MP Lim Wee Kiak retracting statement on MH370

From ‘Singapore distances itself from MP’s criticism of Malaysia over MH370 incident’, 11 April 2014, Today

The Singapore Government yesterday distanced itself from comments made by a Member of Parliament (MP) who said in a media interview that the Malaysian authorities could have better managed the MH370 incident. In a statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Senior Parliamentary Secretary (Foreign Affairs and Culture, Community and Youth) Sam Tan said the remarks by Nee Soon GRC MP Lim Wee Kiak, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Foreign Affairs, “do not represent the views” of the Government.

Mr Tan said: “The Singapore Government position has been clearly set out in the remarks by Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Law K Shanmugam to the Foreign Correspondents Association on March 28, as well as by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to the editors of the Asia News Network on April 9. It is an unprecedented and very difficult situation and, as Prime Minister Lee said, the Malaysian Government has done a ‘manful job’.” He added: “Singapore deployed aircraft and ships in the search and rescue operations, and has conveyed that we stand ready to provide further support as needed.”

Responding to Mr Tan’s statement, Dr Lim said on his Facebook page: “I have reflected on my comment and agree with the comments of our Foreign Minister and our PM.”

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MP Lim referred to the communication lapses among ASEAN counterparts as a ‘missed opportunity’, which is a euphemism for ‘failure’.  He also compared the Malaysia Airlines’ handling of MH370 to the ‘better media management’ by SIA when the latter’s plane crashed in Taiwan back in 2000. The difference is till today no one really knows for sure what happened to MH370, so the comparison may not be entirely fair. Besides, what’s the point of complaining now anyway? It’s as helpful as camping on an island in the middle of the Indian ocean with a pair of binos and waiting for a piece of wreckage to bob your way.

PM Lee’s compliment is a headscratcher though; Is a ‘manful’ job a ‘brave’ effort as in ‘manly’ or does it mean a manpower-heavy mission? An archaic term used as far back as 1917 to describe what I can only guess to be ‘backbreaking’ work, I’m not sure if this was a deliberately diplomatic choice because the more flattering option of ‘courageous’ would be overdoing it, especially considering what many furious Chinese think of the whole incident. After sharing a selfie bromance, it looks like Singapore is set to support Malaysia through thick or thin, though we’re not so certain if that loving feeling is mutual.

Malaysian politicians have always had no qualms about talking trash while meddling in our affairs without anyone urging them to retract their statements ever. In 2003, Dr Mahathir had a problem with Singapore supporting the US war in Iraq. Others found fault in the racial makeup of our SAF, blasted us for hosting the Israeli president in 1986, and slammed LKY for banning Islamic preachers from entering the country the year after. People will remain divided on MH370 for years to come even after the wreckage is recovered, if ever, and since Malaysian politicians have slung mud our way like the playground bullies that they are, why is the PAP afraid of bilateral ties getting bruised over ONE MAN’S opinion on the matter? Are we living up to what one journalist once called ‘little brother’ status?

In the interview, Lim asked: ‘How could everybody miss the plane? If the plane really made U-turn, wouldn’t someone’s radar have caught it?‘ Last I checked, Lim’s an opthalmologist, not a master of aeronautics. In fact, if there’s anyone doing a U-turn now it’s him, producing a turnaround apology that seems coerced after he expressed himself with such ‘manful’ conviction during the interview.  This makes it a hat-trick of apologies for Lim; first his comment on ministers’ salaries and their dignity, followed by his mocking of Low Thia Khiang’s hearing, and now getting ‘distanced’ from the team because of what he thinks not just of Malaysia but ASEAN as a whole. In local parlance it’s the political equivalent of ‘Eh, I don’t know you’ when someone in your circle of friends does something to embarrass the entire group, and you slowly inch away, pretending that he’s just some crazy stranger talking nonsense.

Nonetheless, I wonder if our ministers would still give Razak and company a pat on the back for a job well done and dismiss Lim’s remarks if it had been SINGAPOREANS missing and it were their families banging on doors and tables demanding answers instead. Dealing with critics should be the last thing on the Malaysian authorities’ minds anyway. Every second spent rebutting a loose cannon is a ‘missed opportunity’ in moving one step closer towards solving what looks set to be one of the greatest mysteries in aviation history.

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Mothership website made to register with MDA

From ‘MDA asks website mothership.sg to register for licence’, 3 April 2014, article by Robin Chan, ST

Social news website Mothership.sg has become the latest to be asked by the Media Development Authority to register with it, which prohibits it from receiving foreign funding. Mothership has four full-time staff, counts former foreign minister George Yeo as a contributor, and is backed by a social enterprise known as Project Fisher-Men, which is chaired by civil service veteran Philip Yeo.

In a statement on Thursday, the Media Development Authority (MDA) said it had notified Project Fisher-Men on March 27, to register under the Broadcasting (Class Licence) Notification, which was enacted under Section 9 of the Broadcasting Act.

The MDA said it had assessed that the website meets the registration criteria and it must register by April 11. This is as it promotes or discusses political issues relating to Singapore, and is “structured as a corporate entity which is deemed to be more susceptible to coming under foreign influence through foreign funding“.

Holy Mother of Mercy! MDA on the licensing warpath yet again!

