Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The best is yet to be - or is it?

Dec 28, 2014

The challenge Singapore is facing now, at this stage of its development, is bigger than China's

By Rachel Chang In Beijing

It was a surprise twist to a familiar conversation.

Over lunch with a Chinese acquaintance a few months ago, we cycled meanderingly though the usual topics educated Beijingers like to cover: air pollution, politics, the social graces of the population, or the lack thereof.

I forwarded my theory that the air pollution problem in Beijing would improve faster than expected, as such is the nature of governance systems with few other stakeholders. Things get done quickly, and Beijing has shown there is little economic, political, social or human cost it considers too high for a priority of the central government's.

He was sceptical, and argued that the lack of private profit opportunities would slow down change. But then, concluding amiably, he said: "Only one thing is for sure. Life will get better."

It was a cap not just to our discussion on air pollution, but to everything else we had covered and more - a succinct existential statement that conjured less of an empirical truth than a spiritual one.

It is - I have come to believe over 10 intense months of reporting in China - a statement of national significance, summing up a collective mood of buoyancy and resurgence.

My lunch partner's attitude is so crystallising not because he is as far from a victim of Beijing's propaganda and information control as can be found among locals, which he is.

It is because he is a middle-class, middle-aged man. And for four years as a political reporter in Singapore before my Beijing stint, I had never come across a middle-class, middle-aged Singaporean man expressing anything akin to optimism, not to mention the earnest, uninflected belief that "life will get better".

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Running cafes no piece of cake

Dec 28, 2014

Nearly half of all cafes registered in 2011 have shut; owners cite lack of experience, poor planning, manpower as challenges

By Joanna Seow

Having your own cafe may seem like a dream job, and the start-up scene here is brimming with at least 350 new names each year since 2011.

But sustaining the business is no piece of cake.

Almost half of the 369 cafes, coffee houses and snack bars that registered in 2011 have since closed down.

And of the 391 which registered last year, around a quarter have also put up the shutters, according to data from the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority.

Cafe owners past and present say lack of experience and poor planning, along with manpower issues because of the tight labour market, have been the biggest challenges in keeping their businesses running.

De'Pop Culture owner Adeline Wang left her corporate communications job to set up the 30-seat cafe in Bugis in July.

She wanted to open a cafe after spending a lot of time studying in them during her university days.

Now, the 23-year-old is thinking of closing it.

"One of my mistakes was that I didn't have any experience in the cafe business," she admitted.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Special Report: In Jakarta, that sinking feeling is all too real


JAKARTA — The Ciliwung River flows from a volcano south of the Indonesian capital, through the heart of one of the world’s most densely populated cities and almost into Jakarta Bay. Almost, because for the final mile or so of its course, the river would have to flow uphill to reach the bay.

The same is true for the rest of the half-dozen sewage-choked rivers that wind though central Jakarta. Unable to defy gravity, they’ve been redirected to canals that drain into the sea.

The reason these conduits are necessary is that Greater Jakarta, an agglomeration of 28 million people, sits on a swampy plain that has sunk 13 feet (4m) over the past three decades.

“Jakarta is a bowl, and the bowl is sinking,” said Mr Fook Chuan Eng, senior water and sanitation specialist with the World Bank, who oversees a US$189 million (S$250 million) flood mitigation project for the city.

The channels of the Ciliwung and other rivers are sinking. The entire sprawl of Jakarta’s north coast — fishing ports, boatyards, markets, warehouses, fish farms, crowded slums and exclusive gated communities — it’s all sinking. Even the 40-year-old seawall that is supposed to keep the Java Sea from inundating the Indonesian capital is sinking.

The next 50 years or Beyond 2015

Two writers offer their views on what needs to change for Singapore, 50 years after independence.

DEC 20, 2014

50 years on, still no clear political alternative


AT THE recent party conference of the People's Action Party (PAP), the possibility was raised of it not forming the government after the next general election.

This brings to mind former foreign minister George Yeo's two- word Facebook post after the ruling party lost the Punggol East by-election in January last year: "Whither Singapore?" This came after the May 2011 election when the PAP received its lowest votes in a general election since independence.

In this context, it appears intuitive that here is an opportunity for opposition parties to explain why they should run the country. Yet, none is making a claim for the leadership mantle other than trying to increase the parties' parliamentary presence.

Are the poor better off now than they were 50 years ago?

