizenship.

While ICA quibbled about the bureaucratic red tape of the oath swearing ceremony requirement, they were silent when Ogawa dutifully served his two years of National Service. The recent batch who just completed their ORD quiz - conditional upon having their NRIC being returned - will tell you the last couple of months of military training were mostly "slack" days. Add to that the wasted time reporting at sports events to make up for the poor attendance anticipated, or providing cheap labour to assemble seating for National Day parade, it is questionable the two prime years of youth have been optimally invested.

Ogawa discovered how he was jerked around by the system when he tried to renew his passport in January 2010. It cut no ice to tell them that he had his first pledge taking for the SAF when he was enlisted into the Army in 2007. His second pledge was taken when he received his Pink Identity Card from the MP for Jalan Besar GRC, Mr Heng Chee How, during the Citizenship Ceremony on 20th June 2008. It cut no ice when Ogawa had renounced his Japanese citizenship at the Embassy as instructed by ICA. They pounced on the technicality of a reminder letter sent under registered mail, that was bounced, and clearly marked as "Unclaimed". They sent Ogawa a letter for an Oath Taking Ceremony in 2009 when he had already taken an Oath during the Citizenship Ceremony in 2008 under the watchful eyes of MP Heng in attendance.

It cut no ice when both MPs Lee Boon Yang and Heng Chee How wrote letters of appeal to ICA. Ogawa's story came to light in November 2010. ICA was steadfast then: "There is no provision under the Singapore Constitution for reinstatement of citizenship once a person ceases to be a Singaporean citizen", conveniently ignoring the fact it was their advice for Ogawa to renounce his Japanese citizenship, rendering him a stateless person. Then in December 2010, suddenly forgetting about the "there is no provision" part, ICA wanted $100 to process an application for citizenship. Tired of the charade, Ogawa submitted to the blackmail by paying up on 18 February 2011, and the application was swiftly approved 10 days later. So much for the "There is no provision under the Singapore Constitution for reinstatement of citizenship blah, blah, blah...."

So was it the 100 bucks or a forthcoming earth shattering event that finally convinced ICA to eat humble pie? Looks like the ground swell building up momentum for this year's general election may surpass the 8.9 Richter scale magnitude experienced by Japan yet.

Friday, March 11, 2011

This Should Make You Puke

While the whole wide world braces for the impact of price increases in oil, food and commodities, Parliament has quietly moved to increase the selected president's salary to $4,267,500, a hefty 20.8% quantum jump of $890,700. That's double the percentage increase of the financial assistance package for the poor, which was recently adjusted from $360 to $400 per month.

If you haven't spewed your morning coffee yet, listen to this. Minister Thaman proposed the change for "recruitment of an additional staff officer to support the work of the Council of Presidential Advisers and a butler manager to meet increased demand for butler services, and the high variable payments on account of a strong economic growth". We know from Tom Plate's account that Lee Kuan Yew has two staff just to provide hot towels for his aching bones, but are there so many butlers there in the Istana that they need a "butler manager" to supervise the servants? It's bad enough to read of "higher variable payments", Tharman also uses the term '"ad hoc spending". Does the national budget also have a YOG styled "other costs" accounting entry?

Tharman tried to downplay the gross abuse of public funds by saying that the total expenditure for the "Civil List for the President of the Republic of Singapore" will be the same as the revised 2010 figure of $11,605,000. What he did not say to the public is that the original 2010 figure was $10,354,700. Why and when was the number "revised" by $1,250,300 to $11,605,000? Just in time for the 2011 budget?

By the way, while sky rocketing COEs are threatening the affordability of cars for those who need to drive for work purposes, these guys have also decided that the president needs a new office car. Are we even on the same planet?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Confusing Confucius

When Noel Pearson told his audience at the 2011 Sir Robert Menzies Lecture that a Confucian approach of development has provided a path out of poverty, he presents a false picture that there are no destitute in Singapore. Obviously he didn't read about Pelangi Village in LKY's "fascinating memoirs".

Given that Confucius (Chinese: 孔子; pinyin: Kǒng zǐ) places the family unit on a high pedestal, there should be no serious argument against making fathers pay to support their children, or against grown up children having to support their aged parents. Welfare policies fail only when they do not to address the core problem of the benefit system: perverse agendas of administrating bureaucrats.

Pearson lists 5 "Lessons of Paternalism", but not without conceding outright that Singapore styled paternalism is not feasible in a liberal country like Australia.

