Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Milking HDB flats 'a very bad trend'


Of the many people turning to their MPs for help when they run into trouble paying for their flats, none is a first-time owner living in the home he bought straight from the Housing Board.

Instead, they tend to be people who have bought and sold HDB flats more than once in a bid to make a quick buck.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong highlighted this point at a dialogue yesterday, as he expressed grave concerns over a trend of people trying to sell off their HDB flats to make money, with little regard for where they are going to live next.

PM Lee is correct to say that many HDB flat owner had sold their direct-purchase flat for quick cash and then purchase another flat from the open-market and obtain the maximum loan amount possible.

The cash proceed from the sale were used for other purposes other than to redeem the loan of their newly purchase flat. I knew these first hand because I was a property agent from 1993 to 1999. The prices of property start to move up rapidly from March 1993 when HDB first introduce Market Valuation of the resale HDB flats. I have seen my former clients taking out the max loan on their newly purchase flat while spending the cash proceeds from the sale of their first flat on items such as car and holidays.

As a result, the cash proceeds were all spent in a very short time while they had a large mortgage loan to service for a very long time.

During those early years, HDB provide loan to everyone who bought HDB flats and the max loan tenure permissible is 25 years irregardless of the age of the applicant. In short, there were easy credits available. As a result, there was a property bubble. It was also during those years that the COE prices reached S$100,000.

It was only when the property bubble had ballooned too big that the goverment step in to introduce measures to cool the market.

In short, the problem is a old one. It had taken the goverment too long to understand the implication of allowing flat dwellers to cash-out from their flat without taking some necessary measures to ensure that the seller are able to fulfill their long term loan obligation when they purchase their next flat.
Posted by: Doraisamy at Sun Mar 28 21:10:00 SGT 2010

What's an irony, for house owners, they may be asset-rich, they have a 700K HDB flat, and yet each day they may still need worry on what food to put on table.

And as for house seekers, each day they may need worry how to service the 500K housing loan.

Thus in the first place, why we allow our HDB flat prices to sky rocket?

If monies from HDB sales indeed go into CPF fund, hopefully our Health Minister won't take the opportunity to 'enhance' our Health Coverage, and 'makan' a portion from it., and make our Healthcare more expensive.
Posted by: iamgoondu at Sun Mar 28 16:46:56 SGT 2010

[The comment by the ex-property agent is instructive. The problem is people follow trends and they get caught up in the moment and suddenly, a $700,000 flat or a $100,000 COE seems to make eminent sense.

The problem is how and why should the govt protect people from their own stupidity. If I sell my flat and buy another from HDB, and I want to use the cash proceeds from the sale of my flat to start my own business, who is the govt to get in my way? People should be free to make their own choices. Even if the choices are stupid ones.

Because sometimes, they are not stupid. They are taking a risk to make a better life for themselves.

It is not for the govt to protect people to the point where they are unable to take risks.

What people need is proper guidance and information. The 2.5% interest on CPF ordinary account is more than any fixed deposit and better returns than many investment. Best of all, it is risk-free. Factor that in and it's a no-brainer.]

Economics is more art than science

Mar 29, 2010

By David Brooks

SOME brilliant scholar has to write a comprehensive history of modern economics, because the evolution of this field is clearly one of the most consequential things happening in the world today.

Act I of this history would be set in the era of economic scientism: the period when economists based their work on a crude vision of human nature - the perfectly rational, utility-maximising autonomous individual - and then built elaborate models based on that creature.

Act II would occur over the past few decades, as a few brave economists tried to move beyond this stick-figure view of humanity. Mr Herbert Simon pointed out that people are not perfectly rational. Mr Gary Becker analysed behaviours that do not seem to be the product of narrow self-interest, like having children and behaving altruistically. Mr Amos Tversky and Mr Daniel Kahneman pointed out that people seem to have common biases when they try to make objective decisions.

This part of the history would be the story of gradually growing sophistication and of splintering.

Then the story would come to Act III, the economic crisis of 2008 and last year. This act is a climax of sorts because it exposed the shortcomings of the whole field. Economists and financiers spent decades building ever more sophisticated models to anticipate market behaviour, yet these models did not predict the financial crisis as it approached. In fact, cutting-edge financial models contributed to it by getting behaviour so wrong - helping to wipe out US$50 trillion (S$70 trillion) in global wealth and causing untold human suffering.

This would bring the historian to Act IV, the period of soul searching that we are living through now. More than a year after the event, there is no consensus on what caused the crisis. Economists are fundamentally re-evaluating their field.

'Where were the intellectual agenda setters when this crisis was building?' asked Professor Barry Eichengreen of the University of California, Berkeley, in The National Interest political journal. 'Why did they fail to see the train wreck coming?'

In The Wall Street Journal, Professor Russ Roberts of George Mason University wondered why economics is even considered a science. Real sciences make progress. But in economics, old thinkers cycle in and out of fashion. In real sciences, evidence solves problems. Prof Roberts asked his colleagues if they could think of any econometric study so well done that it had definitively settled a dispute. Nobody could think of one.

'The bottom line is that we should expect less of economists,' he wrote.

In a column titled 'A crisis of understanding', Professor Robert Shiller of Yale University pointed out that the best explanation of the crisis isn't even a work of economic analysis. It's a history book - This Time Is Different by professors Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff - that is almost entirely devoid of theory.

One gets the sense, at least from the outside, that the intellectual energy is no longer with the economists who construct abstract and elaborate models. Instead, the field seems to be moving in a humanist direction. Many economists are now trying to absorb lessons learnt by psychologists, neuroscientists and sociologists. They are producing books with titles like Animal Spirits, The Irrational Economist and Identity Economics, on subjects such as how social identities shape economic choices.

This amounts to rediscovering the humility of an earlier time. After all, Adam Smith was a moral philosopher, Friedrich von Hayek built his philosophy on an awareness of our own ignorance, and John Maynard Keynes 'was not prepared to sacrifice realism to mathematics', as biographer Robert Skidelsky put it. Economics is a 'moral science', Keynes wrote. It deals with 'motives, expectations, psychological uncertainties. One has to be constantly on guard against treating the material as constant and homogenous'.

In Act IV, in other words, economists are taking baby steps into the world of emotion, social relationships, imagination, love and virtue. In Act V, I predict, they will blow up their whole field.

Economics achieved coherence as a science by amputating most of human nature. Now economists are starting with those parts of emotional life that they can count and model - the activities that make them economists. But once they are in this terrain, they will surely find that the processes that make up the inner life are not amenable to the methodologies of social science. The moral and social yearnings of fully realised human beings are not reducible to universal laws and cannot be studied like physics.

Once this is accepted, economics would again become a subsection of history and moral philosophy. It will be a powerful language for analysing certain sorts of activity. Economists will be able to describe how some people acted in some specific contexts. They will be able to draw out some suggestive lessons to keep in mind while thinking about other people and other contexts - just as historians, psychologists and novelists do.

At the end of Act V, economics will be realistic, but it will be an art, not a science.


[The reflection on the role and nature of economics, continues.

In the link above, the mood is one of uncertainty - not knowing if economics and economists can guide the world out of the crisis. This article questions if it is even the role and capability of economics to do so.]

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Malaysia condemns latest Swedish cartoons of Prophet Muhammad

By Melissa Goh

26 March 2010

KUALA LUMPUR : Malaysia has joined other Muslim countries in condemning the latest Swedish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Protestors on Friday urged the Malaysian government to sever all ties with Sweden.

Some 300 protestors from Muslim NGOs and political parties staged an hour long protest outside the Swedish embassy in Kuala Lumpur after Friday prayers.

The protest came nearly a month after the Swedish cartoon controversy sparked widespread condemnation from the Muslim world.

The protestors, mostly from the Islamic opposition party PAS, want the Swedish government to issue an apology and take stern action against the Swedish cartoonist.

Some hardliners are even urging Prime Minister Najib Razak to cut diplomatic ties with Stockholm.

Chanting "long live Islam", the protestors warned of retribution against those who insult their prophet.

"We are willing to die and sacrifice our blood in the name of God," one of them said.

Protestors then burnt a Swedish flag as police watched on.

A memorandum was handed over to the Swedish embassy before the crowd dispersed.

- CNA/al

[I've been thinking about this. Should a group (in this case, members of a religious faith) who believe that their prophets should not be represented in any image have a right to require non-believers to subscribe to the same policy?

Isn't it unreasonable to expect non-believers to follow as believers?

But, if I understand correctly, the cartoons are not harmless depiction of the prophet, but are insulting and derogatory. The artists claim the right of free speech and free expression.

If a group of natives believe that photographs steal a person's soul, would the artists agree that it is ok to take photos of these people considering the psychological and emotional damage it would do to them, even though we understand (or believe) that the photo of someone does nothing to a person's soul?

If we apply the rule that there are no scientific basis for their beliefs, then should we also reject beliefs about kosher & halal food as there is nothing "unclean" about such food?

Or moving away from religion, if a minority objects to being called a derogatory name like "nigger", does anyone have the audacity to claim right of free expression and call an African-American, a "nigger"?

Or claim that it is perfectly alright, because members of that group, often call each other "niggers"?

Even if the obstinate response to all these is that anyone has the right to free expression, and social niceties, do not detract from such rights - that is, you have the right to call a nigger, a nigger, and it would be wrong of said nigger to beat up or otherwise harm you because you are just exercising your right of free expression and free speech - isn't there a fundamental principle of human dignity to respect another person's belief? Isn't there a fundamental expectation that one does not deliberately provoke another but spitting on their beliefs simply because you don't agree them?

Is it a western value to be provocative and insulting for no other reason than to exercise one's freedom of expression?

Is that the high principle being defended?]

Less meat not equal to less heat: Expert

Mar 25, 2010

WASHINGTON: United Nations specialists are now looking again at the contribution of meat production to climate change, after a leading air quality expert claimed that an earlier UN report exaggerated the link.

The new study, due to be completed by the end of this year, will allow for comparisons between diets that include meat and vegetarian ones.

