April 29, 2017

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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.

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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) 

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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.

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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.

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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:

earth by Kevin Gill

PRESIDENT Donald Trump issued an executive order last Friday (Jan 27), which has caused much furore among the media and public in and outside of the United States (US).

The following came into effect upon the signing of the document: Entry of foreign nationals from seven countries are barred for 90 days, namely – Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Iraq. Refugee admission will be suspended for four months, because of the need to modify the admission process. And a cap of 50,000 has been put to the number of refugees to be accepted this year. For Syrian refugees, however, the ban is indefinite until “sufficient changes” have been made to the refugee programme.

Protestors have been decrying Trump’s directives, which they say smack of intolerance towards Muslims. Judges in US federal and state courts have stayed its execution, stemming deportation of refugees, legal permanent residents as well as travellers caught in US airports… for the moment.

How have leaders from other countries responded?

 

1. Australia – Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

Malcolm_Turnbull_2014

Image from Wikimedia Commons user Вени Марковски.

Following the release of the executive order, the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had a phone conversation with President Trump last Saturday (Jan 28). He sought confirmation that a refugee deal struck between Australia and the previous US president, Mr Barack Obama, remains valid. The latter had promised that US would take in 1,250 refugees from an Australian detention centre.

Mr Trump was unhappy about this matter. Senior US officials revealed that he called the agreement “the worst deal ever”. And on Thursday (Feb 2), the president expressed on Twitter that he will “study this dumb deal”.

Regardless, a special provision in the executive order has allowed for exceptions, such as a “pre-existing international agreement”. This means the Australia deal could – or should, really – be honoured. Beyond stating that he believed the resettlement deal remains in place, Mr Turnbull made no further comments about the call. Such conversations, he deemed, are “conducted candidly, frankly, privately”.

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2. United Arab Emirates – Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan

Abdullah

Image from Flickr user Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates defended the ban on Wednesday (Feb 1), saying that it is not Islamophobic and does not target any one religion. Muslims and Muslim countries were not included in the ban, he noted, and also found it “important” to “put into consideration this point” that the ban is temporary.

Mr Abdullah described the situation as such: Mr Trump’s order is an “American sovereign decision”, meaning it is the US’ prerogative to handle its immigration policies as it sees fit. Conversely, affected countries do have “structural problems” that first need addressing. Dealing with an immigration ban directed at them is secondary. However, Mr Abdullah did not elaborate what are those “structural problems”.

In short, the Foreign Minister lent credence to US administration’s stand that Mr Trump’s order was not meant to be anti-Muslim.

 

3. The Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte

Duterte

Image from Wikimedia Commons user PCOO EDP.

President Duterte has chosen to mind his own business and it appeared to be a matter of professional courtesy to him. During a media briefing on Monday (Jan 30), he said that the US president had been respectful of the way he handled his war on drugs. Therefore, he would reciprocate by responding in like manner regarding the controversial executive order. In the president’s own words in Tagalog, he “will not interfere”.

In fact, Mr Duterte told overstaying Filipinos to “get out” and get back to the Philippines. Though the country is not on the ban list, there are citizens illegally staying in America. These people could be affected once US authorities start clamping down on illegal immigrants. The special envoy to the U.S. Babe Romualdez said in an interview on Tuesday (Jan 31) that a list held by the US Department of Homeland Security has indicated there are “about 310,000 Filipinos up for deportation”.

“Because if you are caught and you get deported, I will not lift a finger. You know that it is a violation of the law,” Mr Duterte said.

 

4. Indonesia – Minister of Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi

Marsudi

Image from Flickr user Utenriksdepartementet UD.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi has expressed “deep regrets about the policy” in a social media message to Reuters on Sunday (Jan 29), when asked for her opinion about the executive order.

Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population but is not on the ban list. On Monday (Jan 30), Indonesian President Joko Widodo told his citizens not to worry, assuring them that there is “no direct impact on Indonesia”.

