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Here’s a summary of some of the major events that have shaped our world and our little nation of Singapore in 2016.
But please note: this is NOT meant as a substitute for your own regular reading of newspapers/ news websites. If you hope to excel in GP, you must stay connected with the world. Don’t just read about the world – take a personal interest in it. General Paper is a subject in which engagement and passion are essential.
More than half of the UK’s electricity has come from low-carbon sources for the first time, a new study has found. The research from energy company Drax, which operates a biomass power station, found electricity from low-emission sources had peaked at 50.2 per cent between July and September 2016. It comes after the Government announced plans that would see Britain’s coal-fired power stations probably close by 2025. Drax has launched a new quarterly report in collaboration with Imperial College London on trends in the UK energy market. The first edition published in November 2016 showed that in the last quarter, for the first time ever, more than half of the UK’s electricity was generated from low-carbon sources including UK nuclear, imported French nuclear, biomass, hydro, wind and solar. More here.
Donald Trump is elected President of the United States in a result that shocks the world. His rival Hillary Clinton won the popular vote nationwide but lost the election due to the electoral college system which assigns a certain number of electoral votes to each state based on population size. The candidate who wins a state takes all the electoral votes in that state regardless of the ballot breakdown. Based on that system, Trump won 290-232, exceeding the 270 electoral votes needed to win.
Amidst slowing economic conditions, workers in Singapore faced a gloomy labour market in the second quarter of 2016, with unemployment and layoffs rising. Job vacancies, which had been falling since 2015, went below the number of job seekers for the first time since 2012. The unemployment rate rose to 2.1 percent in June from 1.9 percent in March. Among Singaporeans, the rate rose to 3.1 percent from 2.6 percent in the same period. In all, 9,510 workers were laid off or had their contracts aborted in the first six months of 2016, a new peak since the global financial crisis of 2009. Economist Selena Ling of OCBC Bank attributed the situation to companies restructuring and turning to automation to replace lower-wage workers. Also, price and cost pressures in such beleaguered sectors as oil and gas as well as manufacturing made matters worse, she said. It is also becoming more challenging for job seekers to find new work. The re-entry rate in the first half of 2016 plunged to a seven-year low. Worst off are professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), whose re-entry rates fell from 43 percent in March to 40 percent in June. MP Patrick Tay urged job-seekers to tap government schemes like SkillsFuture and Professional Conversion Programmes. “Workers must stay ready, relevant and resilient.”
The sugar industry paid scientists in the 1960s to downplay the link between sugar and heart disease and promote saturated fat as the culprit instead, newly released historical documents show. The internal industry papers, recently discovered by a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), suggest that five decades of research into the role of nutrition in heart disease – including many of today’s dietary recommendations – may have been largely shaped by the sugar industry. The documents show that a trade group called the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF), known today as the Sugar Association, paid three Harvard scientists the equivalent of US$50,000 in today’s dollars to publish a 1967 review of sugar, fat and heart research. The review, which was then published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), minimised the link between sugar and heart health and cast aspersions on the role of saturated fat. In a statement responding to the allegations, the Sugar Association said the 1967 review was published at a time when medical journals did not typically require researchers to disclose funding sources or potential financial conflicts of interest. NEJM did not begin to require financial disclosures until 1984.
The world’s two largest economies and biggest polluters, the US and China, formally ratified and joined the Paris Agreement on climate change. At a ceremony in the Chinese city of Hangzhou ahead of the G-20 summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama handed ratification documents to UN chief Ban Ki Moon. Together, the US and China generate nearly 40 percent of global carbon emissions, not far from the 55 percent threshold needed for the agreement to take effect.
Singapore swimmer Joseph Schooling wins Singapore’s first ever Olympic gold medal in the 100 m butterfly, breaking the Olympic record with a time of 50.39 seconds and beating the most successful swimmer of all time, Michael Phelps.
A project to document traditional Chinese puppetry, the Hindu practice of firewalking, food – such as kaya toast and nasi padang – and other forms of Singapore’s intangible cultural heritage was announced by the National Heritage Board (NHB). The research will be done through a survey that will involve fieldwork and collating available material. About 150 types of intangible cultural heritage were expected to be identified. Professor Brenda Yeoh, chair of the Heritage Advisory Panel, said that at the turn of the 20th century, South-east Asia was very interested to learn about others and rushed to learn the meaning of being modern. “One century later, what we see is that a lot of issues are about identity (and) heritage,” she said. “The panel sees this as important work because this will give us the kinds of social and emotional strength to face a troubled future.” President of the Singapore Heritage Society, Dr Chua Ai Lin, said it was high time Singapore’s intangible cultural heritage was documented. “Such heritage is often not properly recognised. The public may not even know about some of these intangible aspects. It’s great that they are doing it,” she said.
