Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Conversation with Lee Kuan Yew

By Fareed Zakaria

From our March/April 1994 Issue


"One of the asymmetries of history," wrote Henry Kissinger of Singapore’s patriarch Lee Kuan Yew, "is the lack of correspondence between the abilities of some leaders and the power of their countries." Kissinger’s one time boss, Richard Nixon, was even more flattering. He speculated that, had Lee lived in another time and another place, he might have "attained the world stature of a Churchill, a Disraeli, or a Gladstone." This tag line of a big man on a small stage has been attached to Lee since the 1970s. Today, however, his stage does not look quite so small. Singapore’s per capita GNP is now higher than that of its erstwhile colonizer, Great Britain. It has the world’s busiest port, is the third-largest oil refiner and a major center of global manufacturing and service industries. And this move from poverty to plenty has taken place within one generation. In 1965 Singapore ranked economically with Chile, Argentina and Mexico; today its per capita GNP is four or five times theirs.

The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous

The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous

Its faith-based 12-step program dominates treatment in the United States. But researchers have debunked central tenets of AA doctrine and found dozens of other treatments more effective.

Gabrielle Glaser

APRIL 2015

J.G. is a lawyer in his early 30s. He’s a fast talker and has the lean, sinewy build of a distance runner. His choice of profession seems preordained, as he speaks in fully formed paragraphs, his thoughts organized by topic sentences. He’s also a worrier—a big one—who for years used alcohol to soothe his anxiety.

J.G. started drinking at 15, when he and a friend experimented in his parents’ liquor cabinet. He favored gin and whiskey but drank whatever he thought his parents would miss the least. He discovered beer, too, and loved the earthy, bitter taste on his tongue when he took his first cold sip.

His drinking increased through college and into law school. He could, and occasionally did, pull back, going cold turkey for weeks at a time. But nothing quieted his anxious mind like booze, and when he didn’t drink, he didn’t sleep. After four or six weeks dry, he’d be back at the liquor store.

By the time he was a practicing defense attorney, J.G. (who asked to be identified only by his initials) sometimes drank almost a liter of Jameson in a day. He often started drinking after his first morning court appearance, and he says he would have loved to drink even more, had his schedule allowed it. He defended clients who had been charged with driving while intoxicated, and he bought his own Breathalyzer to avoid landing in court on drunk-driving charges himself.

In the spring of 2012, J.G. decided to seek help. He lived in Minnesota—the Land of 10,000 Rehabs, people there like to say—and he knew what to do: check himself into a facility. He spent a month at a center where the treatment consisted of little more than attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. He tried to dedicate himself to the program even though, as an atheist, he was put off by the faith-based approach of the 12 steps, five of which mention God. Everyone there warned him that he had a chronic, progressive disease and that if he listened to the cunning internal whisper promising that he could have just one drink, he would be off on a bender.

J.G. says it was this message—that there were no small missteps, and one drink might as well be 100—that set him on a cycle of bingeing and abstinence. He went back to rehab once more and later sought help at an outpatient center. Each time he got sober, he’d spend months white-knuckling his days in court and his nights at home. Evening would fall and his heart would race as he thought ahead to another sleepless night. “So I’d have one drink,” he says, “and the first thing on my mind was: I feel better now, but I’m screwed. I’m going right back to where I was. I might as well drink as much as I possibly can for the next three days.”

He felt utterly defeated. And according to AA doctrine, the failure was his alone. When the 12 steps don’t work for someone like J.G., Alcoholics Anonymous says that person must be deeply flawed. The Big Book, AA’s bible, states:
Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way.

Lee Kuan Yew: Lessons for leaders from Asia's 'Grand Master'

Graham Allison,
Special to CNN

March 28, 2015

In Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew had remarkable success in creating a prosperous modern state
His lessons should prove instructive to other leaders in a time of great instability, writes Graham Allison

Graham Allison is director of Harvard Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and co-author of the book Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master's Insights on China, the United States, and the World. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

(CNN)The death of the founding father of Singapore last Monday is an appropriate occasion to reflect on nation building.

As prime minister for its first three decades, Lee Kuan Yew raised a poor port from the bottom rungs of the third world to the first world in a single generation.

As it prepares to mark its 50th anniversary as a nation, Singapore is today an ultra-modern metropolis of almost six million people with higher per capita GDP than the United States, according to the World Bank.

Lee's achievement in building a successful nation contrasts sharply with the results of Washington's expenditure of over $4 trillion and nearly 7,000 American lives in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade.

Some say Singapore's story is sui generis: Something that could only happen in that time and place.

But its remarkable performance has less to do with miraculous conditions than with Lee's model of disciplined, visionary leadership.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Singapore-Style Meritocracy: Lessons for China

Daniel A. Bell

Philosopher, Tsinghua University; author "The China Model"

BEIJING -- In 1991, I was offered my first teaching job, a post as a lecturer in political theory at the National University of Singapore. Three years later, I was told to leave because I didn't "fit in." The truth is that I did not fit in. I strongly disliked the political system, and even more strongly disliked its founding father, Lee Kuan Yew.

More than two decades later, I returned to the National University of Singapore as a visiting professor and came to realize that my earlier judgments were rooted in a dogmatic attachment to the view that Western-style liberal democracy is the only legitimate form of government. Once that view is set aside, it becomes clear that Mr. Lee, as the Americans like to say, was on the "right side of history." And today, I am deeply saddened by Mr. Lee's death.

Yes, Mr. Lee was an inspiring and charismatic leader, but that wasn't his greatest contribution. Most important, he recognized and rewarded talent in other great leaders, such as Goh Keng Swee, and built up a meritocratic system designed to select and promote political leaders of superior ability and virtue: a system designed to outlive Mr. Lee himself. That is Mr. Lee's greatest legacy.

My father and our founding father

Mar 29, 2015

Over time, both distant, disapproving figures turned into real beings I could relate to

By Chua Mui Hoong, Opinion Editor

When I was growing up, God, my father and Lee Kuan Yew all merged into one.

I was the youngest child in a Teochew-speaking, working-class Chinese household. My parents were immigrants from China, who ran a hawker stall for much of my formative years.

My father was a stern patriarch who was not averse to using the cane. My mother was a traditional Chinese wife and self-sacrificing mother, with a twinkling sense of humour with those close to her. She tended to our household altar, placing platters of food there on religious or festive days. She prayed to the deity who I found out years later is supposed to be the Kitchen God, assigned by the Emperor of Heaven to report on a family's doings. The offerings were meant to placate the deity and sweeten his tongue when he delivered reports.

As for Lee Kuan Yew, he was just the man who founded the nation that I heard and read about. Like God, he was everywhere in the ether. Like God, he was all-powerful and all-knowing. Lee Kuan Yew didn't affect my family's life much in a direct way, although his policies formed the arc within which ordinary lives like ours were lived.

In Memoriam: Opinion pieces on Lee Kuan Yew from the newspapers around the world

24 Mar 2015

"Many of us heard him and will never forget him," writes former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in the Washington Post.

SINGAPORE: Following the death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew on Monday (Mar 23), newspapers from around the world have published opinion and analysis pieces about his life and his accomplishments.

Henry Kissinger, Washington Post

"I began this eulogy by mentioning my friendship with Lee. He was not a man of many sentimental words. And he nearly always spoke of substantive matters. But one could sense his attachment. A conversation with Lee, whose life was devoted to service and who spent so much of his time on joint explorations, was a vote of confidence that sustained one’s sense of purpose.

