GE 2011 – Watershed Election?

The recent Middle East uprising saw a turning point for many previously trapped under the strong clout of their authoritarian governments, while Singapore experienced a watershed 2011 general elections in May. Now, we are faced with the mounting anticipation of the August Presidential Elections. 2011 does indeed seem to mark an exciting, new chapter in Singapore’s political history. The sudden surges of reform and metamorphosis pay credit to countrymen challenging the status quo and existing systems. Of this, one of the most hotly debated topics would be that of the Group Representation Constituency ﴾GRC﴿ system, unique to Singapore. With respected ministers like George Yeo being booted out of Parliament, seemingly in exchange for unpopular candidates like Tin Pei Lin, sentiments against the GRC system have been aroused.

The GRC system first made its entry into the elections system in 1988, with 3 candidates in each GRC, one of which needs to come from a minority group. Over the years, the GRC system expanded to 4‐ member, and eventually, some to 5‐ 6 member groups. PAP had one main goal, which was to ensure minority representation in Singapore’s Parliament. In addition, this complemented the introduction of town councils to manage public housing estates, as it would provide economy of scale for a town council to manage a group of constituencies. An added advantage was to encourage new and even younger candidates to put their foot forward in the political scene and diversify the profile of members of parliament ﴾MPs﴿.

Thirdly, it is highly possible for new candidates to stand a good chance against existing MPs. Nicole Seah, despite being one of the youngest contenders, albeit running in a GRC, gained overwhelming popularity, and was said to have led her team to garner 45% of the votes of the Marine Parade residents. This was despite being up against Goh Chok Tong’s strong team. This goes to show Singaporeans’ political awareness and that they have learnt to make judgments on candidates’ capabilities, hence new and young candidates do not necessarily need to be in a GRC to gain the votes. Furthermore, even if SMCs could be less welcoming to new candidates, if one’s passion could be wavered by the possibility of losing the election, what are the chances of this candidate’s passion being able to withstand the test of the challenging journey as an MP? One positive example would be Seetoh Yi Pin. Despite not being able to match up to the overwhelming support for Chiam See Tong for many rounds of elections, he continued running election after election, and finally won the hearts of the Potong Pasir residents at this year’s elections, albeit by a small margin. His commitment to the people is what I believe Singaporeans are looking for in our MPs.

Moreover, such a system has been criticized for disadvantaging the opposition party, especially in Singapore’s political scene where the opposition seldom has enough strong candidates to field the 5‐6 seats. This system clearly favors parties with a large pool of resources and strong candidates. Of course, what has been causing the most discontent would be that such a system forces the people into a “buy one get all” situation. Less capable candidates are able to sit on the wings of heavyweight ministers to get into parliament, while more capable opposition party members fight harder to no avail. Cue Tin Pei Lin. As much as we want young MPs in parliament, if she is as lacking in substance as comments posted in social network Facebook have claimed, would she really add value to the parliament? In contrast, strong individuals like George Yeo could be seeded out because the overall strength of the opposing party overpowered his team. How would this then bring the best of talents into parliament as originally intended?

At the end of the day, we ought to look back at the purpose of the general elections. It is to empower each citizen with the mandate to bring the brightest of minds, and the most compassionate of leaders into parliament, to serve the nation. With the use of public funds to line the pockets of the MPs with a quarter million each year, it is only fair that we ensure every member gained his placed in parliament according to his merits, just as how Singapore prides itself for being a meritocratic society, no?

It could be too drastic to ask for a total change of the GRC system into SMCs, but there is indeed an urgent need to relook at how the system could be modified to ensure each MP is deserving of his place. PAP could play the same game next elections, putting Goh Chok Tong or Lee Hsien Long in Aljunied, and putting the residents through the torment of eliminating another strong team. If we do not want history to repeat itself, the GRC system needs to be revamped as the political awareness of the post‐independence Singaporean continues to be on the upsurge.

Is Torture Justifiable?

May 2, 2011 is a day where Americans can proudly announce “justice has been done”. It is also the last day of the existence of the master terrorist—Osama Bin Laden – who had hitherto created much fear and hatred. Since “9/11”, the most powerful country on the planet has embarked on an arduous fight against terrorism. Torture is an effective tool that can be exploited to extricate timely information from terrorists and hence has been crucial in the war against terrorism. The Bush government has long been criticized for the use of torture although they have never once admitted they did. The Obama administration banned several torturing techniques such as waterbed. Despite the strong public disdain of the use of torture, whether torturing terrorists is justifiable still remains debatable.

