Wednesday Night #1224: the Singapore model

Written by  //  August 17, 2005  //  Herb Bercovitz, Marc Thébaud Nicholson, Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  Comments Off on Wednesday Night #1224: the Singapore model

Who runs our society?
The pithy report delivered by one Wednesday Nighter on Ralph Nader’s recent lecture on civic activism stimulated considerable debate.

Why is fundamentalist Islam so much more exciting than (Ralph Nader’s) brand of ‘religion’?

There is a perception that large Corporations are taking over and controlling our lives, reaping tax benefits at the expense of the public and causing the race for ever-increasing profits to blur awareness of the public good. The question arises as to why SUV’s are still being promoted (and in the U.S., subsidized as trucks) in the face of a diminishing gasoline supply. However, corporations are groups of human beings with the same motivation as the public. The fault, in fact, appears to lie with the electorate who, disillusioned with the political process and their elected representatives, have given up and increasingly been absent from the polls. By the same token, today our politicians are revealed by the media as people like ourselves (though sometimes worse), who don’t seem to be able to get anything done.
The Internet does not necessarily promote what is in the best interest of the public, but, by its very nature of worldwide participation by a gamut of interests and individuals, bloggers and the like, neither does it represent a concentrated propaganda tool. Pressure groups and lobbyists have become representatives of minority groups and corporations. In the face of indifference to the legislative process and the legislators on the part of the majority of the electorate, it is they (the electors) who must bear responsibility for the changes that are taking place. Using such excuses as, I don’t know how, I don’t have the time or it won’t make a difference, we, the electorate, have sold our birthright. If we don’t show interest in the political process, someone else will.

When is slavery not slavery?
Throughout the world, young men and women voluntarily choose spend a finite period of time in more affluent countries, working in conditions that would be unacceptable to natives of their host countries, in order to eventually return to their homeland with sufficient money to spend the remainder of their life living more comfortably than they would otherwise have been able to do.
In Canada, a considerable number of immigrants, mainly Filipinas, work as domestics six to seven days a week, but live independently sharing apartments together with others doing the same. Men, mostly from the Philippines do likewise, generally helping to care for incapacitated Canadian patients. In Singapore, it is not unusual for young immigrants to work as Nannies or domestics on a twenty-four hour, seven-day-a-week basis. They live in and are provided with all the necessities of life including meals and medical care, enabling them to bank the major part of their earnings. They appear to look upon their terms of employment as an opportunity for a better life on return to their homeland.

The opportunity to make a living with two strong arms and a strong back is gone – at least in western Europe and North America

From a distance Singapore has the appearance of a harsh single political party country. Rules of behavior are strict and penalties for non-compliance severe. There is no welfare or public support program, leaving families to look after their members. However, Singaporeans appear to feel secure and happy as is the case in families where the rules are strict, understood and respected by all family members.
This (Wednesday Night) would be an illegal assembly
The fact that Singapore is run like a company makes it accountable to its shareholders (citizens)
Singapore has made the decision to permit the development of two gambling casinos despite the personal aversion of the ruling politicians to the notion. It comes down to a realistic appraisal of Singapore’s need to compete with neighboring economies. Lesson learned from the case of the Formula I race which the Singapore government refused; Malaysia acquired the rights and all of the economic benefits.

Bread and circuses
Is there an intrinsic value in hosting international events? Ever since the 1976 Olympics, Montreal, in contrast to Singapore, appears to have a thirst for international events, for which the taxpayers shoulder huge burdens without receiving benefits that would permit the city to invest in the infrastructure that would improve their lives. The loss of the Montreal Formula I, although complicated by issues of tobacco advertising and how much money is invested by Québec in such events, was fought bitterly, however the real spin-offs are less in terms of economic benefits and more in the perception of Montreal on the international events map. This applies equally to the loss of the Expos.
You lose the Formula I, baseball… and the next thing you know, Montreal is one big New Brunswick

China – commercial opportunities
There appear to be some excellent opportunities in Asia for the development and marketing of Asian brands to Europe and North America. There is a wide range of excellent domestic brands in China – two sectors cited were men’s clothing and restaurant chains (offering franchise opportunities). While there is some consumer resistance that manifests itself in preferences for knock-offs of high-end western brands, demonstrably the growth is in domestic products like household items, appliances, gardening materials. High-end children’s products are a very promising area. Distribution, which is tightly controlled, is a major issue in China, but the most critical one – especially as related to franchise operations – is the absence of protection for intellectual property rights and the slow evolution of the legal system to western standards.

Marketing and the Internet
The whole marketing industry is evolving at an incredibly fast pace with the use of new technologies such as the Internet and text messaging, which make marketing directly to target segments far easier. While much of the focus appears to be on the tech savvy younger markets, in North America, Western Europe and Japan, the boomer generation is the one with more concentrated wealth – although more inclined to conserve that wealth for the less frivolous (?) expenditures . One segment that does not seem to be susceptible to theses new forms of marketing is the large population of successful tradesmen, many of whom have neither time nor interest in keeping up with new communications technologies beyond the omnipresent cell phone, which for them is simply a work-related tool. This group represents an educational challenge. Curiously, another segment of relative Luddites is found among educators.
Marketing in Asia is not regarded as something that results in a transaction
What is the effect of these new technologies on education? Is technology adding to the education process? Education and literacy, like technology, are evolving, but while the absolute literacy rate has evolved, the issue is whether people can support themselves with the degree of literacy they have acquired. The education level has indeed improved in the Third World thanks to technology, both in the expensive private schools and among the poorest of the poor. Furthermore, the leapfrogging of technologies in Third World countries has enabled disadvantaged young people to move far ahead of where their parents might ever have hoped to be. Although some of the outcomes may be deplored (disappearance of many indigenous languages and cultures), the economic benefits to the societies of those countries may indeed lead to the realization of the dream of poverty eradication expressed by Jeffrey Sachs

[Editor’s note: An MTV special to air in September will chronicle the journey of Angelina Jolie and Dr. Jeffrey Sachs as they travel to Kenya. The two will check in on a United Nations Millennium Project team’s work on poverty, health and hunger issues in a group of western Kenyan villages.]