When Mothership was publicised by the ST in Feb this year (Social news website Mothership brings home discussion on Singapore, 3 Feb 2014), it was touted as the Singapore version of Buzzfeed. Backed by the likes of original social media advocate George Yeo and consisting of ex-Ministry men such as Jonathan Lim (MICA) and former PMO civil servant Martino Tan (who set up PM Lee’s Facebook page), it has all the makings of a casual yet Government-friendly portal, an alternative to ‘alternative media’. Executive director Lien We King is also an ardent supporter of George Yeo, and was among those helping the ex-minister collect presidential election eligibility forms back in 2011. ‘Foreign influence’ therefore seems to be the last thing MDA should worry about. In fact, there’s something so grounded and familial about Mothership that calling itself ‘Fathership’ as in ‘founding father’ wouldn’t be too off the mark either.

The odd man out, curiously, is New Nation’s Belmont Lay, who used to be Opposition candidate Nicole Seah’s campaign manager. New Nation is, of course, the satire site notorious for taking the monkey out of MDA. A post titled ‘MDA required to obtain $5 million licence from New Nation’ mocks the agency as ‘Murder Decimate Arserape‘. In an article written in his personal capacity, Belmont dished out some pro-tips on how to deal with the MDA’s licensing scheme, among which include:

There is no better way to deal with the licensing scheme than to act as if there is no licensing scheme. That would really show them.

Well now it’s the Mothership’s turn to be at the receiving end of the Mother of all arserapes. I wonder how the Mothership, with Belmont’s expert guidance, can steer itself out of this shit. Perhaps good ol’ George, chairman of Kerry Logistics, can help them out with the $50,000 ‘performance bond’.

So I’m guessing the real reason why Mothership is getting buggered by MDA is not so much about its content or the risk of it being hijacked by anti-Singapore propagandists, but because having shackled the likes of The Independent and bringing about the unfortunate demise of Breakfast Network, this move seems out to show detractors that MDA is ‘fair’ is its implementation of licensing requirements, that even ‘pro-government’ sites which can list 48 wonderful things to ‘feel for Singapore’ are not exempt from registration.

In short, it’s an attempt at consolation for the brute high-handedness delivered on the real rogue sites out there. You know, like a mother refusing to show favoritism by lashing both the good and bad kid with the same whip. Still, here’s hoping Mothership continues onwards with its maiden voyage despite this MDA setback, a lone fairy godmother hovering over this vast wasteland of debauched ‘alternative media’, lactating her warm, wholesome chicken soup of feel-good Singapore stories upon us all.

So when’s your turn to join the fray, The Real Singapore?

Postscript: Mothership decided to register with the Grandaddy that is MDA after all, agreeing to ‘comply with all laws, rules, regulations and codes of practice’. Not one voice of protest in the team, taking it gamely like gentlemen. Mother Father Gentlemen.

 

 

Having a ‘fat tax’ to combat obesity

From ‘Combat obesity with fat tax’, 1 April 2014, ST Forum

(Dr Edmund Lam):…The obesity epidemic has become a worldwide phenomenon. Singapore has not been spared – our adult obesity rate increased from 6.9 per cent in 2004 to 10.8 per cent in 2010.

…The Health Promotion Board has done its utmost to encourage healthy eating through public education and collaboration with the food and beverage industry to provide healthier options. But gorging is still common in food centres, fast-food outlets and eat-all-you-can buffets.

In tandem with existing efforts, a “sugar” and “fat” tax of at least 20 per cent to 30 per cent ought to “shock” Singaporeans into changing their eating habits. Taxes on vices are not new – we already have high tobacco and alcohol taxes. Taxing unhealthy food, such as sugary drinks and junk food, will hopefully induce people to opt for healthier food, which needs to be cheaper than unhealthy food.

…In short, take the scourge of obesity seriously – now.

Singaporeans are getting fatter, just like people from most developed countries. In 1992, the rate of obesity was half  of where we are now, yet we’re throwing away more food, 796,000 tonnes of it in fact, just in 2013 alone. Can you imagine how much fatter we’d be if everyone actually finished all their food?

In 2011, the Danish government decided to impose a fat tax of 16 kroner or $3.76 per kg of saturated fat in products. Before the tax was implemented, the Danes behaved like how most Singaporeans would: HOARD all the fatty stuff they could get their hands on. Within a year, the controversial tax was scrapped because it was detrimental to the economy and led to loss of jobs. Moreover, Danes who had a lust for fat were crossing the border to do their grocery shopping in next door Germany. You can imagine the same situation here with Malaysia. Lesson learnt: You can’t change our eating behaviour overnight. We’ve been nursed on fats since birth through our mother’s milk, we’ll die without it, and we’ll die for it.

Dr Amy Khor stressed that there’s no scientific evidence that increasing the cost of guilty pleasure foods ever reduced the rate of obesity. Not only would it affect lower income Singaporeans, but those who consciously refrain from eating fatty stuff may overcompensate by gorging on CARBS, which add to the flab but with half the flavour and enjoyment. The slapping of monetary disincentives also undermines the ability of consumers to exercise willpower (that includes the willingness to EXERCISE). It also doesn’t help matters when it comes to preserving our hawker culture, which is centred around high-calorie, high fat (hence delicious) food.

