Thursday, November 23, 2006

A Change of Address

Those who have followed my blog would know that I had spent a month from July-Aug'06 experimenting over at Wordpress.com before returning to Blogger. I was still fiddling with my Wordpress blog while I was blogging over here. I guess I couldn't get it off my system. I've decided to go back to my Wordpress blog to give it another go. ;-)

Please point your links & feeds to this URL: http://pseudonymity.wordpress.com/

At present I've not updated my Wordpress blog with new posts but I will be doing so very soon. I'm just doing some cleaning-up & updating over there.

I would like to thank the people who have "switched" back & forth with me for their understanding & patience. Sorry for any inconvenience caused okay people!! And welcome to future readers who stumble upon or get referred to my blog. :-)

25 Nov@7.52pm update: Heads-up folks!! I've started blogging over at my wordpress blog. I've started over there with a bit of sex in the city and a video message by Chee Soon Juan from prison. ;-)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Light a candle for innocent victims of online child pornography

There's a 4yr old girl in my block whom I see almost everyday. She plays in the corridor. She's chubby, cute and very friendly. Whenever she sees me she'll give a smile that can warm any heart.

One day I saw her sitting on the steps looking dejected. I sat next to her and asked why she looked so unhappy. And she told me, Blossom had left the Powerpuff Girls. She was obviously distressed. So I told her to watch the next episode 'cos I believed Blossom will get back with Bubbles & Buttercup. She felt a bit better after that.

But I was also very worried and concerned for her 'cos whenever I see her she's playing alone outside her house. Out of sight from her mom. I found that very disturbing as it only takes a blink of an eye for a kid to disappear either on his/her own or taken by somebody else. So whenever I see her I tell her to be very careful and not stray far from her house.

I thought about this incident when I came across this campaign for innocent victims of online child pornography. Click the banner below.........................

Watch CNN report on LEEs vs FEER

I didn't catch this CNN report recently so my thanx to t3htarik who posted this on YouTube. Its about the defamation lawsuit brought against the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER) by Singapore's first & current Prime Ministers, father & son, Lee Kuan Yew & Lee Hsien Loong. Refer to FEER Saga in the sidebar on your right about this case. For now here's the CNN report.........

Thursday, November 16, 2006

S'pore ranks 105th in the world in terms of income equality

Singapore's tax proposals add to worries over its great divide
By John Burton in Singapore, Financial Times
Published: November 15 2006

Plans by Singapore to raise its sales tax while lowering corporate taxes have added fuel to a debate over an income gap that is becoming the city-state's biggest economic and political problem.

Although Singapore is Asia's richest country after Japan on a per capita basis, it ranks 105th in the world in terms of income equality, based on United Nations data.

The income disparity poses a political threat to the long-ruling government of the People's Action party, which lost votes in the last election in May over the issue.

Singapore has long resisted introducing a full-scale social welfare system, saying it would sap workers of initiative. "But it has got to the stage where they realise that they need to build a secure social welfare net. That's a breakthrough," said Manu Bhaskaran of the Centennial Group, an economic consultancy.

Lee Hsien Loong, prime minister, this week said Singapore would increase its sales tax from 5 per cent to7 per cent to help finance more government spending for the poor while suggesting corporate tax rates would be cut to enhance the country's competitiveness in attracting foreign investment.

The proposals have not gone down well with the public, judging by postings on the internet, the main forum of local debate given Singapore's state-controlled media. A frequent complaint is that an increased sales tax would hit low-income groups the hardest.

"A consumption tax is regressive," said Song Seng Wun, regional economist with CIMB-GK Research in Singapore. "Inflation is higher for the bottom 20 per cent of the population, at 2.2 per cent against the Singapore average of 0.5 per cent."

But Mr Bhaskaran believes that the government might try to tailor social welfare spending to minimise the impact of the tax on the poor. "It depends on what offsets the government offers," he said.

Mr Lee said the government would "tilt the playing field in favour of low-income groups" by offering education and housing grants, and wage subsidies.

The government blames the growing income disparity on the effects of globalisation affecting its open economy. The income gap is now at its widest since independence in 1965, with a noticeable deterioration since the late 1980s. There are worries the gap could widen further due to an ageing population and Singapore's low birth rate.

Pay for low-skilled workers has fallen. Singapore does not have a minimum wage or comprehensive unemployment insurance and a large influx of temporary foreign workers has put downward pressure on wages. The government says its stance is necessary to keep Singapore competitive against low-cost countries in the region.

Most welfare costs are taken care of by a mandatory savings scheme that pays for mortgages and healthcare as well as pensions. But workers who contributed to the system when wages were low are finding it difficult to survive in retirement as living costs have risen sharply.

Mr Lee said Singapore could not afford to adopt a Scandinavian-style welfare system because it would drive up costs and "no investments will come".

Instead, Singapore is expected to adhere to its current model of combining targeted government welfare support with efforts by private charities to provide additional aid to the needy.

The government believes continued economic growth will eventually benefit low-income groups. "I don't see the income gap widening forever," said Mr Lee.

But some economists ask whether a higher sales tax may harm efforts to attract more tourists, since prices tend to be higher already than neighbouring Malaysia or Thailand.

