February 24, 2017

24
PSI
CONNECT WITH US
 
 

Brown leather strap watch showing 8.30.

BUT first, today is Budget Day. Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will announce the national budget and measures to tackle the current economic slowdown and its attendant problems. Stay tuned to The Middle Ground as we report on and react to the announcement in the late afternoon.

Malaysia is looking for four North Korean men in connection with the assassination of Mr Kim Jong Nam. Rhi Ji Hyon, 33; Hong Song Hac; 34, O Jong Gil, 55; and Ri Jae Nam, 57 left for Jakarta after the attack last Monday (Feb 13) and Malaysian paper The Star reports that they are back in North Korea via the UAE and Russia.

Four others remain in custody – two women (Vietnamese and Indonesian), a Malaysian man, and a North Korean man. The whereabouts of three other men, one North Korean and two other unidentified men, are unknown.

The Middle Ground needs your support to continue serving up credible, balanced and independent news. Help us make a difference by being our patron! Thanks!

A larger proportion of each local university cohort can now be admitted through the discretionary admissions scheme. The shift away from a grades-only approach means that 15 per cent of each cohort, up from 10 per cent, can rely on interviews, essays, aptitude tests and portfolios to secure a place instead.

The G has also targeted that by 2020, 40 per cent of all students each year will attend local university.

Hiker Steward Lee, 27, is still missing in spite of a 70-man search of forested and nature reserve areas yesterday. The search team, comprising police, park rangers and volunteers who had responded to Mr Lee’s elder sister Lee Yunqin’s appeal on Facebook, spent four hours on the search.

Mr Lee was last seen at 2pm on Friday at Block 407 Fajar Road. He was wearing a plain black short-sleeved T-shirt and blue jeans with slippers and glasses.

If you have information on the missing hiker, please call the Police hotline (1800-255-0000) or make a report at www.police.gov.sg/iwitness.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

 

skillsfuture_300x250

Black clock showing 8.30

GROWING ambiguity of the global environment highlights not only Singapore’s vulnerability, but also the need for policies to adapt quickly to changes, to guarantee safety and prosperity.

On the geopolitical and military fronts: While the administration of President Donald Trump has not made active reference to the Asia-Pacific region or the engagement of the country in the region, Singapore’s defence minister Ng Eng Hen – at the sidelines of a security conference in Germany – met with new United States defence secretary James Mattis. They reaffirmed the “excellent and longstanding” bilateral ties between the two countries, and Dr Ng added that this first meeting gave assurance of stability and progress, with the hope that they had “moved things towards a much more predictable and stable environment that we all hope for.”

Patrons of The Middle Ground enjoy priority access to our best stories. To become a patron, click here.

On the economic front: Finance minister Heng Swee Keat will deliver his budget address tomorrow afternoon, and following mixed reviews of the report and recommendations proffered by the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE), even more strategies are expected: to help displaced workers, to support small and medium enterprises through a high-cost environment, and to focus on macroeconomic changes. Mr Heng must also navigate around the growing predilection for protectionism and the threats of disruption to older industries, both of which leave Singapore vulnerable to lower economic growth rates as well as higher competition rates.

In other news, on another form of vulnerability: Malays in Singapore are three times more likely than the Chinese and two times more likely than the Indians to suffer from kidney failure, and over the past 10 years the kidney failure rate among Malays has increased by 50 per cent. Doctors and medical researchers have attributed these trends to the higher incidence of diabetes and high blood pressure, the levels of exercise and smoking, and delayed diagnosis too. Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob said health and wellness programmes are in place: “We need to focus more on the young, rather than waiting until [the] illness strikes.”

Overall, every two days in Singapore nine lose the use of their kidneys, and based on the number of patients on dialysis per million people, the country is ranked third in the world.