December 5, 2014

Dear Cecil:

There has been a lot of discussion on the distribution of wealth, particularly to the top 1 percent. I’m wondering about the bottom 20 percent — how do they compare to the bottom 20 percent of 50 years ago? Based on casual observation, it would seem the lowest class is much better off than a couple of generations ago. Is that true, or am I just getting cynical in my old age?

— DJ, Minneapolis

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Where has global warming gone?


DECEMBER 23, 2014

For the last quarter of the 20th century, the average temperature of the surface of the Earth edged inexorably upwards. Then, to the surprise even of scientists, it stopped. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere continued to rise; indeed, it is higher today than it has been for centuries. And yet, for the past 15 years, based on the conventional way of measuring global warming, the planet does not seem to have become any hotter.

What explains this unexpected turn of events and what does it mean for future climate policy?

The pause in the rise of surface temperatures is real. It can be observed in surveys of the surface of the sea and in satellite measurements of the troposphere. But the reason it has occurred is not that our greenhouse gas emissions are no longer changing the Earth’s climate; it is that surface temperature is a poor metric for human-induced warming. Indeed, what scientists have figured out is that, instead of warming the surface, the excess heat being generated has gone to the deeper oceans.

This calls into question some of the international strategies for combating climate change that are currently being negotiated, such as those aimed at preventing the global temperature at the Earth’s surface from rising more than 2°C above the pre-industrial average.

Law and realpolitik in the South China Sea


DEC 23, 2014

CHINA'S rejection of the international process represented by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague is both a missed opportunity and a disappointing corollary to its intransigence on the South China Sea dispute. Beijing's visceral opposition to third-party arbitration is based on the suspicion that the process is a means of exerting political pressure on it over territory it thinks is inherently Chinese. Thus, its recent position paper dismisses the special arbitral tribunal - where the Philippines filed a memorial this year - as having no jurisdiction over the issue. Instead, it asserts the "historical rights" that give Beijing indisputable sovereignty over disputed features.

The tough must get going in Singapore’s new economics


DECEMBER 23, 2014

Singapore’s continuing modest economic growth of only 3 per cent or so each year and the uncertainty inherent in the global economy suggest that we cannot be complacent about our immediate economic future.

Within South-east Asia, the Republic’s competitiveness is being eroded by high domestic business costs and the economic uplifting seen in economies more rich in resource and human capital, such as Indonesia and Myanmar. It has been nearly five years since the Government adopted the recommendations of the Economic Strategies Committee (ESC). The targets set included annual growth in gross domestic product of 3 to 5 per cent, annual productivity growth of 2 to 3 per cent and a 30 per cent rise in the median wage by 2020.

We have barely met the GDP target and only with a significant contribution from the Government’s fiscal impulse into the economy.

We have not yet had a single positive productivity growth year apart from 2010, whose positive number was a one-off given the labour contraction during the 2009 recession.

And while wages at the lower end have risen slightly, they have not done so fast or far enough to give confidence that we will meet the median wage target.

This has not been for want of trying. The Government has poured billions into trying to drive productivity and innovation, and used policy action to tighten the labour market.

At the halfway mark of the ESC plan, it is opportune to ask whether Singapore needs new economics in the next five years.

Dominant no more?

DEC 23, 2014



Twenty years ago, dominant single-parties were a recognisable feature of South-east Asian politics. Indonesia's Golkar, Malaysia's Umno and Singapore's People's Action Party were marching to the beat of their own drums, proving to be too formidable for opposition parties.

Today, however, the drumbeats are not as confident as in the 1990s: the rhythm has either slowed down - as in Malaysia and Singapore - or is in disarray, as in Indonesia.

Over the last month, all three parties have held their congresses. Umno and PAP leaders told cadres to persevere or risk losses in the next elections, while Golkar's leaders acknowledge their crisis.

Are dominant parties of the last century doomed to fail in the 21st?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Too much education is bad. Don't over-educate the young: Nassim Taleb

Dec 22, 2014


By Genevieve Cua

An interview with author and thinker Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a somewhat nerve wracking affair. He famously reserves his scorn for certain professions - journalists, for instance, to which this writer belongs - as well as economists, bankers and academics. That is, anyone who has no "skin in the game"; opinion makers who prognosticate or make forecasts and are not held to account for their views. Those who invest on the views of this hapless group take on all the risk and downside.