"The great tragedy of Lee’s life was that his beloved wife was felled by a stroke that left her a prisoner in her body, unable to communicate or receive communication. Through all that time, Lee sat by her bedside in the evening reading to her. He had faith that she understood despite the evidence to the contrary.

"Perhaps this was Lee Kuan Yew’s role in his era. He had the same hope for our world. He fought for its better instincts even when the evidence was ambiguous. But many of us heard him and will never forget him.”

Why don’t states declare war anymore?

March 27, 2015

Dear Cecil:
As far as I can tell, nations have stopped formally declaring war since the end of World War II. But can war only be declared between nations? With the rise in terrorist groups, could the U.S. or another country declare war against Al-Qaeda or Isis or some other group rather than another nation? Or is any declaration of war just plain irrelevant these days?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Founding Father As A Befitting Title Given To Mr Lee Kuan Yew

From Catholic.Org.sg

“Now my soul is troubled. What shall I say: Father, save me from this hour? But it is for this very reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” “A voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again’.” Indeed, my dear brothers and sisters, if our soul is troubled or sad that our brother Lee Kuan Yew has left us, let it be clear that this sadness is on our part, not his. For Lee Kuan Yew, his departure is his liberation and, most of all, his time of reckoning; a time to be glorified by the Father. Although we mourn his passing, we are relieved that the suffering he experienced because of his illness and the loss of his beloved wife has come to an end.

In truth, we do not mourn for him as if we have lost someone. Rather, we are filled with thanksgiving for what we have gained. Ninety-one years of life on earth is a very long time. The bible considers 70 years as a blessed life already. Not many people are blessed with such a long life. But a blessed life is not determined by its length. It depends on whether we have lived it well. We should rejoice with him that he has completed his journey on earth. He had run the race and fought the good fight till the end. Thus, this Mass is celebrated not only in memory of him but as a thanksgiving for the gift of Mr Lee Kuan Yew to the nation, and to pray that his soul will find rest and peace in God. Indeed, our country has been blessed with a great, strong and visionary leader with foresight, wisdom and intelligence. Not only did he have a vision for Singapore but, just as importantly, he had fortitude. Otherwise, no vision is enough to see Singapore through without perseverance.   Enthusiasm without commitment will not bring us very far. He came at a time when Singapore needed a strong leader. Like St Michael who defended the people of God during the “time of great distress, unparalleled since nations first came into existence”, so, too, Mr Lee defended Singapore at a time when the young nation was in danger of both internal and external threats.

Why College Isn't (And Shouldn't Have to Be) For Everyone

Robert Reich
Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley; author, 'Beyond Outrage'


I know a high school senior who's so worried about whether she'll be accepted at the college of her choice she can't sleep.

The parent of another senior tells me he stands at the mailbox for an hour every day waiting for a hoped-for acceptance letter to arrive.

Parents are also uptight. I've heard of some who have stopped socializing with other parents of children competing for admission to the same university.

Competition for places top-brand colleges is absurdly intense.

With inequality at record levels and almost all the economic gains going to the top, there's more pressure than ever to get the golden ring.

A degree from a prestigious university can open doors to elite business schools and law schools -- and to jobs paying hundreds of thousands, if not millions, a year.

Why Islamic State’s call for new Caliphate is flawed

The Caliph was also the protector of Islam’s holy places, primarily Mecca as well as Medina and Jerusalem, which are not in the hands of the Islamic State. This role included various duties and responsibilities. Clearly, the Islamic State is in no position to make these claims.


MARCH 27, 2015

The claimed authority of the (self-proclaimed) Islamic State, or Daesh, is tied to its being a new Caliphate. The Caliph, literally the “one who replaces someone (dead or gone)”, is variously understood as the successor or deputy to Islam’s Prophet, or even as God’s regent on earth.

Therefore, some claim that it is the duty of all Muslims to follow the Caliph as successor of the Prophet. In using this motif, the Islamic State is investing in a deeply potent symbol. However, this raises questions, including: What makes someone a Caliph; do you have to follow a Caliph; and how do you recognise a Caliph?

If Abu Bakr Baghdadi is the Caliph, then is every Muslim duty-bound to follow him? Seduced by the claim, many thousands of Muslims do so. However, why do they think they should and what role does the media play in promoting his claim?

‘All I can say is, I did my best’

True to his word, Singapore remained Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s concern till the end of his life


MARCH 23, 2015

When he breathed his last early this morning, the Republic’s first Prime Minister had also been Tanjong Pagar’s Member of Parliament for six decades — the longest-serving, and more remarkably, outlasting the last of his Old Guard leadership comrades by more than 25 years.

Mr Lee died at 3.18am today at Singapore General Hospital, where he had been warded since Feb 5 after coming down with severe pneumonia. He was 91.

When Lee Kuan Yew entered the scene as a raw opposition politician in 1955, Singapore was but a colonial outpost populated by a polyglot of migrants, common only in their desires to eke out a livelihood here.

He departs having guided Singapore through the trying first years of Independence into a thriving economic miracle that is marvelled the world over for overcoming improbable odds.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Remembering Lee Kuan Yew: Devoted husband and caring father

Mar 24, 2015

Close-knit family and a small circle of friends - these are the people who got to witness the tender, nurturing side of Lee Kuan Yew 


Lee Kuan Yew was a man with few close friends. Those who knew him best and saw his tender, caring side came mainly from his tight family circle.

But others who interacted with him caught glimpses of the private man away from his public persona as Singapore's hard-driving, straight-talking first prime minister.

At home, he was ever the devoted son who cared deeply for his mother, Chua Jim Neo, even if he upset her once by cancelling her driving licence when he decided she had become too old to drive.

She was an English-speaking Straits Chinese matriarch famed for her Peranakan culinary skills who died in 1980, aged 75. He greatly admired her for standing up to her temperamental, more carefree husband in order to keep the family finances healthy and raise her children properly.

He was less close to his father, Lee Chin Koon, who worked at the Shell oil company first as a storekeeper, then later in charge of various depots in Malaysia, and had a love for card games. He was 94 when he died in 1997.

Mr Lee had three younger brothers and a sister who looked up to him and had regarded him as the man of the house during long periods when their father was away. "He was a wonderful big brother because he was responsible, caring, and when we were young, he'd give us good advice," said his youngest sibling, Dr Lee Suan Yew.

Mr Lee had two sons and a daughter, whose achievements he was proud of. "He was not a demonstrative person, which was common with many of his generation," said younger son Hsien Yang.

Most of all, though, he was a devoted husband in a long, happy marriage. His wife, Madam Kwa Geok Choo, who died in 2010 at 89, was the bedrock of his life.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Is jobless growth inevitable?

Mar 27, 2015

EVER since the Industrial Revolution, humans have been ambivalent about technological progress. While new technology has been a major source of liberation, progress and prosperity, it has also fuelled plenty of agony - not least owing to the fear that it will render labour redundant.

So far, experience has seemed to discredit this fear. Indeed, by boosting productivity and underpinning the emergence of new industries, technological progress has historically fuelled economic growth and net job creation. New innovations accelerated - rather than disrupted - this positive cycle.

But some are claiming the cycle is now broken, especially in technologically savvy countries like the United States. Indeed, machines are becoming smarter, with innovations like advanced robotics, 3D printing and big data analytics enabling firms to save money by eliminating even highly skilled workers. As a result of this "productivity paradox" (sometimes called the "great decoupling"), jobless growth is here to stay. We can no longer take human prosperity for granted, however rosy the aggregate indicators for profitability and GDP growth may be.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew was 'a complex man who evoked many emotions'

MAR 27, 2015

Mr Lee never hesitated to do what necessity dictated for Singapore's interests, says Mr Bilahari Kausikan.


