Monday, June 30, 2014

Commuters Are Not Entertained

When you have civil servants paid from $300,000 onwards, it's inevitable they miss the disconnect. Instead of looking for ways and means to cut costs and reduce public transportation charges, they are forever cooking up ideas to splurge to the hilt. Any financial relief is welcome now, in the wake of the Medishield Life premium hikes.

Do we really need entertainment videos at train stations when the jam packed coaches afford only views of the smelly armpit of another unhappy commuter, 1 of 3 which is likely to be non-Singaporean? They had a failed attempt once installing mobile video on buses, at an undisclosed cost which was probably passed on to the passengers. When that system was canned, and video service terminated, no fare reduction materialised.

The "heritage videos" they are planning to showcase at station platforms won't be coming in cheap. Keep the propaganda videos and offer fare rebates instead. Commuters would rather have a shorter wait for a ride than hanging around the station for the 5 or 10 minute "content which is meaningful, informational and entertaining."

"Expect more entertainment to make time pass a little faster" seems to be a coded message implying longer waiting time for a train is inevitable, despite all the broken promises to speed up the train service. The congestion at the station during peak hours is barely sustainable as it is, do we need to add buskers to the crowd? Train stations are key to a quick clearing system, so that tired workers can go home promptly to their family and recover from the grind at the office or factory place. As it is, most leave their house before the sun rises, and return only after the sun has set. The only people who would hang around a train station are those looking at it as a novelty, not an essential transportation hub that need to be processed efficiently and speedily.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Medishield Life Bites Hard

At its core, universal health coverage (UHC) is about giving the individual and his family access to health care and preventing them from facing financial ruin that can come from unexpected illness and disability. At least that was what Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck, widely credited as the intellectual father of today's UHC programmes, had in mind when he introduced national compulsory coverage for workers. Profit was never the motive.

Last year, Medishield premiums were quietly increased without much fanfare. Han Fook Kwang himself woke up to discover that his MediShield premium had jumped to $1,589, double what was deducted ($800) from his Medisave account previously. Before you could even contemplate bailing out of the scam, they introduced the compulsory Medishield Life to skim you off for perpetuity.

For a while now, the spiel was about additional benefits, never about whether we need them or are prepared to pay for the extras. They can hide the numbers only for so long. Now the secret is out.

As expected, leopards never change their spots. Medisave, one component of the Central Provident Fund (CPF), is also supposed to be our money, but that never stopped the grubby greedy hands from  helping themselves to the loot. Discounting the placebo of the subsidies, valid only for a temporal grace period, the numbers are higher than present (already inflated) Medishield premiums. The only important table is the set of before and after numbers.

Other than per capita household income, the determining factor for entitlement to a "discount" is the Annual Value (AV) of one's home. The retiree living in his old house with no source of income will still have to pay full rate. Ditto the sickly and handicapped, those in dire need of affordable medicare, will just have to downgrade to the void deck to qualify for a miserly handout.

The key to the grand scheme of things is the MediShield Life Review Committee (MLRC)'s suggestion  to work with private insurers to review the "landscape and features" of Integrated Shield Plans (IPs). You bet these private insurers, working in cahoots with the compliant Government appointees, will be laughing all the way to the bank. And you thought it was all about providing affordable health care. Bobby Chin, the Chairman of the MediShield Life Review Committee has even suggested that those who default on their premiums for MediShield Life should be penalised: "If you don't pay, the government will look into certain enforcement."

Speaking from the safety of several thousand miles away, the prime minister said, "You will have to pay somewhat more premiums but the premiums are affordable." Probably as affordable as those 35 year mortgages for a leasehold public housing unit.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Working Hard For His Money

Settling for second best
The first reports claimed that Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong met United States President Barack Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden and National Security Advisor Susan Rice on Wednesday (June 25) in Washington, DC. Later, the statement from the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary said Mr Obama only dropped by Lee's meeting with Ms Rice. The guy in the photo op is definitely not the president of the most powerful democracy on planet earth. No Obama.

Lee met with Joe Biden instead, to reaffirm Singapore-US bilateral ties and exchange views on further enhancing relations, yada yada yada, and Joe promised to visit in November. No Obama.

On Wednesday, Lee was also hosted to tea by US Senator Robert Menendez, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), which was attended by US Senators Robert Corker, Marco Rubio and Benjamin Cardin, who is Chairman of the SFRC Sub-Committee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs. No Obama.

Shucks, that's like visiting Paris and not get to climb the Eiffel Tower.

