Archive for the 'Singapore' Category

Mar 25 2015

The benign dictator

Lee Kuan Yew passed away on 23 March. He was 91. For those who don't know ( and you really should know this) he was the first Prime Minister of Singapore and was the founder of much of what we consider modern Singapore. As he himself said, Singapore is his legacy. That applies for both good and not so good.

Now truth in advertising, I love to be in Singapore. Its where I want to live, (as well as Japan) and I have been there 18 times. I love the place. When Lee Kuan Yew became the prime minister of Singapore in 1959, he assumed control of an ethnically divided, impoverished territory lacking in natural resources. In his 31 years in office—followed by another 21 in advisory roles—Lee transformed his country into one of the world’s most prosperous societies, a major business and transportation hub boasting a per capita GDP of $55,000.  I was often grateful for the quality of life he masterminded there.

But that quality of life came with a price and a dark side-and any eulogy of the man has to take that into account:

He will be remembered as the father of his country, a political street fighter who cut his teeth in the struggle against colonialism. Some will recall an unapologetic taskmaster — a leader more respected than loved — whose pragmatism lifted a Southeast Asian backwater into a sleek metropolis and global business hub. Others will recall the politically incorrect pundit who became an outspoken champion of “Asian values” and a sharp critic of American-style democracy. Each is correct, and captures part of the man. But to these remembrances one more should be added: Lee was the most successful dictator of the 20th century. (emphasis added-SS)

It’s a verdict that will please almost no one. For his admirers, he is a singular historic figure, not an autocratic strongman like those who eventually lorded over other former colonial outposts. He may not have been a Jeffersonian democrat, they say, but he was no dictator. On the other end of the spectrum, dissidents and democrats will take umbrage at the notion of an illiberal, authoritarian leader being remembered fondly at all. Still, Lee was one of the most universally celebrated statesmen of the last 50 years. American presidents, British prime ministers, apparatchiks from the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and European officials all lined up to heap praise on the leader of this authoritarian duchy…………..

…..When Lee retired from office in 1990, Singapore had some of the world’s busiest shipyards, cleanest streets, top schools, lowest taxes, best healthcare, and most efficient public services. The so-called “little red dot” had become one of the world’s most livable cities, a magnet for skilled foreign workers and the multinational corporations who hire them.

But the miracle wasn’t without its price. Lee kept his political project on a tight leash, dampening free speech, muzzling his critics, and squashing political opposition before it could take root. The ruling People’s Action Party is rightly considered synonymous with the government because it has won every election since 1959. Singapore didn’t have a single opposition leader in office until 1981, and until 2011 there have never been more than four opposition members serving in the parliament at one time. On one hand, Lee’s political machine was unquestionably effective at delivering results for Singapore. In most years, it’d be hard for any political party anywhere to compete against PAP’s record of accomplishment. That said, when it came to ensuring their political future, Lee and his cohort were incredibly gifted at putting their finger on the scale.


As I said, I really do like the place, even with all its faults, and people who are less enlightened then I am, tend to think I overlook them. Its not true and never has been. If you go back through my posts since 2005 you will see I have been pretty even handed in my reporting. I admit, I do like a place where I can go out for a piece of pizza or a piece of ass with the same general ease, and in my mind that was always one of Singapore's pluses.  But there was much, much more to the city than just my hunger. And Singapore is a great place to eat. ( as well as do other things….   cheeky ). Its services and general atmosphere are unmatched anywhere, especially the United States. Singaporeans solved problems efficiently and in ways the world could and did learn from -specifically with respect to health care and housing. The United States, being exceptional and all, did not seem to take the lesson on board. I still bridle angrily at people who say that Singapore's solutions cannot be applied to the United States. Its completely wrong , they could be, and would work.

That said, there were troubling aspects to the place too and still are. Just ask this guy.

My driver, a middle-aged Chinese guy, recognizes me. For most of my working life I was forced into exile overseas. Despite graduating from Cambridge in 1983 with a first-class honors degree in economics, no one in my home country would employ me. But in 2008 I decided to return home anyway and last year I stood as candidate for the Opposition in the general elections. My driver is sneaking surreptitious glances at me in the mirror. Finally he says:“JBJ. Very good man!”