More than half of single South Korean women see marriage as an option rather than a necessity, reflecting a sea change in mindsets in the space of just one generation, a poll has shown. According to the survey, 52.4 per cent of the female respondents said marriage was not a necessity and they were fine with staying single, Yonhap news agency reported. In contrast, 60.9 per cent of the men said they would walk down the aisle one day and 18.1 per cent indicated that marriage was a must, the poll showed. It did not say when the survey was conducted. The poll also suggested that 25.9 per cent of female respondents said they were okay with not having children, while 39.9 per cent of the male respondents said children were a necessity. The poll, conducted by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs, suggest a sharp change in the mindsets of South Koreans, especially among women, whose lot in life was to get married and stay at home only a few decades ago. Higher education and participation in the work force, and a corresponding increase in financial independence, are the main factors for the shift. The average age at which South Korean women first get married was 34 between 2014 and 2016, a jump from the 30.3 recorded in 2006.
Fewer people in Singapore are borrowing books from the country’s beautiful, richly endowed public libraries. In 2015, only 32.5 m books were loaned from public libraries, a sharp decline from the 38.5 m books loaned in 2012 when borrowing was at its peak. The erosion of the reading habit here was also reflected in the National Reading and Writing Survey, which found that over half of the 1,015 Singaporeans and PRs surveyed had not read a literary book between Mar 2014 and Mar 2015. To revive reading, the National Library Board launched a National Reading Movement, taking books to parks, workplaces and even subway trains; giving away books to those who promise to read; and organising literary programmes and panel discussions.
Singapore has taken top spot in a survey that examines how ready economies are for the coming digital revolution. It is among seven countries that the World Economic Forum (WEF) said are at the forefront of the next industrial revolution, which is likely to be dominated by digital technologies and innovation. The other six countries leading the world in generating economic impact through investments in information and communications technologies (ICT) are Finland, Switzerland, Sweden, Israel, the Netherlands and the US. “Digital technologies are unleashing new economic and social dynamics, which will need to be managed if the digital transformation of industries and societies is to deliver long-term and broad-based gains. The new digital economy thus also calls for new types of leadership, governance and behaviours,” said the WEF. Singapore’s Smart Nation plan seeks to leverage on the power of new technologies, data and networks to boost businesses and aid individuals. Among other initiatives, it has organised “hackathons” to source for technological solutions to challenges.
A British man admitted to committing numerous sex crimes against Malaysian children which he boasted about on the “dark web”, a hidden part of the Internet protected by passwords, encryption and specialist software. It is believed Richard Huckle, 30, abused up to 200 children, many of whom were from poor ethnic Indian Christian communities living around Kuala Lumpur. Huckle presented himself as a practising Christian and groomed children while offering his services as a volunteer. He also wrote a paedophile manual called “Paedophiles And Poverty: Child Lover Guide”, which allegedly bragged: “I’d hit the jackpot, a 3yo girl as loyal to me as my dog and nobody seemed to care.” Read more here.
Brazilian emergency responders held up a sign that said “Welcome to hell” to welcome tourists arriving in Rio just ahead of the Olympics. The sign added: “Police and firefighters don’t get paid, whoever comes to Rio de Janeiro will not be safe.” A photo of this, circulating across social media, generated concerns about whether Brazil was ready to host the Games amid a financial crisis and a Zika outbreak. Brazil has been hard-hit by a plunge in the price of oil, one of its biggest exports, as well as corruption scandals. Some 300 police held a rally to protest unpaid wages and unsatisfactory working conditions. Some even complained about having no petrol for police cars, paper and ink for printers, and even toilet paper and a water supply in the toilets.
Britain votes to leave the European Union in a hotly contested, acrimonious referendum which revealed deep divisions within the United Kingdom, with Scotland strongly in support of remaining in the EU and most of England desiring a “Brexit” (British exit). The Leave camp triumphed 52 percent to 48 against Remain, causing a plunge in the value of the pound, turmoil in world stock markets and throwing the future of the now 27-member European Union into massive uncertainty. Major issues in the referendum included what many British people saw as excessive immigration and strain on public services such as healthcare and social care, as well as sovereignty. As citizens of an EU member state, Britons have carried an EU passport rather than a British one for many years; Britain has been subjected to the jurisdiction of European institutions such as the European Court of Justice.
