Friday, October 24, 2014

Opec now just a paper tiger

OCT 24, 2014


FORTY-ONE years ago this month, the Arab oil embargo began. The countries that were part of it belonged, of course, to the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries - Opec - which had banded together 13 years earlier to strengthen their ability to negotiate with international oil companies. The embargo led to widespread shortages in the United States, higher prices at the petrol pump and long lines at petrol stations. By the time it ended, the price of oil had risen to US$12 a barrel, from US$3.

Perhaps more important than the price increases themselves was the new world order the embargo signalled. The embargo "set in motion geopolitical circumstances that eventually allowed (Opec) to wrest control over global oil production and pricing from the giant international oil companies - ushering in an era of significantly higher oil prices", as Ms Amy Myers Jaffe and Mr Ed Morse noted in an article in Foreign Policy magazine that was published last year on the 40th anniversary. Twice a year, Opec's oil ministers would meet in Vienna, where they would set oil policy - deciding to either hold back or increase oil production. There was always cheating among members, but there was usually enough discipline in the ranks to keep prices more or less where Opec wanted them.

As it happens, the title of that Foreign Policy article was The End Of Opec. Ms Jaffe and Mr Morse are both global energy experts - she is the executive director of Energy and Sustainability at the University of California, Davis, and he is the global head of commodities research at Citigroup - who say that if America plays its cards right, Opec's dominance over the oil market could be over. I think that day may have already arrived.

Cycling can become a viable transport option, says Khaw




SINGAPORE — The Government wants cycling to go beyond the realm of recreation and become a “viable transport option” for short trips, said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan on his blog today (Oct 22).

And to make that happen, these trips — to the supermarket, coffee shop, hawker centre or the nearest MRT station — must be “safe and pleasant”, he said.

Singapore has a “wonderful” Park Connector Network that has brought greenery and recreation closer to homes, and is also quite walkable, with good pavements along most roads, pedestrian priority at traffic junctions, and sheltered walkways.

“But we are not perfect. In fact, some cities, like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, have raised active mobility (cycling and walking) to a higher level. Walking and cycling as modes of transport have been honed to be the normal way of life.”

In these cities, they make up more than half of the modes of transport. “Benchmarked against them, we are way behind. Cycling merely makes up 1 to 2 per cent of our transport modes here,” said Mr Khaw.

A new book, by Singapore’s Centre for Liveable Cities (CLC) and the United States-based Urban Land Institute (ULI), provides ideas and practical measures, he added.

What divides Hong Kong

OCT 24, 2014

Hong Kong's police officers, regarded as among the cleanest and best paid in the world, are not used to being seen as public enemies. They are supposed to be the good guys but, overnight, they have become a subject of scorn. 


IT IS not a good time to be a policeman in Hong Kong. Working a minimum 18-hour shift, they have to be physically and mentally fit to deal with protesters.

They also have to exercise incredible self-restraint to put up with the kind of indignity - and abuses - hurled at them each day.

The police in Malaysia would probably shake their heads in disbelief if they could see what their Hong Kong counterparts have had to face over the past three weeks since the protests started.

If we were to believe the reports from the Western news agencies, we would think the Hong Kong police to be a brutal lot, and the students merely a bunch of idealistic and harmless protesters seeking to make their voices heard.

But it is not as simplistic as that. The students are not simply following a blind cause. They have reasons to believe that unless their points are made known, the results that follow may create more long-term problems for their society as a whole. Their intentions are noble even if the resulting chaos may not be what they anticipate.

As the protests enter the fourth week, the tension has risen by many notches. Tempers have become shorter as the stakes have escalated. The authorities and protesters appear to be in search of a typical Chinese face-saving exit but don't quite know how to achieve it.

A clash of Chinese and American exceptionalism

OCT 24, 2014


SINGAPORE - Let us take it as a given that the post-1945 world order with the United States as dominant nation has begun to unravel, that China is rising to inherit the earth, that the unease of our times has much to do with that difficult transition, and that violent conflict is a normal accompaniment to the passing of the baton from one great power to the next. America stood tall at the end of World War II. It also stood on a vast field of corpses.

Let us further posit the farfetched hypothesis that humankind has learnt from history. It must then be determined to avoid another conflagration. Happy talk of hyper-connectivity is not enough. The dream of the victory of enlightened self-interest in the name of the collective good on a shrinking planet was an ephemeral late 20th-century illusion. What will matter, above all, is the capacity of the US and China to avoid fatal misunderstanding. In a state of mutual incomprehension, clashing interests will escalate.

The next 50 years in Singapore politics

Oct 21, 2014


Mr Ho Kwon Ping, the first Institute of Policy Studies S R Nathan Fellow for the Study of Singapore, delivered his first lecture last night on The Future Of Singapore: Politics And Governance. Here is an excerpt of his speech.

In only 20 more years, the youngest minister today will be retiring and there will remain no more politicians who have any working memory of today's leaders, much less the founding generation.

In the history of young nations, this is the most precarious period of transition, when new generations who have not the slightest personal memories of or connections to the founding generation take on the mantle of leadership.

Passing on policies is easy; transferring ideals and values requires continual collective connections between generations of living, breathing people.

To achieve consistent economic growth with broad-based gains for its entire people has already been a rarely scaled hurdle. To maintain exemplary, transparent governance with an entrenched ethos of incorruptibility is even harder. The People's Action Party (PAP) has enabled Singapore to rise to the top of the list of successful newly independent states with these two accomplishments.

Its third challenge is not to just remain in power, nor to maintain its one-party dominance and deny the opposition its self-described role as a "co-driver" of the nation, but to do so in a manner which ensures that the party truly renews itself and retains its original vitality, vibrancy and vigour.

Religious Values in Public Discourse

[From 2011 around the time of the AWARE saga.]

The principle of separation of politics and religion and secularism is under attack. Not to be dramatic about it, so far (in 2011) it is some skirmishes at best. The first sortie was by NMP Thio Li-Ann in Parliament, right after the AWARE saga. Now a series of articles and letters to Today. This is the first article that launched the debate.

Room for religion in public discourse

Why, in some situations, it makes sense to let religious citizens speak up on their convictions

Apr 07, 2011

by Tan Seow Hon

At the end of a philosophy of law course that I taught, a student told me that his only regret was that "religion was kept on the sidelines". He felt it could add something to the topics discussed. But he understood that it might lead to "irresolvable differences and controversy".

The idea that religion is an ultra-sensitive topic best avoided is ingrained in the Singaporean mindset.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Protests that matter

Oct 22, 2014

Devadas Krishnadas, For The Straits Times

Protests are part of democratic dialogue. Protests may be legal but not legitimate. So when are disruptive protests warranted?

By Devadas Krishnadas
For The Straits Times

The continuing protests in Hong Kong have received international attention. Some commentators, both internationally and locally, have made comparisons between the protest culture in Hong Kong and in Singapore and concluded that the former reflects dynamism and vitality while the latter reflects conformity and apathy.

Such superficial extrapolations are not worthwhile. It would be more meaningful to ask when and why disruptive protests, whether on a large scale as has happened in Hong Kong or on a small scale as recently occurred at Hong Lim Park in Singapore, are warranted.