June 22, 2017

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BB BE: Relax & Vote

ELECTIONS serve to be pivotal in leadership transition in the higher echelons of leadership in the public sector. It determines the country’s leaders and major decisions that will affect the people and the country on a global level. An election is thus an event that is anticipated.

In Singapore, taking into account the constitutional changes in the Elected Presidency last year and the announcement that this year’s presidential elections will be reserved for candidates from the Malay community, Singaporeans will definitely be looking forward to being part of the journey in choosing the next president of Singapore in September this year.

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Here are some leadership transition in the world to look out for:

1. Berlin, Germany – Angela Merkel runs for fourth term 

Dr Angela Merkel. Image by Alexander.kurz from Wikimedia Commons. 

The German federal election has been set on September 24 this year to elect the members of the Bundestag, the legislative body of Germany. Members serve four year terms with elections held every four years unless the Bundestag is dissolved by the president before the said four years.

German chancellor Angela Merkel’s party has won an election in the small southwestern state of Saarland, which is an indication of a trend for the upcoming election in September. Dr Angela Merkel will be running for the fourth term this year. The leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) received criticisms for her controversial open-door policy. In September last year, her approval rating fell to a five year low of just 45 per cent.

Far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD) has gained popularity in the wake of the migrant crisis and Brexit victory in the UK. Former European Parliament President Martin Schulz is standing for the SDP in a bid to become Germany’s next Chancellor.

The Head of the Warsaw office of the European Council on Foreign Relations Mr Piotr Buras said that “despite the criticism of Merkel and her sinking support, a majority of voters support the idea of her remaining Chancellor.” He expects the coalition – made up of the Christian Democrats and SDP – to remain in power after the election. He added that there was an outside chance of a coalition between the SNP, Green Party and left-wing populist party Die Linke.

Dr Merkel has been the chancellor of Germany since 2005 and the leader of the CDU since 2000.

2. Tehran, Iran – 12th Presidential election: President Rouhani runs for a second term

President Hassan Rouhani. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Iran will be holding its 12th Presidential election on May 19 this year.

Cabinet spokesperson Mohammad Bagher Nowbakht said that President Hassan Rouhani will be running for a second term and that he will be the only cabinet minister registering in the upcoming elections. Mr Rouhani is the current and seventh President of Iran. Tasnim news agency reported that a conservative cleric Mr Ebrahim Raisi will run for Iran’s presidency as well. This new candidate “has transformed the race, potentially unifying opponents to President Hassan Rouhani in a strong challenge to his re-election,” Bloomberg Politics reported. Mr Raisi declared his candidacy a day after two other conservatives “bowed out”.

An associate fellow at the Chatham House (the Royal Institute of International Affairs) described the upcoming elections as a “very serious race with huge consequences.”

3. Beijing, China – 19th Chinese Communist Party National Congress

From left to right: (Politburo Standing Committee) Zhang Gaoli, Liu Yunshan, Zhang Dejiang, Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, Yu Zhengsheng and Wang Qishan. Image from Getty Images by Feng Li 

While the People’s Republic of China does not hold democratic elections, 2017 is an important year for China politically as the Chinese Communist Party will be hosting the 19th National Congress in autumn this year, which will likely determine the country’s top leadership.

In this leadership transition, around 60 per cent of the party’s leaders will retire, including 11 out of the 25 member Politburo and five out of seven members of the country’s powerful Politburo Standing Committee. The only two not retiring in the incumbent group are President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. This event is critical as it will not only affect how China is governed, it will also have an impact on President Xi’s political posture and the continuity of Chinese leadership.

According to Managing Director and Head of China Macro Research for Credit Suisse Mr Vincent Chan, the National Congress “goes a long way in deciding the top leadership around President Xi Jinping and how far he could consolidate his power, and potentially creates conditions for him to extend his rule in China beyond 2022 (his scheduled retirement date)”. In Mr Chan’s words, this meeting could decide China’s political landscape during the next decade.

4. Paris, France – French Presidential Elections

From left to right: Mr Francois Fillon, Mr Emmanuel Macron, Mr Jean-Luc Melenchon, Ms Marine Le Pen, and Mr Benoit Hamon.  Image from Reuters.

The French will be going to the ballot boxes in April and May of 2017. The presidential candidates will first run against one another on April 23. If no candidate gets half the vote, the top two candidates will compete against each other in a run-off vote on May 7.

This election comes as a surprise as french elections are usually a fierce contest between the conservative Les Republicans and the left-wing Socialist Party. Yet, this year, the limelight is mainly on candidates from neither of the two parties.

Battered by his lack of popular support, incumbent French President Francois Hollande will not be seeking re-election. There are five prominent candidates running for the presidency this April – Mr Emmanuel Macron, Ms Marine Le Pen, Mr Francois Fillon, Mr Jean-Luc Melenchon and Mr Benoit Hamon.

