18 September 2004

Black Humour

A Uniquely Singaporean Edition

Singapore's National Anthem is Majullah Singapura (Forward, Singapore!).
It is ruled by a conservative party whose slogan is Incremental Change.

16 September 2004

Hall of Shame and Notoriety

Flip Flopper Number 1

Via DFA 2.0, which identifies the most outrageous flip-flopper in American politics.

It was Dick Cheney, but not as you know him. Thirteen years ago, Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney gave the keynote address at the Washington Insitute's Soref Symposium. The speech was titled "The Gulf War: A First Assessment" and you're not going to believe some of what he said.

"Should we have gone in to Baghdad? Did we leave the job in some respects unfinished? I think the answer is a resounding "no."

"I think the proposition of going to Baghdad is fallacious. I think if we were going to remove Saddam Hussein we would have had to go all the way to Baghdad, and once we'd done that we'd have to put another government in its place."

"It is vitally important for a President to know when not to commit U.S. military force. How many casualties should the United States accept in (the) effort to try to create clarity and stability in a situation that is inherently unstable?"

"It's my view that it would have been a mistake for us to get bogged down in the quagmire inside Iraq."

This is the man who makes hopes to win an election by portraying Senator Kerry as a "flip-flopper." Read the entire transcript from the Washington Institute.

Flip Flopper Number 2

During the Legislative Assembly Debate on 15 September 1955 the Great Leader, then an ordinary assemblyman, said:

"If it is not totalitarian to arrest a man and detain him, when you cannot charge him with any offence against any written law - if that is not what we always cried out against in Fascist states - then what is it?"

The same Great Leader, upon assumption of power in 1959, went on shortly to jail without trial, launch defamation suits, and bankrupt all his political opponents for almost 50 years.

06 September 2004

More on flats and singles

I had the feeling, two posts ago, that MiniLee had promised more than what he could give in his National Rally speech. Under the laudable initiative of liberalising Singapore, the new leader made several sweeping pronouncements which, in the course of just a fortnight, were "clarified" and nullified by himself, his ministers, and even the Police Entertainment Licensing Unit (an Orwellian name, if there ever was one).

On further consideration, I realise that the "clarification" by Mah Bow Wow on flats and singles issue was not even coherent. Let's take a look at it again, this time, in depth.

Rally Speech: "We originally allowed singles to buy flats if two of them paired up and were aged above 35 years... this year we have gone further and said you can buy 4-room, 5-room or bigger flats anywhere on the resale market."

Mah Bow Wow's clarification: Singles can grants (i.e. subsidies) to buy any public housing as long as they don't earn more than $3000 a month. The old limit was $8000 a month.

A detailed explanation of my original point: It doesn't take much for middle-class singles over 35 to earn more than $3000 a month. If we take 2004 as the benchmark, the average middle-class single over 35 would've spent an average of 15 years in the labour market. If you're middle-class, PBEM, and white-collar, it's very likely that you'd hit over $3,000 a month? The amount of subsidies left behind is substantial, and does affect the capacity to afford your new home.

And singles of this profile have been the usual buyers of public housing under the old scheme! Of course with the old limit of $8,000 only the ridiculously well-off singles (who should be bonking with each other and passing their filthy rich 'sucessful genes' to produce new generations of Singaporeans!) were excluded from buying public housing.

The government can and will quibble over just how many singles have been left behind with the new limits. In fact, it will quibble over the numbers (if challenged publicly by critics like myself) without feeling the need to produce hard numbers of its own. So the point is moot until we or some economist critic can construct the figures.

But we've missed something big that the government won't have a defense to.

Old scheme: Singles are free to be filthy rich, it doesn't matter what they earn, but they can only buy a small 3-room flat.
New scheme: Singles are free to buy any flat what they want, but they won't receive any subsidies or waivers if they earn more than $3K.

Well, just tell me what flat you can really afford if you earn less than $3,000 a month. And tell me how you can afford a flat if you earn more, but are now ineligible for the subsidies?

Perhaps the only way to mock this incoherent scheme is to take it very literally, very seriously and ask:
"What if I get a raise 2 years after I buy the flat? Will the government kick me out of my flat and make me pay back the 'subsidies'?"
"I plan to get my flat under the singles-over-35 scheme, then marry someone 2 years later. Will I get to keep my singles flat subsidy? Will we be able to apply for a new flat under the married couples subsidy?"
"What if I get myself temporarily underpaid. Will I qualify for the scheme then?"
"I'm the CEO of my company. If I pay myself $5,000 in terms of company shares and only receive a cash salary of $2,500 will I still qualify?" etc.

(It's a parody of the Encyclopedist who, under religious censorship, managed to poke fun at the concept of the location of hell by taking it far too literally and seriously)

05 September 2004

Living in a Police State

Via Keywords: When the RNC crashed into New York City, they turned it into a Police state with arbitrary arrests, police brutality, spying on citizens, and a refusal to set protestors free after the maximum 3-day holding period.

Kerim's article:
Indiscriminate Arrests

That's the number of people they are saying were arrested in New York during the Republican convention. A judge ordered that 500 of them be released immediately:

A judge ordered the immediate release of nearly 500 protesters Thursday - just hours before President Bush's speech at the Republican National Convention - and then fined the city for refusing to comply with his order.

The NY branch of the ACLU has set up a special web site for reporting on police misconduct during the RNC. In their latest report they raise concerns about the following violations:

* Pre-emptive arrests: On a couple of occasions, massive arrests followed right on the heels of a negotiated agreement on the terms for a lawful march

* Indiscriminate arrests: The NYCLU has received reports from members of the press, legal observers, medics and even passersby who found themselves caught in the Spiderman-type orange mesh netting the police used to make arrests.

* Dangerous tactics: At one demonstration, the police suddenly charged into the crowd with metal barricades and a squad of plain clothes officers later drove their scooters into the crowd. Some arrestees and bystanders reported being kicked, punched or hit with batons by police. Some reported the incidents to local precincts and had their bruises photographed by police officials.

* Dangerous conditions at the Pier 57 detention facility: Having announced for months that it was prepared to handle over 1000 arrests a day during the RNC, the City chose to detain arrestees in this dank, filthy bus depot where people had to sit or lie on the floor covered with soot and quite possibly toxic automotive fluids. The conditions left many with rashes and respiratory problems during their detention stay and after they were released. The NYCLU is in the process of testing a sample gathered by a medic who was part of a sweeping arrest, although he was doing nothing more than monitoring a protest event.

* Excessive delays in processing arrestees: The criminal justice system ground practically to a halt as people – including hundreds whose arrests the police know were unlawful – were routinely held for 36 hours or more on minor offenses before receiving desk appearance tickets or being brought before a judge.

* Pervasive police surveillance: The pervasive videotaping and use of surveillance cameras to record lawful protest activity raises the specter of a return to the bad old days of the “Red Squad” and the keeping of political dossiers on critics of our government. A number of activists with a history of lawful protest activity also report being followed by individuals who appeared to be government agents. These practices appear to be designed – and certainly have the effect—of intimidating people from exercising their right to dissent.

Perhaps most troubling is the increased use of the term "preemptive" to legitimate arrests, wars, and other acts of state violence. Its like watching a bad science fiction movie, except its real.

UPDATE: The story in the Village Voice.

04 September 2004

Time for some Clarifications

A Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them Edition

How are all of us doing, 2 weeks into MiniLee's dynamic reign of Singapore? Despite the lack of details in his speech, some critics gave the new emperor the benefit of the doubt, and some were even overwhelmed by his apparent reformist bent and wrote tearful letters to the Straits Times forum page...

Yet 2 weeks is all it takes for every major point in MiniLee's National Day Rally to be "clarified" by all the King's men and horses.

In no particular order (since every major 'promise' laid out in MiniLee's speech has been clarified), let's look at the lying lies and the liar who told them.

1. Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom!

Rally speech: MiniLee promises that there will be no need to apply for licenses to speak or even hold an exhibition at the Speakers Corner in Honglim Park.

"One: for indoor talks — we are going to do away with licensing."

Clarification: The Police Entertainment Licensing Unit (PELU) declares a few days later that talks that have foreign speakers or are held by organisations affiliated to foreign NGOs still have to apply for a permit to hold a talk.

2. Let a Hundred flowers bloom! pt 2

Rally Speech: "The second thing we are going to do is to open up the Speakers' Corner where you can go and make any speech you like and we are going to say, 'Well, if you want to go there and have an exhibition, go ahead.'"

Clarification: PELU declares on the same day that although you don't have to go to the police station to apply for a permit to hold a speech or an exhibition at the Corner, you still need to go to the police station to register. And you can only have the speech/exhibition between 7am and 7pm, where everyone else is still at work. And you still can't use any megaphone or microphone.

3. Let the Singles go!

Rally speech: "We originally allowed singles to buy flats if two of them paired up and were aged above 35 years... this year we have gone further and said you can buy 4-room, 5-room or bigger flats anywhere on the resale market."

Clarification: Singles can buy any public housing as long as they don't earn more than $3000 a month. The old limit was $8000 a month.

My beef: Do the math. The ceiling has been lowered by more than 50%. IF our omniscient MiniLee and Mah Bow Wow are confident that "not many singles will be affected", they should release full figures to show just how many singles are left behind. As a former sociology student dealing with actual figures in my university, I can assure you at least 25% of singles eligible (under the old "pre-liberalisation" scheme) have now lost their right to buy a home.

4. Making Babies

Rally speech: The government has a solution for everything! The new 5-day workweek will solve our underpopulation problem!

Clarification: New scheme unveiled just yesterday aims to solve Singapore's population problem by making it EVEN EASIER for any foreigner to get Singapore PRship and citizenship and jobs.

5. We welcome all post-1965 Singaporeans to join the political process!

Rally speech: "We want you to be part of our team. We don't mind if you have different views but you must have some views."

Clarification 1: Goh Chok Tong sternly states that MiniLee "will not change just to please the Western-influenced liberals who desire to apply their concept of democracy, pluralistic politics and freedom of the press unthinkingly to Singapore. He will take a practical approach of what works for Singapore."

Wonderful. Presumably they will listen to you as long as you apply MiniLee's concept of democracy...

Clarification 2: Opposition MPs were not invited to the rally speech. That's akin to opposition MPs getting shut out during the SOU address. Presumably, "Opposition MPs have never been invited to the National Day Rally as they cannot be expected to help the Government rally the ground to support its policies". At least MiniLee's saying this himself, and not through a proxy like Mah Bow Wow, Goh Chok Tong, Wong Can't Sing, or PELU.

What do we make out of this?

The summary of MiniLee's leadership so far:

1. Make a big speech that promises the sky and claim to be an inclusivist leader.

2. Get your cabinet ministers to explain the very fine print in the weeks to come.

Doesn't this remarkable leadership style remind us of some other great leader in the world right now?

01 September 2004

Another Link Day

(and no, I'm still not talking about that hot elf)

Liberals have had a bad name in the mainstream press. To call someone a "liberal" is akin to uttering either a curse or a vulgar phrase. Yet most of the world as we know it depends on battles that liberals fought hard for, and won.

Sometimes rowdy, unmanaged forums throw up the best writing. In the spirit of Ralph Linton's essay "The 100% American", the original poster at DFA 2.0 has written this marvellous defence of liberals, which I title...

The Average Conservative

Joe gets up at 6:00 AM to prepare his morning coffee. He fills his pot with good, clean drinking water because some liberal fought for minimum water quality standards. He takes his daily medication with his first swallow of coffee. His medications are safe to take because some liberal fought to insure their safety and that they work as advertised.

All but $10.00 of his medications are paid for by his employer's medical plan. Because some liberal union workers fought their employers for paid medical insurance, now Joe gets it too. He prepares his morning breakfast -- bacon and eggs this day. Joe's bacon is safe to eat because some liberal fought for laws to regulate the meat packing industry.

Joe takes his morning shower, reaching for his shampoo. His bottle is properly labelled with every ingredient and the amount that it contains because some liberal fought for his right to know what he was putting on his body and the breakdown of its contents. Joe dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath. The air he breathes is clean because some tree-hugging liberal fought for laws to stop industries from polluting our air. He walks to the subway station for his government-subsidized ride to work; it saves him considerable money in parking and transportation fees. You see, some liberal fought for affordable public transportation, which gives everyone the opportunity to be a contributor.

Joe begins his work day; he has a good job with excellent pay, medicals benefits, retirement, paid holidays and vacation because some liberal union members fought and died for these working standards. Joe's employer meets these standards because Joe's employer doesn't want his employees to call the union. If Joe is hurt on the job or becomes unemployed he'll get worker's compensation or an unemployment check because some liberal didn't think he should loose his home to temporary misfortune.

It's noon time. Joe needs to make a bank deposit so he can pay some bills. Joe's deposit is federally insured by the FSLIC because some liberal wanted to protect Joe's money from unscrupulous bankers who ruined the banking system before the depression.

Joe has to pay his Fannie Mae underwritten mortgage and his below-market federal student loan because some stupid liberal decided that Joe and the government would be better off if he was educated and earned more money over his lifetime.

Joe is home from work. He plans to visit his father this evening at his farm home in the country. He gets in his car for the drive to dad's; his car is among the safest in the world because some liberal fought for car safety standards. He arrives at his boyhood home. He was the third generation to live in the house financed by Farmers Home Administration because bankers didn't want to make rural loans. The house didn't have electricity until some big government liberal stuck his nose where it didn't belong and demanded rural electrification (those rural Republicans would still be sitting in the dark).

Joe is happy to see his dad, who is now retired. Joe's dad lives on Social Security and his union pension because some liberal made sure he could take care of himself so Joe wouldn't have to. After his visit with dad, Joe gets back in his car for the ride home. He turns on a radio talk show. The host keeps saying that liberals are bad and conservatives are good. He doesn't tell Joe that his beloved Republicans have fought against every protection and benefit Joe enjoys throughout his day. Joe agrees, "We don't need those big government liberals ruining our lives. After all, I'm a self-made man who believes everyone should take care of themselves, just like I have."

In the years to come, Joe's life will change dramatically. The U.S. dollar will be devalued as a result of our huge deficit, our living standards demolished, our standing with the world diminished and our social security gone...all because some conservative republican made sure he could take care of himself and his buddies.