On the opposite end are "heroes" who bear the disadvantages and risks for others' sake; they have "soul in the game". Entrepreneurs, soldiers and investigative journalists rank high in his world view. His model for "soul in the game" is his father. In his latest book Antifragile, he recounts an incident during the Lebanese civil war when a militiaman insulted his father, who refused to obey the soldier's orders. As his father drove away, he was shot in the back, and the bullet remained in his chest for the rest of his life. Mr Taleb writes: "This set the bar very high for me. Dignity is worth nothing unless you earn it, unless you are willing to pay the price for it."

Mr Taleb was in Singapore for about a week in September at the invitation of fund management group Amundi; he was a keynote speaker at its 25th anniversary celebration. He turns out to be unfailingly cordial in our conversation, except for flashes of annoyance at the camera's clicks and whirrs.

During his visit, he also spoke to government officials who were apparently keen to elicit his views on Singapore and its strategic direction. He is likely to have made them sit up, as he turns conventional wisdom on its head, particularly on the issue of education, highly prized in a city where good grades and degrees are seen as a passport to success.

Not so, says Mr Taleb. "What I'm saying is a bit controversial for you guys, given the respect you have for education. It's good to have a class of people who are educated. But education is the enemy of entrepreneurship. If you start having a high level of education, you start hiring people based on school success.

Is Uber taking us for a ride?



Remember when getting a taxi meant calling a despatcher or standing by the roadside waving your arms frantically in the hope of catching the eye of a passing cabbie?

Today, many of us turn instead to our smartphones to quickly and conveniently hail a ride.

Indeed, recently, there has been a profusion of taxi apps here, from San Francisco-based Uber to Malaysia-founded GrabTaxi, Easy Taxi from Brazil and London-born Hailo, which recently made its debut in Singapore.

Among these newcomers promising to reshape the urban transportation market, Uber is easily the most high profile, for reasons both good and bad.

Apart from allowing users to book regular taxis, Uber has also crafted a new business model, taking on the taxi firms by acting as an intermediary to connect private-hire drivers in an emerging sub-industry dubbed “ride sharing”. As a disruptive technology start-up, Uber has taken on its mission with an enthusiastic — some might say abrasive — zeal. Using none-too-flattering language, it has made no bones about its full-frontal assault on the established and, in many cases, highly-regulated taxi industry.

Founded in 2009, Uber’s most recent fund-raising valued the company at around US$40 billion (S$52.6 billion), placing it on par with Delta, the world’s largest airline with a heritage of 80 years. That is not bad for a five-year-old firm that is essentially an app and little more.

But while the mega-valuation naturally grabs headlines, what it means in reality is unclear.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Put Singapore first in the years to come

By Devadas Krishnadas

December 19

It is convention to end the year with a review of the 12 months that have passed. This can be a useful exercise in reflection and learning. But as 2015 draws near, a more important question should be: What should we expect of ourselves as a people and as a country? This is a more meaningful query as it focuses on what we can control and asks us to take responsibility for our future rather than simply react to events.

In the 1990s, there was a popular and long-running local English television series called Under One Roof. This speaks to the essential truth that, on our tiny island, we are really all living under one shared roof. Yet, in the recent past, divisiveness among Singaporeans is a growing feature of our discourse.

This divisiveness is being driven by a number of prominent wedges.

Brent drops below $60 as OPEC, Russia keep output steady amid glut

17 Dec 2014

SINGAPORE - Brent futures fell more than 1 percent on Wednesday, down for a sixth straight session, with persistent worries of a supply glut keeping prices near a 5-1/2 year low under $60 a barrel.

Oil prices skidded in recent weeks, with Brent down nearly $20 since the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) decided to keep output steady in late November.

Non-OPEC member Russia, one of the world's top producers, has also indicated that it does not plan to cut output despite a glut in the world market.

Brent for February delivery fell 62 cents to $59.39 a barrel by 0601 GMT (01:01 a.m. EST).

A ferocious struggle for Singapore's future

Dec 19, 2014

This is a response from High Commissioner to Australia Burhan Gafoor to an article by the former assistant secretary-general of the Barisan Sosialis party, Dr Poh Soo Kai. Dr Poh's Dec 3 article appeared in New Mandala, a Web magazine hosted by the Australian National University that focuses on South-east Asian affairs.

