Monthly Archives: July 2012

Genocide: Worse than War (PBS documentary)

This film is also available at http://to.pbs.org/hMZzq0 Watch Daniel Goldhagen’s ground-breaking documentary focused on the worldwide phenomenon of genocide, which premiered on PBS on April 14, 2010.

Read more about the devastating effects of genocide that often begin by signalling identity markers, enhancing distinction, objectification of an ‘inferior’ group justifying widespread violence – Armenian genocide, the Holocaust, Rwandan genocide etc. E.g During the 1930s Belgians started to use a system of identity cards in Rwanda sorting each individual as either Tutsi, Hutu, Twa or Naturalised.

Watch out for divide between old and young

July 28 2012, Phua Mei Pin, STraits Times

THE population question today pits the citizen against the foreigner. Yet the real showdown to come is not between those born in different countries, but those born in different eras.

Last week, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned that a new fault line is forming in Singapore between new and old citizens. The tension is not only over different cultural norms, but that foreign workers and new citizens add to the competition in schools, workplaces, housing market and even for a bus seat.

As long as Singaporeans are focused on this fissure, they may not notice a serious crack forming within the citizen population itself: the divide between young and old.

It is a fault line that will widen and deepen in the very near future. Because it involves the citizen population, it will also be ripe for politicisation and has the potential to cause lasting tears in Singapore’s social fabric.

The basics of Singapore’s ageing population woes are well-rehearsed. As life expectancy lengthens and the birth rate lingers among the lowest in the world, its population looks set to shrink from 2025.

The likely outcome: fewer working adults will shoulder the responsibility of supporting more retired elderly, most obviously by paying higher taxes. Either state funding in some areas will have to be cut, or new sources of funding will have to be sought.

What sounds like the old story of not enough babies is actually the even older story of not enough resources, especially in the face of diverging and intensifying interests.

In this story, the old citizen will bare knuckles against the younger citizen over limited land and funds. Osteoporosis notwithstanding, the older citizen looks set to put up a fierce fight.

The retired elderly are more likely to plumb for taking the economy to a lower gear, arguing against investments and measures for long-term growth. As consumers rather than workers, they will have little interest in job opportunities or wage levels, but will oppose the inflation that comes with higher levels of growth. Continue reading

A history of racism: BBC Documentaries

Excellent video resource:

A great overview (if a little theatrical at times) of the history of racism as an invented concept with the onset of the colonialism and the slave trade. Watching all the way till part 6 gives you an in-depth understanding of how racism has manifested across the centuries, and the web of causes that shape discriminatory practices.  The world’s first death camp – the Heroro tribe in central Africa is also explained here.

For the scientifically inclined:  Looking at Scientific Racism, invented during the 19th century, an ideology that drew on now discredited practices such as phrenology and provided an ideological justification for racism and slavery. These theories ultimately led to eugenics and Nazi racial policies of the master race

– The third and final episode examines the impact of racism in the 20th Century. By 1900, European colonial expansion had reached deep into the heart of Africa. Under the rule of King Leopold II, The Belgian Congo was turned into a vast rubber plantation. Men, women and children who failed to gather their latex quotas would have their limbs dismembered. The country became the scene of one of the century’s greatest racial genocides, as an estimated 10 million Africans perished under colonial rule. Contains scenes which some viewers may find disturbing.

It’s the Guns – But We All Know, It’s Not Really the Guns [Movie shooting – Aurora, Colorado]

by Michael Moore

Since Cain went nuts and whacked Abel, there have always been those humans who, for one reason or another, go temporarily or permanently insane and commit unspeakable acts of violence. There was the Roman Emperor Tiberius, who during the first century A.D. enjoyed throwing victims off a cliff on the Mediterranean island of Capri. Gilles de Rais, a French knight and ally of Joan of Arc during the middle ages, went cuckoo-for-Cocoa Puffs one day and ended up murdering hundreds of children. Just a few decades later Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Dracula, was killing people in Transylvania in numberless horrifying ways.

In modern times, nearly every nation has had a psychopath or two commit a mass murder, regardless of how strict their gun laws are – the crazed white supremacist in Norway one year ago Sunday, the schoolyard butcher in Dunblane, Scotland, the École Polytechnique killer in Montreal, the mass murderer in Erfurt, Germany … the list seems endless.

And now the Aurora shooter last Friday. There have always been insane people, and there always will be.

But here’s the difference between the rest of the world and us: We have TWO Auroras that take place every single day of every single year! At least 24 Americans every day (8-9,000 a year) are killed by people with guns – and that doesn’t count the ones accidentally killed by guns or who commit suicide with a gun. Count them and you can triple that number to over 25,000.

That means the United States is responsible for over 80% of all the gun deaths in the 23 richest countries combined. Considering that the people of those countries, as human beings, are no better or worse than any of us, well, then, why us?