Fast food giants are not going to take fat taxes lying down either. Even if you raise the price of a Happy Meal to exorbitant levels, all you need is a Hello Kitty promotion to get people biting the bait again. Raise Krispy Kreme doughnuts by 30%? No problem! Just run a promo 1 for 1 and all your revenue problems are solved. Gong Cha pearl topping up by 20%? Borrow a friend’s Watsons discount card! Restrict menus to serving wholemeal buns only? Well, introduce a double bacon with cheese McMuffin, dammit!

It’s easy to point a finger at food as the primary reason for our ballooning weight, and they make easy targets to tax while there are in fact other factors that may contribute to weight gain. Maybe we should have a cable TV tax because people who’re glued to the googlebox tend to put on weight. Or tax people for using the lifts and escalators instead of climbing the stairs. How about a fat tax on driving less than 1km to any destination? Conversely, in order to encourage people to lead active lifestyles, marathons should be FOC and the Government should sponsor a Brompton bike for every commuting Singaporean. From all that fat tax revenue of course.

We need to work on empowering consumers through nutritional information, not introducing artificial scarcity on fat food like how a diet is supposed to work (It doesn’t). Businesses will do anything to survive at the expense of our waistlines, like it has been for the longest time. You can’t overcome human psychology with taxation. It’s like putting bloody disgusting pictures on cigarette boxes; people still smoke that shit anyway. Even if you manage to cut down obesity levels through severe psychic starvation, you’ll probably see a corresponding increase in people getting warded in IMH for depression because every morsel of lard they chow down has become as unappetising and unfulfilling as swallowing a stack of 1 dollar coins.

If you’re going to charge $1 more for Char Kuay Teow, I’d still eat it as per normal anyway, except that instead of a Coke to go with it I’d order the other version with the artificial sweetener aspartame, which has been linked to cancer (unproven) in some studies. So, instead of getting thinner, I stay just as fat, but expose myself to unnaturally occurring chemicals because I refuse to pay extra for sugar. If I’m unsatisfied by that combination, I’d refuel during tea break by mindlessly chewing on ‘organic’ assorted nuts, misled into thinking it’s the ‘healthier choice’ when I’ve already far exceeded my daily calorie requirements compared to having my original Char Kuay Teow with normal Coke without a nut snack in the first place. I can’t possibly eat a stick of raw carrot in my workplace without being oestracised by everyone on a normal diet.

Why stop at taxing just sugar and fat then, how about going the whole hog and tax SALT too, too much of which is bad for your blood pressure and kidneys? Or caffeine? I’d might as well eat tree bark for the rest of my life.

 

 

‘Little Chinatown’ Geylang is a potential powder keg

From ‘Step up safety in Geylang, say MPs, grassroots leaders’, 30 March 2014, article by Amelia Tan, Sunday Times

Geylang Members of Parliament and grassroots leaders want more done to keep the area safe, and say the measures should go beyond ramping up police patrols. Moulmein-Kallang GRC MP Edwin Tong wants fewer alcohol licences issued, stricter operating hours for businesses near residential estates, and a stop to foreign worker dormitories sprouting near Housing Board flats.

…Geylang has come under fresh focus after Police Commissioner Ng Joo Hee said last Tuesday that he was more worried about the area than Little India, where a riot involving foreign workers took place last December. Testifying at the Committee of Inquiry into the Little India riot, he said crime rates in Geylang were disproportionately high and hostility towards the police rife.

Mr Tong told The Sunday Times that the red-light district, with its many bars and lounges, peddlers selling contraband cigarettes and drugs, as well as shops and vendors which stay open late into the night make Geylang more of a potential trouble spot than Little India and increase the risk of violent crime.

…He also highlighted the predicament of those living in Blocks 38 and 39 Upper Boon Keng Road, off Lorong 3 Geylang. The HDB flats are beside a row of terraced houses which have been converted into dormitories for workers from South Asian countries.

Many of the workers drink alcohol at the void decks of the blocks late into the night and some urinate at the playgrounds. Mr Tong said the problems have not been solved despite his asking police to increase their patrols. He said: “I think the solution is to stop the houses from being used as dorms. They are just too near the HDB flats.”

Grassroots leader Lee Hong Ping, 45, who labelled Geylang “Little Chinatown”, said crowds of foreign workers from China can cause traffic jams when too many of them gather on the pavements and spill onto the roads. Residents have also complained about not feeling safe at night.

The Commissioner of Police Ng Joo Hee described Geylang as a hotspot for ‘lawlessness’ and a congregation area for ‘unsavoury characters’. The Police also cited statistics that the level of public order offences and crime were almost twice as high as that in Little India in 2012, thus the ‘powder keg’ analogy. Another ST report carried the headline ‘People in Geylang speak of an ‘undercurrent of fear’ (March 30, 2014) based on the refusal of some residents to talk to the press. The authorities should be wary, however, not to focus too much on buffing up security at these ‘enclaves’ while neglecting other public areas when random people get slain. Since the Little India incident, we’ve all but forgotten about what went on in the very beating heart of the city, gang fights at Orchard Cineleisure for instance.

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There’s no question that the Lorongs are where resentment of authority is rampant. In 2007, a crowd of 200 gathered around 4 undercover police officers on an illegal gambling raid operation and threw rubbish and beer bottles at them, forcing one officer to draw his weapon on one of the men in the crowd. It had all the makings of a full blown riot, though today we’re unlikely to see the level of violence of the secret society clashes in the 1920s, where the police don’t just get glasses and rocks tossed at them, but BOMBS as well. There’s no evidence that alcohol had anything to do with these events, though some shopkeepers admit that vice is a crowd-puller and good for business.