University of California, Davis air quality expert Frank Mitloehner on Monday questioned the 2006 UN report, Livestock's Long Shadow, that said livestock cause more greenhouse gases - 18 per cent of all emissions - than all global transportation combined.

He argued that consuming less meat and milk is not effective in reducing greenhouse gas production, reported the Agence France-Presse (AFP).

'Smarter animal farming, not less farming, will equal less heat,' he said.

'Producing less meat and milk will only mean more hunger in poor countries.'

The 18 per cent figure in the UN report has been widely cited by climate change proponents - including key figures like the UN-affiliated Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's chairman Rajendra Pachauri and British economist Nicholas Stern - as the reason why people should try changing their diets.

The notion that eating less meat will help to combat climate change has spawned campaigns for 'meatless Mondays' and a European campaign launched late last year called 'Less Meat = Less Heat', backed by former Beatle and well-known vegetarian Paul McCartney, said AFP.

'McCartney and others seem to be well-intentioned but not well-schooled in the complex relationships among human activities, animal digestion, food production and atmospheric chemistry,' said Dr Mitloehner.

He said the UN report, published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), did not compare like with like when it analysed the role of livestock versus fossil fuel emissions in spurring global warming.

While it arrived at the emissions figure for livestock rearing by considering all gas emissions from land clearance to transporting livestock, that of transport only included the burning of fossil fuels.

Rather than focusing on producing and eating less meat, Dr Mitloehner said, developed countries 'should focus on cutting our use of oil and coal for electricity, heating and vehicle fuels'.

In the United States, transportation creates an estimated 26 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions, whereas raising cattle and pigs for food accounts for only about 3 per cent, he said.

One of the authors of the 2006 report, FAO livestock policy officer Pierre Gerber, told BBC News that he accepted Dr Mitloehner's criticism.

'I must say honestly that he has a point - we factored in everything for meat emissions, and we didn't do the same thing with transport,' he said.

Mr Gerber said the FAO is now working on a much more comprehensive analysis of emissions from food production, which will allow for comparisons between diets.

Yes to feedback, no to pressure campaigns: PM

Mar 28, 2010

Govt is wary of online pressure tactics that distort real picture of public sentiment

The Government welcomes honest public feedback on policies and issues, but is wary of online campaigns that pressure leaders to take certain actions, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

One such campaign took place recently regarding the sizzling property market. A flood of e-mail messages called on the Government to lower property prices, and threatened to withdraw support for the ruling party at the next general election if this was not done.

The e-mail messages, sent to many recipients in and outside government, were 'well-written and cogently argued', obviously by someone with knowledge of the property market, said Mr Lee.

But the identities of the writers proved to be fake. They included names of grassroots leaders purportedly from Yio Chu Kang and Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, but these people did not exist.

In the case of one who did, he was Chinese-educated and could not have written the letter. Said Mr Lee, to laughter: 'We were a bit suspicious, because the language was excellent. There was no use of Singlish.' He was speaking at a dialogue with about 100 active contributors to the Government's feedback arm, Reaching Everyone for Active Citizenry@Home (Reach).

'I do not know who was behind this campaign, but this was clearly not a straightforward effort to give the Government honest feedback.

'Rather, it was a covert attempt to pressure the Government, perhaps for personal benefit,' he said.

He added: 'We must expect to see such astroturfing campaigns from time to time, and learn to assess online content critically and carefully.'

Astroturfing refers to campaigns where the originators hide behind the scenes so as to give the impression the campaign is spontaneous.

As such campaigns distort the real picture of public sentiment, the volume of e-mail messages sent to the Government on a particular issue cannot be what determines its decision, Mr Lee noted.

He cited the Association of Women for Action and Research leadership tussle last year as another example. He had received many e-mail messages from the opposing camps during that time.

Many of the messages were identical, and obviously cut and pasted from the same template. They marked an organised campaign to lobby the Government to back one side against the other, Mr Lee said.

While highlighting the dark side of the online world, Mr Lee also credited Reach with finding innovative ways to engage Singaporeans online, such as via networking sites Facebook and Twitter. These channels are in addition to offline platforms like face-to-face dialogues.

Last year, Reach received almost 27,000 inputs, mainly from the Internet. There was a 28 per cent jump in online feedback.

The more insightful comments often come from the People's Forum members who give their real names, noted Mr Lee.

'It is not a surprise as contributors who give their true identities and hence have to stand up for their views take more care to make sure their points are factual, well argued and helpful,' he said.

Yesterday, Reach gave out awards to five active contributors who made suggestions on issues ranging from engaging young people to improving the health-care system. 'They have often been critical of government policies. But their well-intended, well-considered, well-expressed views are much appreciated by the Government,' Mr Lee said.

The award recipients were SingTel's senior manager Lim Siang Hwa, 38; relief teacher Soh Yida, 21; engineering consultancy Meinhardt Singapore's senior site quantity surveyor Lai Chee Fan, 60; Thye Hua Kwan Hospital's head of rehabilitation Sinha Shekhar, 40; and retiree Raymond Lo, 71.

'The award recognises the importance of the role ordinary Singaporeans like me play in building our democratic society,' said Mr Lim.


'Sexy' brand may not be best for S'pore

Mar 27, 2010

Message must be true to nation, say experts
By Sue-Ann Chia & Jeremy Au Yong

IN THE fresh attempt being made to brand Singapore differently, using 'sexy' messages like a country that is creative or which has a derring-do spirit may not be overly useful.

The message must, instead, stay true to what Singapore stands for, branding experts and political observers said yesterday when asked about plans afoot for a new branding and marketing of the country.

Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Baey Yam Keng's suggested the slogan 'Singapore: Island of miracles.'

Pointing to Singapore's success since independence in 1965, he said: 'We have managed to pull through a lot of things to achieve what we have now. These are all miracles.'

Mr Baey, a director at public relations agency Hill & Knowlton, added: 'It is sexy to say that Singapore is creative. But we need to also be comfortable about what we are and have an image that will hold true for years.'

His comments came a day after the Government revealed it is working on a new branding campaign for Singapore. It will have a message that goes beyond those appealing only to the intellect and the mind.

Acting Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts Lui Tuck Yew said on Thursday at a seminar that the message must also touch hearts and stir emotions.

Having a new approach is necessary in the global war to woo talent and investments as it is no longer enough to be known just for having sound policies, good infrastructure or being safe, reliable and efficient.

Singapore's new approach will aim to showcase qualities such as creativity, confidence and 'a dare-to-dream attitude'.

But those interviewed yesterday also cautioned against getting too carried away.

'Branding is a self-construction of identity, a way in which we fantasise about what we want to be. But it also shows up our insecurities,' said sociologist Terence Chong of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

'We want to be creative and daring, which implicitly tells us what we are not.'

Others such as Hong Kah GRC MP Zaqy Mohamad believe some form of fresh branding is timely.

It is useful as Singapore moves into the next phase of development, so that people will know what the country stands for and aspires to be, he said.

But the consensus is also that coming up with a national brand can be 'very elusive'.

Mr Terence Foo, managing partner of communications consultancy Kreab Gavin Anderson, said it is critical to convince Singaporeans their home is a great place to live. That way, they can serve as ambassadors to market the country.

'Singaporeans don't do enough to talk up the country. We are not proud enough of being Singaporean,' he noted.

But can Singapore be summed up in a slogan?

'The danger in trying to please everybody is you end up with words that don't mean anything,' said Ogilvy Asia deputy regional executive creative director Jagdish Ramakrishnan.

Singapore Heritage Society president Kevin Tan added: 'You will have a hard time saying Singapore is one thing.

'We have always been an emporium, a junction, a meeting place. This is what we are known for and what people come here for. The beauty of Singapore is its hybridity. If you did it any other way, it would not be Singapore.'



Mar 27, 2010
She prefers 'Definitely Singapore'

AND so the debate goes on about whether YourSingapore is an appropriate or effective slogan to promote Singapore.

Mr Jorg Dietzel (' 'Your S'pore', 'My S'pore', it's everybody's S'pore', March 18) gave a good explanation when he said we are all different and look for different things in a brand, as 'your' Singapore may be different from 'my' Singapore, and 'the new tagline seems to reflect that'.

But I think it is a bad choice because it requires an explanation to understand what it means, and when people have to wonder and ponder over it, the purpose is defeated.

A stronger tagline like Definitely Singapore would mean more, and is more assertive and positive. Singapore in no way lags behind any other major destination as a tourism hub, but the only thing against it is that everything is new, and it seems contrived and sterile.

In Bangkok or Hong Kong, everything blends in so well, the old and the new, but in Singapore, 'culture' sticks out like a sore thumb, especially during festive celebrations throughout the year. These are seemingly done to attract tourists rather than as an expression of joy by the people. As beautiful as they appear, all the bright decorations and lights lack 'soul'.

Having said that, Singapore has four advantages (apart from its location):

- Its blend of four indigenous races living in harmony;

- Its friendly, hospitable and generous people who go out of their way to help;

- Its English-speaking population; and

- Its variety of food.

I was born and raised in Singapore, but have lived in seven countries, including Thailand, China, Britain and Spain. Most people I have met during my travels in the past 35 years have good impressions of Singapore. The strength of Singapore as a destination is not just how many people it can attract; the challenge is to increase the average length of stay and the number of repeat visitors, and have these visitors tell their friends about their experiences.

I am still constantly amazed at the choices we have on this tiny island and, having been exposed to so many countries and cultures, I know Singapore is a wonderful destination. We have to believe we are no less than any great destination.

Susie Zanardi (Mrs)

[Here are my suggestions. Some are self-deprecating.

Singapore. The City that Works.(.. and works... and works...)

Singapore - It just worked out.

Singapore - Exactly where you wanna be!

Your home away from home

Singapore - Just like home... only better.

Safe, in Singapore.

When you need to be somewhere - Singapore.

Come for the business. Stay for everything else.

Unbelievable Singapore!]

What price victory?

Mar 28, 2010

Analysts say the acrimony between Obama and his critics will only get worse
By Chua Chin Hon

Washington: Yes he did. After a year-long battle that put his young presidency on the line, Mr Barack Obama finally signed into law a historic health-care Bill that had eluded his predecessors for much of the past century.