Mr Emmanuel Macron, an ex-banker and former economy minister, is currently hailed as the centrist front-runner as the presidential candidate of his centrist party En Marche. Mr Macron is staunchly pro-Europe and a social liberal. Trailing behind Mr Macron is Ms Marine Le Pen, a former lawyer and leader of National Front. Ms Le Pen has promised to take France out of the euro and the Schengen open-border zone, reintroduce the franc and tighten border controls and trade barriers. She is not dismissing the possibility of calling a referendum on leaving the European Union if the bloc isn’t agreeable to her requests of a radical treaty renegotiation. Third in the polls is former Prime Minister and Thatcherite, Mr Francois Fillon of Les Republicans. Mr Fillon began his campaign as a front-runner in 2017 but saw his popular support plummet after a French newspaper accused him of fictitiously employing his British wife, Mrs Penelope Fillon, using public funds. Despite the ‘Penelopegate’ scandal, Mr Fillon will still run for president and enjoys the loyal support of traditionalist Catholics.

The other two notable candidates in the race are ex-education minister Mr Benoit Hamon who is backed by the Socialists and Mr Jean-Luc Mélenchon of left-wing Unsubmissive France. However, it is unlikely that either will make it through the first round of elections in April.

All eyes are on the French elections as the results would not only affect France, but also the European Union and the rest of the world.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Lee Chin Wee

HE SHIVERED. Night duties were the worst.

You’d think the scariest part of working in a morgue would be having to see dead bodies; but no, seeing dead bodies was fine. Corpses don’t hurt anyone – they just lie there limply in the storage area, waiting for their last rites and send-off.

No, the scariest part is when you don’t see a dead body when it’s supposed to be there. Because then, you have to figure out where it went – which means walking through deserted hospital corridors illuminated by fluorescent light, accompanied only by the gentle whirring of the air-conditioning.

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At that exact moment, the lights decided to flicker – briefly, but enough to make his hair stand on end. Stop scaring yourself, he thought. Already hard having to do extra duties after the break-in, now you still want to scared this scared that.

The North Koreans had to be mad. First, they used a chemical weapon to kill one of their people in broad daylight. Then, they claim that he died of a heart attack when everyone knows that’s rubbish. Then, they drive their embassy cars straight into the morgue and refuse to leave! What did they expect, that the Malaysian government would invite them in for teh and give them the body? Ridiculous.

That was a terrible day to be on guard duty, though.

He thinks that the North Koreans behaved like children. When they realised that standing outside the entrance and complaining to the duty officer wasn’t going to get them anywhere, they tried to distract the guards. He remembered how two North Koreans tried to distract the front desk guards by throwing a fit, then sending a third member round the back to find another entrance. Luckily, he just so happened to be taking a smoke break at that spot – the intruder had barely taken three steps towards the back door before he was ushered back to the carpark.

And don’t even start with the attempted break-in. He wasn’t on duty that night, but he’d heard from a friend that it was a complete farce. Three people dressed in all-black (possibly the three North Koreans who’d parked their cars outside the morgue) were caught on CCTV prying open the front gate and forcing their way into the morgue.

And here’s the kicker: After going through so much trouble to retrieve the body (and creating so much more work for hospital security), the North Koreans still dared to claim that the dead person isn’t Kim Jong Nam! He smirked. How can, when the hospital has done so many DNA and forensic tests?

There even were rumours that Kim’s son would be arriving in KL to identify and claim the corpse. The rumours were first spread a few weeks ago, but no one at the hospital has heard anything since. Perhaps it’s for the better – another assassination at the airport and yet another high-value North Korean dead body ending up in the mortuary would be a very bad idea.

Particularly now, with the media speculating that the Malaysian government was negotiating with the North Koreans to send the body back to their country. That would be a massive relief – hell, he’d pay for the transport fees himself if it meant not having to work overtime almost every day.

But will Malaysia agree to hand the corpse over? He recalled the Health Minister recently saying that the government would allow only Kim’s family members to claim his body. But the Minister also said, “the next of kin have not come forward to provide assistance on how the body is to be treated”.

But then, two days ago, Hassan was asked to drive Kim’s body from the hospital to the nearby funeral parlour. How come? No one said anything, but the staff suspected that preparation was being made to send it back to the North Koreans. But then Hassan received orders to transport the body back to the morgue.

Typical lah, our government. Left hand don’t know what the right hand is doing. If he had to do another month of additional night duty, he’d kill someone – just not a North Korean.

He smirked. Sometimes humour helped make time pass faster. Suddenly, his phone beeped – a short, sharp sound that cut straight through the uneasy silence in the morgue. He turned the screen on. The WhatsApp message was from Hassan: Bro, I kena driver duty again. Dis time they wan me to bring body bk to funeral parlour, den the news say that we returning the body to NK so they give us bk our people trapped there.