Those of us who were privileged to work with Mr Lee Kuan Yew in whatever capacity, cannot but feel a profound personal sense of grief. Mr Lee was not only a great leader - that is obvious - he was a man, human, and thus inevitably complex. He evoked the entire range of human emotions, and evoked them strongly. His legacy will be many-faceted and debated for many years.

As a young MFA officer, I was fortunate to have attended many meetings with Mr Lee and to have travelled with him. Later in my career, I sat in on policy discussions, several at times of crisis. I never intended to be a civil servant. I had prepared myself for an academic career. But I soon realised that most of what I thought I knew was at least superficial, if not downright irrelevant. My real education in international relations began only when my life intersected, however tangentially, with Mr Lee.

First of all, I learnt not to be ashamed to be a patriot. To the young, as I then was, the term carries a vague, undefinable whiff of unfashionable mustiness. But to serve the Republic of Singapore in any capacity is no mean profession because if Singapore does not survive, no other value can be realised in this vale of tears we call the world.

You may think that all diplomats or all statesmen must obviously serve their own countries' interests. Well, they certainly ought to. But as I grew more experienced in the craft of diplomacy, I observed that this was all too often the exception rather than the rule; that too many leaders and diplomats, from too many countries, too often confuse personal interests with national interests, or convince themselves that these are synonymous. There is no creature more susceptible to self-deception than certain types of diplomats or erstwhile statesmen. The worst types believe that whatever they do is necessarily important simply because they do it - they and no one else, because, of course, they are the centre of the universe. Mr Lee was never like that. He is often described as a global statesman, and so he was. But I doubt Mr Lee ever set much store by that appellation or any of the many formal honours he was given by foreign countries. These were means, not ends. His laser-like focus - his "universe" if you like - was always Singapore. He operated on a global stage, but only for Singapore. He won many friends and was personally greatly admired around the world. But this was always deployed for Singapore. He spoke his mind and never hesitated to do what necessity dictated for Singapore's interests, even if it put his personal friendships at risk.

Second, I learnt that the pursuit and defence of Singapore's interests must be grounded in a clinical and clear-eyed, indeed cold-blooded and intellectually ruthless, understanding of the environment in which a small country operates. Small countries cannot afford illusions. Mr Lee never mistook the necessary politesse and hypocrisies of statecraft and diplomacy for reality. He took as the starting point the world as it is; a world as full of promise and opportunity but a world also inevitably flawed and, so, often perilous. Mr Lee invariably cut through all the fluff that usually conceals the hard realities of international relations. He zeroed in on the very core of any issue or situation. His analysis was always holistic, enriched and given depth and breadth by his realistic understanding of history, of different cultures and, ultimately, of human nature in all its rich variety. He pursued what was possible in practice, not what was desirable on principle. He wanted to get things done. He always dared to try - Singapore would not exist otherwise - but was not given to chasing chimeras. This is again rarer than one might expect. Mr Lee never stopped learning and was never too proud to seek information even from the most junior, and certainly never too proud to change his mind whenever the situation warranted.

Third, I learnt no leader, however talented, can achieve much alone. Mr Lee was undoubtedly a great leader, but he was the great leader of a great team and of a great people. Leadership is not a matter of intellect alone. His sense of mission, his dedication to and passion for Singapore inspired an entire generation of Singaporeans from all walks of life to defy the odds and to serve some cause larger than themselves.

My generation of MFA officers have tried to pass on what we felt and learnt to a younger generation of Foreign Service officers. But this is possibly the hardest lesson to impart.

The Singapore that you see around us today and which many young Singaporeans take for granted is a totally unnatural place. We exist only by dint of human endeavour, not by any God-given right. What was created by human endeavour must be maintained by human endeavour. My generation of Foreign Service officers and the generation before us are proud to have contributed in some small measure to Singapore's unlikely success.

Singapore will be preserved only if the next generation shares that passion from which flows the determination to overcome challenges that cannot now be foreseen. Mr Lee is gone.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Parliamentary panache: 10 quotes from Mr Lee Kuan Yew's 'awesome' speech

Mar 26, 2015

Parliament holds a special sitting on Thursday to honour the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's founding Prime Minister, who had made countless speeches in Parliament during his decades in politics.

One of his speeches was described as "awesome" by Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on Facebook on Wednesday.

It was a three-and-a-half hour address in February 1977 to a House that welcomed 11 new Members of Parliament, including Mr Goh, then 36, and it made a deep impression on the young Marine Parade MP who was to succeed Mr Lee as Prime Minister later in 1990.

Here are some extracts of that speech:

On succession
Perhaps I ought to begin by saying that they (new MPs) ought to take themselves seriously because we, on this side as Members of the Government, take them seriously. Upon us is the burden of finding a successor Government worthy of its responsibilities. It is not an easy job.

On population policy
We have got seven Catholics, and they are all good Catholics. I know the Papal bull - when I say "the Papal bull", I am not saying that in jest. I think that is the technical term, is it not? Whatever it is, the Pope issues his interpretation, and the interpretation is that you can only do it by the rhythm method. Well, I wish all Catholics have a good sense of rhythm.

An educated man
My definition of an educated man is a man who never stops learning and wants to learn. I am not interested in whether a man has a Ph.D or not, or an M.A. for that matter, or a diploma. Mao never had one, neither had Khrushchev, nor Stalin.

Why bilingualism is important
Way back in 1965 we found ourselves suddenly independent. If you lose that Chinese education and you go completely English-educated, you will lose that drive, that self-confidence. That is what is wrong. The danger is, if you are Chinese-educated and only Chinese-educated, you are monolingual, then your source of literature will be communist. That is big trouble. But if you are bilingual, you have binocular vision, then you see the world in 3-D.

A lecture on psephology
Because for a few years we were in Malaysia, for two years, when we did our psephological analysis. In case the press gets me wrong, it is psephology and nor psychology. I have a dictionary here. It is the science of how people vote. Just in case they dispute my definition, I have brought the Shorter Oxford Dictionary and it is in the addenda. It is not in the body of the dictionary itself. It is a new science. Psephology - the study of friends in voting or elections. From Greek psephos (pebble) because when the Greet voted he threw a pebble.

Let me assure all honourable members that each time I swear the oath of allegience to the Republic of Singapore, my mind goes back to the 9th of August, 1965. I did not want it. We had independence thrust upon us. And the expectation was that in two to three years we would be so down on our knees and crawling that we would have to go back on any terms. No autonomy in Education, Labour, and all the other subjects. Different terms. Maybe if they were kind, like Penang and Malacca. But we resolved to make this work. Never forget that it was the will, not just of a few men. That was necessary. But the will was in the people. Otherwise it would not have worked.

On clean government
We did not fight the elections in December 23. We fought it as from September 1972. We made sure that no MP, no Parliamentary Secretary, no Minister misbehaved or abused his power. Because if you do, it is a very tight and swift compact society, it spreads like wild fire.
I am not saying, "No, let us be celibate." I am not even asking let us all be faithful to our wives, let us have no divorces. I do not ask that. All I ask is, please do not misbehave yourself. Anybody who has a paternity suit against him is out and there will be a by-election. That is all I say. Let us have none of this.