DR POH Soo Kai's commentary ("Singapore's 'Battle For Merger' revisited") in New Mandala on Dec 3, 2014 is a misleading account of Operation Coldstore, Singapore's merger with Malaya, the Barisan Sosialis Singapura (Barisan) and his own role in that period.

Dr Poh and other revisionists like Dr Thum Ping Tjin have alleged that Operation Coldstore was a political exercise meant to suppress what they claim to be legitimate, presumably peaceful, democratic opponents of the PAP government. A full reading of the declassified documents from the British National Archives shows clearly that Operation Coldstore was a security operation meant to counter the serious security threat posed by the outlawed Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) and their supporters in Singapore, working through the Barisan and associated communist united front (CUF) organisations. The revisionists conveniently omit mention of the incriminating information in these documents. For example, they quote selectively some of then UK Commissioner to Singapore Lord Selkirk's remarks to claim that Operation Coldstore was an act of political suppression with no security basis. But a holistic reading of all the documents debunks their accounts. The documents reveal that both Lord Selkirk and his deputy Philip Moore were concerned about the extent to which the CPM had penetrated the Barisan and had concluded that security action was imperative. Indeed, about two months before Operation Coldstore was carried out, they had begun to urge strenuously that action be taken.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

In praise of small policy miracles


Dec 11 2014

MOST of us don't save enough. When governments try to encourage saving, they usually enact big policies to increase the incentives.

But, in Kenya, people were given a lockable metal box - a simple place to put their money. After one year, the people with metal boxes increased savings by so much that they had 66 per cent more money available to pay for health emergencies. It would have taken a giant tax reform to produce a shift in behaviour that large.

Too many people die in auto accidents. When governments try to reduce highway deaths, they generally increase safety regulations. But, also in Kenya, stickers were placed inside buses and vans urging passengers to scream at automobile drivers they saw driving dangerously.

The heckling discouraged dangerous driving by an awesome amount. Insurance claims involving injury or death fell to half of their previous levels.

These are examples of a new kind of policymaking that is sweeping the world. The old style was based on the notion that human beings are rational actors who respond in straightforward ways to incentives.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The final Big Idea: Love Singapore

 Dec 13, 2014

And show it with three "Ls": litter not, laugh a lot and live the Pledge.

By Kishore Mahbubani, For The Straits Times

NOW that I have reached the final column of my Big Idea series for 2014, I am happy to summarise the core idea underlying all the Big Ideas columns I have written this year. It can be captured in two words: "Love Singapore". If we can practise this with total commitment and conviction, Singapore will survive another 50 years.

So, can we love Singapore?

The simple answer is that love is not shown with words only but with deeds also. If our deeds do not match our words, we do not really love Singapore. This is why I am suggesting three practical deeds we can do to demonstrate our love. All three deeds begin with the letter "L": "litter not, laugh a lot, and live the pledge".

Idea of different Minimum Sums for different groups being studied: Tan Chuan-Jin



SINGAPORE – Any change to the CPF system will take into account the income needs of Singaporeans in their retirement years. One area being looked at is whether it’s possible to have different Minimum Sums for different groups, depending on their needs.

Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said this in a wide-ranging interview with the media. But he also warned that providing more options, would make the system more complicated.

Since November, the panel tasked with reviewing the CPF system has held several focus group discussions. One thing stood out - people value the CPF system. But there are differing views on how to make it better.

The Manpower Minister said the fundamental role of the CPF has not changed and that is to provide for one’s financial adequacy during one’s retirement years for healthcare and housing. The key is to establish how much flexibility to work into the system and whether more options can be provided.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Do people still think S’pore is part of China?


DECEMBER 15, 2014

Singaporeans were piqued when an American sports commentator at the recent Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Finals held here signed off with “goodbye from China”. Many felt it was no excuse for the newscaster. How could he not know where he was?

Given Singapore’s global status today, I thought such confusion would be a thing of the past. In the 1980s, I still received letters from American business associates addressing “Singapore, China”. It was amazing how the letters reached my office.

Then, my colleagues and I were more amused than annoyed. It was a time when if you registered at a hotel in the United States, the reception staff might just add “China” on your card. The blunder was not confined to Americans. I met a Swiss who asked if I meant Senegal, an Australian who confused us with Hong Kong and a New Zealand couple who said they had heard of Singapore Airlines, but not Singapore. “Is it in Malaysia?” they asked and that was years after we came into our own.

