Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Fish oil pills don't add benefit

March 31, 2009

ORLANDO (Florida) - HEART attack patients who are already taking the right medicines to prevent future problems get no added benefit from taking fish oil capsules, a large study in Germany finds.

The study tested a 1-gram daily dose of a prescription version of highly purified omega-3 fatty acid - the 'good fat' contained in certain oily fish that is thought to help the heart.

Researchers led by Dr Jochen Senges of the University of Heidelberg gave fish oil or dummy capsules to more than 3,800 people who had suffered a heart attack in the previous two weeks. About 90 per cent were already receiving all the medicines recommended to prevent a second attack, including aspirin, anti-clotting and cholesterol drugs.

After a year, it made no difference whether these patients took fish oil or dummy capsules. In both groups, fewer than 2 per cent had suffered sudden cardiac death, 4 per cent had another heart attack, and fewer than 2 per cent had suffered a stroke.

If recent heart attack patients are already getting good care, 'there is almost nothing you can do better on top of this' to further lower risk, Dr Senges said. He presented the results on Monday at an American College of Cardiology conference.

The research doesn't mean that fish oil is of no value, and the study didn't address whether it can help prevent heart disease in the first place, doctors said.

The prescription version used in the study, sold as Omacor and Lovaza in the United States and as Zodin in Europe, is a highly purified and standardised form, different from what many consumers buy off the shelf.

Omega-3 fatty acids also are found in wild oily fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines and herring. Scientists think it raises HDL, or good cholesterol, lowers harmful fats called triglycerides and slows the growth of plaque that can clog arteries.

The American Heart Association recommends adults eat fish at least twice a week, said Alice Lichtenstein, a Tufts University nutrition professor and Heart Association spokeswoman. For people with heart disease, the association advises 1 gram of omega-3 a day. -- AP

[Hopefully, this means fish oil pill business will die so Cod will end up on my plate instead of in a pill bottle.]

Burglar trapped in flat

March 31, 2009

By Derrick Ho

A HOUSEBREAKER found himself trapped in the flat he had broken into on Monday, after a building maintenance officer locked him in.

On Sunday, a 19-year-old man was inside a toilet cubicle at Keypoint in Beach Road when he realised his trousers hanging over the door had gone missing.

He shouted for help and was attended to by the building's maintenance officer, identified only as Mr Ho.

When told that the missing trousers contained the youth's wallet and keys, Mr Ho agreed to his request to check on his flat at Block 18 Jalan Sultan.

When Mr Ho, 40, reached the flat, he found the gate ajar and spotted a housebreaker inside.

Mr Ho quickly padlocked the gate and alerted the police.

Police arrived at about 12.38pm and arrested a 47-year-old man.

The suspect will be charged on Tuesday with theft and housebreaking. If convicted, he faces a jail term of up to 10 years.

[Cool story. :-) ]

Monday, March 30, 2009

Condoms necessary: Bishop

March 30, 2009

LISBON (Portugal) - A PORTUGUESE bishop has said that people with AIDS must use condoms to prevent the spread of the disease, apparently contradicting Pope Benedict XVI, who said the distribution of condoms could endanger public health.

Speaking to journalists, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Porto Manuel Clemente said condoms in such cases are 'not only recommendable, they can be ethically obligatory.'

On a trip to Africa earlier this month, the pope told reporters, 'You can't solve (the AIDS crisis) with the distribution of condoms,' adding, 'On the contrary, it increases the problem.' The Vatican insists AIDS should be controlled by changing people's behaviour.

'The great solution to the AIDS problem, like any other problem, has to be behavioural,' Bishop Clemente said.

However, AIDS sufferers 'have a moral obligation to prevent and not provoke the illness,' he said at a monument unveiling in the port city Sunday.

Bishop Clemente is the second Portuguese cleric to contradict Pope Benedict XVI. Armed Forces bishop Januario Torgal Ferreira said a week ago that to ban condom use was equivalent to consenting to the death of many people.

He added that the people giving the pope advice 'should be more learned.' The pope's comments have also come in for heavy criticism by the governments of France, Germany, the UN agency charged with combating AIDS and renowned medical journal Lancet. -- AP

[Good to hear some commonsense. Yes, doctrine and dogma has to be served and preserved. AIDS sufferers have an obligation to prevent spreading the disease. This is still a partial concession, as the plan is for condom use even if you don't know that you have AIDS.]

Reforming sex offenders

March 30, 2009

Prison programme prevents repeat crimes by those likely to re-offend

By Teh Joo Lin & Kimberly Spykerman

BALA Kuppusamy, now 48, was first jailed in 1987 for rape and other offences. He was out five years later, but within 45 days, he was back at it.

During his second, much-longer jail term, he was put through a treatment programme designed for sex convicts likely to re-offend.

But he committed sexual assault after his second release in March last year - and this time, he held out for just 41 days.

Now hit with a 42-year term, he is so far the only known offender on whom the Singapore Prison Service's programme has failed to work.

Inside prison

The programme tailored for sex offenders began in 2001.

The Prisons' head of psychological services, Mr Timothy Leo, 48, explained that not all convicted sex offenders are put through the programme.

They have to first be assessed on factors that shape their likelihood to re-offend, such as how deviant their sexual habits are, their attitudes towards sex offences, and their history.

Those assessed to be at 'moderate' or 'high' risk of re-offending are put through the programme. Those at high risk go through a more intensive version lasting six to eight months, and involving group discussions; those in the 'moderate' group undergo a workbook-based course for about four months.

Mr Leo describes the approach as 'scientific', that is, evidence-based - 'what works rather than what seems nice or faddish'.

The programme helps sex offenders learn about the way they think and how their actions flow from this. An awareness of this process is supposed to help them choose not to commit sex offences when the urge arises again.

In the first stage of the three-stage course, inmates learn to defeat the secrecy, shame and denial surrounding their acts and to 'own up' to what they did.

Mr Leo said not all offenders deny what they have done, though they do tend to talk it down.

For example, they come up with excuses for their actions, such as by saying they were drunk when they committed the offences; others convince themselves that it was their victims' fault.

In the second stage of the programme, the inmates break up their thought processes in the run-up to their sex crimes into 'little bits', so their 'thinking errors' can be identified and addressed.

For example, some offenders believe their victims 'asked for it' by dressing provocatively; others are blind to their victims as fellow human beings, and choose instead to see them merely as objects.

This part of the programme thus teaches them empathy, that is, to realise that their victims are 'more than just a face', said Mr Leo.

In the final stage, inmates develop a 'relapse prevention plan' for themselves.

By this time, they would have found out how they think and what they believe in, and so are in a position to choose the right thing to do.

'We don't adopt a view that people don't have control over what they do. This works on the view that people have choices they can make,' added Mr Leo.

The Prisons declined to say how many sex offenders go through the programme each year, but the police caught 816 sex offenders for molestation and rape last year, a dip from 855 the year before.

Mr Leo said the programme has worked well so far: Between 2001 and 2006, no sex offender who underwent it committed sexual offences within two years of his release.

Bala is not included in these figures as he was released only last year.

Among sex offenders deemed low risk and exempted from the programme, the relapse rate was 6.9 per cent within two years of release.

Asked whether low-risk offenders should undergo the programme, Mr Leo said existing research did not prove conclusively that this would significantly lower their chances of re-offending.

At the moment, such offenders are given religious counselling and offered jobs within prison, among other schemes.

Among the offenders who do go through the programme, there is still a chance they will re-offend - successful though the programme may seem to be.

Bala is a case in point. The Prisons and the police noted in a joint statement that whether a former offender falls back into his bad old ways also depends on how motivated he is about turning over a new leaf, and the amount of support he gets from his family and community upon his release.

Outside prison

When Bala came out, he was neither electronically tagged nor getting psychological treatment. He was also not signed on with any support group.

His family members said they were aware help was available outside prison, but did not seek it as they believed he had reformed.

But signs were there that Bala's attitude towards women had not changed. His 34-year-old nephew, who wanted to be known only as Joe, said that several times, his uncle pointed at women on the street and derided them for 'tempting' him by their manner of dress.

His tendency towards violence also seemed undampened. Several times, he told Joe about how easy it was to just shove women, grab their purses and run.

Such remarks triggered no alarm bells among his family members, who believed he was still re-adjusting to life outside prison and needed time to recover at his own pace. So they just let him be.

Bala got a job as a cleaner in Suntec City, and insisted on turning over his entire $900 salary to his sister, with whom he lived following his release.

That he re-offended so soon after his release - not once, but twice - begs the question of what more can be done to follow up on the Prisons' programme.

Psychiatrists interviewed called for other specialised programmes to support sex offenders after their release.

Dr Munidasa Winslow, who worked at the Institute of Mental Health for 20 years and is now a consultant psychiatrist at Raffles Hospital, explained that the prison environment is 'artificial', with none of the outside world's distractions, such as television and the Internet.

A 1997 study of sex-offender treatment programmes in Canada showed that for rehabilitation to be successful, communities and treatment centres must be prepared to follow up on the offender's progress, either with formal programmes or informally through group support and peer counselling.

Help is available here in the form of counselling and support services, but no coordinated care network exists for the rehabilitation of sex offenders.

The director of the Singapore After-Care Association, Mr Prem Kumar, 40, said the help now available is insufficient to meet the needs of former offenders freed by the Prisons every year.

When resources fall short, needs have to be prioritised, he said. For now, resources are going into less challenging areas, for example, dealing with the needs of, say, first-time offenders, rather than serial offenders who may be battling addictive behaviours.

