June 24, 2017

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AN EXTRAORDINARY moment on Capitol Hill on Thursday, fired FBI Director James Comey strongly hinting that President Donald Trump may have broken the law, telling a Senate panel that Trump fired him to undermine the Russia probe.

Mr Comey said, “I was fired because of the Russia investigation, something about the way I was handling it, the president felt created pressure on him that he wanted to relieve.”

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Mr Comey’s dramatic testimony – the first time he’s spoken in public since he was fired – has only fanned the flames around Mr Trump’s White House.

The world witnessing the spectacle of a former high-ranking government official under oath pointing his finger directly at the president, saying he was pressured to drop an investigation into Mr Trump’s former national security advisor, Michael Flynn.

Mr Comey’s account largely going unchallenged by senators of either party, the question of whether the president’s actions amount to obstruction of justice, a crime for which people can go to jail and presidents can be impeached.

Mr Comey came under intense questioning from the Senate Intelligence Committee, declining to say directly whether he thinks Mr Trump interfered with justice, but revealing deep suspicions of the president’s motive.

Elaborating on his written statement that Mr Trump repeatedly asked him for loyalty and pressed him to drop a probe into Mr Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russia.

Mr Comey said, “I took it as a direction. The president of the United States with me alone, saying I hope this. I took it as this is what he wants me to do. I didn’t obey that, but that’s the way I took it.”

Mr Comey saying he took notes for memos about his interactions with the president, specifically because he thought he might lie about their conversations after the fact. -REUTERS

Featured image by Flickr user DonkeyHotey. CC BY 2.0

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Black clock showing 8.30.

SO THE United States President has scaled down his antagonism towards China. Mr Donald Trump decided that the US should honour the One China policy acknowledging its sovereignty over Taiwan. But, according to the White House, he did it “at the request of” Chinese President Xi Jinping.

What gives? Did the Chinese have to persuade or cajole or threaten or grovel before he made the statement? Whatever transpired during the phone call between the two men, China is content to put its best face forward.

Its PR machinery has been in overdrive in the past two days painting an improved relationship between the two countries. China made much of a letter by Mr Trump, received 11 days after Chinese New Year, recording his new year wishes and how he “looks forward to working with President Xi to develop a constructive relationship that benefits both the United States and China”.

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Now, it has a phone call to add to the tally of nice Trump language. Analysts are saying that Mr Trump had no choice but to dial back on his rhetoric given Chinese sensitivities over the Taiwan issue. He had taken a congratulatory phone call from Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-Wen, provoking an angry response from China which views Taiwan as a renegade province. He had also committed a grave diplomatic sin by questioning the One China policy and had seemed intent to use it as a bargaining chip in US-China ties.

The Taiwan phone call was panned but the latest phone call seemed to have papered over the damage.

An editorial in a Chinese newspaper, Global Times, said the phone call “is a sign that some confusion in the relationship has been sorted out at the current stage… The Sino-US ties have, after a little shiver, returned to where they are supposed to stand.”

Has Mr Trump also taken back his words on China being a currency manipulator and his intention to put 45 per cent tariffs on Chinese imports? Was any deal done to secure the statement from the White House? And what about the South China Sea where the Chinese are going ahead with its military construction activities on disputed isles? Various conflicting noises have come from Mr Trump’s team including denying China access to the isles, which looked like an invitation to a showdown.

The US Pacific Fleet said yesterday that two military aircraft from China and the US had an “unsafe” encounter on Wednesday over the disputed Scarborough Shoal, reported Bloomberg.

A People’s Liberation Army Air Force KJ-200 surveillance plane had “an interaction characterised by US Pacific Command as ‘unsafe’ with a Navy P-3C Orion surveillance aircraft”, said a Pacific Command spokesman Robert Shuford.

Plenty of euphemisms here. Is an unsafe encounter the same as a dangerous encounter?

Hopefully, the resourceful American media will get hold of the transcript of the phone call between Mr Trump and Mr Xi, even though they have been put on notice by the White House which is cracking down on leaks.

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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by Daniel Yap

PRESIDENT Trump’s two-part travel ban against refugees and against nationals of seven countries has been called many things – incompetent, counterproductive, illegal, discriminatory, and cruel. And as the admonishments are (quite justifiably) poured out, I find many Singaporeans joining in the chorus and can’t help but point out a little irony.

Singapore bans all refugees, and we pick and choose other immigrants based on income, age, nationality, race, religion and a host of other factors.