One dead body in exchange for nine Malaysians that the North Koreans were detaining illegally in their country? Seems very unfair, but it wasn’t his business to interfere in this kind of thing. If luck would have it, this might even be his last week doing extra night duty. Dreams do come true after all.

At that precise moment, the lights flickered again, then turned off. It seemed that power trips had a dark sense of humour.

 

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“WHEN they call the roll in the Senate, the Senators do not know whether to answer ‘Present’ or ‘Not Guilty.” A humorous but depressing statement by Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th American president, describing the high and disappointing levels of corruption present in the American Senate.

Politicians are holders of public office. In a democracy, politicians are elected into the Government to represent the people and make legislative or executive decisions for the welfare of the country. Taking this into consideration, it is only normal to expect politicians to be individuals worthy of respect for their capabilities, moral compass and sincerity in serving the country.

However, despite the expectations placed on these politicians, corruption remains a persistent problem around the world. Unfortunately, according to Transparency International, no country achieved a score close to perfect in the Corruption Perceptions Index 2016.

In fact, over two-thirds of the 176 countries and territories in this year’s index fall below the midpoint of Transparency International’s scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). The global average score is a paltry 43, indicating endemic corruption in a country’s public sector.

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Despite the dismal global situation, Singapore was ranked the top 7th country in the world in terms of the Corruption Perceptions Index. The relatively higher ranking Singapore enjoys compared to the rest of the world could be attributed to the G’s zealous commitment to remain a corruption-free society through the institutionalisation of anti-corruption tools such as the Prevention of Corruption Act and Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau.

Albeit increased efforts to curb corruption amongst the higher echelons of public sector leadership such as President Xi Jin Ping’s anti-corruption campaign in the People’s Republic of China, we still observe a handful of high profile corruption cases. As politicians are often put in the spotlight and placed on the pedestal, their mistakes become glaringly obvious and intolerable to the public. Often times, their mistakes can potentially threaten their entire political career.

Here are some of the politicians around the world who have gotten into serious trouble due to corruption, bribery, and abuse of power.
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1. Seoul, South Korea – President Park Geun-hye arrested on Friday (Mar 31)

Image from Wikimedia Commons. 

Park Geun-hye, former President of South Korea who was in office since 2013 was impeached on 10 March. South Korea’s top court has ruled to end Ms Park’s presidency over a corruption scandal. This is the first time a South Korean President has been expelled before the end of his or her term.

The 65-year-old former President was accused to have conspired with a friend and former presidential aide Choi Soon-sil to have asked for a 77.4 billion won (SGD$96.3 million) donation from 16 major businesses, including Samsung, to support her policy initiatives via two foundations. The companies, when investigated, claimed that they could not refuse as they feared business disadvantages in the form of government tax investigations. Her friend Choi Soon-sil was also accused of accepting bribes from the heir of Samsung group Lee Jae-Young.

She was arrested on Friday (Mar 31) on charges relating to abuse of power and bribery.

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2. Buenos Aires, Argentina – Fourth case against former Argentine President 

Image from Wikimedia Commons. 

Former Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was indicted on Dec 27 last year in a corruption case. Federal judge Julian Ercolini approved the charges of illicit association and fraudulent administration. Ms Cristina denied them and defended that she was a victim of persecution. In May, she was indicted for manipulating currency exchanges, that allegedly caused economic damage to the government.

In recent news, she again defended herself from corruption allegations, claiming that she was a victim of “judicial persecution” and a media “witch hunt”. This is the fourth case to reach Cristina since she left office in December two years ago. Euronews reported: The charges relate to allegations of illegal enrichment using a family real estate company called Los Sauces, located in the southern Santa Cruz province. The judge has been given 10 days to either put Ms Cristina on trial or dismiss the case.

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3. Washington D.C, U.S.A – Michael Flynn resigns within one month as National Security Adviser

Image by Flickr user Jim Mattis.

Retired United States (US) Army lieutenant general Michael Flynn resigned on February 13 this year as National Security Adviser when it came to light that he provided wrong information to Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials about his conversations with Russian Ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak.

A week before President Trump’s inauguration, he said that he had given “incomplete information” about a phone call with the ambassador pertaining American sanctions against Russia. Initially, he denied that he had any meaningful conversation with him and Vice President Mike Pence mentioned this in a TV interview. The White House then received a warning from the Justice Department that Mr Michael was not honest about his phone calls with the ambassador.

In his resignation letter, the former National Security Adviser said: “Unfortunately, because of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the vice president-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador, I have sincerely apologized to the president and the vice president, and they have accepted my apology.”

