Wednesday, May 27, 2009

You are luckier than you know

I received an email with some awesome images which I wanted to share. I have no idea who to credit for the photos but whoever it is (they are), thanks for some powerful photos. A picture says a thousand words:

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

"Stop giving us aid, say Africans"

reports The Telegraph's Daniel Hannan:
"I've just been talking to a very clever man. He's called Thompson Ayodele, he's from Nigeria and he thinks that overseas aid is making African countries poorer. The statistics he produces are jaw-dropping. They suggest a direct correlation between the receipt of development assistance and low growth. This is true whether you compare neighbouring countries, or whether you look at different periods within the same country. Foreign aid, he suggests, isn't useless; it's actively harmful. It discourages enterprise, fosters dependency and bolsters corrupt regimes. A similar correlation exists between debt remission and insolvency: countries which have their bills periodically written off become re-indebted more quickly than countries which don't."

This is why I never set out for Bloom to be an NGO, relying on handouts, but as a social enterprise, so Cambodians can learn a skill and to make products people want so they can trade with the international community. I've written about this elsewhere on this blog.

If people need jobs, give them jobs; don't give them handouts. Because if you pay people to be poor, you'll never run out of poor people.

How to catch a (Somali) pirate

Offer them amnesty in the West. Story by The Telegraph:

Pirates captured after attacking a Dutch vessel have gone on trial in the liberal Netherlands and at least two of them have declared their intention to stay on as residents...

Willem-Jan Ausma, a Dutch defence attorney who is representing another pirate, described his client's relief to be in a Western prison.

"My client feels safe here. His own village is dominated by poverty and sharia [Islamic law] but here he has good food and can play football and watch television. He thinks the lavatory in his cell is fantastic," he said.

Mr Ausma has told the Somali that he will be considered for a residence permit after serving his sentence, expected to be a maximum of four years in prison...

Mr Ausma has also warned that ongoing piracy trials in the Netherlands, France and the United States will encourage pirates to commit crimes, for the purpose of being captured, rather than deterring attacks on Western flagged vessels.

"Anything is better than Somalia," he said.

Prof Knoops has called for an international tribunal to deal with Somali pirates.

"This would immediately solve a large number of problems, because there are good reasons why many countries do not wish to burn their fingers on the pirates," he said.

"He thinks the lavatory in his cell is fantastic." This says all about the pirate's life in Somalia.

Press freedom: Singapore vs Cambodia

Just on the subject of press freedom. RSF or Reporters without Borders publishes an annual ranking of countries on the basis of press freedon. Here is 2008's list. European countries dominate the top ranks, and of 173 countries, the US is 36th (domestically) and 119 (internationally). Cambodia is 126 and Singapore, 144.

Cambodian readers may be surprised to learn that yes, your country has more open press than Singapore--why? Because your newspapers are not all owned by a couple of companies, and government- linked ones at that:
Like all newspaper companies in Singapore, SPH is regulated by the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act of 1974, and issues both management and ordinary shares. As specified by the act, all issues and transfers of management shares have to be approved by the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, and in "any resolution relating to the appointment or dismissal of a director or any member of the staff" the vote of one management share is equivalent to 200 ordinary shares.

There are close ties between the directors of SPH and the Singapore Government. S R Nathan, Director of the Security and Intelligence Division and later President of Singapore, served as SPH's Executive Chairman from 1982 to 1988, and the first President (1995–2002) of SPH was Tjong Yik Min, former chief of the Internal Security Department. The present Chairman of SPH, Tony Tan, was Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore from 1995 to 2005.

SPH publishes 17 newspapers and MediaCorp publishes one free sheet, called Today. MediaCorp co-owns Today with the Singapore Mass Rapid Transit and Singapore Telecommunications, all government linked companies. Businessweek has a great article on the Singapore government's attempt at "dismantling the communications monopolies but doing it in a controlled way".

MediaCorp is Singapore's first local broadcaster, which became once again the monopoly in the free-to-air terrestrial channels broadcasting market after three years after a merger with SPH Mediaworks at the end of 2004.