'Real, meaningful change is coming to the United States of America,' a triumphant Mr Obama declared last week.

The new law would provide coverage to nearly 95 per cent of Americans, allow young adults to stay on their parents' insurance plans until they are 26, rein in some of the worst practices of the insurance companies and, hopefully, also rein in soaring health-care costs that threaten to bankrupt businesses and local governments.

'This victory does not erase the many serious challenges we face as a nation,' Mr Obama added. 'But as we tackle all these other challenges that we face, we can take our next steps with new confidence because we know it's still possible to do big things in America.'

I don't mean to be a wet blanket, but I wonder if his health-care success might have actually made it more difficult for the US to get 'big things' done in future.

Anyone who has been following the wrenching debate and bitter party warfare over health care knows that the victory came at a price.

The Bill had no Republican support at all when it was passed by a 219-212 vote on Sunday night. And when Mr Obama signed it into law in the East Room of the White House, not one Republican leader was present.

The question here is not whether Mr Obama is living up to the fuzzy promise of 'bipartisanship' or not.

It is whether he and his allies have to wage an epic battle with the opposition each time they want to try to tackle a major issue. After health care, is there going to be all-out war again over finance, immigration or education reforms?

If his party retains sizeable majorities in Congress after November's mid-term elections, Mr Obama can arguably use strong-arm tactics to push through these reforms the same way he did health care. If American voters stick to their historical preference for 'balanced' government and representation rather than dominance by a single party, however, then all bets are off.

But how long can the world's lone superpower engage in this sort of 'civil war', and to what end?

Wasted chances

It has been famously said that no one should ever see how laws or sausages are made if they wish to retain any respect for the final product.

So it was with the health-care Bill.

The popular young President came to power promising to change 'politics as usual'.

There appeared to be few big hurdles when Mr Obama officially kicked off his health-care campaign last March. He enjoyed a tremendous amount of public goodwill, and talked constantly about uniting the country around its common challenges.

His Democratic Party commanded huge majorities. In the 435-member House of Representatives, the party had a 75-seat majority. In the Senate, it held a so-called 'super-majority' of 60 seats that allowed it to defeat any delay tactics in the legislative process.

And yet one year later, the Bill was passed in a time-tested manner: lots of bargaining and arm-twisting by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrat veterans of Congressional trench warfare, lots of lobbying by and compromises with big industry players, and much heated rhetoric and vicious obstruction from the opposition.

Up to the very end and beyond, even after the Bill was signed, Republican senators sought to gut and hobble the measure at the 'finishing touches' stage, filing procedural and technical challenges on matters like federal subsidies for Viagra.

They failed. But what lingered was a deeply divided legislature and a toxic atmosphere beyond the halls of Congress. There is not much to celebrate when acts of vandalism, obscene messages and death threats are aimed at Democrat lawmakers who backed the Bill.

What went wrong?

It may be instructive to trace the Bill's tortuous path to spot the mistakes made along the way.

A big one at the start was Mr Obama's decision to let an unpopular Congress take the lead in crafting the Bill. He opted instead for the role of 'encourager'-in-chief, pitching the importance of health-care reform at town hall meetings, television interviews and even late-night talk shows.

But this approach meant that he had no clear policy message to sell while the competing drafts of the Bill wound their way through various Congressional committees. Poll after poll showed that Mr Obama was failing to get through to the public, with most people professing to be confused about what the debate was about.

Meanwhile, a misinformation campaign by his critics on the right began to take hold. From last August onwards, the President found himself helplessly fighting one bogus claim after another: that his plan would create 'death panels' that would kill off grandmothers, that it was a secret plan to turn the US into a socialist state and that it was a diabolical government plot to seize one-sixth of the economy.

As protesters began holding up placards depicting Mr Obama as Hitler, and angry mobs began heckling their congressmen at town hall meetings, many commentators began to ask: How did a communicator as gifted as Mr Obama end up losing the public message on his No.1 domestic agenda?

Analysts said this had as much to do with Mr Obama's inexperience as the new media landscape that was reshaping the political discourse.

'In today's world with the 24/7 news cycle, millions of amateur bloggers and people getting their Twitter feed all the time, it is very difficult for politicians and government leaders to control the debate,' said Mr William Eggers, the global research director in the public sector practice of accounting firm Deloitte.

'You can try to steer the debate and be ready to champion change, but it is very, very difficult to control it.'

Course correction

In the second half of last year, Mr Obama allowed health-care legislation to drift from one unmet deadline to another. Some said he was too hung up over attempts to win Republican support. Others believed he became complacent.

Either way, it took a stunning political bombshell to force a major course correction.

On Jan 19, little-known Republican candidate Scott Brown won the senatorial race for Massachusetts - a seat held for decades by Mr Obama's mentor, the late Mr Edward Kennedy. With it went the Democrats' 'super-majority'.

For the next two weeks, his stunned advisers and the Democratic leadership debated whether to scale back the reforms or push ahead with a comprehensive plan despite the risks.

They decided for one final push on the latter. Only this time, Mr Obama did not have any illusions about what it would take to get it done.

Yes, he would still host that televised health-care summit with the Republicans. But the real work would take place behind the scenes as he and key Democratic leaders like Ms Pelosi corralled the votes needed to clear a new two-step legislative process.

Under this new strategy, the President would need at least 216 House Democrats to adopt a version of the health-care Bill passed by the Senate in December so that he can sign it into law. The House would also approve a list of changes that the Senate would then approve as a reconciliation Bill.

In the end, it came down to hardball politics. In the final week leading up to the vote last Sunday, the President made no fewer than 90 calls to lawmakers whom he cajoled, assured or arm-twisted.

The deal-making went on till the eleventh hour to court a faction of Democrats concerned that federal money would be used to fund abortions. To win them over, Mr Obama released in advance the text of an executive order that he would sign to uphold a rule against using health-care funds for the procedure.

Hours later, he and Ms Pelosi sealed the deal on health care.

Lessons in disaster

How will this battle shape the administration? Analysts say they expect to see a more aggressive White House going ahead, one that would not be shy about using its power or its leverage in Congress to get things done.

In a sign of how things have soured feelings all round, Mr Obama did not even bother with a token offer of conciliation towards the Republicans or his critics on the right. Instead, he castigated them for 'all the punditry, all of the lobbying, all of the game-playing that passes for governing in Washington'.

'I heard one of the Republican leaders say this (health-care Bill) was going to be Armageddon,' he warned. 'Well, two months from now, six months from now, you can check it out. We'll be around and we'll see.'

The acrimony that has been seen in the US in the past year is about to get worse, analysts said.

'Now that the Republicans have lost (health care), I don't think they see any reason to cooperate one bit,' said Dr Joseph Antos of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think-tank.

'For the rest of this presidential term, we are just going to be faced with a dysfunctional government because the feelings (among Republicans) are very deep now and I don't think they are going away any time soon.'

But the administration still has many pressing issues on its plate for this year. Financial reform is likely to be the next big item on the agenda, but reports here are already pointing to a Republican plan for a 'broad assault' against the Democrats' proposals.

It is popular these days to speak of a 'broken Washington' and the need to reform America's political institutions. Some even believe that a third political party is needed to truly represent the independents and centrist voters and break the Democrat-Republican stalemate.

However, not everyone agrees. Mr Eggers, who is also the co-author of the book, Getting Big Things Done In Government, argues that the problem is not with the system, but with the way it has been used.

He told The Sunday Times: 'The Founders put together a form of government where it would be hard to move very quickly because they didn't want people to make rash decisions...I don't see the need necessarily for any big political reforms right now. I think we need to get back to understanding how do we use the system and how we go about getting the process right during these big initiatives.'

He suggested, for example, that legislation should be designed to work in real life, rather than for its ability to get enough votes in Congress.

But can you reform the process without changing the system? I don't know. And honestly, I don't see any real prospects for changing such a complex political system or its entrenched processes, particularly when the key players are constantly at each other's throat.

Perhaps Mr Obama will forge a way through the fractious politics. Or maybe we just have to get used to the harsh new realities of American politics.

He did.



[It may be that the US political system would inevitably lead to this polarisation of political ends. When democrats and Republicans campaign on ideological positions, the debate is not much more than dogmatic soundbites and uncompromisable statement of absolute positions... when it rises above demonisation of the other. The system used to work because members reach across to the other side, and they were not immersed in a doctrinal miasma of a self-supporting system that is created by a personalised new media cocoon. With the new media, it is entirely possible not to subject oneself to any conflicting or contradicting statement. From this fully supportive media cocoon, it is only a short hop to believing that one's position is sanctioned by God.]

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Obama signs order on abortion

Mar 25, 2010

WASHINGTON - PRESIDENT Barack Obama signed an executive order on abortion on Wednesday that had won crucial votes for his healthcare bill, but disappointed women's groups that have been among his most enthusiastic supporters.

The order is intended to ensure the new healthcare law will maintain a ban on the use of federal money to pay for abortions, except in cases of rape or incest, or if the life of a woman is in danger.

The White House announced on Sunday that Mr Obama would sign the order in exchange for support for the massive healthcare overhaul bill from Democratic abortion rights opponents' in the House of Representatives. The support from the roughly dozen members of that group, led by Representative Bart Stupak, was essential to get the 216 votes necessary for the House to pass the bill.

Abortion rights advocates said they were furious about the signing, which they said gave extra weight to an anti-abortion measure known as the Hyde Amendment, but acknowledged they were unlikely to campaign against healthcare reform or most candidates who supported the bill.

While Mr Obama celebrated his signature healthcare law with two public events on Tuesday, he signed the executive order behind closed doors, at an event attended by some of the abortion opponents but closed to the press.

'We remain deeply dismayed by it. President Obama campaigned as a pro-choice candidate. He campaigned as a person, he said, who was opposed to the Hyde Amendment. This deal, with Bart Stupak, is simply unacceptable,' said Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organisation for Women. -- REUTERS

[An example of compromise. Surprisingly, it is not a compromise between Democrats and Republicans, but Liberal Democrats and Conservative Democrats. Or maybe not surprising, as a compromise between the two parties is now impossible.]