In the latest news, the retired lieutenant general requested for immunity to testify on the alleged Russian election meddling, according to his lawyer Robert Kelner. The lawyer said that his client “has a story to tell”, but needs to guard against “unfair prosecution”. President trump has shown his support for Michael Flynn’s request.
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4. Paris, France – French Presidential Candidate’s wife, Penelope Fillon, charged for embezzlement of public funds

Image by Agence France-Presse photographer Eric Feferberg.

On 28 March, French presidential candidate Francois Fillon’s wife, Penelope Fillon, was charged with being paid the best part of €1 million for doing nothing as parliamentary assistant to her husband and his successor as MP between 1986 and 2013.  Penelope also faces separate charges of concealed misuse of funds for being paid €100,000 by a literary magazine owned by her husband’s wealthy friend.

Penelope Fillon, a British-born, was extremely public averse until she was embroiled in the political scandal involving the misappropriation of public funds, which is also dubbed as ‘PenelopeGate’.  The entire ‘PenlopeGate’ scandal has effectively poisoned her husband’s political career, causing Francois Fillon, previously a front-runner of the presidential elections, to sink in polls. He is now trailing in third place behind Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen.

Despite being involved in the messy political scandal, Francois Fillon has not broken under pressure and insists on running to become France’s next president. Additionally, there are concerns that tensions might arise if Francois Fillon becomes the president as he will enjoy total immunity from prosecutions while the country’s potential First Lady might undergo further questioning and stand trial during his tenure.
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Featured image from TMG file.
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UBER is putting the brakes on its pilot program for driverless cars after this crash on a Tempe, Arizona roadway.

Police say the accident happened Saturday when a driver failed to yield to the Uber vehicle while making a turn. The force of the collision sent the driverless SUV rolling onto its side.

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Two safety drivers were in the front seats of the Uber vehicle, which was in self-driving mode.

There were no serious injuries. But the investigation prompted Uber to ground its ongoing experiment with autonomous vehicles in Arizona, Pittsburgh and San Francisco.

Uber launched the pilot program last year, saying driverless cars “require human intervention in many conditions, including bad weather”. It also said the new technology had the potential to reduce the number of traffic accidents in the country.

Saturday’s incident is not the first time a self-driving car has crashed.

Last year, a Florida driver operating a Tesla Model S in autopilot mode was killed in a collision with a truck. And a Google self-driving vehicle in California smashed into a bus while trying to navigate around it.

The latest crash coming just days after Uber’s former president Jeff Jones quit less than seven months into the job, the latest in a string of high-level departures. -REUTERS

 

Featured image from Wikipedia Commons. CC BY-SA 2.0

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by The Middle Ground

FAKE news doesn’t just spread misinformation and hate – it costs companies money too.

It is predicted that out of $80 billion of digital ad spending in 2017, over $16 billion will be eaten up by problematic content – the placing of advertisements next to unsavoury material, for instance, could hurt instead of help a company’s brand image.

A recent Times of London investigation revealed that YouTube channels promoting hate speech were earning tens of thousands of dollars thanks to ads placed by Google. Volkswagen ads, for instance, were shown on the channel of Wagdi Ghoneim – an extremist who has been banned from entering Britain for promoting terrorism.

As hundreds of companies in the UK pull their ads from Google, the company has been forced to announce new measures that will allow advertisers to avoid displaying their messages next to hate speech and fake news.

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Google’s move demonstrates that ad networks (and tech companies which profit off ads) can no longer be cavalier about where they place clients’ messages, or about the kind of content they allow on their networks. After criticism that it was not doing enough to prevent the spread of fake news, Facebook rolled out a fact-checking alert four days ago (Mar 22), notifying readers if the facts of an article are disputed by reputable sources.

Back home, fake news is causing consternation among local policy-makers and politicians. During the Committee of Supply debates on March 6, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information, noted that there is a need to “harmonise legislature for the technological and online space”. He emphasised the G’s position that when online content is “directly targeting Singaporeans”, there is a need to ensure that it is “in line with our community values, including the need to uphold racial and religious harmony”.

Amendments to both the Film and Broadcasting Acts are due to be announced soon. Dr Yaacob indicated that more will be revealed, after consultation with the business community and the public.

This is a whole-of-government concern: In response to the Court of Appeal’s ruling against the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) in which Mindef was found to not qualify as a “person” under Section 15 of the Protection Online Harassment Act, the Ministry of Law issued a statement condemning the “scourge of false information.”

“Everyone, including the Government, should be entitled to point out falsehoods which are published and have the true facts brought to public attention,” said a MinLaw spokesman. “The Government needs to take steps to protect the public and Singapore’s institutions from the very real dangers posed by the spread of false information.”

In light of the controversy surrounding the spread of fake news, we take a closer look at what countries and tech companies are doing in response to this phenomenon.