Being Chinese vs being Singaporean
When I went to China, I discovered that I was not a Chinaman. Yes, Mr Lee Khoon Choy will be my witness. I brought my young daughter with me for political reasons... It was for definite specific political reasons, one of them being to test how a Chinese-educated girl, but bilingual, would react to this situation. I am glad to say that we will relax our regulations about young people visiting China... in small groups, there is no better education for a proper appreciation of Singapore. You come back and kiss the soil.

On Singaporeans
You know the Singaporean. He is a hard-working, industrious, rugged individual. Or we would not have made the grade. But let us also recognise that he is champion grumbler.

Popular vs populist
If you want to be popular, do not try to be popular all the time. Popular government does not mean that you do popular things all the time. We do not want to be unpopular or to do unpopular things. But when they are necessary, they will be done. Popular representative government means that within each five-year period, your policies have demonstrably worked and won popular support. That is what it means. And if we flinch from the unpopular, we are in deep trouble.

What the world has learnt from Mr Lee

March 26, 2015

SINGAPORE — Commentary writers from around the world have penned tributes for Mr Lee Kuan Yew, covering a range of topics including Mr Lee’s unique style of leadership, strategic vision and the strengths of the Singapore model that has become the cornerstone of the country’s relevance to the wider international community. The writers talk about their personal encounters with Mr Lee and give a glimpse of Mr Lee’s forward-looking thinking and straight-talking personality.


Jon Huntsman, chairman of the Atlantic Council, former Utah governor and former US ambassador to Singapore remembered how he had regularly consulted Mr Lee along with generations of other American policy-makers. “I always benefited from his keen insight — insight which the world has now lost”, Mr Huntsman wrote.

Members of public queue overnight to pay respects to Mr Lee Kuan Yew

By Xue Jianyue,


26 Mar 2015

Many took advantage of the extension of hours to queue in the wee hours of Thursday morning to pay their last respects to Singapore's founding Prime Minister, before heading off to work or school.

SINGAPORE: Madam Coreen Tan, 36, and her family arrived at 5.30am on Thursday (March 26) to join the queues of people waiting to pay their final respects to former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, whose body is lying in state at the Parliament House.

Mdm Tan, who works in a church and had to report to work by 8.30am, arrived early to get around her work schedule. She was accompanied by her 41-year-old husband Matthew Quek and her 12-year-son, who too had to report to work and school, respectively, this morning.

Mdm Tan and family were among thousands of Singaporeans who queued in the wee hours of Thursday morning around the Parliament House. Apart from private transport, many came via MRT trains which are now running round the clock to cater to the overwhelming response from the public.

Compared to the crowd on Wednesday, when queues to Parliament House reached as far as Fort Canning and Boat Quay, the overnight queues were relatively shorter and fast moving.

Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) student James Leong, 22, arrived to queue at 1am and waited 2.5 hours before he could enter the Parliament House. He relied on the MRT to reach the Parliament House. “My schedule is full. My lessons are from 9am to 6pm,” he said.

[SMRT has been given notice. If the train breaks down anytime this week, they will have to answer to the Man.]

Lawyer Gerald Tan, 30, woke up at 4am in the morning and arrived at the Esplanade bridge in office attire. “I thought this was the best time to avoid long waiting times. I only waited about 45 minutes,” said Mr Tan, adding that he will be heading straight to work at 9am.

Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel were also seen setting up metal fences and tentage on the Padang at around 4.30am. Shortly before dawn, the authorities started directing incoming visitors to a new queue at the Padang. The authorities also continued water distribution to visitors overnight.

[SG will set a new standard for other countries. Next time a dictator in North Korea (we're looking at you, Fat Boy!) dies, the authorities will require the populace to queue overnight to pay their respect to show their love for their "Dear Leader". 

Sorry North Koreans! We didn't mean to cause you trouble!]

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Political renewal, a life and death matter

‘My most important job was to get a team that could carry on the work’


MARCH 23, 2015

While the obsession of many political leaders — especially those of new nation-states — was with holding on to power for as long as possible, Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s, from the very beginning, was the search for his successors.

In fact, it was barely over a year into his task of governing a newly-independent Singapore — when almost the entire Old Guard leadership were relatively young — that he expressed his worries in 1966 about the Republic’s “very thin crust of leadership”, for it was a “life-and-death” matter, in Mr Lee’s words, that developing countries such as Singapore had good political leadership.

And by the 1968 elections, his efforts to assemble a group of successors had begun — bright PhD holders such as Chiang Hai Ding and Wong Lin Ken were fielded, but he quickly learnt that political leadership required “other qualities besides a disciplined mind able to marshal facts and figures”.

“There is a heavy price to pay if mediocrities and opportunists ever take control of the government of Singapore,” he once said, because this tiny, resource-less island had nothing except “its strategic location and the people who can maximise this location by organisation, management, skills and, most important of all, brains”.

“Five years of such a government, probably a coalition and Singapore will be down on her knees ... Once in disarray, it will not be possible to put it together again.”

Henry A. Kissinger: The world will miss Lee Kuan Yew


By Henry A. Kissinger

March 23

Henry A. Kissinger was secretary of state from 1973 to 1977.

Lee Kuan Yew was a great man. And he was a close personal friend, a fact that I consider one of the great blessings of my life. A world needing to distill order from incipient chaos will miss his leadership.

Lee emerged onto the international stage as the founding father of the state of Singapore, then a city of about 1 million. He developed into a world statesman who acted as a kind of conscience to leaders around the globe.

Fate initially seemed not to have provided him a canvas on which to achieve more than modest local success. In the first phase of decolonization, Singapore emerged as a part of Malaya. It was cut loose because of tensions between Singapore’s largely Chinese population and the Malay majority and, above all, to teach the fractious city a lesson of dependency. Malaya undoubtedly expected that reality would cure Singapore of its independent spirit.

When the CIA tried to Bribe LKY

LKY Rejected Bribe From The CIA, Proved Himself As Major Badass

In 1959, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had suspicions of the People’s Action Party (PAP)’s close ties with what they saw as pro-communist elements, and launched an intelligence operation in Singapore to find out. In 1960, Lee discovered their covert operation and the CIA responded with a US$3.3 million bribe so that Lee would keep mum. 
Lee refused and asked for US$33 million in economic-development aid to Singapore and Malaysia instead.
He was haggling when he could have simply accepted the bribe and been US$3.3 million richer. What he did instead was to use his advantageous position for the betterment of the nation. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Piketty to U.S: Fix your student debt crisis


By Danielle Douglas-Gabriel

March 23 at 4:35 PM

French economist Thomas Piketty has joined the chorus of experts who think that student debt in the United States, if gone unchecked, could undermine economic growth in this country.

"If we really want to promote more equal opportunity and redistribute chances in access to education we should do something about student debt," Piketty said in an interview posted Sunday on Big Think. "This is really the key for higher growth in the future and also for a more equitable growth."

The meteoric rise of student debt in the United States has led economists and policymakers to question whether it could erode economic gains and exacerbate inequality.

There are roughly 43 million Americans with outstanding student debt,and many are having a hard time paying itoff. The number of late payments on student loans has crept up in the last few months. And it's happening at a time when Americans are doing a good job of paying down other types of consumer credit, like mortgages and credit cards, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Many economists think that hefty student debt is unlikely to topple the economy and lead to another recession, but it could affect consumer behavior in a way that is ultimately detrimental to sustainable economic growth.

Lee Kuan Yew - Critical pieces by Washington Post

[Two of the more critical pieces by Washington Post.]