Programme director Marjorie Nixon of We Care Community Services, which helps people with addictions such as sex addiction, said that often, too much emphasis is put on finding jobs for these former offenders - when they are ill-prepared for the stress and challenges of the workplace.

'There is this belief that if we can just get them a job, they are going to be fine, but it's not true. The reintegration process is difficult, so one tends to fall back into what one did because the behavioural triggers are going to be there.'

One former offender, who was fined $40,000 last year for possessing uncensored and obscene material, can attest to the need for a 'more socially accepting climate' where help is available so he will not re-offend.

Declining to be named, he said his crime was the result of an addiction, and that he masturbated regularly. He knew he had a problem but did not know where to go for help.

'No one in my circle gave me the impression that I could comfortably approach them on such issues. There was always so much shame and condemnation regarding such things,' he said.

He lasted only two weeks in an online programme called 'Setting Captives Free' before he found a rehabilitation programme, which he believes is giving him the support and treatment he needs.

[The insight from a practitioner is informative. It's not as simple as just get him a job. That in itself may cause stress.]

Sunday, March 29, 2009

S-Reits face worst crisis

March 28, 2009

After astonishing growth, overall value of units plunges 60 per cent

By Jessica Cheam

SINGAPORE real estate investment trusts (Reits) are facing their worst crisis since they entered the market eight years ago and became wildly popular.

Property experts are confident Reits here, known collectively as S-Reits, will survive the global economic turmoil, but they warn some might fail along the way as the industry consolidates.

'S-Reits have been undergoing the most challenging and difficult times since their inception,' said property giant City Developments' group general manager, Mr Chia Ngiang Hong.

Reits are listed on the stock exchange. They own a property portfolio - shopping malls, for instance - and make regular payments to unit-holders.

Investors piled into Reits, attracted by the reliability of payments and the good yields. Reits grew at an astonishing rate - their combined market value hit $33.5billion in June 2007 from just $740million in 2003, Mr Chia noted.

However, the global crisis and tight credit markets have contributed to a market free-fall for Reits.

Overall, the value of Reit units has plunged by about 60per cent, said National University of Singapore (NUS) provost Tan Eng Chye.

Both Mr Chia and Professor Tan were speaking at the NUS Department of Real Estate's public forum on S-Reits yesterday.

Refinancing and recapitalisation risks are the darkest clouds hanging over the industry, said the real estate department's Associate Professor Sing Tien Foo.

An estimated $4.6billion in S-Reit debt is due to be refinanced this year. Another $12billion is due next year, he said.

The weak financial markets and elevated risks among lenders have made it difficult to get financing.

Given their structure, Reits are heavily dependent on capital markets, said Moody's senior analyst Kathleen Lee.

The industry will see a wave of consolidation, and smaller Reits are at greater risk of having refinancing issues.

Some here may even go under, she added, citing a case in Japan where New City Residence Reit sought court protection late last year with US$1.1billion (S$1.6billion) in debt.

Moody's, along with other rating agencies, has in recent months downgraded the credit ratings of many S-Reits.

One scenario that might emerge from this crisis could be firms with the 'smart money' acquiring weaker Reits and taking them private, said Mr Philip Levinson of the Asian Public Real Estate Association.

The association last month asked the Government to help Reits refinance an estimated $12 billion of debt.

It was reported that one request was to lower the minimum investor payout ratio that Reits must meet to qualify for tax transparency treatment - from the current 90per cent to as low as 50per cent.

This has since been rejected by the authorities, on the grounds that the characteristics of Reits as a stable, high-payout, pass-through vehicle are important considerations for investors.

At the panel discussion yesterday, rights issues also came under fire.

CapitaMall Trust had recently issued units at a hefty discount to market price, drawing criticism that this was an expensive source of capital to refinance debts.

Ms Lee said even though this is true, a rights issue is an available option to raise cash and will be the 'only way to go' for some as a matter of survival.

She added that besides refinancing risks, Reits are also rated on their portfolio diversity, quality of assets and track records of its management.

Guest speaker James Shilling, an established real estate academic from DePaul University in the United States, told the 150-strong forum audience that despite the current weak performance of Reits, he believed 'Reits are here to stay' and will experience growth in the long term.

In the meantime, Reits are in for a tough and volatile time ahead.

'When the volatility index comes down, investors will come back and that's when things will start turning a corner,' he said.

Ms Lee added that she believed the recovery will be a 'lazy L-shaped' one, where it will take some time before the market recovers fully.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

An unneighbourly Indonesia is hurting only itself

March 28, 2009

By Patrick Guntensperger

INDONESIA and Singapore engaged in protracted negotiations to arrive at a mutually satisfactory Defence Co-operation Agreement and a parallel extradition treaty. The two nations reached an accommodation and, in 2007, the agreements were signed.

The Indonesian House of Representatives, however, savaged the agreements, declaring that they somehow compromised Indonesian security, and as a result the treaties were never implemented. The Indonesian government then went back to the Singaporean negotiators insisting on a series of substantive changes, all favourable to Indonesia. Singapore quite reasonably refused, since there were already negotiated agreements.

Now Indonesian Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono has weighed in with his views on the issue. On March 19, he was quoted as saying: 'Singapore doesn't want this extradition arrangement because it would have to return money from corrupt individuals who ran from Indonesia, along with the hot money it gets from other countries.'

Disregarding for a moment his astonishing lack of diplomacy and his frankly insulting tone, Mr Juwono might consider for a moment the fact that Singapore has every reason to 'set aside the issues for the time being', as Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo put it.

While it is likely that Singapore is somewhat reluctant to turn over vast amounts of cash pilfered by corrupt Indonesians and deposited in accounts in Singapore, is Mr Juwono seriously suggesting that is the country's sole or even primary reason for refusing to renegotiate a deal that took years to finalise?

Perhaps Mr Juwono ought to consider the obvious fact that since any agreement reached with Indonesia may simply be reneged and new terms demanded, there is little point in pursuing any negotiations. Why would Singapore, given this history, want to sit down at the table with Indonesian representatives and try to make any deal at all?

Another issue that might have some influence on Singapore's reluctance to hand over still more concessions to Indonesia is the nature of extradition treaties. Since all negotiations (in theory, at least) involve some give and take, Singapore must quite reasonably be asking what it would gain from an extradition treaty with Indonesia. It's obvious what Indonesia would gain. There would be the possibility of repatriating some of the billions of dollars stolen by Indonesians from Indonesia and poured into banks and investment vehicles in Singapore. But what's in it for Singapore?

Extradition treaties, under the best of circumstances, are difficult to work out. Even countries that are similar culturally and with similar legal systems find extradition law difficult to adjudicate.

Canada and the United States, for example, have similar cultural and legal systems but are frequently at odds with one another over extradition. Since Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976, it won't extradite murder suspects to the US, which still has the death penalty.

Nevertheless, extraditions for lesser crimes occur on a nearly daily basis. This is because each country respects the integrity of the other's judicial system. If someone is tried in either country, the other assumes that the trial was fair, just and impartial. That kind of trust is a vital component of any extradition treaty.

Indonesia's judicial system, however, is perceived as being one of the three most corrupt institutions in the country. The police are also among the top three most corrupt. And the third? The House of Representatives - the very same group that squashed the treaty after five years of negotiation had finally led to a deal.

The Indonesian government must recognise that when working on an international agreement that is beneficial to Indonesia, but not particularly significant to anyone else, we are not dealing from a position of strength. It would be wise to acknowledge that we need the deal; Singapore doesn't.

Mr Juwono, normally a thoughtful and moderate politician, should realise that Singapore has every reason not to trust Indonesia at the moment. By making statements like the one he did this week, he erodes that relationship even further.

Moreover, honourable members of the House of Representatives would be well advised to realise that reneging on signed agreements destroys the trust that is an essential element in any successful negotiation. If the House is going to undermine the reputation of Indonesia's diplomats, it ought to be for a very good reason indeed. Flexing its muscles and squashing agreements just because it can, isn't sufficient.

The Jakarta-based writer is a teacher of journalism and communications. This article was first published in Jakarta Globe on March 24.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Dense Cities

March 25, 2009

Pack them in, build them up

A 6.5m population is fine. Dense cities thrive by attracting smart people

By Tan Hui Yee

IF YOU feel uneasy about the fact that Singapore is gearing up for a population of 6.5 million, Professor Edward Glaeser has this to say: You've nothing to worry about.

'Density is underrated and undervalued and the pleasures of density are in fact quite remarkable,' he declares.

'Living with 6.5 million people doesn't mean you necessarily have less private living space. There is absolutely nothing unhealthy about having lots of tall skyscrapers and people walking around between them. Not only is it good urban policy, it is a good environmental policy as well.'

If urban density ever needed a salesman, it would be Prof Glaeser.

The 41-year-old economist at Harvard University made his name studying what made cities tick.

In Singapore earlier this month to give a talk at the Civil Service College, he stressed that cities survive and thrive by constantly reinventing themselves, which is only possible if there are enough 'smart people' present to generate a creative buzz.

His view is shared by urban theorist Richard Florida, who famously argued that a 'creative class' of talented professionals flocks to vibrant global cities for work and lifestyle opportunities and in turn contributes to their growth.

Except, both men differ on what constitutes talent.

Dr Florida's idea of a skilled worker, Prof Glaeser says half in jest, 'is a 28- year-old who wears a black turtleneck' and frequents coffee houses.

'My model of a skilled worker is that 42-year-old biotechnology worker who has a husband and two kids and is trying to live a decent life.