'General law will prevail over fatwa'

Mar 25, 2010

Court rules widow gets whole condo unit as joint owner; fatwa is expert opinion only
By K.C. Vijayan

SINGAPORE'S highest court has ruled that a fatwa - a religious opinion on Islamic law issued by Islamic authorities here - will not bind the court to take the same view.

At best, it is considered only as an expert opinion - like those given by accident reconstruction engineers or forensic scientists in court.

The Court of Appeal made the ruling when it dismissed a move by the administrators of the estate of Mr Obeidillah Salim Talib to declare that a half share of his apartment should be given to his estate for distribution to other beneficiaries like his nephews.

Under civil law, when a joint owner dies, the whole property goes to the surviving joint owner, regardless of his or her contribution to it.

The split is different under Muslim inheritance laws, which provide for half the property to be distributed to the dead owner's family members such as siblings and others.

The administrators of the estate went to the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) in March 2007 to apply a fatwa to that effect.

But the Court of Appeal has ruled that despite the fatwa obtained from Muis by the administrators, Mr Obeidillah's widow was entitled to the whole property under civil law.
In reaffirming a decision by the High Court on the inheritance dispute, Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong (above) said: 'The general law will prevail against the Muslim law on this issue.'

[Comment: I thought it a poor choice of words: "against Muslim Law". "Against" is so confrontational and provocative.]

Lawyers and academics told The Straits Times that it was difficult to tell when general law would take precedence over Muslim law as every case before the court is different.
In any case, fatwas are intended to provide 'moral guidance' for Muslims.

But the current ruling could have an impact on insurance claims and joint bank accounts held by Muslims.

For example, in joint accounts, the money goes to the surviving owner under common law. But Muslim laws dictate that half the amount should go to the estate.

Lawyer Halijah Mohamad, a former chairman of the Law Society's Muslim Law Practice Committee, said the current ruling by the Court of Appeal would show 'the way forward' for Muslims to make their wishes known regarding their estates.

She said: 'Joint owners could make a nuzriah, or a vow, to expressly state the share that is to be given to the surviving tenant...They could make clear their intentions as to how they want to dispose of their property when they die, right from the moment they acquire it.'

Mrs Halijah added that while the case involved private property, the impact of the ruling would be felt more by Housing Board flat owners. An HDB spokesman said yesterday about 79 per cent of Malay flat owners are joint owners.

Senior lawyer Nizam Ahmad noted that the fatwa in the present case did also indicate what Muslims could do, through a gift or vow, to put them in compliance with civil law.

It advised Muslim joint owners to make arrangements - such as making the property a gift in the event of their deaths - to make sure the surviving owner would be entitled to the property.
Final-year National University of Singapore law student Aidil Zulkifli, who had written a paper about the declining influence of fatwa as accepted legal opinion in an Association of Muslim Professionals publication last year, said although the fatwa carried no legal weight, it held 'moral force' as to what Muslims could do. But he questioned if the value of the fatwa had been weakened by the court's ruling.

When contacted yesterday, a Muis spokesman said: 'We are studying the judgment.'

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Mar 24, 2010

The answer is blowing in the wind

By Robert Shiller

FEW economists predicted the current economic crisis, and there is little agreement among them about its ultimate causes. So, not surprisingly, economists are not in a good position to forecast how quickly it will end, either.

Of course, we all know the proximate causes of an economic crisis: People are not spending, because their incomes have fallen, their jobs are insecure, or both. But we can take it a step further back: People's income is lower and their jobs are insecure because they were not spending a short time ago - and so on, backwards in time, in a repeating feedback loop.

It is a vicious circle, but where and why did it start? Why did it worsen? What will reverse it? It is to these questions that economists have been unable to offer clear answers.

The state of economic knowledge was just as bad during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Economists did not predict that event, either. In the 1920s, some warned about an overpriced stock market, but they did not predict a decade- long depression affecting the entire economy.

Late in the Great Depression, in August 1938, an article by Ralph M. Blagden in The Christian Science Monitor reported an informal set of interviews with United States 'professors, banking experts, union leaders, and representatives of business associations and political factions', all of whom were given the same question: 'What causes recessions?'

The multiplicity of answers seemed bewildering, and did not inspire confidence that anyone knew what was causing the deepest crisis of capitalism.

The causes given were 'distributed widely among government, labour, industry, international politics and policies'. They included misguided government interference with markets, high income and capital gains taxes, mistaken monetary policy, high wages, monopoly, overstocked inventories, rearmament in Europe and fear of war, government encouragement of labour disputes, a savings glut because of population shrinkage, and easy credit before the Depression.

Although economic theory today is much improved, if we ask people about the cause of the current crisis, we will mostly get the same answers. We would certainly hear some new ones, too: unprecedented real-estate bubbles, a global savings glut, international trade imbalances, exotic financial contracts, sub-prime mortgages, unregulated over-the-counter markets, rating agencies' errors, compromised real-estate appraisals, and complacency about counterparty risk.

More likely than not, many or most of these people would be mostly or partly right, for the economic crisis was caused by a confluence of many factors, the chance co-occurrence of a lot of bad things, which pushed the financial system beyond its breaking point. At that point, the trouble grabbed widespread attention, destroyed public confidence, and set in motion a negative feedback loop.

Our attention is naturally drawn to the worst events. Precisely because the worst events are statistical outliers, their causes are probably multiple.

Consider the question of predicting events like the January earthquake in Haiti, which killed more than 200,000 people. It captured our attention because it was so bad in terms of damage to lives and property. But if one went beyond trying to predict the occurrence of earthquakes to predicting the extent of the damage, one could surely devise a long list of contributing factors - including even political, financial and insurance factors - that resembles the list of factors that caused the global economic crisis.

Indeed, the crisis knows no end to the list of its causes. For in a complicated economic system that feeds back on itself in many ways, events that start a vicious circle might be as seemingly trivial as the proverbial butterfly in the Amazon, which, by flapping its wings, sets off a chain of events that eventually results in a far-away hurricane.

Chaos theory in mathematics explains such dependency on remote and seemingly trivial initial conditions, and explains why even the extrapolation of apparently precise planetary motion becomes impossible when taken far enough into the future.

Weather forecasters cannot forecast far into the future, either, but at least they have precise mathematical models. Massive parallel computers are programmed to yield numerical solutions of differential equations derived from the theory of fluid dynamics and thermodynamics. Scientists appear to know the mechanism that generates weather, even if it is inherently difficult to extrapolate very far.

The problem for macroeconomics is that the types of causes mentioned for the current crisis are difficult to systematise. The mathematical models that macroeconomists have may resemble weather models in some respects, but their structural integrity is not guaranteed by anything like a solid, immutable theory.

The most important new book about the origins of the economic crisis, Carmen Reinhart's and Kenneth Rogoff's This Time Is Different, is essentially a summary of lessons learned from virtually every financial crisis in every country in recorded history. But the book is almost entirely non-theoretical. It merely documents recurrent patterns.

Unfortunately, in 800 years of financial history, there is only one example of a really massive worldwide contraction, namely the Great Depression of the 1930s. So it is hard to know exactly what to expect in the current contraction based on the Reinhart-Rogoff analysis.

This leaves us trying to use patterns from past, dissimilar crises to try to infer the likely prognosis for the current crisis. As a result, we simply do not know if the recovery will be solid or disappointing.

The writer is professor of economics at Yale University and chief economist at MacroMarkets LLC.

Project Syndicate

[What causes Depression, Recession and economic cycles? Human Extravagance and Greed. It is not any specific vehicle but the tendency to get on the bandwagon without knowing how to play a musical instrument. It does not matter if it is a dot.com bubble, or a property bubble, or irrational exuberance, it is all human greed, human weakness, human failing, and fear of missing the bandwagon. The ebb and flow of business cycles reflect the waxing and waning of investors' confidence which is often irrational anyway. The market does well, because people expect it do to well, and the market crash when people start to doubt that it will do well. Depression/Recession comes about because people suddenly realise that their exuberance is irrational. The economy is party-hangover-party-hangover, a cycle of greed and the consequence of greed.]

Green and mean?

Mar 17, 2010

BERLIN - A study finds that ethical consumers are less likely to be kind and more likely to steal. When Al Gore was caught running up huge energy bills at home at the same time as lecturing on the need to save electricity, it turns out that he was only reverting to "green" type.

According to a study, when people feel they have been morally virtuous by saving the planet through their purchases of organic baby food, for example, it leads to the "licensing (of) selfish and morally questionable behaviour", otherwise known as "moral balancing" or "compensatory ethics".

Do Green Products Make Us Better People is published in the latest edition of the journal, Psychological Science. Its authors, Canadian psychologists Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong, argue that people who wear what they call the "halo of green consumerism" are less likely to be kind to others, and more likely to cheat and steal.

The pair found that green consumers appeared less willing to share with others a set amount of money than those who bought conventional products. When the green consumers were given the chance to boost their money by cheating on a computer game and then given the opportunity to lie about it - in other words, steal - they did, while the conventional consumers did not.

Later, in an honour system in which participants were asked to take money from an envelope to pay themselves their spoils, the greens were six times more likely to steal than the conventionals.

The authors said their study showed that "green products do not necessarily make for better people".

The pair said their findings surprised them, having thought that just as "exposure to the Apple logo increased creativity", according to a recent study, "given that green products are manifestations of high ethical standards and humanitarian considerations, mere exposure" to them would "activate norms of social responsibility and ethical conduct".

Mr Dieter Frey, a social psychologist at the University of Munich, said the findings fitted patterns of human behaviour. "At the moment in which you have proven your credentials in a particular area, you tend to allow yourself to stray elsewhere," he said. THE GUARDIAN

URL http://www.todayonline.com/World/EDC100317-0000299/Green-and-mean

Copyright 2010 MediaCorp Pte Ltd | All Rights Reserved

[The final quote seems to be speaking about Jack Neo, Tiger Woods, and other famous "strayers". :-)]

Monday, March 22, 2010

Blame the woman, spare the man

Mar 18, 2010

By Andy Ho

FILM-MAKER Jack Neo's infidelity has been in the news of late.