Firstly, torture is effective and quick in obtaining information. Terrorists without a strong faith or have not been specially trained will submit apace when tortured. This swiftness will be extremely helpful because intelligence information is only useful for a short period of time and this timely information can help to capture wanted terrorists, and prevent thousands or millions of deaths. For example, before the “9/11” attacks, the intelligence agents had information regarding Osama bin Laden’s plan, but they had nothing specific as to place and time. If they can acquire timely information through means of torture, thousands of lives as well as the billions of money in economic damage could have been saved. The positively significant impact of torture is glaringly obvious.

Furthermore, sometimes torture can be the only way to get hold of information from terrorists who possess a strong faith. If torture is not executed in such cases, many lives may be lost. Using this timely information, the capturing of wanted terrorists will also become much less exacting. Although the Obama administration has never publicly admitted it, many speculated that the use of torture allowed CIA to discover Bin Laden’s exact position and hence initiate the operation that killed this long hunted terrorist. The fact that it helps foil terrorism acts therefore keeps the wheels of torture techniques spinning.

On moral grounds it is right to do so too according to Utilitarianism which states that moral worth of an action is determined solely by its contribution to happiness or pleasure as summed among all people. A terrorist can cause severe damage to the society and the people. A terrorist attack can destroy lives, infrastructure and cause severe economic damage. For instance, the “9/11” attack had cost more than 3,000 lives and 20 billion US dollars. In Iraq, the average number of people who die from terrorist attacks every day is 700. If we can thwart the ensuing of these disasters through attaining timely information, the happiness created by saving thousands of people obviously outweighs the pain that the few terrorists have suffered during torture. Hence, this categorically dismisses the main criticism against torture that is torture is immoral and inhumane, leaving it as a viable way for the intelligence to stay one step ahead of the bad guys.

However, some may argue that there are effective and more humane methods other than torture such as mind control drugs, sleep deprivation, good‐cop‐bad‐cop techniques, and verbal intimidation to obtain information from terrorists. True, there are other methods that may be as effective as torture, but the fact that they are usually time‐consuming puts them down for the count. Intelligence information can only be useful for a limited amount of time and this lack of efficiency can cause disastrous consequences. If we use the more humane ways to get information, the information we obtain can be outdated. For example, if we only know about a terrorist attack after or right before it happens, it will be useless and many lives will already have been lost. The ability of torture in acquiring timely information post‐haste makes for effectiveness that other methods with all their titular benevolence have yet to match.

When one person’s right is weighed against the death of thousands, it is clear that however unacceptable and immoral torture may seem, it is necessary in order to protect thousands of innocent lives. For those who believe otherwise, I would like to ask one simple question‐‐ that if you are able to empathize with the pain that the terrorists underwent when they were tortured, why do you simply ignore the loss of innocent lives and the moments of heartbreak that the relatives of those who are killed by these terrorists suffered?

Quantitative Easing – The Fed’s Ammunition

Quantitative Easing ﴾QE﴿ Round 2 has just come and gone. Essentially, QE has added to what would soon be US$ 2.4 trillion of non‐interest bearing cash and bank reserves. Just recently, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke spoke against the possibility of a third round of quantitative easing. It would be a good point in time to reckon the merits QE brought and also surface some faults in this policy. This article will not seek to debate about the policy, but to discuss some of the intentions of Federal Reserve’s action of implementing such drastic steps as means of boosting economic recovery, and also the trade‐offs in these actions.