And finally, the Children’s Cancer Foundation (CCF) celebrated its 25th anniversary yesterday, and to complement its counselling endeavours and the projects to raise awareness of cancer in Singapore, the organisation is looking to help vulnerable beneficiaries through two new programmes – during the treatment period and beyond – to provide psychosocial support and nutritional care. CCF will be working with the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital on these new programmes.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

 

skillsfuture_300x250

ONE legend of Valentine’s Day says that Valentine was a Christian priest who lived around 300 AD in Rome. Marriage for young men was outlawed by the Roman Emperor Claudius II, who thought single men unencumbered by a wife and family would make better soldiers. Thinking the edict unjust, Valentine defied the emperor to continue secretly performing marriages for young couples. He was found out and executed in the end.

Leaving aside the question of how true the story is, it seems that opposition have always played a part in the Valentine’s Day narrative; not necessarily out of romance. For the people of these countries, they had cause to protest in the name of some other love:

 

1. Islamabad, Pakistan – court banned Valentine’s Day celebration

Pakistan

Image from Facebook user Sam Mugabe.

Pakistani florists and restauranteurs aren’t too happy. The Islamabad High Court banned all celebrations of Valentine’s Day in government offices and public spaces, with immediate effect. For the first time, flowers and heart-shaped balloons could not be sold on the streets of Islamabad. This came in response to a private petition arguing that Valentine’s Day was un-Islamic, as it promoted immorality, nudity and indecency under the guise of spreading love.

While conservative Pakistanis cheered the court order, younger and more liberal residents voiced their dissatisfaction at what they perceived as state interference in a non-issue. Many Pakistanis managed to circumvent this law, by celebrating the occasion in groups or holding private parties indoors.

At least one person was happy with the ban. USA Today reported that Ms Mehak Haque, 23, a communications student in Lahore, found Valentine’s Day to be “a dreadful day for all the single people out there… There is unwarranted pressure on those who don’t have a Valentine date or aren’t seeing anyone.”

You, our readers, are the reason we exist. Your contributions allow us to bring fair and balanced news to everyone, regardless of the ability to donate. Support us by being our patron.

 

2. Surabaya, Indonesia – students protested against Valentine’s Day

Indonesia

Image from Facebook user Surabaya Kita.

“Say No to Valentine!”

Students from one Muslim school in the city of Surabaya held a protest against Valentine’s Day on Monday (Feb 13). Protestors ranged from 13 to 15-year olds and included many girls wearing the hijab, or headscarf. They denounced Valentine’s Day as a Western occasion that encourages casual sex; something incompatible with Indonesian values.

Such sentiment is not new. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, has often seen Islamic clerics and religious leaders deride Valentine’s Day as a celebration of sexual immorality. In 2015, Indonesia’s Islamic clerical body even threatened to issue a fatwa, or a ruling under the Islamic law, against the sale of condoms, following reports they were sold together with chocolate to mark Valentine’s Day.

Despite these objections, many in Indonesia still enjoy the occasion, particularly in major cities such as Jakarta where cards and chocolates are widely available.

 

3. Mecca, Saudi Arabia – no longer so disapproving of Valentine’s Day

Saudi arabia

Image from Facebook user Sujit Pal.

While some Islamic countries are tightening regulations for Valentine’s Day, Saudi Arabia has done just the opposite. It kept to its efforts for reform under the leadership of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Salman, aimed at making Saudi Arabia more open to the world. This year for instance, flower shops throughout the Arab city, Jeddah, were selling custom-made Valentine boxes, including balloons and flowers, starting at 550 Saudi riyals (around SGD$209).

This is in stark contrast to previous years when religious police patrolled flower shops and confiscated  offending red roses they found. In 2012, more than 140 people were arrested for celebrating the event. This year however, celebrations were possible after the cabinet banned the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice from pursuing, questioning, requesting identification from or arresting suspects in April last year.

However, some florists in the kingdom still chose to avoid participating in the holiday to prevent controversy. “We have experienced problems in the past and I am not willing to go through the same dilemma again,” an anonymous florist in the city of Riyadh told Arab News.