'Those lead you to very different views of what the fight for talent is all about. Florida thinks you need a lot of coffee houses, and I think you need good schools and safe streets and fast commutes. And I'm pretty sure I'm right.'

If he is, Singapore - seen as clean, safe and sterile - is in a good position.

Cities, he says, need the right kind of buzz to bring them forward. 'The things that people define as what makes a city buzz, a lot of them have to do with public spaces and restaurants and bars and cafes. But I don't think it's at the heart of what makes cities well-functioning and successful. It's a mistake to think that the buzz is just the number of pages that you read in Time Out magazine.'

Take the buzzing research triangle in North Carolina in the United States, home to companies like IBM Corporation.

'It may not be the hippest area to spend a Saturday night but there sure is a heck of lot of new innovations going on. A lot of Silicon Valley is pretty boring from the perspective of an urban hipster. But in terms of what really matters, there's a lot of buzz there.'

To maintain what he refers to as an intellectual edge, he says Singapore needs to constantly expose itself to cutting- edge ideas and have a sizeable pool of skilled workers.

Asked what skills are valued in the context of recurring discussions over the value of an arts degree versus a science degree here, he says: 'Studying Shakespeare does not make up for innumeracy. It certainly does enrich our lives. The more prosperous a country is, the larger the role of arts.'

He points out that a recent study on the effect of mandated science and maths curricula in American schools found that they improved the earnings of the less advantaged significantly. 'It suggests that forcing the school to teach maths and science ended up being very good for them.'

The arts, he says, is 'a bit of a luxury good'. 'If you told people of my great- grandfather's generation that a thriving arts scene was going to determine which city you were going to go to, they would have thought you were mad.

''Can I put bread on the table?' and 'Would we be shot?' - those would have been the primary issues that would have driven people two generations ago.'

A small country like Singapore, with a four million population, he says, need not worry that its size will disqualify it from the big league as long as it has enough quality and diverse talent.

'The question is more an issue of the high human capital people you have, how many potential entrepreneurs you have, how much diversity there is, rather than the actual body count. You can add on an extra five million unskilled labour and it is not going to make a difference to your ability to innovate.'

But primarily, he maintains that cities should serve people's needs rather than exist for their own sake.

In 2005, he wrote an article against the rebuilding of New Orleans after it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, saying that its residents were better off getting money to rebuild their lives elsewhere if they wished. The city, he said, had been declining way before the hurricane hit, and it was not doing a good job of looking after its poor residents either.

Putting people first means getting rid of unnecessary rules that make business and housing unaffordable. From his studies of New York and Boston over the past 30 to 40 years, he contends that the cities' recent surge in home prices is more a result of tightening building regulations, rather than anything else.

Logically, if there is enough supply of homes, housing prices will converge around the cost of building that next floor up. In places where land is scarce - like Singapore - height restrictions act as a dampener on housing supply.

Although the demand for housing reflects the attractiveness of a city, its ability to produce enough affordable housing to meet that demand is 'a sign of urban health'. He notes in some parts of the US, 'it feels as if every neighbour has gotten the right to say no to every project'. In suburbs, it is all about zoning and minimum lot size. In cities, it is about maximum heights.

He is quick to admit that his model applies to cities where housing is supplied by the market. The fact that more than 80 per cent of Singaporeans live in public housing makes it trickier to apply here, but he ventures: 'I think you want to think of how well you are delivering pleasant affordable housing. The Government has played such a heavy role in housing, not inappropriately so, that I think the ability of the private sector to deliver cheap affordable housing is potentially not as strong as it could be.'

Not only does density make housing affordable, he says it is also sustainable. 'Crowding more people on less land is fundamentally good for the environment. Partly because people have lower transportation costs, live in smaller homes, and use less energy.'

A 2008 US study he did found that the carbon footprint of the people who choose to live 'close to nature', surrounded by woods or lawns, was higher than that of city folk. 'If you want to be good to the environment, stay away from it,' he advocates.

Density is also exciting. 'Chicago's lakefront has grown and strengthened the city. The high-rise buildings in Boston have been associated with an increasing vitality in that city's downtown. Philadelphia only recently broke its height restriction, and the high rises there have been able to support more stores and night life.'

If he had it his way, all cities would be planned around actual human dynamics rather than according to preconceived notions of what they should look like.

During his walks around Singapore, he noted that its hot, humid climate keeps people off the streets in the day.

'There's a huge amount of pedestrian traffic but it's indoors. It's all in the air- conditioned malls, which is really where the street life is. That means connections between those malls are actually what city planning needs,' he prescribes.

Still, by any standard, Singapore has a lot going for it. 'The density levels are remarkable...if you love the ability of cities to bring people together and experience a collective world, there's a lot to admire there.'


March 27, 2009

Thriving density? Be wary of potential pitfalls

I REFER to the report on Wednesday, 'Pack them in, build them up'. Professor Edward Glaeser of Harvard University suggests that a population of 6.5 million in a densely built-up city could give Singapore a thriving density attractive to 'smart people' who would generate new jobs and a 'creative buzz'. In turn, this buzz would spur new growth, making Singapore an even better place to live and work, for natives and foreigners alike.

On this rosy feedback cycle, seemingly loaded with an infinite chain of goods, I suggest caution: Beware of possible pitfalls of this model.

The first lies in the possibility of overcrowding. Beyond the obvious speculations of ever more crowded hawker centres, trains and roads, a thriving density cannot be automatically assumed, even with a 6.5 million population on an island as small as Singapore. A thriving density must be deliberately encouraged and designed, or it will turn into overcrowding. A thriving density is the result of people interacting with other people, people wanting to interact with other people; while overcrowding is by default, people brushing by other people.

A thriving density fosters social understanding and productive interaction, culminating in greater social solidarity. On the other hand, overcrowding exacerbates alienation and unproductive competitiveness, consequently turning into open conflict.

Common sense tells us that, while skyscrapers may provide the vertical solution to the problem of overcrowding, they are least ideal to foster a thriving density, since vertical use of skyscrapers via elevators tends to compartmentalise lives, minimise social interaction and reduce chance meetings.

The second pitfall lies in the unqualified emphasis on 'smart people'. No one would deny that Bernard Madoff or the many Wall Street financial wizards who have exacerbated the current financial crisis are 'smart people', or part of the creative class. Yet 'smartness' or creativity without morality, scruples or responsibility - as the current crisis has demonstrated - is a liability rather than a benefit to society.

From what is happening in the world today, being satisfied with a mere 'creative buzz' is likely to alarm many, while trying to foster a 'moral creative buzz' is likely to reassure, and intuitively attract post-financial crisis workers, investors and citizens.

This model of a densely built up, creative city growing on its own dynamics is nevertheless very seductive. But as with any other model to be pursued on a practical level, one should be wary of its potential pitfalls.

Jeffrey Chan

[I take two issues with this forum letter.

'No one will deny that Bernard Madoff and (others)... are "Smart People"'

I would disagree that Madoff was smart. He had no exit strategy. Cheating does not require smarts. just audacity. Pretending to create value and actually creating value are two different things. One just requires the ability to lie. The other requires ability.

The other reason I included this letter is the argument that skyscrapers or highrise living dampens social interaction. Or is not conducive to social interaction. That is probably very true. It is the common space or shared space that leads to interaction. See this online comment:]

Has the professor stayed in a 2 bed room Hong Kong apartment of 350 sq. ft.?

The master bed-room is able to accommodate a 4ft wide "queen" bed and a 2 door wardrobe with barely enough space to walk. The second room is exactly the size of two single beds. You can touch the opposite walls of the kitchen with outstretched hands.

Some apartment blocks are so close to each other that you can touch them with a bamboo pole.

Staying in such an apartment will make you realise why Hong Kong has such a vibrant night life? Hong Kongers youth only go home to sleep and spend the evenings in shopping centers, restuarants etc.

I don't want this kind of life because you are tired everyday and spend your income on "enforced entertainment".

Posted by: hubhubhub at Fri Mar 27 12:52:07 SGT 2009

[The next article is an example of forum replies that don't read original articles properly and fill in the blanks with their own assumptions.]

March 27, 2009

Who wants a densely packed Singapore?

I REFER to Wednesday's article, 'Pack them in, build them up'.

I am both shocked and dismayed by Professor Edward Glaeser's short-sighted and highly flawed opinion that a population of 6.5 million would be essentially beneficial for Singapore. His notion that there is nothing unhealthy about living in skyscrapers does not take into consideration the many Singaporeans who wish Singapore would lose its tag as a concrete jungle and focus on creating a city with more 'green spaces'.

[So who's calling Singapore a "concrete jungle"? If anything, we're called "Garden City" or "City in a Garden". Compare Singapore with other cities and then it becomes clear what is a "concrete jungle".]

He also welcomes the addition of more 'smart people', whom he defined as a typical man in his 40s with children, without considering whether these individuals would be able to assimilate into Singapore culture with no accompanying problems which are already plaguing many immigrants here.

[First two mistake. Glaeser's "skilled worker" (he didn't say "smart people") is a 42-yr-old biotech worker with a HUSBAND. So no. It's not a typical MAN.]

He also mentioned that a city with high density would also serve people's needs but he has conveniently forgotten that the basic human need of privacy, comfort and space would be severely compromised in public spaces if the population hit 6.5 million.

As it is, many of my peers have expressed a sincere wish to emigrate, not because of the high cost of living or the stressful lifestyle. It is primarily because they are appalled by how Singapore has been transformed into a city where it is difficult to find a seat on the MRT on a weekday afternoon, or seek peace and solace even in the suburbs, when Sembawang Mall is now as crowded as Plaza Singapura. Homes are getting smaller and more expensive, and people feel blessed to secure a seat in a foodcourt at any time of the day.