Sure, we temporarily housed a few thousand Vietnamese boat people in the 70s as a transit point to third countries, but we never naturalised any of them. Until today the G stresses that the island is too small to take in any refugees at all.

What it really means is that Singapore, once a haven for Chinese refugees fleeing the Sino-Japanese war, is unwilling to bear the risks and costs associated with taking in refugees in order to reap what benefits may come of it. It is pragmatic, and we have reaped the benefits of keeping refugees out.

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That Singapore is land scarce is no exaggeration. This nation must be judicious about how we add to our population. At the same time, the terrorist threat to the USA is no exaggeration either, and they must have the liberty to take what measures the current administration thinks is right (however mistaken) to mitigate their risks.

Singapore is an attractive destination for many migrant workers, and work pass applicants and would-be permanent residents and citizens are put through some pretty extreme vetting here in Singapore too. We screen for terrorist links, for which birthplace, culture, gender and personal relationships are all risk factors.

The difference is that in Singapore the process is longstanding, opaque and hush-hush. In America, Mr Trump is making a public show of making big changes to keep a campaign promise, no, several campaign promises. But with great publicity comes great opposition. The rule is that what you are seen doing is often more important than what you actually do.

So any case we make about the cruelty of President Trump towards immigrants is also a reflection of our own situation. We are still free to decry the US refugee ban, especially if our consciences believe that nations must, in principle, take in refugees. But we must temper our criticism with the knowledge that we continue to abide a “no refugee” policy domestically. Where is the fervour on home ground?

We need to recognise that, as long as Mr Trump’s orders are legal, it is America’s (or any other nation’s) sovereign right to admit or reject any refugee or immigrant for any reason. Moreover, the ban is temporary and the refugee quota for the rest of the year is set at a reasonable 50,000. President Trump’s America will be taking in more refugees than Singapore will.

What is often overlooked in the executive order is Mr Trump’s call to create a “safe zone” in Syria for the Syrian refugees he has banned from US shores. At the very least there is the will to do that.

Perhaps all the angst is simply due to the expectation that America should ever have its arms open to immigrants and refugees, as per the oft-quoted Emma Lazarus plaque on the Statue of Liberty. But poems can’t count the cost and risk of open borders, or answer to those who lose out because of mass migration into their homeland (just ask the previous natives of America). At some point, pragmatism must step in to draw the line.

Luckily for Singapore, there doesn’t seem to be any expectation that our tight-bordered, no-refugee stance is going to change. So as we criticise what we feel is unjust, please temper it with the realisation that the same ‘injustice’ is at our own front door.

 

 

Featured image Keep Out.jpg by Flickr user Sheila SundCC BY-SA 2.0

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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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by Joshua Ip

IN THE wake of all the controversy of the United States ban on immigration from seven Muslim countries, here is a human interest poem on the struggle of four immigrant ladies who traveled across the oceans and fought against the odds to make America great again.

An immigrant aged seventeen,
Mary MacLeod, sailed serene
From Glasgow to New York upon the SS Transylvania.
Her listed job: “domestic maid”
The fisherman’s kid scrubbed and stayed
Till she was naturalised with citizenship twelve years later.

Ms Knavs, from former Yugoslavia
Entered on a visit visa,
Found illegal jobs before she got her work credentials.
Twenty-six, she modelled
Five long years before she got her
Green card on her “extraordinary“ glamorous potential.

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Elisabeth Christ of Bavaria
Daughter of Anna Maria
Was a tinker’s child who wed eleven years her senior,
Friedrich, who promptly dodged
The draft and was compelled to lodge
A claim for US citizenship by unclear procedure.

Ivana Zelnickova
Born to Czech Marie Francova
In the tiny town of Zlin, showed talent as a downhill skier.
She traveled to New York to tout
The Montreal Olympics out
Found love, marriage and a new passport in eleven years.

What these girls have in common
Besides struggling from the bottom
Is that the USA is not their first nation of residence.
Immigrants of various
Legalities, they came to us
The mother, last wife, grandmother and first wife of the President.

 

Joshua Ip is a poet and founder of Sing Lit Station, a literary non-profit that organises Singapore Poetry Writing Month, Manuscript Bootcamp, poetry.sg and other activities to promote writing in Singapore.

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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Clock showing 0830

HOW’S the ex-US president taking the words and actions of his successor? Mr Barack Obama must be feeling more than a little miffed that some of the major work done in his eight years in office are being rolled back. Maybe he’s even crying buckets.