We are more than thrilled that our son, Marc and daughter-in-law, Jean have arrived from Singapore and will be with us this Wednesday. They bring a fresh perspective to our discussion and will no doubt raise topics and questions to challenge Wednesday Night. In anticipation, we have trolled the news and offer the following items as possibilities for your consideration.
Despite the CBC National news blackout, we find that there is a lot happening in the world, dominated as usual these days by news from the Middle East. Vying for headlines are the Gaza withdrawal and its possible consequences and the deadlock over the Iraqi Constitution.
Coverage of the Gaza story by the western media is universally careful, expressing sympathy for the settlers who are being evicted while hoping (but not particularly hopeful) that the gesture by Israel will be met with a new cooperation from the Palestinians. As usual, the Economist has a thoughtful background piece which sums up the situation and the possible outcomes:
“Many inhabitants, former residents of poor, charmless towns, also find a sense of community, of building something new. The phrase “Garden of Eden” is even heard…. The fall from grace will be a hard one. To leave is not just to throw away the years or decades invested in building houses, businesses, farms and communities and to search, perhaps fruitlessly, for new jobs. It is to return to an Israel that has grown alien. And for what? Like many in Israel itself, they are sceptical that the “disengagement” will bring any benefits; rather, they fear that Palestinian extremists will take it as a sign that terrorism works.” Waiting for a miracle
In any event, by midnight Tuesday night the evictions will have happened and by Wednesday we may begin to see the results.
There’s a deadlock over the Iraq Constitution (Iraqis miss constitution deadline)
and delegates now have until 22 August to resolve the disputes. We are reminded that the American Constitution was the outcome of a constitutional Convention that met at Philadelphia in May 1787, signed by 39 delegates (out of 55) in September, and ratified two years later. We also remember that the American Constitution was based on the Articles of Confederation of 1781, thus some six years of trial and error. The wrangle over the Canadian Constitution was interminable. The Constitution of the Fifth Republic of France (1958) replaced the previous one of 1946. How can we expect the Iraqis in six months to come up with a document that pleases all the parties and powers who must vote on t before the end of the year?
The Indonesian government and rebels from the Free Aceh Movement (Gam) have signed a peace deal aimed at ending their nearly 30-year conflict. According to reports, the rebels have accepted a form of local self-government and the right eventually to establish a political party, while the Indonesian government has agreed to release political prisoners and offer farmland to former combatants to help them reintegrate into civilian life. Although this is not the first such treaty signed, commentators are cautiously optimistic that this one could hold.
Closer to home, we note that Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the mid-term Senate election will be enlivened by the competition in the guise of the highly photogenic Republican Jeanine Pirro, who also seems to have some husband problems, in her case, a husband who is a convicted felon for federal tax evasion and meantime, according to the New Yorker, Bill aspires to even bigger and better things – think World Domination. On September 15, he will be hosting the Clinton Global Initiative, timed to coincide with the UN’s World Summit. The guest list features an impressive and eccentric mix of moguls, heads of state, and problem-solvers who, by the end of the meeting will be expected to sign pledges to do something about bettering the world.
Of course here in Québec we have the fun of watching the PQ leadership campaign and reminding ourselves of who’s in and who’s out.
U.S. lake starts draining into Canadian waters Water from the controversial U.S. drainage project has begun pumping into a river that will eventually flow into Canada. The good news is that if tests show that Devils Lake is contaminating Canadian waters, the U.S. government is required to stop the flow.
If Water is not your issue, then possibly the softwood lumber debate is of more concern. What could/can Canada do? Finance Minister Ralph Goodale, speaking at the annual conference of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, said Canada has been treated unfairly by the U.S. in disputes over such goods as wheat, beef and softwood lumber. The minister said he was “very disturbed” by the American response to a recent NAFTA panel ruling on the softwood lumber dispute that he called “absolutely clear cut and without equivocation in Canada’s favor.”
Is anyone watching? Federal food safety inspectors found more than 1,000 instances since 2004 where US meat plants cut corners or violated regulations aimed at preventing the spread of mad cow disease, the US Agriculture Department said Monday.
War of the Web: Yahoo now claims that its search engine can now trawl double the web content of arch-rivals Google. “Generating searches is crucial for both companies because the requests spur revenue-producing ads alongside the results. The strategy has proven highly effective, with Google earning $712 million through the first half of the year while Yahoo earned $959 million.”
AP reports that the search for a new White House chef took six months and the selected candidate is the first woman and first minority to hold the post.
The Patriot Act – Good, bad, or just plain ugly? There are many views.
On a final note, we add this item to the growing collection of collateral damage from the no-fly list: Infants have been stopped from boarding planes at airports throughout the United States because their names are the same as, or similar to, those of possible terrorists on the government’s “no-fly list.”

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