Opposition groups say Singapore can afford to spend more on its poor since the government's financial reserves are among the largest in the world when measured against gross domestic product.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Each day is a struggle

I've not been blogging much lately as much as I would like to. Not that there isn't anything to blog about. Man that would be the day!!! :-)

But I still keep up with the news and goings-on from several sources. Be it the Internet especially local blogs, et.al. and as usual I "cautiously" read and watch the local news. I say "cautiously" 'cos the local news media being what it is, in bed with the ruling party, and the bias stinks like shit especially its coverage of domestic politics, etc, etc.

I've mentioned before I'm an average joe....wait...make that a below average Singaporean trying to survive each day as best I can. I don't go out much. Heck, I haven't stepped into a cinema in ages!! Except for those obscenely highly paid ruling party ministers; the rich "elite" and those who generally have money to burn, most Singaporeans will agree that stepping out of the house can pretty quickly burn a hole in your pocket!! Unless of course you're just going to the park or beach or even downstairs your neighbourhood for a walk or something. Come to think of it, even then you still spend some money!! :( :)

With each day a struggle to get by, I'm just too exhausted physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Doesn't mean I'm gonna stop blogging or anything. Well, my apologies if this is too depressing a post but I thought of just sharing my thoughts. ;-)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Web's love affair with blogging

Blogosphere sees healthy growth
BBC News Online
Nov 8, 2006

The web's love affair with blogging shows no signs of abating according to the latest report from blog tracking firm Technorati.

Every day 100,000 new blogs are created and 1.3 million posts are made, it found during its quarterly survey.

Postings intensify around significant events such as the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in the summer.

There has also been an increase in the number of blogs being written in the Farsi language.

Farsi - a Persian language spoken in Iran and Afghanistan - has moved into the top ten languages of the blogosphere for the first time.

"It indicates that blogging continues to play a critical role in debates about the important issues of our time" said David Sifry, the founder of Technorati.

Technorati is now tracking more than 57 million blogs, of which it believes around 55% are 'active' - updated at least every three months.

While the daily figure of 100,000 new weblogs is down on the 160,000 total from June 2006 it does not indicate a slowdown in growth rates.

It just means that more spamblogs or splogs - fake blogs used for promotion of affiliated websites - are being filtered out of the index.

Technorati ranks blogs depending on how many sites link to it. The blogging elite - weblogs which have more than 500 other blogs linking to them - number about 4,000.

Many of these blogs have been in existence for several years and tend to have new posts at least twice a day.

"Some of these are fully-fledged professional enterprises that post many, many times per day and behave increasingly like our friends in the mainstream media. The impact of these bloggers on our cultures and democracies is increasingly dramatic," said Mr Sifry.

English and Japanese remain the two most popular languages in the blogosphere. Despite problems for bloggers in China, Chinese remains at number three.
While the above report is about the blogosphere as a whole, here's an abstract from a paper written by James Gomez about democracy and the Internet in Singapore.............
Although the issue of political expression by ordinary internet users in Singapore has received the attention of some scholars, very little has been specifically written on the impact of their use during general elections in the city-state.

Since the arrival of the internet in Singapore in 1995, the People’s Action Party (PAP) government has actively sought to control the supply of political content by internet users during election time.

This paper looks at how online political expression and the regulations to control it have shaped up during the last three general elections in 1997, 2001 and 2006. In absolute electoral terms there seems to have been no impact over the last three general elections.

However, as a supplementary medium for alternative information during elections, the internet has made some headway. It remains to be seen if this headway will have an impact on the absolute electoral results in future elections or become the target of more control.....continue reading

In his own words - WP member's resignation

Goh Meng Seng, who was part of the Workers' Party's Aljunied GRC team which contested in the 2006 General Election, has resigned from the party. The news of his resignation is not on the scale of Donald Rumsfeld's but nevertheless I was quite surprised.

What follows is Goh Meng Seng's reasons for his resignation in his own words. In his clarification, he refers to two reports by TODAY & Straits Times who are part of the pro-PAP govt news media. Nonetheless for the benefit of readers, I've re-produced both the reports below......

My Resignation from Workers' Party

I did not expect to write this so soon as I wanted to wait until the present parliamentary sitting is over before I make any public statement on my resignation which I think is not news worthy at all, but may be a distraction to Sylvia Lim's maiden speech in parliament.

Anyway, for some reason, the ST reporter got to know about it sooner than I desire. I granted the interview with the view that it is better to make it clear right from the start rather than allowing the reporter to write with all sorts of speculations in mind.

The following are just some facts that I need to clarify:

1) I resigned from Workers' Party on the day when the misinformation of I threatening to sue an internet forummer was reported in Today. This is due to my private assessment on the damage done to WP's public image despite the fact that I have clarified the facts on the matter to the Today's reporter. I guess Today will never make any reports on misinformation about any PAP MPs or ministers with their clarifications put side by side. Well, this is life in Singapore.

2) For some reasons, ST chose not to report the specific reason I gave them about the damage done by the Today's report on the misinformation (though with my clarifications by the side).

3) Neverthless, damage has been done on WP's image. I have talked about the importance of accountability for all my adult life and I think in view of the situation then, I will have to practice what I preach. It is a matter of personal integrity to me. If I do not practice what I preach, on what moral grounds do I stand when I question the ruling party about accountability in their governance?

4) This is the reason that I resigned. The speculation proposed by the ST reporter that I quit because I am unhappy about the rules which are going to be implemented (over internet engagement) is totally unfounded. It is only healthy that people have diverse views about anything in a political party. The most important thing is that, at the end of the day, we will come to a consensus and move on from there. It would be a total disaster for a political party to have members agreeing 100% on everything everytime.

