Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The best is yet to be - or is it?

Dec 28, 2014

The challenge Singapore is facing now, at this stage of its development, is bigger than China's

By Rachel Chang In Beijing

It was a surprise twist to a familiar conversation.

Over lunch with a Chinese acquaintance a few months ago, we cycled meanderingly though the usual topics educated Beijingers like to cover: air pollution, politics, the social graces of the population, or the lack thereof.

I forwarded my theory that the air pollution problem in Beijing would improve faster than expected, as such is the nature of governance systems with few other stakeholders. Things get done quickly, and Beijing has shown there is little economic, political, social or human cost it considers too high for a priority of the central government's.

He was sceptical, and argued that the lack of private profit opportunities would slow down change. But then, concluding amiably, he said: "Only one thing is for sure. Life will get better."

It was a cap not just to our discussion on air pollution, but to everything else we had covered and more - a succinct existential statement that conjured less of an empirical truth than a spiritual one.

It is - I have come to believe over 10 intense months of reporting in China - a statement of national significance, summing up a collective mood of buoyancy and resurgence.

My lunch partner's attitude is so crystallising not because he is as far from a victim of Beijing's propaganda and information control as can be found among locals, which he is.

It is because he is a middle-class, middle-aged man. And for four years as a political reporter in Singapore before my Beijing stint, I had never come across a middle-class, middle-aged Singaporean man expressing anything akin to optimism, not to mention the earnest, uninflected belief that "life will get better".

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Running cafes no piece of cake

Dec 28, 2014

Nearly half of all cafes registered in 2011 have shut; owners cite lack of experience, poor planning, manpower as challenges

By Joanna Seow

Having your own cafe may seem like a dream job, and the start-up scene here is brimming with at least 350 new names each year since 2011.

But sustaining the business is no piece of cake.

Almost half of the 369 cafes, coffee houses and snack bars that registered in 2011 have since closed down.

And of the 391 which registered last year, around a quarter have also put up the shutters, according to data from the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority.

Cafe owners past and present say lack of experience and poor planning, along with manpower issues because of the tight labour market, have been the biggest challenges in keeping their businesses running.

De'Pop Culture owner Adeline Wang left her corporate communications job to set up the 30-seat cafe in Bugis in July.

She wanted to open a cafe after spending a lot of time studying in them during her university days.

Now, the 23-year-old is thinking of closing it.

"One of my mistakes was that I didn't have any experience in the cafe business," she admitted.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Special Report: In Jakarta, that sinking feeling is all too real


JAKARTA — The Ciliwung River flows from a volcano south of the Indonesian capital, through the heart of one of the world’s most densely populated cities and almost into Jakarta Bay. Almost, because for the final mile or so of its course, the river would have to flow uphill to reach the bay.

The same is true for the rest of the half-dozen sewage-choked rivers that wind though central Jakarta. Unable to defy gravity, they’ve been redirected to canals that drain into the sea.

The reason these conduits are necessary is that Greater Jakarta, an agglomeration of 28 million people, sits on a swampy plain that has sunk 13 feet (4m) over the past three decades.

“Jakarta is a bowl, and the bowl is sinking,” said Mr Fook Chuan Eng, senior water and sanitation specialist with the World Bank, who oversees a US$189 million (S$250 million) flood mitigation project for the city.

The channels of the Ciliwung and other rivers are sinking. The entire sprawl of Jakarta’s north coast — fishing ports, boatyards, markets, warehouses, fish farms, crowded slums and exclusive gated communities — it’s all sinking. Even the 40-year-old seawall that is supposed to keep the Java Sea from inundating the Indonesian capital is sinking.

The next 50 years or Beyond 2015

Two writers offer their views on what needs to change for Singapore, 50 years after independence.

DEC 20, 2014

50 years on, still no clear political alternative


AT THE recent party conference of the People's Action Party (PAP), the possibility was raised of it not forming the government after the next general election.

This brings to mind former foreign minister George Yeo's two- word Facebook post after the ruling party lost the Punggol East by-election in January last year: "Whither Singapore?" This came after the May 2011 election when the PAP received its lowest votes in a general election since independence.

In this context, it appears intuitive that here is an opportunity for opposition parties to explain why they should run the country. Yet, none is making a claim for the leadership mantle other than trying to increase the parties' parliamentary presence.

Are the poor better off now than they were 50 years ago?

December 5, 2014

Dear Cecil:

There has been a lot of discussion on the distribution of wealth, particularly to the top 1 percent. I’m wondering about the bottom 20 percent — how do they compare to the bottom 20 percent of 50 years ago? Based on casual observation, it would seem the lowest class is much better off than a couple of generations ago. Is that true, or am I just getting cynical in my old age?

— DJ, Minneapolis

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Where has global warming gone?


DECEMBER 23, 2014

For the last quarter of the 20th century, the average temperature of the surface of the Earth edged inexorably upwards. Then, to the surprise even of scientists, it stopped. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere continued to rise; indeed, it is higher today than it has been for centuries. And yet, for the past 15 years, based on the conventional way of measuring global warming, the planet does not seem to have become any hotter.

What explains this unexpected turn of events and what does it mean for future climate policy?

The pause in the rise of surface temperatures is real. It can be observed in surveys of the surface of the sea and in satellite measurements of the troposphere. But the reason it has occurred is not that our greenhouse gas emissions are no longer changing the Earth’s climate; it is that surface temperature is a poor metric for human-induced warming. Indeed, what scientists have figured out is that, instead of warming the surface, the excess heat being generated has gone to the deeper oceans.

This calls into question some of the international strategies for combating climate change that are currently being negotiated, such as those aimed at preventing the global temperature at the Earth’s surface from rising more than 2°C above the pre-industrial average.

Law and realpolitik in the South China Sea


DEC 23, 2014

CHINA'S rejection of the international process represented by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague is both a missed opportunity and a disappointing corollary to its intransigence on the South China Sea dispute. Beijing's visceral opposition to third-party arbitration is based on the suspicion that the process is a means of exerting political pressure on it over territory it thinks is inherently Chinese. Thus, its recent position paper dismisses the special arbitral tribunal - where the Philippines filed a memorial this year - as having no jurisdiction over the issue. Instead, it asserts the "historical rights" that give Beijing indisputable sovereignty over disputed features.

The tough must get going in Singapore’s new economics


DECEMBER 23, 2014

Singapore’s continuing modest economic growth of only 3 per cent or so each year and the uncertainty inherent in the global economy suggest that we cannot be complacent about our immediate economic future.

Within South-east Asia, the Republic’s competitiveness is being eroded by high domestic business costs and the economic uplifting seen in economies more rich in resource and human capital, such as Indonesia and Myanmar. It has been nearly five years since the Government adopted the recommendations of the Economic Strategies Committee (ESC). The targets set included annual growth in gross domestic product of 3 to 5 per cent, annual productivity growth of 2 to 3 per cent and a 30 per cent rise in the median wage by 2020.

We have barely met the GDP target and only with a significant contribution from the Government’s fiscal impulse into the economy.

We have not yet had a single positive productivity growth year apart from 2010, whose positive number was a one-off given the labour contraction during the 2009 recession.

And while wages at the lower end have risen slightly, they have not done so fast or far enough to give confidence that we will meet the median wage target.

This has not been for want of trying. The Government has poured billions into trying to drive productivity and innovation, and used policy action to tighten the labour market.

At the halfway mark of the ESC plan, it is opportune to ask whether Singapore needs new economics in the next five years.

Dominant no more?

DEC 23, 2014



Twenty years ago, dominant single-parties were a recognisable feature of South-east Asian politics. Indonesia's Golkar, Malaysia's Umno and Singapore's People's Action Party were marching to the beat of their own drums, proving to be too formidable for opposition parties.

Today, however, the drumbeats are not as confident as in the 1990s: the rhythm has either slowed down - as in Malaysia and Singapore - or is in disarray, as in Indonesia.

Over the last month, all three parties have held their congresses. Umno and PAP leaders told cadres to persevere or risk losses in the next elections, while Golkar's leaders acknowledge their crisis.

Are dominant parties of the last century doomed to fail in the 21st?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Too much education is bad. Don't over-educate the young: Nassim Taleb

Dec 22, 2014


By Genevieve Cua

An interview with author and thinker Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a somewhat nerve wracking affair. He famously reserves his scorn for certain professions - journalists, for instance, to which this writer belongs - as well as economists, bankers and academics. That is, anyone who has no "skin in the game"; opinion makers who prognosticate or make forecasts and are not held to account for their views. Those who invest on the views of this hapless group take on all the risk and downside.

On the opposite end are "heroes" who bear the disadvantages and risks for others' sake; they have "soul in the game". Entrepreneurs, soldiers and investigative journalists rank high in his world view. His model for "soul in the game" is his father. In his latest book Antifragile, he recounts an incident during the Lebanese civil war when a militiaman insulted his father, who refused to obey the soldier's orders. As his father drove away, he was shot in the back, and the bullet remained in his chest for the rest of his life. Mr Taleb writes: "This set the bar very high for me. Dignity is worth nothing unless you earn it, unless you are willing to pay the price for it."

