Friday, November 28, 2008

India's 27/11 - Time to reflect on the real issues

The month of November has come to be a month of mourning for people across the world.

Whether it's carefully timed to create a deep hole of grief before the Christmas season or some other symbolic meaning to the perpetuators, it has once again shaken many of us watching from around the world.

The Straits Times today (or should I say yesterday) devoted more than half of its prime pages to it. And yes, it's all blood and gore that captures the readers.

But only one article really addressed the significance of this event. Has the face of conflict in India changed?

Conflict in the country has been a part of the everyday workings of the nation. If it's not the BJP against the congress party, it's the far left Marxist party or one of many smaller sectarian parties.

Then there's the Hindus versus the Muslims, and occasionally the Christians, not to mention the countless clashes between different ethnic communal groups within its volatile states like Assam and Orissa.

Last but not least, it has the caste system to ensure a large majority of oppressed will deliver a constant supply of poor, uneducated and devoutly religious zealots to fill the ranks of rioters or voters come election time.

India is a chaotic country with a highly fragmented social fabric filled with fault-lines that could be easily exploited by terrorists and activists alike to start conflict.

But after this week's attacks, one may argue that the face of conflict in India has changed. For the first time, India has come face to face with the same kind of transnational terrorism the US encountered in the 9/11 attacks.

This is no longer caste-based or ethnicity-based conflict India has seen the last couple of decades. This is an enemy of a truly transnational character. And at the core of it is the problem of poverty and unequal development and a lingering resentment against the prevailing world powers - the US and Europe.

With no wood, there can be no fire. The globalisation that has brought wealth and prosperity to so many of us in the developed world has provided international terrorism the wood they needed to start their fire. Lingering poverty - in fact widening wealth disparity - is feeding these terror cells with plenty of willing and eager young men and women with nothing to lose from blowing themselves up or taking the lives of those they see as responsible for their life of oppression and poverty.

It's time to mourn for Mumbai, yes. But it's also time we wake up to the real pressing need for more equitable development. The Indian government may be putting out small fires here and there by eliminating these terrorists in this instance. But if they take away the wood altogether, the terrorist will have nothing to burn with.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

DBS blaming the wrong people

I'm sorry, but is it me who's missing the point here or the DBS bank (Singapore's largest bank)?

The front pager on The Straits Times on Wednesday said "DBS overhauls sales tactics" - "CUSTOMERS will be asked tough questions before investing".

Should not the customers be the ones asking the tough questions? And since many of the banks investors are pensioners who don't know two cents about how the financial market works, shouldn't the bank's buddies in these failed financial companies be the ones getting asked the tough questions?

The bank is shifting the blame on the customers for "ignorant" investment? Hello, but this is their hard earned savings you're talking about, which the bank just lost thanks to some great decision making.

The customers didn't lose their money because they made the wrong decision to trust Singapore's biggest and most reliable bank. They lost their money because THE BANK made the wrong decisions.

So why is the bank saying now that investors will be scrutinised for wanting to invest? It just doesn't make sense.

And given DBS's strict regulation, the source of investor's money is hardly a problem in this country. One could hardly spit in the streets without getting fined, much less invest money obtained by illegal means with the biggest bank of Singapore.

I'm thoroughly disappointed with the way the bank is handling this. And more so with The Straits Times for reporting this without any critical voices. The only people quoted in the article were DBS chairman and the chief executive officer of the securities investors association of Singapore - all in favour of the new "sales tactics".

Did the paper not think it necessary to get sentiments from 'the investor'?

I think we're putting the blame on the wrong people here and also asking the wrong questions. It's no use making sure customers read the summary sheet before they say yes they want to invest because reading it doesn't mean they understand what they are reading. And all this while, they've been trusting the bank sales personnel to be implicitly honest with them when explaining the returns and the risks of investing.

It's bad enough that the bank's gone and lost their customers' savings. The least they could do is not blame them for a mistake they didn't commit.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Obama: Now we believe

This entry has been long overdue.

It's been a little over a month since my last entry and America has changed, so it seems, over night. Obama has gone and swept through the elections to be America's next President, and America's first Black President.

Who would have thought? Many a Singaporean hoped America would vote for a black president, but deep down didn't believe it would actually happen. To many of us, America is a country of big talkers who will
say many things to please, but do quite the opposite come crunch time.
But on the 4th of Nov, America proved us wrong. And I believe it also shocked many Americans too. This time, the polls were right.

It was an emotional time for me too. I was at the American Club as the elections unfolded and I have to say, my heart skipped a few beats and the hairs on the back of my neck stood as the screen flashed: "Ohio for Obama", "Virginia for Obama", "Pennsylvania for Obama", "FLORIDA for Obama"!!! [See
Realclearpolitics for the final tally]

I was nearly in tears. I was praying to God, let Obama win like it was a matter of life and death to me. I was screaming and jumping each time Obama won a state. My hands were sweaty and I was constantly at the edge of my seat.

I'm not American. This is not a vote for my president. Why was I so emotional? I would hardly be a fraction so anxious at my own country's elections.

Obama has come to represent all the western ideals that I grew up reading in history books and bedtime story books of how with conviction, one can achieve justice; that with courage, the good people can stand up against tyranny and achieve truth, justice, equality and victory.

The 4th of November was momentous for me because right there and then, I felt like I was part of a historic moment. This day would be a watershed moment in history and decades later, I can tell my children and grandchildren that I was there when America voted it's first Black President, and I was there to see the Americans cheer, scream, cry and embrace each other when Obama was made President.

I had so many Americans tell me that for the first time in 8 years, they don't feel ashamed of being American. For the first time in 8 years, they are not embarrassed to tell people they are American. And for the first time in 8 years, they feel proud of their country.

For me, for the first time in over 20 years, I actually believe democracy works. And for the first time in a long time, I actually believe that justice exists in this world. That good occasionally triumphs over evil (not to say that McCain is evil. In fact I quite like the guy), and that there is hope for a better world.

There are very few people who can make you sit up, stop what you're doing, wherever you are in the world, to listen to him speak. And when he speaks he musters a stirring in your heart to want to get up and do something about all the ills of society, to right the wrong, and to stand up to the injustices of the world. Obama is one of them.

I just wish I could feel this way about politics in my own country. Pity such a personality will be a long time coming...if ever.