5) None of the CEC members have requested me to resign over this matter. In actual fact, some has tried in private to convince me to stay on. My heart felt thanks to them but I think it is an important political point to be made.

6) For those people who like to speculate all sorts of things and come up with all sorts of conspiracy theory, they will be very disappointed. This is a simple resignation over a simple reason.

The most common reaction from people is that I am quitting politics altogether. Some will be relieved and some will be disappointed to learn that this is definitely not the case. ;)

My political vision and dream is to work towards an alternative political system for Singapore, to initiate positive change or reform to Singapore's political system. Joining a political party to provide meaningful political competition to the ruling party is merely one of the many ways or possibilities in achieving this goal.

I have written in this blog about the delimma between the choices of partisan politics and NGO's role of creating more political awareness among the populace. In order for the reform to the political system to be successful, it will need the backing and support of Singaporeans. This could only achieve when the political consciousness and awareness of our citizens are raised to a certain level.

Beside exploring the idea of forming or joining NGO, I have even explored into the possibilities of forming an independent alternative private think tank for all alternative parties. Political parties need policy research capabilities in order to perform their duties effectively. PAP, as the ruling party, has the support of the government funded think tanks to provide them this policy research capabilities. Alternative parties are deprived of such much needed resources.

I could even help out any political parties in various areas so to help the system grows. There are so many other ways one could contribute to the ultimate aim of reforming the political system beside standing in the frontline as a candidate during GE.

Of course, I may not discount the possibility of joinging any political party again or even form my own political party in future, but I think there are so many options available for anybody who want to do their part in initiating changes to the political landscape!

Goh Meng Seng

An update: An intense debate & discussion is taking place here at Sammyboy.com.
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Workers' Party netiquette comes under fire

TODAY, Wednesday • October 25, 2006

Tor Ching Li
chingli@mediacorp.com.sg

SOME Workers' Party members have recently become entangled in an Internet forum "brawl", with mudslinging and name-calling aplenty — to the extent of sparking a thread on the Young People's Action Party online forum entitled "WP members being complained (sic) on internet forums". This has garnered more than 80 postings since Oct 14.

One netizen, Mohammad Razari — who claims to be a third-year Singapore Polytechnic electrical engineering student residing in Hougang Ave 1 and says he is a former participant in WP's outreach programmes — sent a complaint letter to WP chairman Sylvia Lim and secretary-general Low Thia Khiang, citing what he thought to be unacceptable online conduct by WP members such as party webmaster Goh Meng Seng.

He said Mr Goh, a computer retail businessman, was narrow-minded to have called a forum participant "scheming" and "lacking in integrity" after "losing an argument". He also thought Mr Goh had threatened to sue another forum participant for implying that Mr Goh visited the www.sggirls.com forum.

In general, WP members were accused of being "argumentative", attempting to "sow discord" between various party supporters and even of taking the guise of online "clones" — or posting replies under alternative usernames — to "influence perception".

These online rumblings are reflected on Sammyboy threads called "Complaint letter to WP Central Executive Committee" and "Any respond (sic), follow up from Sylvia and WP?" with more than 40 and nearly 200 postings respectively.

When approached by Today for a response, Mr Goh clarified he had "categorically said (he) will not sue" the forum participant for his misinformed statement. He explained the SG Girls forum shared the same database as www.sgforums.com, and that he does not frequent the former site.

As for his harsh words used on the forum participant, Mr Goh said: "What I said could have been harsh but you have to look at it in context. People who argue with me will find me argumentative. But since his agenda is questionable, I am not going to engage him in discussions any more."

Mr Goh, who has been active in the forum scene since 2003, said he still thinks Internet forums are a good venue to answer critics and eventually win them over. Nevertheless, he added that postings on such freewheeling forums "have to be taken with a pinch of salt".

As with all things online, not every posting can be taken at face value. WP Youth Wing president Perry Tong recently filed a police report after someone impersonated his identity on the Sammyboy online forums — also on Oct 14, coincidentally.

In the impersonated posting, "Perry Tong" sent WP member "Melvin Tan" a message that read: "We must keep 'forumers' here constantly updated about WP activities. Keep clear of mudslinging and personal attacks. I have already instructed Meng Seng and Andrew to stop."

In an email response to Today, WP chairman Ms Lim said: "We are aware that there is activity in the Sammyboy forums involving WP members. Such communications are engaged in the personal capacity of the members concerned as we have not appointed any official spokesman for Internet communications. The official position of the party is to be found on our website and official statements issued."

Ms Lim added the party is reviewing some existing "general guidelines" for office bearers regarding Internet communications, "with a view to issuing some guidelines to all members".

In view of the online backlash to WP's presence, Internet observer Siew Kum Hong said: "One really has to be very disciplined and restrained when participating in such forums. If one engages long enough in such a medium, it is inevitable there will be a backlash from the community. It's then a question of how one deals with it. This is probably why you don't see the PAP MPs engaging in such Internet forums."

In channels such as blogs or websites — which are employed by PAP MPs, such as the www.p65.sg site — one can control one's message and how one chooses to engage the public, he said.

Nanyang Technological University Associate Professor in Political Science, Prof Ho Khai Leong believes both extremes — that of the MPs' aim to "reach, teach and preach" and the netizens' mission to "analyse, scrutinise and criticise" — will help mould cyberspace.