Prof Glaeser also claimed that packing individuals close together in smaller homes would reduce transport costs and energy usage, but this is overly simplistic and short-sighted. There is every possibility that smaller homes may use more energy if more time is spent on home entertainment.

[Third error. Glaeser talked about packing more people on less LAND. Nothing about smaller homes. Here the writer is filling in the blanks with his (or her - Robin could be a man or woman's name) own preconceptions or concerns. Theoretically, the same size unit built to more floors would increase density, without need to decrease size per unit. Unit size decrease when land costs increases while height restrictions are in place. Then it becomes necessary to shrink unit size to affordable ranges. Also as lifestyle changes, less space is required. And people are willing to make do with smaller units.]

Prof Glaeser's view that a city with high population density would reduce transport cost is also problematic as recent research shows that individuals living in residential zones which are overly crowded have a higher tendency to travel out of their residential area to seek leisure arenas that are 'less congested' and where they are 'less scrutinised' than in flats built in close proximity to each other.

[Doesn't say which research or on what city or the context or the circumstances. But even if true, the frequency of a daily commute from suburbia to the city to work would mean more costs than living in the city and going off to the suburbs on the weekends for recreation. In other words if you need to go to the office 5 days a week, and the golf course 1 day a week, where should you be living closer to? Does it make more sense to live within walking distance of your office or your golf course? If you say golf course, you have your priorities wrong... unless you are a professional golfer.]

Prof Glaeser's comments are certainly not representative of most Singaporeans who seriously wish for a less crowded living environment.

Robin Chee

[I personally think Orchard and the shopping districts are just too crowded. So i avoid those places. I haven't been to an IT/PC/COMEX/SITEX for over a year as I detest the crowds. But apparently thousands of Singaporeans don't mind. So I'm not sure that while Singaporeans may voice their preference of open spaces, they would really want that. There is a cost to a smaller population in terms of convenience. In less dense cities, public transport is less frequent (tho less crowded). You may do more walking. Or else you'd buy a car, or a bike. If Singaporeans want less crowded places, they won't be rushing down to Orchard, Suntec, Vivocity and their heartland malls.]

Man dies after bottle mishap

March 26, 2009

A SINGAPOREAN died of heart failure after his genital became stuck in a soft drink bottle, reported Sin Chew Daily and China Press.

The incident happened when the 77-year-old man used the bottle to engage in a sexual activity.

China Press reported that the senior citizen got his private part into the bottle and only sought help after his genital could not be dislodged from the bottle despite trying various ways.

Doctors tried to alleviate the man's suffering by cutting the bottle below the neck but to no avail because by that time. An inflammation later set in causing him to be unable to urinate.

His misadventure later led to other medical complications causing his death. -- THE STAR/ANN

[Never use coke or other soft drink bottles! They are too narrow! Snapple bottles are safer!]

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Whales die after rebeaching

March 26, 2009

SYDNEY - SIX whales that got stranded in southwest Australia just a day after being rescued from another beach have died, a conservation official said Thursday. Veterinarians shot three of them, while the others died naturally.

The six long-finned pilot whales that died on Wednesday were part of a pod of 10 that rescuers guided back out to sea on Tuesday.

But less than a day later, surveillance aircraft spotted the six on a beach about four miles (six kilometres) away from where they had been released. Two were already dead and one died while environment officials and veterinarians were on the way to the area.

Veterinarians shot the remaining three surviving animals because they were in such poor condition. The whales were too large for lethal injections.

'It's obviously disappointing,' Western Australia state conservation department officer Aminya Ennis said. 'But we understand that (the whales getting stranded again) was always a possibility.' The other four whales from the pod of 10 are believed to be still at sea. The department would continue to monitor the coast and the ocean to verify their safety.

The whales were part of a group of about 90 whales and five bottlenose dolphins that became stranded on a beach in Western Australia state early Monday.

Most of the animals died, but rescuers were able to push four dolphins and four whales out to sea at the stranding site and truck 10 surviving whales overland to deeper waters Tuesday. -- AP

[So how come whales don't beach on Japanese shores? Or maybe they do... but the evidence gets eaten.]

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Divided over anti-Hillary movie

March 25, 2009

WASHINGTON - THE US Supreme Court appeared divided on Tuesday over a challenge to a campaign finance law by a conservative group in a case that could open the door to fewer restrictions on political advertising.

The group, Citizens United, released a 90-minute documentary film 'Hillary: The Movie' in January 2008 when Hillary Clinton, then a New York senator, was running for president. She now is secretary of state in President Barack Obama's administration.

Citizens United released the movie to theaters and for store sales on DVD. The group also wanted to broadcast the movie on cable television video-on-demand but that was rejected by a federal court.

The court ruled the movie clearly was intended to influence people to vote against Mrs Clinton and thus was covered by the campaign finance law's ban on the airing of ads or 'electioneering communications' right before an election.

The Supreme Court, with a 5-4 conservative majority, appeared divided while hearing arguments in the case.

A ruling in the case is expected by the end of June. The impact could depend on how broadly or narrowly the court rules on the question of political advertising. -- REUTERS

[Laws against political films? Hey, I thought it only happens in Singapore?]

Monday, March 23, 2009

Act like adults, please

March 23, 2009

By Thomas L. Friedman

I RAN into an Indian businessman friend last week and he said something to me that really struck a chord: 'This is the first time I've ever visited the United States when I feel like you're acting like an immature democracy.'

You know what he meant: We're in a once-a-century financial crisis, and yet Americans have actually descended into politics worse than usual. There don't seem to be any adults at the top - nobody acting larger than the moment, nobody being impelled by anything deeper than the last news cycle. Instead, Congress is slapping together punitive tax laws overnight like some Banana Republic, the President is getting in trouble cracking jokes on Jay Leno comparing his bowling skills to a Special Olympian, and the opposition party is behaving as if its only priority is to deflate President Barack Obama's popularity.

I saw Mr Eric Cantor, a Republican House leader, on CNBC the other day, and the entire interview consisted of him trying to exploit the AIG situation for partisan gain without one constructive thought. I just kept staring at him and thinking: 'Do you not have kids? Do you not have a pension that you're worried about? Do you live in some gated community where all the banks will be okay, even if the biggest banks go under? Do you think your party automatically wins if the country loses? What are you thinking?'

If you want to guarantee that America becomes a mediocre nation, then just keep vilifying every public figure struggling to find a way out of this crisis who stumbles once - like Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner or AIG's US$1-a-year (S$1.50-a-year) fill-in CEO, Mr Ed Liddy - and you'll ensure that no capable person enlists in government.

You will ensure that every bank that has taken public money will try to get rid of it as fast it can, so as not to come under scrutiny, even though that would weaken their balance sheets and make them less able to lend money. And you will ensure that we'll never get out of this banking crisis, because the solution depends on getting private money funds to team up with the government to buy up toxic assets - and fund managers are growing terrified of any collaboration with government.

President Obama missed a huge teaching opportunity with AIG. Those bonuses were an outrage. The public's anger was justified. But rather than fanning those flames and letting Congress run riot, the President should have said: 'I'll handle this.'

He should have gone on national TV and had the fireside chat with the country that is long overdue. That's a talk where he lays out exactly how deep the crisis we are in is, exactly how much sacrifice we're all going to have to make to get out of it, and then calls on those AIG brokers - and everyone else who may have gotten bonuses they did not deserve - and tells them that their President is asking them to return their bonuses 'for the sake of the country'.

Had Mr Obama given AIG's American brokers a reputation to live up to, a great national mission to join, I'd bet anything we'd have gotten most of the money back voluntarily. Inspiring conduct has so much more of an impact than coercing it. And it would have elevated the President to where he belongs - above the angry gaggle in Congress.

'There is nothing more powerful than inspirational leadership that unleashes principled behaviour for a great cause,' said Mr Dov Seidman, the CEO of LRN, which helps companies build ethical cultures, and the author of the book How. What makes a company or a government 'sustainable', he added, is not when it adds more coercive rules and regulations to control behaviours. 'It is when its employees or citizens are propelled by values and principles to do the right things, no matter how difficult the situation,' said Mr Seidman. 'Laws tell you what you can do. Values inspire in you what you should do. It's a leader's job to inspire in us those values.'

Right now, we have an absence of inspirational leadership. From business, we hear about institutions too big to fail - no matter how reckless. From bankers, we hear about contracts too sacred to break - no matter how inappropriate. And from our immature elected officials, we hear about how it was all 'the other guy's fault'. I've never talked to more people in one week who told me: 'You know, I listen to the news, and I get really depressed.'

Well, help may finally be on the way: One reason we've been sidetracked talking about bonuses is because the big issue - the real issue - the President's comprehensive plan to remove the toxic assets from ailing banks, which is the key to US economic recovery, has taken a long time to hammer out. So all kinds of lesser issues and clowns have ballooned in importance and only confused people in the vacuum. Hopefully, that plan will be out today, and hopefully the President will pull the country together behind it, and hopefully the lawmakers who have to approve it will remember that this is not a time for politics as usual - and that the United States, alas, is not too big to fail. Hopefully...


Hypocrisy in 'tax haven' rules

March 23, 2009

Europe targeted offshore banking to divert eyes from actual crisis

By Jonathan Eyal

THEIR economies are in deep trouble and their popularity is in free-fall, but the leaders of Germany, France and Britain can at least claim one triumph: earlier this week, they succeeded in forcing most of the world's offshore financial centres into abandoning their age-old traditions of banking confidentiality.