 

4. New York, USA – charity drive named after a banned Valentine’s Day custom

Sofitel

Image by Facebook user Sofitel New York.

Here’s a Valentine’s Day nugget: New York Trend, a weekly news publication of New York city and Long Island, reported on 7 Feb that New York’s luxury hotel, Sofitel New York, was holding a charity drive named “Une Loterie d’Amour”, which translated to A Love Lottery. Like the legend of Valentine the priest, the hotel seemed to be making good out of a bad case. Because the charity drive, which lasted from Feb 1 till Feb 14, actually shared the same name as an old, outlawed French Valentine’s Day custom.

Hotel guests who donated to The Bowery Mission – which provided for poor and homeless New Yorkers – got to pick one of the red valentine envelopes hung from the window display at the hotel’s Gaby Brasserie Francaise restaurant. The envelopes were differentiated based on the currency denomination of the donation – USD$10, USD$25, USD$50, USD$100, USD$250 and USD$500. Prizes written inside ranged from one complimentary cocktail, a dinner or dessert for two, to a two-night Sofitel Los Angeles stay at Beverly Hills.

The historical “Une Loterie d’Amour” however, was not so loving. Singles of both sexes and all ages would enter houses opposite each other in the middle of February and shout through the windows for their desired partner. Unfortunately, should the female partner not come up to the man’s standards, the match was called off for him to continue with his search. Vengeful women left high and dry would gather before a ceremonial bonfire to hurl vulgarities at as well as burn the belongings of the men who did the rejecting. Behaviour got so bad during the Love Lottery that the authorities felt the whole custom had to be stopped.

Though Sofitel New York’s “Une Loterie d’Amour” shared faint echoes of the banned tradition, such as approaching a window and picking a prize, it is not confirmed if it drew inspiration from the past. More likely,  thankfulness, rather than hurt feelings, rounded off the modern “Une Loterie d’Amour”.

 

5. Paris, France – say no to love locks

love lock

Image by Facebook user Briony Wemyss.

Inscribed your name and your lover’s on a padlock, clip it to the railing of a bridge and throw the key into the river. This is the love lock – 21st century’s grand gesture of romantic love.

But there are those who thought walls of love locks on monuments unsightly and structurally hazardous to boot. In June 2014, part of Paris’s iconic bridge, the Pont des Arts, collapsed due to the sheer weight of the locks.

Two Parisian residents, Lisa Anselmo and Lisa Taylor Huff, had observed how the trend got out of hand from 2008 and decided to launch a “No Love Locks” campaign in January 2014. For four years running, it declared Valentine’s Day a “No Love Locks Day”.

Its 2014 petition, which called for a ban of love locks in France gathered more than 11,000 signatures. Though no formal ban was instituted, the city cleared all 45 tonnes of padlocks from the Pont des Arts in June 2015. Later in the same year, transparent panels replaced the mesh wires to discourage love locks from being clipped to the grilles.

The campaign continued because the problem has not been isolated to Pont des Arts. The organisers counted at least “10 bridges… the entire quay along the Seine, and several landmarks including the Eiffel Tower” affected by love locks. They were convinced that “only a ban will begin to make a permanent change in Paris, and save their historic landmarks”.

 

Featured image Earth by Flickr user Kevin Gill. (CC BY-SA 2.0) 

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

 

skillsfuture_300x250

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Black clock showing 8.30.

A GRAINY picture of an alleged Kim Jong Nam assassin has emerged. She sports a top that says “LOL” and was caught on camera at Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2.

Malaysian authorities say that they have arrested a 28-year-old woman with a Vietnamese passport over the assassination of North Korean “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, and are still looking for four men and one woman. It is unclear if the woman arrested is the one on the camera footage.

Then North Korean officials tried to block the autopsy of the late Mr Kim. They wanted to claim the body to be repatriated to North Korea but Malaysia would have none of it, although they did not say whether they would send the body to Mr Kim’s family, who are in Macau.