I tell him he’s right and he goes on:

“But in the end very poor. Selling his book on the street corner. I buy a copy. Very sad, lah!” Then after some thought, “That’s what happens when you go against the gahmen (government).”

He is referring to my father, Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam. When I was a boy growing up in Singapore my father had been one of the highest-earning lawyers. He was also the first Opposition politician to get a seat in parliament, breaking a 16-year monopoly by the PAP. He was subjected to multiple defamation suits and perverse judgments which forced him out of parliament and out of his law practice and eventually bankrupted him.

Kenneth Jeyaretnam then goes on to ask the question of Mr. Lee that we all should ask, could not the government have found a way to have prosperity, progress and innovation without sacrificing central control and whilst not repressing freedom?  I personally think the answer is yes, especially because there are examples that prove me right, but Mr. Lee would not have agreed with that answer at all. Perhaps at the start he needed a tight grip-for the Communists where a real and persistent threat. But later-not so much:

During his last decades in public life, the Singaporean regime became increasingly critical of the American-led notion that human rights—including democracy—had worldwide applicability. In an interview published in the Atlantic in 2013, Lee argued that “Americans believe their ideas are universal—the supremacy of the individual and free, unfettered expression. But they’re not—and never were.”?

There is one other aspect of the society he crafted that I, for one, find particularly troubling and its not unique to Singapore, the Middle East and other parts of Asia have it too-namely the fact that a part of Singapore's success rests on the backs of an underclass of foreign workers, that will never enjoy the benefits of the prosperity that has been brought there."Singapore cannot compete with cheap labor overseas so it brings the cheap labor to Singapore, with no minimum wage there is no bottom to how cheap this labor can be. Not surprisingly this exploitation has fueled an explosion in GDP but not in real wages, which have stagnated or fallen." Specifically for me, and since this is women's history month, the exploitation of so many people troubles folks a good deal.  The fact that American feminists pay ZERO attention to the plight of these women, is just grounds to shout at them repeatedly.

Singapore is a mixed bag to be sure-but its a better bag than most places, ( light years ahead of Shopping Mall USA) and a lot of that was do to the vision of Lee Kuan Yew. “People want economic development first and foremost,” he said in an interview printed in his 1998 book, The Man and His Ideas. “The leaders may talk something else. You take a poll of any people. What is it they want? The right to write an editorial as you like? They want homes, medicine, jobs, schools."

That they got. At what price they paid-that is what will be the discussion in the years to come.

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Dec 18 2013

Not quite the Christmas present he wanted back at the begining of the year…….

It was brought by a jolly fat man all right-but it turns out to be the gift that keeps on giving. Don't bend over to pick up the soap:

SAN DIEGO — The first conviction in a massive bribery scandal that has ensnared six U.S. Navy officials could lead to an expanded probe if a senior Navy criminal investigator who pleaded guilty cooperates with authorities as part of his plea agreement.

Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent John Beliveau II entered a guilty plea Tuesday in federal court in San Diego to bribery charges stemming from the multimillion-dollar fraud probe targeting a Malaysian defense contractor.

Beliveau, who faces a maximum sentence of 20 years when he’s sentenced March 7, said he is sorry for what he’s done.

“I’m here to do the right thing, and that’s what I did today,” Beliveau, 44, said after the hearing.

His attorney, Gretchen von Helms, declined to say whether her client would now assist the investigation, saying only he is “ready to prove he is honorable.”

That noise you hear is the sweating of yet to be indicted conspirators, me thinks.

So much for the Hoe, Hoe, Hoe this year! 😉

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Sep 18 2013

Another good deal gone fleeting……

For those that do not know, Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd., has long had a "lock" on the business of providing husbanding services to Navy ships in Asia. It's quite a lucrative business and is also known as a good deal for retiring supply officers who might want to stay in Asia. 

Or at least it was until yesterday:

SAN DIEGO — A Navy commander, a Naval criminal investigator and a defense contractor have been charged with conspiracy in a bribery scheme to gain millions in international port contracts, federal prosecutors said.

Leonard Francis was arrested this week in San Diego, Cmdr. Michael Misiewicz was arrested in Colorado, and NCIS Supervisory Special Agent John Beliveau II was arrested in Virginia, the U.S. attorney’s office said in a statement Tuesday night. Each faces up to five years in prison if convicted of conspiracy to commit bribery.