It wasn't easy finding out who owns MediaCorp. Wikipedia's entry on Mediacorp says it is 100% owned by Temasek Holdings, the Singapore government's wholly owned investment arm, but I could not verify this on MediaCorp's website. In fact it wasn't easy trying to find out who owns MediaCorp. But I did find this Asia Times article on Temasek's telecoms tangles in Indonesia and Thailand (I wonder what its plans are for Cambodia?) which also claims Temasek owns 100% of MediaCorp.

In contrast, the Cambodian government has provided licenses to 122 national newspapers, 19 bulletins and 41 magazines, plus 45 licenses to 45 foreign NGO newspapers, magazines and bulletins. There is one local news agency and 14 foreign news agencies. There is print media in English, French and Chinese (also now - Korean and Japanese). There are only two publicly owned and 13 private radio stations.

Of course, people will point out journalists get murdered in Cambodia, where they do not in Singapore--just last year journalist Khim Sambo was murdered in broad daylight. But that is not the only measure of press freedom; there are many ways to suppress the media and murder is but one way. It is bad PR (public relations) and developed countries have learned to move away from murder to more subtle forms of repression, where the repression is systemic and institutionalised. In Singapore's case, it is the threat of lawsuits and the loss of huge amounts of money that has kept the foreign press and local citizens mute.

Of course, I am under no illusions about the state of press freedom in Cambodia, as reported by human rights group Licadho. Cambodia has a long way to go in this regard--as does Singapore.

One thing that gives me hope is the Internet. The quality of writing and discussion on Singapore-based blogs and other sites is impressive and exciting. I like

For Cambodian news, I read which has less discussion and is more of a news portal. Still, it is a good read. Most such sites are still anonymous in Cambodia, which is understandable, but which hopefully will change as people become more educated and confident of their rights, just as they have in Singapore.

Journalists imprisoned by the US

Today I watched "Listening Post" on Al Jazeera TV. I really like Al Jazeera. Often you get documentaries about Asia and Africa and the Middle East, of stories you would never find on mainstream news channels. BBC and CNN and Singapore's Channel Snooze Asia are so homogeneous they've blended into one for me. BBC's saving grace is its documentaries, especially the excellent "Panorama".

"Listening Post" is a program that analyses how the media covers news. Today I was surprised to learn that the US has held journalists without giving them a chance at trials -- much like Iran and the well-publicised case of Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi. Unlike Saberi, who was released after 4 months in jail, the US held Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj for six years in Guantanamo with no trial.

al-Haj was imprisoned in 2001, during the US's "War on Terror". He was interrogated not about terrorism, but about Al Jazeera. He was finally released in 2007 but not before the interrogators asked him to spy on Al Jazeera. Of course, I was surprised because there was, and is, hardly any coverage of this case, one exception being columns by Nicholas Kristof (who has also written about Cambodia's human trafficking issues.)

Then, there is Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein, an Iraqi, whom the US kept in jail for almost two years with no charges, after Hussein's photographs from the Anbar province directly contradicted Bush administration claims about the state of affairs there.

This article notes:
That behavior was far from aberrational for the U.S., as the Committee to Protect Journalists - which led the effort to free Saberi - documented: Hussein’s detention is not an isolated incident. Over the last three years, dozens of journalists—mostly Iraqis—have been detained by U.S. troops, according to CPJ research. While most have been released after short periods, in at least eight cases documented by CPJ Iraqi journalists have been held by U.S. forces for weeks or months without charge or conviction.

The US is still holding Reuters photographer Ibrahim Jassam Jassam after he was arrested at his home by US and Iraqi soldiers on 1 September 2008 and taken to the US military at Camp Cropper, near Baghdad airport. The Iraqi central criminal court ruling dismissing all charges against him and ordering his release was issued on 30 November but the US has refused to comply, says Reporters without Borders.

Of course, part of the reason for Roxana Saberi's heavy coverage in the media is the way she looks. As one journalist said on the Listening Post, you get more coverage if you look Western. Just like super models.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Singapore: "First World infrastructure, Third World politics"

Many Cambodians I meet tell me that Singapore is the "best country in Southeast Asia" (followed by Malaysia, Brunei, motodop told me). A Singaporean woman asked me why Cambodians admire Singapore: is it our economy, our politics, our education, our lifestyle? It all boils down to one thing: our money. To be honest, most people know little about Singapore, especially it's politics. They simply admire Singapore because it is rich.

