Friday, October 28, 2016

The man who studies the spread of ignorance

How do people or companies with vested interests spread ignorance and obfuscate knowledge? Georgina Kenyon finds there is a term which defines this phenomenon.

By Georgina Kenyon 

6 January 2016

In 1979, a secret memo from the tobacco industry was revealed to the public. Called the Smoking and Health Proposal, and written a decade earlier by the Brown & Williamson tobacco company, it revealed many of the tactics employed by big tobacco to counter “anti-cigarette forces”.

In one of the paper’s most revealing sections, it looks at how to market cigarettes to the mass public: “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.”

This revelation piqued the interest of Robert Proctor, a science historian from Stanford University, who started delving into the practices of tobacco firms and how they had spread confusion about whether smoking caused cancer.

Proctor had found that the cigarette industry did not want consumers to know the harms of its product, and it spent billions obscuring the facts of the health effects of smoking. This search led him to create a word for the study of deliberate propagation of ignorance: agnotology.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

State Of Cool

Have we finally found our spot of gold at the end of the hipster rainbow, wonders Helmi Yusof.

Oct 8, 2016


GOOD morning, Singapore! We don't know about you, but we sense something in the air - and it's not Zika or PM2.5 particulates.

Think about it. Hokkien is now spoken on national TV. We put one of our own on an open-top bus and worshipped him like a rock star. Caucasians are officially angmohs - because the Oxford Dictionary say one. We carry tote bags proclaiming our inner Beng (look up said Oxford). If a banker decides to quit and become a hawker, that's okay - because even bak chor mee can earn a Michelin star. Wake up and smell the kopi - has Singapore finally become cool?

Monday, October 24, 2016

Outlook dims for Singapore Inc as economy moonwalks


October 24, 2016

SINGAPORE — During Singapore’s full moon festival last month, employer John Kong was focused more on cost-cutting than celebrating.

Not sending his clients traditional mooncake gift packages saved him S$14,000, and his 60 workers at building materials supplier M Metal Pte Ltd didn’t get a pay rise either.

Having grown at a break-neck pace that transformed what half a century ago was a seedy colonial port into an Asian Manhattan, Singapore is now bracing for a prolonged period of low growth, darkening the outlook for the city-state’s deeply indebted firms.

“When you talk to building infrastructure groups, it sounds depressing,” said Mr Kong, who faces a 10-15 per cent sales drop this year, the firm’s first in its five-year history.

“Everyone seems to be asking ‘what’s going to happen to me in three months?’ Companies are not getting the orders, there are fixed overheads, so the first thing they do is slash marketing budgets and the next thing is they cut the number of people.”

As a regional centre for trade, oil services and wealth management, Singapore’s US$300 billion (S$418 billion) economy punches above its weight and serves as a barometer for Asia’s other export dependent economies.

China’s slowdown has hit the city-state’s manufacturers and shippers, the slump in commodity markets is weighing on its oil and gas sector, while a rise in bad debts and a regulatory crackdown has hurt its financial services industry.

The result: Earnings forecasts for Singapore-listed companies are falling at among the fastest rates in the world.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

In global iron ore, Singapore bosses China in setting prices


October 21, 2016

SINGAPORE — In the US$7 billion (S$9.8 billlion) a day global iron ore futures market, size doesn’t matter when it comes to clout. Contracts in Singapore have greater pricing power than those traded in China even though the volumes in the city-state are more than 20 times smaller, according to Goldman Sachs Group.

Although investors may assume that it’s the Dalian Commodity Exchange, or DCE, that sets the global price given the high volumes, it’s the contract on the Singapore Exchange, or SGX, that drives the market, the bank said in a report. The reason may be that institutional investors account for a greater share of trade in Singapore, it said in the Oct 20 note.

While China’s policy makers have said they want to develop its raw material futures markets as hubs for setting prices — seeking to marry the country’s commercial heft with a greater say in determining how much commodities cost — Goldman’s finding suggests that goal remains a distant one. In iron ore, the country is the world’s largest buyer, accounting for more than two-thirds of the seaborne market. Most cargoes come from miners in Australia and Brazil.

“Size doesn’t matter,” analysts including Amber Cai wrote after crunching the numbers. The bank’s analysis revealed that the SGX has more pricing power than the DCE, with daily changes in Singapore consistently leading daily changes in Dalian, they wrote.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

What is behind Duterte’s move away from the US?

Absent an official explanation, the announced decision by the Philippines to tilt away from the US would appear to be purely the product of President Rodrigo Duterte’s personal pique.


OCTOBER 18, 2016

Like a play looking for a plot, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s “diplomatic war” with the United States is one in search of a valid reason and a just cause. We are dumbfounded by its sheer opacity, and the prospect that we will ever see the real reason and cause for it seems rather remote. It is beginning to look like a border war between two states that have no common border to begin with.

The Philippines’ relations with China, on the other hand, appear to be warming up after six years of lying inside the freezer during the watch of Mr Duterte’s predecessor, Mr Benigno Aquino. Mr Duterte, better known as DU30 on social media, is visiting China this week, accompanied by a large business delegation, to explore trade, investment and other opportunities.

This portends seismic effects upon the politics of Asia-Pacific. Amid statements that the Philippines can stand without foreign aid (from the West), one Cabinet secretary says the China trip will bring in some US$3 billion (S$4.17 billion) in “funding aid”.

An article in The Diplomat describes DU30’s visit as a “splash of cold water” on Philippine-US relations. This is an interesting turn in a century of Philippine-Chinese and Philippine-American relations. In the US debates on the merits of acquiring the Philippines after the Spanish-American war, the US minister to China Charles Denby saw the Philippines as America’s “gateway” to the vast Chinese market.

Friday, October 21, 2016

China's perception of Singapore: 4 areas of misunderstanding

Tommy Koh
For The Straits Times

21 Oct 2016

What China misunderstands about Singapore is that: Singapore is not a Chinese country despite having a majority-Chinese population; Singapore values a united Asean; Singapore is not a US ally but wants to be friends with all major powers; and Singapore has the world view of a small country.

Relations between Singapore and China are unique. There is no other country in the world with a population in which the majority are ethnic Chinese. Taiwan is not comparable because it is not a sovereign and independent country. Hong Kong is legally part of the People's Republic of China.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Final US presidential debate overshadowed by one shocking moment from Donald Trump

Jeremy Au Yong
US Bureau Chief

20 Oct 2016

LAS VEGAS - While the two previous clashes between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton have been eventful, the final presidential debate produced by far the most jaw-dropping moment of what has already been an unprecedented campaign.

Roughly an hour into the 90-minute debate in Las Vegas, Nevada, moderator Chris Wallace asked the billionaire if he would commit to accepting the result of the election on Nov 8, even if it turns out to not be in his favour.

Mr Trump, who had in past week been telling supporters that the election is rigged against him, shocked with his answer.

"I will look at it at the time. I'm not looking at anything now. I'll look at it at the time," he said, to exclamations from some in the debate hall as well as gasps throughout the media centre.

Mr Wallace even had to repeat the question to make sure Mr Trump was indeed questioning the integrity of US democracy.

"Sir, there is a tradition in this country - in fact, one of the prides of this country - is the peaceful transition of power and that no matter how hard-fought a campaign is, that at the end of the campaign that the loser concedes to the winner...  Are you saying you're not prepared now to commit to that principle?" he asked.

Mr Trump doubled down: "What I'm saying is that I will tell you at the time. I'll keep you in suspense. Okay?"

That single answer overshadowed what had been Mr Trump's best debate performance and one of the more substantial clashes between the two major party candidates.

Trump supporters are talking about civil war. Could a loss provide the spark?

By Dana Milbank 
Opinion writer
Washington Post

October 18


We are three weeks from the election, and very close to the edge.

Retiree Gerald Miller, a volunteer at Donald Trump’s rally here, is confident his man will win on Nov. 8 — unless there’s foul play.

Miller, wearing an NRA pin and a tea party cap over his long hair, shares Trump’s concern that the election may be “rigged” by the Clinton campaign. “It is enough to skew the election. They can swing it either way,” he said, particularly because Hillary Clinton may have “the FBI working for her” in committing the fraud.

So what happens if Clinton is declared the winner? “Donald Trump is going to holler fraud if he doesn’t win,” figured Miller, who is white and says he has PTSD from “racial violence” he suffered in the military. “I think we’re on the verge of a civil war, a racial war. This could be the spark that sets it off.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The skills delusion

Adair Turner

18 Oct 2016

LONDON • Everybody agrees that better education and improved skills, for as many people as possible, are crucial to increasing productivity and living standards and to tackling rising inequality.

But what if everybody is wrong?

Most economists are sure that human capital is as important to productivity growth as physical capital. And, to some degree, that's obviously true. Modern economies would not be possible without widespread literacy and numeracy: Many emerging economies are held back by inadequate skills.