Geylang may be called ‘Little Chinatown’ today, but according to some sociologists in 2009, Geylang was already the NEW Chinatown when PRCs started flocking to the area to set up shop, while its older sibling with its annual gaudy CNY decorations has morphed into a tourist town, today complete with giant LCD advertising screens and a ‘food street’ that’s clearly designed to draw tourists on a hawker mecca. We’ve already lost our vintage Bugis Street, we don’t want the same fate to fall on ‘Little Chinatown’ now, do we?

The police may think that Geylang, with all its vice and sleaze, is a time bomb waiting to explode. Residents worry about their wives or daughters when they go out at night. But to anyone with a sense of history or adventure, the ‘unsavoury’ nature of Geylang is part of its gritty, trashy charm, a seedy side of Singapore that remains largely unsanitised and brimming with a thrilling sense of ghetto sprawl and chaos, like the Chinese Harlem except that the only protection you need is not a personal weapon, but personal contraception. It has even been called a mini ‘United Nations’ of street-walkers. This is a place you won’t see on our tourist brochures, but any Singaporean will try to tempt a foreigner to have a taste of it. With a nudge and a wink of course.

 

 

Indranee Rajah defending uncle with holey moley shirt

From ‘Indranee Rajah stands up for man mocked for hole in shirt’, 22 March 2014, article by Goh Chin Lian, ST

People still do not appreciate enough that their actions can have unintended consequences for others, especially on social media, said Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah in a Facebook post on Saturday. The Tanjong Pagar GRC MP was defending a resident in her ward whose attire Miss Singapore Universe 2013 finalist Jesslyn Tan had mocked in a recent Facebook post.

Mr Koh Hee Huat, 55, was asleep in the MRT and wearing a T-shirt with a hole in it. Ms Tan, 25, posted a photograph of him on Wednesday with the caption: “Holey moley. Sibei trendy worzxxz.”

…”If anyone merits a boost, it is this quiet, hardworking, unassuming man. He may not be sibei trendy but he is definitely ‘SIBEI HO.’”

Before she took part in MSU, Jesslyn was a 2012 FHM model, and when asked what superpowers she would like to have in an interview segment, she replied that she wanted Wolverine’s healing powers. Not to mention razor sharp claws so that she can take a vicious swipe at innocent passengers on a train. She probably thinks it’s a better idea to have Invisible Woman’s powers now.

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Jessyln’s intrusion of privacy and insensitivity is one thing, but as a MSU wannabe, poking fun at someone’s dress sense and suggesting that he can’t afford to buy new clothes is against the image of a compassionate, world-peace loving beauty queen that every contestant aspires towards. Imagine sending a representative like Jesslyn to help rebuild a school for impoverished kids, only for her to spend more time commenting on the kids’ shabby uniforms (or lack of) rather than do anything remotely charitable.  It also takes some serious cheek to comment on others’ outfits considering the kind of fashion abominations that MSUs have had to put on over the years. Oh, and THAT spelling. I can’t tell if ‘worzxxz’ is a typo or the language of an alien insectoid race.  She happens to be a Bachelor of Communication graduate too, maybe one who specialises in exotic languages.

MP Indranee was quick to come to Koh’s rescue, explaining why he wears ‘holey’ shirts to work and how he works his ass off till 3 am at Ye Shanghai Teochew Muay stall. Koh was apparently so affected by the post that he thought of quitting the job, and if an aspiring MSU can’t be bothered to come forward to apologise personally or even buy him some new shirts out of goodwill, then it’ll take an MP to soothe some nerves and offer protection. Thankfully for Jessyln, his salvation comes in form of Indranee, and not some furious kopitiam friends out for revenge who also happen to be Ah Long associates.

Or this guy.

This guy knows Teochew Muay Thai worzzxxzzz!

If I ever get verbally abused by Stompers for wearing ugly Crocs on the train, I doubt my MP would speak up for me, even if I threaten to kill myself because I got cyberbullied by a beauty queen. In fact, people get ruthlessly mocked for the way the dress all the time, the sloppy uni student, the aunty with a bucket on her head, the oversexy bareback with bra showing. Where were our MPs then?

There are many people like Koh out there, of course, sweating it out to earn a living and having to tolerate snobs like Jessyln Tan. They may not have holes in their clothing but have deeper holes in their pockets than most of us. If they weren’t sensationally victimised like Koh here on social media, would our MPs share real-life sob stories so readily with the rest of us outside of election rallies where such anecdotes are potential speech (and vote) winners?  You don’t need a beauty queen shooting her mouth off before you realise people like Koh exist and celebrate them for making sure we have porridge supper to eat at 3am. I’m also not sure if there’s an unintentional pun with Indranee describing Koh as ‘SIBEI HO’ following this ‘HOLE’ in a shirt saga. It sure was ‘SIBEI SUAY’ for Jessyln to get caught, though.