Similarly, Ms Retno said that Indonesians seeking visas to go the United States had not faced any problems so far. Still, for the “hundreds of thousands” of Indonesians already in America, she has instructed Indonesian representatives in Washington, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco to open 24-hour hotline services in case of any fallout arising from this situation.

 

5. Turkey – Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş

Numan_Kurtulmus_in_Ak_Party

Image from Vikipedia user Ak Party.

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş has condemned the ban in an interview with Turkish daily Habertürk on Tuesday (Jan 31). He attributed Mr Trump’s move to “rising Islamophobia, xenophobia and anti-immigrant feelings”. Coming from America as a place where “different ethnic and religious groups are able to co-exist”, the decision to restrict entry of nationals from the seven majority-Muslim countries was “very offensive”, he said. He went on to call the ban a “discriminative decision”, hoping for its correction.

Turkey considers itself a champion against anti-Muslim sentiments. It has absorbed around 2.7 million Syrian refugees, victims of the near six-year war between Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and rebels.

Mr Kurtulmus reasoned that “no national from a certain country can be categorically deemed as bad”. In fact, behaviours of “Islamophobia and xenophobia” work in tandem with terror groups like DAESH [Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant], both “poisoning the lives of 1.7 billion Muslims”. The cooperation of effective anti-terror forces is the way to fight terrorism, he said.

 

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

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Photo of clock face with hands pointed to half past eight.

IT ISN’T just one, but three new facts.

They were discovered in the National Archives of the United Kingdom between Aug 4 last year and Jan 30 this year. They are

a. internal correspondence of the Singapore colonial authorities in 1958,

b. an incident report filed in 1958 by a British naval officer and

c. an annotated map of naval operations from the 1960s.

This was reported in an International Court of Justice press statement issued overnight. Malaysia is using the three documents to challenge the ICJ ruling in 2008 that awarded sovereignty of Pedra Branca to Singapore. It issued a press statement earlier yesterday but didn’t give details.

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According to ICJ, Malaysia claims that these documents establish the new fact that “officials at the highest levels in the British colonial and Singaporean administration appreciated that Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh did not form part of Singapore’s sovereign territory” during the relevant period. Malaysia argues that “the Court would have been bound to reach a different conclusion on the question of sovereignty over Pedra Branca/Pulau Batu Puteh had it been aware of this new evidence”.

Why didn’t Malaysia make the points earlier?

ICJ, quoting Malaysia, said the documents were  “only discovered on review of the archival files of the British colonial administration after they were made available to the public by the UK National Archives after the Judgment was rendered in 2008”.

It also said that Malaysia argued that its ignorance of the new fact was not due to negligence as the documents in question were “confidential documents which were inaccessible to the public until their release by the UK National Archives”.

It’s a rather strange turn of phrase.

When exactly were they made accessible? This is important as the ICJ has to decide if the new discovery was made within the last six months to allow the appeal. If the facts had been lying around in the archives for years and was only spotted late last year because Malaysia decided to “review” the archives, does it count?

If the ICJ is satisfied, then the next stage is to determine if the facts were “decisive”.

So it seems that the tussle over Pedra Branca, an island outcrop of granite rocks 40 km east of Singapore, isn’t over. It’s of strategic importance, as it sits at the eastern-most entrance of the Straits of Singapore where hundreds of ships pass through daily.

A few members of Singapore’s original legal team, such as former Deputy Prime Minister S Jayakumar, Professor Tommy Koh and former Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong, have been called back to action. Clearly, Singapore will defend its sovereignty over the island. Its oldest feature is the Horsburgh lighthouse built by the British in the mid-1800s.

This is the second test-of-sovereignty case Singapore has had to deal with in recent months. Last week, Singapore took possession of the nine Singapore Armed Forces Terrexes, which had been detained in Hong Kong for what seemed to be custom or administrative shipping irregularities. Singapore had claimed “sovereign immunity”, as no country is allowed under international law to forfeit material that belongs to another state.