Lee Kuan Yew, the fearful visionary

By David Ignatius

March 22

BRUSSELS–Lee Kuan Yew, the man who created the modern miracle of Singapore, was one of the visionary leaders of the 20th century. But as I discovered in several conversations with him, he was also a paradoxical figure who never lost his sense of vulnerability and combativeness toward those he feared might undermine his authority.

Lee, who died March 23, impressed me when I first met him in 2001 as “probably the smartest politician I have met in more than 25 years as a journalist,” as I wrote in a 2002 column. But as respected and powerful as he was, Lee remained suspicious of critics and ready to take them to court if they challenged him or his country.

The Singapore that Lee created in his 31 years as prime minister, from 1959 to 1990, was the embodiment of the globalized economy that brought immense wealth to Asia. But Lee feared that the free-trading world he had helped build might bring instability and dissent to his ordered, prosperous Singapore. He feared the mob, in the streets or online. He was a Confucian leader, not a democrat.

Remembering Lee Kuan Yew: Tender side that not many see

Ng Kok Song, 67, is the former chief investment officer of Government of Singapore Investment Corporation

MAR 24, 2015

When my wife Patricia was diagnosed with stage four stomach cancer in July 2003, I saw a side of Mr Lee Kuan Yew that not many see.

Two weeks after the diagnosis, Patricia told me she was going to write a letter to Mr Lee, who was then Senior Minister. It had nothing to do with my job, she said, but my job was to deliver it. This is what she wrote:
"Dear SM Lee,
When National Day approaches each year, I feel fortunate and blessed to live in Singapore. And I've always wanted to express my deep gratitude to you, but lacked the courage to do so. Now I feel a sense of urgency as this may be my last National Day, as I have recently been diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer.
On this auspicious occasion of the 38th birthday of Singapore, I thank God that we have been blessed with a leader who has a gifted vision, and the courage, will and ability to make his dream a reality. I have the deepest respect and admiration for you and regard you as truly the Father of our Nation.
My husband Kok Song and I raised three children in our 31 years of married life, and we are all proud to be Singaporeans. Happy National Day.
Yours respectfully,

Monday, March 23, 2015

Late Singapore Leader Lee Kuan Yew Had Opinions on Everything

TIME Staff

March 22, 2015    

Singapore's founding father shared his opinions on everything from democracy and leadership to terrorism and his late wife

Lee Kuan Yew had a strong opinion about most anything. As he once said, “I have been accused of many things in my life, but not even my worst enemy has ever accused me of being afraid to speak my mind.” Here’s a sampling of his other pronouncements over the decades:

On Singapore
We have created this out of nothingness, from 150 souls in a minor fishing village into the biggest metropolis two degrees north of the equator.
I have had to sing four national anthems: Britain’s “God Save the Queen,” Japan’s “Kimigayo,” Malaysia’s “Negara Ku,” and finally Singapore’s “Majulah Singapura;” such were the political upheavals of the last 60 years.
One arm of my strategy was to make Singapore into an oasis in Southeast Asia, for if we had First World standards, then businessmen and tourists would make us a base for their business and tours of the region.
To succeed, Singapore must be a cosmopolitan center, able to attract, retain, and absorb talent from all over the world.
Singapore is now a brand name.
My greatest satisfaction comes from … mustering the will to make this place meritocratic, corruption-free and equal for all races—and that it will endure beyond me.

On Democracy
One person, one vote is a most difficult form of government. From time to time, the results can be erratic. People are sometimes fickle. They get bored with stable, steady improvements in life, and in a reckless moment, they vote for a change for change’s sake.
In new countries, democracy has worked and produced results only when there is an honest and effective government, which means a people smart enough to elect such a government. Elected governments are only as good as the people who choose them.
Contrary to what American political commentators say, I do not believe that democracy necessarily leads to development. I believe that what a country needs to develop is discipline more than democracy. The exuberance of democracy leads to undisciplined and disorderly conditions which are inimical to development. The ultimate test of the value of a political system is whether it helps that society to establish conditions which improve the standard of living for the majority of its people, plus enabling the maximum of personal freedoms compatible with the freedoms of others in society.
There is no level playing-field of any government helping the opposition to win votes.
The weakness of democracy is that the assumption that all men are equal and capable of equal contribution to the common good is flawed.

On the U.S.
For the next two to three decades, America will remain the sole superpower. The U.S. is the most militarily powerful and economically dynamic country in the world. It is the engine for global growth through its innovation, productivity, and consumption. Today and for the next few decades, it is the U.S that will be preeminent in setting the rules of the game.
What has made the U.S. economy preeminent is its entrepreneurial culture … Entrepreneurs and investors alike see risk and failure as natural and necessary for success. When they fail, they pick themselves up and start afresh.

On Terrorism
Militant Islam feeds upon the insecurities and alienation that globalization generates among the less successful. And because globalization is largely U.S.-led and driven, militant Islam identifies America and Americans as the threat to Islam. That America steadfastly supports Israel aggravates their sense of threat.
The war against terrorism will be long and arduous.

On China
China’s history of over 4,000 years was one of dynastic rulers, interspersed with anarchy, foreign conquerors, warlords and dictators. The Chinese people had never experienced a government based on counting heads instead of chopping off heads. Any revolution toward representative government would be gradual.
China’s neighbors are unconvinced by China’s ritual phrases that all countries big and small are equal or that China will never seek hegemony.
If the U.S. tries to thwart China’s growth, China will surely want to return the compliment when it can do so.
China wants to be China and accepted as such, not as an honorary member of the West.

On Leadership
I was never a prisoner of any theory. What guided me were reason and reality. The acid test I applied to every theory or scheme was: Would it work?
The acid test is in performance, not promises.
It is not from weakness that one commands respect.
As long as the leaders take care of their people, they will obey the leaders.

On His Late Wife, and Life and Death
She’s gone. All that is left behind are her ashes. I will be gone and all that will be left behind will be ashes. For reasons of sentiment, well, put them together. But to meet in afterlife? Too good to be true.
There is an end to everything and I want mine to come as quickly and painlessly as possible, not with me incapacitated, half in coma in bed and with a tube going into my nostrils and down to my stomach. In such cases, one is little more than a body.
Do not intervene to save life. Let me go naturally.
I am not given to making sense out of life, or coming up with some grand narrative of it. I have done what I had wanted to, to the best of my ability. I am satisfied.
Sources: Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World; Lee Kuan Yew: One Man’s View of the World; The Wit & Wisdom of Lee Kuan Yew

First media reactions from Europe over the death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew

Mar 23, 2015


By Jonathan Eyal In London

Britain's media outlets have run extensive obituaries on the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew's life and achievements.

"If you seek his monument", wrote The Economist news weekly in an obituary entitled "The Wise Man of the East", "look around Singapore: Prosperous, orderly, clean, efficient and honestly governed, it is not the work of Lee Kuan Yew alone".

However, adds the magazine, "the most important reason for Singapore's singular experience is Mr Lee himself".

The Economist repeats some of the criticism it levelled at Singapore over the past few decades. But it concludes that "even his severest critics would agree" that Mr Lee was a "towering figure".

Love does indeed spring eternal (From Archive)

From the Sunday Times, 

Oct 2, 2011

[A column by the Panda's Daughter, from 2011, a year after the passing of Mrs Lee.]

Emotional ties don't come to an end with the passing away of a loved one

By Lee Wei Ling

My friend Balaji Sadasivan passed away on Sept 27 last year. In the obituaries section of The Straits Times last Tuesday, exactly one year after his death, there was a sonnet by Balaji himself: 'But even in gloom, one truth is fundamental, from time immemorial, love springs eternal.'