Vietnam’s Communist Party tightened its grip on power after its members won 96 percent of seats in the parliamentary elections. Only 21 non-party members were elected to the 500-seat chamber, down from 42 in the previous term. Although Parliament has long been regarded as a dull affair in a country that has just one political party, this election attracted a buzz of interest due to attempts by more than 100 ordinary people to run as independent or self-nominated candidates. All but 11 failed to get on the ballot due to the party’s strict vetting process, among them dissidents, businessmen and celebrities, some of whom were testing the sincerity of the party’s promise of greater inclusiveness. Parliament has traditionally served as a rubber stamp for the party’s policies, but some experts say debate has become more lively, with ministers grilled in televises sessions, laws sent back for redrafts and liberal legislation passed, including recognition of transgenders and the decriminalisation of same-sex unions.
Enlistees starting their national service (NS) in Singapore from end-2017 will get to express their interests in a particular vocation in the armed forces. Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said it would better match an enlistee’s capability with his role in NS, and spur him to take ownership of his responsibilities. Their choices will be taken into account after they are posted to the Singapore Armed Forces, Singapore Police Force or Singapore Civil Defence Force. Commentators said that the move could bring about a more meaningful NS experience and also raise the morale and performance of servicemen. However, the eventual posting will still depend on manpower requirements.
The Taliban in Afghanistan confirmed the death of former leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor in a US drone strike and appointed his successor. The extremist insurgent group said its new leader is Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, one of two of Mansoor’s deputies. Mansoor was killed in Pakistan when his vehicle was struck by a US drone, believed to be the first time a Taliban leader was killed in such a way inside Pakistani territory. Pakistani authorities are believed to support Taliban leaders in cities over the Afghan border. The insurgents have been fighting to overthrow the Kabul government since 2001.
Eight radicalised Bangladeshi nationals were arrested in Singapore under the Internal Security Act (ISA). The eight were part of a secret group called the Islamic State in Bangladesh (ISB). The Ministry of Home Affairs said it is the first group comprising all foreigners to be detained under the ISA for terrorism-related activities in Singapore. They had each worked in Singapore for cumulative periods of between three and 10 years, and had generally lived in different accommodations here. The members had met largely at open parks or fields, when they shared “large amounts” of radical propaganda and video. Describing the arrests as “pretty serious”, Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said they showed the “wave of radicalisation” that is sweeping through the world and this region. “They were looking at bomb making, they have material on sniper rifles, they have collected money and they have a list of targets. They have pledged allegiance to Islamic State. They call it Islamic State in Bangladesh. Pretty serious,” said Mr Shanmugam. These arrests come after 27 other radicalised Bangladeshis were arrested and deported from Singapore in 2015.
Dementia and its accompanying woes cost Singapore S$1.4 billion every year, making it among the biggest drains on the healthcare system here. This alarming figure, uncovered for the first time by researchers, underscores the need to prevent the debilitating disease from taking hold in greying Singapore, say experts. The research team from the Institute of Mental Health, Changi General Hospital, the Ministry of Health and King’s College London analysed the social care costs – such as care provided by family members and maids – and healthcare costs of 2,565 people, the majority of them aged 60 to 74. About one in 10 of them had dementia – consistent with the national average. What the researchers found: For every person with dementia, he, his family and society paid $10,245 more in health and social care costs in 2013 than those without the condition. As a country, Singapore shouldered the burden of $532 million that year, to care for people with the brain disease marked by memory disorders, personality changes and impaired reasoning. Taking into account social factors and other health problems dementia patients tend to suffer from such as depression and hypertension, the cost triples to $27,331 per person. A month earlier, the government declared war on diabetes, which cost more than $1 billion in 2010 – a figure expected to soar beyond $2.5 billion by 2050. The estimated cost per working-age person due to diabetes was $7,678 in 2010, and is expected to go up to $10,596 by 2050. As at 2013, the annual cost of dementia, at $10,245 per patient, already closes in on the 2050 mark for diabetes, experts pointed out. The price tag is expected to grow exponentially as the country ages. There were about 40,000 dementia patients here in 2015 and this is projected to reach 53,000 by 2020, and 187,000 by 2050.
One in five types of plants worldwide is at risk of extinction from threats such as farming and logging that are wrecking many habitats, according to a report said to be the first global overview of plant life. In total, 390,900 types of plants are known to science, from tiny orchids to giant sequoia trees, according to The State of the World’s Plants, produced by the Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG) at Kew, London. Despite 21 percent of all the species being threatened with extinction, new plants were still being discovered, such as the drosera magnifica in Brazil, a 1.5-m tall insect-eating plant. Nonetheless, the writers said many parts of the world were suffering rapid change such as deforestation for farming and building cities amidst rapid urbanisation, as well as global warming. The study said 31,000 plant species had documented uses such as in medicines, food or building materials. Little-known plants might have unknown benefits, such as resilience to diseases. “If we completely clear the land and have a type of monoculture, what happens when a new plant disease emerges and wipes out the crop entirely?” asked RBG researcher Steve Bachmann.