He said: "Both these approaches, in their extreme forms, will no doubt invite criticisms, which I think is healthy. As political blogs and bloggers and forumers mature and become more mundane — as we are seeing in many blogs — the more serious and thoughtful blogs and forums will make the more absurd and outlandish ones irrelevant in our everyday discourse of politics in cyberspace."
**********
Senior WP member quits over Net fracas

Senior Workers' Party member Goh Meng Seng takes responsibility for tarnishing the party's reputation by making critical remarks against online forum participant

Straits Times, Wednesday, November 8, 2006

By Peh Shing Huei & Ken Kwek

Senior Workers' Party member Goh Meng Seng has quit the party, taking responsibility for Internet postings he said had tarnished the WP's reputation.

"I need to be accountable for it," said the 36-year-old, who was part of the WP's Aljunied team in the last polls.

However, sources say he was also unhappy with impending party guidelines to curtail members' postings on the Internet, a claim he denied.

Mr Goh, an active netizen, had attracted brickbats recently on online forums for harsh language, calling a forum participant "scheming" and "lacking in integrity."

A netizen even fired a letter to party chairman Sylvia Lim, complaining about WP members' online behaviour.

Mr Goh told The Straits Times yesterday: "It has created a bad image for the party and the party must come first. Someone must be accountable."

He stressed that he was not pushed out of the party and that his comrades had asked him to stay.

His resignation two weeks ago came as a shock to party members. He was a central executive committee (CEC) member and part of the WP's "A team" led by Ms Lim, which claimed 43.9 per cent of the valid votes in Aljunied GRC during May's General Election.

Mr Goh, who joined the WP in 2001, said it was not an easy decision to quit. "I may not be a veteran who has been with the party for over 40 years. But there is still an emotional attachment," he said.

"I have no regrets," he said repeatedly, adding in Mandarin: "Tian xia mei you bu san zhi yan xi." The Chinese proverb he quoted states that there is no banquet in this world that lasts forever.

He said he has not thought of joining another opposition party and will still help out with WP activities.

Ms Lim told The Straits Times last night the party is "always sad to lose people."

Added WP secretary-general Low Thia Khiang: "I have to respect his choice. I respect the individual's choice, and he has made his contributions to the party in the past." He did not want to elaborate on the reasons behind Mr Goh's departure.

On the party's Internet guidelines, he said: 'There was some feedback from younger members of the party who are active on the Internet, that perhaps we should have certain "netiquette."

"Since it's something from the ground that younger members would like to see, the CEC will take it up and see what is the best we can come up with."

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Defendants boycott trial in kangaroo court

Media Release: Defendants boycott trial
SDP
8 Nov 2006

This statement was read out by Mr Gandhi Ambalam in court today.

We, the Defendants, wish to make the following statement:

Under Article 12 of Republic of Singapore Constitution, citizens are entitled to a fair trial and equal treatment under the law. In this trial you, Judge Eddy Tham, have ruled on dozens of occasions that our questions to Prosecution witnesses irrelevant. This has prevented us from adducing evidence to establish our defence on two fronts:

One, that the police have acted at the behest of the PAP to victimize us for our election activity on 22 April 2006. By preventing us from cross-examining the police witnesses on this matter, we are unable to show that we have been discriminated against and victimized by the PAP.

Two, that the police have no intention to grant a permit on any occasion for outdoors political speeches. Thus we cannot be accused of not having a permit. By disallowing our questions to elicit information from the police about this matter, the Judge has effectively undermined our defence and passed a guilty verdict.

These and other decisions and actions by Judge Eddy Tham clearly show that we are not receiving a fair trial. We have no reason to expect that an appeal will make any difference.

In the circumstances, we are left with no choice but to boycott the rest of the trial. We will therefore not participate in the remainder of the proceedings and will remain silent to protest our treatment in this Court.

Signed,
Gandhi Ambalam
Chee Soon Juan
Yap Keng Ho

8 November 2006

Depeche Mode: Going strong after more then 25 years

It was the beginning of the 1980s when I first heard the music of Depeche Mode. I've been hooked ever since!! They've been around now for more then 25 years. Back then not many people thought they'll last this long. But they did. And thank god for that!! ;-)

Recently, Depeche Mode won Best Group at the MTV Europe Music Awards 2006. Here are a selection of their music videos I would like to share with current & new fans-in-the-making. You can view many others over at YouTube.

The first song is a live version of Everything Counts which introduced me to DM. Its followed by A Question of Time; Personal Jesus; and I Feel You...







Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Police Sergeant says there's no difference between the PAP and Government

Police shocker: No difference between PAP and Government
SDP
6 Nov 2006

Sergeant Kenny Quek raised eyebrows in court today when he told the Judge that there was no difference between the PAP and the Government.

This comment was made under questioning from Mr Gandhi Ambalam who, together with Dr Chee Soon Juan and Mr Yap Keng Ho, are charged with speaking in public without a licence on 22 Apr 06 during the 2006 general elections in May.

Sgt Quek said that he saw the Defendants "conveying a message to listeners for a period of time" on the said morning and decided to warn the Defendants for committing an offence.

He added that he also heard Mr Ambalam say that he was not going to "apologise to the Government" over the NKF article published in The New Democrat, the SDP's newspaper.

