Saturday, December 30, 2006

Saddam is executed

It is with much pain as I write this, but Saddam Hussein was hanged on Saturday 0300 GMT, 11 am Singapore time.

I remember the time when the Iran-Iraq War hogged the international news on TV. I was in secondary school then. In spite of constant Iranian claims of Iraqis using chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers, there was no outrage I could recall, at least not reported by our local TV news. Way back then, as it is now, the Iranians were perceived as the religious nuts bent on destroying the world, and Saddam was contributing to "World Peace", shielding the "Free World" from religious fanaticism. Saddam was the "Good Guy", and "Good Guys" can do no wrong. Although I saw on TV the chemical burns the Iranian soldiers suffered, I felt little pity.

And there was peace, or so we thought, because, thanks to Saddam, the nuts in Iran were taught a lesson and the world was safe again, but not for long.

It is apparent now, the reason why Saddam made peace with Iran then, even returning conquered land, was because he had a fatter peace of meat in his gunsight: Kuwait. It was probably Saddam's biggest mistake in his life. I sincerely believe that he misread how Uncle Sam would react to his invasion. The world was cheering him on for spreading peace by slaughtering Iranians, the world would probably cheer him on for spreading peace to Kuwait as well. In fact, the invasion of Kuwait was relatively bloodless compared to the slaughterfest of Iranians.

Overnight, Saddam turned from the "Good Guy" to the "Evil Babylon". It was then that we had a 24 hour news channel appearing out of nowhere for free over the air; not CNA, but CNN. (Or was it 7am to midnight?) Suddenly, Saddam was not "cool" anymore. CNN went on and on about Saddam's aspirations to invade Saudi Arabia, thereby monopolising more than 50% of the world's oil supply, painting a doom and gloom scenario for the "free world". The "free world" generally agreed Iraqi occupation of Kuwait and the threat to Saudi Arabia was a "bad thing", and the American President the, Bush Senior, promptly assembled a million strong coalition first to defend Saudi Arabia, and then, after months of careful planning, kicked Saddam's ass. Hard. It was supposed to be the "Mother of All Battles", but the Iraqis just caved in. It was then that Saddam did the most atrocious act of environmental terrorism.

Before retreating from Kuwait, Iraqi soldiers opened up as many Kuwaiti oil wells as they could and set them ablaze, enveloping the region in dark noxious fumes. Crude oil spilled into the Persian Gulf, and it was heart wrenching then to see the multitudes of sea birds covered in crude oil, unable to fly, slowly dying in the beaches. If I had my way then, I would have chopped Saddam into a million pieces. And it was with great shock, that the Americans, on scoring a beautiful victory against the Iraqis, suddenly stopped their advance on Baghdad, and retreated back to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. It didnt make any sense at all, and I was bitterly disappointed. Saddam deserved to die. Saddam must die. He must pay for his evil sins. Bush Senior let the world down by not finishing Saddam off. Or so I thought.

Fast forward to today, and it is ironic that I am sad that Saddam is dead. Executed. Hanged. Perhaps I am wiser now, more aware of the shades of grey in the world, and therefore, more sympathetic towards Saddam. Or perhaps I am just as easily manipulated by the media today as I was in my teenage years. Or perhaps that my dislike of Bush Junior made Saddam a sort of an anti-hero. For a man with such bloodied hands, he sure died with much grace, talking about using his death as a sacrifice and praying for peace and forgiveness.

I am not an opponent of the death penalty. And I believe that the death penalty ought to be brutal and barbaric as it possibly can be, to maximise the effect it has as a deterrent against crimes. But the hanging of Saddam causes me much pain, much much more than the hanging of, say, Nguyen Van Tuong, even though Saddam was neither young, nor handsome, nor was his crimes as "trivial" as drug trafficking.