Facebook was accused of political bias in a report on Gizmodo website, which claimed that Facebook’s team in charge of the site’s “trending” list had intentionally suppressed articles from conservative news sources. The social network uses the “trending” list to indicate the most popular news articles of the day to users. While Facebook denied the allegations, two former employees told the New York Times said the trending feature is curated by a team of employees who exercise “editorial discretion”. The controversy highlights the extent to which Facebook has muscled its way into the United States’ political conversation – and the risks the company faces as it becomes a central force in news consumption and production.
Two stalwart Singapore theatre companies The Necessary Stage and Drama Box collaborate in a production described by the Straits Times as “fascinating”. Titled Manifesto, the sold-out play explores the question of whether artists should be political. How can they not be, the script points out, in a democracy, where every citizen has the right to vote? The production also addresses the idea that art is manipulative and untrustworthy, and by extension artists as well. Manifesto offers deliberately skewed alternative narratives of Singapore’s history, present and future through the fortunes of artists in various decades. Through theatrical sketches, soundscapes and a mixed-media art installation designed by Chan Silei, attributed to a character played by Koh Wan Ching, viewers encounter pioneering playwrights, actors and painters in 1956 and watch their legacies affect other artists all the way into 2024.
The powerful young prince overseeing Saudi Arabia’s economy unveiled ambitious plans on Monday aimed at ending the kingdom’s “addiction” to oil and transforming it into a global investment power. Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said the world’s top oil exporter expects state oil company Saudi Aramco to be valued at more than US$2 trillion ahead of the sale of less than 5 percent of it through an initial public offering (IPO). He added that the kingdom would raise the capital of its public investment fund to 7 trillion riyals (US$2 trillion) from 600b riyals (US$160b). The plans also included changes that would alter the social structure of the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom by pushing for women to have a bigger economic role and by offering improved status to resident expatriates. “We will not allow our country ever to be at the mercy of commodity price volatility or external markets,” Prince Mohammed said at a news conference. “We have developed a case of oil addiction in Saudi Arabia,” he had earlier told al-Arabiya television news channel. His “Vision 2030” envisaged raising non-oil revenue to 600 billion riyals ($160 billion) by 2020 and 1 trillion riyals ($267 billion) by 2030 from 163.5 billion riyals ($43.6 billion) in 2015. But the plan gave few details on how this would be implemented, something that has bedevilled previous reforms. Petroleum accounts for 45 percent of GDP and 80 percent of government revenues in Saudi Arabia. The prince appeared to pitch his comments to appeal across the Saudi social spectrum, and in particular to young people, who face unemployment and an economic downturn despite their country’s oil wealth. More here.
Singaporean Wong Kah Chun becomes the first Asian to take the top prize at the prestigious Gustav Mahler Conducting Competition held in Germany. Wong is a graduate of the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, which opened its doors in 2003 amidst some doubts over how the school and its students would fare. The success of its students like Wong has put these reservations to rest. Its graduates are sought after as postgraduate candidates by top conservatories around the world, including the Yale School of Music. Some have landed coveted positions as professional musicians with orchestras such as the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.
South Korean president Park Geun Hye’s Saenuri party suffers a drubbing at parliamentary elections, losing its majority in Parliament. Ms Park herself saw her personal approval rating plummet from nearly 70 percent when she first assumed office in 2013 to a record low of 31.5 percent. Issues such as a lethargic economy amid a global slowdown, high youth unemployment of 12.5 percent and a deficient pension scheme for the elderly have stoked discontent. But analysts said it was Ms Park’s perceived poor handling of these concerns, and a sense of disregard for the wishes of the people, that most accounted for her dip in fortunes. Ms Park blamed parliamentary gridlock – her party lacked the three-fifths majority needed for Bills to be passed -for her inability to deliver on campaign promises. However, analysts have asserted that it is her confrontational style and her inability to cooperate with the opposition that led to the stalling of her reforms.
The Chinese authorities carry out a firewall upgrade to strengthen Internet restrictions. Previously, Chinese netizens could quite easily bypass the so-called ‘Great Firewall of China’ by using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). Now they are unable to do so in order to visit anti-government websites or foreign media websites such as those of the BBC, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Observers say the censors appear to be following through on decades-old plans to develop a country-wide intranet called the “China Wide Web”, a plan that would drive China into its own cyber-continent after decades of economic flourishing driven by opening up to the world. Motivated apparently by the insecurity of its leaders, the latest moves have not only prevented K-pop fans from keeping up with news on their idols, but also university professors from accessing books and research articles. In addition, the authorities are planning to require Internet and infocomm technology (ICT) hardware makers to provide the government with “back doors” into their equipment, including information on their encryption systems. More here.