21st May marks the 22th anniversary of what has come to be known "The Marxist Conspiracy". This time 22 years ago, 22 young Roman Catholic church and social activists and professionals detained, without trial, under the internal security law, accused of being members of a dangerous Marxist conspiracy bent on subverting the PAP-ruled government by force, and replacing it with a Marxist state. has details: The detainees included lawyer Miss Tang Fong Har who was released 85 days later, having had spend most of her time in solitary confinement. In April of 1988, along with eight others, she issued a joint statement alleging unjustified arrests, ill-treatment, forced TV confession and a recantation of their earlier signed confession. Immediately, the government ordered their re-arrests. Tang escaped re-arrest as she was overseas at that time, and has remained in exile ever since.

Here is an excerpt of an Amnesty International report on the detentions in Singapore:
"The interrogation room was 16 ft. by 12 ft.. It was soundproof, and two teams of interrogators worked in twelve hour shifts, round the clock for the first three days. The worst treatment was during these first three days. While I was being questioned and shouted at, I was made to stand continuously for 32 hours in the cold air-conditioned room. My first non-stop interrogation lasted 64 hours. I received my first slap across the face three minutes into this interrogation. It was during the first 36 hours that I received all the slaps and hits. I would have received about 50 hand slaps across my face, chest, stomach and back.

According to others, they slapped man or woman alike if they did not get a satisfactory account. The slaps brought on uncontrollable coughing and head spun. I kept telling myself all the time that I was not a communist. They threatened to slap me more if I did not stop lying. I persisted and was slapped some more. It was incredible. My head was groggy and they threatened to pour cold water on me. But I gave the same answers to the same unreasonable questions. Water was thrown on me and I shivered uncontrollably. My jaws were chattering and I collapse to the floor." interviewed another detainee, Mr Tan Tee Seng, who was then was 28 years old and a former vice-president of the Singapore Polytechnic Students’ Union (SPSU):

After the 1984 elections, Mr Tan and his friends stayed on to help the [opposition] Workers' Party with its party newspaper, The Hammer. He joined the de facto editorial committee, writing many of its articles and changing the design of its masthead. After about a year, circulation of the Hammer rose from about 10,000 copies to over 25,000 copies. This, Mr Tan assessed, was probably one of the developments that concerned the PAP government, led by then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
Despite what he went through at the hands of the ISD [internal security department], Mr Tan harbours no anger or bitterness against the authorities. He saw it as a political reality in Singapore — the cost of participating in political and social activism. Singapore, he said, has First World infrastructure, with Third World politics.

An interesting observation by a poster to the sgblogs story noted at the same time, in May and June 1987, there were massive demonstrations for democracy in South Korea, which eventually forced dictator Chun Doo Hwan out of power. The two most important leaders of the South Korean democracy movement, Kim Dae Jung and Kim Young Sam, are a Catholic and a Presbyterian elder respectively.

You can read more on wikipedia.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

FDA: Cheerios is a "new drug"

This is great! I am glad someone takes truth in advertising seriously! A May 5 letter from the US FDA. Don't know how many of you out there eat Cheerios... Thanks to rywager for adding to reddit.

Unapproved New Drug
Based on claims made on your product's label, we have determined that your Cheerios® Toasted Whole Grain Oat Cereal is promoted for conditions that cause it to be a drug because the product is intended for use in the prevention, mitigation, and treatment of disease. Specifically, your Cheerios® product bears the following claims ort its label:

• "you can Lower Your Cholesterol 4% in 6 weeks" "
• "Did you know that in just 6 weeks Cheerios can reduce bad cholesterol by an average of 4 percent? Cheerios is ... clinically proven to lower cholesterol. A clinical study showed that eating two 1 1/2 cup servings daily of Cheerios cereal reduced bad cholesterol when eaten as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol."