But Obama's a pretty busy guy right now. With Sunni militants capturing two border crossings, one along the frontier with Jordan and the other with Syria, and fighters with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) advancing on the Haditha Dam, it's all hands on deck. The 300 advisers he's sending to Iraq better not end up like the 300 Spartans. If you saw the movie, you'll know they were wiped out by the Persians at the Battle of Thermopylae. US secretary of state John Kerry has been asked by President Barack Obama to travel to Saudi Arabia on Friday to confer with King Abdullah on the best ways to counter the ISIL advance.

This may be his last term of office, but he's sure putting the pedal to the metal as if it were the first. Whatever Obama is paid, this guy sure works hard for his money.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Outing Of Dr W

Horror scene from The Stoning of Soraya M
And you thought these things don't happen in the clean city of Singapore.

Wijeysingha narrates, for the first time, of how he was abused by a Catholic priest. When he was 15, we are told, "I came into unfortunate contact with a priest who would engage me in play wrestling and attempt to touch my crotch in the process. He once brought me into his bedroom and took a stack of pornographic magazines from his wardrobe to show me."

"I haven't till now disclosed this sorry incident publicly. It never seemed momentous and, so far, as I'm aware, it didn't damage me. But Archbishop William Goh's pronouncements this weekend prompted me to."  The Archbishop had pronounced earlier that the church does not condone relationships which "are not in accordance to the plan of God".

It was the Boston Globe's Pulitzer Prize winning coverage of sexual abuse cases involving Catholic priests that first drew the attention of the United States, and then ultimately the world, to the abuse of God's plan. Victims soon came forward with their own horrific tales of abuse, resulting in lawsuits and criminal cases. ("Scores of priests involved in sex abuse cases", Walter V. Robinson et al, January 31, 2002)

In February 2011, two German lawyers initiated charges against Pope Benedict XVI at the International Criminal Court. As one of the reasons for the charges they referred also to the "strong suspicion" that Joseph Ratzinger, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, covered up the sexual abuse of children and youths and protected the perpetrators.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, in early 2014, issued a report and minced no words:
"The committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by, and the impunity of, the perpetrators."

Religion is one of the taboo subjects in our multi-racial society, so it is unlikely the Attorney General's Chambers will want to wade into these waters. After all, who without sin has the cheek to hurl the first stone?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Spot The Difference

The linguistically challenged minister cried foul when Channel Newsasia quoted him saying:
“The best way for Singaporeans to prepare for retirement is to use less of their Central Provident Fund (CPF) money when they are young.”

It sounds so perfectly logical until Lim Swee Say insisted he was misquoted, and provided his original intended text:
"... the less you make use of your money when you are young, the more money you will have for retirement."

For the less devious, this may look like a version of the old kids' game of trying to spot the differences in two seemingly identical representations. Lim highlighted his unique mindset when he expanded:
"It is clear in this context that ‘young’ refers to those who are aged 55."

Maybe the minister feels rejuvenated each time he sees his CPF statement, but only a nonagenarian will consider age 55 as "young". Or the Brad Pitt character in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button".

But there must be method in his madness. Lim, like the rest of his crowd, seems determined that senior citizens should not be allowed to withdraw their retirement savings at the original promised age of 55 years. Even if Toh Chin Chye had deemed that a breach of contract, and an abuse of the trust placed in a government. Lim also conveniently ignores how many a retirement nest egg has been eroded by the ravages of overpriced public housing, inflated health care costs and ever escalating education charges.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Not Funny At All

The follow-up blurb to the insurance offering says, "VivoCare 100 covers 100 medical conditions, providing comprehensive coverage against early, intermediate and advanced stages of dread diseases as well as medical conditions under the special benefit".
The disclaimer about the "special benefit" stipulate this: "A survival period of seven days after diagnosis, or after having the medical procedure will apply."

Wow, an insurance policy that covers the risks of a sex-change medical procedure! And you thought Medishield Life will provide all the cover you, transgenders included, will ever need - $8 open heart surgery excepted.

Either the NTUC Income product is the best invention since sliced bread or - and this would be a more plausible explanation for the gaffe - the foreigner they hired for developing the advertisement routinely strings English words without an iota of comprehension. That's the xenophobe speaking, still upset about the busybody ang moh who claims foreigners "have helped Singapore become the economic powerhouse that it is today".

It turns out that the "mistake" was a bad taste in insensitive marketing, one of a series which includes a man admitting he suffers from ovarian cancer and a young girl talking about her onset of dementia. One who failed to appreciate the merits of the attention getter points out the adverse effect of the message: "Put yourself in a patient's shoes. How will you feel when you are suffering from a terminal illness and you keep seeing this ad playing on tv? Even if it does not get to you the first time, it drills in after subsequent times. You'll start to feel depressed, demoralised, thinking you are a burden to your family." There's no insurance cover for suicides.