Both conservatives and liberals in America operate with firmly held beliefs as to “the why” of this problem. And the reason neither can find their way out of the box toward a real solution is because, in fact, they’re both half right. Continue reading

The Bad Society: How much inequality is acceptable?

 protester, wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, stands among the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators. Protesters opposed income inequality among other things. — PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON – How much inequality is acceptable? Judging by pre-recession standards, a great deal of it, especially in the United States and Britain. New Labour’s Peter Mandelson voiced the spirit of the past 30 years when he remarked that he felt intensely ‘relaxed’ about people getting ‘filthy’ rich. Getting rich was what the ‘new economy’ was all about. And the newly rich kept an increasing part of what they got, as taxes were slashed to encourage them to get still richer, and efforts to divide up the pie more fairly were abandoned.

The results were predictable. In 1970, the pre-tax pay of a top American CEO was about 30 times higher than that of the average worker; today it is 263 times higher. In Britain, the basic pay (without bonuses) of a top CEO was 47 times the average worker’s in 1970; in 2010, it was 81 times more. Since the late 1970s, the post-tax income of the richest fifth has increased five times as fast as the poorest fifth in the US, and four times as fast in the UK. Even more important has been the growing gap between average (mean) and median income: that is, the proportion of the population living on half or less of the average income in the US and Britain has been growing.

Although some countries have resisted the trend, inequality has been increasing over the last 30-40 years in the world as a whole. Inequality within countries has increased, and inequality between countries increased sharply after 1980, before leveling off in the late 1990’s and finally falling back after 2000, as catch-up growth in developing countries accelerated.

The growth of inequality leaves ideological defenders of capitalism unfazed. In a competitive market system, people are said to be paid what they are worth: so top CEOs add 263 times more value to the American economy than the workers they employ. But the poor, it is claimed, are still better off than they would have been had the gap been artificially narrowed by trade unions or governments. The only secure way to get ‘trickle-down’ wealth to trickle faster is by cutting marginal tax rates still further, or, alternatively, by improving the ‘human capital’ of the poor, so that they become worth more to their employers.

[observe rebuttal] This is a method of economic reasoning that is calculated to appeal to those at the top of the income pyramid. After all, there is no way whatsoever to calculate the marginal products of different individuals in cooperative productive activities. Top pay rates are simply fixed by comparing them to other top pay rates in similar jobs. Continue reading

What’s stopping women?

This illustration is by Jon Krause and comes from <a href="http://www.newsart.com">NewsArt.com</a>, and is the property of the NewsArt organization and of its artist. Reproducing this image is a violation of copyright law.

PRINCETON – When I wrote the cover article of the July/August issue of The Atlantic, entitled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” I expected a hostile reaction from many American career women of my generation and older, and positive reactions from women aged roughly 25-35. I expected that many men of that younger generation would also have strong reactions, given how many of them are trying to figure out how to be with their children, support their wives’ careers, and pursue their own plans.

I also expected to hear from business representatives about whether my proposed solutions – greater workplace flexibility, ending the culture of face-time and “time machismo,” and allowing parents who have been out of the workforce or working part-time to compete equally for top jobs once they re-enter – were feasible or utopian.

What I did not expect was the speed and scale of the reaction – almost a million readers within a week and far too many written responses and TV, radio, and blog debates for me to follow – and its global scope. I have conducted interviews with journalists in Britain, Germany, Norway, India, Australia, Japan, the Netherlands, and Brazil; and articles about the piece have been published in France, Ireland, Italy, Bolivia, Jamaica, Vietnam, Israel, Lebanon, Canada, and many other countries.

Reactions differ across countries, of course. Indeed, in many ways, the article is a litmus test of where individual countries are in their own evolution toward full equality for men and women. India and Britain, for example, have had strong women prime ministers in Indira Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher, but now must grapple with the “woman-as-man” archetype of female success.

The Scandinavian countries know that women around the world look to them as pioneers of social and economic policies that enable women to be mothers and successful career professionals, and that encourage and expect men to play an equal parenting role. But they are not producing as many women managers in the private sector as the United States is, much less at the top ranks. Continue reading

SPH Primer – Foreign Workers for economic growth?

Does Singapore need foreign workers and immigrants for economic growth?

THE short answer is yes.

This has been true for most of Singapore’s recent history because of its limited local population and a declining fertility rate.

Traditional economic growth theory explains that the more factors of labour and capital are added, the faster the economy expands. The efficiency of labour is determined by its productivity. The higher the productivity, the faster the growth. [Explanation by way of theory – observe the attribution to traditional growth theory rather than ‘From an economic perspective…] By adding foreign workers to the local labour force, Singapore’s economy can grow even faster than its potential might have allowed – likened by some to steroids that enhance performance.

Singapore has used levies and quotas to manage the foreign worker inflow, while making sure the economy did not overheat.For most of its history, this has worked, but in the last 10 years, the foreign workforce has increased much faster than anticipated.

The foreign labour force expanded from 605,000 in 2003 to 1.19 million people at the end of last year.