 

1. Berlin, Germany – Facebook to potentially face “fake news fines” of up to €50 million (SG$75.5 million)

Image from Wikipedia Commons

Mr Heiko Maas, the German justice minister, has proposed new regulations to crack down on social media companies like Facebook and Twitter for publishing fake news. Social media companies may be fined up to €50 million (SG$75.5 million) if they fail to remove flagged posts.

Social media companies will have to delete offending material within one week. This doesn’t just include fake news, but also illegal content such as hate speech or racist language. Companies will also have to run 24-hour helplines for concerned users.

The proposals are more extensive than previous suggestions to impose €500,000 (SG$755,000) fines on the companies. This is part of a Bill that will be put to the German Parliament in an effort to combat malicious activity and disinformation campaigns online.

The German federal elections are due to be held in September this year. The proposed Bill aims to address fears that online hoaxes could influence the election outcome in favour of populist right-wing parties like the Alternative for Germany (AfD).

 

2. Beijing, China – The “Great Firewall” blocks out non-mainstream news; fake or otherwise

Image from Flickr

In November last year, Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-affiliated tabloid The Global Times weighed in on the fake news debate, saying that the controversy only strengthened the Chinese government’s case for controlling the internet.

In an editorial titled “Western Media’s Crusade Against Facebook”, the Global Times asked pointedly: “So long as the mainstream media is free and open, online rumours would do no harm in the big picture – isn’t that the consistent argument from the West?” It argued that, in trying to curb rumours and fake news, the West was being hypocritical in its push for free speech.

The CCP has long used the “Great Firewall” to limit Chinese citizens’ access to information. Social media sites Facebook and Twitter are blocked in the country, and Google withdrew its services in 2010, protesting the Chinese government’s onerous regulatory demands.

Fake news, however, is not the only thing that is censored. Politically-sensitive content, like references to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, is also blocked. Many have criticised the CCP for its authoritarian habits, including artist and civil activist Ai Wei Wei, who has condemned the government for using “brute power to control information”

 

3. Brussels, Belgium – EU has 11-person task force to combat Russian disinformation

Image from Wikipedia Commons

In light of on-going political developments in the European Union (EU) – the French, German and Dutch elections, it is unsurprising that EU leaders are taking action to combat the rise of fake news and anti-EU propaganda aiming to stir up anti-establishment sentiments.

To this end, the EU has a task-force that tackles the problem of fake news in Europe – the East Stratcom. East Stratcom, an 11- person team consisting of diplomats, bureaucrats and former journalists, serves as Europe’s front line against fake news. It was created by EU to combat “Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaigns”. In the 16 months since its inception, it has discredited 2,500 stories (many with links to Russia). But it’s facing an uphill task given the volume of fake news.

Apart from the team in Brussels, similar groups to tackle fake news were formed in countries such as Finland and the Czech Republic. Countries are also enhancing online security to address potential hacking attacks and European media outlets are improving fact-checking mechanisms to prevent false reporting.

On top of taking action, EU and its members are also pressurising social media companies such as Facebook to take a stronger position against fake news or face action from Brussels as a consequence.

 

4. California, United States – Facebook partners with fact-checkers to tag “disputed” articles

Image from Flickr

In response to allegations that the phenomenon of Facebook becoming a platform where ‘fake news’ proliferate is in its business interest, Mr Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, asserted that Facebook is also a victim of ‘fake news’ but it is extremely difficult for the site to clamp down on ‘fake news’ as “it’s not always clear what is fake and what isn’t”.

Still, Facebook has taken action to combat ‘fake news’ by rolling out its third-party fact-checking tool which informs users of “disputed content”. The site is partnering with five independent fact-checkers: ABC News, Associated Press, FactCheck.org, Politifact and Snopes.

When a story published is proven to be false, users attempting to share the disputed story will see a red alert stating that the article has been disputed by the relevant independent fact-checkers. Users who clicked on that warning will be greeted with more information about the disputed content.

Even when users choose to ignore the warning and publish the story, there will be another pop-up reiterating that the accuracy of the story has been disputed. When the user clicks “Post anyway”, other users who view the shared story on their timelines will be able to see that the story has been disputed.

On top of independent fact-checkers, the site will pass a story to third parties to fact-check if sufficient numbers of users report a story as fake.

However, the new tool was only made available to a limited number of users. This is unsurprising as Facebook is known to test pilot features on a small group of users before applying them across the entire site.

 

5. California, United States – Google deploys “anti-fake news army”

Image from Pixabay

Google is employing a team of 10,000 content-monitor contractors to examine “fake news” articles, in the hopes of restricting the spread of questionable content.

The Google contractors are not new hires – they are known as quality raters, and have long been assessing search results for accuracy. However, Google is now asking them to qualitatively examine search requests and to rate the results that follow. Content that is “offensive-upsetting”, as Google terms it, will be highlighted. It also aims to identify information that is “demonstrably inaccurate”.