You know there's a dire shortage of empaths in the country when a minister barges into a ward full of sick people requiring rest, drabbed in a Zorro outfit. Or selfishly deprives restaurant customers of their entitlement of free toothpicks. Even when there's a place for humour, such as the advertisement below, those whose lives have been ruined by the evils of the casinos may not find it funny.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Men And Women In White

Silly me, to think that men (and women) wear white so that they can be associated with the ruling party. Membership has its privileges, such as first shot at the choice units at Pinnacle@Duxton when it was launched. Too bad it is now degraded to a pissing spot for ladies with incontinence.

Islamic religious teacher Ustaz Noor Deros, 28, has launched the Wear White Facebook page and website to ask Muslims to wear white next Saturday in support of the "return to fitrah" - the Arabic word for "natural" - and support "what is good and pure". Which is all healthy and conducive for multi-racial multi-cultural living and loving. But the message of peace is short-lived:
"There are groups that are trying to destroy the sanctity of the family. The natural state of human relationships is now under sustained attack by lgbt activists. For the lgbt movement, the natural family is no longer sacred.
To underline their disdain for Islam and the family, lgbt activists are organising an event on the very evening of 1st Ramadan. They expect this event to be the biggest ever in their history."

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) must think this is crossing the imaginary line that Tan Chuan-Jin drew for online viciousness. MUIS made the sensible call "not to adopt a confrontational approach or vilify those who are involved in LGBT lifestyles or in events such as the Pink Dot". Even the Singapore Islamic Scholars & Religious Teachers Association (PERGAS) "strongly urges" Muslims not to ostracise LGBT individuals, but to reach out and offer "continuous moral guidance". But not a word of support from the MIW politician general.

The only LBGT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) person I know is Ellen Lee DeGeneres, and I absolutely adore her to death. Elton John, on the other hand, gives me the creeps. Ellen is not only fabulously rich and talented, she is also fantastically generous and caring. She came out publicly as a lesbian in an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and married her long-term girlfriend Portia de Rossi in 2008. Even LBGTs aim to start a family unit. Maybe they'll adopt and lavish the additions with lots of love and gifts. Which is more than the couple in a Singapore 2-room housing board flat can provide for their naturally born child. Children of gay and lesbian parents live in 96% of U.S. counties — and decades of research shows that those children grow up as happy, healthy and well-adjusted as their peers.

Politics of envy and politics of hate should never have a place here. Maybe the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will take action, like Google (do no evil) removing the blog with the primer on dealing with Filipinos. Maybe they will wait for a police report to be filed first. Maybe the mainstream media will pester them later to ask why they did not act earlier. Maybe, as Vikram Nair put it, the online post was just "a sign that some people are trying to stir controversy". And detract us, kawan kawan semua, from the the hot button CPF issues.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Consistent Inconsistency

Remember this quote?:
"Yes I know I did not serve NS, I have a harder road ahead and this is how I want to serve Singapore....  Yes I did break a promise to my wife, but we have talked about it she is behind me 100%. My father has supported my decision, there is no betrayal."

"Father" (committee member Singapore Association of Trade Unions (SATU) and Barisan Sosialis; vice-president Singapore General Employees' Union) was one of the "Big Six" trade union leaders - including Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan, Sidney Woodhull, Jamit Singh and ST Bani - who risked life and and limb to call for a "genuinely full internal government". The foreign powers of the day that colonialised Singapore made full use of the Internal Security Council to squash their minority voices, the nefarious instrument which launched Operation Coldstore (sometimes spelled Operation Cold Store, Chinese: 冷藏行动) to lock away away at least 111 anti-government elements, including key members of an opposition political party.

The son is now dissing a political commentator for stating the obvious. Boasting that the mistrust involves only a minority, he lambasts her for being Chicken Little, the character in a moral folk tale that has passed into the English language as a common idiom indicating a hysterical or mistaken belief that disaster is imminent.

"It appears that Ms Lim cannot be trusted  to be consistent in her own statement," crowed Janil Puthucheary. So says the pot calling the kettle black. This newbie citizen (landed in 2001, picked up passport in 2008, sneaked into parliament in 2011) fails to appreciate the angst of the seniors who were once promised their life savings will be available at age 55. This is how Toh Chin Chye highlighted the inconsistency:
"If I were to put this sum of money in a commercial bank and, on the due date I go to the bank to withdraw the money, the manager says, "I am sorry, Mr Toh, you will have to come next year", there will be a run on the bank!"

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Give Me Back My Money

Days have passed and The Sunday Times has not been asked to make a retraction, or worse, slapped with a letter from a lawyer. We can safety adduce that the quote attributed to a certain politician is accurate:
“This is a resident who has an issue. I spoke with her personally after the dialogue and I’ll be doing my best to assist her. She’s a resident in one of the landed estates in Thomson.”