An email seeking comment from an NCIS spokesman wasn’t immediately returned Tuesday evening.

Francis, a Malaysian national who lives in Singapore, is the president and CEO of Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd., which has had “husbanding” contracts for Navy ships at ports worldwide for 25 years. The contracts — one of which was worth up to $125 million — involve providing services for ships and submarines in port, such as providing tugboats, security and transportation, paying customs fees, supplying food, fuel and water, and removing trash.

Prosecutors contend that Francis conspired to bribe the other men with luxury travel, prostitutes and gifts in exchange for information that allowed him to overcharge on port contracts by millions of dollars.

Could this be a potential business or job opportunity for mois?cool

7 responses so far

Oct 11 2012

Just don’t throw the crumbs on the street.

Otherwise you might end up getting caned.

SINGAPORE: Doughnut lovers in Singapore will soon no longer have to bring home boxes of Krispy Kreme doughnuts whenever they return from overseas.

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Corporation on Thursday announced that it has signed an agreement with Star360 Group to bring its doughnut shops to Singapore.

Under the agreement, 15 Krispy Kreme franchise locations will be set up in Singapore over the next five years.


One more reason to cry myself to sleep tonight, thinking about the walk up the non moving escalator. When they opened a Krispy Kreme in Shinjuku, the place had huge lines at all times of the day. I wonder if Singapore will have the same. In Hong Kong they used to have one in Soho-but it never really took off. ( It was just down the street from McSorley's-one of my lunchtime haunts in HK).

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Mar 30 2010

Rendering unto Caesar….

Published by under Assholes,Singapore

The homage that he demands-in Singapore that it is. Lee Kwan Yew shows again why he and his family rank among the tyrants:

In 1994, Philip Bowring, a contributor to the International Herald Tribune’s op-ed page, agreed as part of an undertaking with the leaders of the government of Singapore that he would not say or imply that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had attained his position through nepotism practiced by his father Lee Kuan Yew. In a February 15, 2010, article, Mr. Bowring nonetheless included these two men in a list of Asian political dynasties, which may have been understood by readers to infer that the younger Mr. Lee did not achieve his position through merit. We wish to state clearly that this inference was not intended. We apologize to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong for any distress or embarrassment caused by any breach of the undertaking and the article.

The fact that it is true-neither man would have their positions save for the fact that they are related to the puppet master himself-would appear to have nothing to do with the issue.

No one should be suprised that the long arm of LKY reaches even into the United States. Nonetheless it is dissapointing-one might have hoped the NYT would have more of a backbone. Then again-the Lee family controls the courts in Singapore, and they are well known for suing the bejesus out of any one who dares to critcize their one party dictatorship state. 

Is there any question whatsoever that Singapore, despite having had elections for decades, is authoritarian by Western standards?  Or that nepotism and other forms of personal loyalty plays a stronger role in Singapore than in true representative democracies?  Or that Lee Kuan Yew played and continues to play an outsized role in Singapore and People’s Action Party politics?


No surprise whatsoever. Look at J.B. Jeyaretnam and what he went through. I suspect that just like with JB, this issue with the Times was personal to LKY-everything is to him. And the Times knew that if they wanted to operate in Singapore-they were going to have to grovel. It is the devil’s bargain that LKY made with the sheep people of Singapore a long time ago. Nice place to live-no freedom of speech or the press. The only real surprise is the kid glove treatment they get from the rest of the world. Money talks.

5 responses so far

May 02 2009

Why I watch Bloomberg TV…..

Published by under Singapore

Because its the only glimpse of Singapore I’m going to get any time soon. Its the same reason I watch CNBC when it covers Asian Markets.

It’s also a chance to see this fine little slice of tuna:

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Feb 19 2009

The last person Obama needs advice from…….

The March Forbes Magazine ( my Dad gave me a subscription this year) has an article giving advice to the new president from Lee Kwan Yew. For those who do not know he was the Prime Minister of Singapore and is now the Minister Mentor-which is Singaporean for, ” the man behind the curtain pulling the strings”.