A week after Balaji died, on Oct 2, my mother passed away peacefully at home. 'Love springs eternal' - but what comfort is that to the one who has departed and can no longer reciprocate our love?

This thought slipped randomly in and out of my mind as I was exercising last week. Then my Blackberry buzzed. I read the incoming e-mail. It was from my father - brief, concise, a mere statement of fact, yet what was unsaid but obvious was his love and concern for us, his children.

I suddenly realised that love does spring eternal. Papa, my brothers Hsien Loong and Hsien Yang, and my sisters-in-law Ho Ching and Suet Fern, and I are still bound by our love for Mama and will continue to be for many more years.

S'pore-KL ties fray over textile quotas

Mar 22, 2015

[MARCH 21]

International trade issues cause friction during merger, with series of verbal spats

By Ho Ai Li

A verbal spat broke out between Singapore and Malaysia's central government after Singapore Finance Minister Goh Keng Swee blamed Kuala Lumpur for the collapse of textile talks between Britain and Malaysia.

He lashed out at the central government for wanting to give the lion's share of British quotas for textile exports to Malaysian states other than Singapore.

Before the formation of Malaysia, Singapore and Malaya had received separate export quotas from Britain. In 1964, after Singapore had become part of the new nation, Britain decided to issue a single quota for Malaysia.

The episode highlighted friction between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur over international trade issues and contributed to thorny relations between them.

It also came at a time of wide unemployment in Singapore, when garment factories were laying off workers.

St Andrew's bomb hoax: 'We better not fool around'

Mar 22, 2015

By Jennani Durai

Ronnie Chen and his classmates were in Primary 1 at St Andrew's Junior School when one day their teacher suddenly told them to get under their desks.

The school had received a call claiming there was a bomb somewhere on the premises and it would go off at any moment.

The call on March 22, 1965, turned out to be a hoax - one of several bomb hoaxes in schools across Singapore during that time. The hoaxes occurred amid a spate of genuine bomb attacks by Indonesian soldiers on civilian targets in Singapore and other parts of Malaysia during the period of Confrontation, a violent campaign that Indonesia pursued to oppose the creation of Malaysia, which included Singapore.

This week in 1965, several more schools were the target of similar hoaxes, including Cedar Girls' School. A report on the bomb hoaxes appeared in The Straits Times on March 25 that year.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Is the end nigh for the university as we know it?

March 20

Mr Kevin Carey has a four-year-old girl. The director of the Education Policy Program at New America Foundation has been thinking about the role of universities in American life for virtually his entire career. But after his daughter was born, that thinking took on a new urgency.

“All of a sudden, there is a mental clock,” he told me the other day. “How am I going to pay for her college education? I wanted to write a book that asked, ‘What will college be like when my daughter is ready to go?’”

His answer is his new book, The End of College, which is both a stinging indictment of the university business model and a prediction about how technology is likely to change it. His vision is at once apocalyptic and idealistic. He calls it “the University of Everywhere”.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Foreign media publish commentaries on Lee Kuan Yew

MAR 20, 2015


SINGAPORE - As Mr Lee Kuan Yew remains critically ill in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Singapore General Hospital, media outlets around the world have begun publishing profiles and commentaries of Singapore's former prime minister.
Mr Lee, 91, has been in hospital since Feb 5, when he was admitted for severe pneumonia. His condition took a turn for the worse on March 18.
Many news outlets noted that although he retired as Prime Minister in 1990, Mr Lee has had a lasting influence on Singapore. He is also respected on the world stage, and his words carried disproportionate weight for the leader of a small nation.
Here are some of the articles that have been published since March 18.

Negative nominal interest rates: Here to stay



Monetary policy has become increasingly unconventional in the past six years, with central banks implementing zero-interest-rate policies, quantitative easing, credit easing, forward guidance and unlimited exchange-rate intervention. But now we have come to the most unconventional policy tool of them all: Negative nominal interest rates.

Such rates currently prevail in the eurozone, Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden. And it is not only short-term policy rates that are now negative in nominal terms: About US$3 trillion (S$4.17 trillion) of assets in Europe and Japan, at maturities as long as 10 years (in the case of Swiss government bonds), now have negative interest rates.

At first blush, this seems absurd: Why would anyone want to lend money for a negative nominal return when they could simply hold on to the cash and at least not lose in nominal terms?

How do you get people to change? Study what makes them tick, says economist

By Siau Ming En,


20 Mar 2015

Pricing mechanisms are a particularly effective tool - more effect than non-monetary methods, says Professor Sumit Agarwal of the NUS Business School.

SINGAPORE: When construction work begins in a particular area, residents living nearby use about 6 per cent more electricity, as they shut their windows and turn to air-conditioning to block out the noise and pollution. And increases in consumption persist, even after the construction work concludes.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Banking on 'Watson' saves time for managers

MAR 14, 2015


IN THE depths of a DBS data centre, "Watson" goes about his job of remembering an estimated 800 reports of financial information that the bank produced for the year's quarter. Watson can ingest thousands of documents a day, at superhuman speed.

Watson is a cloud service that can understand human language and context, and deliver insights, saving bank relationship managers at least two hours of reading each day, says Mr Olivier Crespin, managing director and head of digital bank at DBS, who initiated the project last year.

Before this, bankers had to identify investment ideas from a wide body of financial reports.

For US dollar, strength is weakness

MAR 14, 2015


We've been warned over and over that the Federal Reserve, in its effort to improve the economy, is "debasing" the dollar.

The archaic word itself tells you a lot about where the people issuing such warnings are coming from. It's an allusion to the ancient practice of replacing pure gold or silver coins with "debased" coins in which the precious-metal content was adulterated with cheaper stuff. Message to the gold bugs and Ayn Rand disciples who dominate the Republican Party: That's not how modern money works.

New technologies: Why emerging markets stand to gain

MAR 13, 2015


Over the past 20 to 30 years, technology has enabled the rise of emerging markets in global trade. Improvements in communication and infrastructure have helped these markets capitalise on their cheap-labour advantage and integrate into global supply chains.

However, many now fear that this technology-driven growth burst is behind them. They argue that new digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics and 3D printing pose three main threats to emerging markets:

The first threat is that skills-biased technological change, such as robotics, favours a more urban and educated workforce and will result in growing unemployment and rising income inequality in emerging markets, especially those where a large share of the population works in sectors with limited access to technology.

Second, that the rise of new technologies such as robotics and 3D printing will undermine the cheap-labour advantage that has been the bedrock of growth for many emerging markets over the last 20 years.

Third, that, if emerging markets lose their advantage in global manufacturing chains, they will not be able to compensate for the loss of growth or jobs by growing their service sectors, as most services are non-tradable and, in fact, some services might themselves become automated.

While such arguments are persuasive, we think the threats are likely exaggerated.

Why a universal pension scheme is not a good idea

The Silver Support Scheme will be a welcome relief to children of aged low-income parents, but should never be seen as a replacement for family support or reduce the need for people to save for their own retirement, says Ms Soh Swee Ping, 46, who heads the Council For Third Age (C3A) that encourages active ageing. She tells Walter Sim about issues the elderly face.

MAR 14, 2015

Statistics show that each member of the bottom 20 per cent of retiree households (comprising solely non-working people aged 60 and above) spends $317 on a per month basis, and so any additional help will relieve their children's burden.

But it should not be a replacement. It should only supplement their children's help, because Singapore is an expensive society to live in, and so these are little things that help.