Was the third sentence really necessary? Ad hominem attacks take the form of overtly attacking somebody, or more subtly casting doubt on their character or personal attributes as a way to discredit their argument. The result of an ad hom attack can be used to undermine someone's case without actually having to engage with it.

Ex-Straits Times editor Cheong Yip Seng wrote in his memoir ("OB Markers: My Straits Times Story") that he resisted Lee Kuan Yew's pressure to print the full O level results of Opposition politician Chiam See Tong during the 1984 election. Chiam won that bout, but Mah Bow Tan was allowed to sneak into parliament via the Group Representation Constituency (GRC) route at the next electoral opportunity. Ad hominem attacks can backfire.

The 76 year old spinster must have been frugal enough to set aside a portion of her teacher salary to pay for her terrace house, assuming she owns the property. Decades ago, such units could have been selling at a fraction of present day prices. A friend sold off her father's spacious house at the old teacher's estate after he passed on, and could only afford a tiny condominium unit with the proceeds.

She's not the only one who is asset rich, cash poor. Plaintively, the senior citizen had begged, "“What I want is my money back and I want to arrange for my funeral and I want to arrange for my rice and I want to arrange for a nice settlement." She articulated what we now see as a truism, the three letters for our retirement money spell Coffin Provision Fund.

“That’s all I want. Give me back my money. CPF, give me back my money. And make it as soon as possible. Because 76, I won’t be able to live (too long),” she added. If we are in her shoes, we too would like to spend the final hours on our own bed, rather than the tented facilities of our overcrowded public hospitals.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Xenophobia And Racism

A choice of headlines - take your pick
Some folks think that xenophobia and racism are similar and their usage can be easily interchanged, but this is not necessarily the case.  Xenophobia refers to dislike or fearing the unknown or something that is different from you. Knowing that you can lose your job to an alien is pretty scary. Racism on the other hand is based on the belief that race determines the traits of certain humans and their innate capacity, making one race more superior to another. One stems from the crouching fear of the uncertain, the other is a disdain emanating from smug superiority.

Xenophobia is not only aversion to a person but it is a fear or dislike of other cultures and beliefs. The phobic person knows that he or she is averse to the target group, but they may not accept the fact that they are actually afraid or it is their fear that motivates the hatred for the targeted group.

Racism is best exemplified in history by slavery and colonization in which blacks were treated as inferior races. Hitler upped the ante by "proving"  Aryan whites were more superior to other races and that they were superior to the Jews also.

The Philippine Embassy is levying racist charges against a blogger for advocating displeasure with Filipinos in country "without breaking the law". Probably the same officials who chose to stay mum over the attempted take over of Ngee Ann Civic Plaza, when they could have avoided friction by hosting the planned event on embassy grounds. Or alternate venues suggested by the police.

The day after Contemplacion was hanged, Manila television aired a children's program where tiny tots were let loose into a room full of balloons and encouraged to burst them. "Stomp on them, imagine they are Singaporeans," egged on the program host. If our ambassador had filed a report on the festivities in his dispatches, one wonders whether the mainstream media will treat it as xenophobia or racism.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Sleepless In Singapore

After a few drinks at the lobby bar of the Sheraton at Shanghai, it was time to hit the sack. Our Norwegian chairman said he would stay on a bit, as sleep is more elusive at his age. We spied some cocktail hostesses in cheongsams - nice ones, not like the witch at the Hri Kumar Central Provident Fund (CPF) talk - and left instruction to keep him company.

It's a scientific fact: older adults are less able than younger adults to maintain sleep; sleep for them is lighter and more fragmented with brief arousals or longer awakenings throughout the night. Insomnia and disrupted sleep in elderly people are a common side effect caused by many chronic medical conditions such as arthritis, congestive heart failure, depression, and gastroesophogeal reflux disorder.

Maybe the senior citizens watching the public World Cup screenings organized by the The People's Association (PA) do not suffer from sleep disorders. More likely they are kept awake by the spectre of the Minimum Sum (MS) being raised at higher than inflation rate, and with it, the drawdown date pushed further and further into infinity and beyond. They may not be entrusted to spend their own money, but PA seems to have no problems with paying Singtel for the mioTV broadcasts.

Elsewhere at the APEC TEL Workshop & 9th IAC forum on 16 June, the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) is saying it is looking into using high-tech gadgets like wearable monitoring devices, robotic legs and pets to help Singaporeans cope with ageing. What the IDA Director for Strategy & Innovation Division did not enlighten his audience was how the fancy toys will be funded. All roads lead to Rome, and the worrisome thought giving all of us nightmares, old and young alike, is how much is routed from our savings. We will have to wait for the conclusion of the City Harvest Church court case to really understand how round-tripping is defined legally.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Can They Do This?

The lady who recorded the video reflects:
"I was already in tears when they wanted to take her off the mic to shut her up. I salute her bravery so I decided to hold on to my camera & cried silently praying that she be allowed to finish her speech to the MP."

I dare think most of us are beyond the tearing stage, and fast approaching the precipice of raw anger. How can anyone remain stone cold when the 76 year old spinster, definitely of the Pioneer Generation category, tells of this awful tale at 1:34:
"I was given this letter, telling me that they “hacked” into my personal POSB book, scoured my amounts and took away the money from my bank to give to the property tax. Do you think it is ethical?
Do you think its ethical? Do you think it is right?"

We hope she was wrong, and that Damn Bloody Slow (DBS) bank has a good explanation. Someone else once narrated how money was transferred from his ordinary account to top up his Medisave account, after having incurred some medical expenses, without his authorisation. Maybe this is the stuff of urban legends, but if the people in charge fail to step up to clear the air soon, Singaporeans will no longer trust the government.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Primary I Priority

Membership has its privileges. It is now confirmed, grassroots leaders did get priority for their children registering for places in choice Primary schools. And you thought the rush to sign up as grassroots volunteers was because of free packet meals at election rallies.

A seasoned member of a citizens' consultative committee claims that when you have a popular school within a certain constituency, there's no shortage of willing hands. The carrots bring them in by the droves.  However, it had been observed that the parents soon drop out after their children are successfully placed. "We should not allow the system to be abused like this," he said.

So, instead of priority for their children in schools near their homes as well as in the constituencies, the  People's Association (PA) is now trimming the privilege to just schools within the constituency. With the kind of electoral boundaries drawn up by the Elections Department, school can now be more than 1-2 kilometers away from home in spite of all the apple polishing. Volunteers will also have to satisfy two full years of faithful grassroots work, instead of just one token year of servitude. PA says the changes were made to ensure only "deserving" grassroots and district councillors will be entitled to special treatment.

Time will tell if the attendance at election rallies will be adversely affected. After all Primary I priority rules may be just the tip of the iceberg, there must be lots of other goodies we have yet to read about.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Shut Up Already

In law, sub judice, classical Latin literally for "under judgment" (Latin sub iūdice : sub, beneath, before + iūdice, ablative of iūdex, judge.), means that a particular case or matter is under trial or being considered by a judge or court and therefore prohibited from public discussion elsewhere.

That's not stopping the Ministry of Health (MOH) from blabbing about it. Worse, as Ravi pointed out, MOH is not party to Mr Ngerng's contract of employment. Tan Tock Seng Hospital's (TTSH) sacking may be a case of jumping the gun, given the lawsuit - which neither involves TTSH and MOH - has yet to run its course. Having said that, we know that an opposition political leader did lose his job over taxi claims.

TTSH and MOH are not legal experts, so maybe we can cut them a little slack. But that leeway cannot be extended to the National University of Singapore (NUS) which is supposed to have a reputable Law Faculty.

Professor Tey Tsun Hang is back in the limelight, after filing papers in an attempt to get the High Court to force NUS to reinstate his position as tenured professor. One fine point of law has to do with carrying out displinary proceedings against him before initiating the firing. The sacking was another instance of jumping the gun, as he was free to appeal, and which happened to turn in his favour. The decision was "illegal, irrational and procedurally improper," Tey claims.

We are dealing with academics here, and their interpretation of the law may be different from practitioners. Here we have NUS appearing to be cognizant of sub judice, saying "As Mr Tey's application to the court is a legal matter, we have referred this case to the lawyers", right after going on in lurid detail about misconduct and impropriety. When do these guys ever learn to shut up?

Which reminds us of a practising lawyer who also failed to zip up, and went down defending a "public dialogue" on CPF titled “CPF – An Honest Conversation”. Let the lawyers define "public" and "honest". Mere mortals have better things to do, you know, take care of the mortage, put food on the table, get to work on time and avoid being sacked at the drop of a hat.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Et Tu, Brute

During the run-up to the 2006 General Elections, Mediacorp aired a special 50 minute-long forum on Channel NewsAsia entitled “Why My Vote Matters.” It featured a dialogue session between then Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and a selected panel of young voters, mass communication practitioners from the media industry born after 1965.

At around 11:40 minutes into the program, Lee asks the youngsters point-blank, ".... and you are afraid that if you vote against the PAP and something will happen to you?"
To which came the quick response, "This is the impression the PAP has created."

Suffice it to say, there's enough anecdotal evidence to suggest it's more than an impression now. First there was this trainman who lost his job because he was not supposed to board a coach using a certain entrance way. Now a health worker has been sacked for alleged defamation when the court case has yet to be convened.

The employer, Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), phrased the details for what happened thus:
“Mr Ngerng’s conduct was incompatible with the values and standards we expect of our employees. While our staff are free to pursue their personal interests outside work, they must conduct themselves properly, honourably and with integrity."
“In particular, they cannot defame someone else without basis, which essentially means knowingly stating a falsehood to the public.”

The Ministry of Health (MOH) - those folks who are foisting Medishield Life on us - was quick to oblige with a twist of the dagger:
"MOH would like to reiterate that it supports TTSH's decision as Mr Ngerng's actions show a lack of integrity and are incompatible with values and standards of behavior expected of hospital employees."

In the case of the lusty professor at the law faculty of our national university, the academic's employ, and his paycheck, were terminated only after the court convicted him. Conspiracy theories about his political predilections notwithstanding, the message for our young ones seem to be that sexual misdemeanors are less serious than politically incorrect opinions. And in the case of the Brompton Bikes, in which the prosecutor maintained there was strong public interest in ensuring the integrity of the process through which public funds are spent, a $5,000 fine was considered appropriate atonement. This has to be a confusing time for the younger generation.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Facing Reality

Who wants to live up to a 100?

In 1984, Lee Kuan Yew said the practice of American corporations was for the chief executive officer to step down at age 65. He believed it was based on sound medical grounds. Something else also jolted him into reality. This is how he presented it at the National Day Rally speech:

"I do not know how much time the old Guards have. My senior colleagues and I are in our early and late 60s. Last October, three senior ministers were in hospital at the same time, in different parts of the world - one in New York and two in Singapore.  Rajaratnam had a heart attack when he was at the UN. Goh Keng Swee was in SGH for treatment. Hon Sui Sen was recovering and was talking  to Goh Keng Swee before lunch. After lunch Hon Sui Sen had a massive infarct. He died that same afternoon.
A skilful surgeon in London, through delicate additional plumbing to his heart, has given Rajaratnam a reprieve. Goh Keng Swee has got a remission. But he has given me notice he is not standing for re-election. Rajaratnam too wants to stand down. Goh Keng Swee cannot be moved. I am trying to persuade Rajaratnam to go on for another term at at least half a term."

Looking at the face of Alexander Imich, a retired chemist and parapsychologist, who died in New York City at the age of 111, one wonders when he decided to call it quits (He published a book "Incredible Tales of the Paranormal," when he was 92). Imich attributed his longevity to good genetics, proper nutrition and exercise and the fact that he and his wife did not have children. Factors which some may want to take into consideration, especially those who plan to maximise on the "benefits" of the Medishield Life scheme which provide lifetime coverage.

My aunt, 89, is not one of those. Recently she met up with another relative, 82, and told her she never intended to live so long. One eye has failed, hearing in one ear is gone, and the taste buds are pretty useless. Indeed, many seniors would rather stop labouring at 55, and check out the bucket list of things to do, die happy. Much better than a sickly life of old age. Poor Goh Keng Swee was blind for his last ten years, unable to indulge in his happy pursuits of reading and photography. Immortality is so over rated.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Con Goes On

"Indicative premiums" for a middle-income family
When Health Minister Gan asks you not to worry about the cost for Medishield Life premiums it's time to panic. Those who sent their kids overseas because places at the local universities were given gratis to foreigners should start asking them to look for a job over there and sponsor mom and dad across. While remaining coy about the actual premiums planned, Gan and Senior Minister of State (Health) Amy Khor seem to have the secretive numbers to claim the additional 1 per cent employer Medisave contribution should cover the increase. As if the sickly, handicapped and aged are likely to find an employer to cough up the additional dues so easily.

The charade is starting to resemble a seafood meal gone bad at Newtown Circus, where the scamster won't show you the price except to say it's according to market rate. Who ordered the removal of the $300,000 lifetime claim limit, increase of yearly claim limit from current $70,000 to $100,000, or increased daily claim limits for normal hospital wards? Who wants to partake of Alaskan crab when three meals a day - at hawker center, food court or restaurant - is already a daily struggle?

And then there's this subsidy card they like to play, treating the citizenry like fools who will fall for the trickery, again and again. What's the use of a temporal "transitional subsidy" when the full force of the hefty bill will hit after a brief respite?

When Medishield Life Review Committee chairman Chin was asked why there are no premium rebates for those who maintain good health, never had to see the doctor for a cough or a cold, he said the committee did not want people to forgo necessary treatment just to get a no-claim bonus, "We want to encourage good lifestyles... but not through the Medishield framework". Does that suspiciously sound like Medishield Life is not intended to look after the well being of your life? More like another scam to perpetuate the life long lock up of our retirement savings?

The only good news about the shady package is the reduction of the co-insurance component of the medical bill. Then again, they never did promise not to hike the rates for various hospital charges and procedures. Gotcha again.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Destruction Of Politics

The last episode of Talking Point ("Can Politics Be Constructive") kicked off by regurgitating the official definition of constructive politics, namely:
  • Effective policies that improve lives,
  • Putting forward good leaders,
  • Robust, open debate,
  • High standards of integrity, and
  • Rallying people around a common cause.

The panelists, comprising a cultural critic (what's that?), an academic and a president of a student's union, spoke eloquently and presented credible viewpoints. It was also obvious they were overtly cautious about pushing the envelope, and veering too close to O.B. markers. Invisible, malleable goal posts demarcating the imagined boundaries of politically correct articulation. They are so definitely not looking forward to a lawyer's letter in the mail.

But the common man, pushed to the threshold of pain, has no such qualms. It was refreshing, therefore, when a caller spoke from his, and our hearts. The parsing of language may be no match to the erudite guests at the table, but you can't fault him for purity of thought. He kicks in at around 39:31:
"First of all, I think very important is....  leadership is about being able to listen (to) both good and bad without getting angry, and without having the urge for retaliation. Like, you know, possibly like suing and things like that.
So I guess it's better that you say, okay, you say your points, we can always discuss. I'll get my perm sec, I'll get my ministers, then we sit down and call you in, or call a few guys in and have a chat. Then we can put up a report, yes, we have discussed this and this is what we have come up to a conclusion or whatever.
Basically it is a more amicable way of doing things for the progress, and for moving forward constructively. That is constructive politics.
Destructive is, basically you clobber people, you threaten people, and you do things that anger people, and worse still, you get politicians coming up with words like xenophobic and things like that. You know, it is uncalled for, it irritates."

It's weird, when you listen to this a couple of times, it sounds so familiar. It evokes a sense of déjà vu especially for the pioneer generation. Once upon a time, Lee Kuan Yew used to speak like this, off the cuff, on a simple stage, without a prepared script. That was how he used to rally the people around a common cause.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Breach Should Be Called A Breach

Enough to make you see red
You know respect for the prime minister has hit an all time low when, despite blustering and making ugly faces in parliament to insist that a spade should be called a spade, the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) is ignoring him and refusing to own up to a breach in security.

Faces at Crimson Logic turned red when they first discovered that SingPass account holders found password reset notification letters in the mail even though they had made no such requests. Account holders whose personal data, such as contact information, employer details and remuneration records, were in the custody of Crimson Logic, the appointed operator of the SingPass single-factor authentication system for all government e-services in Singapore.

IDA investigated, and discovered 1,560 user profiles were illegally accessed. At least 419 fell for the ruse, and their passwords were reset. Affected SingPass users had their account profiles modified and linked to a small pool of Singapore-registered mobile numbers - IDA refused to tell how many. The mobile number can be used in a two-factor authentication procedure. When the victim changes his or her password, this number will serve to "verify" the request. This is obviously too technical for IDA, "We continue to explore the use of two-factor authentication for e-government transactions, particularly those involving sensitive data..."  Nothing much has changed at IDA, ever since the very first chief executive famously said that although she knows zilch about technology, she can always hire someone who does.

The Managing Director for IDA, Ms Jacqueline Poh, is treating the incident as "a shot across the bow" and advised all individuals to "examine themselves" and take personal responsibility for their own cyber security, to borrow the phraseology used by one Arthur Fong about foreign intrusion. IDA has filed a police report, and since they are insisting that the SingPass system has not been compromised or breached, IDA must be saying the stolen addresses and IDs were looted from virtual personal premises. And not filched from the highly secured and firewalled database of the Crimson Logic operator. Go figure.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

First Cut Is Always Deepest

People support CPF cuts
According to the table (see below) at the Central Provident Fund (CPF) website, the first CPF change was introduced on 1 Oct 2003, the cruel contribution cut to 33%. "The First Cut Is The Deepest" is also the title of a song by Rod Stewart, but nobody has the mood to sing after this.

And since the Prime Minister said, “People support CPF cuts because there are no protest outside parliament,” the CPF board got carried away with the implicit consent. CPF Minimum sum, salary ceiling, lower contribution rate for older workers, Medisave minimum sum, phasing of withdrawal rules, etc - the sky's the limit.

