Monday, April 16, 2007

Not enough room? Add on! Singapore knows how.

I got to talking to Operations Manager Scott Weatherly a few days ago about changes in the land of my birth. This is an expansion on part of the ensuing discussion.

The United Nations lists Singapore as the world's fourth most densely populated country, with 6208 people per square kilometer. The United States ranks number 172, with 31 people per square km. Here's the whole list .

Want an even more stark comparison? I live in Latah County, Idaho, with a population in 200 just under 35,000 on 1077 square miles.That's about 13 people on every square kilometer!

Singapore wasn't always that crowded. The country gained independence in 1965, when I was not quite three years old. The population then was about 2 million, land area about 225 square miles (figures drawn from memory, but fairly close!) That's 581 square kilometers, computing to nearly 3500 persons per square kilometer. Today, the population is more than double: FOUR AND A HALF MILLION. When I read recently that the government expects the population to rise to six and a half million, it made me sweat. Once you've lived in the tropics you'll never forget that humidity.

Still, the Singapore government has steadily made plans for the additional people. From 581 sq km (224 sq miles)in 1965, the island nation is now 650 sq km and plans to acquire another 100 sq km in the next 30 years.


Build/reclaim more land!

It gets through 1.5 billion cubic metres (2 billion cubic yards) of dredged silica a year — 333 cubic metres for each man, woman and child. The Government has been forced to draw on its strategic sand reserve, which Singapore hoards as other nations keep stocks of oil and food.

Stop to think about that.

Where's all this dirt coming from?

Richard Lloyd Parry's March 17th article in the Times explains:

Singapore accused of land grab as islands disappear by boatload

With more than 17,000 islands — from the jungly expanses of Borneo and Sumatra to unnamed rocks jutting out of the sea — you may think that Indonesia would not mind if a few of them went missing. But the huge South-East Asian nation has become caught up in a furious dispute with Singapore, its tiny neighbour, which is accused of literally making off with its territory.

Indonesia has banned the export of sand and imposed strict controls on shipments of gravel, after fears that its islands were being loaded on to ships and carried away to Singapore. In its thirst for building materials and landfill to reclaim new territory from the sea, Indonesians allege, Singapore has been stealing the land beneath their feet.

The dispute reached a climax this week after 24 tugs and barges, carrying granite chips, were intercepted by the Indonesian authorities as they sailed home to Singapore. Jakarta announced that future exports would be allowed only if the granite could be certified as environmentally friendly.

Since Indonesia announced its ban on sand in February, the price of a cubic metre of it has increased more than seven times, from S$6.5 (£2.18) to S$50. The Indonesian Navy has mobilised 18 ships to intercept gravel pirates and sand bandits.

“Some of these islands are reduced to islets, and could even disappear below the surface,” Hendropriyono, Indonesia’s former intelligence chief, has said. “This could theoretically lead to a cartographic zero-sum game in which Singapore’s gain could be at Indonesia’s territorial loss.”

Relations between Singapore and its neighbours have been tense since the city state became independent from Malaysia in 1965, and disagreements often arise over natural resources. The Singaporean achievement was to create an affluent, highly educated society in a swampy, jungly, malarial island with a population of 4.5 million people at the tip of the Malaysian peninsula.

Singapore’s reliance on its neighbours gives them powerful leverage over it — in the past Malaysia, with whom relations are particularly prickly, has threatened to cut off water supplies across the Straits of Johor. But the sand sanctions are equally threatening.

After years of stagnation, Singapore is undergoing a construction boom, with an increased demand for sand for the manufacture of concrete. The island also has long-term plans to ease its overcrowding by reclaiming land from the sea.

At independence, Singapore was 581 sq km (224 sq miles); now it is 650 sq km and plans to acquire another 100 sq km in the next 30 years. It gets through 1.5 billion cubic metres (2 billion cubic yards) of dredged silica a year — 333 cubic metres for each man, woman and child. The Government has been forced to draw on its strategic sand reserve, which Singapore hoards as other nations keep stocks of oil and food.

There may be more to Indonesia’s position than a sudden rush of environmental conscientiousness. If Indonesia really does lose islands, it also risks losing the rights to the ocean surrounding them. “The Convention on the Law of the Sea dictates that national territory is traced according to the coastal base line, and if islands near Singapore disappear, then the base line is pulled closer to the mainland,” says Mr Hendropriyono. “As it now stands, Singapore is only 20 kilometres from Nipah island, which has been especially eroded by the loss of sand.”