These claims indicate that Cheerios® is intended for use in lowering cholesterol, and therefore in preventing, mitigating, and treating the disease hypercholesterolemia. Additionally, the claims indicate that Cheerios® is intended for use in the treatment, mitigation, and prevention of coronary heart disease through, lowering total and "bad" (LDL) cholesterol. Elevated levels of total and LDL cholesterol are a risk factor for coronary heart disease and can be a sign of coronary heart disease. Because of these intended uses, the product is a drug within the meaning of section 201(g)(1)(B) of the Act [21 U.S.C. § 321 (g)P)(B)]. The product is also a new drug under section 201(p) of the Act [21 U.S.C. § 321(p)] because it is not generally recognized as safe and effective for use in preventing or treating hypercholesterolemia or coronary heart disease. Therefore,under section 505(a) of the Act [21 U.S.C. § 355(a)], it may not be legally marketed with the above claims in the United States without an approved new drug application.

Electronic Police State #7: Singapore

Just came across this interesting post:The Electronic Police State 2008 National Rankings. What is an electronic police state?

"In an Electronic Police State, every surveillance camera recording, every email you send, every Internet site you surf, every post you make, every check you write, every credit card swipe, every cell phone ping… are all criminal evidence, and they are held in searchable databases, for a long, long time. Whoever holds this evidence can make you look very, very bad whenever they care enough to do so. You can be prosecuted whenever they feel like it – the evidence is already in their database."

Here are the 52 states and their rankings:
1. China
2. North Korea
3. Belarus
4. Russia
5. United Kingdom: England & Wales
6. United States of America
7. Singapore
8. Israel
9. France
13.United Kingdom: Scotland
15.South Korea
20.New Zealand
40.Czech Republic
42.South Africa

Human trafficking and slavery in the USA

In another post, I had written about anti-human trafficking organisation Free the Slaves which is the US Sister organization of Anti-Slavery International, apparently the world’s oldest human rights organization.

Dr Kevin Bales is President of Free the Slaves, and has recently co-written a new book with Ron Soodalter, called "The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today". Dr Bales's 1999 book "Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy" was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and was published in ten other languages.

For this new book, the two men spent last three years delving into slavery across America, "and thinking carefully about how America can fulfill its promise of liberty and become slave free".

Kerry Kennedy (Founder, the Robert Kennedy Center for Human Rights) said of the book:

"Most Americans believe that slavery in our country ended with the Emancipation Proclamation. They are wrong. As Kevin Bales and Ron Soodalter document in this excellent volume, human bondage is a reality for thousands of children, women, and men living in the United States. The Slave Next Door exposes slavery in today's America in all its forms, and sounds a call to arms to government, corporations, and private citizens alike."

You can read reviews and buy "The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today" here on or here on or here from the University of California Press. If you'd like a 20% off, email me and I will give you the code for

Monday, May 04, 2009

British princess "attacked" in Cambodia

I was watching Singapore's Channel News Asia when I saw a ticker across the screen: "British princess rescued after attack in Cambodia". So I googled and found this:
British princess rescued after attack in Cambodia

LONDON : Thieves tried to rob Queen Elizabeth II's 19-year-old granddaughter, Princess Eugenie, and her friends while they were travelling in Cambodia, a British newspaper reported on Monday.

Royal protection officers had to intervene to protect the princess, the youngest daughter of Prince Andrew, Duke of York, when a thief tried to steal her friend's purse as they walked through Phnom Penh one night, the Sun said.

The two officers tackled the thief but were pelted with stones by another man, forcing them to let him go and focus on getting the princess to safety. They also managed to retrieve the purse.

The Sun said it was the first time in ten years that protection officers have stopped a direct threat to a member of the royal family.

- AFP/vm
The group probably look quite posh. I wonder how far away the bodyguards were for the Khmers not to have seen them.

Last year, a French friend of mine, a woman, and her Norwegian date, were held up by four men with guns around the French restaurant Comme a la Maison, in the upmarket BKK 1 district of Phnom Penh.