Mr Taleb was in Singapore for about a week in September at the invitation of fund management group Amundi; he was a keynote speaker at its 25th anniversary celebration. He turns out to be unfailingly cordial in our conversation, except for flashes of annoyance at the camera's clicks and whirrs.

During his visit, he also spoke to government officials who were apparently keen to elicit his views on Singapore and its strategic direction. He is likely to have made them sit up, as he turns conventional wisdom on its head, particularly on the issue of education, highly prized in a city where good grades and degrees are seen as a passport to success.

Not so, says Mr Taleb. "What I'm saying is a bit controversial for you guys, given the respect you have for education. It's good to have a class of people who are educated. But education is the enemy of entrepreneurship. If you start having a high level of education, you start hiring people based on school success.

Is Uber taking us for a ride?



Remember when getting a taxi meant calling a despatcher or standing by the roadside waving your arms frantically in the hope of catching the eye of a passing cabbie?

Today, many of us turn instead to our smartphones to quickly and conveniently hail a ride.

Indeed, recently, there has been a profusion of taxi apps here, from San Francisco-based Uber to Malaysia-founded GrabTaxi, Easy Taxi from Brazil and London-born Hailo, which recently made its debut in Singapore.

Among these newcomers promising to reshape the urban transportation market, Uber is easily the most high profile, for reasons both good and bad.

Apart from allowing users to book regular taxis, Uber has also crafted a new business model, taking on the taxi firms by acting as an intermediary to connect private-hire drivers in an emerging sub-industry dubbed “ride sharing”. As a disruptive technology start-up, Uber has taken on its mission with an enthusiastic — some might say abrasive — zeal. Using none-too-flattering language, it has made no bones about its full-frontal assault on the established and, in many cases, highly-regulated taxi industry.

Founded in 2009, Uber’s most recent fund-raising valued the company at around US$40 billion (S$52.6 billion), placing it on par with Delta, the world’s largest airline with a heritage of 80 years. That is not bad for a five-year-old firm that is essentially an app and little more.

But while the mega-valuation naturally grabs headlines, what it means in reality is unclear.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Put Singapore first in the years to come

By Devadas Krishnadas

December 19

It is convention to end the year with a review of the 12 months that have passed. This can be a useful exercise in reflection and learning. But as 2015 draws near, a more important question should be: What should we expect of ourselves as a people and as a country? This is a more meaningful query as it focuses on what we can control and asks us to take responsibility for our future rather than simply react to events.

In the 1990s, there was a popular and long-running local English television series called Under One Roof. This speaks to the essential truth that, on our tiny island, we are really all living under one shared roof. Yet, in the recent past, divisiveness among Singaporeans is a growing feature of our discourse.

This divisiveness is being driven by a number of prominent wedges.

Brent drops below $60 as OPEC, Russia keep output steady amid glut

17 Dec 2014

SINGAPORE - Brent futures fell more than 1 percent on Wednesday, down for a sixth straight session, with persistent worries of a supply glut keeping prices near a 5-1/2 year low under $60 a barrel.

Oil prices skidded in recent weeks, with Brent down nearly $20 since the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) decided to keep output steady in late November.

Non-OPEC member Russia, one of the world's top producers, has also indicated that it does not plan to cut output despite a glut in the world market.

Brent for February delivery fell 62 cents to $59.39 a barrel by 0601 GMT (01:01 a.m. EST).

A ferocious struggle for Singapore's future

Dec 19, 2014

This is a response from High Commissioner to Australia Burhan Gafoor to an article by the former assistant secretary-general of the Barisan Sosialis party, Dr Poh Soo Kai. Dr Poh's Dec 3 article appeared in New Mandala, a Web magazine hosted by the Australian National University that focuses on South-east Asian affairs.

DR POH Soo Kai's commentary ("Singapore's 'Battle For Merger' revisited") in New Mandala on Dec 3, 2014 is a misleading account of Operation Coldstore, Singapore's merger with Malaya, the Barisan Sosialis Singapura (Barisan) and his own role in that period.

Dr Poh and other revisionists like Dr Thum Ping Tjin have alleged that Operation Coldstore was a political exercise meant to suppress what they claim to be legitimate, presumably peaceful, democratic opponents of the PAP government. A full reading of the declassified documents from the British National Archives shows clearly that Operation Coldstore was a security operation meant to counter the serious security threat posed by the outlawed Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) and their supporters in Singapore, working through the Barisan and associated communist united front (CUF) organisations. The revisionists conveniently omit mention of the incriminating information in these documents. For example, they quote selectively some of then UK Commissioner to Singapore Lord Selkirk's remarks to claim that Operation Coldstore was an act of political suppression with no security basis. But a holistic reading of all the documents debunks their accounts. The documents reveal that both Lord Selkirk and his deputy Philip Moore were concerned about the extent to which the CPM had penetrated the Barisan and had concluded that security action was imperative. Indeed, about two months before Operation Coldstore was carried out, they had begun to urge strenuously that action be taken.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

In praise of small policy miracles


Dec 11 2014

MOST of us don't save enough. When governments try to encourage saving, they usually enact big policies to increase the incentives.

But, in Kenya, people were given a lockable metal box - a simple place to put their money. After one year, the people with metal boxes increased savings by so much that they had 66 per cent more money available to pay for health emergencies. It would have taken a giant tax reform to produce a shift in behaviour that large.

Too many people die in auto accidents. When governments try to reduce highway deaths, they generally increase safety regulations. But, also in Kenya, stickers were placed inside buses and vans urging passengers to scream at automobile drivers they saw driving dangerously.

The heckling discouraged dangerous driving by an awesome amount. Insurance claims involving injury or death fell to half of their previous levels.

These are examples of a new kind of policymaking that is sweeping the world. The old style was based on the notion that human beings are rational actors who respond in straightforward ways to incentives.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The final Big Idea: Love Singapore

 Dec 13, 2014

And show it with three "Ls": litter not, laugh a lot and live the Pledge.

By Kishore Mahbubani, For The Straits Times

NOW that I have reached the final column of my Big Idea series for 2014, I am happy to summarise the core idea underlying all the Big Ideas columns I have written this year. It can be captured in two words: "Love Singapore". If we can practise this with total commitment and conviction, Singapore will survive another 50 years.

So, can we love Singapore?

The simple answer is that love is not shown with words only but with deeds also. If our deeds do not match our words, we do not really love Singapore. This is why I am suggesting three practical deeds we can do to demonstrate our love. All three deeds begin with the letter "L": "litter not, laugh a lot, and live the pledge".

Idea of different Minimum Sums for different groups being studied: Tan Chuan-Jin



SINGAPORE – Any change to the CPF system will take into account the income needs of Singaporeans in their retirement years. One area being looked at is whether it’s possible to have different Minimum Sums for different groups, depending on their needs.

Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said this in a wide-ranging interview with the media. But he also warned that providing more options, would make the system more complicated.

Since November, the panel tasked with reviewing the CPF system has held several focus group discussions. One thing stood out - people value the CPF system. But there are differing views on how to make it better.

The Manpower Minister said the fundamental role of the CPF has not changed and that is to provide for one’s financial adequacy during one’s retirement years for healthcare and housing. The key is to establish how much flexibility to work into the system and whether more options can be provided.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Do people still think S’pore is part of China?


DECEMBER 15, 2014

Singaporeans were piqued when an American sports commentator at the recent Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Finals held here signed off with “goodbye from China”. Many felt it was no excuse for the newscaster. How could he not know where he was?

Given Singapore’s global status today, I thought such confusion would be a thing of the past. In the 1980s, I still received letters from American business associates addressing “Singapore, China”. It was amazing how the letters reached my office.

Then, my colleagues and I were more amused than annoyed. It was a time when if you registered at a hotel in the United States, the reception staff might just add “China” on your card. The blunder was not confined to Americans. I met a Swiss who asked if I meant Senegal, an Australian who confused us with Hong Kong and a New Zealand couple who said they had heard of Singapore Airlines, but not Singapore. “Is it in Malaysia?” they asked and that was years after we came into our own.

But I have learnt to be more understanding, particularly after having stayed six weeks in Wonju, South Korea, as writer-in-residence at the Toji Cultural Centre. It is not about being tolerant and forgiving, although clearly we should be since a person’s ignorance (for want of a better word) could be influenced by exposure, accessibility, opportunity, interest, subject significance and misinformation.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Middle-class angst in a globalised world

Dec 09, 2014


NEWS that income growth is at its slowest pace since the 2009 recession is worrying. However, a key issue here - the effect of poor productivity growth on wages - is amenable to policies aimed at raising skill levels in all areas and improving productivity. It is these policies that will come into focus increasingly as Singapore restructures its economy.

More disturbing from a generational point of view is that the sense of security associated with being middle-class has given way to anxiety, as technology and globalisation widen income gaps and take away jobs. The anxieties of the middle class are instructive because they reflect not only the condition of the middle 60 per cent of income-earners - the bedrock of social coherence and political stability - but also the aspirational expectations of Singaporeans below who are busy climbing the economic ladder. A sense that economic advancement is being foreclosed would dent the confidence of the middle class and blunt the belief of others who want to make their way up to a better life. Both would wonder if their children could hold on to it or even arrive there.