But I have learnt to be more understanding, particularly after having stayed six weeks in Wonju, South Korea, as writer-in-residence at the Toji Cultural Centre. It is not about being tolerant and forgiving, although clearly we should be since a person’s ignorance (for want of a better word) could be influenced by exposure, accessibility, opportunity, interest, subject significance and misinformation.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Middle-class angst in a globalised world

Dec 09, 2014


NEWS that income growth is at its slowest pace since the 2009 recession is worrying. However, a key issue here - the effect of poor productivity growth on wages - is amenable to policies aimed at raising skill levels in all areas and improving productivity. It is these policies that will come into focus increasingly as Singapore restructures its economy.

More disturbing from a generational point of view is that the sense of security associated with being middle-class has given way to anxiety, as technology and globalisation widen income gaps and take away jobs. The anxieties of the middle class are instructive because they reflect not only the condition of the middle 60 per cent of income-earners - the bedrock of social coherence and political stability - but also the aspirational expectations of Singaporeans below who are busy climbing the economic ladder. A sense that economic advancement is being foreclosed would dent the confidence of the middle class and blunt the belief of others who want to make their way up to a better life. Both would wonder if their children could hold on to it or even arrive there.

This situation is not exclusive to Singapore. The fear of falling present in the American middle class, for example, was described graphically by the social commentator Barbara Ehrenreich. She invoked one essential reason for the fear, which is that, unlike wealth or property, the professional expertise of the middle class cannot be handed down automatically to the next generation. Hence the middle class' fear of maintaining its privileged social position over time as demand and supply curves changed contours.

[By this argument, a middle-class that holds its position by virtue of professional expertise that cannot be bequeathed to the next generation should mean that there should be greater social mobility. This is not the case?]

What technology has done is to accelerate the creative destruction through which capitalism advances. The difference now is that the destruction of old class positions and the creation of new orders are occurring on a global scale. Singapore's middle class is no more immune to challenge today than was its New York counterpart yesterday or its Shanghai competitor will be tomorrow. Globalisation is creating a worldwide middle class, and the only way to survive its arrival is to globalise with it.

At the personal level, this means tempering expectations associated with an earlier phase of growth. Pricey homes and cars, as symbols of middle-class stature, might then give way to sustainable aspirations - say, when knowledge, fine sensibilities and the support of worthy causes mark the arrival of people at the next social rung. These attributes could help Singaporeans connect with like-minded people in a new global class system - connections that might prove invaluable in many ways. Notions of middle-class living must change with the times.

New world order? It's sink or swim - for all

Dec 09, 2014


In a globalised era of "mutually assured economic destruction", talk of countries rising and falling is pointless

By Michael Cox, For The Straits Times

IT HAS become the new truth of the early 21st century that the West is fast losing its pre-eminence in the world - to be replaced by a new international system shaped by either the so-called Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), the "rest" , a rising China or even by that very broadly defined geographical entity known as Asia.

It is difficult to dispute some self-evident economic facts about the changing balance of economic power. Visit booming Singapore, walk around downtown Kuala Lumpur, or spend time in Beijing, and you can just see and feel the buzz. As influential economics journalist Martin Wolf recently observed in his new bestselling book (The Shifts And The Shocks): If before the 2008 financial crash the West felt that it was the master of the universe, afterwards it very much looked as if the baton had been passed to a new generation of upwardly mobile international players.

But why should we be so surprised? After all, change has been going on since the beginning of time. And even the most sceptical of Western pundits would have to concede that huge economic strides have been made - not just in China or India, but in other booming economies like Turkey and Mexico.

Even economies in some parts of sub-Saharan Africa are booming, while high-end retailers around the world are drooling as they survey a new world which, by 2020, will be home to a cash-rich, consumer-savvy global middle class numbering just over three billion people.

Who first spotted this shift remains unclear. But perhaps one individual can lay claim to having been intellectually present at the creation: Jim O'Neill of Goldman Sachs who, back in 2001, predicted a major turn away from the old economies to Asia, energy-rich Russia and the equally commodity-rich country of Brazil.

Indeed, Mr O'Neill invented the acronym, the Brics. Born when the United States was riding high, and viewed with utter indifference by more orthodox thinkers, his prediction looked faintly absurd. Ten years on and his central claim - that the world economy was changing fast and would demand new forms of governance - had almost become the new wisdom of the age.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

CPF offers attractive return, no risk: Study

Dec 09, 2014

THE Central Provident Fund (CPF) provides an attractive return while protecting its members from risk, a new study has found.