In quick succession, places as diverse as Switzerland and Singapore, Bermuda and Monaco, have announced that they will comply with new international rules which call for a more transparent exchange of information about money deposited in their banks and the identity of the depositors.

In Europe, this is portrayed as a major achievement. For, as German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck - who led the attack against offshore financial centres - frequently points out, these are just 'tax havens' where rich people hide their ill-gotten gains.

Exposing such tax cheats by lifting the shield of banking secrecy, it is argued, is a moral imperative: nobody should be allowed to escape paying taxes, and people who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear either.

But the reality is quite different. Europe's offensive against offshore financial centres is a cheap populist measure designed to deflect voters' attention from the current financial crisis.

It will do little to improve tax collection around the world. But it may wreck the livelihood of smaller nations and, ultimately, render everyone poorer.

European politicians conveniently forget the origins of offshore financial centres. Switzerland - by far the biggest in this business - offered international banking services for centuries. And the Swiss thrived not by attracting money from crooks but, rather, by earning the confidence of law-abiding individuals.

At a time when the rest of Europe was constantly embroiled in warfare and when private property was frequently nationalised or just stolen, the Swiss remained an oasis of stability, a place where one's assets were secure.

The current Swiss bank secrecy legislation was enacted during the 1930s, in order to prevent agents of Nazi Germany from snooping on people.

So, parking one's money offshore is often a reflection of the uncertainties back home.

Nor is banking secrecy simply a smokescreen for tax evasion. Confidentiality is one of the core principles for banks everywhere, not because people have something to hide but because they wish to keep their financial affairs to themselves.

There is no question that Swiss banks occasionally broke the law. The Union Bank of Switzerland - the world's largest wealth management firm - recently admitted that it helped some of its American customers to evade US taxes. This provided the excuse for European governments to launch their offensive.

Nevertheless, the attack on the world's offshore financial centres remains both hypocritical and wrong.

First, not all such centres are the same. Although many countries have emulated the Swiss banking model, each one operates a different legal regime.

Mr Angel Gurria, who heads the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, readily admits that Singapore or Hong Kong cannot be lumped together with European 'tax havens'. But lumped together they sometimes are: all were threatened with unspecified sanctions if they do not comply with demands to supply information.

Nor is the real battle about identifying tax evaders, but about forcing offshore financial centres to supply details on demand, about anyone.

The US government has presented a list of no fewer than 52,000 American citizens who allegedly have bank accounts in Switzerland. And the Germans have gone even further, by stealing banking records from Liechtenstein, a neighbouring independent state. Since offshore financial centres are often small and vulnerable, their sovereignty is, apparently, dispensable.

And meanwhile, hypocrisy rules the day. The biggest tax haven is not actually Switzerland, but the US itself, which levies no tax on the dividend, interest and capital gains earnings of foreign investors in America, thereby encouraging foreigners to escape such charges back home.

Furthermore, out of the 10 recognised offshore financial centres, four are British-ruled territories, and one - the Virgin Islands - is under US sovereignty. Before hitting at others, Britain and the US would be well-advised to clean up their act at home.

But, ultimately, what is this fuss all about?

The Tax Justice Network, a non-governmental organisation, claims that as much as S$17.5 trillion in 'assets from around the world are hidden in offshore havens'. Nobody knows how this figure was arrived at, but nobody cares: earlier this week, the New York Times ran an editorial demanding the return of these 'trillions that the world could use'.

Tax evaders must clearly be pursued. But the sums which are likely to be recovered from offshore centres will always be small, and certainly smaller than the funds lost by Bernard Madoff.

The biggest frauds and dodgy investment strategies were conducted under the noses of Western financial supervisors, not in some far-away and supposedly unregulated financial centre.

Yet facts no longer matter much in this dispute. Unable to agree on what needs to be done to handle the current economic crisis, Western politicians have concluded that kicking around small offshore banking centres provides a useful diversion.

No doubt, the storm will pass. And the world's rich will still find someone willing to accept their cash, in return for the discretion and predictability which most European countries are no longer capable of offering.


Thoughts on the fear of death

March 21, 2009

By Andy Ho

A NEW YORK girl aged seven recently underwent 23 hours of abdominal cancer surgery and recovered enough to be discharged - without her spleen and pancreas. One can live without the spleen but pancreatic secretions will need to be substituted with drugs for life.

In a five-day operation here seven years ago, Jamuna was separated from her Siamese twin, Ganga. The Nepalese infants were conjoined at the top of their heads with their brains entwined. Ganga succumbed to pneumonia last July while Jamuna still has a palm-sized patch on the top of her head that is covered only by skin. A knock there could kill her, so she was back here recently for more surgery and will be back again next month for even more surgery.

We resort to the most extreme of measures to keep at bay death which, intuitively, seems to be the worst misfortune that could befall any one of us. But is this instinctive fear of death rational?

In his Letter to Menoeceus, the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus argued to the contrary - 'death...is nothing to us, since so long as we exist, death is not with us; but when death comes, then we do not exist.' Hence he deduced: 'It does not then concern either the living or the dead, since for the former it is not, and the latter are no more.'

For Epicurus, pleasure and pain defined good and bad respectively, so the happy life was one with no pain and fear. Since death meant we cease to exist, there would be no pain, so logic dictated it should not be feared.

This is largely also the argument that Simon Critchley makes in his 2008 work, The Book Of Dead Philosophers. He surmises: 'The philosopher looks death in the face and has the strength to say that it is nothing.' He thinks that we should cultivate a similar indifference to death by emulating how philosophers - Western, Chinese and Islamic - died.

Yet it is one of his exemplars who amply demonstrates how vacuous the Epicurean attitude may be. After Italy's liberation in 1944, George Santayana, who had left Harvard University to live in Rome, was found by American soldiers. When a journalist asked how he felt about the war, his infamous reply - 'I know nothing. I live in the Eternal' - exposed how ghastly the Epicurean perspective could turn out to be.

At any rate, most of us do feel that death is a bad thing. Since 1970 when New York University philosopher Thomas Nagel published his seminal seven-pager entitled simply Death in the journal Nous, thinkers have resorted to his idea that death is bad because it deprives us of the good things in life. It deprives us of the opportunity to have nice experiences and complete our life projects. This attitude to death stands opposed to the Epicurean one.

At the wake for a 40-something friend who had succumbed to pancreatic cancer recently, I mulled over these things. While many comforted his family that 'he is suffering no more', some of his friends lamented that he should have died so young. So death was both good and bad at the same time. How was that possible? He had been in high spirits up till the time he was diagnosed with cancer. He was happily married and his children were doing well in school. Having been just promoted to a top corporate position, he had mapped out new projects to take his company in an exciting new direction. Though the cancer was brewing inside and death was, unbeknownst to him, just a year away, he was happy and contented at that point in time. Epicurus' notion that 'death is nothing to us (for) when we exist, death is not present' would have been accurate of my friend then. Death does not affect us at any single point in time while we are still alive, and it is irrational to fear it.

But the overall quality of his life as one continuous story was diminished by his premature death. Now he will not complete his projects, see his children grow up, or grow old with his wife. Death did diminish his welfare even at that point of his greatest success because it cut short their value in the overall scheme of his life . Thus it would seem that death can affect us at any single point in time while we are alive. Epicurus was wrong and it is rational to fear death.

Of course, context matters. For one thing, the achievements of different individuals differ. Mozart accomplished so much in his short life that his achievements would have discounted a lot of the badness of his death at any point in his life. Not so if you are not Mozart.

For another, different factors matter at different stages of one's life. For a nonagenarian, his life's projects are likely to be completed, so death would not be bad for it cannot significantly impact his life's trajectory any more. For a child of seven, though, many are the potential projects ahead. So it would be rational to fear a child's death.


Daedalus (meaning 'cunning worker' in Greek) was the man who built wings so he and his son Icarus could fly. As Icarus flew too close to the sun, his wings melted and he crashed to earth. Daedalus is a weekly column on the triumphs and challenges of science and technology.

[I agree with the "Death takes away the opportunity to enjoy the things that life offer" argument. One of the things I think about is that I never made roast pork for my father. I only learnt how to make that after he had passed away. But now all my family (who wants to) has tried. But I do not agree with the "Premature death takes away one's quality of life". If one is at one's productive years, is in a relationship, and has responsibilities, then one's passing diminishes the quality of life for those who are dependent (whether by free choice or not) on one - a widowed spouse, a parent less for a child, partners in life or business or passion. And for the very young who has all their life (except that they don't) and the potential of that life ahead of them, a premature death ends the hopes and potential of a young life. But like Epicurus said, for the dead, it does not matter to them for they exist no more.

So when we are old, we should not fear death. It is the gateway to the next phase of our consciousness. And when we are young we should not fear death because it is incomprehensible to us when we are that young. It is when we are adults with responsibilities that we should fear death, for our non-existence has an impact on all those around us that depend on us and love us. Or one can choose to live such that one's premature passing shall not matter beyond a sad comment, and a wistful note.]

The day Michael Fay saved me from jail

March 22, 2009

Even in the US, some believe that giving up a bit of freedom can serve the greater good

By Lee Wei Ling

Someone e-mailed me an article from the San Francisco Chronicle titled 'Singapore blooms as lush as Eden itself', by Linda Watanabe McFerrin, about our city in a garden.