Whatever the case, let us hope that the issue won’t be tossed up as an election football in Malaysia with political parties trying to outdo each other in nationalistic fervour. The Malaysian general election is due to be held by mid-2018.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Suhaile Md

BARELY two weeks in power and newly minted United States (US) President Donald Trump has signed a slew of Executive Orders (EO) targeting immigrants. The most well known of which are the orders to build a wall (Jan 25) at the Mexico-US border and a ban on immigrants from seven Muslim majority countries (Jan 27).

Mr Trump’s supporters claim he is only doing the necessary for national security by tightening rules and borders. Across the political divide, they charge that the moves are ineffective and blatantly bigoted against Muslim and Mexican immigrants. Which is it?

 

On the Muslim ban

EO title: Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States

Some key points from the EO:

  1. Cuts refugee entry quota numbers from 110,000 to 50,000.
  2. Suspends, for 120 days, the US Refugee Admissions Programme (USRAP).
  3. Suspends, for 90 days, entry of all “immigrants and non-immigrants” from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Syria.
  4. Upon resumption of the USRAP, “to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality”.
  5.  A ban on all refugees from Syria until further notice.

“To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting. This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe,” said President Trump last Sunday (Jan 29).

Mr Andrew McCarthy, a writer for conservative site National Review (Jan 30), agreed that it was a ban against extremist Muslims, not all Muslims. It stems from a “need to separate our Muslim friends from our radical Islamic enemies”. And the seven countries are on the list because they either have governments that “hate the United States or are too dysfunctional to provide background checks on their nationals”, he said.

Another national review writer, Mr David French, said (Jan 28) that a refugee intake of 50,000 per year was actually the 15-year average before 2016. Former President Obama was the one who had gone beyond the norm by increasing it to 110,00 in 2016. Mr Trump is merely going back to the norm, added Mr French, citing data from the Migration Policy Institute, a US non-profit think tank.

However, it’s hard to believe the move is free of bigotry for three main reasons, opponents of the ban has countered.

Firstly, Mr Trump called for a Muslim ban during the elections campaign and when the White House press secretary Sean Spicer was recently asked about the EO, he stated that Mr Trump is merely fulfilling his campaign promises.

House press secretary Sean Spicer was recently asked about the EO. He stated that Mr Trump is merely fulfilling his campaign promise. Mr Trump had called for a Muslim ban then.

Secondly, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani publicly said that Mr Trump had asked him to find a legal way to ban Muslims.

And finally, the direct involvement of Mr Trump’s Chief Strategist Steve Bannon in the creation of the EO concerned some, like writer Andrew Prokop of left leaning website Vox.com. Mr Bannon ran the Trump election campaign. Before that, he used to run Breitbart news, the hard-line right wing media company.

Mr Bannon has been growing increasingly powerful in the White House, with a controversial seat in the National Security Council’s top-level meetings. A senior Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official said that in the drafting of the EO, the input of experts from the DHS was overruled by Mr Bannon, reported Reuters on Jan 31. DHS is the national agency responsible for public security.

Critics like the left-leaning Atlantic Magazine pointed out that more terrorists have come from countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan than the seven listed, yet the two countries are not on the list. Furthermore, non-Muslim immigrants and refugees will be prioritised. This is religious discrimination, it added. Such discrimination will only embolden the extremist narrative that the US is anti-Muslim and hence the move would be counter-productive.

A recent poll by Reuters (Jan 31) found that 49 per cent of Americans supported the EO, while 41 per cent don’t. The support was split along party lines as well, with 51 per cent of Republicans who “strongly agree” with the ban, compared to 53 per cent of Democrats who “strongly disagree”.