To reduce the emphasis on academic scores, Singapore’s Education Ministry announced that it would remove the aggregate scores for the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) from 2021. Students will be placed in grade bands instead. In addition, the Ministry also announced an increase in discretionary admissions to polytechnics and universities based on students’ interests and strengths. Polytechnics will admit up to 12.5 percent of each cohort on a discretionary basis, up from 7.5 percent; universities will take in up to 15 percent, a rise from 10 percent.
The “Panama Papers”, with their exposes of world leaders or their associates having shady offshore financial dealings, caused a furore worldwide, with a furious Kremlin calling it a plot to destabilise Russia, France saying it is good news that could boost tax revenue, and others such as Iceland’s premier facing calls to resign. The documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca were leaked by an anonymous source of German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which shared it with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), and allegedly showed how the firm’s clients avoided tax or laundered money through the British Virgin Islands, a known haven for such crimes. They detailed schemes involving an array of figures from friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin to the brother-in-law of Chinese President Xi Jinping to relatives of the prime ministers of Britain, Iceland, Malaysia and Pakistan.While the Panama Papers detail complex financial arrangements benefiting the world’s elite, they do not necessarily mean the schemes were all illegal. According to ICIJ, most of the services the offshore industry provides can be used for legal purposes and are by law-abiding customers. But the documents show that banks, law firms and other offshore players often fail to follow legal requirements to make sure clients are not involved in criminal enterprises, tax dodging or political corruption.
Iceland’s prime minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson resigned after the leak of the “Panama Papers.” (see above)
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An outbreak of public protest unprecedented in its duration and spread since the ruling party took power in Ethiopia in 1991 is stirring a rare cocktail of discontent. Demonstrations started in November 2015 mainly by members of the Oromo ethnic group, which accounts for about a third of Ethiopia’s 97m-plus people, have refused to die down. Indeed, they have spread. The government has dropped its plan, the original cause of the hubbub, to expand the city limits of Addis Ababa, the capital, into Oromia, the largest of the federal republic’s subdivisions of nine regional states and two city-states. But the protests have billowed into a much wider expression of outrage. People are complaining about land ownership, corruption, political repression and poverty. Human-rights advocates and independent monitors reckon that at least 80 people and perhaps as many as 250, mostly demonstrators, had been killed by March 2016. The government says the true figure is much lower and instead lays stress, as it always does, on terrorist and secessionist threats to the country’s stability. It points out that foreign-owned factories have been attacked, churches burnt down and property looted by organised gangs during the protests. In February 2016, seven federal policemen were killed by local militiamen. All the same, most of the protests have been peaceful. The Oromo particularly resent the sale or lease of land (almost all of which is state-owned) by the government to foreign investors. The government’s decision to shelve its master plan to expand Addis Ababa is regarded by the opposition as a rare step in the right direction. But the protesters say the government must now allow Ethiopians to exercise their constitutional right to express dissent, or discontent could escalate. More here.
Terrorists carry out a bold attack on the airport and a metro station in Brussels, killing over 30 and injuring scores of others. The Islamic State (IS) group claims responsibility. The Maelbeek metro station is close to the European Parliament and European Commission headquarters. Prime Minister Charles Michel called the latest attacks “blind, violent and cowardly”, adding: “This is a day of tragedy, a black day… I would like to call on everyone to show calmness and solidarity”. Some witnesses reported hearing shots fired and shouts in Arabic before the two explosions at the airport. Others said that people fled the first blast, only to get caught in the second. Belgium is known to be a hotbed of terrorist activity, and the country of 11 million has sent the highest number of foreign fighters per capita to join IS in Iraq and Syria. Belgian terrorism expert Pieter van Ostaeyen estimates that up to 562 Belgians have at one point gone to fight in Syria and Iraq, and over 80 have died there. The Soufan Group estimates that 118 Belgians have returned home after traveling to Syria and Iraq. Some of those returnees have been the targets of Belgium’s frequent anti-terror operations over the last year.
February 2016 smashed a century of global temperature records by “stunning” margin, according to data released by Nasa. The unprecedented leap led scientists, usually wary of highlighting a single month’s temperature, to label the new record a “shocker” and warn of a “climate emergency”. The Nasa data shows the average global surface temperature in February was 1.35C warmer than the average temperature for the month between 1951-1980, a far bigger margin than ever seen before. The previous record, set just one month earlier in January, was 1.15C above the long-term average for that month. “Nasa dropped a bombshell of a climate report,” said Jeff Masters and Bob Henson, who analysed the data on the Weather Underground website. “February dispensed with the one-month-old record by a full 0.21C – an extraordinary margin to beat a monthly world temperature record by. This result is a true shocker, and yet another reminder of the incessant long-term rise in global temperature resulting from human-produced greenhouse gases. We are now hurtling at a frightening pace toward the globally agreed maximum of 2C warming over pre-industrial levels.” The UN climate summit in Paris in December 2015 confirmed 2C as the danger limit for global warming which should not be passed. But it also agreed agreed to “pursue efforts” to limit warming to 1.5C, a target now looking highly optimistic. 2015 was the warmest year on record. Read more here.
More workers in Singapore are remaining in the workforce beyond the official retirement age of 62, and the recontract age of 65. More than 40 percent of people aged 65 to 69 were still working last year, compared with just 24 percent in 2006. Government policy, a tight job market and a rise in life expectancy and healthy years are among the factors for the increase. Take, for instance, the requirement for companies to retire workers aged 62 to 65 – almost all who approached 62 are offered re-employment, according to Senior Minister of State for Health, Dr Amy Khor. “Most do not suffer any cut to their basic pay if they continue on the same job with the same job scope and responsibilities,” she told the Straits Times. In 2014, 98 percent who continued working beyond the age of 62 did not suffer any basic wage cut, with about 10 percent earning higher wages. Life expectancy here has been rising and in 2014, it was 80.5 years for men and 84.9 years for women. As people live longer, they worry about whether they have enough for retirement, said Mr David Ang, director of consultancy Human Capital Singapore. With an income, they remain financially independent and do not have to rely on their children. This helps their self-worth. Many also realise that working even part-time keeps them socially and mentally engaged, said Singapore Management University economist Hoon Hian Teck.
Former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said former attorney-general Abdul Gani Patail had shown him proof and told him that the money put into Prime Minister Najib Razak’s personal bank accounts from SRC International Sdn Bhd was a criminal offence. “About the money that is said to have gone to Najib’s personal accounts from SRC International, I was told about it by the former attorney-general himself, with evidence as well, that it is a criminal act! I seek forgiveness from Allah (beristighfar)!” Mr Muhyiddin wrote on Facebook after being suspended from the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party. He lost his party deputy president post due to the suspension, which was decided by the UMNO Supreme Council following a week in which several party leaders spoke against him and called for his removal for his consistent criticism of Mr Najib. Mr Muhyiddin has been speaking openly against Mr Najib over his alleged involvement in 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandals and the RM2.6 billion ‘donation’ since being sacked as deputy prime minister in a Cabinet reshuffle in July 2015. He also hit out at the party’s move to suspend him, saying it was not he who was the subject of investigations and alleged financial scandals, but Mr Najib. “The one who is the cause of UMNO’s problems today is not me, but Najib. Strangely, it is I who gets suspended, while Najib continues to enjoy the power and wealth he has.” He said he had been a faithful deputy in the party, carrying out his duties and helping the president. This was not the same as blindly supporting him, Mr Muhyiddin added. “Does helping the president mean blindly supporting him, including defending his wrongdoing? I don’t think so. If Najib has done something wrong, it is incumbent on me and others in UMNO to advise him and ask him to correct his mistakes for the sake of the party. If he continues to err, and if everyone in UMNO conspires to defend his mistakes, it will be bad for UMNO.”
Thousands of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras islandwide have helped deter loan sharks, nab litterbugs and stop illegal parking in Singapore, according to government figures. And residents generally welcome the reassurance that such surveillance provides, said Members of Parliament. “I quite often receive requests to put cameras up. I haven’t received any to take cameras down,” said Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Liang Eng Hwa. Most of the Housing Board blocks in his area now have CCTV cameras. This is due to the police’s nationwide push to have cameras in every HDB block by the end of this year. Police figures released last month showed that blocks with cameras see fewer unlicensed moneylender harassment cases involving property damage. The number of such cases reported at 2,152 blocks with police cameras plummeted from 1,617 in 2013 – before those blocks had cameras – to just 426 in 2015. Footage from police cameras has led to the arrests of unlicensed moneylenders in 360 cases of harassment since 2012.
Online retailer Amazon is “crushing” small publishers because of their market dominance, a former Downing Street adviser (adviser to the British government) has claimed. Rohan Silva opined that the government should refer the matter to competition watchdogs. “The way in which the small publishers are being crushed by Amazon is absolutely heartbreaking,” he said. He said the government and competition authorities had allowed Amazon to ride roughshod over small publishers, who had no choice but to work with Amazon, which had been allowed to become “so dominant and stifle competition”. “I believe business can be a great force in the world but we should absolutely crack down when businesses are abusing their dominant market position,” he added.