Fatal accidents have fallen in 2016 in all categories except those involving the elderly, says the annual Road Traffic Situation report. Accidents involving elderly pedestrians shot up by 19.6 per cent, and elderly pedestrian fatalities were up by 21.7 per cent, with 16 of the 28 deaths happening while they were jaywalking.

Speeding violations fell by 7.8 per cent to 172,192 last year and speed-related accidents fell 10.4 per cent to 1,081. But the Traffic Police want to do more: New Average Speed Cameras that track a vehicle’s speed over a stretch of up to 5km will be deployed on Singapore’s roads to “shape” driver behaviour.

PM Lee Hsien Loong has weighed in on the Syonan Gallery naming spat, saying that “we cannot erase our history or bury the past” and that the gallery was a “reminder of a traumatic period in our history and the suffering our pioneers experienced when Singapore lost its freedom and even its name.”

Signs in front of the building have been modified to show the full name of the exhibit, which is Syonan Gallery: War and its Legacies.

Does the name ruffle feathers? Sure it does. That’s the point, isn’t it? To be constantly reminded and constantly uncomfortable with a dark spot in our past so that we take pains to avoid it in the future. Does it honour or commemorate the Japanese Occupation? Hardly.

Perhaps critics of the gallery name should go to hell, by which we mean another in-your-face exhibit – at Haw Par Villa. That exhibit, though also “offensively” named is certainly not a tribute to hell, but a warning against reckless behaviour and a pointer to good living. Don’t believe? Just ask your grandmother.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

skillsfuture_300x250

Black clock showing 8.30.

NORTH Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s half-brother has been assassinated at the budget terminal of Kuala Lumpur International Airport, apparently by North Korean agents. Mr Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son of former leader Kim Jong Il, was estranged from the reclusive leader and spent much of his time outside the hermit kingdom. He had spoken out against his brother’s regime.

Reports vary. South Korean TV Chosun said that the elder Mr Kim had been attacked by two women with poisoned needles. ST’s online version said that a woman covered his face with a cloth laced with some liquid. And Today reported that he had been splashed in the face with a liquid. By the time he got to the airport clinic, he had a headache and felt dizzy. He then experienced a seizure and died on the way to the hospital. Police are searching for the killers.

The high-profile killing comes as North Korea is embroiled in an international incident for its latest ballistic missile test. Pyongyang rejected criticism by the United Nations, saying that the test was part of its development of self-defence capabilities.

Over here in Singapore, it is Total Defence Day and to mark the occasion, air raid sirens island-wide will sound at 6:20pm in memory of the fall of Singapore 75 years ago.

Some upbeat news about airports is that tourist numbers in 2016 are a new record for Singapore. Tourist arrivals grew by 7.7 per cent to 16.4 million and tourist spending rose 13.9 per cent to $24.8 billion, according to Singapore Tourism Board’s initial estimates.

Indonesian arrivals pipped Chinese visitors, although the Chinese spent more. Accommodation, food and beverage and shopping spending grew the most, while entertainment, sightseeing and gaming spending shrank by 16 per cent in the first nine months of 2016.

With tourism and manufacturing on a rise, is the economy expected to perform better in 2017?

We know for sure, though, that none of these tourist dollars will be going to the Sungei Road Thieves’ Market after July 10. The iconic landmark – Singapore’s last free hawking zone – will be shut down to make way for high-rise residential developments.

The market had already been halved in 2011 to build an MRT station, and hawkers will likewise be left out in the cold this time, with no alternative arrangements made for them to ply their trade.

What else is cold? This morning’s temperatures hit as low as 22.6 degrees celsius in the eastern part of Singapore, in keeping with an earlier National Environment Agency forecast of a possible 22-degree low. Temperature in the central area was about 23 degrees celsius.

Twenty-two Singaporeans who won’t mind the cold are the athletes going to represent our country at the Asian Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan. The games start on Sunday and Singapore will compete in short-track speed skating, figure skating and ice hockey.

What we want to know is how we can watch the action! Will it be on TV?