(This was obviously not true as the Government had not demanded any apology from the SDP over the said article. It was PAP leaders, Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Lee Hsien Loong, who had sued the SDP, not the Singapore Government).

Mr Ambalam then asked the police witness whether he knew the difference between the PAP and the Government, to which the officer replied that there was none. This drew an audible chuckle from those present in the courtroom.

"That's the kind of education system we have here," Mr Ambalam lamented.

Dr Chee then picked up the point during his cross-examination and told Sgt Quek that since the witness was a police officer, he was also a Government servant. By extension, Sgt Quek would see himself as a PAP servant since he saw no difference between the Government and PAP.

The witness then quickly retracted his statement and corrected himself, insisting that the PAP and the Government "were two different matters."

Even the Judge had to ask the witness to clarify his statement as he had recorded earlier that the witness had said that the two entities were one and the same.

Based on this Dr Chee then proceeded to question the witness on whether the police would have taken action if it had been someone else instead of SDP members who carried out the activity on 22 Apr.

The Judge repeatedly ruled the question irrelevant and refused to allow Dr Chee to adduce evidence that the police had acted in a discriminatory fashion.

"This is especially significant given the fact that Sgt Quek felt that the PAP and the Government are the same political entity," Dr Chee argued.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the police, under the instructions of the PAP, decided to take action against the SDP in order to cripple its election effort, Dr Chee pointed.

Under the Constitution, he continued, citizens should all be treated equally under the law and the police had an obligation to be even-handed.

The event had taken place with the elections as a backdrop and that the SDP had wanted to campaign on the sensitive NKF scandal.

The Judge, however, remained adamant in refusing to allow Dr Chee to pursue this line of questioning.

"If that's the case, then I have no further questions," Dr Chee concluded.

An update on Nov 8@1420hrs: A little fish finding her way in the world has two posts about the differences between government and a political party: What is in a government? and Speechless.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Economic might has allowed Singapore to slip under the world's human rights radar

Spotlight on Singapore: Money talks, silences human rights
by Bernadette Radford with inputs from Shipra Dingare
Human Rights Features, 2-6 Oct’06
Weekly series for the UN Human Rights Council
South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre

The annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in Suntec City, Singapore, revealed the jarring contrasts of the wealthy city-state. On the one hand, Singapore's affluence and modernity was on parade, with lush new landscaping and newly renovated bridges and flyovers, traversed by the world's most powerful financiers and businessmen in over 800 limousines and BMW sedans. Simultaneously, Singapore banned outdoor demonstrations so as not to detract from the pageantry, and Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng asserted in January 2006 that protestors breaking the law would face full penalties including caning for those who engage in violence.

Indeed, Singapore managed to assert its authoritative muscle, denying anti-poverty activists entry to the main venue, leading even the IMF and the World Bank to record their disapproval of such strong arm measures. This state of affairs reflects the attitude of Singaporean authorities: economic progress has first priority, with human rights a distant second.

Democracy is also not a high priority in Singapore; the recent celebrations marking Singapore's 41st year of independence simultaneously marked the 41st year of rule by the authoritarian People's Action Party (PAP). Citizens are not permitted to circulate newspapers, make broadcasts, hold demonstrations or even speak to a public audience without prior government authorisation. The treatment of opposition leader Chee Soon Juan, arrested in March 2006 for questioning the independence of the Singaporean judiciary and summoned to court in May for speaking publicly without a permit, attests to these realities. Migrant workers are particularly vulnerable in Singapore and are frequently subject to physical abuse and exploitation.

So why is the international community so reluctant to speak out in the face of so much oppression? The answer is simple. The economies of the world's most powerful voices are tightly intertwined with commercial interests in Singapore. The European Union (EU) and the United States have substantial business interests in Singapore, which would be compromised if they were to condemn the oppression perpetrated by the Singaporean government.

A vital trade and business link

The IMF-World Bank meeting was a premier opportunity for Singapore to present itself as a world convention and exhibition centre, as well as an international hub for business and banking. As a small city-state with few primary resources, Singapore's development strategy has of necessity focused outward, relying on external investment and trade. In this it has been notably successful. After borrowing from the World Bank in the 1960s and 70s, loans ceased by 1980 and Singapore remained resilient during the East Asian Crisis of the 1990s. Since then it has hosted IMF and World Bank seminars on crisis prevention and management. Currently, over 7,000 multinational corporations from the US, Japan, and Europe are invested in Singapore. Businesses take advantage of low tax rates and tariff barriers as well as liberal investment laws.

Singapore is also a crucial actor in world trade. The port of Singapore is one of the busiest in the world, facilitating total trade of 716 billion Singapore dollars (about US$438 billion) and trade growth of 14 percent in 2005, with future growth expected at seven to nine percent. Singapore is also a member of the ASEAN Free Trade Area and has concluded bilateral free trade agreements with countries including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Jordan, India, and Panama, among others. The US, the EU, Japan, China and Malaysia all have important trade links with Singapore. The US and the EU each receive 10 to 13 per cent of Singapore's exports annually and each provide between 12 to 14 percent of its imports.

Singapore is Europe's largest trading partner among the ASEAN countries and the 11th largest importer from the US. Malaysia is Singapore's primary trade partner and has offered no criticism of human rights abuses in Singapore. This is not unexpected, given Malaysia's own human rights record.

However, the silence of countries that profess great concern for human rights issues is somewhat more conspicuous.