But one striking feature of the modern economy is how few skilled people are needed to drive crucial areas of economic activity.

Facebook has a market value of US$374 billion (S$520 billion) but only 14,500 employees. Microsoft, with a market value of US$400 billion, employs just 114,000 people. GlaxoSmithKline, valued at more than US$100 billion, has a headcount of just 96,000.

Monday, October 17, 2016

US and Russia headed for new cold war

Jonathan Eyal
Europe Correspondent

17 Oct 2016

The United States and Russia are locked in a grim state of relations, thanks to the current US presidential campaign and Russian cyber-spying on America's political parties.

LONDON • Since the 1940s, every newly elected United States president has been confronted with the same foreign policy predicament: how to deal with a Russia which on some subjects could be a partner, but in almost all others remained an unbending strategic competitor.

And so will be the case with whoever takes over the White House from Jan 20 next year: she or he will grapple with the same problem no fewer than 13 previous US leaders faced.

But this time, the stakes are higher than they have been in decades. For Russia's unprecedented meddling in the US electoral process presents the American authorities with an immediate challenge to which they have to provide a robust riposte. And there are few viable options apart from greater confrontation between Russia and the US. The future relationship between the two powers looks grim, the grimmest it has been in almost half a century.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

'Kiss the Boss’ video highlights risks of a 'post-truth’ China

October 15, 2016

BEIJING — The video shows a nondescript office on the outskirts of Beijing. But what takes place is not typical office behaviour: A line of female employees waits to approach a male boss, who stands, hands behind his back, as each woman kisses him on the lips.

The images, and the narrative of a boss who requires his female employees to kiss him each morning as part of “morale building,” drew widespread attention in China because it seemed to confirm perceptions of working conditions and gender relations. According to reports that swept the internet, the boss said he had borrowed the practice from corporate culture in the United States — raising similarities with recent news reports about a certain presidential candidate.

Yet it turns out that what millions of people thought they saw last week — christened the “kiss the boss” scandal — was false, according to several employees at the company where the practice supposedly took place.

“It’s fake news,” said a woman working at the company, Jin Han Sen, or Hansens, which is based in Tongzhou, on the outskirts of Beijing, and makes brewing equipment.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Singapore crushing Hong Kong in race to bring down home prices

Today Online

October 7, 2016

SINGAPORE — On the surface, the property markets in Singapore and Hong Kong have much in common. The two Asian financial hubs have both moved to rein in runaway home prices in recent years as they sought to make housing more affordable.

Yet, consider how home values in the cities have diverged. Singapore has been successful in damping buyer demand with curbs (prices slumped by the most in seven years last month), while restrictions have had little impact on Hong Kong’s gravity-defying market, which is rebounding after a short-lived dip.

[Short answer: HDB flats account for over 80% of homes owned in SG and ownership limited to SC and PR. Also, HK is exposed to buyers from China.]

Lessons on how not to pick a leader

Thinking Aloud

Warren Fernandez

OCT 9, 2016

Troubling developments around the world show how democracies need safeguards against flawed leaders

S’pore businesses quizzed by Chinese counterparts over their stand on South China Sea issue

Tan Weizhen

October 9, 2016

Today Online

SINGAPORE — Following the back-and-forth between Singapore and Chinese state-owned newspaper Global Times over the South China Sea issue, some Singapore businessmen with interests in China are being questioned by their Chinese counterparts, on where they stand on the matter.

Singapore companies TODAY spoke to are concerned that this, along with the increasingly shrill comments by Chinese netizens in response to the newspaper’s provocative articles, would eventually affect their businesses.

Restaurant chain Tung Lok Group has operations in Beijing and Shanghai. Its executive chairman Andrew Tjioe noted the nationalistic fervour in a country “where everything seems to be about politics”. “I’m hoping, though, that consumers in China are mature enough to know how to separate politics and business,” he said.

Friday, October 7, 2016

IVF mix-up: Awarding damages ‘would not belittle child’s value’



OCTOBER 7, 2016

SINGAPORE — Paying damages to the parents of a child who was conceived in an in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) sperm mix-up at Thomson Medical does not necessarily belittle the child’s value, said a law professor appointed to provide an independent view on the case, which is now before the Court of Appeal.

Such a claim can be premised on how a promised outcome was not fulfilled, which does not require the parents to say anything about the worth of the child, said Associate Professor Goh Yihan from the Singapore Management University’s School of Law, the amicus curiae or “friend of the court” appointed to submit his views.