'Unfortunately, what most Westerners know about Singapore,' she notes, 'is limited to the restrictions imposed on its citizens by a repressive government that dictates the mix of races; regulates reproductive matters, public housing and other seemingly personal matters; bans chewing gum, canes kids and keeps a stranglehold on the media.'

I read the article with amusement and recalled the day Michael Fay saved me from being thrown into jail in New Hampshire. For those too young to remember Fay, let me relate his story.

In 1993, the then 18-year-old and his friends damaged 18 cars in a 10-day spree of vandalism and mischief. Stolen road signs and Singapore flags were also found in his home. Fay was caught, charged and pleaded guilty. The judge sentenced him to six strokes of the cane and four months in jail.

The American media went berserk; then US President Bill Clinton appealed to then President Ong Teng Cheong to pardon the teenager; the Singapore Government agreed to reduce the sentence to four strokes of the rotan; the US media was not satisfied.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

MM Lee on Singapore's population

21 March 2009 0949 hrs (SST)

[Also on Today, 21 Mar 2009 "Will we be last of the Mohicans?"]

SINGAPORE: Even after the millions spent on Baby Bonuses and other parenthood incentives, policy-makers are confounded by a problem that goes to the very heart of survival: Singaporeans are still not reproducing themselves.

And on Friday, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew reflected on this challenge at the National University of Singapore Society's (NUSS) dialogue on "Singapore and Singaporeans: A Quarter Century From Now".

In Singapore, he said, it is becoming a "lifestyle choice" for women past the age of 30 to stay single as they are well-travelled and have no one to worry about.

"My daughter is one of them. What can I do? When she was in her early 30s, my wife used to tell her, what you want is a 'MRS'. She did not think it was funny.

"Now she is 50-plus, her mother is bedridden, I'm on a pacemaker, I got this rambling house. Everything is looked after now. What happens if we are both not there?...

"She says, 'I'll look after myself'. But we know she has not been looking after herself all these years. When she went to Boston for training, her cooking was to just to put her salmon into the microwave."

Mr Lee added: "But that's life. It's a choice that she has made, and a choice that 30 per cent of our women are making. Who am I to complain? Society lives with the consequences it is making."

The problem that this trend creates: "Without new citizens and permanent residents, we are going to be the last of the Mohicans. We are going to disappear".

But immigrants bring their own challenges to a society.

Some Singaporean parents have complained about migrants entering schools and competing with local children. He urged parents: "Would you want them to compete against you or with you as part of the team? If you don't have them with you as part of your team, they will be on the Chinese and Indian team."

Some of these migrant students, he acknowledged, use Singapore as a stepping stone to other countries. So "why are we so stupid" in allowing this?

"Because more than half (of these students) do not make the grade to go to America, and the second tier is not bad for us."

Singapore needs to draw from a big talent pool beyond its own shores, "so that we can continue to punch above our weight. No other way".

"Would you want the pie to grow? You want a small pie with your children taking the last portion, or a big pie where you get a bigger portion, even though the talented person may get a bigger slice? That's life. If you are afraid of talent, you will not succeed."

One catch he foresees: Even as the second generation of today's immigrants become more Singaporean, one dubious habit they might also adopt, is to have only one child.

"So we got to make this breakthrough, otherwise we are going to have a constant problem.

"We got to get people to realise that if we don't have 2.1 (babies) to replace ourselves, we are always dependent."

Earlier in the evening, Mr Lee officially opened the new NUS Alumni Complex, which comprises the redeveloped NUSS Kent Ridge Guild House and Shaw Foundation Alumni House. - TODAY

[MM Lee suans his daughter in public. :-) But it is a rare personal insight into his life and perhaps his regrets. ]

The American Dream collapses

March 21, 2009

Property owners are seeing their investments - and lives - fall apart

By Bhagyashree Garekar

WASHINGTON: At the time, it was the 'normal' thing to do - buy five houses on a manager's salary of US$60,000 (S$91,800) a year and expect to pay off the mortgages of over a million dollars as the property values escalated.

But as the housing market fell apart and the worsening economy claimed her job, Mrs Nannette Johnson is having to square up to the grim prospect of losing all five properties, including her own residence.

When the 52-year-old bought the four-bedroom colonial-style house in Maryland's Bowie town some five years ago, it was worth nearly US$700,000. Today, it is valued at half that price.

She began acquiring the other four properties - smaller houses in downtown Washington, Maryland and Virginia - about 10 years ago with what she believed were reasonable expectations.

'That is what you do if you want to set yourself up to do well,' said Mrs Johnson. 'I wasn't the only one. Everybody wants to own properties; it is part of the American Dream. It means additional income from rent, it increases your net worth and if you are thinking of starting a business, that is the collateral.'

In a humming economy, she was easily meeting the monthly payments - amounting to more than US$8,000 to service the five mortgages totalling over US$1.2 million - out of the rental income from her four properties and her own income of US$5,000 as an administrative manager with a mortgage lending firm.

Then, the music stopped. And in just over a year, because of Mrs Johnson's failure to imagine and prepare for the worst, her world collapsed.

In February last year, she was laid off as her company's business dwindled. Around the same time, two of her tenants started to default on rent payments.

Mrs Johnson hastily dipped into her retirement savings account to avoid defaulting on the mortgage payments, only to find the fact that she did so blocked her access to unemployment benefits.

'I was told by the state unemployment office that because I cashed my 401(k), officials determined that I did not need cash. I've argued my case over and over, but I've hit a bureaucratic hurdle.' The 401(k) is the United States' retirement savings plan.

She was left wishing she had applied for unemployment assistance before cracking her nest egg.

That was not the end of her personal troubles, however.

Nine months after she was retrenched, her 31-year-old daughter Alicia lost her job as an underwriter and was forced to vacate her rented home. With her five school-going children, she moved in with Mrs Johnson while the social services agency put her on a three-year waiting list to find her a new home under a law that provides relief in such circumstances.

In the meantime, Mrs Johnson was making no headway in her quest to land a job despite filling out 112 applications.

'There has never been a time in my adult life that I have not worked; this is incredibly hurtful,' she said.

It is more than just hurtful. Her inability to find a job means that Mrs Johnson cannot be helped by the programmes introduced last month by President Barack Obama. These provide ways for up to nine million home owners to reduce their monthly payments to avoid losing their homes - not investment properties - because the mortgage interest rate has risen or their income has fallen.

Under the programme, the interest rate may be reduced, interest payments may be skipped for a period, or the loan term may be extended to as long as 40 years.

The catch is that to qualify, the home owners have to show they have enough income to make the new payments.

And income is what Mrs Johnson does not have. Still, she filled out an application for assistance under the new scheme. The bank denied it and is dangling the threat of foreclosure.

Selling the properties to raise cash is no option. For one thing, it is near impossible to find a buyer. Besides, in today's market, the proceeds would not even cover the mortgages.

There are more heart-rending stories to be found, for instance in the 'tent cities' housing hundreds of foreclosure victims outside Sacramento, the capital of California which has among the highest foreclosure rates.

Many Americans are resentful, even enraged, at the government's readiness to use taxpayers' money to bail out people who bought houses beyond their means.

In a recent congressional testimony, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke made the case for helping the irresponsible for the larger good, using the analogy of a man who smokes in his bed and sets his house on fire.

Should his neighbour avoid calling the fire brigade just to punish the smoker although that would risk the fire spreading through the entire neighbourhood?

Some were persuaded by that logic, but others ripped into Mr Bernanke's example.

'We have paid the smoker outrageous sums to also be the fireman. We could arrest the smoker and put out the fire at the same time,' said one disgusted poster on an online forum.

Indeed, Mr Obama's bailout of distressed home owners - the counterpart of bailing out distressed banks - has been criticised as both inadequate and irresponsible for rewarding reckless behaviour.

Yet, at least until the recession ends, the American Dream of millions depends on it.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Accuser in US Marine rape case backtracks

March 19, 2009

By Alastair McIndoe

MANILA: - A Filipino woman whose claims resulted in a United States Marine sentenced to 40 years in jail for rape, has gone back on her testimony in a startling turnaround to a case that has strained relations between Washington and Manila, two close allies.

A long-running custody battle over Lance Corporal Daniel Smith - that has carried on even after he was convicted last year - triggered moves by some lawmakers to re-negotiate an agreement enabling US forces to train in the Philippines and provide non-combat support in the fight against Islamist terror groups here.

The contents of a sworn statement by his accuser, known as Nicole, that shed new light on the high-profile case was published in local newspapers yesterday.

Smith, 23, was convicted of raping her in the back of a van in Subic Bay while on shore leave in late 2005.

The two had met in a bar, where they danced and flirted. The boyish-looking soldier insisted throughout his trial that the sex was consensual.

'My conscience continues to bother me, realising that I may have in fact been so friendly and intimate with Daniel Smith...that he was led to believe that I was amenable to having sex or that we simply just got carried away,' said Nicole, who is in her early 20s.

Smith is still in US custody in the Philippines pending the outcome of his appeal. Nicole's affidavit was submitted to the appeal court late last week.

In essence, it says that she is no longer sure that she was raped. Nicole's mother, quoted by the local media, said her daughter had flown to the US to be with her American boyfriend of two years to start a new life. It is not clear when she left.

The family runs a canteen inside a Philippine military base in the southern port city of Zamboanga, where US military personnel are stationed.

The US Embassy in Manila will not comment on how the statement could affect Smith's appeal or give details on his accuser's move to the United States.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said the statement may not be admitted as new evidence because it should have been introduced during the trial.

'I am not happy with her because her accusations divided the nation, then she turns her back on everything,' he said.