 

Featured image from TMG file.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

 

skillsfuture_300x250

CAN we tell when a tree will fall? The National Parks Board (Nparks) was quick to say that all trees in the Singapore Botanic Gardens’ Palm Valley had been inspected and were safe, after a woman was killed and four others were injured by a falling heritage tree on Saturday (Feb 11).

But at the same time, authorities were quick to point out that the fallen 270-year old tree had been inspected in September 2016 and was healthy. So, is the announcement about healthy trees supposed to reassure the public, or is it that any tree could fall, even a seemingly healthy one?

The Middle Ground needs your support to continue serving up credible, balanced and independent news. Help us make a difference by being our patron! Thanks!

A North Korean ballistic missile test was testing US President Donald Trump’s reaction to the hermit kingdom. Mr Trump said that the US is “behind Japan, its great ally, 100 per cent”, and issued a joint statement rebuking North Korea for the launch.

White House adviser Stephen Miller also said that the US would “reinforce and strengthen our vital alliances in the Pacific region as part of our strategy to deter and prevent the increasing hostility that we’ve seen in recent years from the North Korean regime.”

The reaction hints at Mr Trump’s willingness to get tougher on Pyongyang than previous administrations did. Which policy levers he will use to put pressure on the North, however, are not yet clear.

Mr Trump also said he will bring down the cost of the wall he wants to build along the Mexican border. The initial cost estimated was for US$21.6 million, much higher than the US$12 million figure that Mr Trump had floated during his presidential campaign trail. He pointed to how the cost of the F-35 and Air Force One projects dropped after he got involved, tweeting that for the wall, the “price will come WAY DOWN!”

Another wall to come down is the one between Singapore’s Jobs Bank website and the Individual Learning Portfolio ran by SkillsFuture Singapore. The new site will integrate training, learning and landing a job, and could provide data on training and job matching, helping to guide individual choices and pathways as well as policy-level decisions. The Jobs Bank will also be enhanced this year based on feedback from users.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

by Ryan Ong

PRESIDENT Donald Trump disappointed the markets last week, when his news brief failed to touch on expected stimulus measures. Last year, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a USD$73 billion (SGD$103.7 billion) stimulus measure, in the vain hope he might actually convince a Japanese person to spend a yen someday. And with Singapore’s upcoming Budget 2017, business owners are probably hoping for policies that provide a stimulus. But what exactly is a stimulus?

FOR a paper published in this month’s issue of the Environmental Research Letters journal, Ms Yuan Lin, Mr Lahiru Wijedasa and Dr Ryan Chisholm from the National University of Singapore (NUS) asked 390 people of varying ages and income brackets this: from a range of 0.05 per cent to 5 per cent, how much of one’s annual income is worth giving to secure clean air?

About 0.97 per cent, it turns out. In real terms, that amounts to USD$643.5 million (SGD$913 million) a year.

Transboundary haze is a long-standing problem in the South-east Asian region, largely caused by the drainage of carbon-rich peatland as well as companies and farmers in Indonesia using fire to clear land. Singapore experienced its worst haze episode in 2015 from September to November, with the Pollutant Standards Index hitting hazardous levels.

“[Sufficiently] negative impacts” from the air pollution make compelling enough the reason to trade-off “personal financial gain” for an improved environment, the NUS researchers concluded. At least it is, to a certain point, and to most people. Three out of 10 interviewees remained unconvinced of the need to pay at all.

The underlying challenge between personal comfort and environmental responsibility is valid too for people of these countries. 

 

1. Beijing, China – smog data control tightened

beijing

Image from Flickr user Kevin Dooley.

It was announced on Tuesday (Feb 7) in People’s Daily, China’s state newspaper, that the Beijing government has established a national network that will track the smog affecting several major cities. It will use a combination of data gathered from manual sampling stations, satellite sensing and airborne platforms to generate reports about the air quality. This national system replaces the manual smog tracking system of local meteorological stations, which smog alert services the China Meteorological Administration suspended on Jan 17.