Start of China's coercive diplomacy towards Singapore

Global Times, published by Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily, recently ran an article accusing Singapore of raising the South China Sea disputes at the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit held in Venezuela on Sept 18. Singapore's Ambassador to Beijing Stanley Loh wrote to refute this. Global Times editors and Chinese officials then weighed in. What is at stake in this spat? In the first article, a Chinese academic says the issue points to Beijing's pent-up frustration with Singapore. In the second article, a Singaporean academic lays bare the politics of retaliation.

Feng Zhang
For The Straits Times
Oct 6, 2016,

Commentary: The new normal of Singapore’s relations with China

By Peh Shing Huei

06 Oct 2016


The death of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, a muscular China and the South China Sea dispute are pushing Sino-Singapore ties into a new chapter

SINGAPORE: Up till about a year ago, relations between Singapore and China could loosely be grouped into two eras: Mao and post-Mao.

In the first, which ran from the founding of People’s Republic in 1949 to 1978, ties between the pair of new nations were mostly cold.

Beijing, under the leadership of Mao Zedong, wanted to increase the loyalty of overseas Chinese to China and did not recognise the existence of an independent Singapore up to 1970.

Singapore feared China’s influence and support for pro-communist elements in its country. It didn’t help that its young prime minister Lee Kuan Yew was attacked by Chinese state propaganda as a “running dog of US and British imperialism”.

In 1978, the second era began. Two years after the death of Mao, new Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping visited Singapore and met Mr Lee.

It paved the way for the end of the previously frosty and detached period, kicking off a fresh age when Singapore was viewed not only as a friend, but also as an early role model in China’s reform and opening up.

Despite occasional hiccups, ties grew stronger, trade spiked and exchanges intensified, culminating in the celebration of 25 years of diplomatic relations last year (2015).

The words of Singapore President Tony Tan Keng Yam to mark the occasion summed up this golden era: “Our pioneer leaders, particularly Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Deng Xiaoping, laid a strong foundation for the bilateral relationship in the 1970s. Over a short span of 25 years, our relations have flourished and the friendship between our two peoples has never been stronger.”

That era is over.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Global Times report: A bid for eyeballs or a move to pressure Singapore?

Kor Kian Beng
China Bureau Chief

5 Oct 2016

BEIJING • Concerns about relations between Singapore and China have flared again, after the Global Times claimed that Singapore had pushed to include an international tribunal's ruling on the South China Sea in the final document of the recent Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit.

In a report in its Chinese edition on Sept 21, the newspaper cited sources as saying that Singapore had insisted on adding contents endorsing a Hague-based arbitral tribunal decision on July 12 which dismissed China's territorial claims in the vital waterway.

Singapore's Ambassador to China Stanley Loh, in a letter dated Sept 26 to the tabloid newspaper's editor-in-chief Hu Xijin, said Singapore did not raise the South China Sea issue or the tribunal ruling at the summit in Venezuela.

Still, the Global Times report prompted some Chinese commentators and netizens to publicly call for tough measures to "punish" Singapore. Some Singaporeans, especially those based in China, have also wondered why Singapore, which is not a claimant in the territorial row, is risking Chinese ire by allegedly pushing the South China Sea issue.

Life 'remains a struggle' for many old Singaporeans: UN expert


04 Oct 2016

SINGAPORE: There are still many challenges faced by seniors in Singapore, United Nations human rights expert Rosa Kornfeld-Matte said on Tuesday (Oct 4), even as she commended the country's Government for its efforts and commitment to ensure that older people fully enjoy their human rights.

“While I understand that many of the new programmes and policies to address the challenges faced by older persons will need more time to bear fruit, the reality on the ground indicates that life remains a struggle for many old Singaporeans,” Ms Kornfeld-Matte said in a statement released by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Regional Office for South-East Asia.

Ms Kornfeld-Matte visited Singapore from Sep 21 to 29 at the invitation of the Singapore Government, and had earlier commended Singapore's policies for the elderly for being on the right track.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Yes, China does manipulate its currency

October 1, 2016


HONG KONG — In Monday’s presidential debate, Mr Donald Trump repeated one of his frequent criticisms of China: It keeps its currency artificially cheap.

Of all the countries in the world, he said, China is “the best ever” at devaluing its currency, the renminbi. That gives its companies a big — and unfair — advantage when selling its goods abroad, the argument goes.

That’s no longer quite the case. Nowadays, China faces the opposite problem: It is shoring up its currency while the rest of the world is trying to push it down.