I lament because the "worst" charges they could pin on him dates all the way back to 1982. And his "genocide" of the 148 Shias was not a whim - some of those people tried to kill him but failed. Perhaps the reprisal was excessive by international norms but he was certainly entitled to some form of retribution to deter further attempts on his life. The current US invasion and occupation of Iraq has caused the deaths of easily over 200,000 Iraqis and at least a hundred more die every month due to the anarchy caused by the occupation, all because maybe, maybe Iraqis could be working on something that maybe, maybe someday can hurt a few Americans. How many death sentences should Bush Junior get, for his crimes of incompetence to the Iraqis? And for a consummate villain like Saddam, how is it that the only real crimes anybody could prove against him was in 1982?

In 1983, one year after Saddam committed the crimes that condemned him to death, AND while he was reported to be using chemical weapons against the Kurds, then American President Ronald Reagen sent his special envoy, Donald Rumsfeld to meet Saddam Hussein, as you can see in the youtube video below, to express, among other things, American approval of Iraq's role in the Iran-Iraq war, and the American desire to establish full diplomatic ties with Baghdad. Right at the time when Saddam was committing his worst evils. Perhaps, US intelligence was already faulty then, and the Americans didnt knew what was going on in Iraq. But the use of chemical weapons against Iranians was publicly seen on TV. But all that was no issue with the Americans until 2002.

From what I now know, Saddam is quite fearful of the United States. Since Saddam found himself to be the "Bad Guy" in the eyes of Uncle Sam, he had stopped using chemical weapons. Iraqi research into nuclear power and nuclear weapons was frozen at the end of the first Gulf War. Iraq was harbouring Abu Nidal, probably the most ruthless terrorist leader in modern times for many years, but apparently, Saddam ordered him killed in 2002 in the buildup to Gulf War 2.

I don't want to predict what may happen with Saddam's death. From what I see, Saddam is little more than a symbolic figurehead now. Only gullible neo-conservatives believe that executing Saddam can help with the Iraq situation. And symbolic figureheads are more powerful dead, than alive.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Thing About Rich Dad Poor Dad

Worldwide Success, has a little something to say about Robert Kiyosaki. Here are some bullet points:

  • Robert Kiyosaki is a product of Amway (now Quixtar) and other multi-level marketing organizations, and this is how he became a best seller
  • Rich Dad Poor Dad is nothing but a collection of old clich├ęs about money
  • Kiyosaki now admits that certain events in his book have been fictionalized. In other words, some of the stories in the book were made up
  • Rich dad may not have existed. There are good reasons to believe that Rich dad is part of the fiction mentioned above
  • ABC 20/20 did a story in which they invited Kiyosaki to provide advice to three people who were given $1,000 to start a business and show a profit in 20 days. They all pretty much failed, but Kiyosaki said it was a success because they all learned from their failures. The conclusion of the story: “Does anyone really need 18 books to learn to fail?”
  • How does Kiyosaki make his money and how much does he really have? He will not reveal. He says he keeps his holdings private because of lawsuits. John says this insults our intelligence.
  • John Reed provides several comprehensive lists about Kiyosaki’s books:
    • List of incorrect conventional wisdom
    • List of inconsistencies
    • List of factual errors
    • List of unlikely stories
John Reed's work on Robert Kiyosaki can be read here.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Blatantly sexist job ad

Found this on jobsdb via sammyboy forums:

ADDON: Seems like Mr Wang posted something about the same topic at the same time, so I have shamelessly linked to his posting.

Qool Labs is a new generation company...

We are seeking for enthusiastic, aggressive and result oriented individuals to join our winning team.


Responsibilities :

* To assist the Marketing Communications/Support Manager in the implementation and coordination of the marketing activities and events

*Female working environment*

Had that line been *Male working environment*, you can be sure AWARE will kick up a big fuss. Or am I misreading the intention? Disproportionately female working environment desperately looking for single available hot males with big biceps, females need not apply?

Technorati: discrimination, singapore, jobs, sexism

Thursday, November 23, 2006

A documentary about the movie Blade Runner

For the fans of Blade Runner, which still has a huge influence in sci-fi productions today, like Battlestar Galactica, reimagined.

