Sunday, September 30, 2012

Politics in Schools

The Government is terrified of Bersih. Therefore, Bersih is flayed, outlawed and damned. Regretably, one school, i.e. SMK Aminuddin Baki in Johor Baru was so overcome with recklessness that it realized too late that it had stepped into a political minefield. The school's SPM Moral Studies trial examination paper had deemed it fit to talk about the Bersih 3.0 protest and described it as an unlawful event. The said paper even carried a photograph of the April 28 demo and this was followed by the question: "Is it appropriate for a citizen to participate in an illegal assembly?" 

Of course, from a government lackey's perspective, the correct answer was "Not appropriate".

Anyway, when the offending question was posted on the Net, there was the predictable uproar. The school's principal Wan Hajasham Harun when contacted by Malaysiakini on Friday dismissed it as much ado about nothing.

Even Deputy Education Minister Puad Zarkashi had said there was "no problem with the question so long as it did not touch on racial and religious sensitivities or insult any individuals".

So what does this tell you? That this type of indoctrination is happening in Malaysian schools and alarm bells should be ringing loudly. That this particular school head is a bona fide idiot, more interested in scoring political points. That education in Bolehland has really gone to the dogs. DAP's Lim Kit Siang on Friday mused whether Education Minister Muhyiddin Yassin or his running dogs would have approved SPM questions such as those on police violence during peaceful rallies.

If Wan Hajasham Harun wishes to indulge in politics, then she should quit and join UMNO. But do not bring politics into schools.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Najib's 2013 Budget

Every BN budget has been called "people-friendly". Budget 2013 is no different. On paper at least, the RM251.6 billion budget that was unveiled yesterday will cater to almost all segments of Malaysian society.
Let's see what Najib Razak is giving out this time. Families earning up to RM3,000 and singles earning up to RM2,000 will receive more money. Civil servants will get a one-and-a-half month bonus. Government pensionerswill benefit from a higher minimum. More book vouchers for schoolchildren. One percentage point tax cut for those with up to RM50,000 in taxable income. RM200 rebate for smartphones. Relaxed rules to own a first house. A 100-percent tax waiver for 10 years for oil and gas businesses. 
Najib is desperate to win the people's gratitude  so he rewards them with a couple of hundred ringgits in their pockets. He doesn't really care about the future, only the present. Hence, the handouts. Some would call it blatant vote-buying with taxpayers' funds. But Najib doesn't give a damn. Ah Jib Gor's budget is full of "Lu tolong gua, gua tolong lu" deals to enable BN to triumph in GE13. Hopefully, Malaysians will come to realize that these sweeteners are laced with slow poison. If we are not ready to undertake long overdue reforms and manage the deficit, we are mortgaging the future of this country.
A budget should not be about giving away instant goodies. It has to  adopt a long-term approach. We must look at improving the quality of life of Malaysians in a manner that is sustainable and progressive. Najib's budget addresses the first but not the second. Aren't I right to call this a populist budget?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Budget 2013 - PR's Version

It was a brilliant move when on Wednesday PR presented a “shadow Budget” – their version of Budget 2013 – which preempted Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Budget announcement today and even better, it will see more realistic and achievable targets for the Malaysian economy. It sets a target of 5.2% in economic growth with inflation rate projected at 3% while the deficit is expected to ease to 3.5%.

Other key points included:

Increase disposable income of Malaysians via measures such as cheaper car prices (i.e. reducing car excise duties by 20 percent), abolishment of tolls and waiver of student loans.

Hike the present RM300 welfare payment for the poor to RM550.

Boost oil royalty to 20 percent for petrol-producing states, apart from setting up state-based petroleum companies.

Introduce a tougher Anti-Trust Act and Anti-Trust Commission to break unfair monopolies.

Abolish the 1Malaysia Development Board (1MDB) – an entity which is the personal finance vehicle of Najib – and instead rightfully give that role back to Khazanah Nasional Berhad, the government’s investment holding arm.

Restructure the police force so that resources are properly channelled more towards crime-fighting and reduce surveillance on politicians.

Build the Pan-Borneo Highway from Kuching to Kota Kinabalu to realise its Kuching Declaration pledge during Malaysia Day.

Pledge towards achieving a balanced budget in five years.

The budget is expected to generate a revenue of RM197 billion, with a total expenditure of RM234 billion with operational expenditure making the bulk of it at RM185 billion and development expenses are projected to be RM49 billion.

Needless to say, BN morons were quick to criticize, castigate and condemn this alternative Budget. The Housing and Local Government Minister, Chor Chee Heung was reported to have chided the Oposiiton saying: “It is like their Buku Jingga and I have read that from cover to cover. It lacks credibility and will bankrupt the country in two years if it is implemented” (The Star, September 27, 2012, p 10). So now we know that Chor is a disfluent reader – he has poor reading skills! If only he has a wee bit of intelligence, he wouldn’t be where he is today!

Last evening, I went to Jalan Langkawi in Danau Kota, Setapak in KL to attend the One World Toastmasters meeting where I was the General Evaluator. It was kind of Vincent Soon to arrange it and I found this meeting to be cordial, congenial and clubby. Members of this in-house club actually looked forward to the meeting and I could sense their sparkling energy as I got to know them. This club has no pretensions and I liked their collective attitude. I have enjoyed myself abundantly and I am happy to give this meeting a score of an 8 out of a 10!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Samsung Fights On

When it comes to the iPhone, I know there will be lots of excited people who will jump up and down with irrepressible glee and maybe even salivate just thinking about it! And it is said that Apple Inc’s marketing is great because it can get otherwise sensible consumers to buy a gadget that they don’t really need, but think they can’t live without.

Still this does not discourage Samsung and it ran a big campaign for the Galaxy S III that began in June and included ads on television, online, in print and in outdoor areas.

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A headline on a Samsung ad that ran in newspapers on September 09, days before Apple introduced its iPhone, says, “The Next Big Thing Is Already Here.” [Samsung used a similar tag line in 2011, “The Next Big Thing Is Here,” to promote its 4G service and the Galaxy S II].

Television ads for that campaign showed people waiting in line for the latest Apple device while Samsung owners showed off the features of phones they already had – check out this video clip:

I think this ad tries to tell everybody that Samsung Galaxy S3 is a story about innovation although Apple fans will surely dispute this. It is also about wanting to educate consumers. The Samsung people might believe, rightly or wrongly that those who aspire to own Apple’s latest product have been led down a blind alley where innovation has stopped a long time ago.

Whether we can agree with the above perspective or not, it cannot be denied that Apple has a devout following that is hugely massive that Samsung, hard as it tries, it knows it cannot convert the Apple zealots. So last Friday, unsurprisingly, we saw a repeat of the now familiar global ritual when Apple enthusiasts jammed stores across the globe to pick up the tech juggernaut's iPhone 5.

Of course, Apple trumpeted its success, boasting that it sold more than 5 million of the iPhone 5 in three days and breaking a record set by the previous model. According to most news reports, it was an immesnsely successful debut for the iPhone, responsible for about two-thirds of profit and crucial to fuelling the growth that transformed Apple from a niche computer maker into the world’s most valuable company. [Last year, the iPhone 4S sold 4 million units in its debut weekend].

But when we wave away the euphoria – we cannot deny that the iPhone 5, like its predecessors, is a product that is evolutionary, rather than revolutionary; an improvement rather than a game changer. If Apple devotees say the iPhone 5 is a better product – then it must be true! After all, it is a significant improvement over the iPhone 4S.

By this Friday, the iPhone 5 will be in 31 countries, and will be in 100 by the end of the calendar year. That would be 30 more than the rollout of the predecessor phone, the 4S, over a similar period, one analyst calculated.

Still, there will be both praises and criticisms. The truth of the matter is that the people who will buy iPhone 5 are themselves Apple loyalists. And it is also winning a good many converts to the Apple cause.

For sure, the magic of Apple lives on. Samsung, on the other hand, must do things differently. It must seek its own path to fame and glory. That is the real marketing challenge. And the first thing to do is to nurture and build its brand.

Here's the (unofficial) “Apple” response:

Vietnamese Bloggers Go to Jail

BBC News on Monday gave an update on the fate of the three bloggers in Vietnam who have been accused of spreading anti-government propaganda. [For additional information, kindly scroll down to read my earlier blog entry posted on September 17 titled "Blogging is Hazardous in Vietnam"].  The high-profile but brief trial took place in Ho Chi Minh City under heavy security and the trio were given jail sentences. Nguyen Van Hai, who uses the pen name Dieu Cay, received the longest sentence of 12 years. Former policewoman Ta Phong Tan was sent to jail for 10 years. And the third dissident writer, Phan Thanh Hai, was jailed for four years.

As George Washington once said: “If the freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter”.

Yesterday, League Cup title holders Liverpool beat West Brom 2-1 in a third round match. Actually, the Reds went behind early in the game when keeper Brad Jones dropped a free-kick and Gabriel Tamas drove in a shot (3). On-loan Real Madrid midfielder Nuri Sahin levelled when his strike squirmed under goalie Ben Foster (17). The Reds then produced a well-worked move with winger Oussama Assaidi crossing for Sahin to tap in a winner (82).

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Scorpene Witnesses About to be Summoned

Yesteray, Suaram – the original complainant who had triggered the investigation – announced that the French judiciary will be calling witnesses to a judicial inquiry over the Scorpene submarine scandal. Seven Malaysian witnesses are expected to be called, subject to the judge’s decision, starting from those “central to the negotiations” for the submarine deal such as Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s close associate Abdul Razak Baginda. This process of calling and examining witnesses is expected to take two years.

When asked whether Najib, as the then defence minister, would be subpoenaed, Suaram secretariat member Cynthia Gabriel said Najib enjoys some immunity as a head of (government) because the French are not keen to strain diplomatic ties unless there are strong suspicions against him. Huh? This shouldn’t happen because nobody is above the law!

However, she added that Najib will be moved up the list of witnesses “very quickly” if he is no longer the prime minister after the next general election.

Isn’t this another compelling reason why UMNO must be defeated in GE13? Then, Najib can take the thirteen-hour flight to Paris and take the witness stand.

Last evening, I was attending the Taman Indrahana Toastmasters meeting – my 150th Toastmasters (regular) meeting for this calendar year. It was a good meeting but I thought the evaluations were much better than the speeches. A 7.5 out of a 10.

Celtic eased into the quarter-finals of the Scottish Communities League Cup when Gary Hooper hit all four goals (12, 37, 58, 60) against Raith Rovers who only managed one (28).

Bristol's Own Currency

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I had blogged about the English city, Bristol which had expressed its intention to launch a direct assault on global trade by introducing its own currency, the Bristol Pound. Check out my earlier post at this link, published February 11, 2012.

On September 19, 2012, Bristolians did just that. They unveiled their local currency to great fanfare with the Lord Mayor handing over a £B1 note in symbolic exchange for a round loaf of granary bread made by local baker Joe Wheatcroft, who said he would put his first piece of Bristolian cash towards buying a dairy cow. (The notes were designed by local artists and coming in denominations of £B1, £B5, £B10 and £B20).

The monetary scheme is a not-for-profit project and it is designed to encourage residents to buy locally produced goods from the independent retailers which accept them rather than chains and megastores. With a steady queue of residents soon lining up to swap their pounds sterling for "Brizzle" quids – with an exchange rate of 1:1 – the early signs are good.

The idea is deceptively simple yet brilliant. If the locals spend more money with local traders, then that helps the local economy instead of money leaving the city. By spending the money with each other, they foster a healthier money supply in the city, which is particularly important in these times of economic recession.

Ciaran Mundy has been working on the scheme for three years now. To him, this is much more than just a local curiosity. The idea is to help local traders by issuing money which customers can only use in their shops. In turn, customers know that the shop must then buy its stock from a local supplier, or pay a 3% fee to convert the Bristol Pound back into sterling.

More than 350 firms in the city have signed up, making it the UK's largest alternative to sterling. Unlike previous schemes which have relied on paper, the Bristol Pound can be used online, even by mobile phone.

Technically, Bristol pounds are vouchers, not banknotes, but they are interchangeable with sterling.

There are other currency systems – such as Brixton in London and Totnes in Devon – but they are much smaller and do not use mobile phones for buying and selling.

Alternative currencies have certainly done well abroad. A German currency called the Chiemgauer has been operating in Bavaria since 2003. Last year, 550,000 Chiemgauer were in circulation, with a turnover of 6.2 million. With a 1:1 exchange rate with the Euro, that's serious business. In 2006 a rival to the US Dollar was launched in the Berkshire region of Massachusetts, called the BerkShare. Since then, 2.2 million have been issued and 370 local firms are signed up.

At the end of the day, the Bristol Pound is just a complementary currency that is intended to be used as well as sterling, rather than replace it, with businesses taking part in the scheme on a voluntary basis. So it depends on local support to ensure its local success.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Adrian Nathai Recommends Nicki Minaj

Colleague and friend, Adrian Nathai recommends this Nicki Minaj number “Pound the Alarm” because the music video features his home country Trinidad and Tobago. Damn, those gals are hot!

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) said yesterday allegations against Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud that he illegally amassed humongous sums of money have been over-politicised and the commission should be allowed to continue its scrutiny without interference. The probe into alleged corruption over timber concessions began in June last year, following a move by the Swiss anti-corruption agency to freeze Taib's assets.

MACC boss Abu Kassim Mohamed sure loves to crap. With Teoh Beng Hock, MACC was so super-efficient  that they hounded him to death for a paltry sum of RM2,500! With Taib, they plod along at their own sweet time so much so that I am unlikely to expect to see any outcome in my lifetime!

ROTFL! I believe I will see pigs fly before action is taken against Taib!

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Yesterday, at the MidValley Toastmasters meeting, I had a good time listening to speeches and evaluations. It is a warm feeling to be at their meeting because there’s always learning to do and experiences to share. Ainsley Tan (Money & You Toastmasters Club) was a first-time General Evaluator and she gave sharp critical insights on the conduct of the meeting – I found this fitting because she was just being honest. And yes, I did enjoy the meeting and it deserves a 7.5 out of a 10.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Najib Ignores Taib Allegations

Prime Minister Najib Razak had contemptuously dismissed allegations that Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud had amassed billions of ringgit.

"There are all kinds of allegations, jangan kita layan (let's not entertain it)," he said on Saturday.

Najib was responding to a question from a journalist on the report "The Taib Timber Mafia: Facts and Figures on Politically Exposed Persons from Sarawak, Malaysia" that was released last Wednesday in Brussels to coincide with a visit by the Malaysian Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Bernard Dompok to the European Commission and is available on the Internet. A detailed digest that was produced by Switzerland-based NGO Bruno Manser Fund (BMF) which claims that the chief minister, who has been in power for 31 years, has emerged as the country's richest man with an estimated wealth of $15 billion (RM46 billion). It also estimated Taib's total family wealth to be at a mind-boggling $21 billion (RM64 billion).

It’s amazing, isn’t it? He can investigate Suaram, but not Taib. He needs Taib’s Sarawak votes – isn’t it plain for all to see? Is Najib pretending to be stupid or is he really stupid? What allegations is he talking about? The details have been clearly spelt out in the said document, you imbecile!

For those still needing their daily dose of Gangnam – this is just great! Gangnam style meets Metal!

A Birthday Party Turns into a Riot

Did you read about Dutch riot police breaking up a teenager’s 16th birthday party? What was meant to be a celebration for just family and friends turned into mayhem after an innocent invitation went viral on Facebook, reaching some 30,000 people. All because she didn’t set the event to “private”.

In fact, a Twitter account was set up to promote the event, and the Dutch Daily News identified a video posted on YouTube that also promoted the party. Dutch DJs Yellow Claw and Afrojack – who each have thousands of Twitter followers – posted messages about the party on their accounts.

Photo: AFP/Getty images. The teen leaving her Haren house with her mother on Friday

The girl (named only as Merthe) who had issued the invitation fled her home in Haren, a town of just under 18,000 near the city of Groningen and the party was cancelled. Police issued an appeal to would-be revellers not to turn up but at least 3,000 turned up anyway.

Some party-goers even wore T-shirts made for the occasion. One read: 'Project Haren September 21.' Others posed for photos outside the girl's house for the event that became known as the Project X-Party after movie Project X (2012) about three teenagers who throw a birthday party which spirals out of control as the night progresses.

Up to 600 riot police were on the scene and at least 20 arrests were made, media reports said on Friday night. There were reports of six people hurt, three seriously, as shops were vandalised and looted, a car set on fire and street signs and lampposts were damaged, according to Reuters news agency

Even as police broke up the crowds, stones, bottles, bicycles and pots of flowers were hurled at them.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Reality Check

Reality check! I am not good enough! The fact is that at the Area G3 Humorous Speech & Evaluation Contests yesterday, I only managed to secure second runner-up and first runner-up respectively. The outcome said it all.