First, a historical understanding of QE is required. This concept dates back to 2001 whereby the Bank of Japan ﴾BOJ﴿ unsuccessfully used it to fight domestic deflation in the early 2000s. In the wake of continued weakness in the Japanese economy and recent market turbulence due to the terrorist attacks in the US, the BOJ initially switched from the usual approach to expansionary monetary policy such as a reduction in the target short‐term interest rate to quantitative easing because by that time it had been pursuing a target very close to zero ﴾0.15%﴿ since 1999. The BOJ argued that, at an interest rate so close to zero, further nominal interest rate target reductions were constrained to be small, as under normal circumstances nominal interest rates are bounded at zero. As a result, the possible stimulus obtained through further reduction in the interest rate target was likely to be limited. With quantitative easing, it flooded commercial banks with excess liquidity to promote private lending, leaving them with large stocks of excess reserves, and therefore little risk of a liquidity shortage. The BOJ accomplished this by engaging in open market transactions aimed at increasing its balance of current bank accounts held at the BOJ, through the buying of more government bonds than would be required to set the interest rate to zero. It also bought asset‐backed securities and equities, and extended the terms of its commercial paper purchasing operation.

It should be clear, by now, that the Federal Reserve aims to boost economic recovery via stimulating expenditure. To do this, QE is indeed a good option because the first effect of QE would be to immediately drive the interest rate on near‐substitutes of cash such as Treasury bills ﴾T‐bills﴿ to nearly zero where we will assume that the interest rate for cash is close to zero. This happens because any significant positive interest rate would induce people to try to shift their holdings from non‐interest bearing cash to Tbills and they bid up T‐bills to the point where they are indifferent between the two. Eventually, all the T‐bills that have been issued are held and all the cash is held, reaching equilibrium such that both are now equally unattractive. As a result, people tend to avoid savings and this can be seen by the declining personal savings rate by a full percentage point from 6.3% in the spring of 2010 to 5.3% in December 2010. However, it is only in theory that the Federal Reserve is buying Treasury securities and creating currency and bank reserves to pay for them. This process of QE, in reality, would simply be an asset swap were it not for the fact that the US is running a budget deficit of about 10% of GDP, so its purchases would not even absorb the amount of newly issued Treasury debt. Thus, the overall effect of QE is to reduce the amount of debt that the public would otherwise have to buy, and to instead create money and bank reserves to indirectly finance government spending.

Also, the factor of unemployment, an indicator of economic recovery, has not been and will not be addressed by QE. The unemployment rate had been reported to have fallen by a percentage point. It is probably not that there’s been an anaemic growth in jobs but instead, more people are being statistically kicked out of the labour force altogether. Even if we accept the Bureau of Labour Statistics’ numbers, unemployment has gone down by a mere 1% at the cost of $600 billion in Fed moneyprinting, considering only Round 2. So, QE possibly did little to help in reducing unemployment to begin with. You might be wondering where the money went.

QE also has had the effect of spreading inflation throughout the world partly responsible of the accompanying political destabilization that that inevitably entails, as can been seen from the social unrest that plagued the Middle East just this year. Also, easy credit has generally been seen to land in Asia, fuelling the bubbles that forced various strict measures by Asian governments to prevent the inflow of money. The Federal Reserve would obviously not foresee how QE would export inflation and affect the rest of the world — that’s not their aim anyway.

However, they did predict that it could stimulate the U.S. economy into growth by leading a wave of business borrowing, and an expansion of the U.S. economy. They do need to watch out for inflation in their own country too.

All in all, the QE policy adopted by the Federal Reserve seems more like the best possible measure to be implemented at that point in time, considering that it is a monetary policy tool used by central banks to stimulate their national economies when conventional monetary policy has become ineffective. However, it sounded like a horrible bargain that Ben Bernanke paid $600 billion for a 1% drop in unemployment in the United States and a big inflation spike in the rest of the world, with the latter being less in their interest. Well, they stopped it ï´¾QE3ï´¿ for now; we shall wait and see.

My Defining Moment

The torrential downpour forced us into the training shed near the field camp site. It was a miracle that I could pause for a moment then to excogitate upon the goings-on of the past few days. I was staving off hunger, fighting the pressing need to nap, ignoring the sour stench of armpits, sweat and leftover food that permeated and mingled in the musty air. God – He was asking me why I was in such a sorry state.

And so I started to think.

Like most recruits, I entertained the notion that National Service, as much as it was crucial to survival of the nation-state, was a waste of time. I believe to a lesser extent now; the past 4 months had shown that NS does shape the fine young gentleman. Physically, I am less podgy. Mentally, I am better able to complete tasks on time, under external pressure and stress. Emotionally, I am able to stay calm and keep a cool head in the face of adversity.