His Obamacare health insurance plan is being unpicked. His hope that the US will be part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is now dashed. Even the black sites or overseas detention centres he closed look set to be re-opened. What about his Asian “pivot”? Mr Trump hasn’t articulated a foreign policy that encompasses this part of the world. But, clearly, whatever policy will put America first, and to hell with the rest.

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Trump’s America wants to go it alone. You sense the frustration of Japan which is hoping against hope for a change of heart over TPP. You sense that the Chinese are perplexed; it’s both a chance for it to assume regional and even global leadership, as well get into a trade war or a shoot-out somewhere in the South China Sea. The Mexicans must be really annoyed that Mr Trump is actually going to build a wall to divide the countries and, gulp, looks set to fulfil his campaign promises.

What Mr Trump has said; it seems he will do. He is also doing new things – like launching an investigation into voter fraud because he’s pissed that he lost the popular vote to Mrs Hillary Clinton although he swept up the electoral college votes. He thinks that illegal immigrants and dead people are being used to pad up the numbers. This is one thin-skinned president who relishes Twitter skirmishes with those who dare to undermine his legitimacy.

The key relationship is, of course, between the US and China. The Trump threat to re-think the One China principle and cosy up to Taiwan has got the Chinese all riled up. China wants the rest of the world to acknowledge its sovereignty over what it calls the renegade province. This is one reason that has been thrown up for the detention of the Singapore Armed Forces Terrexes which were en route from Taiwan to Singapore.

How will the little red dot navigate between the two superpowers? Diplomacy appears to have work in the case of the Terrexes which Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen hopes will be returned by Chap Goh Mei on Feb 11. Hong Kong, mindful perhaps of Singapore’s position of sovereign immunity, has said it never considered that the Singapore G was involved.

“We did not identify any information which points to the possibility of the Singapore Government being involved in the breach of the licensing conditions,” said its Customs spokesman. It was therefore, a matter between Hong Kong customs and the shipper APL.

The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman asked if Beijing had a hand in this, said it was for Hong Kong to follow the law. She also added this:

“Let me re-emphasise that the Taiwan question concerns China’s core interests.

“And the ‘one China’ principle is the prerequisite and political foundation for China to establish and develop relations with other countries.

“The Chinese government firmly opposes any forms of official interactions, including military-to-military exchanges and cooperation, between Taiwan and countries that have diplomatic ties with us.

“China has made representations to Singapore over the relevant incident and hopes that the Government of Singapore will faithfully adhere to the ‘one China’ principle.”

Is the bilateral kerfuffle really over or is China expecting some manifestation of good faith from Singapore?

 

 

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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Morning Call, 0830, clock

PRESIDENT Tony Tan Keng Yam and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sent congratulatory letters to United States President Donald Trump on his inauguration, emphasising bilateral ties and the longstanding trade relationship between Singapore and the United States. Yet Mr Trump’s first executive move to withdraw his country from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the TPP – a trade agreement with the 12 Pacific Rim countries, representing about 40 per cent of global GDP – and the strong focus in his inauguration speech on putting America first will have broader implications for free trade arrangements and globalisation, both of which Singapore remains dependent upon.

“From his day onward, it’s going to be only America first,” Mr Trump said. “Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families.”

Singapore is one of the biggest trading nations in the world, and Ambassador-at-Large Ong Keng Yong too highlighted the immediate loss of the TPP. On the other hand China and its President Xi Jinping – the first Chinese head of state to address the World Economic Forum – have emerged as champions of global trade and globalisation, and have argued against the growing protectionism of the West. In this vein, it will also shape economic integration in Asia. Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam said that free trade has been important for the world, and with these changes around the world Singapore, as a small country, “will have to adapt to the environment”.

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In other news, closer to home, Mr Shanmugam said that penalties for irresponsible drivers will be toughened. “If you have destroyed people’s lives… there must be some responsibility,” and he added that “It’s not just a question of being fined, going into jail, coming out after a few months.” There were on average 11 fatal accidents each month in the first three quarters of 2016, and an average of 700 traffic accidents each month, though traffic incidents – often captured by in-car cameras or devices – are making more frequent rounds across social media platforms, hosted by different groups.

And finally, if you are planning to donate items to charities over this festive season, be sure to check that they are not mouldy, soiled, or even crawling with maggots. Charities and thrift shops interviewed by ST revealed that they discard up to 40 per cent of the in-kind donations they receive. Some items may have expired years or decades ago, and even half-eaten or used items – which could contaminate other donations – have been found. Not only do the organisations allocate more time and effort to sieve through or inspect these donations, they also have had to change the ways or the frequencies of these collection drives. New collection strategies include awareness campaigns or wish-lists for beneficiaries.

 

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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A flip clock showing 8:30am
Morning call at 8.30!

THE good news? Those who take trips to Tuas will have an easier time of it with the new 4.8km viaduct that will open on Feb 18 and four new MRT stations – Tuas Link, Tuas West Road, Tuas Crescent and Gul Circle – that will open in the second quarter.

The bad news? SMRT’s East-West line broke down again, with some commuters experiencing delays of an hour. The fault affected a stretch from Joo Koon to Clementi. Hang on, Joo Koon connects to Tuas. Oh bother.

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The good news? You can pay for your hour-delayed train ride with a fitness tracker now. Well, two specific fitness trackers, to be precise. One is the Garmin vivosmart HR with EZ-Link (S$259) available from March.

The bad news? The other is the Batman v Superman Fitness Tracker X EZ-Link (S$42.80), by Chinese company Watchdata. Yes, it has a Batman v Superman logo on it, making it a clear winner for Batman v Superman fans, all 36 of you.

The good news? There will be 8,795 Certificates of Entitlement (COEs) available each month from February to April, an increase of 8.9 per cent over the previous round. It doesn’t mean more cars on the road, though – the COE supply comes from old vehicles getting de-registered.

The bad news? Analysts and car salesmen don’t expect a significant dip in prices as there is a backlog of orders, plus the number of COEs available for motorcycles and goods vehicles is actually dropping, so prices of those are expected to rise.

The good news? The first Singapore-made electric super-car, the Dendrobium by Vanda Electric (very Singaporean names), will debut at the Geneva Motorshow in March. The 1,500 horsepower, 4,000 Nm torque, 1-100 in 2.6 seconds, two-seater was first announced early in 2016 and is developed together with Williams Advanced Engineering.

The bad news? Upper Thomson Road flooded again. This time it wasn’t as severe as it was in December, and the shin-high waters subsided in less than an hour. No businesses were affected by the flooding. It wasn’t clear if the contractor fingered for the last deluge also had a part to play this time around.

And, oh, President-elect Donald Trump will be sworn into office today.

 

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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Photo By shawn Danker
8:30 Clock face

Malaysian motorcyclists

EVERYBODY is taking aim at somebody these days.

Who’s up first? Malaysian motorcyclists. They have been targeted in recent comments on biker safety here.

Data, which Khoo Teck Puat Hospital shared with The Sunday Times, show that overall, 42 per cent of seriously injured riders it saw between 2011 and 2015 were Malaysians. Malaysian work permit holders, who come in daily from Johor, made up the majority of this group.

Riding speeds has been identified as an issue as many riders might go faster to make up for time lost in jams.

Mr Bernard Tay, chairman of the Singapore Road Safety Council, said: “If you anticipate a jam, start your journey early.

“Malaysian riders need to understand that the terrain is different because Singapore is a city and not a small town.”

(But one Malaysian worker said he already wakes up at 4.30am daily to skip the heavy traffic…)

And Mr Ong Kim Hua, president of the Singapore Motorcycle Safety and Sports Club, takes aim at the riders’ basic training and riding culture.

The 50-year-old said: “These are not young Malaysian riders. The need to be first in line, the first to reach the checkpoints, the first to get home is a culture that needs to be replaced with safety in mind. But bad riding habits become entrenched if you do not address them early.”

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Najib… again

Speaking of Malaysians, ex-Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamed has taken aim at Prime Minister Najib Razak for allowing “foreigners” to own, build on and develop large tracts of land that would be occupied by them.

While not naming specific countries during his speech at the launch of his political party, Dr Mahathir has spoken and blogged before about his concern that Mr Najib is allowing mainland Chinese companies to buy huge areas of land, particularly in Johor.

Dr Mahathir said: “Singapore was our territory but not now. If we think a little bit, this is happening again.

“Our heritage is being sold, our grandchildren won’t have anything in the future.”


 

Trump… again

And another world leader on the someone’s target board? No surprise here – Donald Trump, and this time, he’s got himself right in China’s crosshairs.

China’s foreign ministry has come out to state on its website that the “One China” principle was non-negotiable. It urged “relevant parties” in the United States to acknowledge the sensitivity of issues surrounding Taiwan.

These comments were a direct response to remarks by the US President-elect – he had said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that there was room for negotiations regarding the “One China” policy.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has had stopovers in US cities in the last week, as part of her week-long trip to Central America. She had also sparked a diplomatic row when she rang Trump to congratulate him after his Nov 8 victory.

 

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