Why the US and the EU need Singapore

In 2004, the US-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (USSFTA) came into force, marking the first free trade agreement between the US and an Asian nation. Two years later, US and Singaporean government officials applauded the 13 percent growth in trade between the two countries since the agreement came into force. The USSFTA particularly aims to increase the trade in services, of increasing importance to both countries. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the "strong economic ties" are broadening into new sectors, such as information technology, health, and education. But the US has more to gain from Singapore than bilateral trade benefits. Economically, it is hoped that the USSFTA will provide a springboard for further trade agreements which will lead to "a network of FTA's in the region" and better trading relationships with countries like Indonesia. Strategically, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs views US-Singapore relations as increasingly "multi-faceted," encompassing not only economic but also defence interests. It should also be noted that increased cooperation between the US and Singapore has arisen out of the global campaign against terrorism.

In its determination to cement relations with Singapore, the US has essentially ignored Singapore's human rights record. While the US State Department's human rights country reports annually acknowledge violations there, including infringements on freedom of the press and abuse of foreign workers, the deliberations of the US Congress subcommittee on commerce, trade and consumer protection on the USSFTA featured little anxiety regarding Singapore's human rights record.

The statement of Thea M Lee, chief international economist of the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), urged Congress to reject the USSFTA, highlighting its effective failure to commit the parties to international labour standards. However, the legislation passed easily in both the House and the Senate.

The EU appears similarly determined to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses in Singapore. In an overview of relations with Singapore, the EU describes the country as "an important trading partner" and emphasises its strategic position for facilitating trade between Europe and Asia. The 2003 launch of "A New Partnership with South East Asia" described Singapore as crucial for the sound implementation of the programme. Growing recognition of mutual economic interests led to the establishment of Singapore-EC Consultations (SECC) in 2000, which led to joint development projects in the region. Recently, Singapore has been urging the EU to forge a bilateral free trade agreement. There are hopes on both sides that relations will embrace common endeavours in transport, intellectual property, and research and development.

Clearly, the governments of the EU and the US have given priority to strong economic relations with Singapore rather than human rights issues. In this, the influence of the business community is readily apparent.

Singapore's response

Singapore's reaction to peaceful protests fits the pattern of past responses to criticisms on human rights issues. The Singaporean government has masked abuses with the flawed ‘Asian values’ discourse. Censorship measures, authoritarian governance and laws governing freedom of speech and freedom of assembly have been excused as the "Asian way." Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew claimed that Asians have "little doubt that a society with communitarian values, where the interests of society take precedence over that of the individual, suits them better than the individualism of America." When Reporters Sans Frontières' Annual Press Freedom Index ranked Singapore 147th, Information Minister Lee Boon Yang insisted that Singapore did not operate according to "Western" values. He said that journalists in Singapore do not have an "adversarial role" and instead contribute to "nation building." After a recent visit to Australia and New Zealand, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong expressed the view that rule by a single party was more efficient and better for Singapore.

Break the silence

The parade of power and wealth in September 2006 demonstrated that human rights abuses in Singapore continue to be tolerated by the international community. It shows that economic might has allowed Singapore to slip under the world’s human rights radar. The new beginning epitomised by the Human Rights Council must be used to ensure that such States receive the attention and censure they deserve.

Textbox

Good for corporations, bad for human rights

WHILE the World Bank has taken to professing concern for human rights issues, its concern was clearly not an obstacle to the choice of Singapore as a meeting venue. The World Bank and IMF could not have been unaware that Singapore would place restrictions on the right to protest.

In a case decided late last year, the Singapore High Court refused to uphold this constitutionally
guaranteed right and stated that the police could legitimately disband peaceful protesters, even if they numbered only four.

That human rights are not a prerequisite to being a top business destination appears to be the consensus in the business community. According to the World Bank ranking of 155 countries, Singapore is among the easiest places to do business, second only to New Zealand.

Singapore is also renowned for labour laws that are favourable to employers. The negative impact these laws have on workers is less well known. There are few restrictions on a corporation's ability to hire and fire and no minimum wage. Furthermore, there is a large pool of domestic foreign labourers who are virtually unprotected by Singaporean law and are frequently subject to exploitative work conditions.

Although Singaporean courts are known to support the government’s agenda of silencing critics of the regime through defamation actions, the Hong Kong based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy recently named Singaporean courts the best in Asia. Such assessments highlight efficiency but leave other important issues ignored, such as judicial independence or the role of the courts in perpetuating unfair governmental restrictions.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

For all current and new James Bond fans

I've been a huge James Bond fan for god knows how long!! I've watched every one of the 20 Bond movies many times over and never tire of it!! So one can imagine how excited I am about Casino Royale, with Daniel Craig as agent 007!!

In anticipation of the release of the 21st Bond movie in Singapore on 16 Nov, here are a couple of videos for all Bond fans (and new fans in the making!!) out there. The first is a trailer for Casino Royale. The other two are documentaries about 30mins each. Enjoy!! ;-)





Saturday, November 04, 2006

"We're Winning This Thing" in Iraq

Here's a video from Vanity Fair about the Iraq war. It maybe short but it sure as hell makes its point loud and clear!!



Also from Vanity Fair.....

As Iraq slips further into chaos, the war's neoconservative boosters have turned sharply on the Bush administration, charging that their grand designs have been undermined by White House incompetence.