Well, if you do drop by for supper at Mr Koh’s Bukit Merah stall (thanks to his MP’s free publicity), try to refrain from inspecting his shirt, or it’d look like people are flocking to Ye Shanghai just for a glimpse of the famous hole like it were national treasure rather than the Teochew Muay. Meanwhile, it’ll probably be a while before we see Jessyln participating in any kind of pageant whatsoever, nor should she even think of going into fashion consultancy. I’d also suggest that she think twice before appearing in public wearing ‘trendy’ ripped jeans, before someone goes up to her and says: Hey Jessyln! HOLE SAY BOH??

Singapore is the most expensive city (for expats only)

From ‘Singapore budget 2014: Expatriate living costs survey does not reflect locals’ costs: Tharman’, 5 March 2014, article by Janice Heng, ST

Cost-of-living reports, such as the Economist Intelligence Unit one that has just ranked Singapore the priciest city in the world, are aimed at comparing costs of living for expatriates and thus do not reflect the cost of living for a local resident, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said in his wrap-up speech on the Budget debate on Wednesday.

There are thus two important differences between what such reports measure and what affects the living costs of Singaporeans, he added. One is currency. “An important reason why we’ve become expensive for expatriates is that the Singapore dollar has strengthened,” said Mr Tharman. That makes things pricier for an expatriate who is paid in a foreign currency. But it improves Singaporeans’ purchasing power, both at home when buying imported goods, and abroad.

The second important difference is the goods and services whose prices are being measured, which are “quite different from the goods and services consumed by ordinary Singaporeans.” Mr Tharman listed some of the things included in the EIU consumption basket: imported cheese, fillet mignon, “Burberry-type raincoats”, the four best seats in a theatre, and three-course dinners in high-end restaurants for four people.

In addition, when it comes to transport, these expatriate cost-of-living surveys only take into account the cost of cars and taxis, not public transport. Cars here are indeed more expensive than in other cities because Singapore is a small country but its public transport and taxi fares are cheaper than in many other hubs, noted Mr Tharman.

“It’s not that these surveys are wrong, it’s not that they are misguided. They’re measuring something quite different from the cost of living for an ordinary local.”

It’s not just imported cheese and fillet mignon that ‘ordinary Singaporeans’ can’t seem to afford according to our DPM. We also don’t dress up as well as our far more dapper expats, who go for $4000 Giorgo Armani men’s suits and drink Moet and Chandon. Surely there are more Singaporeans driving cars than expats, which doesn’t explain how the price comparison for cars is ‘measuring something quite different’. You’d only need to find an equal if not SMALLER country than Singapore in the list with cheaper cars to counter our minister’s weak justification for the sky high prices. Just rating the stuff paupers live off day-to-day is also a misrepresentation of the ‘costliness’ of living, living for most of us involving some form of occasional enjoyment and splurging other than the core human functions of eating, sleeping and shitting. Yes, that includes 3 course dinners in ‘high end’ restaurants with fillet mignon as the main.

The EIU report says nothing about their data being exclusive to expats, and Tharman’s assumption is challenged by the fact that the list includes not so expat ‘friendly’ cities like Damascus, Algiers and Karachi (all among the cheapest cities to live in). Somewhere in the report also talks about the price of something as basic as a 1kg LOAF of BREAD. In Singapore it’s $3.36 vs $1.21 in Mumbai. Contrary to Tharman’s expat hypothesis, locals do eat sliced bread. I suppose Tharman’s version of expats go to artisan boulangeries and eat their dough with foie gras or steak tartare instead of spreading upon it  the disgusting green goo we penniless locals call kaya.

The rich foreigners love it here, a good proportion of them reportedly earning more than $200K a year, and with that kind of money it doesn’t matter if Singapore is the most ‘expensive city’ in the world or not since they live off the finest things in life anyway. That is, until they piss us off and bugger off to Perth. We’ll need to see the complete results to believe that the survey is expat-centric instead of taking Tharman’s word for it hook, line and sinker. This preview chart already shows you how the price of cigarettes and unleaded petrol here fare against the rest of the top 10 cities, stuff that people need, whether you’re expat, local or PRC.

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No surprise here, but we probably have the most EXPENSIVE bottle of table wine in the world, and this $25.04 on average may be even an underestimate given the recent tax hike. Thank God Singaporeans can at least still buy a plate of chicken rice with the same amount you pay for a 1kg loaf of bread. I wonder if the survey rates the cost of something as mundane as raising a child, which according to sgasianparents, is $340,000, just about the price of a Mercedes Benz E-class with COE. Singaporeans, don’t even think about it.

There are flaws in this survey, no doubt, but brushing it aside as one targetting just expats without a fair definition of ‘expat’ and making it a defensive ‘us vs them’ exercise is a typical symptom of blame-shifting instead of self-reflection. Singapore is the most expensive place to buy some things, maybe imported cheese and lobster mee pok included, but you can still get a cup of coffee for less than a dollar, a haircut under 10 bucks or go swimming for less than $2 in some places. Perhaps our leaders should angle their perspective that way rather than making tenuous assumptions that don’t hold water (which won’t stay ‘cheap’ for long judging by the way this drought is going).

Alcohol ‘sin tax’ increasing by 25 percent

From ‘Alcohol suffers stiffest hike among ‘sin taxes’, 22 Feb 2014, article by Jermyn Chow, ST

BARFLIES absorbed the sobering news yesterday that they will have to dig deeper to pay for drinks, with an increase on alcohol tax by 25 per cent. In the first such hike in a decade, the tax on wine and spirits goes up to $88 per litre of alcohol content, and for beer, to $60 per litre of alcohol content, with immediate effect.