“Offensive-upsetting” content includes material that “promotes hate or violence against a group of people based on criteria including (but not limited to) race or ethnicity, nationality or citizenship.” This may include racial slurs, child abuse, and instructional information on terrorist attacks.

Such content will not be directly removed, or changed. But it will be used to improve underlying search algorithms, so future searches will be more accurate and factual.

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Featured image Earth by Flickr user Kevin GillCC BY-SA 2.0

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by Bertha Henson

IT SEEMS like ministers here are out in force to drive home the security message in the aftermath of the London attacks. In Vietnam, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has called for fortitude and resilience should such an attack happen here. Others have called for unity and solidarity. But what exactly do these words mean? We take a stab at it. 

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What to do/not to do in a terrorist attack.
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(A public announcement service not sponsored by SGSecure)

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a. Don’t take selfies at the attack site. Definitely do NOT take wefies with the injured.

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b. Don’t attack police for “allowing’’ this to happen. It was bound to happen. Time enough for reviews and recriminations later.

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c. Don’t jam 999 with calls for updates. Switch on telly, listen to radio or see if there are Twitter updates from police. London police tweeted a total of 20 times in one hour.

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d. Don’t be an ASS and share gossip and speculation from sources which don’t have boots on the ground.

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e. Do run and help if you are in the vicinity. Like British MP Tobias Ellwood who is being hailed a hero. But no one is going to blame you if you run and hide.

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f. Don’t pin the responsibility for the attack on any group without proof. Because if you’re right, you’re just being its propaganda outlet. If you’re wrong, you’ve been very unfair to some people.

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g. Do a Paris Hilton post-9/11 and go shopping. Retail therapy is good and shows that you’re keeping the economy going.

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h. Do go to work as usual. Terrorism isn’t a contagious disease.

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i. Don’t go taking and uploading pictures of what police are up to in the aftermath. You’re just tipping off the bad guys.

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j. Do hand over pictures or videos of the attack to the police if you have them. No need to try and make a name for yourself for “being there’’. You don’t know what info you’ve captured that’s valuable. The opposite reaction applies too: Don’t hoard what you have because you don’t want to get “involved’’. All of us are already involved by then.

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k. Don’t grumble about road blocks, bag checks and security measures that mean you lose time standing in a queue or stuck in a jam on your way to school or work. The good news is that your bosses and teachers are stuck too.

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l. Do look for instances of humanity among the depravity; there will always be people who rise up in a crisis to lift spirits.

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m. Do respond to ground-up appeals for solidarity #WeAreSingapore or #SgStayingStrong.

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n. Do upload the SgSecure app on your phone if you haven’t done so.

 

Hopefully, we will never, ever have to go through any of the above. But you should know the mantra now: it’s not if, but when.

 

Featured image by Pixabay user TheDigitalWay. (CC0 1.0)

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A VIDEO emerged of Westminster Bridge on Wednesday (March 22) showing the moment a car was driven into pedestrians earlier in the day in the worst attack in London since 2005.

Five people were killed and about 40 injured after a car ploughed into pedestrians and a suspected Islamist-inspired attacker stabbed a policeman close to Britain’s parliament.

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The dead, in what police called a “marauding terrorist attack,” included the assailant and the policeman he stabbed. The other three victims were among those hit by the car as it sped across Westminster Bridge before crashing into railings just outside parliament.

It was the deadliest attack in London since four British Islamists killed 52 commuters and themselves in suicide bombings on the city’s transport system in July 2005, in London’s worst peacetime attack.

-Reuters/BBC

 

Featured image is a screen grab from Youtube

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The first of two Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptors is launched during a successful intercept test. The test, conducted by Missile Defense Agency (MDA), Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) Operational Test Agency, Joint Functional Component Command for Integrated Missile Defense, and U.S. Pacific Command, in conjunction with U.S. Army soldiers from the Alpha Battery, 2nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, U.S. Navy sailors aboard the guided missile destroyer USS Decatur (DDG-73), and U.S. Air Force airmen from the 613th Air and Operations Center resulted in the intercept of one medium-range ballistic missile target by THAAD, and one medium-range ballistic missile target by Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD). The test, designated Flight Test Operational-01 (FTO-01), stressed the ability of the Aegis BMD and THAAD weapon systems to function in a layered defense architecture and defeat a raid of two near-simultaneous ballistic missile targets

by Daniel Yap

THE KL-Pyongyang row over the murder of Mr Kim Jong Nam is getting out of hand with 11 Malaysians trapped in North Korea, but it’s just one part of the worsening diplomatic situation in East Asia. The fallout started with a few missiles falling out of the sky into the sea off the coast of Japan on Monday morning (Mar 6).

On Tuesday morning (Mar 7), North Korean state media announced that the four missiles, three of which landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone about 350km from shore, were drills for a plan to strike directly at US bases in Japan, where the US has stationed about 54,000 troops.