This is because the CPF could generate 5.7 per cent a year over the next 20 years, based on certain assumptions such as rising interest rates, said the study by the Institute of Policy Studies and consulting firm Towers Watson.

This means that $100 in the CPF today could triple to $303 in 2034, a performance close to that of a typical unit trust that has equities and bonds in its portfolio, except that CPF members do not face any risk.

First time PAP has raised spectre of not forming Government: Analyst

Neo Chai Chin,


08 Dec 2014

The next GE could be watershed as there would be a clearer indication of whether Singapore is moving towards a two-party political system, a political analyst says.

SINGAPORE: Commenting on the fact that a General Election (GE) here has been framed by the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) for the first time as a fight to form the next government, political analysts said it was probably an attempt by the party’s Secretary-General Lee Hsien Loong to focus voters’ minds.

The argument that Singapore should have an opposition in Parliament – as a check and balance against the PAP – is a compelling one, said Dr Gillian Koh, senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies.

“I think it’s a way in which Mr Lee is trying to persuade people not to think of the contest as one of only checking the Government,” she said.

“This is the first time where the articulation of the PAP perhaps not forming the Government is put forth,” noted former Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Eugene Tan, who felt the next GE would be watershed as there would be a clearer indication of whether Singapore is moving towards a two-party political system, demonstrated by the Opposition gaining more seats.

This is because, in all previous elections, the PAP was successful in ensuring the Opposition did not build on electoral gains in terms of their number of parliamentary seats.

Monday, December 8, 2014

America's giant welfare state

Dec 08, 2014

By Robert J. Samuelson

WE AMERICANS pride ourselves on not having a "welfare state". We're not like Europeans. We're more individualistic and self-reliant, and, although we may have a "social safety net" to protect people against unpredictable personal and societal tragedies, we explicitly repudiate a comprehensive welfare state as inherently un-American.

Dream on.

Call it a massive case of national self-deception. Indeed, judged by how much countries devote of their national income to social spending, we have the world's second-largest welfare state - just behind France.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Majority of Singaporeans unprepared for retirement: Survey

Few following a plan; many need more than they estimate
The survey of 1,000 Singaporeans and permanent residents by DBS Bank shows that many respondents hope to retire comfortably but only a minority are taking tangible steps to reach that goal. 

DEC 5, 2014


The majority of Singaporeans do not have a financial plan for retirement, are afraid of planning ahead and need more than they estimate to retire, a new survey has found.

Many respondents hope to retire comfortably but only a minority are actually taking tangible steps to meet that goal, the survey of 1,000 Singaporeans and permanent residents by DBS Bank showed.

In the survey, over 76 per cent said their key long-term financial goal is to have enough for retirement.

But only a quarter are following a financial plan for retirement needs. Another quarter are in the midst of working out a plan while the rest do not have concrete ideas.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Widow loses fight over husband's CPF bequest to another woman

Dec 04, 2014

By Aw Cheng Wei

He refused to get a job after his timber business failed in the 1980s, so Mr Saw's wife and three children supported him for 30 years.

But after he killed himself in June last year, the 63-year-old left all $37,000 in his Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings to a woman from China he met in a bar, something his family found out only while clearing out his belongings. His widow, 61, tried to appeal in court, which cost her $30,000 in legal fees. Not only did she lose the suit, but she also has to pay $7,000 in court fees.

[$37k in CPF, $30k in legal fees. $7k in court fees. Coincidence? Check if 3737 is winning 4D number this weekend!]

Foreign policy of fear is crippling the US


Flying into New York the other day, I got my first good look at the Freedom Tower, now known as 1 World Trade Center, the skyscraper that sits atop 9/11’s Ground Zero. It does, indeed, scrape the sky, topping out at a patriotic 1,776 feet (540m).

Thirteen years after 9/11, I appreciate the nationalist pride that, while terrorists can knock down our buildings, we can just build them right back up. Take that, Osama bin Laden.

If only the story ended there. Alas, bin Laden really did mess us up, and continues to do so. We have erased the ruins of the World Trade Center, but the foreign policy of fear that 9/11 instilled is still very much inside us — too much so.