But having said that, the current cohort of seniors aged 65 and above faced very different situations in their early years.

Going forward, Singaporeans have been given the opportunity to be able to plan for the second half of our lives. And even if the country is helping the individual to be prepared, we should take our own responsibility to do so.

We are fortunate because we are quite a rich country and so our Government is able to afford it. But we cannot expect the Government to continue to do that.

CPF retirement planning pilot to start in July

After three-month trial, service to extend to 6,500 individuals turning 55 this year


MARCH 18, 2015

SINGAPORE — With three children and a career as a retail manager, retirement planning was the last thing on Ms Aisah Bakri’s mind.

But a one-on-one retirement planning session by the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board — part of a trial for a fully fledged programme to be rolled out early next year — was a “wake-up call” for Ms Aisah, who turns 55 in November.

While she had previously not given the issue much thought, receiving the invitation to take part in the trial got her thinking about her financial status, said Ms Aisah. She went for the session hoping to find out more about how to manage the investments she had made using her CPF monies, as well as why only S$5,000 can be withdrawn unconditionally from her account when she turns 55.

“I think that this is one of the ways you can make people understand (better) ... The technical terms (explaining CPF matters) can be long and wordy. Getting someone to explain to you is easier than reading from the Internet or papers,” said Ms Aisah.

School admissions no measure of one's worth

MAR 18, 2015

The frenzy to get into a prestigious university like Stanford seems to grow ever crazier and more corrosive. It's fed by many factors, including contemporary America's exaltation of brands and an economic pessimism that has parents determined to find and give their kids every possible leg up. 


Here we go again. At Harvard, Bucknell, Emory and other schools around the US, there have been record numbers of applicants yearning for an elite degree. They'll get word in the next few weeks. Most will be turned down.

All should hear and heed the stories of Peter Hart and Jenna Leahy.

Peter didn't try for the Ivy League. That wasn't the kind of student he'd been at New Trier High School, in an affluent Chicago suburb. A friend of Peter's was ranked near the summit of their class; she set her sights on Yale - and ended up there. Peter was ranked in the top third, and aimed for the University of Michigan or maybe the special undergraduate business school at the University of Illinois. Both rejected him.

He went to Indiana University instead. Right away, he noticed a difference. At New Trier, a public school posh enough to pass for private, he'd always had a sense of himself as someone ordinary, at least in terms of his studies. At Indiana, though, the students in his freshman classes weren't as showily gifted as the New Trier kids had been, and his self-image went through a transformation.

"I really felt like I was a competent person," he told me last year, soon after he'd turned 28. And he thrived. He got into an honours programme for undergraduate business majors. He became vice-president of a campus business fraternity. He cobbled together the capital to start a tiny real estate firm that fixed up and rented small houses to fellow students.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

What it takes to keep S'pore in good fiscal health

A closer look at the numbers that matter in balancing the Budget, both now and in the future.

MAR 17, 2015


IF A company runs into deficit more often than not, the concern is that the management is losing the plot.

The same scrutiny can be trained on Budget 2015, which the Government tabled along with its latest fiscal position data on Feb 23.

[And in two lines, I have decided that this will be a useless, uninformed and uninformative analysis. But I will read it with a jaundiced eye. The simple fact is, a country is NOT a business, is not a company.]

The Budget this year outlined initiatives to strengthen the social safety net, build up infrastructure and develop the local workforce, but these programmes come with a hefty price tag.

Since the financial year 2009, the nation has run into basic deficit four times in six years. A basic surplus or deficit is the figure after taking into account the revenue from taxes and deducting expenditure such as spending by ministries on operations and development, plus special transfers, which range from the typical annual handout of GST Credits and Central Provident Fund (CPF) top-ups, to the money forked out for recent initiatives such as the Productivity and Innovation Credit scheme and the Pioneer Generation Package.

[Wow. Four times in Six years sounds scary. But this is insufficient information. What if the budget surplus/deficit for the 6 years were +$10b; -$3b; -$5b; +$12b; - $4b; and -$7b?]

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Big Tent approach to ensuring Singapore's survival

Mar 16, 2015

This essay is adapted from the introduction to the latest book by Kishore Mahbubani, Can Singapore Survive? Published by Straits Times Press, Singapore Press Holdings, it retails for $25 before GST and is available at leading bookstores or from the website www.stpressbooks.com.sg. The writer is dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. 

By Kishore Mahbubani,

For The Straits Times

Let me suggest three concrete ways in which Singapore can increase its chances of survival.

First, Singapore can take the "Big Tent" approach that its founding fathers adopted. Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Dr Goh Keng Swee and Mr S. Rajaratnam were the pioneers of this approach. As Singapore is small, its pool of top talent is naturally also small. Hence, our founding fathers knew that they must be prepared to work with all Singaporeans, even those who had been critical of the PAP and its leaders.

As an undergraduate at the National University of Singapore, I myself had written several articles criticising the Government and its leaders. These included a very strongly worded piece which warned that Mr Lee could be on a "slippery slide to dictatorship". (Those who are interested in witnessing this youthful indiscretion can read this article in Can Singapore Survive?) Even so, Dr Goh offered me a place in the Defence Ministry (which I turned down in another act of folly).

Saturday, March 14, 2015

In China, a Building Frenzy’s Fault Lines (Kaisa)

New York Times


MARCH 13, 2015

As the real estate market in the United States was collapsing in the mid-2000s, Wall Street went in search of new terrain, and found it in China. All across the country, from Beijing to Shenzhen, sprawling housing developments and business districts were popping up, seemingly overnight. Real estate prices were soaring. Western banks, hedge funds, private equity firms and other investors wanted a piece of the action.

Billions poured into Chinese real estate, and big foreign financial firms hunted for the next hit — the small bet that investors could ride to great heights. One of those firms, Credit Suisse, scoured the landscape and in 2007 discovered Kaisa, a relatively small property developer in Shenzhen that mostly bought and rehabilitated distressed properties. Credit Suisse brokered a $300 million investment deal for Kaisa, and two years later, it went public. Its chairman, Guo Yingcheng, posed for photographs on the floor of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange holding a statue of a bull, which seemed to signify hopes for his company’s coming bull run. His colleagues poured Champagne into an ice sculpture of the company’s stock code: 1638.

With the $450 million raised in the initial public offering, Kaisa embarked on an aggressive expansion into 20 more cities. It formed a partnership with Marriott hotels and announced plans to build one of the world’s tallest buildings. Kaisa shares skyrocketed, helping lift the fortunes of its Western patrons, including the Carlyle Group, an American private equity firm.

Then came the fall.

Friday, March 13, 2015

HDB prices, cooling measures and waiting game

MAR 13, 2015 1:21 AM


NATIONAL Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan gave little away on Tuesday when he was quizzed by two Members of Parliament about the lifting of property cooling measures during the scrutiny of his ministry's budget.

In replying to Ms Foo Mee Har and Dr Lily Neo, Mr Khaw was coy. "The property market is in transition and it is a time that calls for vigilance and nimbleness. We will be careful," he said.

He then gave an update on how housing affordability as a whole has improved.

Incomes have grown faster than new Housing Board flat prices. From 2009 to last year, prices of new flats in non-mature estates rose 15 per cent without grants, or just 6 per cent with grants.

In contrast, the median household income rose 38 per cent in the same period. Said Mr Khaw: "We can see that public housing affordability has substantially improved since 2011."