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On the US-Mexican border wall

EO title: Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements

Some key points of the EO:

  1. Begin planning, designing, and constructing a wall along the US-Mexico border.
  2. Hire 5,000 additional border patrol agents subject to existing funds available.
  3. Quantify “sources of direct and indirect Federal aid or assistance to the Government of Mexico on an annual basis over the past five years”.
  4. Build detention facilities near the border to vet asylum claims.

Both sides of the debate on the wall agree that illegal immigration is an issue. About 3.5 per cent of the US population and 5 per cent of its civilian labour force are illegal immigrants, of whom 52 per cent are Mexicans, according to a Pew research in 2014.

Interestingly, only 39 per cent of Americans view building the wall as an important goal according to another Pew research earlier this month.

Interestingly, only 39 per cent of Americans view building the wall as an important goal according to another Pew research earlier this month. Building the wall and making Mexico pay for it was one of Mr Trump’s campaign slogans.

Supporters of the wall of course argue that the wall will be effective, with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chiming in on Twitter, that the wall he built on Israel’s southern border was effective. Of the various popular media in the US, it seems only hardline right-wing site Breitbart was effusive about its support for the wall. Recall that Mr Steve Bannon, Mr Trump’s Chief Strategist, used to head the media company.

There are practical hurdles however. The border stretches 3,100 km and the terrain is varied. While Mr Trump claims the wall will cost US$12 billion (SG$16.9 billion), independent estimates range between US$12 billion and US$25 billion, reported the BBC (Jan 26).

“The campaign is over and so is fun time. If the wall is worth having, it’s worth paying for”, wrote conservative news site National Review. It also questioned if it was worth aggravating Mexico with repeated calls, by Mr Trump, for it to pay for the US wall.

The Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto cancelled his trip to the US to signal his displeasure. He had said, “Mexico does not believe in walls. I have said it time and again: Mexico will not pay for any wall.

“I regret and condemn the decision of the United States to continue construction of a wall that, for years, has divided us instead of uniting us.”

I regret and condemn the decision of the United States to continue construction of a wall that, for years, has divided us instead of uniting us.

The idea of an import tariff of 20 per cent on Mexican goods was also floated by the President to raise funds. Ideas like imposing taxes on remittance out of the US into Mexico or a border tax have been suggested among others.

Opponents also question the effectiveness of the move. Republican Congressman Will Hurd of Texas said: “Big Bend National Park and many areas in my district are perfect examples of where a wall is unnecessary and would negatively impact the environment, private property rights and economy.”

Furthermore, an estimated 40 per cent of illegal immigrants came in legally with visas only to overstay and never leave. A wall does not address that, wrote the Chicago Tribune (Jan 27). This echoes the sentiments of the Boston Herald editorial (Jan 26). The figure however is based on a 2006 pew research on migration.

There have also been charges of racism specific to the wall. Most prominently, Republican Congressman O’Rourke from El-Paso, Texas, said that building the wall is racist, given Mr Trump’s characterisation of Mexicans as criminals and rapists during his election campaign.

Said the lawmaker: “When you begin with the premise that Mexico is sending rapists and criminal to the U.S. and you meet that with a wall, that wall in itself is a racist reaction to a racist myth that does not reflect the reality of this country at all.”

When you begin with the premise that Mexico is sending rapists and criminal to the U.S. and you meet that with a wall, that wall in itself is a racist reaction to a racist myth that does not reflect the reality of this country at all.

The other immigration related EO, “Enhancing public safety in the interior of the United States”, signed on Jan 25, dealt with “sanctuary cities”. These are cities that have had policies that empower local authorities to deal with illegal immigrants without getting federal authorities involved. These policies give local law enforcement more discretion and freedom to build trust with local immigrant communities as well as report crimes without the fear of deportation. This tamps down crime. On the flip side, it allows illegal immigrants to slip in to avoid deportation. Mr Trump’s EO aims to address that.

EOs are basically legally enforceable instructions from the President, to the federal agencies, on how to run the show. But they are not new laws per se. The various agencies are obliged to follow the instructions. Presidents have historically used this tool to set policies that bypass Congress, the elected body of lawmakers. Over 13,000 EOs have been issued since 1789.

The Supreme Court can overturn EOs if it’s proven to flout existing laws and the US constitution. In a study between 1945 and 1998, the Court upheld 83 per cent of EOs. Congress can sometimes step in as well. A study commissioned by the Congressional Research Service in 2006 found that only 4 per cent of EOs were modified by Congress. Furthermore Congress is currently dominated by the Republican Party. It’s doubtful it will challenge Mr Trump, the party’s own Presidential Nominee.

So regardless of how people may feel about Mr Trump’s orders, whether his EOs are overturned or stay depends primarily on the Supreme Court in the months to come.

 

Featured image by Pixabay user babawawa. (CC0 1.0)

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Black clock showing 8.30.

CHECK your memory bank. Do you remember the case of the pastor who denigrated Buddhism on Youtube or the newly-converted Christian couple who mass-mailed anti-Islamic tracts to Muslims they found in the phone book?

The first case happened in February 2010, when the Internal Security Department hauled up Pastor Rony Tan, founder of the Lighthouse Evangelism independent church, for making video-clips mocking Buddhism. He took them down and apologised.

The second case took place the year before (2009) and was rather more serious. The married couple bought in bulk tracts that not just denigrated Muslims but also Catholics and other religions, then took the time to mail them to Muslims. Mr Ong Kian Cheong and his wife Dorothy were found guilty of sedition and sentenced to eight weeks’ jail.

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These were two examples Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam raised in an extremely BIG speech he delivered at a forum yesterday to do with race, religion and populism.   It comes in the wake of US President Donald Trump’s controversial moves to change the country’s immigration policy which many have seen as anti-Muslim.

So why the two examples? To show that acts of religious extremism and animosity towards other races and religions did – and can still happen here too.

Mr Shanmugam said: “The reaction is gaining ground in many countries – and might become mainstream. Basically, to say ‘if you don’t like it, go’, or ‘it’s just too bad for you’ or ‘this is what the majority wants'”.

This is why the G here takes an “activist approach” towards issues of race and religion, he said, instead of being hands-off like Western countries in the past.

Examples of activism, besides the laws, to prevent social disharmony and speech that could incite others to violence:

a. requiring that students in mainstream schools wear standard uniforms. (No, he didn’t mention past moves by some Muslims to get females to wear the tudung. )

b. the ethnic integration policy which imposes race quotas on public housing. (No, he didn’t mention that this made it difficult to sell flats in some places but perhaps this is a sacrifice we must make.)

c. the establishment of community self-help groups like Sinda and Mendaki which he acknowledged had been criticised “but the basic point is that we accept that there are Indians, Malays, Chinese, Eurasians and others”.

He didn’t mention the Group Representation Constituency concept, although this could fall under the category of “majoritarianism” with the 74 per cent of Chinese voting in their own man or woman. He recalled that Chinese community leaders had asked the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew for Chinese to be made the official language. He said no.

People are different and should be accepted as such, he said, which is why the CIMO categories of races are still relevant.

“So we have had well-meaning, highly educated people, Singaporeans, who look at these things – self-help groups, ethnic integration policy and so on – and say why do we need it? We are all Singaporeans. Do we really need it? In fact, why does our identity card talk about our race? Why does it say that we are Chinese, Malay or Indian?

“Well-meaning, as I said. But I think if the Government had not intervened, if I remove the ethnic identity from the IC (identity card), do we all become the same the day after?”

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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THAT’S what one Singaporean mum was forced to do at a German airport after Airport Police decided that her breast pump was suspicious because she was travelling without her baby.

The BBC reported that Ms Gayathiri Bose, 33, said that she was taken to a room by a female officer and told to show her breast and hand-express her breast milk to satisfy the suspicions of the police. Ms Bose said she was in shock and complied. She was then allowed to board her flight from Frankfurt to Paris after 45 minutes.

Ms Bose said that she felt humiliated and traumatised and has lodged a complaint with the German police. Frankfurt airport police have denied that Ms Bose was asked to prove she was lactating.

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From suspected fake breast pumps we move on to confirmed fake websites: ICA has lodged a police report again about yet another website trying to pass off as the agency’s official one. Fake site www.ica.sgov.asia had asked users for information such as their Visa reference number and travel document number.

The official ICA website www.ica.gov.sg had already been the subject of other copycats last year. The fake website was suspended when TMG checked it on Wednesday (Jan 31) evening.

But what’s really hogging the headlines today is President Trump, and oh my how he hogs it. If it isn’t the backlash over his travel ban, then it is about how he just fired his Obama-appointed acting Attorney General Sally Yates for defying his executive orders. Mr Dana Boente was sworn in as her replacement.

Or is it the anticipation of his pick for the vacant Supreme Court seat? Mr Trump is expected to name his candidate today. Mr Trump also replaced the head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement with his own man, possibly paving the way for deportations of illegal immigrants – another major campaign promise.

Whoever is running things on the ground better “get with the program”, said White House spokesman Sean Spicer, or else “they can go”. It seems that Mr Trump is putting his famous line from The Apprentice to good use. “You’re fired!”

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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Citizen timepiece with clock hands pointing at 8:30
Citizen timepiece shows 8:30

THE UK ladies did protest against what they perceived as US President Trump’s attitude towards women, prompting British PM Theresa May to say that when she meets the new President, she will not hold back when she thinks he has said something unacceptable. The UK hopes to build on ties with Washington, especially trade deals in the light of the upcoming hard Brexit. Mr Trump has said that he wants a swift trade deal with Britain.

President Trump clearly believes that size does matter. His protest was against characterisations in the news of a small crowd size during his inauguration. Some TV networks had said that only 250,000 people attended the inauguration, while Trump had tweeted that there were a million or a million and a half people there.

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Whatever the real figures are, photos show that the area was not as crowded as it was for the 2009 inauguration of President Obama. Most news outlets published photos of a half-empty field, but Trump-leaning news sites and his own administration, published photos of a full or almost-full National Mall. Metro ridership on Friday was also lower than in 2009. As far as we can tell, the event was not as crowded as the Obama inauguration, but not quite as empty as a photo like this seems to claim:

A protest in Singapore ended with 30 people getting investigated for taking part in public assembly without a police permit. The protest was at Sembawang Park and was in opposition to a ban on “Jallikattu” in India.

Jallikattu is the tradition of bull wrestling, especially popular in Tamil Nadu during the Pongal festival. Participants try to subdue bulls released in an open field using only their bare hands. India banned the practice after animal rights groups complained that it was inhumane.

It seems that there was an event for the same purpose in Hong Lim Park on Friday and it is unclear if foreigners were involved in the event. It is illegal for non-residents to participate in assemblies without a permit in Hong Lim Park.

So who cares so much about Jallikattu that they would break the law just to be heard? None of the reports said anything about the 30 protesters’ nationalities, but the police statement has said that “foreigners visiting or living in Singapore have to abide by our laws. They should not import the politics of their own countries into Singapore.”

The Worker’s Party has cautioned against the G possibly taking steps to amend anti-harassment laws to protect itself. A Ministry of Law spokesman had said after the split decision in favour of The Online Citizen and Dr Ting Choon Meng that “the Government will study the judgment, and consider what further steps it should take to correct the deliberate spreading of falsehoods.”

The Law Ministry protested the WP announcement, saying that “the Government has never said that it needed protection from harassment. Nor does the Government intend to amend POHA (Protection from Harassment Act) to protect itself from harassment.”

But didn’t Mindef already try to use POHA to protect itself from harassment? At least it clear now that there’s no law change on the cards.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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