The People’s Daily’s article reported that this change of monitoring structure was to better pollution reduction and prevent falsified data. Last year in October, environmental protection officials in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, were caught producing false numbers about the air quality by tampering with the monitoring equipment.

Public anger against China’s infamous smog condition has been rising. When the local smog alert service was suspended, citizens took to severely criticising the authorities online and raising suspicions of information suppression. Independent media outlets have complained about being told to take down articles that are derisive of Beijing’s efforts.  A Peking University study published on Feb 4, 2015, claiming that the smog had caused 257,000 excess deaths in 31 Chinese cities cannot be found online.

The Middle Ground needs your support to continue serving up credible, balanced and independent news. Help us make a difference by being our patron! Thanks!

 

2. Fukushima, Japan – radiation reading the highest since 2011

fukushima

Image from Wikimedia Commons by Digital Globe.

On Monday (Feb 6), China urged the Japanese government to detail plans on how to tackle the radiation from the broken reactors of the defunct Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. It was responding to utility operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) revelation that radiation level in the containment vessel of reactor 2 was at 530 sieverts per hour.

This is the highest reading calculated since the March 2011 meltdown of the three reactors in the plant, triggered by an earthquake and tsunami and followed a few days later with the breaking down of the fourth reactor. The previous highest reading was 73 sieverts per hour.

According to Japan’s National Institute of Radiological Sciences, 4 sieverts of radiation exposure already would kill 1 in 2 people. Japan Times, an English language newspaper in Japan, reported that experts have claimed this reading as “unimaginable” and that an institute official said medical professionals have never considered dealing with this level of radiation.

Mr Azby Brown, a member of a radiation-monitoring citizen science organisation called Safecast cautioned against unnecessary alarm by noting that this reading reflected radiation activity inside the reactor and not what was happening in the wider area of Fukushima.

 

3. Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia – toxic smog failed to abate

mongolia

Image from Flickr user Einar Fredriksen.

Reuters, the international news agency, produced an article this week about the smog that has been shrouding the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar, created from the smoke from thousands of chimneys. The World Health Organisation has set acceptable standard of harmful breathable particles existing in the air, known as PM2.5, at 20-25 micrograms per cubic metre. Late last month, the reading in Ulaanbaatar hit 855 micrograms per cubic metre, at least over 30 times that limit.

But this pollution is also a socio-economic problem.  About 80 per cent of the smog comes from what is known as the “ger” districts found at the edge of the city, said Mr Tsogtbaatar Byamba, director of Mongolia’s Institute of Public Health. “Ger” districts are a mass of traditional tents, housing ex-herders who migrated to the city upon losing all their livestock to the harsh environment and weather conditions. Winter could be fierce in Ulaanbaatar and these poor would burn whatever they can get their hands on – coal, wood and even trash – to keep warm.

To tackle the smog, the Mayor of Ulaanbaatar, Mr S. Batbold, had announced on Jan 9 measures that heightened restriction of migrants to the capital. It would accept only those who need long-term medical care, already owning homes or mortgage loan.

Still, the pollution failed to abate. So, on Jan 28, near 7,000 protestors gathered in the capital’s Chinggis Square to signal their dissatisfaction against the authorities’ inability to improve air condition.

 

4. London, United Kingdom – multiple failings in applying environmental laws

london

Image from Flickr user David Holt.

The European Commission released the Environmental Implementation Review on Monday (Feb 6) which pointed at the United Kingdom (UK) as one of the 23 member states within the European Union (EU) that failed to meet air pollution quality standards.

The review aimed to improve implementation of EU’s current environmental legislation and policies, which UK has been in breach of since 2010 when it first crossed safety limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2). In fact, within just five days of 2017, it was reported that London overshot its annual air pollution limit. Not only has UK failed in effectively applying laws on air quality, laws on water standards and conservation of several species, particularly marine porpoises, have not been followed. Until the Brexit deal is realised, UK remains obliged to fulfill all EU’s environmental regulations.