Some applaud the dignified manner in which Madam Irene Kng, his wife of 27 years, has conducted herself. Others, however, are disappointed that she has not displayed more visceral anger at her husband's behaviour. The other woman - who exposed Neo - has also been excoriated.

It is as if men were innately and naturally promiscuous, so that must be Neo's only shortcoming. His wife had no one to blame but the other woman, not her adulterous spouse.
The usual reason given for Madam Kng's quiet forgiveness is that a successful man's marital infidelity has historically been tolerated in Chinese culture. According to the late Robert van Gulik, a noted sinologist, writing in his 1974 book, Sexual Life In Ancient China, sex was regarded in Chinese culture more as a natural appetite 'than a social encounter'.

Thus, sex was not associated in the Chinese mind with moral guilt as long as the consort and venue were appropriate. That would be a household of san qi si qie or 'three wives and four concubines'. And that with 'five generations' under the same roof too, according to Olga Lang in Chinese Family And Society. This ideal, of course, was achieved only by really wealthy men.
In Confucianist thought, the family unit was more important than the individual. Sex was mainly for procreation whereas overly strong marital ties were frowned upon as they were thought to weaken the parent-son relationship. That would undermine filial piety, thus jeopardising the stability of the family.

Having more female sexual partners around meant that no single woman would monopolise the husband's affections. In this way too, the stability of the family would be maintained.
What we might call 'familism' was the linchpin of Confucianist society, which stressed proper relationships. What should guide relationships between ruler and ruled was care and trust; between father and son, affinity; between husband and wife, a division of roles; between the older and the younger, respect; and, between friends, fidelity.

In practice, it was the male who really mattered in any relationship. This meant that females were, by and large, dominated and marginalised. Socialised into a subjugated role, Chinese women were rendered more tolerant of their straying husbands than they would have otherwise been.

It remains somewhat that way still today. In a survey two sinologists carried out in the mid-1990s in Taipei, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing, most respondents felt that the wronged party - usually the wife, of course - ought to remain patient and do her utmost to persuade the wayward spouse to return.

A 2004 study carried out in Hong Kong and published in Counselling Psychology Quarterly reported that Chinese women chose to shoulder an overburdened gender role. They tended to blame what they saw as their own inadequacies as wives and mothers as the reasons for marital problems and family difficulties.

But would this Confucianist view of gender relations still matter so much in westernised Hong Kong or Singapore, what with girls having equal access to schooling and jobs? Significantly, women still bear the brunt of family responsibility in these societies - even if they are employed outside the home as well. Madam Kng, for example, says she was very busy with Neo's business affairs as well as the children.

Because the fact that the wife has to shoulder two roles goes largely unrecognised institutionally, women can hardly renegotiate these roles. In this way, Confucianist attitudes do continue to impact the ability of most Chinese wives to cope.

Modernisation has moved spousal infidelity from the domestic realm (concubines) to the world of commerce (office affairs). Though extramarital affairs affect the domestic realm, they can no longer be incorporated into and be managed within it as in the days of yore. Now the other woman remains a problem to be dealt with outside. But since men are not really at fault - being naturally promiscuous, according to Confucianist understanding - the fault still lies with women.
Whether it is the wife who is responsible for the domestic conditions that impel her man to play the field or just that the other woman had set out to seduce a married man, it is still women who are really at fault. The real enemy of the woman with an unfaithful husband can never be her man - even if she were to catch him in flagrante delicto. It is always the other woman, all feminist notions of sisterhood being moot. We are still as Confucianist as ever.

Unsurprisingly, a 2002 study published in the journal Sex Roles found that mainland Chinese men preferred pretty, chaste and healthy women who were less educated, less intelligent, or had less promising careers than they did. Conversely, mainland Chinese women preferred men who were smarter and financially stable.

Meanwhile, there are also modern, financially independent women with their own careers who are willing to get involved with married men for the romantic intimacy, without eventual marriage in mind. Men thus - even if they were not all wealthy or powerful - are presented today with even more opportunities for extramarital involvement.

Ironically, modernisation in Confucianist cultures thus works hand-in-glove with feminism to undermine women further.

Rejoice, Jack.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Indonesia: Govt gets nod in Parliament

Mar 17, 2010
Nuclear Power

By Salim Osman

JAKARTA: Indonesia's plan to build nuclear power plants received a big boost after a key parliamentary commission said it supported the move, aimed at meeting the country's growing demand for electricity.

The next step is for the commission for energy, technology and the environment to ask Parliament to endorse the plan by a vote, which is now a formality.

'Indonesia can no longer rely on non-renewable energy sources such as gas and coal to generate electricity in future,' the chairman of the parliamentary commission for energy, technology and the environment, Mr Teuku Riefky Harsya, said in a statement.

'I believe that nuclear power plants will not leak if managed properly,' the Antara news agency quoted him as saying on Monday.

He was speaking after he and commission members visited the National Atomic Energy Agency (Batan) in Serpong, south of Jakarta, at the weekend.

The Yudhoyono administration has yet to present a detailed proposal on the building of nuclear plants to Parliament.

But environmental groups yesterday expressed concerns anew over the plan.
'It's costly, dangerous and there's still no safe way to store the nuclear waste,' a spokesman for Greenpeace Indonesia, Mr Martin Baker, told The Straits Times.

Mr Baker maintained that it was not necessary to build nuclear plants as the government could invest in geothermal resources instead of wasting money and putting the public's health at risk.
Other activists have warned that building a nuclear plant on densely populated Java island, for example, would risk a catastrophe because of frequent volcanic eruptions and earthquakes on the island.

Indonesia is part of the Pacific 'Ring of Fire', a region prone to volcanic eruptions and major earthquakes.

The government has not decided on where to build the plants, but officials have indicated that one possible site is in Muria, Central Java, near a dormant volcano. Other possible sites include Banten in Java, Bangka Belitung in Sumatra and Kalimantan in Borneo.

Proponents of the plan say that having nuclear plants will help the country overcome current electricity shortages, particularly in the Java-Bali grid.

The deputy chairman of Batan, Mr Adi Wardojo, said that the uranium reserves in Kalimantan are capable of producing 1,000 megawatts of electricity for 150 years.

While Batan has recommended the use of nuclear energy, any such plans require political and budget support from the government, he said.

Indonesia has been working to reduce its dependence on oil and gas to meet its energy needs.
Indonesian plans to build nuclear power plants were shelved in 1997 in the face of mounting public opposition and the discovery of the large Natuna gas field.

But these plans have been floated again since 2005 as power shortages increased. Some senior government officials had said that the country's first nuclear plant would be ready by 2017.

[With terrorists, sectarian violence (albeit less now), earthquakes and other natural disaster, the idea of a volatile nation like Indonesia having nuclear power is a scary thought.]

The house doesn't always win

Mar 17, 2010

S'pore's earliest casino advocate now cautions about their odds for survival

By Susan Long

FOR the longest time, he agitated for a casino.

Now that the Republic's first casino is upon us, Singapore's earliest and staunchest casino advocate has apprehensions over how it is taking shape.

For almost three decades, Mr Ronald Tan lobbied the Government to set up a casino here. In 1981, he wrote his first letter to the then Singapore Tourist Promotion Board, proposing a restricted- access casino at Sentosa.

Now 65, the gaming and hospitality consultant, who recently addressed an Institute of Policy Studies roundtable on casinos, recounts ruefully: 'I received a phone call from an officer saying that Singapore was not ready for it.'

But he continued to press his suit with many senior officials, and wrote over a dozen advocacy letters to the press. 'Since then, every single tourism board chairman knows me as the man who comes in pleading for a casino,' he says.

In the 1970s and 1980s, travelling around the world as a military tentage businessman, he saw how casinos were sprouting up across Europe, the Mediterranean, the United States, Africa and even in Lebanon, reviving cities and furnishing jobs.

He became convinced that Singapore should have its own casino to pull in quality tourists: 'About 5,000 Singapor- eans leave our shores daily to gamble on cruise ships, in Genting, Macau, Australia and Las Vegas. There are also no less than 100 underground gambling dens here.
'With all that appetite to gamble, why not satisfy it at home, with proper jurisdiction and safety, in a legalised casino, instead of our people going elsewhere and getting exposed to loan sharks and crime?'

Over the years, he got to know casino operators such as Shun Tak Group's Stanley Ho, Genting Group's Lim Goh Tong, Kerzner International's Butch Kerzner and Aspers Group's John Aspinall, and what made their businesses tick.

'They were doing everything right, just that safeguards were not in place. My idea was that Singapore could do a much better job and be a beacon to the world in casino management,' he says.

So when the Government announced it was awarding not just one but two casino licences in 2005, no one was more enthused than Mr Tan.

'With two integrated resorts, we can spawn a lot of technological advantages and innovate in casino surveillance, regulatory controls, policing, research and development,' he says. For example, chips can be embedded with radio-frequency identification (RFID), and through their movement detect problem gambling, he suggests.

In the 'perfect casino' - and he believes there exists such a thing - patrons will be issued biometric cards at the entrance: 'When they zap the card at any table, all the money that changes hands gets recorded.

'This is something I foresee that casinos around the world will soon adopt because many people are wagering beyond their means. If a person earns, say, $50,000 a year, they can ill afford to lose over $20,000. When their losses reach a certain level, a counsellor can come up to make the person sign an exclusion order.'

Today's gambling stakes, he worries, are dangerously high. A typical starting bet used to be $10 to $50, but can now inch into the thousands.

At the VIP tables, a big bet used to be $20,000, but now no one bats an eyelid at $200,000. At Resorts World Sentosa, he says, bets have tipped $500,000 - a new world benchmark.
He notes about 70 per cent of Asian casino patrons now favour the double-quick game of Baccarat, also known as Punto Banco. Accordingly, most casinos across the Asia-Pacific now devote 70 per cent of tables to Baccarat.

'Baccarat depends entirely on luck rather than skill. With eight decks of cards, about 60 games can be played, and easily $1 million to $2 million changes hands. Many people innocently start, then lose control of themselves, their lives, relationships and jobs,' he warns.

With two casinos soon to be on the doorstep of Singaporeans - especially stressed Shenton Way workers - he worries the temptation of easy access may be too great for many to bear: 'In the case of Macau and Genting, at least there's a physical distance to overcome to get to a casino. If you're addicted and have already paid the $2,000 yearly entrance fee, it only works out to $5.50 a day.'

Worse, he fears casino operators will encourage ever-greater bets because the operators bid so excessively - at least twice of what they can possibly make back - and are now under pressure to recoup their investments. The Government, which accepted the dizzying bids, now has the 'moral hazard' of ensuring they do not fail too spectacularly, he adds.

'My concern is they overspent on the two IRs. No matter how you look at it, their rate of return is limited by the sum total of bets. It's an arithmetic thing,' he says. 'Take the sum total of people who walk in the casino doors and multiply it by the money they bring in. Of that, the industry average is they usually leave about 20 per cent of it behind.'

He says Genting and Marina Bay Sands could have originally worked on a basis of reeling in $10 million a day each. Now, they must work towards $15 million: 'They are under pressure to increase gambling revenues, which means they must push bets higher and turn around tables faster.'

Despite the worst of the global recession being over, there are still signs of slowdown everywhere: 'Singapore is no exception. I'm afraid I do not see either Genting or Sands exceeding their forecasts of US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion) each in revenue from the gaming side within a year.' This may not cover the sky-high building costs of both IRs, which took place amid a construction boom that saw escalating sand and manpower prices. The total bill for both: Over $13 billion.

What contributed to such overexuberance? 'They wanted to win the prestige and legitimacy of being here in Singapore,' he says. 'The fact that Singapore announced it would have a casino opened up the floodgates to legitimacy. If squeaky-clean Singapore did not think it wrong to have casinos, who are other countries to think so?'

As such, many operators felt they 'had' to win the Singapore prize, 'come hell or high water': 'Once they won, it was, 'Just do it, don't worry about cost'.'

But he fears the overbidding has thrown a spanner in the works: 'Instead of allowing both casinos to open in a more relaxed way during the first few years, the IRs are now under tremendous pressure.' As such, Mr Tan augurs that the road ahead is 'no bed of roses'.
'Don't assume for a moment that once you land a casino licence, you will make money. It's a question of averages. Half the casinos around the world are in the red. The house doesn't always win.'

Case in point: Melbourne's Crown Casino suffered substantial losses for two years straight, due to a combination of bad management and poor patronage, after it opened in 1997. The original owners sold it off in the red to the late media mogul Kerry Packer in 1999.

But what about the viability of the IRs' much-vaunted side attractions? Can they bail out the house?

Mr Tan has his doubts: 'Within the next three years, the other attractions - theme park and hotels - will likely not make up for the shortfall.' He holds out little hope for Universal Studios, once the novelty wears off after about a year.

'Many Singapore attractions, from Tang Dynasty Village to Haw Par Villa, flopped because of the heat and humidity. The majority of Universal's attractions are outdoors, which means people have to wait in line under the hot sun. If even Hong Kong, a temperate country, cannot succeed with Disneyland with its huge China hinterland...' he trails off.

But ultimately, he fears what will do the IRs in is Singapore's upward-spiralling cost structure: 'Why was Hong Kong's Ocean Park more successful? Because its initial investment started from a very low base. Our cost of doing business here now is very worrying.'

But he does see a silver lining: 'Because manpower is costly, we can explore mechanisation of tables to replace croupiers. What gives Singapore an edge in running casinos is our IT capability and good governance and controls.'

Thanks to all these odds stacked against their success, Singapore's casinos will be forced to move beyond business as usual and step up their game to reinvent the industry in their favour. This could end up lighting the way forward for others, he projects.

'Just look at how we did a great job making our Turf Club world class and keeping out illegal bookmakers and the underworld. And how we built up expertise in service apartments and created the Fraser and Ascott brands. In time, Singapore can become a casino advisory to other countries,' he says.

'Countries that are opening IRs soon, such as Taiwan on Penghu Island, the Philippines at Manila Bay, and Tokyo at Odaiba, will come here to learn, not just about the attractions but the policing and regulatory aspects.'

Already, he says he has two clients, from Japan and Vietnam, who have commissioned studies on how the Singapore model can fit in their home countries.

'We could become the PSA and HDB in casinos, where other countries will invite us to come in to clean up, regulate or start up casinos,' he declares, his eyes gleaming with the possibilities he has ruminated over for some 30 years.


US keeps up offensive against Israeli 'affront'

Mar 16, 2010
Washington demands cancellation of settlement plans in East Jerusalem

By Jonathan Eyal

LONDON: The United States rebuffed yesterday an Israeli attempt to play down an unprecedented diplomatic rift between the two countries.

Brushing aside apologies from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who caused offence when his ministers revealed plans to build 1,600 homes in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem just when US Vice-President Joe Biden was visiting, Washington has let it be known that it seeks the outright cancellation of the entire settlement.

The Americans, who castigated the Israeli behaviour as an 'affront' and an 'insult', refuse to believe Mr Netanyahu's assertion that it was a misunderstanding.

And for good reasons, since the method of revealing controversial settlement plans on the eve of impending peace negotiations is a familiar Israeli tactic.

During the early 1990s when then US Secretary of State James Baker shuttled throughout the Middle East seeking a settlement, Israel's government often intensified its seizure of occupied Arab lands.

Mr Netanyahu has additional reasons to rework this tactic: He heads a right-wing coalition pledged to strengthening Israel's grip over Palestinian territories. His main concern is not peace negotiations, but confronting Iran's nuclear programme and he believes that US President Barack Obama is weak.

Mr Netanyahu's strategy is, therefore, to win time by making all the right noises in Washington while sabotaging any chance for peace, in the hope that time works in Israel's favour.

Later this year, the US will be in the throes of its mid-term congressional elections, just when the pro-Israeli lobby is at its strongest. And Iran's growing defiance of the US could still persuade Washington to forget about the Palestinians.

But Mr Netanyahu's tactic misfired. An affronted Mr Biden warned that Israel's 'breach of trust' was 'galling' - language, which reportedly stunned Israeli politicians.

US officials kept up the offensive over the weekend. The Israeli Ambassador in Washington was summoned to the State Department, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a pointed departure from protocol, revealed the contents of her phone call to Mr Netanyahu, whom she accused of 'undermining trust and confidence in the peace process'.

'We cannot remember an instance when such harsh language was directed at a friend,' complained Mr Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish pressure group.

By far, however, the most important development was the shift in the American arguments. Israel is no longer accused of merely hindering peace negotiations, but of actually 'endangering America's interests', as US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley bluntly put it.

It represents a growing assessment inside the US administration that the fury now shared by all Muslim nations about America's inability to push Israel to the negotiating table actively hampers US military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, and could well cost the lives of many American soldiers.

Last month, Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, travelled to Tel Aviv to give his Israeli counterparts precisely this message: That US' strategic position in the Middle East will continue to erode if Israel refuses negotiations.

The consequences for Israel could be severe. Although it has powerful lobbies in Washington, no lobby is as important as the US military, which now sees Israel as part of the problem.

An editorial in Haaretz, one of Israel's top newspapers, reminded Mr Netanyahu yesterday of this basic reality. It said Israel 'is not America's strategic asset, but America is the source of Israel's strength'. Any Israeli leader ignores this at his peril.


[Israel is sabotaging peace. It is playing a dangerous game and the US may want to consider the strategic advantage of Israel as an ally. It cannot afford to have an "ally" that undermines peace and security.]

Monday, March 15, 2010

How Democracy Dies

A global decline in political freedom is partly the fault of the middle class.

By Joshua Kurlantzick NEWSWEEK

Published Mar 12, 2010

From the magazine issue dated Mar 22, 2010

Political freedom blossomed in the developing world in the 1990s and early part of this century. While authoritarians still ruled most of Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia in 1990, by 2005 democracies had emerged across these continents. The Soviet Union had morphed into Russia, a freewheeling society that seemed to bear little resemblance to its grim predecessor. With the fall of Saddam Hussein, the overthrow of the Taliban, the apparent end of military interventions in Turkey, and the reformist presidency of Mohammad Khatami in Iran, even the Middle East, long the laggard in democratic reform, appeared to be joining the trend. In 2005, Freedom House noted that only nine countries experienced rollbacks of democracy; in its report in 2009, it registered declines in "40 countries in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and the former Soviet Union." Indeed, the organization found that the number of electoral democracies had fallen back to 116, its lowest number since 1995.

The culprits in democracy's decline may come as a surprise. Many of the same middle-class men and women who once helped push dictators out of power are now seeing just how difficult it can be to establish democracy, and are pining for the days of autocracy. Why has this happened? In many cases because the early leaders of the young democracies that emerged in the 1990s failed to recognize that free societies require strong institutions, a loyal opposition to the ruling party, and a willingness to compromise. Instead, they saw democracy as just semiregular votes; after they won, they then used all tools of power to dominate their countries and to hand out benefits to their allies or tribe. This narrow interpretation of democracy not only distorted the true meaning of the word but also alienated the public in many countries, who became disgusted that these democrats seemed no more committed to the common good than their authoritarian predecessors.

Too often, Western nations, which after 9/11 refocused their attention from the democratization of the 1990s to the war on terror, said little as democracy went down the drain. Sometimes, the West simply no longer had the time to stand up for democrats abroad. Other times, as in the case of Malaysia and Pakistan, authoritarian rule suddenly benefited the West, since the U.S. could rely on autocrats to help detain terror suspects indefinitely. Meanwhile, the Bush administration's linkage of the war in Iraq to democracy promotion tainted democratization in the minds of many, particularly in the Middle East.

The global economic crisis has also damaged democracy's appeal. To many middle-class men and women in the developing world, the spread of democracy was linked to the spread of capitalism, since many of these countries opened their economies at the same time as they embraced political freedom. As the crisis cuts into people's incomes, many blame democracy, in part, for the economic downturn. Dominican President Leonel Fernández said as much. "Expectations over the prospects of democracy in the region [Latin America] have given way to disillusion as democracy failed to boost economic prosperity," he declared at a summit of Latin leaders in 2008.

The result is that on nearly every continent, democracy is sputtering out. In Iraq, the first post-Saddam leaders relied on the bluntest tools of intimidation to defeat their rivals and rise to the top of the political system, disillusioning the population. In the recent Iraq election, voter turnout dropped from the 2005 poll, despite extensive advertising prodding people to vote. In the Philippines, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2006 used an emergency decree to, in effect, declare martial law, and her reign has coincided with an increasing number of abductions and killings of left-wing activists by the security forces. In Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen and his party, though also elected, have used libel suits in compliant courts and, allegedly, beatings and killings of activists to gain total control of the political system. In Russia, starting in 2000, Vladimir Putin took advantage of widespread anger at the collapse of Russia's economy in the 1990s to push through changes that crushed any chance for real democracy, replacing elected regional governors with ones appointed by the Kremlin, taking over nearly every independent political party, and neutering most of the media. Venezuela's Hugo Chávez has for more than a decade used his oil wealth to maintain broad popularity with the poor, winning election after election even while turning virtually the entire political establishment into a sycophantic chorus by shutting down independent media outlets, packing prominent state companies with his cronies, and using a national referendum to wipe out his term limits. And in many African countries, so-called reformers, like current Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, came to power vowing to promote real political freedom but soon used their office simply to crush rivals and favor their own ethnic allies.

One of the starkest examples of this phenomenon has been Thailand, which was considered by many in the 1990s to be one of the most promising young democracies in the world. Since then it has suffered one of the greatest comedowns. In the 1990s, Thailand passed one of the most progressive constitutions in the developing world, built a vibrant NGO culture that rivaled any in the West, and midwifed an unrestrained media that dug into scandal after scandal. In 2001, riding a wave of popular discontent following the Asian financial crisis, which had decimated Thailand's economy, Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire telecommunications magnate, won national elections on a promise to right the economy and bring social welfare programs to the poor, who make up the majority of the country but historically had been treated with disdain by elite Thai politicians. Once in office, Thaksin delivered on some of his populist pledges: his government launched a universal health-care scheme and delivered loans to each village to kick-start economic growth. The prime minister made an elaborate show of listening to the poor, traveling from village to village to hear even the most minor complaints.

But Thaksin wasn't the boon to Thailand's democracy that he seemed at first. Instead, even as he was extending social protections he set about undermining many of Thailand's young democratic institutions. He gutted the civil service and the judiciary, replacing independent thinkers with cronies, and silenced the media by allegedly having allies buy into media groups and then silence critical reporting. Declaring a "war on drugs," Thaksin was accused by international and domestic human-rights groups of condoning extrajudicial killings and disappearances by the security forces. Prominent human-rights activists like lawyer Somchai Neelapaichit have simply vanished. Overall, more than 2,500 people died mysteriously during the drug war. Michael Montesano, an expert on Thai politics at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, says that Thaksin more closely resembles a Latin American caudillo, such as Juan Perón, than a democratic politician.

One of the unlikely effects of such power grabs has been that in many of the countries where democracy has recently been rolled back, the middle class that once promoted political freedom is now also resorting to extralegal, undemocratic tactics—supposedly to save democracy itself. Middle-class Thai urbanites, for instance, bitterly disappointed by Thaksin's abuses and worried he was empowering the poor at their expense, have rebelled. Rather than challenging Thaksin through the democratic process, such as by bolstering opposition parties or starting their own newspapers, they tore down democracy by shutting down institutions of government and calling for a military coup, even while claiming to support democracy. In order to push first Thaksin and then his allies out of office, mobs of protestors tried to paralyze Bangkok in 2006, 2007, and 2008, launching a siege of Parliament and, in 2008, taking over the main airport, a move that wreaked havoc on travel to the country. Many called for a military intervention or some other kind of benign despotism to restore the rule of law and fight corruption, which they claimed had worsened under Thaksin. "We had to save democracy, even if it meant [ignoring] elections," said one Thai diplomat sympathetic to the protesters. The Thai elites got what they hoped for: Thaksin is in exile, his opponents are in power, and Thailand's democracy is shattered.

A similar pattern has played out elsewhere. Middle-class demonstrators in the wealthier eastern part of Bolivia have launched an antigovernment campaign against President Evo Morales, a populist former union leader who has tried to redistribute wealth, nationalize businesses, and use a national referendum to dramatically increase his own powers. In the Philippines, where a previous generation of Filipinos had gathered to bring down the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, middle-class Manila residents came together again to force out Joseph Estrada, popularly elected and beloved by the poor but accused of massive graft. After Estrada left office, many of the same middle-class protestors turned out in attempts to force out Macapagal Arroyo, though she survived and remains in office.

Disappointed with these elected autocrats and frustrated with the graft of young democracies, many middle-class activists in developing nations are now even longing for the old days of authoritarian rule. In Africa, recent coups in Mauritania and Niger were welcomed by the urban middle class, while data from the Asian Barometer surveys, regular polls that examine Asian attitudes toward democracy, show that many respondents have become dissatisfied with their democratic systems. "Support [in Asia] for authoritarianism is growing rather than diminishing," argue Yu-tzung Chang, Yunhan Zhu, and Chong-min Pak in an article titled "Authoritarian Nostalgia in Asia." Such is the case in Russia as well, where Putin, even as he wipes out most of the democratic institutions, enjoys staggeringly high poll numbers from the middle class and other segments of the population. In one recent Angus Reid poll, some 80 percent of Russians said they approved of Putin's performance, ratings that Western leaders can only dream of. Even in China, where it is the poor in rural areas who now take the lead in protests, the urban middle class appears comfortable with the ruling regime. In a Pew study focused on urban areas, a large majority of Chinese reported that they were happy with national conditions.

The middle class's push back against democracy, by way of coups and other antidemocratic means, has disenfranchised the poor, sparking still more protests. In Thailand, crowds of protesters, most of them poor, have launched their own violent demonstrations that target the middle classes who tried to push Thaksin out of office. Similarly in Bolivia, the middle-class anti-Morales protesters now have been met with angry pro-Morales protesters mostly drawn from the ranks of the poor. In the Philippines, poor men and women furious that their hero Estrada had been forced out by the middle class launched their own counter-protests. Now, with the nation heading to another election, Estrada, out of jail and running again, is picking up support from the poor for his presidential bid.

These counterprotests have led to class divides that could take generations to reconcile. After more than a decade of fragile democracy, many institutions created in the 1990s have been destroyed, and those in power have few remaining tools to resolve political tensions. In Russia, for instance, even if a leader came into office who wanted to restore more freedoms, he or she would have to fight the Putinesque system and bureaucracy, which have centralized all power in the Kremlin. In Thailand, even if current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva wanted to return the country to the freedom of the 1990s, he couldn't, because during Thaksin's rule and then after the coup, Thailand's rulers tore up its reformist constitution, ruined the courts, and so politicized the media that newspapers now slavishly back either the pro- or anti-Thaksin forces. It would take years, if not decades, for a new leader to rebuild the civil service, courts, and other institutions with the type of trained, impartial people who'd been developed before.

Perhaps the greatest problems are in Iraq, where millions of voters headed to the polls last week for the second time since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Many had high expectations for life after the fall of Saddam, but support for democracy soon dropped off in part because middle-class Iraqis witnessed the turmoil and political infighting of a new political system. At the worst moments of Iraq's post-2003 chaos, when the idea of Iraq becoming a model democracy for the Middle East seemed insane, many middle-class Iraqis, particularly Sunnis, began longing for the return of an authoritarian ruler, even one as brutal as Saddam. In one 2007 ABC News survey, only 43 percent of Iraqis thought democracy would be the best political system for their country. The turnout for the most recent election suggests many Iraqis remain disillusioned. And even if their democracy develops, they can't let down their guard. The history of other young democracies reveals just how fragile this success can be.

Kurlantzick is fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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[Democracy is just a tool. Used wisely and benevolently, it will benefit the people. Used to pursue self-interest, it can be abused and serve to disenfranchise the people. Democracy is not a stand-alone solution. It is not the magic wand that will solve all problems. It depends on so many other things to make it work. Thinking that it is the solution is just being soft-headed.]

Small Acts of Terrorism

Extract of an article on MSNBC news

One writer on a jihadi Internet forum scolded those who condemned Abdulmutallab, the alleged perpetrator, as a failure.

"From my prospective living in the United States brother Abdulmutallab succeeded. Maybe he didn't achieve his full objective but you do not necessarily need to achieve a grade of 100 percent to pass the class," the writer said in an early January posting on the Ansar al-Mujahideen discussion forum, which is pro-al-Qaida and is now closed to new members.

"What Abdulmutallab did was instill a fear in Americans. This is a very significant accomplishment. An increased fear of flying, for example, can cripple the airlines and cause economic problems."

Another poster answered: "What did he accomplish? How many billions do you think they will spend to boost security that won't work anyway? He humiliated the Americans, afterward Newark Airport was on lock down for 6 hours because someone walked the wrong way. Success comes in many ways."

Gadahn, in his video, took a broader view, telling followers: "Jihad is neither the personal property nor the exclusive responsibility of any single group, organization or individual. ... Instead it is the personal duty of every able-bodied Muslim on the face of this earth."


Over the weekend I was downtown and there was huge jam of people leading to the IT show at the city link. And I was thinking if a suicide bomber blew himself up at that site, it would have been death, destruction, mayhem, and chaos. Of course, it is difficult to get a bomb in Singapore, so that's part of the security.

But with all the airport security in the US, the chances of getting a bomb onto a plane is very much reduced (hopefully!). Airport security now includes screening at the check in area where bags and people are screened for bombs and other weapons. So what's to stop this from happening:

"Excuse me sir, that looks like a bomb in your bag."

"Yes it is." *Boom*

And the terrorist takes out an airport check-in counter with expensive equipment, some security staff, and maybe a lot of passengers waiting to clear check-in.