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Japan upgrades its alert level to the maximum and Japanese PM Shinzo Abe gets on the phone with US President Donald Trump. Mr Abe says that the North Korean threat “has entered a new stage”.

At about the same time on Tuesday morning, the row between China (North Korea’s biggest ally) and South Korea took a new turn as South Korea announced that it would consider making an official complaint to the World Trade Organisation over what it sees as China violating their free trade deal.

China has in recent months tried to exert pressure on South Korea by banning the streaming of K-pop performances, stopping K-pop stars from performing in China, causing the shutdown of 23 supermarkets run by South Korean Lotte Group, and ordering tour agencies to stop selling trips to South Korea. Why is China doing this? THAAD.

THAAD is the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence missile system developed by Lockheed Martin that South Korea and the US agreed to deploy in South Korea in July 2016. Remember China’s state-run Global Times newspaper that had harsh words for Singapore during the Terrex incident? It said that South Korea was “tying itself to the US chariot and turning into an arrogant pawn of Washington in the latter’s military containment against China.”

But why would China get upset about a purely defensive system like THAAD? Isn’t it reasonable for South Korea to defend itself, especially with North Korea going big on missiles?

China is trying to project military power across the region as part of its One Belt One Road framework. China is upset because THAAD is a projection of US power into the region and because the system will take away some of China’s offensive edge should war break out, including over the disputed South China Sea waters and islands, of which – hello – Malaysia is also a claimant. What a tangled web.

So now there are 11 Malaysians held de facto hostage in North Korea, which had fired missiles at Japan, triggering heightened tensions and paved the way for stronger US involvement in the region, which is upsetting China especially because…

We’re back to THAAD. Deployment for the system was previously announced to be completed in mid or late-2017. About 24 hours after the North Korean missiles splash down off the Japanese coast, the US Pacific Command announced that it had begun deploying THAAD overnight in South Korea, and that the system would be operational as early as April.

Quite a lot of people are going to get hot under the collar in the days and weeks to come. Expect nationalistic chest-thumping, threats, diplomatic shenanigans, strained trade, harsh words and escalations from the nations involved. And thank God war isn’t on the cards… yet.

Featured imagine from Wikimedia Commons. (CC0 1.0)

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by The Middle Ground

HOW time flies – it feels as if 2017 just started, yet we’re already done with February! The start of March also marks an important Christian tradition, the observance of Lent.

During Lent, Christians commit to greater spiritual devotion to God and abstain from luxuries (such as avoiding profligate spending). Most adherents, notably the Roman Catholics, also observe Lent by giving up the consumption of meat. The period of Lent traditionally lasts forty days. It begins on Ash Wednesday (Mar 1) and includes the holy week that immediately precedes Easter (Apr 16).

The holy week comprises Palm Sunday, Holy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Palm Sunday is widely observed in Singapore where Catholics receive new palm leaves blessed by the priest to bring home. Similarly, on Maundy Thursday, churches are crowded for Maundy Thursday service and the ritual feet washing ceremony, where the priest or Archbishop will wash the feet of some of the parishioners. This particular rite was only limited to men and boys until Pope Francis issued a new rule that women should be able to participate as well.

While the purpose of Lent – to draw oneself closer to God through religious penance and resisting the temptations of the flesh – is shared by many Christian denominations, the means through which Lent is observed differ greatly.

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1. Manilla, Philippines – Dedicated devotees carry heavy crosses, self-flagellate

Image from Wikipedia Commons
Image from Wikipedia Commons

Some Catholic devotees in the Philippines mark the last week of Lent by whipping themselves in public or carrying heavy crosses barefoot through the streets of Manilla. A small fraction even engages in gory displays of crucifixion, nailing themselves to wooden crosses. This practice is known in the region as pamagparaya (self-flagellation) and is meant for the adherent to experience a fraction of the suffering that Christ went through.

Devotees often go through pamagparaya to petition for good health, either for themselves or an ailing relative. Some devotees also put themselves through pain as penance for their sins, as an act of religious cleansing.

The Catholic Church has criticised this tradition, claiming that it goes against Catholic teachings that the body is sacred. Other religious critics have further expressed discomfort that particular villages and communities have taken advantage of the public spectacle to attract tourists, monetising this practice.

 

2. Moscow, Russia – Two per cent of Russians intend to fully abide by dietary restrictions throughout Lent

Image by falco, from Pixabay
Image by falco, from Pixabay

Russia is home to the Russian Orthodox Church, and nearly half the Russian population identifies as Christian (various denominations, including Protestant, Catholic, and Russian Orthodox). A poll conducted by the Levada Center reported that two per cent of the Russian population, or three million Russians, intend to fully observe the strict Lenten dietary restrictions from Mar 1 to Apr 16.