The Government has explained that it allowed more foreign workers to enter Singapore to ride on a strong wave of growth after its economy suffered a period of weak growth at the century’s start. 

In 2000, the dot.com bubble burst in the United States, and not too long after, the Sars crisis followed in 2003. The economy stabilised and grew after that.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong explained in 2006: ‘When the conditions are good and the sun is shining, we should go for it, as fast as we can, as much as we can.’

But there are drawbacks to using large numbers of foreign workers to drive growth. Continue reading

Chile passes anti-discrimination law after brutal hate crime

SANTIAGO (AFP) – Chile enacted an anti-discrimination law on Thursday, fully seven years after it went before Parliament, amid horror after suspected neo-Nazis killed a young gay man.

The bill condemns discrimination based on gender, race and religion, among other factors. It was presented to parliament in 2005 but not approved until May 2012, after the initiative was stalled by conservative legislators.

It introduces the concept of ‘arbitrary discrimination’ into the Chilean legal system and punishes violators with fines ranging from US$400 (S$508) to $4,000.

Some on the Chilean right feared the law might lead to the legalisation of gay marriage and held up the bill’s progression. The political logjam only broke after the killing of 24-year-old Daniel Zamudio on March 27.

The new law has been dubbed the ‘Zamudio Law.’ Pictures released by Zamudio’s family showed how the attackers inflicted a head wound, burned him with cigarettes, and carved Nazi symbols and slogans on his body. Zamudio spent three weeks in hospital before dying.

Chile’s political left ruled the country at the end of roughly two decades of dictatorship, until 2010, when right-wing President Sebastian Pinera was elected to office.

‘Thanks to Daniel’s sacrifice, now we have a new law I’m sure will help us confront, prevent and punish acts of discrimination, which cause so much pain,’ Mr Pinera said, as his enacted the new law at the presidential palace.

Zamudio’s parents attended the ceremony.

‘I am very proud that the law was passed and that it is named for Daniel,’ said Daniel’s mother, Jacqueline Vera. ‘My son will never be forgotten.’

Representatives of Chile’s Jewish, Arab, indigenous and disabled communities were also present at the ceremony.

The law defines ‘arbitrary discrimination’ as ‘any distinction, exclusion or restriction made without reasonable justification by state employees or private individuals that would deprive, disrupt or threaten fundamental rights.’

Chilean gay rights group The Homosexual Liberation Movement reports that 17 people have died and some 800 have been assaulted in crimes against Chile’s gay community since 2002. –  20Jul, 2012

Charity and Religion – The issues in ‘godly giving’

By Lee Siew Hua & Jennani Durai, Straits Times, 21 Jul 2o12

SALES manager Benjamin Kong, 39, started giving to his Methodist church in his teens, putting a dollar or two into the offering bag on Sundays. He had simple notions then of how the collection was spent, figuring that ‘the church needs upkeep, the staff need salaries’.

Two decades later, he notices more. The church bulletin carries news about groups supported by his parish, so he senses that cash is worthily deployed. ‘We also get an annual report and I glance at that but don’t query the accounts,’ he says.

He would, however, expect fuller transparency from a charity. So if he donates to a specific cause such as buying walking aids for the disabled but the money is used for something else, he would be upset.

‘But for a church or other religious groups, because expenditure covers such a range of things, people believe the money is going to some good cause somewhere,’ he says. ‘People are less likely to question where exactly the money has gone.’

Across faith groups, this abiding trust in the goodness and wisdom of spiritual leaders seems pervasive.

It is not blind faith but recent charges against leaders of City Harvest Church, for alleged criminal breach of trust, have put back in the spotlight the sensitive issue of religious giving and how best to regulate it.

The sums involved are large. In 2010, religious charities received $1.6 billion.

That figure would be even higher if older institutions such as the Anglican and Catholic churches here, which are exempt from registering under the Charities Act, were included. The stakes are high because the monies being donated are tied to individuals’ faith in their spiritual leaders and God.

The challenge is complicated by the range of religious groups, which differ in size and vintage and leadership structures.

The task is perhaps beyond any one regulator. That is why the Commissioner of Charities (COC) makes plain in its 2011 annual report that it looks to the public to play its role, by ‘donating with generosity and discernment’.

Godly giving

SINGAPORE has in recent years seen the rise of new, rich spiritual players, such as mega-churches. Also, there is a trend of charities engaging in business.

In 2010, the charity sector had a total income of $10.7 billion. Of this sum, the ‘Religious and others’ sector received $1.6 billion (15 per cent) – from donations, government grants and fees for services.

Religion ranked second behind the mighty education sector, which topped the income league of charities by pulling in $6.8 billion (63.4 per cent).

The presence of religious groups is huge. In 2005, the ‘Religious and others’ category formed the lion’s share, or 51.4 per cent, of all registered charities. This figure climbed to 59.5 per cent last year – or 1,245 religious charities. Continue reading