This situation is not exclusive to Singapore. The fear of falling present in the American middle class, for example, was described graphically by the social commentator Barbara Ehrenreich. She invoked one essential reason for the fear, which is that, unlike wealth or property, the professional expertise of the middle class cannot be handed down automatically to the next generation. Hence the middle class' fear of maintaining its privileged social position over time as demand and supply curves changed contours.

[By this argument, a middle-class that holds its position by virtue of professional expertise that cannot be bequeathed to the next generation should mean that there should be greater social mobility. This is not the case?]

What technology has done is to accelerate the creative destruction through which capitalism advances. The difference now is that the destruction of old class positions and the creation of new orders are occurring on a global scale. Singapore's middle class is no more immune to challenge today than was its New York counterpart yesterday or its Shanghai competitor will be tomorrow. Globalisation is creating a worldwide middle class, and the only way to survive its arrival is to globalise with it.

At the personal level, this means tempering expectations associated with an earlier phase of growth. Pricey homes and cars, as symbols of middle-class stature, might then give way to sustainable aspirations - say, when knowledge, fine sensibilities and the support of worthy causes mark the arrival of people at the next social rung. These attributes could help Singaporeans connect with like-minded people in a new global class system - connections that might prove invaluable in many ways. Notions of middle-class living must change with the times.

New world order? It's sink or swim - for all

Dec 09, 2014


In a globalised era of "mutually assured economic destruction", talk of countries rising and falling is pointless

By Michael Cox, For The Straits Times

IT HAS become the new truth of the early 21st century that the West is fast losing its pre-eminence in the world - to be replaced by a new international system shaped by either the so-called Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), the "rest" , a rising China or even by that very broadly defined geographical entity known as Asia.

It is difficult to dispute some self-evident economic facts about the changing balance of economic power. Visit booming Singapore, walk around downtown Kuala Lumpur, or spend time in Beijing, and you can just see and feel the buzz. As influential economics journalist Martin Wolf recently observed in his new bestselling book (The Shifts And The Shocks): If before the 2008 financial crash the West felt that it was the master of the universe, afterwards it very much looked as if the baton had been passed to a new generation of upwardly mobile international players.

But why should we be so surprised? After all, change has been going on since the beginning of time. And even the most sceptical of Western pundits would have to concede that huge economic strides have been made - not just in China or India, but in other booming economies like Turkey and Mexico.

Even economies in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa are booming, while high-end retailers around the world are drooling as they survey a new world which, by 2020, will be home to a cash-rich, consumer-savvy global middle class numbering just over three billion people.

Who first spotted this shift remains unclear. But perhaps one individual can lay claim to having been intellectually present at the creation: Jim O'Neill of Goldman Sachs who, back in 2001, predicted a major turn away from the old economies to Asia, energy-rich Russia and the equally commodity-rich country of Brazil.

Indeed, Mr O'Neill invented the acronym, the Brics. Born when the United States was riding high, and viewed with utter indifference by more orthodox thinkers, his prediction looked faintly absurd. Ten years on and his central claim - that the world economy was changing fast and would demand new forms of governance - had almost become the new wisdom of the age.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

CPF offers attractive return, no risk: Study

Dec 09, 2014

THE Central Provident Fund (CPF) provides an attractive return while protecting its members from risk, a new study has found.

This is because the CPF could generate 5.7 per cent a year over the next 20 years, based on certain assumptions such as rising interest rates, said the study by the Institute of Policy Studies and consulting firm Towers Watson.

This means that $100 in the CPF today could triple to $303 in 2034, a performance close to that of a typical unit trust that has equities and bonds in its portfolio, except that CPF members do not face any risk.

First time PAP has raised spectre of not forming Government: Analyst

Neo Chai Chin,


08 Dec 2014

The next GE could be watershed as there would be a clearer indication of whether Singapore is moving towards a two-party political system, a political analyst says.

SINGAPORE: Commenting on the fact that a General Election (GE) here has been framed by the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) for the first time as a fight to form the next government, political analysts said it was probably an attempt by the party’s Secretary-General Lee Hsien Loong to focus voters’ minds.

The argument that Singapore should have an opposition in Parliament – as a check and balance against the PAP – is a compelling one, said Dr Gillian Koh, senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies.

“I think it’s a way in which Mr Lee is trying to persuade people not to think of the contest as one of only checking the Government,” she said.

“This is the first time where the articulation of the PAP perhaps not forming the Government is put forth,” noted former Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Eugene Tan, who felt the next GE would be watershed as there would be a clearer indication of whether Singapore is moving towards a two-party political system, demonstrated by the Opposition gaining more seats.

This is because, in all previous elections, the PAP was successful in ensuring the Opposition did not build on electoral gains in terms of their number of parliamentary seats.

Monday, December 8, 2014

America's giant welfare state

Dec 08, 2014

By Robert J. Samuelson

WE AMERICANS pride ourselves on not having a "welfare state". We're not like Europeans. We're more individualistic and self-reliant, and, although we may have a "social safety net" to protect people against unpredictable personal and societal tragedies, we explicitly repudiate a comprehensive welfare state as inherently un-American.

Dream on.

Call it a massive case of national self-deception. Indeed, judged by how much countries devote of their national income to social spending, we have the world's second-largest welfare state - just behind France.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Majority of Singaporeans unprepared for retirement: Survey

Few following a plan; many need more than they estimate
The survey of 1,000 Singaporeans and permanent residents by DBS Bank shows that many respondents hope to retire comfortably but only a minority are taking tangible steps to reach that goal. 

DEC 5, 2014


The majority of Singaporeans do not have a financial plan for retirement, are afraid of planning ahead and need more than they estimate to retire, a new survey has found.

Many respondents hope to retire comfortably but only a minority are actually taking tangible steps to meet that goal, the survey of 1,000 Singaporeans and permanent residents by DBS Bank showed.

In the survey, over 76 per cent said their key long-term financial goal is to have enough for retirement.

But only a quarter are following a financial plan for retirement needs. Another quarter are in the midst of working out a plan while the rest do not have concrete ideas.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Widow loses fight over husband's CPF bequest to another woman

Dec 04, 2014

By Aw Cheng Wei

He refused to get a job after his timber business failed in the 1980s, so Mr Saw's wife and three children supported him for 30 years.

But after he killed himself in June last year, the 63-year-old left all $37,000 in his Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings to a woman from China he met in a bar, something his family found out only while clearing out his belongings. His widow, 61, tried to appeal in court, which cost her $30,000 in legal fees. Not only did she lose the suit, but she also has to pay $7,000 in court fees.

[$37k in CPF, $30k in legal fees. $7k in court fees. Coincidence? Check if 3737 is winning 4D number this weekend!]

Foreign policy of fear is crippling the US


Flying into New York the other day, I got my first good look at the Freedom Tower, now known as 1 World Trade Center, the skyscraper that sits atop 9/11’s Ground Zero. It does, indeed, scrape the sky, topping out at a patriotic 1,776 feet (540m).

Thirteen years after 9/11, I appreciate the nationalist pride that, while terrorists can knock down our buildings, we can just build them right back up. Take that, Osama bin Laden.

If only the story ended there. Alas, bin Laden really did mess us up, and continues to do so. We have erased the ruins of the World Trade Center, but the foreign policy of fear that 9/11 instilled is still very much inside us — too much so.

Retirement - Harsh Truths

 Dec 03, 2014

PM Lee shares article on ensuring retirement adequacy: live on less, work longer or save more

By Rachel Au-Yong

SINGAPORE - There are only three solutions to a pension system's challenges, concludes an Economist article that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong shared in a Facebook post on Wednesday.

In his summary of the article, about the challenges the American pension system faces, Mr Lee said: people must either live on less during retirement, work longer and retire later, or save more of their salary while working.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Japan faces tricky entry into world arms market

 Dec 03, 2014

Japanese weapons are now for sale globally; defence firms face opportunities and challenges

By Narushige Michishita,
For The Straits Times

ON NOV 12, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to strengthen bilateral defence cooperation, including the possible transfer of technologies for Australia's future submarine programme.

Australia is currently investigating how to procure 12 new submarines to replace its ageing Collins-class submarines, and Japan's Soryu-class submarine has become a candidate.

The Soryu-class is the largest diesel-engine submarine in the world, equipped with the cutting-edge air-independent propulsion system which enables it to remain submerged for weeks rather than days.

If Australia decides to use the Soryu-class submarines, it will be a win-win-win deal in which Japan can sell its products, Australia can acquire the world's best non-nuclear submarines, and the two countries' navies will become highly interoperable.

Snapshots - Carbon Emissions

From an AP news article on climate, this excerpt about carbon emissions.
"China has tripled its emissions from 3 billion tons to 11 billion tons a year. The emissions from the US have gone up more slowly, about 6 per cent, from 5.4 billion tons to 5.8 billion tons. India also has tripled its emissions, from 860 million tons to 2.6 billion tons. Only European countries have seen their emissions go down, from 4.5 billion tons to 3.8 billion tons."


China with almost 1.4b people now emits 11 billion tons of carbon.
US with 300 million people (1/4 of China's population) puts out 5.8 billion tons. More than half what China puts out.