Singapore ranked 84th in democracy index

According to a democracy index devised by the Economist Intelligence Unit, Singapore is ranked 84th. That rates us as a hybrid regime together with Albania and Russia, worse off than flawed democracies like Indonesia and Hong Kong, but better than all out authoritarian regimes like China and Sudan. Singapore scores are extremely skewed, scoring very badly in the categories of "Political Participation" and "Electoral Process and Pluralism" - scores were even lower than many of the authoritarian regimes, while scoring very highly in the categories of "Functioning of Government", "Political Culture" and "Civil Liberties".

Sweden is ranked number one, and is described as a near-perfect democracy, along with many Scandinavian countries. You can have a look at the complete list here and an explanation of the methodologies here.

While the Singapore government likes to use the high taxation Scandinavian welfare states as a bogeyman against welfarism in Singapore, the truth is that the Scandinavian brand of welfarism is clearly popular with the people, or the people would have dismantled the welfare system via the ballot box. As a further vote of confidence, the birthrate of these highly democratic countries are very high among the developed nations, which, in my opinion, shows that the parents are optimistic about their children's future, as compared to the fearful Singaporean parents.

I do not think the average Singaporean will begrudge higher taxes, if he or she is convinced that the tax money they paid will return to help us when we descend upon hard times. After all, most Singaporeans gladly part with hundreds of dollars every month for life insurance, hoping that it will make a difference when tragedy strikes.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

What insurance you should get for your children

This is a dated but still very useful forum post from the Wall Straits Forum written by a very knowledgeable d.o.g., regarding the purchase of insurance for newborn children. Parents please read the highlights here before meeting your "financial planner".

"Children's education policies are basically renamed endowment plans...

Medical insurance for the child is an absolute must. Buy a good hospitalization and surgery (H&S) plan that offers first-dollar coverage (NO DEDUCTIBLE). Make sure it is GUARANTEED RENEWABLE. The earlier you buy it the better, before the child develops any illnesses that get excluded or the child gets denied coverage completely. H&S plans are not cheap, typically costing a few hundred dollars a year, but are well worth the cost IMHO.

The new parents would probably want to provide for their daughter in the event of an accident happening to them (the parents). So there should be sufficient coverage on the life of the mother/father that the payout will cover the cost of raising the child to a financially independent age (typically to the point of graduation from a polytechnic or university = 19/20 years of age). Even assuming a basic lifestyle, this cost will likely be in the region of $100,000-$200,000 or more.

Fortunately, term life coverage is VERY cheap. So buy enough coverage, and maybe buy 20-50% more just in case the cost of living (and education) rise too much. Again, buy term life coverage on the life of the PARENTS. Don't bother with life insurance for the child - no one is worse off financially if the child dies, so life insurance for the child is a waste of money.

A disability income policy should also be considered for the parents, as the risk of disability and partial/permanent loss in earning power is a lot higher than that for death/total permanent disability. It takes quite a bit to kill a person, a lot less to injure him/her. Especially if the parents are working in areas with higher occupational hazards... Workmen's compensation is pathetic so don't count on it...

1. H&S policy for the child (must have)
2. Term life policy for the parents (must have)
3. Disability income policy for the parents (comparatively expensive, skip if budget is too tight)
4. Optional: critical illness policy for the parents (nice to have but not absolutely necessary)

AVOID: whole life plans, endowment plans, and investment-linked policies. These are totally unsuitable for people without much disposable income. The less well off you are, the more suitable term policies are. Unfortunately, the less well off are also sometimes less well informed, and they often get sold the most unsuitable policies (read: lots of whole life and endowment policies). Do your relatives a favour and make sure they only get term policies. Anything with an investment component can wait until they get their finances in shape and can reliably save a good amount each month (10% or more of monthly income).

As for the child's education, if the family is in serious financial difficulties, they should have no trouble getting bursaries ...

Assuming the parents have spare cash to invest, endowment policies are a poor way to provide for a child's education. ..."