My thoughts then shifted to the 8km route march 2 days ago. My spirits were high before embarkation. However, by the halfway mark, I was already struggling to keep my body upright. My commander told us before that “when the going gets tough, think of who you are defending – your family, your friends, your loved ones, your country.” Yet, the aforementioned quote was lost on me as I spent the rest of the march withdrawn into my protective shell. Really, I was physically stronger than many; I should have helped lighten their loads or at the very least, encouraged the rest. But hindsight is twenty-twenty. I did not expect such selfish behaviour from myself.

Field camp was a litmus test of resilience. The blisters sustained from the route march seared on my feet and toes. The heat rash started to become more than just an irritant. The helmet and iLBV were also impediments to the tasks of building the perfect basha and digging a deep enough shellscrape. People faltering around me served only to discourage me. Yet, somehow, I made it through. Barely though. There was this time I hovered intently outside the medic tent, wondering if I should seek medical attention for my fever. It was enticing indeed; a few of my platoon mates were huddled in the cosy tent, sheltered from the elements. The rest of us, including myself, had just been punished for digging our shellscrapes too slowly. Definitely, more was to come. In the end, I steeled myself not to be a goldbricker and to continue what I have to do.

I had a private moment with myself at dawn while at alert position. My rifle and I – illuminated weakly by the stirring sun – must make quite a poignant sight. Both were soaked thoroughly from the indecisive rain. Both experienced the vicissitudes of army life. Both were muddied from the leopard crawl in Exercise Mail Run, after which I was presented with a letter, a poem rather, about angels from my mother, the contents of which are too private to be disclosed. But it made me weep then, and it made me weep now.

And that’s all that matters.

And as the last raindrops and teardrops fell, I wrapped up my quiet reflection. Just yesterday, I might be reluctant to push my physical and mental boundaries. But tomorrow, I will ready myself to be a better soldier, a better citizen, a better son. For today, let it be known to the world that this was my defining moment.

 

Raffles Institution UCAS Buzzword

For those applying to UK this year, the RJC UCAS buzzword is raffles2012. Strangely, the briefing slides have been taken off the RI website. A suggestion to the college counselors would be to create a one-stop higher education portal (I’d be willing to help too!), something like Hwa Chong’s. Trawling through RI’s website just to find info is daunting enough.

Back to mulling over my essays. ><

10 Promises to my Dog

Dedicated to my dog Leina… <3

1. 私と気長につきあってください。
(Give me time to understand what you want of me.)
2. 私を信じてください。それだけで私は幸せです。
(Place your trust in me. It’s crucial to my well-being.)
3. 私にも心があることを忘れないでください。
(Be aware that however you treat me I’ll never forget it.)
4. 言うことをきかないときは理由があります。
(Before you scold me for being lazy, ask yourself if something might be bothering me.)
5. 私にたくさん話しかけてください。人のことばは話せないけど、わかっています。
(Talk to me sometimes. Even if I don’t understand your words, I do understand your voice when it’s speaking to me.)
6. 私をたたかないで。本気になったら私のほうが強いことを忘れないで。
(Remember before you hit me, I have teeth that could hurt you, but that I choose not to bite you.)
7. 私が年を取っても、仲良くしてください。
(Take care of me when I get old.)
8. 私は十年くらいしか生きられません。だからできるだけ私と一緒にいてください。
(My life is likely to last 10 to 15 years. Any separation from you will be painful for me.)
9. あなたには学校もあるし友だちもいます。でも私にはあなたしかいません。
(You have your work, your entertainment, and your friends. I have only you.)
10. 私が死ぬとき、お願いです、そばにいてください。どうか覚えていてください、私がずっとあなたを愛していたことを。
(Go with me on difficult journeys. Everything is easier for me if you are there. Remember I love you . . .)

Stupid Hosting Provider

I had a nasty problem with my hosting provider HostSo that caused my site to be down for the past 3.5 days. This is the 2nd downtime in as many weeks, with the first caused by a HDD swap. Well I expect a certain level of hosting redundancy built into place, even as I pay pennies for my hosting every month.