In a series of exclusive interviews, Richard Perle, Kenneth Adelman, David Frum, and others play the blame game with shocking frankness.

Target No. 1: the president himself.......continue to read Vanity Fair's exclusive Now They Tell Us

Friday, November 03, 2006

Controlling what you hear & see - A voice from the past

Since my post on the TODAY saga, I've been trying to recall where i've read about an incident which happened a few years ago that exposed our pro-PAP govt media.

But I couldn't put my finger on what that incident was. An online search led me to what took place 6yrs ago.

A local radio journalist with 93.8FM (its called 938Live now) went on-air to voice her displeasure with the radio station's management on the morning of Dec 11, 2000 and Think Centre, a local human rights NGO, exposed; pursued and publicised the incident.

In a report on that same day, Think Centre wrote "At 9.30am, the radio presenter announced that News Radio 93.8 FM’s management was unhappy with the earlier report and has asked that only a re-edited version of the programme be aired. The re-edited version took away any mention of JB Jeyaretnam and his letter to PM Goh. UN’s Kofi Anan’s Human Rights message was also excluded.......The programme ended with the presenter once again announcing that the second airing of International Human Rights Day report was re-edited on the request of News Radio 93.8 FM’s management."

You can read a fuller account of this over at Think Centre's Radio Programme Re-edited.

It was truly a Uniquely Singapore moment! ;-)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

S'pore is a leading surveillance society says Privacy International study

Click to enlarge map

I'm not surprised. Back in Aug'06, I wrote a post titled Quis custodiet ipsos custodies? - Privacy in a Police State. I'm bringing this up 'cos Privacy International has released a study today in which Singapore is ranked one of the world's leading surveillance societies.

Known as the Privacy and Human Rights Global Study, Singapore fares badly in practically every category: Constitutional protection; statutory protection; privacy enforcement, visual surveillance, etc, etc. Its overall score is one of the worst at 1.4 which is considered an "endemic surveillance society".

You can view the full results in this ratings table. And read the country report on Singapore from page 44. Both documents are in PDF.

Bringing TODAY to its knees

Firstly, I would like to thank the anonymous individual who alerted me to this by leaving a comment in my last post. He/she referred me to a message posted over at Sammyboy.com's Alfresco Coffeeshop.

Before getting to that message, I think a bit of background is in order to put the message in context and give readers a clearer picture of what this is all about.

As TODAY archives its report after awhile, I'm posting this report here in full. I'm no conspiracy theorist but I had my suspicions when I read this report..........

Key changes at MediaCorp

Moves in line with aim to become Asia's top media company

Wednesday • November 1, 2006

AS THE world neatly folds into one long, connected information superhighway, homegrown media conglomerate MediaCorp yesterday announced key structural and management changes to position itself as Asia's top media company.

Said Mr Lucas Chow, CEO of MediaCorp: "As digital technology brings about greater media convergence, we ourselves are forging our own media platforms more closely together. The changes we're implementing capture that spirit of convergence."

Among the key changes announced yesterday was the company's move towards providing the consumer with more choices of where and how to consume their news, with an aggressive plan to merge its news operations across television, radio, print, the Internet and mobile devices.

Said Deputy CEO (News, Radio, Print) Shaun Seow, who will lead the integration charge for MediaCorp: "The aim is to serve audiences better by tapping on the strengths of the different media, and creating a seamless experience for the consumer. We want to be the leading English news provider for Asia, and we believe that it is an achievable target."

A committee is looking at the integration initiative, which will lead, among other things, to a "newsplex" housing all the different newsrooms under one roof in MediaCorp's new premises at Bukit Batok.

Mr Murali Subramaniam will leave his position as Today's Associate/Day Editor to take up appointment as VP (Editorial Operations) to assist in the integration efforts from Jan 1, 2007.

MediaCorp's efforts to raise the bar will also come from the recruitment of experienced staff such as Mr P N Balji, ex-Editor-in-Chief of Today, who has rejoined MediaCorp as its Editorial Director. He will assist Mr Seow to improve editorial standards across the board.

With Mr Mano Sabnani resigning his editorship, Mr Balji will be devoting a significant part of his time to growing Today. He will be assisted by Mr Walter Fernandez, fresh from helming Channel News-Asia's International desk.

Mr Fernandez assumes the newly-created No 2 position of Managing Editor at Today, and has set his sights on establishing a vibrant electronic presence for one of Singapore's fastest growing newspapers. Mr Fernandez will work closely with Mr Rahul Pathak, who will continue to be Today's Associate/Night Editor.

Mr Chow said: "By increasing the bench strength of our journalists, we will strive to become Asia's premium brand for news — whether it's in the form of video, audio or text. I am especially proud of the strides made by Today, which has just been pushed up to the No 2 position in Singapore after just six years. Everyone in Today, past and present, has contributed to its success, and I would like to wish Mano well in his future endeavours, even as I welcome Balji back to MediaCorp."

Added Mr Balji: "There is a new leadership at MediaCorp. The statements that have come from this new leadership excite me. As the media undergoes deep and dramatic changes, there is a great opportunity to unify and exploit the different platforms to provide a real information highway.

"Today, the print arm of MediaCorp, can become an integral part of this highway and show that print can survive in a fast-changing media jungle."

Mr Sabnani, who leaves the company after more than three-and-a-half years at the helm as mananging director (MD) and Editor-in-Chief of Today, said he was pleased with the progress the newspaper had achieved during his tenure.