First he quotes Lee Kuan Yew saying that all men and women first work for themselves and their families, and "then will they share a portion of it with the less fortunate". That immediately brings to mind Francis Seow's new book "Confucius Confounded: The Analects of Lee Kuan Yew", a compilation of speeches, quotations and numerous exhortations attributed to Lee which disprove his claim to subscribe to Confucian ways, mores and beliefs. Confucius' guiding principle was always, "Consideration for others is the basic of a good life, a good society." Me first was supposed to be a Western disease. Don't confuse Confucianism with cronyism.

Second, in Pearson terminology, is a "set of railings" to represent the "support system" of apartment ownership, retirement funds and healthcare co-payment insurance funds. Nothing wrong with that - "He who does not economize will have to agonize" -, except when so much of one's life savings is vested into a dwelling, one has nothing to retire on. Asset rich, cash poor, is not a tenable position - it's no fun starving to death in an empty house. The CPF, our nest egg for old age, has no place in a Ponzi scheme.

Third, Pearson makes mention of the aim to put everyone on the development path and not want an underclass to develop. If the Gini coefficient is anything to go by, the aiming has to be way off target. According to the sage, “In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.”

Fourth, Pearson says money is redistributed to promote wealth and asset development, not consumption. Subsidising consumption is supposed to neutralise the incentive to strive and work. Is that why NKF-styled "subsidies" are set for housing, healthcare, education and transport, while food, water and basic essentials are taxed to the max? "To be wealthy and honored in an unjust society is a disgrace."

Finally, Pearson claims that Lee's paternalism is sourced in Confucius rather than Mao. Mao a source of paternalistic philosophy? That can't be right, Mao had kids accusing their parents of revisionism, rightism and shipped off to re-education camps. According to theory, paternalistic leadership is composed of autocratic leadership, benevolent leadership and moral leadership. Confucius makes this clear: "An oppressive government is more to be feared than a tiger."

Perhaps Mr Pearson needs to revise his choice of reading material; those memoirs may stand to be corrected.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Close Call

Mahathir told Tom Plate about his heart surgery in the "Conversations" book, "I had my operation by a local doctor, you know, I didn't go abroad." He was expressing his confidence in Malaysian medical schools,
Yeah, 64. Well 1989, yeah I was 64. I had a heart attack and Malaysian doctors diagnosed it as an infarction, and they said I need to have a bypass. So, they asked me whether I wanted to go to America, to the Mayo Clinic or whatever, but I asked them whether they could do it, and they said they can but usually VIPs go to America. I said I didn't mind if I can be treated here, because if I had no confidence in my own people, how can I expect other people to have confidence in them?

Queried by Plate if he was then making a political decision and not a medical one, Mahathir paused and laughed, "Yeah I was making a political decision," a harbinger of a life or death enormity. The gravity of the moment was flipped to hilarity by a quote attributed to Ronald Regan as he was rushed into hospital after the 1981 assassination attempt. "I just hope the surgeon is a Republican."

In his long awaited memoirs, launched yesterday, Mahathir reveals that the doctor he trusted with his life is heart specialist Yahya Awang, son of a family friend. The interesting aside is that, on the eve of the operation, at the late hour of 10 pm, MM Lee Kuan Yew rang his wife Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali. "He asked her to persuade me to postpone the operation because he had a medical team ready ready to fly to Kuala Lumpur, with the well-known cardiac surgeon, Dr Victor Chang, a Singaporean living in Australia, to do the surgery."

The wife told Lee that he had already made up his mind and that the family agreed with him. Thanks, but no thanks. Rebuffed, Lee even made an appeal to former finance minister Daim Zainuddin to intercede with the Mrs. Of Daim, Mahathir wrote in another chapter, "One thing about him that I didn't like, however, was his closeness to Lee Kuan Yew." Notice there is no record of an attempt to speak to the patient directly.

Mahathir had a second operation - apparently a redo is usually required after ten years - 16 years later in 2007, with the same Malaysian doctor in attendance. Now, the $64K question, was Mahathir also making a political decision over a medical one in rejecting Lee's offer of Victor Chang? Would Chee Soon Juan go under the knife if Dr Ng Eng Hen was the surgeon?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Thanks, But No Thanks, We Can Handle The Truth

The definition for "I stand corrected":
1.(idiom) Said to acknowledge someone who corrects something that one says or writes that was not correct.

Implicit in the expression is that the speaker admits his error, and is contrite for the pain inflicted. A layman would define it thus: "I stand corrected' is a very formal way of saying: I accept that I am wrong and I apologise." Now read the press statement released by Lee Kuan Yew yesterday:
"Hard Truths was a book based on 32 hours of interviews over a period of two years.
I made this one comment on the Muslims integrating with other communities probably two or three years ago. Ministers and MPs, both Malay and non-Malay, have since told me that Singapore Malays have indeed made special efforts to integrate with the other communities, especially since 9/11, and that my call is out of date.
I stand corrected. I hope that this trend will continue in the future."

He should have left the last sentence out, and he might be forgiven for his racist aspersion. By including thus, he is saying that, two or three years ago, his thesis was correct, that "I would say, today, we can integrate all religions and races except Islam." That, prior to 2008, "Muslims socially do not cause any trouble, but they are distinct and separate." By twisted innuendo, he allays the blame on the integrating Muslims for messing up his immaculate record of being absolutely perfect and correct.

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim advances the date further. He told parliament that the Malay-Muslim community had "redoubled outreach efforts" following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York on Sept 11, 2001, to "forge even stronger ties with fellow communities". In his eagerness to side with his non-Muslim pay master, Yaacob effectively said Lee was off by another 7 years.

When British journalist Sir David Frost planned the 1977 Nixon Interview, his researchers agreed to participate only if the exercise resulted in Nixon's admissions that support the widespread conclusion that President Nixon had obstructed justice. To a certain extent, the goal was achieved, but any sympathy for "Tricky Dick" was annihilated by his parthian shot, "Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal." If there was a moment to redeem his greatness in history, he muffed it. The same can be said of Lee Kuan Yew.

Richard M Nixon reflecting on his legacy

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Curious Case Of Dr M

Strange, the conversation Tom Plate has with Mahathir Mohamad in his second "Giants of Asia" book seems to be one sided. In response to his 9 faxed questions in "Dr Mahathir Defines His Muslim Religion", MM answered 7 with single words.

Maybe the frustration with the "iron censorship curtain" on his delayed memoir, snipping stuff away on grounds of national security, was throttling his loquacious second nature. This is the man best remembered by the West for his rants, against Soros and against Jews, which Plate dedicated a whole chapter in "The Anti-Semitism Controversy Never Dies". Throughout the chapters, with James Bond themed headings ("Die Another Way" for the 9/11 conspiracy has to be pure bad taste), Plate was playing the apologist for someone who can clearly speak for himself, without mincing words. Like he telling the author "the old guy's still in the saddle". When Plate was stumped, he added, "LKY is still there. He never lets go. I let go. He is keeping a lid on the purse strings. He controls them."

Or maybe the powerful police unleashed in Operation Lalang of October 1987 to quell alleged ethnic tensions, sweeping up opposition leaders and social activists, shutting down newspapers, unnerved him (check "The Men With The Golden Guns"). In the earlier chapter, Plate was saying there's no chance of the police getting out of hand, "Well, you're not in jail." To which came the curious rejoinder, "Not quite." Unlike Mahathir, Lee Kuan Yew can cast racist aspersions with "we can integrate all religions and races except Islam" without fear of a knock on the door at an unearthly hour of the night. Not with the Home Affairs Minister, Wong Kan Seng or Shanmugam, under the heavy thumb of his son in charge.

Stranger still are the forward messages at the beginning of the book. Instead of the usual fawning platitudes, the contributors harp on the less palatable episodes of Mahathir's 22 year reign. Proton, Perwaja, Putrajaya, everything but the kitchen sink is mentioned. Irony of ironies, the scant praise is from his nemesis across the causeway, "He was an outstanding Prime Minister of Malaysia. During his premiership of over 20 years, he changed Malaysia from an agricultural, placid society into an industrial, dynamic society."

Tom Plate deflects the critics of his hero worship by asking the well honed questions, "Have you ever met Dr Mahathir/( Lee Kuan Yew)?", "Ever been to Malaysia/ (Singapore)?" He has, but that hasn't helped to pierce the enigma or the iconoclast. You know the conversation hits a cul-de-sac when the writer runs out of steam and end with, "Alright, because I'm going to go with that."

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Survivor - The Singapore Episode

It has to be one-upmanship. Or a special production of "Survivor: The Mini-star Version", where the incumbents on a tiny island outwit, outplay and outlast each other for another 5 years of million dollar salaries. Not be upstaged by Mah Bow Tan's largess of a $20,000 Special Housing Grant, Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan is raising the stakes with a $7 billion boost for healthcare.

It's definitely more amazing than his $8 bill for a heart bypass in a Singapore hospital where lots of Susan Lim wannabes roam the corridors, especially when you consider that the 2011 health budget was surgically shaved $24 million from the $4.1 billion allocated for 2010. These guys are playing so fast and furious with the numbers, they should be in the money pit of the casinos, instead of parliament house.

It was good to hear of a new polyclinic for Punggol and that 5 older ones will be upgraded. Doubling of the subsidy cap for heart implants - like the pacemakers octogenarians are using to stay in the electoral hustings - is timely, since our senior citizens with cardiovascular vulnerability will need all the help they can get when the tsunami of fee and tariff hikes roll right in after the election. Khaw made it plain that "Singaporeans must continue to face some "hard truths", such as the fact that there is no free health care as someone has to pay the bills. Make no mistake, that someone is YOU. A reader posted his records of the consultation charge at a Geylang Polyclinic:
  • 2005 - $20.00
  • 2008 - $28.40
  • 2009 - $32.71
  • 2010 - $42.06
Khaw claims that although the United States spent 18 per cent of its GDP on health care, "they know that much of that is unnecessary". He refers to the terminally ill, and his personal view that Americans strive to prolong life at all cost, never mind the quality of life nor "the futility of such endeavor". The last bit should explain his philosophy of shipping out the senior citizens to Batam, Bintang or Johore. On the other hand, Singapore spends 4 percent of GDP on health care and, according to Khaw, " has a good and relatively inexpensive health care system because we have sensible and wise doctors." Quite obviously, the good doctor hasn't been apprised of the Brunei patient episode.

Friday, March 4, 2011

It's All Done With Mirrors

The 2011 budget for National Development was increased by a mere 3.9% over last year's, barely enough to cover inflation. Yet Minister Mah Bow Tan can pull out Special Housing Grants of up to $20,000 just like that, like a rabbit from a magician's hat.

The SHG, available for household earning up to $2,250 a month ranges between $5,000 and $20,000, is supposed to benefit 3,500 households.

We are told Mr Rosli, with monthly income of $1,000 to feed self, wife and 2 kids, has been paying rent of $110 for the past 15 years. By his calculations, he doesn't have $300 in cash each month to service a loan for a 3-room Build-To-Order (BTO) flat in 2008. With the SHG and another $40,000 under the Additional Housing Grant, Mah says he can buy a smaller 2 room flat - asking price $100,000 - with a $40,000 loan. The 4 of them will just have to pile into one bedroom. We don't know how old Rosli is, but he will be easily staring at a 20 year loan commitment. Which means, years down the road, he will be another of those statistic who can't afford to retire since there will be zilch in the CPF account.

And why is a 2-room flat - with typical floor area of about 40 sq m - costing $100,000 in the first place? If the government can dispense with a "discount" for $60,000, was the "list price" realistic in the first place? Even astute shoppers stop and think when a $1,000 watch is "marked down" to $400. When, not if, the bubble bursts, it looks like it will be a gory bloodbath.

Notice also that only 3,500 will be entitled to the Government's generosity. One guesses the rest is supposed to get out of their elite, uncaring face.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Real World Salaries

DPM Teo Chee Hean must have a different concept of performance when he expanded on how salaries of Civil Servants rode on the mysterious GDP statistic which seems to go up and down on cue.

Worker's Party's Low Thia Khiang had pointed out that the combined salaries of political appointment holders had been revised from $58.3 million to $75.7 million, a 30% jump. "Unfortunately, the income of Singaporeans do not grow 30% just like that," he said.

Rebutting, Teo quoted Low's speech in 2007 as acceptance of benchmarking and variable pay:
""While we accept that basic salary may be benchmarked broadly with the private sector in line with international practice, we believe that performance pay should also be introduced to established a visible correlation between performance and pay."

Teo failed to grasp Low's premise on performance: Home Affairs Ministers are supposed to keep terrorists safely locked up, Ministers of Environment are supposed to keep the streets flood-free, Ministers of Education are supposed to keep schools free from horny principals and teaching staff, Ministers of Defence are supposed to make sure helicopters don't drop from the sky, Ministers of National Development are supposed to provide affordable housing, etc. Guess which lot is still laughing all the way to the bank?

Teo refers to a decision in 2007, made before the financial meltdown of 2008-2009. Obviously a changed world is not factored in their private plans for personal asset enhancement. One doubts the salaries of the high fliers actually suffered a 18- to 22.5% reduction as he claims. They may have missed out on the GDP bonus payments for 2009 and 2010, but were their base salaries adjusted downwards when those in the private sector lost jobs and suffered pay cuts? Anybody has access to IRAS records?

In 2007 the politically damaging outcry over the proposed huge pay rises resulted in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong pledging to donate his own increase to "worthwhile causes" for the next 5 years. He also announced that he would, by 2011, name a successor to take over in 10 years’ time. On wonders if Teo's selective memory recall includes any of those promises.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

From Mee Siam To Chilli Crabs

Uh, GST is not regressive,
'cos, er, George Yeo says so!
Responding to the Hougang MP's call to cut the GST from 7% to 5% to help people cope with inflation, Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) demonstrated the quality of the incumbents in office: "High income earners, we know, consume more and therefore pay higher GST."

Just as Goh Chok Tong missed out on the definition of gerrymandering, de Souza is equally clueless about the regressive nature of GST. defines regressive tax as a tax that takes a higher percentage of low incomes than high ones. Regressivity is considered undesirable because poorer people pay a greater percentage of their income in tax than wealthier people. Sales taxes, especially on food, clothing, medicine, and other basic necessities are widely cited as examples of regressive taxes. If de Souza wants to do the right thing and get the high income earners to pay more, perhaps he should introduce a luxury tax like Indonesia's Sales Tax on Luxury Goods (Pajak Penjualan atas Barang Mewah). But, ah, that would cut too close to his income bracket.

Not only is Goh decidedly blinkered about the shady aspect of gerrymandering, he is also hopeless about running a hawker stall. Referring to Goh's analogy between a good candidate in a new area and the operator of a famous chilli crab stall, Workers' Party's Sylvia Lim had retorted, "SM Goh must be aware that he is one of the three most well known chilli crab stall operators, besides Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, operating chain stalls all over Singapore in the form of GRCs." Goh was obviously ignorant of the cardinal tenets of a successful business set up. Ask any other streetwise chill crab operator - the business is all about location, location, location! But, hey, what does he know, he didn't start the family business, he was merely babysitting for the transition from mee siam to chilli crabs. Chilli crabs mai hum, anyone?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

They Have Crossed The Line

Did we stipulate one representative from each party?
It was billed as Opposition members crossing swords with the incumbent PAP, but the Channel NewsAsia's Talking Point programme was nowhere near the standards set by the AWARE EGM of 2009 that was cut into a DVD.

PAP's Michael Palmer was practically begging National Solidarity Party (NSP)'s Goh Meng Seng to play nice when latter charged that it was doubtful the present Government could meet its stated target in raising Singaporeans' real income. Palmer said it was a work in progress, "We've been consistently doing that... So I think that if Mr Goh gives us a chance, we can raise that income level."

Goh was talking about raising the real income by 5 per cent of the households in the 20th percentile. While Palmer asked for more time to look into that, his own MP allowance was hiked one year after the last General Elections in 2006.

In April 2007, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced a new set of numbers for his team. The greedy buggers wanted more padding in their bulging wallets:
President – $3,187,100 (up 24.9%),
Prime Minister – $3,091,200 (up 25.5%),
Senior Minister – $3,043,300 (up 13.5%),
Minister Mentor – $3,043,300 (up 13.5%),
Deputy Prime Minister – $2,452,500 (up 18.8%),
Minister and Senior Perm Sec – $1,593,500 (up 32.5%),
Entry Superscale Grade – $384,000 (up 3.3%),
Member of Parliament – $216,300 (up 23.2%).

Reformed Party's Kenneth Jeyaratnam, undistracted by Indranee Rajah's Little Black Dress (seems like the incumbents are pulling out all stops for this Battle Royale), claimed that the Government plagiarised its stance on productivity. In a recent speech, Goh Chok Tong "seems to be talking about exactly what I've been saying - the need to raise productivity of our workforce, rather than relying on cheap labour from abroad." Ms Rajah countered that they had the productivity and standards board that was some 30 years or more ago... before the RP came up with its recent statement."

Man, 30 odd years and they are still asking for more time. Wait, we get it. The longer they drag their complacent feet, the bigger their bank accounts get to grow.