Retirement - Harsh Truths

 Dec 03, 2014

PM Lee shares article on ensuring retirement adequacy: live on less, work longer or save more

By Rachel Au-Yong

SINGAPORE - There are only three solutions to a pension system's challenges, concludes an Economist article that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong shared in a Facebook post on Wednesday.

In his summary of the article, about the challenges the American pension system faces, Mr Lee said: people must either live on less during retirement, work longer and retire later, or save more of their salary while working.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Japan faces tricky entry into world arms market

 Dec 03, 2014

Japanese weapons are now for sale globally; defence firms face opportunities and challenges

By Narushige Michishita,
For The Straits Times

ON NOV 12, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to strengthen bilateral defence cooperation, including the possible transfer of technologies for Australia's future submarine programme.

Australia is currently investigating how to procure 12 new submarines to replace its ageing Collins-class submarines, and Japan's Soryu-class submarine has become a candidate.

The Soryu-class is the largest diesel-engine submarine in the world, equipped with the cutting-edge air-independent propulsion system which enables it to remain submerged for weeks rather than days.

If Australia decides to use the Soryu-class submarines, it will be a win-win-win deal in which Japan can sell its products, Australia can acquire the world's best non-nuclear submarines, and the two countries' navies will become highly interoperable.

Snapshots - Carbon Emissions

From an AP news article on climate, this excerpt about carbon emissions.
"China has tripled its emissions from 3 billion tons to 11 billion tons a year. The emissions from the US have gone up more slowly, about 6 per cent, from 5.4 billion tons to 5.8 billion tons. India also has tripled its emissions, from 860 million tons to 2.6 billion tons. Only European countries have seen their emissions go down, from 4.5 billion tons to 3.8 billion tons."


China with almost 1.4b people now emits 11 billion tons of carbon.
US with 300 million people (1/4 of China's population) puts out 5.8 billion tons. More than half what China puts out.

Europe with 750 million people emits 3.8 billion tons. That is actually quite good for an industrialised region.

India, with almost 1.3 billion people only puts out 2.6 billion tons. 

On a per capita basis, India is lowest at 2 tons per person (approx.). 

Europe is 5 tons.

US is about 16 tons per person. 

China by comparison, is only about 8 tons per person.

According to this list, Singapore puts out about 7 tons per capita in 2008. Down from 15.6 tons in 1990.

China's tripling of emissions still puts them at the 55th position, or just slightly higher than Singapore.

The US is ranked 12th with 17.2 tons per capita.

Canada is not far behind at 14th with 15.2 tons.

Australia, at 11th, is ranked higher than the US. It puts out 18.3 tons per person.

Oil - Falling Prices, Mixed Fortunes

Better for all if oil markets are stable

DEC 1, 2014

LAST week's refusal by the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) to cut production, in spite of a supply glut and falling prices, underscores the complicated dynamics of oil markets. It is a significant shift in oil geostrategy, compared to when Opec and Saudi Arabia, the biggest producer, called the shots. With weakening global demand, greater competition among producers, and the shale revolution in the United States, oil price is said to now hinge on the marginal cost of non-Opec production - much higher for deep-water and shale oil compared to conventional crude from the Middle East and North Africa.

Crude oil prices have fallen by more than a third since June and the organisation's capitulation to market forces, instead of a customary ability to set the terms of business in the oil bazaar, has raised questions about the relevance of Opec, which accounts for a third of the world's oil production.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

China has wasted S$8.9t in investment, say researchers


November 29

BEIJING — “Ghost cities” lined with empty apartment blocks, abandoned highways and mothballed steel mills are sprawled across China’s landscape — the outcome of government stimulus measures and hyperactive construction that have generated US$6.8 trillion (S$8.9 trillion) in wasted investment since 2009, based on a report by government researchers.

In 2009 and last year alone, “ineffective investment” amounted to nearly half of the total invested in the Chinese economy in those years, showed the research by Mr Xu Ce of the National Development and Reform Commission, the state planning agency, and Ms Wang Yuan from the Academy of Macroeconomic Research, a former arm of the NDRC.

China is this year on track to grow at its slowest annual pace since 1990, and the report highlights growing concern in the Chinese leadership about the potential economic and social consequences if wasteful investment leaves projects abandoned and bad loans overloading the financial system.

The bulk of wasted investment went directly into industries such as steel and automobile production, which received the most support from the government following the 2008 global crisis, said the report.