A jury in Missouri, the United States, has awarded US$72m to the family of a woman who died from ovarian cancer, which she said was caused by using Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder and other products containing talcum. The civil suit was filed by Jackie Fox of Birmingham, Alabama. Her son took over as plaintiff following his mother’s 2015 death at 62. Marvin Salter said his late mother used the brand of talcum powder as a bathroom staple for decades. An attorney for Fox said the jury verdict was the first such case among more than 1,000 nationally to result in a jury’s monetary award. The company previously has been targeted by consumer groups over possibly harmful ingredients in items including in its baby shampoo. In May 2009, a coalition of groups called the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics began pushing Johnson & Johnson to eliminate questionable ingredients from its products. After three years, the company agreed in 2012 to eliminate the ingredients 1,4-dioxane and formaldehyde, both considered probable human carcinogens, from all products. In the trial, Fox’s attorneys introduced into evidence an internal memo from a Johnson & Johnson medical consultant suggesting that “anybody who denies [the] risks” between “hygenic” talc use and ovarian cancer would be publicly perceived in the same light as those who denied a link between smoking cigarettes and cancer: “Denying the obvious in the face of all evidence to the contrary.”
Putting the risks in perspective
Singapore police report a surge in online crime which pushed up the overall crime rate. There were 1,203 credit-for-sex scams last year (2015), up from just 66 in 2014. Among these was a ‘sugar mummy’ online scam in which men were promised up to $4,000 a night to sleep with ‘sugar mummies’. After paying various sums of money to the purported “agency” as “registration fees”, these men did not hear from the agencies again.
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In the wake of North Korea’s recent nuclear tests and satellite launches, some conservatives in South Korea are championing a strategy that was once seen as unthinkable: arming their own country with nuclear weapons. Several members of President Park Geun Hye’s party have called for developing a nuclear programme, a view that for now is confined to a small band of conservative politicians and pundits. Still, the notion of nuclear sovereignty holds sizeable emotional sway over South Koreans, many of whom have never fully trusted the US commitment to their defence or China’s promise to help halt North Korea’s nuclear programme. In a survey by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul after the North’s third nuclear test in 2013, 66.5 per cent of respondents supported a home-grown nuclear programme. That share has fallen but still hovers between 52.5 per cent and 54 per cent in polls after the North’s latest nuclear test on Jan 6, 2016. South Korean officials and analysts alike have long said the country had too much to lose if it decided to go nuclear. Its export-dependent economy would founder under global sanctions if it left the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. And it could trigger a regional arms race.
Apple has rejected a judge’s order to help the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) break into an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters. Federal prosecutors had filed a motion requesting Apple’s help after the FBI had failed to crack the phone’s code even two months into the investigation. Syed Farook, a US citizen, and his Pakistani wife Tashfeen Malik gunned down 14 people at an office party in San Bernardino, California, before they were killed by police. Apple said it would fight the judge’s order, firing the latest shot in a growing debate over encryption pitting the government against tech companies. “The US government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook. “We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.” The judge had asked Apple to disable an auto-erase feature after too many unsuccessful attempts are made to unlock the iPhone. Calling it “a backdoor to the iPhone”, Mr Cook said such a software would be too dangerous to create as it would enable one to unlock any iPhone in his physical possession. Despite the government’s argument that its use would be limited to this case, Mr Cook said there is no way to guarantee control. Ever since Edward Snowden made his revelations about government spying, tech companies have been intent on securing the trust of consumers and reluctant to be seen as helping the authorities spy on users.
A team of physicists who can now count themselves as astronomers announced that they had heard and recorded the sound of two black holes colliding a billion light-years away, a fleeting chirp that fulfilled the last prophecy of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. That faint rising tone, physicists say, is the first direct evidence of gravitational waves, the ripples in the fabric of space-time that Einstein predicted a century ago. And it is a ringing (pun intended) confirmation of the nature of black holes, the bottomless gravitational pits from which not even light can escape, which were the most foreboding (and unwelcome) part of his theory. More generally, it means that scientists have finally tapped into the deepest register of physical reality, where the weirdest and wildest implications of Einstein’s universe become manifest. Conveyed by these gravitational waves, an energy 50 times greater than that of all the stars in the universe put together vibrated a pair of L-shaped antennas in Washington State and Louisiana known as LIGO on Sept 14 last year. If replicated by future experiments, that simple chirp, which rose to the note of middle C before abruptly stopping, seems destined to take its place among the great sound bites of science, ranking with Alexander Graham Bell’s “Mr Watson — come here” and Sputnik’s first beeps from orbit.
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What are gravitational waves?
