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The penitent season

It’s about that time of the cycle again, when the penitent seek forgiveness for the sins they have committed. They humbly, or in this case, not so humbly, go to the people who they have offended and ask that they forgive him or her. For if offended don’t, the aggressor may face hell, or worse.

Yes, its pre-elections season and the government has actively gone around trying to right wrongs.

For one, for years the government has been told that companies are too reliant on foreign workers. It constantly defended its policies, preferring to lump two arguments into one; that of the foreign workers with foreign talent.

On the one hand, it said foreign workforce is crucial to the economy because it provides businesses with the slack to work. If businesses don’t have the ability to hire cheap labour, they go to another country to set up shop.

On the other, foreign talent gives Singapore skills that Singaporeans don’t have.

It’s a difficult argument to rally against. Singapore is small, Singapore is competitive, Singapore is an open economy. Those are the three assumptions that any argument about the economy is based on.

Yet, the argument has always been built on weak foundations.

One, if companies can simply set up shop elsewhere, given cheaper labour, then our entire value proposition is reduced to whether labour is cheap here. This can’t possibly be what Singapore has prided itself on, can it?

Two, there are ways to manage the foreign worker flow, without having to cut off supply. Clearly, businesses are exploiting the foreign workers because they can. Recall the numerous cases of Chinese workers filing complaints against construction companies at MOM.

In this case, it is not a function of what the company needs, but what the company wants.

Underlying all these problems was a hidden story; that of falling productivity. For a nation priding itself on knowledge, science and technology, to have productivity fall over 10 years is horrifying.

Of course, productivity is nowadays defined in many ways. Rising real wages is a real problem. But if you look at the statistics, rising overall wages are due directly to the top earning more, rather than everyone earning more. According to the Dept of Stats, the bottom 20 per cent of household’s real wages (which is adjusted for inflation) has declined the most in the past three years, while the top dropped by less.

Those who live in private housing earn an annual income of $54,000 at least twice those who live in HDB flats. They earn ten times those who live in 1 and 2 room flats.

So what does this say about the situation here?

It is quite clear that while wages have risen, it is those who are are the top who have experienced these increases. This cannot account for the loss in productivity since people who earn that much are expected to pull in more for the employers (except maybe top civil servants, hah)

So the fault was always with foreign workers; foreign workers who did not get trained by their companies because they were transient labour, those who were given the lowest wages possible since they earned more much in their currencies due to the SG dollar strength.

And so now, the anger has risen from those who have fallen through the cracks; those who demand a decent wage so they can live and thrive in sunny Singapore. For them, whether or not the companies fail or go bust is irrelevant. For them, tis a question of survival. Surely anyone can live on $800; but how does he live?

If these were obvious problems, why did the government not react earlier? And why now and not in boom times when it was better to make adjustments? (to be fair there is never a good time to do these things for the companies. But given how the PAP has always harked on their abundance of political capital and will, one wonders.)

It is not late now to change all this. And to this end, the government has embarked on a systematic purging of unproductive companies. Doubt me not, many companies will fail because they have relied so much on foreign labour and the cost savings they brought. But I rather them fail, send the foreigners away, save jobs for Singaporeans, free up housing for us.

I am not against foreigners. They are human beings out to make a decent living. I know many of them. They are essential to many parts of the economy.

But if and when it comes to defending the rights of locals to a decent jobs, a decent wage in one of the richest countries in the world, I say, death to the firms which rely on foreigners.

But as with all transgressions, the people forgive the sinner?

2009 – the year of change

Boo to economics, cheers to politics.

I don’t particularly look forward to seeing the damage that has been inflicted on the economy. Everyone knows there will be tragedies this year. People will stuggle, people will fall and people will die because of the economic woes from the excesses of 2008 and before.

No, this year is/will be a bad one. But human history has shown that it is always in bad times that salvation is wrought.

Particularly so for Singapore politics. Already, we see outsiders making inroads into local politics. These outsiders are traditionally those who have steered clear of opposition politics simply because the opposition has been too incompetent and too messy.

Tan Kin Lian has been causing ripples with his activism in rallying people in the aftermath of the Minibonds fallout. He has “declared” his intention to run for Presidency and has started an online petition to get support for his bid to run for office.

A ploy, some say. But there is no doubting that his grand entrance into politics is causing great unease among the ruling elites. Here is a man who has run one of the premier insurance companies since he was in his late 20s. Late 20s! If that doesn’t speak loads about his competence, nothing will.

And in my humble opinion, there is nothing, absolutely nothing wrong with him garnering support through his current activities. Who says politics is altruistic? It’s the same with the PAP sending its raw recruits to help out at grassroots – to build goodwill so that voters will vote for them during GE.

All’s fair in love and war and politics – and in politics more fair than others.

Kenneth Jeyaretnam – He is another behemoth who will change the political landscape if he does enter into opposition politics. And signs are present that the double-first class from Cambridge (I think) is keen on taking up his father’s legacy.

Over at TOC, a mysterious poster named KJ has been writing flowing and sharply critical pieces against the mainstream media. Is this person Kenneth Jeyarentnam (KJ?) A click on his blogsite refers him to this blog where there is a tribute to JBJ and an email to Kenneth Jeyaretnam.

If it is indeed him, the ruling party would have much to worry about. If KJeyarentnam can avoid getting into the muck of law suits and avoid character assasination, as will definitely happen, his entry into opposition politics will surely galvanise educated voters who yearn for proper checks against the PAP.

But unlike his father, who knew how to connect with grassroots, much leaves to be seen if KJ can not only sit behind the keyboard but rally voters to vote for him. He has the intellectual mettle, and by golly can he write, but can he get the ah-soh who has only been voting PAP all her life, to vote for him?

I might be putting the horse before the cart but I can’t help it. After a whole decade since SDP lost it’s two seats in Parliament and a decade of failed opposition politics, these developments portend a revival of opposition politics, even if it is all just conjecture.

Myopia and its related illnesses

Myopia, as it is defined, afflicts many people.  Those with myopia see nearby objects clearly but distant objects appear blurred. (Wikipedia) Singaporeans are known to have one of the highest rates of myopia in the world. Many blame it on computer games, TV and reading in a poorly-lit room.

It seems myopia has not only overtaken our sensory functions but also our way of thinking.

Our treasured and dearly-loved elites over at Serangoon Gardens most clearly and stunningly exhibited this form of myopia. Not only myopia, might I humbly add, but also xenophobia and sheer racism.

Before I continue, I have a disclaimer. I do not appreciate the massive human jams on the public transport system nor in the shopping district especially on Sundays. While it is easy to blame foreigners, I don’t. I resent that it is crowded environment but I also greatly appreciate that we need these foreigners in our midst. Its the same everywhere else in this world. Fact of life: No one wants to work as a cleaner for $800 a month. Yet in my estate, I see young men and women from China clearing our the rubbish, dilligently, might I add.  (The economic solution to this is to pay higher wages for cleaners, similar to what we give our young educated men and women. In fact, economic theory suggests that we have to pay even more salaries to attract people to work in lousy jobs because they are lousy jobs. The result? We have to pay at least $2,000 to get a local young worker to work as a cleaner. The implications are quite clear, of course.)

The kind folks over at Serangoon Gardens seem to forget that their trash would pile up if not for foreign workers; their roads not smoothened out, their $2m houses not built; gold taps not fixed; their BMW/Mercedes cars not shined. They are actually okay with foreigners, just not stinky, smelly, dirty (might I daresay, black or dark) foreign workers.

No, let me correct that: they are not okay with having to share their living space in suburban heaven with such creatures. As long as they are out of sight, smell and mind, its okay.  Foreign workers are free to mix with the rest of Singapore, since, you know, people with no money don’t really count as thinking, living organisms either.

The government’s solution? Instead of correcting or reprimanding such racism, it went on to suggested that it would set up a segregated ghetto, as it will certainly become. (WTF are going to be cleaners for a compound of cleaners??!)

“Regardless of race, language or religion to build a democratic society…” Obviously, foregn workers not counted.

I weep for Raja’s vision.

Aiming too far ahead?

So the Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society (AIMS) has finally released its report. More than a year after it was set up it proposed key changes in policies and laws in 4 areas, engagement, online political content, protection of minors and limited immunity for intermediaries.

Great.

Uh, were you expecting anything more? Lots of people are saying, boo AIMS. Lame AIMS. Blah AIMS. Aim higher la.

What? Do cows fly over the moon?

Fact 1: AIMS is government appointed. That it got so far in going beyond what PM said is already an achievement. Don’t expect more than what it can go.

Fact 2: It is run by people who are not practitioners of New Media. No bloggers, no forumers etc.

Fact 3: These are but mere RECOMMENDATIONS. The final decision-maker is the government, and I’m betting they aren’t even going to go as far as AIMS.

So what are we left with? Everything. Look, the world moves on. Even if the government says, hey no one is to post pictures of chicks (I mean the yellow fluffy things that grow up to be McChicken burgers) or cats online, does that mean that the Net will suddenly be filled with a dearth of chick flicks (Haha)?

Fact is the Net ignores everyone and no one. We too have to move on and create something out of nothing. I find it amusing to see people write “The Net is unregulable!”. If so, why are they petitioning or writing about why the government should relax rules on the Net? If it is, it is.

If the idea of community moderation is to take flight, it is now that it should. We don’t need a stamp of approval.

Just do it

What is the question?

To repeal or not to repeal. That is not the question. Rather it is the debate over the question of whether gay sex should be decriminalised that seems most intriguing.

First, there was the Repeal 377a website that started to campaign for the repeal against section 377A of the Penal Code. Under that section, it is an offense for a man to have sex with another man. In the website, there were resources posted for people to read. It also posted arguments why the law should be repealed when amendements to the Penal code are finalised when Parliament sits on Monday 22 Oct. There is also an online petition put up on the website calling for the Prime Minister to repeal the law. At time of this posting, there were about 6300 signatures to the petition.
More recently, a video was put up by celebrities, mostly theatre practitioners, on the site. Hosted on YouTube, the rap video was put together to appeal to people to join the campaign and sign the petition.

ust yesterday, a website was launched apparently to counter the Repeal website. It is almost a mirror of the former. It calls for the “silent majority” to speak up and make their voices heard on this issue of the 377a law. To date, at about 530 pm, almost 3400+ signatures have been collected.

Whether or not the law should be repealed is not of interest to me, (although I am 90% sure it will NOT repealed, regardless of whether Keep377a.com was set up or not). Rather it is the very healthy, very sharp debate that has resulted because of the issue being aired in cyberspace. Undoubtedly, letters have been written to Straits Times forum page from both camps. But knowing the conservative nature of ST, most of the anti-gay law letters will be published while pro-repeal folks would have had limited exposure.
But in this age of the New Media, who needs newspapers or editors?

What has since resulted is an exchange of views on several levels. As far as I can tell, these are the arguments that have been most frequently discussed

1) Why have a law when it is not enforced?
2) Homosexuality is unnatural, therefore evil
3) Repealing 377a is about upholding equality and individual freedoms
4) Keeping 377a is about upholding family values
5) Christianity = bigotry
6) Majority versus minority
7) Should a law be a reflection of a society’s values? Who decides what these are?

In the past, would have these issues been aired? I doubt it. It may have been whispered about, talked about at coffeshops or at watercooler breaks but elevated to a national level?

Of course, the debate was fuelled by a vocal and enthusiastic Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong, (whom I suspect PAP regrets appointing now heh) who is going to submit a Parliamentary petition to include repealing section 377a under the Penal Code amendments.

The traditional media went to town with his story, simply because it was the first time anyone had the guts and gumption to do something so audacious; use the Parliamentary system to enact change! Imagine that.

In the process of doing so, the traditional media took on the role of the multiplier and let uninterested parties know of the going-ons of the virutal world.
In fact, I think that is the crucial link in this whole chain of events. Many people continue to write off the traditional media, saying that it is going downhill and will not be able to sustain itself in the Internet age. Yet, its influence, especially in Singapore, is still tremendous.
The reason? Mass media broadcasts. Everyone who buys the newspaper reads the same thing. On the Internet, people narrowcast. People generally go to the sites they want to go to, read the blogs that talk about the issues that interest them. Once in a while, they stumble upon a site which provides an alternative viewpoint. But rarely do they actively seek out a site which says something that is contrary to their views. Unless you are a neutral, like me, who has an interest in the debate itself and not the noise itself.

But noise can only be good. With noise, at least people learn and make their choices. No noise? There is nothing.