It is the heftiest of the hikes on the so-called sin taxes, with cigarette levies also up by 10 per cent and betting duty rates up to 30 per cent from 25 per cent. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said yesterday that the move is “in line with our social objective of avoiding excessive consumption or indulgence in these areas”.

…Lawyer Ranjan Indiran, 32, who spends $300 on drinks on weekends, argues that a person with an alcohol problem will not stop drinking just because alcohol is more expensive. “He will channel more money towards his drinking habit and he and his family will just be worse off,” he said.

The hikes on alcohol will net the Government $120 million more a year. Cigarette and tobacco levies will add $70 million and betting, $255 million.

In Feb 2006, PM Lee decided ‘reluctantly’ against increased taxes on tobacco because it didn’t make Singaporeans smoke less, but smuggle more. Unlike previous years, 2006 was an exception as hikes were frozen for booze and cigarettes, and offering a reprieve to drinkers and smokers didn’t seem ‘in line with the social objective’. 3 months later, the General Election was held. Another objective took precedence over public health then.

Though betting tax from lotteries also went up to 30%, no mention was made of the biggest generators of ‘sin’ money, the IRs. For elder hardcore addicts who qualify for the Pioneer Package, the payouts may come in useful. For rich expats who can afford a Jewel of Pangaea or those hobnobbing at F1 parties, this hike is a mere drop in their ocean of excess. The increase comes across as an opportunistic one following the fallout of the Little India Riot which made a convenient villainy out of alcohol. If a gambling addict is willing to pay $100 to enter a casino multiple times, an increase in at least 40 cents for a bottle of Tiger at the kopitiam is not going to make anyone quit the habit overnight. You may, however, think twice if you are a social drinker, and maybe that alone would be enough to make the difference between going home sober, or ending up in jail for drunk driving.

If you’re dead serious about public health and want to help those who really need to quit, you would have heeded the advice of SANA in the 1970s, when they advocated DOUBLING of the same sin taxes. You would curb the sprawl of ‘nightlife’ spots and impose some form of Preservation of Public Order Bill everywhere and not just Little India to clamp down on liquor/tobacco sales and rowdy behaviour. You would have stricter punishments for anyone caught with contraband, which incidentally spiked to 46,300 cases just in the first half of 2013 alone. You also wouldn’t try to sell off confiscated vodka at 75 cents per bottle as the Singapore Customs did in 2004. In 2003,  Dr Warren Lee, MP for Sembawang, suggested that there be a COE for cigarettes, an idea that itself sounds like it was conceived, well, ‘under the influence’.

The message sent from the sin tax increase may be borne out of good intentions, but I doubt it’ll serve its ‘official’ purpose. It just means poorer, not less, smokers and drinkers, but more revenue and ‘more good years’ for everyone else.

PM Lee unfriending SBY on Facebook

From ‘Singapore PM Lee unfriends Yudhoyono? Indonesian media duped by spoof’, 12 Feb 2014, article by Zakir Hussein, ST

WHEN a satirical website weighs in on a serious bilateral dispute with the potential to escalate, expect some to fall for it. Several Indonesian media outlets, under pressure from a 24/7 news cycle, ran a spoof by Singapore’s NewNation.sg headlined: “PM Lee unfriends Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Facebook, untags him from photos”.

And at least one afternoon daily, Harian Terbit, ran a page one article on Wednesday on the supposed virtual rift, headlined: “Singapore PM-SBY cut off friendship”, with a prominent Facebook logo between pictures of the two leaders.

…While both countries’ leaders have active public Facebook pages – Prime Minister Lee has more than 271,000 followers and President Yudhoyono more than 1.8 million – neither leader maintains a Facebook account, at least not one that’s public, that enables them to befriend and, in Facebook parlance, unfriend, another user of the social networking site.

…Several of the online news websites soon realised their mistake, rewrote their stories and ran corrections. And at least two ran reports on how some, themselves included, fell for the hoax. The VivaNews website headlined its piece: “Singapore PM unfriends SBY, Indonesian media fell for the hoax”. The website of the largest national newspaper, Kompas, was also taken in. It later amended its headline to “KRI Usman-Harun controversy: Satire on Singapore PM blocking President SBY’s Facebook spreads”.

In a correction below that report, the website reproduced the erroneous version it ran a few hours earlier, based on the New Nation spoof. But some on social media had yet to realise the satirical report was a hoax. A commentary on the hardline site, voaislam, seemed to take the spoof for real, saying the reported action “has crossed the boundaries” and calling on Indonesians to be brave in standing up to Singapore.

But a reader on a Kompas forum commented: “This is a severe hoax. How could something concerning ties between two countries become a laughing matter? If taken seriously, the consequences could be fatal.”

New Nation aspires to be the Singaporean version of The Onion, the original news spoof site that has a reputation for fooling despot governments into taking their news seriously. Iranian media lapped up a fake story about rural Americans willing to vote President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over Obama. China was convinced that Kim Jong Un was voted the Sexiest Man Alive. Bangladeshi journalists believed them when Neil Armstrong reportedly admitted that his moon landing was a hoax. New Nation have even conned our own nation’s biggest troll site, Stomp, with a fake article about a woman fainting at a nomination centre for ‘opposition unity’, and seem mighty proud of it. And now our Indonesian neighbours have just been hoodwinked by a joke about PM Lee breaking up with SBY on Facebook. Problem is, the New Nation article wasn’t very funny to begin with. And maybe they didn’t actually ‘fall for it’ but deviously planned this all along just to aggravate matters between the two nations.