The security problems were among the reasons why we moved to Siem Reap after a year and a half living in Phnom Penh. Our house had 3 attempted, and 1 successful, break-in, despite having razor wires. Siem Reap, in contrast, is very safe. I sometimes walk home after mid-night, something I did not dare do in Phnom Penh.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Coke in Cambodia

My partner and I are big Coke Light drinkers. We drink the stuff every day (I guess we're addicts!) so have become good friends with the shop where we get them every day.

A couple of weeks ago, the shop ran out of Coke Light. It only had Coke Zero, which tastes awful. The shop told us the company that bottles Coke in Cambodia has stopped supplying Coke Light until stocks of Coke Zero moves. A case of 12 Coke Light costs USD9, while Coke Zero is USD10. It was the other way around in Singapore where Zero costs less than Light.

We protested to the delivery guy from Coca Cola when we saw him and thankfully, our shop has started selling Coke Light again.

When we first arrived in 2006, we had a choice of two versions of Coke Light- from Singapore and from Thailand. The one from Singapore was more expensive. Because the supermarkets only sold the imported stuff, I assumed Coke Light is not bottled in Cambodia, unlike regular Coke.

I was surprised to learn that all the Coca Cola drinks are now bottled in Cambodia, but I don't know when it started. I did find it interesting that Coca-Cola was first produced in Cambodia in 1958, a few years after independence in 1953. From
Cambodia Beverage Company was established in March 1993 after an 18 year absence. CBC has one production plant, located in the capital, Phnom Penh, with capacity of 5 million cases.

In 2004, Coca-Cola Sabco bought a majority shareholding in Cambodia Beverage Company, expanding their territories into Asia and Indochina.

Since 1993, over US$12 million has been invested in the Coca-Cola business in Cambodia. The CBC team directly service 19,935 outlets across the country through the Manual Distribution Centre (MDC) model.

CBC currently directly employs 298 people and independent studies show that our business also generates a significant multiplier effect. For each direct job, our business supports up to 12 additional jobs in industries, such as ingredients, packaging, distribution and retailing.

CBC current manufactures and distributes the following range of quality beverages: Coca-Cola, Coca-Cola Light, Fanta (available in Orange, Fruit Punch, Pineapple and Lychee flavour), Sprite, Crush Sarsi, Schweppes Soda Water and Schweppes Tonic Water.
In March, the Phnom Penh Post reported CBC and Coca-Cola SABCO invested US$30 million for manufacturing 1.5 litre and 500ml Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) bottles. It also expanded can-line production.

The picture shows a Cambodian Coke can, which an enterprising person in Thailand is trying to sell for USD5.50 on eBay, plus a USD6 shipping charge!

Bayer unit sold AIDS tainted medicine to Asia

Just read this very tragic 2003 report by the New York Times. Thanks to YES-WE-CAN for adding to Reddit.

Cutter Biological, a division of the pharmaceutical company Bayer sold millions of dollars of blood-clotting medicine for hemophiliacs -- medicine that carried a high risk of transmitting AIDS -- to Asia and Latin America in the mid-1980's while selling a new, safer product in the West, according to documents obtained by The New York Times.

Cutter also continued to sell the older [nonheated] product after February 1984 in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Japan and Argentina, records show. In Hong Kong and Taiwan alone, more than 100 hemophiliacs got H.I.V. after using Cutter's old medicine. Many have since died....

When a Hong Kong distributor in late 1984 expressed an interest in the new product, the records show, Cutter asked the distributor to ''use up stocks'' of the old medicine before switching to its ''safer, better'' product. Several months later, as hemophiliacs in Hong Kong began testing positive for H.I.V., some local doctors questioned whether Cutter was dumping ''AIDS tainted'' medicine into less-developed countries....

'Argentina has been sold 300,000 units and will possibly order more, and the Far East has ordered 400,000 units,'' according to a March 1985 Cutter report. Two months later, the company reported that ''in Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, doctors are primarily dispensing nonheated Cutter'' concentrate....

The delay harmed more than just the hemophiliacs, said Mrs. Li, the mother of the young hemophiliac who died of AIDS in 1993. Infected with a terrible and still mysterious disease, hemophiliacs were often shunned by family, friends and employers.


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