And the table does not include one more significant change - the erosion of CPF interest rate over the years. It was 5% in 1963, went up to 6.5% in 1974, and then the slide started heading south to current 2.5%. The formula for calculating the interest rate is a complicated business. From 1 July 1999 to present, the formula is supposedly 80% fixed deposit rate and 20% savings rate of the average of the major local banks over the preceding relevant 3 months. Problem with this method is that the banks have a different rate for someone depositing $100, and another with $100 million to park here. Just ask any wealth management executive.

Don't set your hopes too high up for the coming 7 June gathering of disgruntled voices at Hong Lim Park. Even the sympathetic members of parliament calling for higher rates and improvements to our CPF system will be met with same deaf ears. Technology makes it easy for the cold hearted, they simply switch off the hearing aid. Maybe what we need is a change of venue, say, outside parliament house.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Justice Is Finally Served

Sometimes our religious friends get upset when we use phrases like, "Omigod, they increased the freaking Minimum Sum again!" Just because of three letters, we are accused of as calling on the name of The Lord in vain. One citizen was apparently hauled into court for the mere mention of a politician's name.

Thank God Mercifully, Judicial Commissioner Lee Kim Shin trashed the lawsuit that was the gag order that went awry. True, as the defendant acknowledged, there was a written revised agreement - price for her paid silence - stipulating that she was not allowed to say anything scandalous, untrue or defamatory about the plaintiff and the her family. That's not the same as talking publicly about members of the dysfunctional family.  Such as passing comment on a parliamentary question about public housing prices which was broached by one daughter-in-law Foo Mee Har.

Clearly the good judge, like any fair minded citizen, saw nothing scandalous, untrue or defamatory about Foo's presence in parliament. Nobody pays serious attention to the stories of her near miraculous instant citizenship and party membership, or her hubby's monetary tussles with her employer bank. Similarly, nobody can be fooled by the argument that Madam Tan will not be able to live the rest of her long life "in peace and privacy" because of an innocent passing remark on some obscure social media page.

The defendant was understandably relieved, "It's like a burden has been lifted as this case has been going on for a year and a half". Consider this: for 1 1/2 years, the foreigner welcomed for her talent, into the country and into parliament, could not see through the waste of time and money expended on a frivolous litigation. If she can't provide decent advice for a little old lady, can she come up with meaningful contribution to the constructive politics of our country? The jury could be out for this.

Monday, June 2, 2014

War Over

Google translate: Pinoy, Free and Responsible New Hero 
The mainstream media reported on Tuesday (27 May) that the Pilipino Independence Day Council of Singapore (PIDCS) decided to cancel the celebration of the Philippines’ 116th Independence Day altogether for this year, "owing to difficulties in getting alternative locations" for the event. That's pure bull.

The real reason is that their stubborn insistence to convene the 8 June happening  at Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza Singapore was rejected by the Singapore Police Force (SPF) due to “public order and safety issues”. With the horrors of the Little India fiasco still fresh on their minds, the SPF has learnt a lesson or two. Our nice policemen did try to helpfully suggest holding the big bash at other places, such as Suntec City or Hong Lim Park, which they did make do with in 2011 & 2013 (Hong Lim) and 2012 (Suntec). Last we heard, the anti-pink party planned for the Padang was not shifted to either venue.

The PIDCS organisers probably thought that with the ringing endorsement of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (‘bigots’ and ‘trolls’) and Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin ('repulsive'), the SPF would surely cave in to their demands. Sorry, guys, this is Singapore, not the Philippines. They may have marched down Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) and disrupted the main traffic artery in Metro Manila, but we have laws against illegal gatherings exceeding 5 in number, which happened to be revised to 1 person not too long ago. Yes, Virginia, a single person can be deemed an illegal assembly according to the law in Singapore.

Curiously, the actual date of the Philippine independence day is a subject of contention. It was President Diosdado Macapagal who signed the executive order Republic Act No. 4166 in August 1964 that "moved" the Philippines's independence day from 4 July 1946 to 12 June 1898, the year when General Emilio Aguinaldo declared Philippine "independence" over the dead bodies of Katipunan founder, Andres Bonifacio, his brothers and their followers. Aguinaldo's goons murdered these freedom fighters who founded the Katipunan secret society of Filipino rebels on July 7, 1892 to fight the Spanish colonization. 1946 was the year when the Philippine-American War ended, and the US granted independence to the Philippines on 4 July 1946 through the Treaty of Manila.

So there's nothing really special about 8 June that warrants kicking a fuss over. It's just another occasion for people like West Coast GRC Member of Parliament Arthur Fong to castigate Singaporeans and canonise the Philippines I-Day event as a “shot across the bow” that should “prompt Singaporeans to examine themselves”. And remind us of his party's pro-alien sympathies.