It is a fact that both leaders have Facebook accounts, and to have one ‘unfriending’ another after years of painful name-calling in a final act of political tit-for-tat isn’t THAT far fetched.  New Nation’s article was eerily similar to a post by Mr Brown semi-jokingly calling for PM to ‘unfriend SBY on Facebook’, accompanied by a comic portraying the leaders engaging in a juvenile tiff. I’m not aware of any country that has waged war on another over a silly parody, but this embarrassment comes right after our ministers have been seemingly appeased by Indonesia’s proclamation that they bore ‘no ill will’ towards us after naming a navy ship after a couple of ‘state actors’, possibly the worst euphemism for terrorists ever.

It also doesn’t help if your ‘spoof site’ has a title that dozens of ‘serious’ news organisations share as well. Like ‘New Nation News‘ and UK’s New Nation (‘number 1 black newspaper’). Maybe editor Belmont Lay (also part of the Mothership.sg) should change the tagline back to ’50% REAL news’ from the current ’50% lucky news’ (50% unlucky that the Indonesians thought it was for real). Or consider something other than ‘New Nation’ altogether. Like ‘The Chap Chye’ or something.

Whether or not the Indonesian media were plain suckers or were deliberately provoking a reaction, this isn’t exactly the best time to prank a country in a position to curb the impending haze and cooperate with their neighbours, especially so after we ‘uninvited’ their top brass from our airshow. I’m not sure if by starting a joke about bilateral ties being severed over Facebook we risk letting the Indonesians have the last laugh while we tear not from the unintentional comedy of their journalists, but eventually, if the winds of change don’t blow in our favour, from their smog in our eyes.

Lim Biow Chuan utterly disappointed in HPB Sexuality FAQ

From ‘Disappointed MP criticises HPB for its FAQ on sexuality’, 7 Feb 2014, article by Siau Ming En, Today

Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan yesterday hit out at one of the responses, which said homosexual and heterosexual relationships are not too different. Writing on his Facebook page, he said: “I cannot agree that ‘A same-sex relationship is not too different from a heterosexual relationship’. The two relationships are different and they go against the Government’s policy of promoting heterosexual married couples to have healthy relationships and to build stable nuclear and extended family units.

“I am utterly disappointed at the HPB’s stand in issuing such a statement,” said Mr Lim, who has also filed a question asking the Health Minister to clarify his ministry’s stand on the board’s online resource when Parliament next sits on Feb 17.

…Noting that the bulk of the FAQ seemed to suggest that a homosexual relationship “is quite normal”, he added: “If we say a homosexual relationship is quite normal, then people get confused because that’s not the state’s pro-family position”.

It would be nice for once to hear from someone expressing disapproval about homosexuality who isn’t also an active church member. According to Mr Lim’s Facebook intro, he serves as a church leader at Ang Mo Kio Methodist Church and occasionally preaches in it. Looks like he’s bringing the pulpit into the sphere of politics, and no less preachy either. In 2007, the same MP objected to PM Lee’s acknowledgement that there might be some evidence to show that the gay tendency is inborn. If Lee Hsien Loong’s father had been the one instead to suggest in Parliament that homosexuality is a genetic variation, not an ‘aberration’, I doubt Lim would have stood up to protest against the very idea of homosexuality being as normal as one having double eyelids.

Some readers have noted that the gay issue is no longer a private matter, but has been ‘politicised’ into a emotionally- charged national one, with MPs unleashing their personal views while shielding themselves behind the Government’s ‘pro-family’ position. The ‘nuclear family’ argument doesn’t account for heterosexual couples who, by choice or biology, do not have children themselves, compared to say same-sex couples who adopt children and take better care of them than broken, estranged families do. Lim Biow Chuan’s tirade against the sin of homosexuality is tame, however, compared to how one ex-NMP refers to it as a ‘gender identity disorder’, ‘immoral’ and that anal sex is like  ‘drinking a straw through one’s nose’. She’s none other than Law Professor Thio Li-Ann, and unlike our disapproving, silently cringing MPs today, she had no qualms about letting everyone know how she REALLY felt about homosexuality. None of this ‘family unit’ nonsense, and yes, she’s a Christian too.

We can’t help but ‘politicise’ homosexuality, because we have a law that specifically targets men who engage in it, and somewhere along the way when our fertility dipped, the government adopted a pro-family ‘position’ that opponents to homosexuality love to trumpet to their advantage because they don’t want to be accused of hate-crime and homophobia.  To individuals like Lim, it is really discomfort, aversion and the niggling, irrational feeling that ‘something’s not right’ with gayness and it shouldn’t be championed, and the more they try to express their views ‘scientifically’ or how gayness goes against a national ‘call of duty’, the more it sounds like a cow telling a tiger that eating other animals is wrong and that a life of abstinence from meat makes the world a better place.