"When I came on board in 2003, there were still questions asked of whether the newspaper would survive or fail," he said. "In our last financial year, we made $5.8 million in profits and we just moved ahead of Lianhe Zaobao as Singapore's second best read newspaper. I am very proud of the team that made this happen and wish Today all the best in its future growth."

Mr Philip Koh, who is concurrently MD of MediaCorp Publishing, the magazines subsidiary, will oversee Today's publishing and business development functions.

MediaCorp is also confident the move will provide synergistic opportunities for its newspaper and magazine publishing.
Reporters Without Borders, in its latest World Press Freedom Index 2006, ranked Singapore's news media 146 out of 168 countries.

In the section on Singapore, RSF wrote "....when it comes to domestic politics Singapore’s press, still controlled by associates of Lee Kuan Yew, is in the grip of a rigorous self-censorship. The government threatens journalists, foreign media and opposition with defamation suits seeking dizzying amounts in damages."

Here's the message I referred to at the beginning of this post. It is difficult to verify it 'cos no whistleblower's going to go public if its true. On the other hand, I wouldn't dismiss it offhand either given the state of our local news media.....
Source: From ManoSabnani at Sammyboy.com

Hello everyone

I registered this nickname a little more than a week ago after I heard that there were parties inside Mediacorp who were making a move to sack Mano Sabnani as Today's chief editor. Little did I know how ugly it would become.

On the surface, the corporate communications machine of Mediacorp will present everything as very nice and orderly. What you read here will be a reasonably accurate account related to me of what actually happened and not what you will read in Today, Channel News Asia, Straits Times or Business Times.

I had waited until I got a clear picture from my contact before I post this, therefore there was bit of a delay.

Mano is not a bad person. He may be dull and unexciting, even a coward before the civil servants who oversee him, but he was treated as pariah by his peers.

On Oct 31, Today had a senior editors' meeting which Shaun Seow presided. Mano lost his editorial independence not during the recent Mr Brown affair, but some years earlier, during the Val Chua affair. For those of you not familiar with the matter, just do a Google search on Val Chua, Mano Sabnani and you will find a lot of material on the Net. Since the Val Chua affair, Mano had to report to Shaun within the Mediacorp stable. All reports involving cabinet ministers must be vetted by Shaun and his team at Mediacorp HQ, not at Today.

There are no real editors at Today, they are all a bunch of word processors. They send good reporters like Derrick Paulo and Ansley Ng to cover political happenings, then censor and rewrite everything to suit their political masters.

In fact, Derrick Paulo mounted a campaign within the Today office to protest the newspaper's suspension of Mr Brown. He got many of his colleagues to wear brown on a day when Shaun was to give a talk to the staff there. What he did not know was that had severely undermined Mano, who was already being pushed out by the other senior people in Mediacorp. They saw how weak Mano was in front of Derrick and took full advantage of the situation.

Shaun is a former president scholar and his entire career is scripted to perfection. As long as he serves his political masters, his career will be smooth. Even the conviction of Zahara Latif for maid abuse within the Seow household did little more than embarrass him. Goh Chok Tong wrote a letter to support Zahara during her mitigation hearing.

During the Oct 31 meeting, Mano was not able to speak because his ex-gratia payment was held back unless he played ball. Shaun humiliated Mano by paying lip service to his contribution and saying how the newspaper will move ahead without him. Most of the editors were too afraid for their jobs and kept generally quiet as they watched Mano run to the ground and abused. This coming from Shaun, was no surprise, for like Zahara, he is an abuser. Shaun is many years younger than Mano and behaved like an arrogant brat wielding too much power for his own good.

Worse was to come. After a polite round of applause for Mano's three years in the newspaper, they proceeded to the newsroom where Mano's resignation was announced to all the staff. All of Today's staff gathered outside Mano's room. Shaun announced the changes and talked about new directions, while Mano sat inside his room (glass walls) in full view to all the staff, with his face buried in his hands in front of his computer screen.

Somebody in the crowd interrupted Shaun when he felt that Shaun had gone too far. He asked for the real reason why Mano was leaving. Shaun then said that there are many confidential things that cannot be publicised.

Slowly there was a pair of hands clapping, then more and more. They wanted Mano to come out and address them. Mano came out, and keeping in mind that his payment has been withheld, said he had nothing to say. They wouldn't let him go and kept clapping. Mano had no choice but to respond. So he said to the staff that they should not worry about him and move on. His voice was shaking, then he went back into his room a sad and broken man, humiliated and traumatised.

Led by Shaun and director Philip Koh, Today brought back PN Balji, who was the founding editor of the paper. Balji is a much more colourful character than Mano but is of questionable character. Balji is closely tied to TT Durai, the disgraced head of the former National Kidney Foundation. The auditor's report into the NKF fraud and deception showed that Balji was one of the parties who flew first class with Durai. Together with Durai and his gang, they abused the charity's funds, but while Durai is now in the docks, Balji has gotten away scot free because he knows how to butter up his political masters.

More worrying for many of the Today staff is that a new guy named Walter Fernandez was brought in from Channel News Asia where he was a faithful lap dog of Shaun Seow to oversee Today's day-to-day operations. Walter is a scholar and another spineless idiot who is where he is only because he knows how and whose balls to carry.

I will update further when I hear of more developments.