Many in Singapore also suspect that cutting off the sand pipeline is intended to put pressure on them to sign an extradition treaty that would let Indonesia get its hands on alleged white-collar criminals who have taken sanctuary there.

“From time to time, we must expect countries to pressure us in the hope that we will then give way to their demands,” George Yeo, the Foreign Minister, told the national parliament. “Singaporeans know that if we give in to such pressures, we would only invite more such pressures.”

Here's Parry's full article.

I've got to hand it to Singaporeans, though: with so many people jostling against each other - day in, day out - the country still manages to have one of the lowest crime rates in the world. They are justifiably proud of that. Many people have noted (I among them) that it's a very strict society, with fines leveraged for even mild transgressions such as jaywalking and forgetting to flush public toilets. Let's not even speak of the punishment for drug use or trafficking, or sedition. Perhaps that's the price to pay for peace and harmony in a very tight space.

Court: Wisconsin Woman Was Wrongly Convicted. For What?

Georgia Thompson has been acquitted! This, after serving four months in prison.

Who is Georgia Thompson?

She was a Wisconsin state employee, who put a state travel contract up for bid. She awarded it to a company whose CEO had donated money to the re-election campaign of Democratic governor Jim Doyle.

U-S Attorney Steven Biskupic and US District Judge Rudolph Randa, both Republican appointees, put Georgia Thompson in jail on corruption charges while the case was appealed. Threat to society, maybe?

Meantime, Doyle's opponents spent millions in the 2006 campaign to tie the governor to Ms. Thompson. Still, he won re-election.

Did I mention that the travel company in question did submit the lowest bid?

On April 5th, a federal appeals court acquitted Georgia Thompson. A three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago also ordered that she be immediately released from prison.

Dave Zweifel writes in Wisconsin's Capital Times:

"The U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals...chided the U.S. Attorney's Office in Milwaukee for pursuing such a flimsy case, and ordered that [Georgia Thompson] be immediately released from prison, where she had spent the past four months.

"We've all seen the fallout since. Ironically, the tables have now been turned on the U.S. attorney, Steven Biskupic, who -- rightly or wrongly -- has been caught up in the hypercharged Washington scandal centering on George Bush's attorney general, Alberto Gonzales. It seems that each day brings new evidence that U.S. attorneys were pressured by the AG's office into pursuing Democrats and if they didn't, they would be replaced.

"The Washington scandal has legitimized claims by those who point to U.S. attorneys, like Biskupic, who took on Democrats just before last fall's election. Republican Mark Green's campaign for governor against Jim Doyle trumpeted the Thompson case during the entire campaign with attack ad after attack ad insisting that her conviction was proof that Doyle was a crook."

Adam Cohen has more to say on the subject in his opinion piece in the New York Times. He writes:

"While he was investigating, in the fall of 2005, Mr. Biskupic informed the media. Justice Department guidelines say federal prosecutors can publicly discuss investigations before an indictment only under extraordinary circumstances. This case hardly met that test.

"The prosecution proceeded on a schedule that worked out perfectly for the Republican candidate for governor. Mr. Biskupic announced Ms. Thompson’s indictment in January 2006. She went to trial that summer, and was sentenced in late September, weeks before the election. Mr. Biskupic insisted in July, as he vowed to continue the investigation, that “the review is not going to be tied to the political calendar.”

"But the Thompson case was “the No. 1 issue” in the governor’s race, says the Wisconsin Democratic Party chairman, Joe Wineke. In a barrage of commercials, Mr. Doyle’s opponents created an organizational chart that linked Ms. Thompson — misleadingly called a “Doyle aide” — to the governor. Ms. Thompson appeared in an unflattering picture, stamped “guilty,” and in another ad, her name was put on a graphic of jail-cell doors slamming shut.

"Most of the eight dismissed prosecutors came from swing states, and Democrats suspect they may have been purged to make room for prosecutors who would help Republicans win close elections. If so, it might also mean that United States attorneys in all swing states were under unusual pressure.

"Wisconsin may be the closest swing state of all. President Bush lost it in 2004 by about 12,000 votes, and in 2000, by about half that. According to some Wisconsin politicians, Karl Rove said that their state was his highest priority among governor’s races in 2006, because he believed a Republican governor could help the party win Wisconsin in the 2008 presidential election."

Alberto Gonzales is sure to be asked about this when he testifies on Capitol Hill Tuesday (4/17) morning.

Outside the possible political ramifications, I think many of us have Georgia on our minds. This woman was innocent, yet sat in an Illinois prison for four months. Worse, she lost her home. AND her life savings. If it turns out she was a pawn in a nasty political game, we should all fear something like that could happen to any of us.