Technorati tags: Financial Planning, Singapore, Insurance

More Bang For Your Savings Bucks

Some of the best sources of information comes from the most surprising of sources. Larry Haverkamp aka Dr Money of The New Paper runs a wonderful website

Take a look at the Best Bank Deposit Rates link to some ideas for better deposit rates for your savings account. For those who need a fast answer, take a look at Standard Chartered's eSavers' account and Maybank's iSavvy account. Both are online savings account with no lock-in period, and you will be paid 1.88% minimum (bid sayonara to 0.25%!) The only catch is that it will be slightly harder to withdraw cash, but you can work around that with a little bit of planning by doing online transfer to a local bank account a few days in advance.

For those with more cash and can tolerate a little lock in, did you know that get 3% or more? Go take a look at the website for some ideas to make your idle cash work harder, relatively risklessly.

PS I am not related to or paid by Larry Haverkamp or The New Paper or Standard Chartered or Maybank.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Finn who loved Singapore aka The Finn punched a Singaporean woman

I found this via the Sammyboy forum, and it is totally hilarious. This is what Mika Sampovaara wrote that was published by the Straits Times:

He left welfare state to come to Singapore

I WOULD like to commend Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for sticking to the Singaporean economic model.

I read with interest his views regarding Scandinavian welfare states. I am from one of them: Finland.

While it is true that there is more 'welfare' in Scandinavia, it comes at a price. Public spending in my country stands at 25 per cent of GDP, twice that of Singapore.

The government in Finland spends vast amounts of money on free health care and education, nearly twice the 8 per cent of GDP spent in Singapore. Having been to Changi hospital I can say that health care here is no worse than in my country and the charges are very reasonable. My point is it doesn't have to be free.

It's a question of choice and pricing. The public sector typically does not run the most efficient services, because the services are non-competitive.

Singapore runs a tighter ship, because it's only partially subsidised. Compulsory savings schemes for health care and pensions are a far better way. So is taxing consumption over income.

Many people in my country give up half or more of their gross incomes to finance the almighty welfare state. This serves to promote equality of sorts and creates a vast middle class. It also stifles entrepreneurism and leads to voluntary unemployment. The cost of living is higher too, with GST at 22 per cent.

I disagreed with the crushing taxes in my country. It is for this reason that I came to Singapore, and was happy to give up the benefits I had paid for over the years.

Long live the Singaporean model.

Mika Sampovaara

So who is this Mika? Apparently, he is a derivatives trader. Want to know more? Read this news extract:

A man was fined $1,000 in court for hurting a woman after her pet dog crossed his path.

Mika Johannes Sampovaara pleaded guilty to a charge of causing hurt to Mindy Tan Lay Eng outside her home in Siglap on February 4 last year.

The complainant had earlier asked for $50,000 as compensation. Sampovaara had offered to pay her $38,000 instead, but she refused.

Channel NewsAsia understands Tan may take a civil suit against Sampovaara for the injuries she suffered. - CNA/de
Coincidence? I think not. I dont think anybody ever said Singapore is not a paradise for high income high net worth individuals, especially foreigners who eat here, shit here, punch people here and get away with light sentence. Somehow, I dont think he gave up his Finnish citizenship, and probably intends to return to Finland after he is done milking Singapore. What a hypocrite.

Fun with Rumsfeld

Found this via The Big Picture.

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Friday, November 17, 2006

CPF as a form of life insurance

Mr Wang had a blog post "More on Life and Money" and I like to share my thoughts on what happens to your CPF money when you die.

What a lot of people need to realise, is that the CPF itself is a very simple form of insurance. I speak as a person who has collected CPF money from a deceased person before. If the nomination is done right, the CPF board will contact you within a week for your bank account number, and the money plus Singtel shares and so on, will be transferred with minimal fuss, even if you are a minor (ie under 21). If one dies without a nomination, then the process gets complicated because the allocation of the money will get stuck with the other assets subject to estate tax assessment. Think about it: If your OA+SA+Medisave adds up to 100k, do you still want to pay 100 bucks a month for a whole life insurance coverage of roughly say, 50k?

The process for transferring other assets like money in bank account is not so straightforward, because they are subject estate tax assessment. When the bank is informed of the demise of the bank account holder, they will freeze the bank account. No further transaction is possible until an executor or administrator of the estate of the deceased is appointed, a legal process that will take some time. Having a will helps if there are potential dispute over who should get what proportion, but otherwise will not speed up the process if one dies without a will (intestate).