The US' refusal to hand Smith over to the local authorities until the judicial process had run its course was widely viewed here as an affront to the Philippines' sovereignty and national humiliation. But Washington insisted that this was in accordance with the terms of the Visiting Forces Agreement.

Last month, the Philippine Supreme Court ordered the government to negotiate with the US to have Smith transferred to a local facility. For now, he lives in an air-conditioned shipping container on the grounds of the US Embassy.

The lean marine at the time of his trial has since put on the pounds.

[She's not sure she has been raped? Either you have or you have not. If you were unconscious you were unable to consent and you were raped. If you were conscious then you should know if you consented. Ridiculous!]

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bush won't criticise Obama

March 18, 2009

CALGARY (Alberta) - FORMER President George W. Bush said he won't criticize President Barack Obama because his successor 'deserves my silence,' and said he plans to write a book about the toughest decisions he made in office.

Mr Bush declined to critique the Obama administration on Tuesday in his first speech since leaving office. Former Vice President Dick Cheney said this week that Obama's overturning of Bush administration terrorism-fighting initiatives are making Americans less safe.

'I'm not going to spend my time criticizing him,' Mr Bush said. 'There are plenty of critics in the arena. He deserves my silence.'

Mr Bush said he wants Obama to succeed and said it's important that he has support. Fiery conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh has said he hoped Obama would fail, in remarks that were denounced by critics who said Limbaugh was rooting for the US to fail.

'I love my country a lot more than I love politics,' Mr Bush said. 'I think it is essential that he be helped in office.' Mr Bush said that he doesn't know what he will do in the long term but that he will write a book that will ask people to consider what they would do if they had to protect the United State as president.

He said it will be fun to write and that 'it's going to be (about) the 12 toughest decisions I had to make.' 'I'm going to put people in my place, so when the history of this administration is written at least there's an authoritarian voice saying exactly what happened,' Mr Bush said.

'I want people to understand what it was like to sit in the Oval Office and have them come in and say we have captured Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, the alleged killer of a guy named Danny Pearl because he was simply Jewish, and we think we have information on further attacks on the United States.'

Mr Bush didn't specify what the 12 hardest decisions were but said Iraq is better off without Saddam Hussein in power. -- AP

[Bush has my respect for saying, "Obama deserves my silence", and that he loves his country more than he loves politics. He's a bigger man than Mahathir! Or at least he knows how to bow out gracefully. Interesting choice of words, to be an "authoritarian voice" on what happened during his administration. I think he meant authoritative, but he could have also meant authoritarian.]

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Man hit by cyclist, dies

March 17, 2009

A 52-YEAR-OLD man died after being hit by a bicycle at an open-air carpark on Monday.

He was knocked down by a 14-year-old cyclist in the carpark behind Block 96, Henderson Road at about 7.20 pm.

He suffered serious head injuries and was taken to Singapore General Hospital, where he died six hours later. The teen cyclist was unhurt.

Those with information can contact the police at 1800-547-1818.

[14-yr-old cyclist kills man. Reckless. Sad.]

Monday, March 16, 2009

Engineer 'carbon sinks'? Not so fast

March 16, 2009

By Michael Richardson

RUSSIAN and South Korean scientists made a disturbing discovery recently in the Sea of Japan.

They found that the amount of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, being absorbed in the water dropped by half between 1992 and 2007. They also reported that not as much of the carbon dioxide being absorbed in the Sea of Japan was being held at depths of more than 300m, where it was more likely to stay permanently.

French scientists concluded last month that there had been an even sharper drop in the capacity of the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica to soak up the excess carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere, largely as a result of fossil fuel burning and deforestation.

In its latest report in 2007, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that human activity produced 32 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide worldwide each year, but that only 15 billion tonnes actually stayed in the atmosphere and affected climate change. The oceans, forests, vegetation and soil stored the rest.

In this natural system of 'carbon sinks', the oceans - which cover about three-quarters of the earth's surface - played a key role. They were thought to absorb about eight billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, one-quarter of the annual total.

The Southern Ocean was rated as the biggest ocean sink. But scientists affiliated to France's National Centre for Scientific Research now reckon that it may take in ten times less carbon dioxide than previously estimated, around 50 million tonnes annually instead of 500 million tonnes.

The weakening of this carbon absorbing cycle would leave substantially more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, increasing the pressure on governments to adopt stricter controls on emissions to prevent dangerous rises in temperature.

The French scientists concluded that climate change was affecting atmospheric pressure in the region, causing higher wind speeds in the often stormy Southern Ocean. This caused increased mixing of deep waters with surface waters.

Water near the surface contains less carbon dioxide than deep water. The gas is absorbed by vast numbers of minute algae known as phytoplankton. They not only provide the basic food sustaining

oceanic life, but also help to regulate concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As the organisms die, they sink and get broken down by bacteria, thus enriching the deep water with carbon dioxide and trapping the greenhouse gas.

Some scientists believe it may be possible to absorb in the sea much larger amounts of excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by seeding the oceans with iron or other nutrients that make phytoplankton multiply.

A study published in January by researchers at the University of Southampton in Britain looked at a natural source of iron released into the sea near the Crozet Islands in the Southern Ocean, 2,250km south-east of South Africa. It showed that iron - which is added by volcanic rocks to the north, but not to the south, of the island - tripled the growth of phytoplankton and also the amount that sank into the depths of the sea.

Meanwhile, a team of scientists from India, Germany and Chile is on a German polar research vessel in the Southern Ocean, roughly midway between the southern tips of Africa and Latin America. The team is nearing the end of an experiment to fertilise about 300 sq km of sea with up to 20 tonnes of iron sulphate, a relatively minute amount of nutrient.

By the time their ship docks in Chile tomorrow, they will have observed the development and impact of the phytoplankton bloom on the environment and the progress of the carbon sinking to the deep ocean as the algae die.

The experiment is the most comprehensive of six carried out since 2000 by Germany's Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research and India's National Institute of Oceanography. But scientists involved say that based on current knowledge, they oppose large-scale iron fertilisation to regulate the climate.

Fertilising oceans with iron is advocated by those who believe that geo-engineering is a promising way of preventing extensive climate change. Some say it could remove as much as one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the air every year if applied widely.

Private companies in the United States and Australia have come up with schemes to seed the oceans with iron and then sell carbon credits to energy-intensive firms that need to offset their emissions by buying the credits. They estimate that ocean iron fertilisation could be worth US$100 billion (S$153 billion) in the carbon trading market.

However, no one knows exactly how much carbon dioxide can be captured and stored in this way, for how long, or the risks to ocean ecosystems. Until these questions can be answered with reasonable certainty, it would be irresponsible to allow geo-engineering ventures to proceed.

The writer is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

China-Tibet: A brief History

March 16, 2009
Paying the price of policy flip-flops

By Ching Cheong

HONG KONG: - The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is reaping the bitter harvest of the seeds of ethnic separatism that it sowed more than 60 years ago.

From its birth in 1921 to its victory in 1949, the CCP advocated a federal system that allowed for ethnic minorities to break away from China. The CCP policy on this question was designed deliberately to weaken the central government led by the rival Kuomintang (KMT).

On July 16, 1922, the CCP at its second national congress adopted a resolution expounding on the party's position on a federal republic and the right to self-determination of ethnic minorities.

On June 18, 1928, at its sixth national congress, it adopted a resolution 'On the 10 Major Programmes', one of which was the right to self-determination of ethnic minorities.

The resolution read: 'We would be truly communists only if we acknowledged the right to independence of ethnic minorities; in other words, acknowledged the rights of all minority groups to separate themselves from China and establish their own country.'

On Nov 7, 1931, the CCP announced the establishment of the China Soviet Republic (CSR). Deng Xiaoping, then general secretary of the CSR government, proclaimed the first CSR Constitution.

Article 14 of that Constitution stated that the CSR 'recognises the rights of ethnic minorities to self-determination, including their right to separate from China and set up their own nation'.

On Dec 20, 1935, CCP leader Mao Zedong in his capacity as chairman of the CSR reiterated that all ethnic minorities in China were entitled to set up their own government, to join hands with other ethnic groups in a federal republic and to be totally separated from China.

Putting words into action, the CCP helped set up in 1928 a Taiwan Communist Party with a threefold programme of promoting nationalism, revolution and independence for Taiwan.

In 1935 and 1936, the CCP helped set up two Tibetan republics in the present-day territories of Jinchuan and Ganzi, in northern and western Sichuan province respectively.

Interestingly, according to the CCP's official Party History Review, the republic in Ganzi, called Boba People's Republic, declared on May 1, 1936 that its territory included 'all territories in Xizang, Ankang (Tibetan regions in western Sichuan), Qinghai, Gansu, and part of Yunnan'. These are exactly the areas claimed as Greater Tibet by the Dalai Lama.

The same declaration said: 'Our Boba ancestors had set up an independent state for 300 years until the Han emperor conquered them...from now on we shall be a free and independent people once again.'

The notion that Tibet had long been independent and that its territory extended far beyond the current Tibet Autonomous Region was endorsed by the CCP at the time.

A plan to weaken the KMT government in Xinjiang in 1944-45 turned on empowering ethnic minorities. With the help of the Soviet Union, the CCP conducted a revolution in three regions corresponding to present-day Yili, Tacheng and Aishan areas in north-western Xinjiang.