[a fatal error or timeout occurred while processing this directive]

can’t write into /home/superuser/.cpanel/nvdata.cache: Permission denied at /usr/local/cpanel/Cpanel/NVData.pm line 65 Carp::croak(‘can’t write into /home/superuser/.cpanel/nvdata.cache: Permissio…’) called at /usr/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.6.2/i686-linux/Storable.pm line 76 Storable::logcroak(‘can’t write into /home/superuser/.cpanel/nvdata.cache: Permissio…’) called at /usr/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.6.2/i686-linux/Storable.pm line 248 Storable::_store(‘CODE(0xa3d1074)’, ‘HASH(0x8b72758)’, ‘/home/superuser/.cpanel/nvdata.cache’, 1) called at /usr/lib/perl5/site_perl/5.6.2/i686-linux/Storable.pm line 236 Storable::lock_nstore(‘HASH(0x8b72758)’, ‘/home/superuser/.cpanel/nvdata.cache’) called at /usr/local/cpanel/Cpanel/NVData.pm line 65 Cpanel::NVData::_savecache() called at /usr/local/cpanel/Cpanel/NVData.pm line 155 Cpanel::NVData::_loadcache(1) called at /usr/local/cpanel/Cpanel/NVData.pm line 187 Cpanel::NVData::_get(undef) called at /usr/local/cpanel/Cpanel/ExpVar.pm line 133 Cpanel::ExpVar::expvar(‘$NVDATA{‘x3_hideicons’}’) called at cpanel line 1722 main::execiftag(‘<cpanelif $NVDATA{‘x3_hideicons’}>’) called at cpanel line 3864 main::dotag_finished_headers(0) called at cpanel line 3664 main::cpanel_parseblock(‘<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC “-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN” “…’) called at cpanel line 3612 main::cpanel_parse(‘GLOB(0xa6273d4)’) called at cpanel line 2491 main::doinclude(‘/usr/local/cpanel/base/frontend/x3/branding//index.html’, 0, 1) called at /usr/local/cpanel/Cpanel/Branding.pm line 49 Cpanel::Branding::Branding_include(‘index.html’) called at (eval 5) line 1 eval ‘Cpanel::Branding::Branding_include(@{$argref});’ called at cpanel line 1136 main::real_exectag(‘<cpanelif $NVDATA{‘x3_hideicons’}>’) called at cpanel line 3876 main::dotag_finished_headers(0) called at cpanel line 3704 main::cpanel_parseblock(‘<cpanel Branding=”include(index.html)”>^J’) called at cpanel line 3612 main::cpanel_parse(‘GLOB(0xa4cb308)’) called at cpanel line 5121 main::run_standard_mode() called at cpanel line 424

Mulling over overseas again

It is approaching that time of the year again.

After a frenzied day rushing local university applications, the focus has invariably shifted offshore, in the greener pastures of America/Europe/Britain. Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s newer that it’s greener, not because it’s better that it’s greener, if you get my drift. And somehow after getting an overseas scholarship, I feel it is a God-bestowed right for me to study overseas. While I was not suicidal at not getting admitted into Stanford, I was not too thrilled at being offered places to study computer science + business at NUS, law + business in SMU and Renaissance Engineering at NTU. I eventually took up NTU’s offer, even though I lament the fact that UCB’s seal isn’t on the degree scroll. I don’t quite get it. Does ‘difficult to get in‘ equate to ‘great‘? You bet my Singaporean mindset it is.

Before prepping for A levels prelims, I spent a considerable amount of time researching different colleges (henceforth referring to overseas universities). As an aside, I did hesitate at the notion of sending in an application to Deep Springs, which prides itself on ‘a non-traditional curriculum with a core structure of composition, public speaking, labor, and self-governance’. Yep. Labor. But really, I found my cursor hovering near the admit rates column. The lower the percentage, the more exclusive, the better. But heck that means my chances of getting in are lower. Never mind the latter.

And so I sent in applications to Stanford with Cornell as my safety. The former with 8% and the latter, 16% admit rates. Of course, I was yearning to be disappointed.

Fast forward 2.5 months after the last of the admission decisions and obstinate me has just spent the whole of today (started at 8am, ended at 9pm) researching every last bit about UK unis and computer science. The current shortlist: Oxford (college not decided), Imperial, UCL. I’ll prolly just randomly pick the other 2 unis to fill up the rest.

Watch this space.

 

 

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“I truly respect the people who stay strong, even when they have every right to break down.”