Dont opt out of the Dependency Protection Scheme. It is the cheapest term life insurance one can buy. Now that the DPS is privatised, make sure you get the nomination done as well; it is now separate from the nomination for the CPF accounts.

Lastly, be careful not to plunge your loved ones into a cashflow crisis, especially if you have zilch in your CPF accounts. Where possible, open a joint bank account which can be withdrawn by any party. When one party of the bank account dies, the money automatically goes to the other party.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

The case for Singapore to go for nuclear power

This question had been in my head for some time, but I am pre-empted to it by this article written by Speranza Nuova at the Singapore Angle.

Let me get my message across in the simplest and most straightforward way: Singapore should build a nuclear power plant as soon as Malaysia formally talks about building one. Why?

1) Water independence

With Newater, Singapore can finally sleep well without worry about Malaysia cutting off our water supply, or so we thought. The problem with Newater or flash distillation, is that both are energy intensive processes. You cant power either processes with solar power panels for example. If we cannot secure our power supply, we cannot secure our water supply. Be it piped gas from Natuna or LNG, we are still dependent on a foreign country for electricity generation and that diminishes the strategic effectiveness of Newater significantly.

2) Hydrogen, ethanol and biodiesel does not make sense for Singapore

Where does hydrogen come from? For most hydrogen powered cars, the fuel they use will most likely come from electrolysis of water... you know passing electricity to break water down into oxygen and hydrogen. If you live within a stone's throw from the Hoover Dam, where electricity is cheaply available, a hydrogen driven car will make environmental sense. A hydrogen driven car in Singapore, OTOH, may mean zero carbon emissions at your car, but the electricity used to produce the hydrogen is most likely generated by a power plant burning natural gas. Similarly, ethanol and biodiesel makes sense in agricultural countries like US and Brazil because of state subsidies. If you try to import the raw materials like corn, and refine it, you will find the process will consume more energy than the fossil fuels it is suppose to replace, emit comparable amount of carbon dioxide, and harder to manage at the engine level because of their corrosive nature.

3) Groundwork for nuclear weapon knowhow

Energy requirements aside, this could be the greatest by-product. If, at some point in the future, Singapore needs to build a nuclear bomb, we will need a critical mass of experts and we cannot depend on foreign talents. So why not start small, with nuclear power first. Why do you think six Arab states including Saudi Arabia, suddenly desire to build nuclear power plants, even though they are sitting on the largest crude oil reserves in the world?

4) Geopolitical non-concern

If this list on wikipedia is any good, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Bangladesh, Vietnam all possess nuclear reactors, although some are for academic research. Indonesia in particular has three running nuclear power generators, including one in Yogyakarta, which just suffered a major earthquake. Besides, American nuclear powered aircraft carriers routinely dock in Changi Naval Base.

When crude oil prices were higher, some Malaysian politicians were already urging the country to build nuclear power plants. I suggest Singapore should start planning soon, and kick start the project as soon as Malaysia loses the moral high ground to object, because a big proper plant may take a whole decade to build. After all, the two or three or four new IRs are going to consume a helluva electricity.

GST hike

In response to blog posts by Mr Wang, Aaron Ng, Bart J and Kway Teow Man, I have the following to say.

In my days between NS and NUS over a decade ago, I worked as a security guard. The job consisted of 12 hour shifts, mostly spent standing. I discovered some co-workers were very lazy. Always looking for opportunities to nap, arriving late, leaving early. Then I realised the reason: they were doing another 12 hour security guard shift somewhere else, effectively working 24 hours a day, every working day. Why? Because they need to earn at least about $2k every month to make ends meet, or something bad will happen. In my time, I have met people who would skip meals to make ends meet. Many of these people may not even meet the definition of poor because of their inelastically high expenditure is masked by their not-so-low income. Whether or not the CCC, MCYS, or their "I didnt know there are poor people in developed countries" MPs are capable of targetting the genuinely needy is a big question mark.