On Nov 12, 1944, CCP-led revolutionaries set up the East Turkestan Republic (ETR), with its capital in Yili. On Aug 18, 1949, Mao wrote to congratulate the ETR leader, endorsing the separatist movement as 'part of the revolutionary movements of the Chinese people'. Like the Tibetan republic, this republic was short-lived, coming to an end in 1949.

At the CCP's seventh party congress on April 23, 1945, Mao delivered a report in which he said that ethnic minorities would be encouraged to join the federal republic on a voluntary and democratic basis. On Oct 10, 1947, he emphasised yet again that ethnic minorities had the right to freely join a China Democratic Federal Republic.

But when final victory over the KMT was in sight, the CCP changed its mind. On June 15, 1949, just a few months before declaring the establishment of the People's Republic of China, the CCP told other political groups that it had decided to abandon the federal system in favour of a strongly centralised government. National minorities would be granted autonomy, but not the right to self-determination, let alone independence.

Some ethnic minorities viewed this as a betrayal of the communists' earlier promises. No wonder that ethnic insurgencies have since become a major headache for China.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Mapletree: No 15% rent cut

March 14, 2009

Modest cuts possible for ex-JTC tenants if economy worsens

By Joyce Teo

MAPLETREE Investments said yesterday it might consider modest rental cuts for aggrieved industrial tenants at its ex-JTC properties - if economic conditions deteriorate further.

Many tenants have petitioned Mapletree, a Temasek Holdings unit, for hefty rent cuts to help them cope with tough market conditions.

They are also upset to have missed out on a 15per cent rental rebate granted by JTC Corp as part of the Government's Resilience Package.

This is because the rebate was granted after JTC sold $1.7billion worth of its flatted factories, stack-up buildings and ready-built assets to Mapletree last July.

These properties are now held by Mapletree Industrial Trust (MIT), a private Reit that is 30.5per cent owned by Mapletree and the rest held by other investors such as Arcapita.

One MIT tenant who has rented his ex-JTC factory space in Lorong Bakar Batu for 22 years, Mr Foong Khai Leong, told The Straits Times: 'The rents keep going up, business is going down...and now the Government is giving a rental rebate to tenants of JTC...I not only cannot enjoy the rebate, I may now have to cough up more when I renew my lease.

'If we don't fight for lower rents, we will have little choice but to fold up the business. Who's going to pity us?' said the managing director of May Tat Plastics.

MIT said it will not be cutting rents for now, even as the downturn hits small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). 'We are also similarly impacted,' said Mapletree Investments chief executive Hiew Yoon Khong. He said a 15per cent rental cut was definitely out as it could trigger a loan default for MIT. 'In this environment, we can't take that kind of risk.'

However, a smaller rent cut could happen. 'If the environment continues to deteriorate, we will consider it,' said Mr Hiew.

Some observers are sympathetic to the tenants' plight. 'It's quite unfortunate. The timing is bad as just several months ago, they were JTC tenants,' said Colliers International director of industrial sales Tan Boon Leong.

Many of MIT's tenants will likely be affected as they are SMEs occupying the cheapest of the ex-JTC factories. JTC rents are generally below market rates, said Mr Tan.

But, they need to change their mindsets. 'They cannot expect the landlord to give them the full rebate because this landlord also has to account to shareholders,' said Mr Tan.

MIT's financing burden has risen as it requires an additional capital top-up of $140million. Its interest costs have almost doubled; it faces stricter loan convenants and it has had to defer cash distributions.

Mapletree Investments' CEO (Industrial) Phua Kok Kim said: 'If we have difficulty filling the space at the new rents, then naturally rents will come down.' The new rents are the rates MIT is charging for 70 new non-business park space tenants so far and they are all above the renewed rates of ex-JTC tenants.

Mapletree said the 1,448 tenants of MIT's flatted and stack-up factories, as well as warehouses, all benefit from a 5per cent rental cap - of JTC's rent on July 2007 - when they renew their leases before July next year.

There is no cap for the remaining 108 - or 7per cent of - tenants in its business park buildings. Mapletree said it is doing what it can on a case-by-case basis. It has arranged instalment plans for 18 firms to help them settle arrears, for instance.


Additional reporting by Francis Chan

[One criticism of REITs was that it dehumanised that relationship between the landlord and the tenant. And this is clearly seen here. REITS in an sense is also leveraging on the value of the property, and the comment on the risk of a load default clearly shows that company may have over leveraged on the property (if I'm using the terms correctly). If so, they were obviously expecting ever increasing rentals and had leveraged on that to take out their loans. Would a loan default trigger a cascade of other loan defaults or business failures? That would depend on how over extended they are. But without the excesses of US banks, our banks should be able to prevent a contagion of loan defaults. And if REITs fail in this circumstance, perhaps it is time to scrutinise their set up to see if they lend themselves to over-leveraging and if they need more regulation.]

A noble gesture, but it's not enough

March 14, 2009

By Cheong Suk-Wai

THE biggest criticism of Malaysia's mini-budget announced this week is that it lives up to its 'mini' tag.

Though Tuesday's RM60 billion (S$25 billion) stimulus package is not chump change, experts said the way in which it will be spent will not kickstart the economy.

This is sobering, especially since this second stimulus will drive the country's fiscal deficit deeper into the red, equal to 7.6 per cent of Malaysia's gross domestic product this year. The first stimulus package last year of RM206 billion pushed the deficit to 4.6 per cent of GDP.

Critics of the mini-budget point to the relatively modest RM17 billion set aside for infrastructural projects as cause for concern. That works out to just a mere 2.5 per cent of Malaysia's GDP of about RM666 billion. The government has pledged to spend another RM5 billion next year on infrastructural projects.

Professor Datuk Dr Mohamed Ariff, the executive director of the Malaysian Institute for Economic Research (MIER), told this newspaper: 'When you peel the layers off this package, there is not much there. There is also no guarantee that the RM17 billion will be spent quickly. Plus, the RM7 billion (for infrastructure) from last November has not yet been fully distributed, so (the mini-budget) is not as big as it appears.'

Mr Mohamed argued that the government need not worry about the widening deficit. Malaysia, he pointed, has always been able to finance up to 93 per cent of its fiscal deficits domestically. Behemoths such as Petronas, Khazanah Nasional and KWSP (Malaysia's CPF) are flush with funds to be able to finance infrastructural projects.

He said the government might be dragging its feet on building new infrastructure because it currently has a 'phobia' about mega-projects, now that its every move is scrutinised by the people and the media.

That phobia is bad news for Sabah and Sarawak, which remain severely under-developed despite contributing a good deal of timber and oil revenue to the federal government. Sarawakian MP Tiong King Sing lamented in Parliament on Tuesday, just before the mini-budget was announced: 'It's not that we aren't patient. We have been patient to the point that we are almost dying.'

Also increasingly impatient are commuters in cities like Kuala Lumpur and Penang who despair of the public transport system.

That's a pity, said the Malaysian Investors Association founder-president, Datuk Dr P.H.S. Lim. 'Actual spending' on such projects might have constituted something that people 'could see, feel and use to build confidence in the economy again'.

He added that the government could also have constructed much-needed public clinics nationwide. Together, hospitals and the police force might have soaked up the estimated 747,000 Malaysians who would be out of jobs by next year.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Najib Razak said on Tuesday that, as part of the stimulus, the civil service would absorb 63,000 job-seekers.

By MIER's reckoning, the best-case scenario for Malaysia's economy this year is a 0.5 per cent growth rate.The worst is minus 3.8 per cent.

The severity of the expected downturn has led some analysts to ask why the mini-budget gave little to the poor. True, Datuk Seri Najib did give tax concessions of RM3 billion. But that would have an impact only when it comes time for cash-strapped Malaysians to pay their taxes next year.

It would have been better to put cash, even food stamps, into the pockets of the poor immediately. They would have spent, rather than saved it. The government, however, has long shunned such steps as welfarism.

Datuk Dr Lim wondered why the government hadn't already lowered the prices of end products, since the prices of commodities like corn, wheat and rice have tumbled. Other analysts wondered why the government is not being more decisive in putting the economy on a surer footing. And yet others questioned the fundamentals of Malaysia's political economy, suggesting the crisis has disclosed flaws that need to be addressed.

Associate Professor Edmund Terence Gomez of the University of Malaya questioned former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad's penchant for mixing elements of the development state model - with the government dictating growth - and neo-liberalism - where deregulation and privatisation reigned supreme.

Prof Gomez said: 'These models appear not to be compatible with each other. But Mahathir, the ultimate pragmatist, adopted the approach of 'I'll take the best of both'.'

The resultant patch work is not coherent, Prof Gomez argued. For example, despite the emphasis on neo-liberalism and privatisation, one-quarter of the country's stock market by market capitalisation belonged to relatively inefficient government-linked companies.

The government could, if it dropped its neo-liberal pretensions, direct reluctant banks to lend more to the private sector, especially small and medium-sized enterprises. And it could just as readily foster cooperation between industry and R&D institutions to create more high-tech jobs.

Prof Gomez said there was inertia in the bureaucracy in part because of its experience having to rescue the country's flagging steel and car industries during the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis. 'So now the people in government think: 'We have no business being in business'.'

This is a great pity, since foreign direct investments has been halved from RM51 billion in 2007 to RM26 billion last year. Now is not the time for Kuala Lumpur to take a principled stand in favour of a laissez-faire approach to the economy.

Prof Gomez's verdict: 'The government's attempt to reach out with this mini-budget is noble, but it's not enough. It's not a serious attempt to deal with the current crisis.'


[Sometimes it gets really obvious that Singapore (media?) likes to show up or put down M'sia. Then again, maybe it just works out that way.]