And people become afraid to fly.

And next time you wanna fly, you have to call the airport and they will send a team to meet you at your home, check your luggage for bombs and weapons. Seal the bags and put you in a secured vehicle and bring you straight to the airport. :-)

It's not going to be so bad. At least not in Singapore. But, since guns and bombs are more easily obtained in the US...

Perils of Polarisation in a two-party political system.

I been watchin Jon Stewart on the Daily Show.

Some background first on the US political environment. There are two main political parties, the Democratic Party (liberal, left wing), and the Republicans (conservative, right wing).

The Republicans are against big govt, welfarism, taxes, and for religion/religious values, capitalism, pro-life and the right to keep and bear arms.

The Democrats are about providing a social safety net, are pro-choice on abortion, religion, alternative lifestyle, wants to control guns, separate church from state, and are against de-regulation (for the sake of de-regulation). And for all that they need to fund their agenda with taxes, and a relatively large govt (bureaucracy).

The Republicans have evangelists and religious leaders, as well as some rather outspoken media personalities such as Rush Limbaugh (google him), as well as media resources, such as Fox News. You may have heard that sometime last year, the Obama (Democrat) administration barred Fox News from White House Press media events because Fox News was not impartial and distorting the Obama Administration's positions.

The Democrats have their own lobby groups and their own media personalities such as Jon Stewart ("The Daily Show") and Stephen Colbert ("The Colbert Report"). The latter is a spoof. Stephen Colbert takes on the persona of a conservative idiot who fights the Left-wing Democrats (ineffectively) on his show.

There are many other players on both sides, but one on the Left (with Jon Stewart) is Keith Olbermann. Anyway, Jon Stewart noted that Keith Olbermann had been going a little overboard on the name-calling and took him to task for it (in a humourous way), and Olbermann actually acknowledged that he may have gone overboard. Which was a really gracious response.

In the comments on that clip, there were supporters who were supportive of his gracious response, but one fan/liberal ("skybolt") did not agree. Here are his comments and the responses to him.


January 25, 2010 10:31 AM

Stewart never should have gone after Olbermann in public, and Olbermann shouldn't have apologized. Politics is war. You attack the enemy, not your allies, and you don't apologize for attacking as the enemy as fiercely as you can.

January 25, 2010 11:12 AM in reply to Skybolt

Double fail:
1/ Stewart is a comedian who ridicules those who go over the top regardless of their ideology, and KO was clearly over the top. He's not a political hack.

2/ Politicians and pundits may go at each others throat if it pleases them, but they lose all credibility with sane people when doing so.


January 25, 2010 4:39 PM in reply to RectoNoVerso

1) John Stewart has influence now, and with that comes additional responsibility. Unless he wants to help the Republicans, he can't go after people on his side of the line on the grounds of "civility" or being "over the top."

2) This claim is ridiculous. Politicians and pundits do not lose credibility with anyone important by going at the other side's throats. Any political partisan who wants to achieve anything knows that your politicians and pundits have to be on the attack all the time. When a guy like Olbermann gets vicious, he does not lose credibility with conservatives, because he never had any credibillity with conservatives. He loses credibility with David Broder, but David Broder is irrelevant. And he gains credibility with any liberal or Democrat who wants to win.


January 25, 2010 8:34 PM in reply to Skybolt

Your two points might be more credible if you were talking about a percentage of the voting electorate that only numbers, at best, no more than 15 per cent.

Liberal Democrats have no chance of winning without convincing moderates and independents that they are worth voting for. Painting caricatures of your opponent might be useful at discrediting some policy positions, but if a policy position is popular (even if the premises are flawed), attacking it can backfire bigtime.


January 25, 2010 9:12 PM in reply to Skybolt

If you relentlessly attack the other side and never criticize your own side, then you are an A-hole, and lose credibility with people who are not A-holes. Would I like Republicans more if their brand of politics were fact-based persuasion instead of all-out war? Yes. Would the country exist today if the founding fathers had practiced the brand of politics you favor, Skybolt? It would not; sayonara, Federalist Papers! I'll stick with the team that has faith in the merits of its ideas instead of its smears, and that realizes the only way to HAVE ideas is to criticize their own. That side for the past 14-15 years at least has been the Democrats.

Also, for the record, I'd argue Stewart's primary target has always been the media itself -- how it amplifies or neglects various memes, ignorances, and hypocrisies.


January 26, 2010 8:28 AM in reply to hotspur

Internal disagreement is perfectly fine. Airing those disagreements in public is stupid. It only helps the other side. Republicans do not do "fact-based persuasion" because their ideas are not based on facts. It's their beliefs and policies that make them repulsive, not their tactics. Their tactics are how they win. Our tactics are how we lose.

Politicians were extremely vicious in the 18th and 19th centuries and they attacked each other mercilessly. But that is not relevant. We are talking about what works right now. Slapping each other around in public is one of the things that makes Democrats look weak and incompetent. Civility and openness amounts to letting the other side win.


January 27, 2010 10:45 AM in reply to Skybolt

Excellent points. If only Democrats could take on Republicans as vigorously as they engage in the circular firing squad...

But lately I have become extremely depressed, realizing that when you operate under the assumption that you can create your own reality, that if you say something often enough it becomes a fact, and you also have a TV network at your disposal as well as an army of emailers who can make gullible recipients believe pretty much anything that suits their preconceived biases, it's almost impossible to win against that kind of willful delusion. THIS is what the death of hope looks like....realizing that the other guys truly are more interested in destroying our side than they are in making sure our country succeeds. People suck.


January 27, 2010 10:54 AM in reply to hotspur

The founding fathers practiced dirty politics to an extreme that remains impressive even today. Hell, Burr and Hamilton actually dueled to the death over truly reprehensible mudslinging! These guys were not principled braniac philosophers who sat around drafting cogent arguments...those times of introspection were well-peppered with some pretty crazy stuff. We shouldn't fall into the trap of glorifying the founding fathers in ways that distort reality...we already have the teabaggers for that.


January 25, 2010 1:36 PM in reply to Skybolt

Nah -- Stewart does satire -- everyone's fair game for a satirist. and altho' both Olbermann's original rant and Stewart's bit satirizing it were uncomfortable for me to watch, in the end it caused Olbermann to deflate a bit, admit he had gone a little too far, and that's a good thing, for it clearly separates the man from the (right-wing crazy) boys.


January 25, 2010 4:42 PM in reply to pattybee

What separates a guy like Olbermann from the right-wing wackos is that right wing-wackos are wrong and Olbermann is right. There is nothing wrong with Olbermann's tactics.

You'll never see a Republican or a conservative argue for the neutering of one of their own. That seems to be solely a Democratic weakness.


January 26, 2010 12:03 AM in reply to Skybolt

So you are in favor of any tactic if you think it will help you win? You are in favor of beating the Republicans no matter what, including becoming them?

I disagree. Doing the right thing is the right thing. Winning by playing as dirty as the other side is a Pyrrhic Victory.


January 26, 2010 8:37 AM in reply to farnsworth

Trying to win does not make us Republicans. What makes the Republicans sleazy and disgusting is what they believe and what they try to accomplish, not the tactics they use. Becoming the Republicans means adopting the Republican viewpoint and working for the policies they prefer.

The goal of politics is not to show what a nice, polite person you are. The goal of politics is to have your personal beliefs and values enacted into law. You have to decide what is more important to you. Is it more important to win the political battle, which means saving millions of lives and probably the planet? Or is it more important to fulfill your personal image of yourself as reasonable and easy to be around?


January 26, 2010 11:23 AM in reply to Skybolt

"The goal of politics is not to show what a nice, polite person you are. The goal of politics is to have your personal beliefs and values enacted into law."


The "goal" of politics is to have the public's beliefs enacted into law. Your stated goal is the reason our democracy is in shambles. Republican or Democrat; doesn't matter.


January 26, 2010 3:14 PM in reply to ohyeathatsright

It is because of surrenderists like you that democracy is in shambles. What I obviously meant, since you seem determined to misunderstand me, is that people participate in politics in order to see their personal beliefs enacted into law. The political process is what determines whose beliefs those will be. If you are after anything else you're just trying to lose.


In the discussion above, the critics of Skybolt failed to realise and point out that the fatal assumption of Skybolt is that the Democrats will always be right. That may well be a reflection of the fundamental beliefs of the commentors. In fact Skybolt's personal belief is that Republicans are wrong and Democrats are right, never quite understanding that from the Republican's point of view, the Republicans are right and the Democrats are wrong. He sees this as a fundamental truth. His position that any tactic that will lead to victory is justifiable is no different and no more justifiable than the view of any radical/fundamentalist/terrorist. And he justifies it as backed by facts and backed by truth (just like any radical/fundamentalist/terrorist).

He further argues that the fundamental goal of politics is to ensure that your political views and values become dominant.

This is the fatal flaw of the US political system. It has polarised the nation. What started as check and balance has evolved into adversarial process, into all-out ideological warfare.

The goal of politics is to make policy. Well-informed policy. If the Democrats (or any single party) believes as Skybolt does, that it has the monopoly on truth, facts, and righteousness on its side, then the political process has already broken down. Maybe irrevocably. Because there is no room for negotiation.

The Congress/Senate set-up is to enable views to the expressed, ideas to be debated, and a decision based on the best ideas or information.

The reality is that policies are horse-traded. Parties in power decide what are their priority policies and trade with the Minority/Party in Opposition for their priority policies and try to come to some compromise. But when policies such as the healthcare bill comes around and is the priority for one to pass, and the priority of the other side to stop, there is an impasse.

The truth then is that policies are compromised into existence.

In Singapore where there isn't a two party system and no opposition party alone or in alliance can stop the PAP, policies are drafted, introduced, and passed pretty much unamended by the opposition.

Perhaps these policies lack breadth. Perhaps they lack the outsider's view. Perhaps with a more robust debate they might be better.


The experience of the US shows that an adversarial two-party system may make better political theatre, may lead to more engaging or robust debates, and may lead to many many drafts and amendments.

But it may not lead to better decisions. Sometime, it may not even lead to a decision.