According to the review, about 50,000 Britons have died prematurely from illnesses related to the country’s air pollution. Also, six million working days are wasted, at the cost of €28 billion (or SGD$49.7 billion) per year.

 

5. Dakota, United States – US Army has given approval to complete Dakota Access pipeline

Dakota

Image from Wikimedia Commons by Pax Ahimsa Gethen.

On Tuesday (Feb 7), the United States (US) Army granted the last permit, or easement, needed to allow the final section of the Dakota Access oil pipeline to be built under North Dakota’s Lake Oahe, which forms part of the Missouri River system. Should construction process goes well, the USD$3.8 billion pipeline can begin operation by June.

This project became controversial because of resistance by The Standing Rock Sioux, a native American tribe which contended that the pipeline desecrates sacred sites and could potentially pollute its water source. Protest camps sprung up in the North Dakota plains, where thousands gathered last year to show their support for the tribe. Activists clashed several times with law enforcers, with more than 600 people arrested. In late November, the police even used water cannons in the -4°C weather against them. The previous US president, Mr Barack Obama, allowed a delay in the completion of the pipeline because of this protest and instructed last December for an environmental study to be carried out.

However, the suspension of the project was overturned when the current president, Trump, ordered on Jan 24 a continuation of the construction. Supporters of the pipeline believe that it is safer to transport oil using a pipeline than by rail or trucks. Then, less than a fortnight after, the Army said that it would cancel the study. Mr Robert Speer, the acting secretary of the Army stated that there was already enough information on the likely effect on the environment to make a decision about whether to grant the easement.

The tribe and its supporters are not accepting the recent development. Mr Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, one of the activist groups, promised even greater “mass resistance”.

 

Featured image Earth by Flickr user Kevin Gill. (CC BY-SA 2.0) 

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Black clock showing 8.30

THE Trump travel ban stays lifted after US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declined to order a stay on a federal judge James Robart’s order to lift the ban completely.

Judge Robart had ruled on Friday that the ban be lifted, and the White House responded with the appeal on Saturday evening, US time. The Justice Department now has to file a counter-response by Monday afternoon.

The stage is set for a showdown between the executive and judiciary over the Trump administration’s immigration policy.

While the ban stays lifted, many have taken the opportunity to make their way to airports to rejoin their family in the US and complete legal travel arrangements. The legal battle is expected to last for a week or more.

The Middle Ground needs your support to continue serving up credible, balanced and independent news. Help us make a difference by being our patron! Thanks!

Singapore is expected to book a healthy budget surplus for the financial year ending March 31, 2017. This will set the tone for the next budget to be announced on Feb 20 by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat.

The surplus comes mostly off a bumper net investment returns (NIR) contribution – up to half of the long-term expected real returns of MAS, GIC and Temasek. The income from NIR is expected to be $14.7 billion for Budget 2016.

The total budget surplus is expected to be somewhere between $3.5 billion and $6.7 billion. Just think about all that extra money. What would the country spend it on? Most pundits think that the G will spend it to help companies and shore up weak spots in the economy.

Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said that he can’t see how Malaysia’s new documents from the UK’s archives would change the judgement that the international courts had made on Singapore’s sovereignty over Pedra Branca.

He included the caveat that he was speaking without the benefit of legal advice, and also said that the issue would not strain bilateral ties. As a matter of fact, he welcomed the resolution of differences via a neutral international tribunal.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

by Ryan Ong

BACK when President Donald Trump said he was going to fight a trade war with China, the business community only took him half-seriously. Any Trump statement was assumed to be 80 per cent bovine excrement, 10 per cent badly distorted fact and 10 per cent Russian bribery. But now that he’s in power, Trump seems serious about helping America to commit suicide. So stock up on canned food, and start learning how to conduct DIY dental surgery. We don’t know whether America or China will win this fight, but we sure as hell know we’ll be the ones who lose: