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St. Louis, Missouri, USA

Another day of travelling brought me to St. Louis Missouri.

This was a bustling but sprawling city from the olden days.

It is home where the wagons set off westwards to inhabit the west coast.

Home of Lockheed Martin, McDonnell Douglas and many other companies.

I saw the Missouri National Guard Base this morning from a distance, I could make out the outline of a single grey coloured F-4E Phantom on the base. ūüôā

There are many things to write about Missouri but i need time to gather my thoughts, as it is the programme was more than waht i expected. There are things and perspectives which i have not known were possible and imagined.

Too many thoughts to sort out before i can write coherently and also too many old movies to watch in the hotel room tv to be writing diligently.

Till the next time i get online. ūüôā

August 14, 2009 Posted by | Life, Politics | Leave a comment

American Vision, Leadership & Compassion – Food for Singaporean Thought on 9th August 2009

Right now is nearly 4pm on 8th August 2009 in Florida, USA. It is 4am on 9th August 2009 in Singapore.¬†Its our national day – our nation’s birthday. I am in my¬†hotel’s internet room¬† sitting out our¬†Florida beach visit as¬†I am experiencing¬†a headache from¬†a morning of gardening under the hot sun.

As part of the State Department’s programme, I had participated in a¬† sampling of¬†community service work at¬†Safe Harbour, Jacksonville, Florida.

Another reason which made me sit out the beach visit and forgo the Florida Beach Babes was this compulsion to pay tribute to the things I have seen. ūüôā

Being given the opportunity to immerse myself in selected aspects of American life and society, i cannot help but see the stark differences between Singaporean and American society.

Safe Habour is a home set up for troubled boys and has been around for 25 years. Safe Harbour is really actually a real harbour located in a humble spot in Jacksonville, Florida.

The single storey buildings were very modest Рthe buildings were in bad shape when they were acquired and had been manually rebuilt by hand by their owner Doug and his wards with donated materials. The entire home had none of the extravagance that we find in some Singapore charities.

Troubled boys in their teens are sent to Safe Harbour to be educated. In Safe Harbour, they are taught diligence, thrift and problem solving skills.

Moored beside the wharf are a number of disused boats. Each boy stays on one boat by himself. These boats were donated by other Americans and are¬†the subject for the boys’ learning¬†and also double up as the personal¬†home for each of the boys.¬†Hands on work is a daily routine. The boys are guided to repair and improve their boats¬†which would be¬†theirs to keep when they are ready to leave.

The founder of Safe Harbour is Doug and his wife. Doug was in mainstream business previously. He was the owner of a company in the electronics and robotics business and he had pioneered certain concepts in digital transmission technology in acoustics, in particular the concept of transmission of sounds to the inner ear.

How did Safe Harbour get started?

Having made enough money to retire, Doug and his wife has sold their home and business and bought a yacht intending to travel the world as part of their retirement dream.

A local Judge had then asked Doug to take in 3 kids as¬†a favour for the¬†county’s juvenile homes¬†were full. The couple agreed and took three boys¬† to live on board the yacht with them. This led to what became their second calling and¬†to setting up Safe Harbour.

At the outset, Doug and his wife selflessly funded Safe Harbour with their savings. When that ran out, fundraising became a necessity. This they did with some success given their impeccable track record of rehabilitation which was the best in the USA.

Help also came from the local government and community. Safe Harbour was given a lease for the land from the local government at USD$1 per year for something like 50 years. Some kind donor purchased an adjoining property and turned it into a donation.

Safe Harbour’s wards¬†grew up to be useful members of society. One of the boys¬†grew up to be successful,¬†entered politics and¬†was elected into public office.¬†Safe Harbour’s¬†success was so impressive that the Hallmark Channel was inspired enough to shoot¬†a¬†movie based on their story.

The movie, however, had an unintended effect. Donors thinking that Safe Harbour must have made a bundle because of granting rights to Hallmark to make the movie cancelled their standing donations. The reduction in income was further worsened by the recent economic crisis which led many others to stop their donations.

Operating now on a very tight shoestring budget, Doug and his wife no longer employ any staff. Its just the couple and some volunteer staff who share their values and who choose to contribute without pay.

Doug spoke to us of having come full circle, starting out with little and now back to continuing with little. Nevertheless he remains undaunted and selfless. Admitting to experiencing frustrations of his work at times but was re-energised by timely letters of gratitude from his past wards and wives thanking Safe Harbour for the critical thinking, character and work ethic their husbands possessed.

Doug humbly and wisely interprets his setbacks in capacity to be the opportunity for him to personally spend quality time with the boys whom he is supposed to act as father figure.

Doug’s sincerely believes¬†that he plays his part to make the¬†world¬†a better place saving one kid¬†at a time. Indeed¬†waves start out as ripples.¬†

What compelled Doug and his wife, who were wealthy enough to retire on their savings and enjoy life, to set up and run a voluntary welfare organisation and make perform the best teen reformation record  in the USA?

People shown compassion by the system in the past now return to society the favour. Doug had been a troubled kid in his early years and he got into trouble but a local county Judge chose to give him a second chance. Therefore when Doug was requested to assist in reforming three troubled teens, he rose to the occasion and did not shy away from what was needed to be done.

Over the past week, our delegation was exposed to a multitude of American non-profit NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations). Where individuals choose to work for little pay to further the causes which they believe in and people are encouraged to get organised to lobby and fight for the causes which they believe in.

At th end of my first week here, I am touched and humbled by the vision, leadership, compassion, humility and self-sacrifice present in the US Government and the American people i have met.

It makes me wonder how much¬†such compassion, kindness, wisdom, vision and self-sacrifice that is so trademarkly American could have contributed undoubtedly to their¬†progress as a nation and their nation’s position as¬†a world leader and superpower for the last six and a half decades or so.

Whereas Singapore’s model is based on¬†a one size fits all policy yet some are more equal than others, a i-know-best attitude, practicality chosen over morals,¬†arrogance chosen over humility, one strike and you are out – no second chance,¬†system intolerant of differences, a government which is deliberately divisive and conniving to the point where the promotion of a cause¬†can be outlawed by legislation, and a leadership¬†personifying¬†the epitome of selfishness and¬†which has rubbed off onto our¬†people.

The United States of America is a Federation of 50 autonomous countries with different laws and governments and systems. They are, however, steadfastly united by the framework provided by their Federal Government and have rights enshrined in constitutional documents and respected by one and all Рthe Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary and the people.

As it is, people all around the world seek to make the United States their home whereas many of my fellow Singaporeans whom i have spoken to question the effectiveness of my lonely fight against the establishment and express the intention to flee instead of fight when given the choice.

The United States might be facing severe problems for now but as theirs is a society with compassion, respect for the individual, leadership and immense depth. I have little doubt USA will ride out the rough times to bounce back stronger.

As for Singapore as a nation, in its 44th National Day today, from the way it is going, i am sadly confident that we are doomed to fail.

August 8, 2009 Posted by | Life, Politics | 2 Comments

Running Elections – The Florida Way

We took two flights to reach Jacksonville Florida, USA on 6th August 2009.

Florida was the swing state in the 2000 Presidential elections where George Bush beat Al Gore by a narrow margin winning him all the electoral college votes which was crucial in securing the electoral votes needed for a victory in the Presidential election. The narrow fight and the intrinsic imperfection of the electoral college votes made the manner in which the elections were held and the way votes are counted, tabulated and arbitrated extremely important. As such, tiny Singapore has many things to learn from the Elections Supervisory of the State of Florida.

United States is made up of 50 different countries, a number of autonomous Indian Nations and headed by a Federal Government restrained by the Constitution.

The Constitution sets out the basic and fundamental law of the Federation and whilst the States are autonomous they are similarly restrained by the same Constitution.

I managed to purchase the Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America. Those reproductions made to look like the original made me think how different the Constitution is treated by the Americans and how our people and government treat our own.

In the USA, the 3 documents abovementioned have a cult status. They can be reproduced in booklet form, harcover form, parchment form, paraphernalia form and sold for good money Рand it sells!

Whereas in Singapore, from the way our legislature, executive, judiciary and people treated our own constitution, our constitution probably is not worth the paper it is printed on – having been trampled upon, soiled and defecated upon by the administration. It probably is not even worth its¬†equivalent weight in amount of toilet paper. ūüôā Has one ever¬†wondered whether¬†our administration has even half the balls to¬†take up the challenge of printing the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore and marketing it to the Singapore people? ūüôā ūüôā ūüôā

The system of electoral college votes is flawed. Nevertheless this cannot detract observers from appreciating the beauty of the constitution as a whole.

In politics throughout the world, there will be politics designed to keep the elected in power. The American system strives consciously to prevent so. Their system is not perfect Рit has been emphasised to us repeatedly over and over again and inevitably there will be areas for improvement.

The system of electoral college votes may at times result in the candidate having the popular vote not having the victory in the election and is arguably flawed, this system has served United States in the manner that it has had, in its context it might have still worked perhaps simply because there has been so many other safeguards that the original founding fathers had placed in the constitution. They also had amendments made to fortify the fundamental freedoms that allow the system to withstand the failure and imperfection of men.

The experience in 2000 caused the Florida Elections Supervisory to revamp much of its election processes. What has been put in place now is a system and protocol of efficiency and transparency that impresses every visitor who is explained the works.

Mr. Jerry Holland, Supervisor of Elections has put in place a system which arguably moves towards fairness and transparency. His belief is the elections process must preserve the trust and faith of the electorate. This must be so for the system to retain its relevance and perform its purposes.

We witnessed electronic counting systems which correctly integrate both voting by mail [in advance] and numberless ballot papers which are accurately sorted out by an electronic counting system which leaves a paper trail. This instilled confidence in their voters and left our delegation with breathless admiration.

The details of the superiority of the Florida’s Election system will be addressed in a later post if time permits but as it is now it suffices to say that the Singapore Elections Department, continuing the way it has under the stewardship of the Prime Minister will continue to erode the confidence of the people of Singapore. The lack of transparency in the manner which the elections are held will erode the confidence of the people and be detrimental to Singapore as a whole in the long run.

We are also repeatedly told that should the elections results fail to express the expectations of the people, then the system is undeniably flawed and would have failed.

August 7, 2009 Posted by | Politics | 1 Comment

Federalism / SEA Dynamics / Engagement / Aspirations / Business in SEA

3rd day in Washington.

After recovering for a day free and easy in Washington, we settled down to class – yes class like students in university for a lesson in Federalism and federalist politics.

The lecturer, whom i shall decline to name, knew his area very very well. He lectured us off the cuff and gave us an overview of American Federalism and its practical consequences in less than 45 minutes. A spirited discussion followed. There was an Israeli delegation which sat in the class. Being from another track and on another program, their encounter with our group was only for that brief 2 hour session, we did not manage to talk having been required to rush from one meeting to another, no contacts were made no namecards exchanged. This however was no big loss, for the lecturer with his knowledge and wit, singlehandedly made up for all the lack of time in the programme.

In short i am inspired by his overview to study the American political and legal system in detail. Enough said. More details can come in another blog post.

4th day in Washington

The Professor this morning was an expert in SEA studies. Her overview of the dynamcs of the politics between South East Asian countries was, again given the time constraints, nonetheless impressive and concise and thought-provoking.

We were then taken to an NGO’s office where we were given an understanding of the role which the NGO played in facilitating education of young leaders in United States before these leaders entered public office.

A question and answer session that followed revealed the immense development of and initiatives commenced by such NGOs. The NGOs in United States are the movers of policy and it is with such NGOs that pressure is brought to bear on the system to respond to the needs of the people. True enough, a different set of factors exist in the US, the law and concept of government did play a part in fostering such a culture as well. This made for a vibrant, commited and dynamic society where the people will not wait for the government of the day to solve their problems, the people tell the government what they want and not the other way round as it is in Singapore.

Our NGOs have a long way to go before they reach the effectiveness of their counterparts in the US. This is a result of the environment that has been created by the ruling party. Nothing has been clearer than comparing Singapore with the United States. The glaring number of deliberate impediments designed to disenfranchise a thinking sector of the population, discourage and forestall an active citizenry are nothing short of selling out of the nation and a declaration of balllessness.

I am about to write on the aspirations of young public office holders in the US and the business interests but my eyes are too tired. I shall continue in the morning. That is, morning Washington time. ūüôā

August 5, 2009 Posted by | Politics | Leave a comment

Reporting from Washington D.C. :)

After a 30 hour journey, i managed to reach my hotel in Wahsington D.C. It has been a long ride from Singapore to Narita, Narita to Chicago, and Chicago to Wahsington D.C.

The weather is just slightly cooler than Singapore. Chicago was just midly cooler than Washington. I guess its not the cold weather yet. From my experience from past travels, i have grown to expect cold climates when i venture to faraway places.

My flight from Narita had a delayed takeoff about one hour plus, so when we reached Chicago, I was correspondingly just as late. There was no time to clear customs and immigration collect luggage and change terminals to re check in luggage and get onto the waiting plane. By the time the US immigration officers let me through, there was barely 10 mins from the connecting flight’s take off time.

This time round, maybe its because i knew there was no chance, i did not een bother to rush. I asked a helpful looking United Airlines officer for directions and true enough his remark to me and to all the other passengers was ”you are not going to make it’ and that we ought to get our flight rebooked to the later flight for the day.

That was like 8 hours ago, so the flight was rebooked and i spent some time getting a little shopping done for simple souvenirs from Chicago. Might as well since i was stuck there for the next 2 hours.

The internal flight was smooth and we arrived just twenty minutes short of 9pm. After clearing the luggage, I plucked up courage to try navigating my way using the Metro. The Metro was nicer than I thought. It ran in a way similar with the one in London just that the stations and trains seemed larger.

As i took a stroll from the station to the hotel, I found my backpack heavier than i thought. I had already travelled light. I know my luggage was only 10.9kg total, laptop plus another 5kg or so. Total was a maximum of 16kg, yet i found it heavy. It must be due to age.

Strolling through, I found that the architecture was largely similar to London’s. In fact the way the roads were laid out were similar. Various roads leading to circular intersections is something Washington has strikingly¬†familiar to London.

Being here alone does bring back memories of my trip to London and of past travels. I will have many other opportunities to explore the world in future, still memories of previous travels seem to have a vivid impact.

Maybe its age, maybe its the fact that i am moving round alone. Being alone forces one to think and think deeply. Of past, present and the future. This is not a bad thing – forced re-interpretation allows for greater and deeper understanding. The classical tunes from the sony bedside sound system might be one of the reasons too.

Enough nostalgia. I will have one day to get my rhythm tuned to the 12hour time shift from Singapore’s time. Its just past midnight now in Washington D. C. I need to try to at least go to bed and wake up at the time Washingtonians do.

I have also been given another stack of materials. Guess i have to digest part of it before i go to bed. I’ll take it as bedtime reading. ūüôā

August 2, 2009 Posted by | Life | Leave a comment