China is now deeply integrated into the global system and its progress has been good for the region and for the world, said Singapore Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen. Beijing now plays a critical role in setting new rules, he said, given its leadership role due to its economic and military weight. “China, too, must now articulate its vision for its desired global order,” he said at the Munich Security Conference. “Its own stability is now dependent on the stability of the overall system.” Dr Ng added in a Facebook post that he was glad Mdm Fu Ying, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of China’s National People’s Congress, acknowledged that her country was on a steep learning curve and had to better explain itself on international fora. “If it did not, others would provide alternate narratives and sow suspicion,” said Dr Ng in the post.
Scientists in Britain have been given the go-ahead to edit the genes of human embryos for research, using a technique that some say could eventually be used to create “designer babies”. Less than a year after Chinese scientists caused an international furore by saying they had genetically modified human embryos, Dr Kathy Niakan, a stem cell scientist from London’s Francis Crick Institute, was granted a licence to carry out similar experiments. Dr Niakan’s lab said the work carried out “will be for research purposes and will look at the first seven days of a fertilised egg’s development, from a single cell to around 250 cells”. Dr Niakan plans to carry out her experiments using CRISPR-Cas9, a technology that is already the subject of fierce international debate because of fears that it could be used to create babies to order. CRISPR can enable scientists to find and modify or replace genetic defects, and many of them have described it as “game-changing”. Dr David King, director of the UK campaign group Human Genetics Alert, has called Dr Niakan’s plans “the first step on a path … towards the legalisation of GM babies”. Dr Niakan says she has no intention of genetically altering embryos for use in human reproduction, but wants to deepen scientific understanding of how a healthy human embryo develops, something that could, in the long term, help to improve infertility treatments. More here
In what is seen as a potential threat to American superiority in technology, the Chinese are becoming a leading player in drone making, even unveiling a device capable of carrying a passenger. China has recently emerged as the world’s No. 2 producer of drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), behind only the US, and has been supplying both state and non-state actors, including those in conflict zones in Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and North Korea. For instance, UAVs from China have been deployed against ISIS militants by Iraqi security units, causing serious casualties.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) in Singapore will continue its mission to reduce excessive focus on academic results in a bid to make learning more enjoyable, where examinations are “not overly perceived to be high-stake endeavours”. Students will have “more time and space to pursue a broader range of interests, sustain their curiosity, cultivate an innovative spirit and pursue a well-rounded education”, the ministry added in its addendum to President Tony Tan’s address on Friday to open the 13th Parliament.
- Starting at the primary-school level, the MOE will be looking at placing a stronger emphasis on outdoor education to build up ruggedness and resilience in students. Programmes will also be strengthened to help students discover their strengths and interests in areas such as arts, music and sports. Tampines Primary School, for example, has a Learning for Life Programme in drama for learning and character development.
- Secondary students will also have more options to develop their interests, with schools to offer distinctive programmes and applied learning opportunities. Junior college graduates will be better prepared for further learning with the strengthening of 21st century competencies in the curriculum.
- “At every stage of their education journey, we will create an environment conducive for holistic development, by providing them the time, space and opportunity to discover and nurture their talents, strengthen their character, and develop their lifelong love for learning,” said Acting Minister for Education (Schools) Ng Chee Meng.
- The MOE will also continue to develop multiple pathways spanning diverse fields, from science and technology to social services, at the tertiary levels. Universities are expanding their offerings beyond the traditional fields, with the Singapore Institute of Technology and SIM University set to launch more applied degree programmes.
- While the Institute of Technical Education and polytechnics will be placing greater emphasis on industry attachments, the MOE said selection practices at institutes of higher learning will be more holistic and assess students beyond their academic scores.
Militants linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) carried out a terror attack in Jakarta, Indonesia, killing eight and wounding more than 20. Five of the dead were the attackers, who struck a Starbucks cafe and a police station. Indonesia has the world’s largest number of Muslims, the vast majority of which practise a moderate form of the faith. Jakarta police chief Tito Karnavian told CNN that ISIS perceives Indonesia as not being an Islamic country. Experts have warned that ISIS is attempting to set up a province in Southeast Asia, specifically in the Southern Philippines, linking up with regional militant groups. Since ISIS announced the creation of a caliphate around Raqqa, Syria in 2014, the region has served as a magnet for jihadis from around the world.
Indonesian police pin the January 2016 terror attacks in Jakarta on a recalcitrant Islamist ideologue named Aman Abdurrahman, now serving time in prison for his role in setting up a militant training camp in Aceh in 2009. Aman is the leader and mentor of the four attackers, whom he had influenced to embrace the ISIS cause. Aman was reportedly able to receive visitors and make phone calls quite freely in prison.