According to the Russian Orthodox Church, the strict observance of Lent requires giving up all animal food – meat, eggs, fish, seafood and all dairy products. On the first and last day of Lent, complete fasting is recommended. On the second day, only bread and water are allowed. Throughout this period, believers should refrain from alcohol, with the exception of a little wine on weekends, smoking, sex, swearing, and bad thoughts.

Also reported by the Levada Center: 18 per cent of those polled said they intend to observe Lent partially, for instance by giving up meat. 30 per cent of respondents are prepared to reduce their alcohol consumption during Lent, and 15 per cent will restrict their sex lives.

 

3. Antigua, Guatemala – A grand religious procession to mark the end of Lent

Image by , on Flickr
Image by Arian Zwegers, on Flickr

The Christian faith in Guatemala has its roots in the Spanish conquistadors who spread their faith after invading the territory in the early 1500s. Today, Antiguans mark the end of Lent in distinctive local fashion, by arranging elaborate religious processions which last from dawn to dusk.

During this period, Antigua is well-known for the dozens of large floats which are paraded through the city streets by hundreds of men clad in purple robes. These floats are called “andas”, and either features a statue of Jesus with a cross or a Saint. Andas featuring the Virgin Mary are carried by women dressed in black, and are a rare sight. Before the procession winds its way through the city, the streets are lined with colourful “alfombras” (carpets) that are made from coloured sawdust, grass, fruits, vegetables, flowers and other materials.

 

4. Mompox, Colombia – A night in the cemetery 

Image from Wikipedia Commons
Image from Wikipedia Commons

At around 6pm on Holy Wednesday, Mompox residents dress in their finest clothing and gather in the town cemetery to commence a ceremony known as the Serenade to the Deceased – a fusion of Catholic traditions with magic and paganism.

Residents light candles to illuminate the cemetery and stay there overnight, sitting in front of graves of deceased loved ones. They place flowers on the graves and serenade the dead. This lasts till the early hours of the morning, when funeral music is played to bring an end to the ceremony.

 

5. Washington, United States – St. Patrick’s Day to coincide with Lent period
 .
Image from Wikipedia Commons
Image from Wikipedia Commons

This year, St. Patrick’s Day – a celebratory holiday where corned beef and cabbage is traditionally eaten – falls on a Friday (Mar 17), clashing with the commonly-held Lenten rule of requiring Catholics to abstain from meat on Fridays.

St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday once every seven years, and this coincidence has not gone unnoticed by some American bishops. Many had already issued dispensations for Catholics in their dioceses allowing them to eat meat on St. Patrick’s Day. However, they also advised Catholics to do an additional act of charity or penance in exchange for eating meat.

 

Featured image Earth by Flickr user Kevin GillCC BY-SA 2.0

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Green alarm clock showing 8.30.

A CABBY who lied about being attacked by his Norwegian passenger was sentenced to 19 weeks jail yesterday.

Here’s what his victim, Mr Arne Corneliussen, said about the case: “In the greater scheme of things, he is going through what I went through as well. But I still lost my job, I lost money to him and I also spent a lot on legal fees, so I can’t say I feel like justice was done. He has yet to reach out to me to offer compensation of any sort.”

Cabby Chan Chuan Heng had pinned the blame on Mr Corneliussen, who was jailed 10 weeks and had to pay him $30,000. Later, Mr Corneliussen was re-tried and fined $2,000 for causing hurt. The former DHL director had already served more than half his 10-week sentence.

Mr Corneliussen has a point. How is he going to get his money back? Sue the cabby?

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What was also interesting is how this was missed out earlier in the investigations. According to ST, Chan also deliberately did not submit the in-car camera footage that would have captured the sound of his earlier altercation with Mr Corneliussen, and would have cast the entire incident in a different light.

We move from Singapore and Norway to Singapore and China now…

Nothing was said about the retention of Terrexes in Hong Kong when Singapore’s high-powered team went to Beijing to meet their counterparts for the delayed meeting of the Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation. Instead Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean emphasised the need to be “forward-looking”. So we don’t know if the Terrexes were discussed or not, although Mr Teo did make clear that Singapore was sticking to its One China policy and that biltateral relations were deep and broad enough to weather disturbances.

Much was made of the composition of his team members, younger ministers whom he brought along to build ties with their generational counterparts in China. In the old fold were Ministers Lim Hng Kiang and Dr Vivian Balakrishnan. Cabinet ministers in the young set were Ms Grace Fu, Mr Chan Chun Sing, Mr Lawrence Wong, Mr Ng Chee Meng and Mr Ong Ye Kung. The second liners or junior ministers were Dr Amy Khor (although she can be considered as part of the old fold), Mrs Josephine Teo, Ms Sim Ann and Dr Koh Poh Koon.

Perhaps, he should have brought along a young non-Chinese as well, to make the point that Singapore is multi-racial society that won’t dance to the Chinese tune, now as well as in the future.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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