Europe with 750 million people emits 3.8 billion tons. That is actually quite good for an industrialised region.

India, with almost 1.3 billion people only puts out 2.6 billion tons. 

On a per capita basis, India is lowest at 2 tons per person (approx.). 

Europe is 5 tons.

US is about 16 tons per person. 

China by comparison, is only about 8 tons per person.

According to this list, Singapore puts out about 7 tons per capita in 2008. Down from 15.6 tons in 1990.

China's tripling of emissions still puts them at the 55th position, or just slightly higher than Singapore.

The US is ranked 12th with 17.2 tons per capita.

Canada is not far behind at 14th with 15.2 tons.

Australia, at 11th, is ranked higher than the US. It puts out 18.3 tons per person.

Oil - Falling Prices, Mixed Fortunes

Better for all if oil markets are stable

DEC 1, 2014

LAST week's refusal by the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) to cut production, in spite of a supply glut and falling prices, underscores the complicated dynamics of oil markets. It is a significant shift in oil geostrategy, compared to when Opec and Saudi Arabia, the biggest producer, called the shots. With weakening global demand, greater competition among producers, and the shale revolution in the United States, oil price is said to now hinge on the marginal cost of non-Opec production - much higher for deep-water and shale oil compared to conventional crude from the Middle East and North Africa.

Crude oil prices have fallen by more than a third since June and the organisation's capitulation to market forces, instead of a customary ability to set the terms of business in the oil bazaar, has raised questions about the relevance of Opec, which accounts for a third of the world's oil production.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

China has wasted S$8.9t in investment, say researchers


November 29

BEIJING — “Ghost cities” lined with empty apartment blocks, abandoned highways and mothballed steel mills are sprawled across China’s landscape — the outcome of government stimulus measures and hyperactive construction that have generated US$6.8 trillion (S$8.9 trillion) in wasted investment since 2009, based on a report by government researchers.

In 2009 and last year alone, “ineffective investment” amounted to nearly half of the total invested in the Chinese economy in those years, showed the research by Mr Xu Ce of the National Development and Reform Commission, the state planning agency, and Ms Wang Yuan from the Academy of Macroeconomic Research, a former arm of the NDRC.

China is this year on track to grow at its slowest annual pace since 1990, and the report highlights growing concern in the Chinese leadership about the potential economic and social consequences if wasteful investment leaves projects abandoned and bad loans overloading the financial system.

The bulk of wasted investment went directly into industries such as steel and automobile production, which received the most support from the government following the 2008 global crisis, said the report.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Tales of a taxi 'Uncle'

Nov 30, 2014

Special report: in their shoes

From the surly to the genial, it is passengers who make or break your day. But the pressure sure piles up

By Toh Yong Chuan Manpower Correspondent

On my fourth day as a taxi driver, I drove for six hours at night with just one five-minute toilet break.

It was past midnight when I headed home and absent-mindedly got into the wrong lane at the junction of Bishan Road and Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1. The traffic lights turned green and I took off, almost hitting another taxi.

When I got home, my wife greeted me with a hug and said: "You have the taxi driver smell."

"It is the smell of hard work," I said. It was the odour of being cooped up for hours in stale air. I didn't mention my near accident.

I have always been fascinated by cabbies. As a manpower reporter, I have interviewed numerous drivers, yet there remained so much I did not know about them. Topmost on my mind as I embarked on a two-week stint as a cabby were these questions: How hard is it to be a cabby? And how much can a cabby earn?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Education in the second machine age

Nov 28, 2014

By Dalia Marin

ARTIFICIAL intelligence, once confined to the realm of science fiction, is changing our lives.

Cars are driving themselves. Drones are being programmed to deliver packages. Computers are learning to diagnose diseases.

In a recent book, economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee describe these recent advances as examples of the beginning of what they call "the second machine age".

The very name - the first machine age was the Industrial Revolution - suggests an epochal shift. And, indeed, if the predictions are to be believed, these technological advances could have profound implications for the way we live.

One common forecast is that as ever-more-advanced robots substitute workers, the cost of labour will become less important, and manufacturing will move back to rich countries. Another is that increasingly intelligent machines will reduce the demand for advanced skills, and the economic advantage of having these skills will decline as a result.

Friday, November 28, 2014

China's bid for Internet influence

Nov 28, 2014

The country known for its great firewall champions respect for each country's sovereign control of online space.

By Rachel Chang, In Beijing

THE irony was lost on no one.

China's inaugural World Internet Conference (WIC) last week in Zhejiang province had, as its slogan, "an inter-connected world shared and governed by all".

This, from a country whose landmark cyberspace achievement has been to construct the world's most elaborate and formidable firewall to block its citizens from the world.

Worse, a joint declaration, drawn up by organisers to mark the end of the two-day conference - attended by industry players from over a hundred countries - was dropped after overseas attendees revolted.

Slipped under hotel room doors at 11pm at the end of the second day, the document prominently mentioned mutual respect for each country's sovereign control and regulation of the Internet - a controversial Chinese doctrine that many see as a fig leaf for repression and censorship.

Revisions would need to be submitted by early next morning, attendees were told. Needless to say, few were willing to be bulldozed into signing the document overnight.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Singapore ranked world's No. 2 for health-care outcomes: EIU

Nov 27, 2014


SINGAPORE - Singapore has been ranked No. 2 in the world for health-care outcomes, according to a report by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

The Republic followed closely after Japan. South Korea was placed third.

Stop Trying to Save the World (or How to Pave the Road to Hell with Good Intentions)

Big ideas are destroying international development

By Michael Hobbes

It seemed like such a good idea at the time: A merry-go-round hooked up to a water pump. In rural sub-Saharan Africa, where children are plentiful but clean water is scarce, the PlayPump harnessed one to provide the other. Every time the kids spun around on the big colorful wheel, water filled an elevated tank a few yards away, providing fresh, clean water anyone in the village could use all day.

PlayPump International, the NGO that came up with the idea and developed the technology, seemed to have thought of everything. To pay for maintenance, the elevated water tanks sold advertising, becoming billboards for companies seeking access to rural markets. If the ads didn’t sell, they would feature HIV/AIDS-prevention campaigns. The whole package cost just $7,000 to install in each village and could provide water for up to 2,500 people.

The donations gushed in. In 2006, the U.S. government and two major foundations pledged $16.4 million in a public ceremony emceed by Bill Clinton and Laura Bush. The technology was touted by the World Bank and made a cameo in America’s 2007 Water for the Poor Act. Jay-Z personally pledged $400,000. PlayPump set the goal of installing 4,000 pumps in Africa by 2010. “That would mean clean drinking water for some ten million people,” a “Frontline” reporter announced.

By 2007, less than two years after the grants came in, it was already clear these aspirations weren’t going to be met. A UNICEF report found pumps abandoned, broken, unmaintained. Of the more than 1,500 pumps that had been installed with the initial burst of grant money in Zambia, one-quarter already needed repair. The Guardian said the pumps were “reliant on child labour.”

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

China surges ahead while India and Pakistan bicker


NEW DELHI — For a senior Afghan diplomat sitting in India’s capital, it is easy to explain how a region with a quarter of the world’s people can account for only 5 per cent of global trade.

“India and Pakistan need to overcome their problems,” Mr M Ashraf Haidari, deputy chief of mission at Afghanistan’s embassy in New Delhi, said in an interview ahead of this week’s meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, or SAARC.

“Summits happen, leaders come, there’s all this consensus and declarations announced. But unfortunately, it doesn’t happen in reality.”

As leaders of eight SAARC countries meet in Nepal this week for the first time since 2011, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has more reasons than ever to turn the bloc into a regional force to counter China’s growing influence in South Asia. Doing so will require him to overcome differences with Pakistani leader Nawaz Sharif.

So far, things are not looking good. Mr Modi’s government scrapped talks with Pakistan in August, which was followed by the worst border fighting between the countries in a decade. At the same time, China has promised SAARC nations part of a US$40 billion (S$52 billion) Silk Road fund to finance infrastructure investments.

“SAARC won’t be able to counter China’s influence,” said Dr Nishan de Mel, executive director and head of research at Colombo-based Verite Research, a policy research group.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Tussle over falling oil prices

Nov 10, 2014


Lower oil prices are reshaping the energy market, as Middle East countries try to fend off competition from US shale gas.

By Jonathan Eyal, Europe Correspondent, In London

SOONER rather than later, what went down must come up. That's at least the hope of the world's oil exporters, who are getting desperate as their products are now fetching the lowest prices in years.

Oil prices are famous for their unpredictable fluctuations and their sensitivity to political crises so, no doubt, the prediction will be proven right.

Still, the current sharp drop in energy prices is more than just a matter of market flutters. It is an indication of a bigger shift in the balance of power between producers and consumers, and the changing financial importance of different continental markets. This is no ordinary energy price war of the kind witnessed in the past, but a broader tussle which will result in more profound strategic realignments.

Right now, the world is awash with oil, and markets have responded in the only logical way, by marking the price of this crucial commodity down, from a peak of US$115 (S$148) per barrel in June to little more than US$80 today. The reasons for this price decline - the steepest in a decade - are obvious: better-than-expected production in war-torn Libya and Iraq, Iran's return to the oil export markets, and a global economic slowdown.

How Dubai caused the Arab awakening

Thomas Friedman

November 21, 2014

Ever since the Arab awakening in late 2010, America has lurched from one policy response to another. We tried decapitation without invasion in Libya; it failed. We tried abdication in Syria; it failed. We tried democratisation in Egypt, endorsing the election of the Muslim Brotherhood; it failed. We tried invasion, occupation, abdication and, now, reintervention in Iraq and, although the jury is still out, only a fool would be optimistic.

Maybe, the beginning of wisdom is admitting that we do not know what we are doing out here and, more importantly, that we do not have the will to invest in overwhelming force for the time it would take to reshape any of these places — and, even if we did, it is not clear that it would work.

So if the Middle East is a region we can neither fix nor ignore, what is left? I’m for “containment” and “amplification”. How so? Where there is disorder — Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya — collaborate with regional forces to contain it, which is basically what we are doing today. I just hope we do not get in more deeply.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Where Is the Inequality Problem?

MAY 8, 2014 35

Kenneth Rogoff

CAMBRIDGE – Reading Thomas Piketty’s influential new book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, one might conclude that the world has not been this unequal since the days of robber barons and kings. That is odd, because one might conclude from reading another excellent new book, Angus Deaton’s The Great Escape (which I recently reviewed), that the world is more equal than ever.

Which view is right? The answer depends on whether one looks only at countries individually or at the world as a whole.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Japan’s warning to the world



NOVEMBER 19, 2014

Japan’s renewed descent into recession — its sixth in the past two decades — comes with an urgent if obvious warning to the United States, Europe and the rest of the developed world: Don’t let this happen to you. Japan’s famously stagnant economy may not be all that unique.

True, Japan’s predicament is exceptionally difficult. Extraordinary central-bank stimulus has helped boost markets, but has not been enough to prevent the economy from shrinking for two consecutive quarters. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe can and should postpone a planned sales-tax increase, but there is only so much that fiscal policy can do in a country with a giant government-debt burden.

Banking culture breeds dishonesty, scientific study finds


NOV 20, 2014 3:37 AM  240 63 0 0

LONDON (REUTERS) - A banking culture that implicitly puts financial gain above all else fuels greed and dishonesty and makes bankers more likely to cheat, according to the findings of a scientific study.

Researchers in Switzerland studied bank workers and other professionals in experiments in which they won more money if they cheated, and found that bankers were more dishonest when they were made particularly aware of their professional role.

When bank employees were primed to think less about their profession and more about normal life, however, they were less inclined to dishonesty.

As old buildings age, re-think rules on en bloc sales

Current rules hold back the redevelopment of ageing buildings. Should they be changed?

NOV 18, 2014


BUILT in the 1960s, Cairnhill Mansions is one of several properties in the Orchard Road area that has seen better days. Age and rising maintenance costs are taking their toll on the apartment block: a resident was recently trapped in the lift for four hours due to a malfunctioning lift motor.

Many of the development's 61 owners are keen to sell their units and move on. They would prefer to do so in a collective sale, where the whole building and the land it sits on are bought by a single buyer for more than the sum of the individual units.

But going en bloc has proven difficult for such old properties.

Last month, Cairnhill Mansions started its fourth collective sale bid, after earlier attempts in 2005, 2007 and 2011 fell through.

In August, another ageing building, the 44-year-old Tanglin Shopping Centre, failed in its second try to go en bloc.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Hong Kong's 'second handover'

A China watcher offers a reading of what lies ahead for the Fragrant Harbour.

NOV 17, 2014


THE visiting senator, an influential member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, leant forward, looked the veteran intelligence officer in the eye and asked: "So, Tom, how is this protracted Occupy protest movement going to end?" Back came the answer in a heartbeat: "Badly for Hong Kong, I am afraid! Not so for Beijing."

"Pray explain," said the senator as he loosened his tie in the stuffy, windowless conference room inside the US consulate in Hong Kong, which is known to all staff there as The Vault because of its high-tech defences against all known forms of electronic eavesdropping. He was en route to Beijing for a conference and had asked for the briefing.

Tom paused for a full minute, as if to collect his thoughts, before he began: "Whether force will be used to clear the streets is no longer the key issue, though obviously, if a lot of blood is shed, then the situation will become even more dire. What really matters is that Pandora's box has been forced open.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Gluten-free diets: Separating wheat from the chaff

Nov 16, 2014

By Andy Ho Senior Writer

The Economist magazine recently highlighted how market demand for gluten-free food is growing so fast it is outstripping vegetarian fare. Gluten-free products are projected to be a US$15 billion (S$19.5 billion) sector by 2016, which would make it 50 per cent larger than it was last year. In Singapore, grocers in upmarket malls and expensive sandwich shops are already touting gluten-free menus.

The Latin word for "glue", gluten is the protein that makes dough elastic and enables it to rise. It is found in wheat, barley and rye, so food made from them has gluten, including bread, cakes, breakfast cereals, pasta, beer, some sauces and ready-to-eat meals.

Gluten is the culprit in coeliac disease, a rare but serious condition in which the immune system wrongly identifies it as a threat, and attacks it. If food with gluten is being digested in the small intestines, this attack damages the gut's inner lining, rendering it unable to absorb nutrients.

So coeliacs must keep a gluten- free diet for life. Their diagnosis can be made with certainty as there are biomarkers for it.

But the present gluten-free fad involves non-coeliacs who claim that gluten causes in them the same symptoms that coeliacs have.

The case for more taxis

Nov 04, 2014

By Ng Yew-kwang And Yi Xin For The Straits Times

THE Land Transport Authority (LTA) recently announced it would lower the annual vehicle growth rate from the current 0.5 per cent to 0.25 per cent from February next year to January 2018.

That affects the Certificate of Entitlement (COE) quota for car ownership.

The reason given? "With 12 per cent of Singapore's total land area already taken up by roads, there is limited scope for any further expansion of the road network," LTA said.

Singapore's success in maintaining a largely low-congestion and efficient transport system is commendable.

And since car ownership and usage imposes costs on non-users - pollution, congestion, noise, to name a few - controls are justified.

On the road to watershed hustings

NOV 12, 2014


WITH just 23 months left in the 12th Parliament's five-year term, the next polls, which will have to be held latest by Jan 9, 2017, promise to be the watershed general election.

It will almost certainly be a straight fight between the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) and the Workers' Party (WP), providing some indication of whether Singapore is evolving from a one-party dominant to a two-party political system.

When too many elections can spoil a democracy

Nov 09, 2014

Chua Mui Hoong, Opinion Editor

This week, the United States mid-term elections dominated the headlines.

I was struck by the diversity in views of those who speculated on what a Republican-controlled Congress would look like.

Our resident world affairs commentator Jonathan Eyal who operates from London, was of the view that the White House and Congress will continue to be at loggerheads over foreign policy. On US President Barack Obama, he said: “Mr Obama himself has shown only contempt for Congress’ role in foreign and security policy matters. When he did not want to launch air strikes against Syria last year, he pretended that congressional approval was required for any action, but then did nothing to get it. Yet when the President decided this year to launch a far more extensive air campaign in Syria and Iraq, he argued that he possessed all the powers to do so without consulting Congress.”

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Great Internet Political Challenge


NOVEMBER 14, 2014

Flip through any newspaper and go from the foreign news to the business pages and what you will see is the “other” great geopolitical struggle in the world today. It is not the traditional one between nation states on land. It is the struggle between “makers” and “breakers” on the Internet.

This is a great time to be a maker, an innovator, a starter-upper. Thanks to the Internet, you can raise capital, sell goods or services, and discover collaborators and customers globally more easily than ever.

This is a great time to make things. But it is also a great time to break things, thanks to the Internet. If you want to break something or someone, or break into somewhere that is encrypted and collaborate with other bad guys, you can recruit and operate today with less money, greater ease and greater reach than ever before.

This is a great time to be a breaker. That is why the balance of power between makers and breakers will shape our world every bit as much as the one between America, Russia and China.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Forget containment - it's all about duality and balance

Containment or confrontation does not make sense in US-China ties. Instead, duality is the order of the day. Countries in the region want to have China as a trade partner and the US as a security partner. Meanwhile, the US wants to strengthen trade ties and China wants to enhance political security ties in the region.

NOV 12, 2014


RECENTLY, I had the opportunity to listen to Dr Henry Kissinger speak in New York on the theme of his latest book World Order.

It is remarkable that at the age of 91, Dr Kissinger published his 14th major work.

Dr Kissinger sees the established Westphalian order - where the nation state is the basic unit of Old World Order politics - being challenged today.

Countries had accepted it, but did not internalise it. Europe invented the concept, but has since moved beyond sovereignty of states to a transnational European sovereignty.

It no longer invests power in state institutions to fulfil the balance of power concept which they invented, such as building up its military forces.

The United States never accepted the balance of power or non-interference in the domestic affairs of other states. The US believes unreservedly in American exceptionalism and its foreign policy is inspired by the commitment to promote democracy in every country in the world.

Ironically, post-colonial Asia embraced the Westphalian concept of state sovereignty and non-interference wholeheartedly. But these days, countries in the region are hesitantly bending the principles on a need-to-do basis.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Can China survive the 'new normal'?

Nov 05, 2014

By Kor Kian Beng China Bureau Chief In Beijing

CHINA has a new catchphrase - "new normal" - that its officials and state media often use now to stress that Chinese Communist Party (CCP) chief Xi Jinping's signature policies are here to stay.

The "new normal" China, according to Mr Xi, abstains from taking broad stimulus measures despite slowing growth. It also deepens the rule of law to bolster the fight against graft and excesses.

While this is slated to bring about more balanced economic growth and a cleaner bureaucracy, there are potential risks if the "new normal" is not managed well.

But first, evidence of the "new normal" propaganda campaign. It was Mr Xi who first used the phrase in May this year as he called for adjustment to a "new normal" in China's economic development, by which he meant a slower, more sustainable pace of growth.

Just last month, officials of the Development Research Centre - a think-tank linked to the State Council - used the phrase at different events. In August, the People's Daily, the CCP's mouthpiece, ran three front-page commentaries over consecutive days, highlighting the merits of a slower but more sustainable economic growth model.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Aljunied town council’s ‘persistent poor performance’ of ‘grave public concern’: MND

4 Nov 2014

SINGAPORE:  The Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council’s (AHPETC) “persistent poor performance” in service and conservancy charges arrears management, and corporate governance is of “grave public concern”, the Ministry of National Development (MND) said.

In its Town Council Management Report released on Tuesday (Nov 4), the MND said that most town councils performed well last year, although some “could do better” in the areas of estate maintenance, service and conservancy charge arrears management and corporate governance.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Flavour of Hawkers

Two articles on what makes for good hawker food.

Many (foreign) cooks add flavour to the broth

Nov 02, 2014

Singapore's hawker food is an evolving taste sensation

By Chua Mui Hoong, Opinion Editor

The other day, I bought three bakchang from a coffeeshop in Toa Payoh, from a woman who spoke with a mainland Chinese accent.

When I steamed the dumplings at home at tea time, they tasted weird. The glutinous rice was fine. There was the requisite salted egg and minced pork and chestnut.

But the mix of spices used to flavour the ingredients was strange. It tasted at once too sweet and too savoury. It was just wrong.

Fishball Story’s Douglas Ng reveals what it takes to keep a stall running


NOVEMBER 4, 2014

SINGAPORE — We sometimes take our hawker food for granted and kick up a fuss when prices go up — even if it is by a few cents. Here, Douglas Ng, who was previously co-owner and chef of a cafe but decided to set up his own fishball noodles stall, Fishball Story, shares the struggles of being a new hawker on the scene and why one should pay S$3.50 for a bowl of traditional fishball noodles.

When I started Fishball Story in Golden Mile Hawker Centre (505 Beach Road, #01-85) in April, I priced a bowl of noodles at S$3. I was working very hard, there was a crowd, but I wasn’t making money. I went to do all my sums and realised I was only breaking even. It was impossible to sustain the business and my motivations for being a hawker.

'Healthy' microbes not always good

Nov 03, 2014


IN THE late 17th century, Dutch naturalist Anton van Leeuwenhoek looked at his own dental plaque through a microscope and saw a world of tiny cells. He could not have predicted that a few centuries later, the trillions of microbes that share our lives - collectively known as the microbiome - would rank among the hottest areas of biology.

These microscopic partners help us by digesting our food, training our immune systems and crowding out other harmful microbes that could cause disease. In return, everything - from the food we eat to the medicine we take - can shape our microbial communities, with important implications for our health. Studies have found that changes in our microbiome accompany medical problems from obesity to diabetes and colon cancer.

As these correlations have unfurled, so has the hope that we might fix these ailments by shunting our bugs towards healthier states. The gigantic probiotics industry certainly wants you to think that, although there is little evidence that swallowing a few billion yogurt-borne bacteria has more than a small impact on the trillions in our guts.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Hong Kong's Occupy Generation

NOV 3, 2014


THE dramatic opening of the Occupy Central movement five weeks ago, complete with liberal use of batons, pepper spray and tear gas by the police against unarmed students, triggered a surge of support for the young pro-democracy protesters. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of demonstrators still occupy several of the city's main traffic arteries, camping out in neat lines of colourful tents.

That police brutality unexpectedly heralded the amazing rise of a new socio-political force. Already dubbed the Occupy Central Generation, its members, drawn from the cohorts born during and since the 1980s, are mostly students and young workers, many of them professionals. While also dedicated to democracy and deeply wary of Beijing, they are more localist and have less affinity for the cultural identity of mainland Chinese than their elders, including the original proponents of Occupy Central and stalwarts among Hong Kong's Pan Democrats, as the pro-democracy camp is known here.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The coming of the Fish Lady

OCT 31, 2014


YOU have to love her. Sprawled out on a hotel lobby couch, sheathed in a black jumpsuit with a plunging neckline, her trademark tousled hair neatly arranged this time, Ms Susi Pudjiastuti tells me in that distinctive husky voice: "I hope Jokowi (President Joko Widodo) knows what he's doing. You know I don't work that well with other people."

Two days later, the owner of the world's largest under-35-seat airline and a friend of Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle leader Megawati Sukarnoputri was named Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister and one of the more surprising choices among the eight women in Mr Joko's 34-strong Cabinet.

Ms Susi, 49, is one of a kind, as at home jousting with fishermen on the beach near her home on Java's south coast as she is engaging in chit-chat at a Jakarta cocktail party. The elite grumble that she is a high school dropout and no doubt look with distaste at the ever-present cigarette and the tattoo that snakes its way from her right knee to her ankle.

The lady couldn't care less. She is separated from her husband, German pilot and aerospace engineer Christian von Strombeck, and calls herself "homeless". In fact, she lives in a suite in the luxury Grand Hyatt Hotel, gliding around town with two young suited aides in a large black SUV that serves as a mobile office.

Nationality not a recipe for good food

OCT 31, 2014


The recent move by Penang to ban foreign workers from cooking hawker food might have prompted cheers among people who love the Malaysian state's rich street food culture.

I have friends who go there every year to revisit favourite food stalls and restaurants, and seek out others new to them.

They might chow down on two to three versions of Penang char kway teow in a day, slurp bowls of Penang laksa from this hole-in-the-wall stall or that, and compare the standard of the handmade fishballs at their favourite kway teow soup stall with their taste memories from previous trips.

Penang's initiative to preserve its food heritage did not come about suddenly; the idea was floated in July this year. After a month-long survey, the local government found that more than 80 per cent of respondents backed the move.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Spirit of unity elusive at the Vatican as Pope pushes for reform


OCTOBER 30, 2014

In front of more than 200 bishops bearing their traditional zucchettos — scarlet and amaranth skullcaps — Pope Francis is said to have delivered one of the most powerful and effective speeches of his 18-month tenure at the helm of the Vatican.

It was the closing session of this month’s gathering of top-ranking Roman Catholic clerics, called by the Argentine pontiff to re-examine the Church’s stance on a range of hot-button social issues related to the family, from marriage to divorce and homosexuality.

Pope Francis had hoped the synod would mark the beginning of a shift away from the Vatican’s rigidity on many of these matters. Some compared its potential to transform the Church with the Second Vatican Council — the 1960s gathering of Church leaders that among other things paved the way for Mass to be celebrated in vernacular instead of Latin.

Instead, the meeting turned into an epic feud between the conservative and liberal wings of the Church, ending in the equivalent of a parliamentary stalemate.

Severed cat: Don't jump to conclusions, says Cat Welfare Society CEO

By Alvin Chong

29 Oct 2014 20:41

The SPCA said the cat's death was "due to non-human factors, and instead very possibly the action of a dog, or a pack of dogs", but residents of Marine Crescent dispute this.

SINGAPORE: As debate swirls online over a statement by the Singapore Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) that a severed cat found in Marine Crescent, might have been killed by dogs - the CEO of Cat Welfare Society, Ms Joanne Ng, is urging the public not to jump to conclusions. “With photos it’s hard to judge,” said Ms Ng. “Let’s respect the facts."

The cat’s body was found, seemingly cut in half on Tuesday night (Oct 28). SPCA said upon examination, it found the “cat's death to be due to non-human factors, and instead very possibly the action of a dog, or a pack of dogs”. The SPCA made the statement in a Facebook post on Wednesday, only to take it down later.

Ms Ng also called upon the authorities to speed up the autopsy process “to give the public an answer”, asking: “If this is an abuse case, shouldn’t parents be worried?”

Pope Francis issues top 10 tips for happiness

Thursday 31 July 2014

1. “Live and let live.” Everyone should be guided by this principle, he said, which has a similar expression in Rome with the saying, “Move forward and let others do the same.”

2. “Be giving of yourself to others.” People need to be open and generous toward others, he said, because “if you withdraw into yourself, you run the risk of becoming egocentric. And stagnant water becomes putrid.”

3. “Proceed calmly” in life. The pope, who used to teach high school literature, used an image from an Argentine novel by Ricardo Guiraldes, in which the protagonist — gaucho Don Segundo Sombra — looks back on how he lived his life.

4. A healthy sense of leisure. The Pope said “consumerism has brought us anxiety”, and told parents to set aside time to play with their children and turn of the TV when they sit down to eat.

5. Sundays should be holidays. Workers should have Sundays off because “Sunday is for family,” he said.

6. Find innovative ways to create dignified jobs for young people. “We need to be creative with young people. If they have no opportunities they will get into drugs” and be more vulnerable to suicide, he said.

7. Respect and take care of nature. Environmental degradation “is one of the biggest challenges we have,” he said. “I think a question that we're not asking ourselves is: 'Isn't humanity committing suicide with this indiscriminate and tyrannical use of nature?'”

8. Stop being negative. “Needing to talk badly about others indicates low self-esteem. That means, 'I feel so low that instead of picking myself up I have to cut others down,'” the Pope said. “Letting go of negative things quickly is healthy.”

9. Don't proselytise; respect others' beliefs. “We can inspire others through witness so that one grows together in communicating. But the worst thing of all is religious proselytism, which paralyses: 'I am talking with you in order to persuade you,' No. Each person dialogues, starting with his and her own identity. The church grows by attraction, not proselytising,” the Pope said.

10. Work for peace. “We are living in a time of many wars,” he said, and “the call for peace must be shouted. Peace sometimes gives the impression of being quiet, but it is never quiet, peace is always proactive” and dynamic.

Why ghost towns won’t haunt China

By Andrew Sheng and Xiao Geng -

October 29

Many observers tend to regard the rise of unoccupied modern “ghost towns”, funded through risk-laden local-government financing vehicles (LGFVs), as symptoms of China’s coming collapse. But this view underestimates the inevitability — indeed, the necessity — of such challenges on the path to development.

The Temasek story: Growing with Singapore

October 29

Temasek Holdings works for a better tomorrow as a responsible and trusted steward, said its executive director and CEO Ho Ching, who was awarded the Asian Business Award by London-based business think-tank Asia House. Below is an extract of her speech at the award ceremony dinner in London on Monday.

Singapore was already known in the second century to the Greco-Roman world as a trading post. Ptolemy named it Sabana. Third-century merchants from China called it Pu Luo Zhong — the Island at the End.

In 1819, nearly 200 years ago, Sir Stamford Raffles took over Singapore towards the tail end of the Anglo-Dutch spice trade tussle in the Far East. This little island trading post grew quickly.

Fast forward another 120 years to the end of World War II in 1945. Britain began to devolve its colonial powers through various forms of self-government around the world. The first municipal elections in Singapore were held in 1948.

Eleven years later, in 1959, Singapore was granted its first full, internal self-government. The newly-elected Singapore Government soon discovered — to its utter dismay — that it was staring at a budget deficit of about S$14 million for the year. The government kitty had also been emptied by its predecessor, to the tune of about 10 per cent of the island’s gross domestic product of a quarter billion pounds.

The newly-minted Prime Minister and his new Finance Minister went to work with a vengeance. They cut their own salaries by almost a quarter; allowances of top civil servants were also reduced. Projects were shelved. It was an all-out effort to reduce the deficit for the year.

It was not an easy time. Emotions ran high, as you can imagine, with this unprecedented salary reduction. But logic and example prevailed and the Civil Service pulled together.

By the end of the year, the Finance Minister reported a surplus of S$1 million. This surplus in the first year of self-government set the tone and timbre for fiscal prudence and budget discipline for successive governments.

Next came the 1965 crisis, or nationhood development. This time, Singapore found itself bereft of a large hinterland overnight after the short-lived merger with Malaysia. This left the tiny and newly independent nation scrambling and scrabbling for a living and for living space. Per capita income was all of S$1,600, or £184 in those days. Average life expectancy was a little over 64 years.

But troubles never come singly. In late 1967, barely two years into Singapore’s independence, Britain — facing its own financial crisis — decided to cut spending by withdrawing its military forces east of the Suez by 1971. The British forces in Singapore were not only a security umbrella for trade to flow freely through the Strait of Malacca through the east. They also accounted for about 20 per cent of Singapore’s GDP and were the largest single source of employment on the island.


A massive manpower conversion programme was started immediately to train base personnel for new jobs. Swamps were drained to build a new industrial town for factories to make up for the withdrawal of the British forces.

Young investment promotion officers were soon buttonholing dinner guests in the Philippines, the United States, Japan, Britain and Europe to invest in Singapore. The Government was prepared to provide loans or put in risk capital as a co-investor to encourage the likes of Cerebos, a chicken essence producer from the United Kingdom, to start up plants and create new jobs for its people.

British naval dockyards were converted into ship repair yards so workers could retain their jobs. Military electrical workshops were transformed into electrical services companies.

Yet, in the midst of the desperate drive to attract investments and create jobs, Singapore saw how choking pollution and tearing smog were engulfing cities in the US, Europe and Japan. So in 1970, barely five years after independence, Singapore set up the Air Pollution Unit, reporting directly to the Prime Minister. The Government was prepared to lose investments that did not comply with standards for clean air.

Our resolution was tested early. When Singapore was bidding for a petrochemical investment against strong international competition, the Government required the potential investor to install scrubbers to minimise pollution, even at the risk of losing that investment. The scrubbers were duly installed.

When 1971 arrived, the island hummed with companies, big and small. Factories, local and foreign, were busy producing for the world. There was no massive unemployment from the British pull-out.

That year also saw our first annual Tree Planting Day. It was a symbolic, but also very important, commitment to keep our environment clean and green. Industrialisation, in our minds, was to go hand in hand with green, beautiful nature for our people and children.

Nine years into independence, as Singapore emerged from a series of crises, the Government found itself as an owner of a smorgasbord of companies. Government loans for businesses had already been spun out to form the Development Bank of Singapore, which, today, is DBS, the largest bank in South-east Asia.

It was not the business of government to be looking after shares and investments in businesses and companies. These ranged from minority shares in a hotel to the wholly-owned Bird Park, from a co-investment in a commercial detergent maker to an innovative open-concept zoo as a wholly-owned public good.

Temasek was formed in 1974 to take over this mixed bag of companies and investments, from a golf shoemaker to Cerebos.


The ethos of Temasek was already shaped at birth by Singapore’s post-war history — to live within our means and be financially disciplined; to do the right things with tomorrow clearly in our minds, particularly for our future generations; to make sure our drive for survival and prosperity goes hand in hand with a respect and nurturing of a clean and green environment for our people.

From the start, the Government took a hands-off approach to Temasek. Subsidies were most definitely out of the question. Companies in our portfolio were allowed to fail, as the golf shoemaker did subsequently. Neither Temasek nor the Government would be there to bail them out. With that accountability came the responsibility to make their own decisions. The Government — and it took discipline on its part — played no part in the commercial decisions of the companies. And likewise Temasek.

Take Singapore Airlines (SIA), for instance. From day one, SIA knew it had to innovate and compete internationally or fold; after all, there was not much domestic air traffic opportunity for an island that is all of 30 miles (48km) at its widest span — only a little further than a marathon run.

SIA made its own commercial decisions. Few of its international competitors in the airline industry operate with such commercial independence away from Government subvention and influence — even today.

The greatest gift, at birth, from the Singapore Government to SIA was to help negotiate with the British government for air rights. Its second gift was to run a clean and lean government and an efficient economy that is well plugged into the global market.

SIA is but one of the many examples of our portfolio companies that have succeeded through innovation and sheer determination and not state support. Many of these companies grew with Singapore’s transformation and Temasek grew with them.


This year, Temasek is celebrating its 40th anniversary. We have tried to capture the spirit of Temasek in our Temasek Charter — as an active investor and long-term shareholder, as a forward-looking institution and above all, as a trusted steward. Meritocracy and integrity are our watchwords. We invest in businesses that operate and compete effectively for the long term and do not take short cuts at the expense of the community at large.

We puzzled as to how we can foster an owner’s mindset in Temasek. We mulled over various ideas and decided about 10 years ago to introduce deferred compensation plans, linked to risk-adjusted returns.

For our senior folks, a substantial part of our bonuses and incentives are deferred for as long as 12 years, or about two business cycles. This aims to foster a long-term ownership mindset. If the returns are not sustained, we share negative bonuses — in other words, bonus clawbacks. In doing so, we try to align interests and behaviour towards long-term ownership.

Underlying all these various systems and initiatives is the idea that we work for a better tomorrow as a responsible and trusted steward.

Thus, 10 years ago, we committed to setting aside a portion of our returns above our risk-adjusted hurdle. This was to be used to uplift the community at large, particularly in a developing Asia. To date, we have established and sponsored 16 community endowments, each with specific mandates to build people, build capabilities, build bridges between communities and rebuild lives.

From funding less glamorous research into mental health or Parkinson’s disease to developing pilot programmes to support ageing in place; from lending a helping hand to caregivers, single parents and traumatised children to (launching) programmes for disaster recovery and rebuilding lives; from bringing together youth across a diverse Asia to learn and grow together to programmes on governance and town-planning for civil servants from around Asia — these are but a small sliver of what the various endowment staff have done to touch the lives of more than 170,000 people across Asia over the past decade.

Singapore will be celebrating its 50th year of independence next year. It has been a journey that has made a difference to the lives of our people. In less than five decades, per capita GDP has grown more than 100 times in US-dollar terms. Life expectancy went from less than 65 years in 1965 to more than 82 years last year.

As you can see, we may have owed our success to Britain’s fateful decision to withdraw its forces from Singapore by 1971 — that decision forced us to innovate and industrialise at a great pace.

As we face the uncertain world of change and the exciting challenge of the digital age, I do hope that Singapore and Temasek will make a difference — to bring about a better and kinder world, a more sustainable and thoughtful world and above all, a more peaceful, compassionate and inclusive world.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Amazon 'abusing' its online dominance

Oct 21, 2014


AMAZON, the giant online retailer, has too much power and uses that power in ways that hurt America.

If you haven't been following the recent Amazon news: Back in May, a dispute between Amazon and Hachette, a major publishing house, broke out into open commercial warfare.

Amazon had been demanding a larger cut of the price of Hachette books it sells; when Hachette baulked, Amazon began disrupting the publisher's sales. Hachette books weren't banned outright from Amazon's site, but Amazon began delaying their delivery, raising their prices and/or steering customers to other publishers.

You might be tempted to say that this is just business: no different from Standard Oil, back in the days before it was broken up, refusing to ship oil via railroads that refused to grant it special discounts. But that is, of course, the point - the robber baron era ended when America, as a nation, decided that some business tactics were out of line. The question is whether we want to go back on that decision.

Does Amazon really have robber baron-type market power? When it comes to books, definitely. Amazon overwhelmingly dominates online book sales, with a market share comparable with Standard Oil's share of the refined oil market when it was broken up in 1911. Even if you look at total book sales, Amazon is, by far, the largest player.

In NYT report, dog-petting row seen shining light on Malaysia’s ‘culture wars’


Malay Mail Online


October 27, 2014 

The “I Want to Touch a Dog” event two Sundays ago is seen as the latest controversy underscoring Malaysia’s decades-old “culture wars” that have deepened fissures between the country’s Malay Muslim majority and its other racial and religious minorities, the New York Times (NYT) reported.

The report, by the NYT’s veteran Southeast Asian correspondent Thomas Fuller, noted that conservative Muslim groups here are pushing back against what they describe as “libidinous and ungodly Western influences in a country that has rapidly modernised and become more cosmopolitan”.

“The dispute over touching dogs has underlined the fault lines in what has increasingly become a country polarised between members of the Malay majority, who are overwhelmingly Muslim, and ethnic Chinese, Indians and other minorities, who are typically Christian, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist,” Fuller said in his report published yesterday.

The report noted Syed Azmi Alhabshi inadvertently drew flak when he organised the “I Want to Touch a Dog” event in Selangor’s upper middle-class suburban neighbourhood of Bandar Utama, an event the pharmacist said was merely to offer Malay-Muslims here the opportunity to pet an animal that many in the community deem to be culturally taboo.

Striking a precious housing balance

Oct 28, 2014


FEWER applicants for new flats and five consecutive quarters of resale price falls have seen the Housing Board market going off the boil. The operative word is "going", denoting an incomplete market correction. National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan's view that control measures for the sector as a whole should remain is the clearest word yet that real estate retains a capacity to cause an unwelcome wobble in the economy. Relative to the cumulative price run-up in the boom years, the considered judgment is that such cooling as has occurred has some way to go.

A planned 25 per cent reduction in the supply of build-to-order HDB flats next year, on top of a smaller trim this year, is a measured response in the sense that most people who currently need a flat have got one, although prices are only slowly coming off their peak. Young married couples and families wanting to live close together will continue to enjoy preference. This is pitching close to the golden mean.

Monday, October 27, 2014

America desperately needs leadership to escape its emotional recession

 Oct 27, 2014

By David Brooks

DURING the Cold War era, Western economies delivered broad and growing prosperity to the middle class. This nurtured a general faith in political institutions and culminated in the democratic triumphalism of the 1990s.

In a new essay called "The New Challenge to Market Democracies", Mr William Galston of the Brookings Institution argues that this era is over. In Europe, growth has stagnated and unemployment is at catastrophic levels, especially for the young. Japan is afflicted with economic stagnation and demographic decline. In the United States, the middle class is hollowing out. The median annual earnings of workers with bachelor's degrees have not increased in three decades.

A tree known by its fruit, democratic capitalism, Mr Galston observes, has not produced the expected crop. This has led to a loss of confidence in the regime. Mr Galston's essay is about how economic problems degrade the national spirit and lead to a loss of faith in the whole enterprise.

Drones posing global security issues


OCT 27, 2014


UNMANNED aerial vehicles (UAV), or drones as they are often called, have had a good press recently: from humanitarian rescues to the promotion of free trade, these remote-controlled, pilotless robots are the heroes of the moment.

Still, their biggest use continues to be for military purposes. And although the deployment of drones in military operations is nowhere near as morally objectionable as some critics allege, the inevitable proliferation of UAVs does raise some serious security questions.

The real challenge is not to prevent nations or corporations from acquiring them but, rather, to adopt international safeguards on how independent such drones are from their owners and operators. For controlling the rapidly evolving artificial intelligence of "killer drones" could well become one of the key disarmament questions of our time.

Shift from luxury to thrift a test of Beijing's mettle

OCT 27, 2014 1:13 AM


THRIFT as a virtue is embedded deep within China's culture. Ideograms for words such as "save" and "store" sparkle with the feel-good symbols for grain, fields, silk and children. In contrast, the character for debt shows a man standing - forlornly one imagines - next to a pile of cowrie shells, an ancient form of IOU. Children are taught that "diligence is a cash cow and thrift is a gold mine", while adults are warned in one somewhat humorous proverb that "going to bed early to save candles is not economical if the result is twins".

Money, or the lack of it, was also among the main reasons for the Communist Party's decision to open the economy to foreign investors more than three decades ago. So acute was the cash crunch that when Deng Xiaoping - the subsequent architect of capitalist reforms - prepared to lead a delegation to the United Nations in 1974, he found in the state coffers only the equivalent of US$38,000 in foreign currency to pay for his trip.

So why, given such potent reminders of the importance of money management, has China's government in the past five years swerved so far off the financial straight and narrow? Total debts owed by the government, companies and households have ballooned to 240 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) - virtually double the level at the time of the global financial crisis.

Why Germany banned Uber and fears Google

Oct 13, 2014

By Anna Sauerbrey

THESE days, Germany is known for being many things: a leader in clean technology, a manufacturing powerhouse, Europe's foreign policy centre. But, increasingly, it seems to have taken on yet another stereotype - as a nation of Luddites.

And truth be told, Germany is not a great place to be a big tech company these days. Mr Guenther Oettinger, a German official and the European Union's incoming commissioner for digital economy and society, has assailed Google for having too big a presence in Europe, and speaks of "cuts" in the company's market power.

In Berlin, Mr Sigmar Gabriel, the vice-chancellor and economics minister, is investigating whether Germany can classify Google as a vital part of the country's infrastructure and, thus, make it subject to heavy state regulation.

Google is often spoken of in dark terms around cafes and biergartens. People regularly call it the Octopus. Even a figure as dominant in the global economy as Mr Mathias Doepfner, chief executive of Springer, Germany's largest publishing house, said he was "afraid of Google".

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Gap between ruling elite and masses is biggest political risk for the PAP

Oct 26, 2014

By Chua Mui Hoong, Opinion Editor

What might cause the People’s Action Party to lose power?

This was the subject of a lecture by Mr Ho Kwon Ping, erstwhile dissident journalist turned Establishment businessman and latterly the Institute of Policy Studies’ first S R Nathan Fellow for the Study of Singapore.

Mr Ho painted three scenarios of how the PAP might lose dominance: a freak election result; an internal party split; and a massive loss of confidence in the PAP, due perhaps to corruption. He also cited factors that would erode support for the PAP: demography, its organisational structure and the relative strength of the opposition.

His speech can be found here.

Searching for proof of the afterlife

Oct 25, 2014

By Andy Ho, Senior Writer

A LARGE study that tracked cases of cardiac arrest to look for evidence of an afterlife was recently published in a well-respected journal called Resuscitation.

It promptly led to headlines that screamed "First hint of 'life after death' in biggest ever scientific study" in The Telegraph, for example.

On closer scrutiny, however, the study is hardly conclusive for at least three reasons: it has only one "verified" case to report; this single case itself might not be all that it is cracked up to be; and this very case was verified by a lead investigator who is not a neutral researcher but a leading activist in circles promoting the idea of the near-death experience as evidence of an afterlife.

A near-death experience is one where a clinically dead patient is revived, and who tells of feeling detached from the body while dead, floating in serenity to the ceiling, then moving upwards towards a light, or a tunnel of light, all the while feeling safe and warm. They may describe in great detail events that they "perceived" while clinically dead, which are then later corroborated by third parties.

If such near-death experiences were objectively verified, there might be a prima facie case for the hereafter.