I found it interesting that LKY would have anything to say to Obama at all. After all, he is the father of a dictatorship one party state, that persecutes and drives opposition into the dirt. I mean what advice can he give that is relevant to America’s problems?

Maybe things like:

1) Pay your serving class nothing. After all it worked in Singapore, as E @ L noted, “Such a practice has kept Singapore the clean, well-lighted golf-course that is is. Pay the maids and the building laborers and accountants and clerical staff and radiographers absolute SHIT money!”

2) Resist open discussion. Write your laws such that newspapers, bloggers, and other malcontents can be prosecuted and bankrupted at the whim of the party in power.

3) Make sure the Chinese are allowed to make lots of  money.

Actually, that last bullet is what the good MM’s point really is. ( He did not say the first two-except by his actions both in and out of office).  After eight paragraphs of fluff about not leaving Iraq ( Like Singapore ever made a great contribution there), Israel and Palestine-he comes to his real point:

After a short period, though, both China and India will resume their spectacular growth. With their huge populations spread over two subcontinents, these two giants can prime their economies and grow through their domestic markets. They will become heavyweight actors on the world stage. Though they will not displace the U.S. as the preeminent world power, the U.S. will no longer be able to take their views and interests for granted, as it has in the past.

My dear Mr. Yew, this good for America how?

But that is not LKY’s real point now is it? It is good for the Chinese and so by extension it must be good for those who launder their money do their banking.

I love the city state of Singapore dearly, and this little diatribe is probably not helping my chances for a work visa. However unless Obama is ready to adopt a policy of trying to marginalize 40% of his population-LKY is the last man anyone should seek advice from.

Maybe the US should start a Gweilo stimulus plan for Singapore………………. and thus give guys like me work.

Till that happens-mind your own business Mister Mentor.

2 responses so far

Jan 19 2008

Lion City

After a long ordeal with airports and airlines-arrived here in one piece. Spending a few days here then off to Korea for the next to the last time.

I suspect this is something of a farewell tour to a city that I dearly love. And more importantly-farewell to a dream. Try as I might to find interest in the part of employers here-so far nothing rears its head. That and a combination of other factors are making me realize that, as is the case so often in the world-life is not always fair. And dreams fail to come true for a lot of people.

Hope persists-but it is clear that I will have to-at some point-accept defeat and go where I can manage better financially. Choices have a way of rising up and engulfing you it seems. Maybe with some changes in circumstances I can manage a life here-but right now its not looking in the cards. Which makes me rather sad to say the least.

However for today-I’ll just enjoy the day. See the sights and stroll down memory lane.

And, like Scarlett, I’ll worry about other things another day. 

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Oct 10 2007

Minister Mentor Putin?

Published by under Singapore

I’m sure E @ L would agree:

Putin positions himself as Russia’s Lee Kuan Yew-One hears much about the “death of democracy” in Russia these days, especially as current President Vladimir Putin muses openly about slipping into the office of prime minister to sidestep constitutional term limits. As a former Sovietologist with a degree in Russian literature, I find this story line all too familiar. But rest assured, I likewise see America’s Cold War victory remaining secure.Russia enjoyed no real democracy in the 1990s, instead suffering an economic chaos that left society prey to all manner of gangsters. Not surprisingly, average Russians craved a return to order, which finally arrived in the political ascendancy of Putin’s “siloviki,” or “power guys,” who spent their formative years working for the KGB.

During its final years, the dysfunctional Soviet system muddled along thanks primarily to those who operated “on the left” (na levo), or in the black markets, and those who operated “on the right” (na pravo), or in the security services. The former kept the decrepit economy from collapsing; the latter kept the decrepit regime from collapsing.

Democracy is not on Singapore’s menu-stability and the advancement of Chinese Singaporeans is. At least now we know where the good Vladimir learned it. (Or did MM Lee really spend time in the KGB?).

Read more here and here.

One response so far

Sep 30 2007


Published by under Singapore

From E @ L :

Condemn Myanmar Junta – Sooner or later Myanmar will become a democracy. Sooner or later its military leaders will have to give way to an elected government.

Substitute ‘Singapore’ for ‘Myanmar’, ‘business’ for ‘military’ and you have the situation here[Singapore].

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