Other politicians like to speak for the ‘majority’ of Singaporeans that we’re not ‘ready’ for open homosexuality, that Singapore is still a ‘conservative’ nation at heart, conveniently forgetting about the many sex corruption scandals that put perpetrators in our highest public office to shame, wild heterosexual behaviour which has done more harm to the reputation of government agencies than, in the vein of Thio Li-Ann’s vivid analogy, sucking things up your nose behind closed doors.

In 2012, Lim was whacked in the back of his head by a stray skipping rope thanks to Tin Pei Lin in a community event. He later went on to mention that the skipping campaign was ‘part of building an inclusive society’. Wonder if the knock on the head had anything to do with the blatant irony of that sentence.

Tan Cheng Bock uninvited from Istana CNY party

From ‘PA withdraws Istana party invite to Tan Cheng Bock’, 8 Feb 2014, article by Robin Chan, ST

FORMER MP Tan Cheng Bock, who quit the People’s Action Party to contest the 2011 Presidential Election, sparked a debate yesterday about the motives of the People’s Association (PA), which had withdrawn its invitation to him to a yearly Istana party. Dr Tan, an MP from 1980 to 2006, said he had been going to the Chinese New Year party for former and current grassroots leaders since 1980.

This year’s event will be held tomorrow afternoon.It is not the same party as the one to honour the pioneer generation. Yesterday, Dr Tan wrote about the incident on Facebook, prompting PA to issue a public apology for what it said was a mistake. The error arose because an old invitation list was used instead of a new one, PA’s deputy chairman Lim Swee Say said.

Dr Tan’s post, which garnered more than a thousand likes and shares, said that he received the invitation on Dec 27 last year. Twelve days later, on Jan 8, Mr Lim, the labour chief and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, called him to explain that a change of policy required the invitation to be withdrawn.

“He conveyed (that) to me by phone and e-mail. There was a change in ‘policy’ to invite only those ex-advisers to grassroots organisations, from the immediate past GE (2011). I did not fit into this category as I stood down in 2006,” Dr Tan wrote.

Replying, Mr Lim said in a statement that it was “most unfortunate that PA made the mistake of using the old list instead of the updated list”. The list is periodically reviewed, he added, to let a wider base of people attend. It was last reviewed “a few months ago”.

…Mr Lim took issue with Dr Tan’s post: “I was heartened that Dr Tan very graciously accepted my explanation over the phone. So I am surprised he now brings this up publicly as an issue.”

The last time a politician made a Facebook fuss over having an invite withdrawn was WP’s Chen Show Mao, who was denied attendance to a Hungry Ghost dinner back in 2011. Clearly, the PA hasn’t learned from the social media repercussions of the last high-profile ‘uninvite’, which explains Lim Swee Say being taken aback by TCB complaining about it on FB. Withdrawing an invitation is embarrassing for both parties, but more so for an organiser who should really know better, even if there’s a ‘policy’ to hide behind when telling the uninvited the bad news. As for TCB’s dismay, it’s not surprising either considering that during his presidential campaign, he suggested ousting the PM from the Istana in  ‘Queen of England‘ fashion. But speaking of hungry ghosts, where exactly has Chen Show Mao been to lately?

Not sure if TCB was given a spot on the actual pioneer party. That depends on how our PM defines ‘pioneer’, and how the hosts of the pioneer party feel about this awkward incident (They include Heng Swee Keat, Lawrence Wong and, and to no one’s surprise, Lim Swee Say).  Like the definition itself, this year’s pioneer invitees appear to be a mixed bag. They include Hooi Kok Wah of yusheng fame, opposition veteran Chiam See Tong and former MP Ong Ah Heng. Incidentally, MP Ong himself once admitted in 2010 to replacing elderly cleaners, fellow ‘pioneers’ even, with younger, fitter foreign workers upon receiving complaints by a family.

More than a decade ago, a pioneer generation was described as one who ‘grew up with Singapore’, called upon to sweat it out in factories and shipyards, or be among the first to serve the army. In 2007, PM Lee described the pioneer generation of public servants as ‘the last of the Mohicans‘. A survey on familiarity with Singapore ‘pioneers’ in 2012 included ‘founding fathers’, i.e political heavyweights like Devan Nair, LKY and Goh Keng Swee. In the Reach portal, they are those who built Singapore from her infancy, even if they’re today ‘scavenging for food to eat, tin cans and cardboard to sell’. It seems that anyone can be regarded a pioneer as long as you’re old, Singaporean, and worked almost your whole life to feed your family. If you’re an afterthought to the PM’s party, you probably haven’t contributed that much. Or contributed TOO much, stepping on the party organisers’ toes in the process, like TCB was known to do. You’re also unlikely to find billionaires in the list, because you don’t usually associate rich folk with out-in-the-sun back-breaking work that the image of a ‘pioneer’ summons, even if they’ve started out in life doing exactly that to become what they are today.

As symbolic as the 1500-strong party is supposed to be, those who believe they have served the nation beyond the call of duty but didn’t get the invite will be wondering ‘Why not me?’, just like being left out of any hip party hosted by the most popular person in school. Granted, it’s intended to span all walks in life and you can’t accommodate everyone, though by not making its criteria explicit it begs the question of how the PAP determines your pioneer value. But if you’re a true-blue pioneer, it shouldn’t matter if you’re remembered or not. And you wouldn’t complain on FB insisting that you’ve been mistakenly taken out of the invite list.


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