Prices are also well within expectations. A recent HDB survey found that buyers were willing to pay up to $300,000 for a new three-roomer. In fact, 90 per cent of three-roomers booked last year were sold for below $250,000.

The housing situation here today is better not only compared to the past, but also compared to other cities, he said.

He cited two foreign headlines from earlier this year: "Londoners queue overnight in sub-zero temperatures to buy one-bedroom flat for £400,000" - about S$832,000 - in British newspaper The Independent, and "Only 1 in 60 chance to win in Hong Kongers' rush for subsidised flats" in the South China Morning Post.

The £400,000 flat was in a private development. But the same article notes that the average age of a first-time buyer in London is 52, and the average house price is nearing £400,000, 15 times the average full-time annual salary in Britain.

The subsidised public flats in Hong Kong are about the size of two-roomers here but cost over four times more, noted Mr Khaw.

"As far as housing is concerned, young Singaporeans are many times better off than their London or Hong Kong counterparts. This is the reality," he said.

By setting Build-To-Order (BTO) prices, the Government can control affordability in general, said experts. Given the rosy picture of the new flat market today, it seems that Mr Khaw's concerns remain with resale prices instead. Though HDB resale prices have fallen since their peak in 2013, there has been less progress there than on the BTO front.

Mr Khaw compared resale affordability last year with two previous troughs: 2005 and 2009.

From 2009 to last year, resale prices rose 37 per cent. Median household income rose a shade more, by 38 per cent - meaning that resale flats last year were slightly more affordable than in 2009.

But looking further back to 2005, "there is still a gap", he added. Resale prices have risen 87 per cent since then, while household incomes rose only 72 per cent.

Was Mr Khaw implying that he wanted affordability to reach 2005 levels before cooling measures could be relaxed?

Market watchers caution against jumping to that conclusion. Mr Khaw could have cited 2005 simply to show that there remains room for resale prices to fall, without meaning for it to be a target, they said.

In any case, the 2005 affordability levels are not that difficult to reach. Barring significant shocks, that level could well be in sight this year, said OrangeTee manager of research and consultancy Wong Xian Yang. To close the gap which Mr Khaw mentioned, resale prices would have to fall by only 7 to 9 per cent from their current level, he added.

That is because if price levels in 2005 are represented as 100, resale prices are now at 187 and incomes at 172, after their respective rises. To close the gap, resale prices would have to fall to 172 - which is 8 per cent down from 187. Household incomes and resale prices would then have risen by the same amount since 2005: 72 per cent. In other words, affordability today would be the same as it was in 2005.

Moreover, that is assuming zero income growth. If median household incomes rise, say, 3 per cent this year, then resale prices would have to fall by less than 8 per cent - well within experts' predictions that resale prices will fall by 5 to 8 per cent this year.

Resale flats thus seem on track to become as affordable as they were a decade ago.

Whether that should actually be the target is a different question.

R'ST Research director Ong Kah Seng argues that 2005 prices were "depressed", so the higher affordability then might not be representative. "A good benchmark will be flat prices at the moderate level, maybe 2009," he added.

But others do not see a problem, pointing out that Mr Khaw is not aiming to get actual prices down to 2005 levels.

Rather, the overarching aim is to make sure that home price growth does not outstrip income gains.

That seems a reasonable policy, akin to the Government's focus on ensuring that wages grow faster than inflation.

Said OrangeTee's Mr Wong: "Income growth should at least keep pace with resale price growth so that the affordability is always there."

Given that this goal may be achieved within a year, why is there still no sign of cooling measures being lifted?

That's because cooling measures aren't just about affordability, said experts. They are also aimed at curbing speculation in private property and ensuring financial prudence in buyers.

So looking at HDB affordability may not help in predicting when the cooling measures will be lifted.

"As the cooling measures are used to dampen price speculation in the private housing market, the price declines and drops in transaction volume in private markets will be a better signal," said Associate Professor Sing Tien Foo of the National University of Singapore real estate department.

The message on Tuesday was that housing affordability has improved. But that does not necessarily say anything about cooling measures. Market watchers will have to wait a little longer for that answer.

German employers get creative to avoid paying minimum wage

MARCH 13, 2015

BERLIN — From charging slaughterhouse workers for their knives to compensating staff with tanning salon vouchers, German employers are coming up with creative ways to avoid paying a new minimum wage, angering unions.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government introduced Germany’s first nationwide wage floor of 8.50 euros (S$12.48) per hour early this year. The law was the brainchild of the Social Democrats (SPD), who made it a condition of joining Ms Merkel’s coalition in 2013.

The centre-left party argued that it was a necessary response to the sharp rise in low-wage jobs over the past decade. Some 3.7 million people were expected to benefit.

But in the months since it went into effect it has become clear that not everyone is taking home more pay. The NGG food and catering union is fielding up to 400 calls a day from people who say their employers are finding ways to circumvent the law.

“We’re seeing some employers display an awful lot of creativity to get round paying the minimum wage,” Mr Burkhard Siebert of the NGG said.

He said some workers were no longer getting paid for overtime. Others are being charged for drinks and clothing they are required to wear on the job.

Fantasy author Terry Pratchett dies at 66

MARCH 12, 2015

LONDON — Fantasy writer Terry Pratchett, creator of the exuberant, satirical Discworld series and author of more than 70 books, has died. He was 66.

Pratchett, who suffered from a rare form of early onset Alzheimer's disease, had earned wide respect in Britain and beyond with his dignified campaign for the right of critically ill patients to choose assisted suicide.

Transworld Publishers said Pratchett died yesterday (March 12) at his home, "with his cat sleeping on his bed surrounded by his family". The firm said he died of natural causes, from a chest infection combined with the worsening effects of his dementia.

Transworld's managing director Larry Finlay said "the world has lost one of its brightest, sharpest minds".

Prime Minister David Cameron said "his books fired the imagination of millions and he fearlessly campaigned for dementia awareness".

Pratchett's death was also announced on his Twitter account, with a series of tweets that began: "AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER."

It continued: "Terry took Death's arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night."

"The End."

Unexpected Lessons From ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’

[Insightful. Reflective. Interesting.]

FEB. 26, 2015


“A man watches a movie, and the critic must acknowledge that he is that man.” So wrote Robert Warshow, almost exactly 60 years ago, setting down what would become an unofficial motto for the profession. The idea that movies and other forms of popular culture could be subjected to serious critical scrutiny was a new and controversial notion in American intellectual circles at the time, and Warshow wanted to make clear that any such criticism would have to take account of its origins in everyday experience. Wherever your thoughts and judgments might take you, you always start out as a consumer, a member of the audience, a fan.

By now, the idea that criticism starts with what Warshow called “the immediate experience” seems inarguable, at least in principle. Sometimes, though, a critic may watch a movie and wonder, “Man, what am I doing here?” The blithe sexism of Warshow’s formulation is very much to the point here. In our own era, the universalism implicit for Warshow in the words “movies” and “man” can no longer be taken for granted. The entertainment industry does business through careful demographic sorting, dividing its potential public by age, gender, region and race, and hoping to hit as many of those disparate targets as possible. At the same time, members of the public are accustomed to looking at themselves and one another through various lenses of identity, and to spotting the biases and blind spots in what they read.

So a critic may still be — speaking strictly for myself — a man watching a movie, but he doesn’t want to be that guy, the one who either sets himself above the common experience or remains clueless about the different impressions a movie can make. Let me put it another way: I’m still kind of hung up on “Fifty Shades of Grey,” a movie that stirred up all kinds of curious feelings and that continues to exercise a strange power over my innocent mind.